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A year and a half ago, in the old days before the virus, I was teaching an introductory class on spiritual disciplines to university students at a fall retreat. I love to open eyes to a whole new world of walking with God, and it is no secret that I am especially fond of working with college students. Now that I am older than most of their parents, I really enjoy filling them in on what life was like in the Old Days. I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder explaining pioneer life.
We were doing a brief overview on each of the chapters in Richard Foster's excellent book Celebration of Discipline, and had come to the topic of solitude. For the first time, I fully realized that I was talking to a room full of people with a radically different notion of "regular life" than I have.
They were surprised and laughed when I told them that most of my young life we only had three channels on the television, and even then our house in a little New England town could not quite pick up the third. The television channels signed off with the national anthem at about midnight, and just played static until morning. Not only that, but we actually had to stand up and walk across the room to change the channel or adjust the volume!
They gasped when I told them that stores closed by 5 or 6 pm every evening, and were not open at all on Sundays; banks closed earlier in the afternoon each weekday and were closed all weekend, the impact of which was enhanced when I explained that there was no such thing as an ATM or a debit card, let alone PayPal. They were really amazed to learn why 7-11 is named that way, and I saw many of them looking it up on their phones to see if I was making that up.
I tried to help them imagine life before microwave ovens, VCRs, and video cameras, back when you actually had to wait to cook real food, watch a movie once in a theater, and send off your film to be developed. I painted a picture of what it was like to exist in a time when you could only watch one episode of a tv program per week, and when you might have to actually go to the library or book store to check out the newest book, music album, or book on tape. New songs were played on the radio, and love notes were written out with a pen and paper, delivered in person. Answering machines did not exist, so you had to call again later or just wait until you saw the person to deliver your message.
Readers with more life experience than I - a child of the 1970's - might find this list of the "Old Days" amusing. But the truth is that when the subject is solitude, all of us in 2020 are coming with a vastly different filter than any person could have in 1980, or 1880, or 80. The young people of today have no experience of a life without the world wide web and all it stands for sitting in their hands. They have no memory of a slower world, with a slower pace of life because it has been 24/7 news cycles, shopping, and noise since the day they were born - and all of us of every age have been impacted and affected by this new world.
When we talk about solitude and silence, it is difficult for many of us to even begin to approach the concepts, let alone practice them. Yet if Jesus Himself practiced the discipline, or habit, of getting alone with God in the early years of the first millennia, how much more do we need to in this modern age of noise and chaos?
Solitude is needing nothing but God. It is waiting in the presence of the Lord. It is being still and knowing that He is God. It is taking a break from the pressure for social media likes, from the constant need of affirmation from others, and from noise and chatter and conversation to rest quietly in God. Dallas Willard explained this well...
“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Silence also brings Sabbath to you. It completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend.”
In a day where it is difficult to get away from electronic things and constant noise, we must seek solitude and incorporate it into our schedules. One interesting part to the Coronavirus drama was the fact that, for many of us, it temporarily erased our hectic calendars and schedules. There were many days during the lockdown when there were long stretches of time with nothing at all planned. How interesting to realize that the first temptation was to feel guilty for not doing enough. How interesting that, for many, the next thing was to reach for the phone or the computer to fill up the silence with more noise and dubious information. What a beautiful and fulfilling challenge it was to learn to sit, still and quietly, for awhile to just be.
As we move forward, how different the world could be if we as Christians could remember to incorporate solitude and silence into our lives. Our families, friends, and neighbors need us to be different from the rest of the rat race. They need to see the love and hope and peace of God at work in our lives. They need to know the Good News that God really does have a purpose and a plan for all of our lives and for this broken world; that...
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Explore the world of the spiritual disciplines further, on your own or in a small group - follow the link to order your copy today!
Most people are familiar with the imagery of a person walking through life, daily influenced by the presence of an angelic being on one shoulder and a demonic being on the other shoulder. It is a humorous representation of the Christian idea that we all have the free will to choose which influence will guide us. The little guy with the horns and pitchfork wants to push us away from God and everything He represents; the one with a halo and wings is always trying to pull us closer to God. The devil wants us to be stuck in selfishness, sin, and despair, while God wants us to come further up and further into unselfishness, peace, and joy.
Jesus explained this reality in John 10:10...
The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The devil hates God so much that he does everything he can to make the creation of God fruitless and despairing. He knows his time is short and in the meantime will do all he can to kill, steal and destroy men and women, boys and girls, and to keep them away from God forever. He wants everyone to stay blind to spiritual realities or to give themselves to the gods of darkness, anything but know the true God.
I have such a vivid memory of sitting in an English class at St. Patrick-St.Vincent high school in Vallejo, California, listening to our teacher read those famous, despairing words of Shakespeare's Macbeth...
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Even though I was only sixteen years old, I could tell that William Shakespeare knew exactly what he was doing in crafting this story. Macbeth believed what he was saying in this famous soliloquy, and believing that life is meaningless is the greatest tragedy of all.
So many of our neighbors have never heard that their life has meaning and value. The too-real character represented with horns and a pitchfork laughs as our secular society has convinced itself that all of life is just chance, that none of it has any meaning, and that there is nothing after death except annihilation.
This is why it is so vital that we remember the second part of what Jesus said...
I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
We have been given an opportunity to remember how precious life is. During this pandemic, we have all instinctively wanted to protect our kids and our elders from this terrible sickness, knowing that life at every age and stage is valuable and meaningful. All of us have been vividly reminded that every person is carefully and lovingly made by God in His own image, and that every life is purposeful. It does not matter what race, gender, age, income bracket, or political persuasion any of us happens to be - every life is treasured. Not only that, but we will all live forever in one of only two places, so the choices we make in this life matter. Through Jesus, we can truly live lives full of hope, purpose, and joy regardless of our circumstances here on earth, and forever with God in heaven.
With this wonderful knowledge comes great responsibility - now more than ever.
Many of our neighbors are suffering - physically and spiritually. The numbers of people that we hear about in the news who have been affected physically by the virus or who have lost employment are not just statistics, they are real people. They live next door, they live in our town, we pass them at the grocery store and gas station.
As Christians, we must not turn a blind eye - we must look for those who need our help. We can share our groceries, we can share our money and resources, and as we share our material things with those in great need, we can also share the love and hope of God. If your church or community is already doing something organized to help people in need, jump in. If not, start something. The more of us that work together to meet the need, the better. A wonderful thing about abundant life in Christ is that there is always plenty of love and hope to go around, no matter what storm or pandemic is raging around us.
A blessed Eastertide to you and yours! In the traditional Christian church calendar, this is not just one day, but an entire season for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, beginning with Easter Sunday and it lasting for the fifty days until Pentecost Sunday. This year, we really need the whole fifty days!
As I write this, we are all still engaged in a worldwide fight against the terrible Coronavirus. No one could have guessed the way this year would unfold. Innumerable people are going through incredibly difficult circumstances, and all of us have been impacted by measures to fight the spread of illness. It has been interesting and thought-provoking to celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord juxtaposed with such fear and unknowing in the face of a pandemic.
It has been especially fascinating to read the many social media posts and news articles about how people are weathering the lockdown period. Though no one wants this strange pause in life to go on indefinitely, more than a few people are realizing that the break-neck speed at which life in pre-Coronavirus 2020 was going was not particularly healthy. With weeks now to unwind, many people are connected with their families like never before. Kids are learning to play and use their imaginations again. People are getting enough sleep.
Sadly, this is not the case in every home. Other news articles point out that there has been a sharp increase in domestic violence, in anxiety, and in pornography consumption, just to name a few things. Being home all the time is not easy or pleasant for everyone. It seems that the angry just get angrier, and the selfish become even more indulgent. Many people are acting entirely out of fear - fear of losing income with no hope to get it back, fear of illness for themselves or a loved one, and especially fear of death itself. Faced with a virus no one really understands yet, this last fear is seizing multitudes.
Some might wonder if there might be a way we could take each individual person to a beautiful retreat center, maybe somewhere in the mountains, to refresh and relax. Imagine if this place was large enough that everyone could spread out and have plenty of space to himself. Here, each one would have all the food he needs, and none of the wicked temptations of the modern era like drugs or pornography; in fact, this place would be completely unplugged. The library would be filled with only the best uplifting and informative literature of the ages, and the music selection would be calming and peaceful. Everywhere each person goes, they would find green pastures, fruit trees with every kind of fruit, and crystal clear steams flowing. Surely, if we could create a place like this, everyone could finally find peace and harmony?
But, here is the problem - There is only one place like that, and the way to it is blocked by cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth. We are not allowed to go back into Eden, into that beautiful and abundant place where peace truly existed and where God Himself came down to walk with man in the cool of the day. Nor can we ever re-create such a place on our own.
Our wicked and crafty enemy was not entirely lying to Adam and Eve when he said they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit. In fact, they did not drop over or cease to exist when they took a bite - what happened to them was far worse than that. The true death that occurred, and which God had warned them about, was that we became infused with sin (aka total selfishness) that we cannot get rid of by ourselves, and which results in a horrible, eternal separation from God and enmity with one another. No amount of education, medicine, money, technology, or laws can fix this problem of sin.
The virus that is currently sweeping the earth reminds us all of this universal human condition. While it has been amazing to watch the world rally together in real time to fight the physical illness and to find a cure and vaccine for this particular strain of virus, something unimaginable even fifty years ago, we remain hopeless to save ourselves from sin and from true death. Doctors are learning every day how to combat Covid19, but selfishness remains. Most of the time, we can ignore the fact that our sin separates us from God, but not right now. When faced with this problem, just about everyone would love to know what to do.
Listen to an interesting thought from Dorothy Sayers, writing at the outbreak of the Second World War....
"War (we could say pandemic) is the breaking up of security and habit, and the letting in of energy upon the things hat had become static and corrupt. The great obstacle, in times of peace and prosperity, to improvement in the social order is the inertia that society presents to any kind of change. The reformer spends nine tenths of his energy in endeavoring to make his voice heard above the snoring of well-cushioned indolence, to smash his way into the closed circle of vested interests, to disturb complacency and generally to overcome the disposition of his hearers to let sleeping dogs lie.
But war does this part of his task for him. All the dogs are up and barking very loudly, and nobody can possibly pretend to ignore them. The world is startled awake, complacency is destroyed, and even the vested interests are rocking uneasily on their foundations. His chief difficulty now will be to catch the distracted attention of agitated people and get it focused on what he has to say."
And we do have something to say!
Here is the Good News - Jesus came to save us from our sin! There is real hope and real help. John the Baptist heralded Him, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Jesus does not just hide our sin or cover it - He takes it away. Through His work on the cross, we can be free from the deadliest virus of all - sin. In Christ, we can have peace with God, and with one another.
The Bible is clear that God has made a way for us to be with Him again, and that Jesus willingly laid down His own life for all of us. Remember the beautiful passage of John chapter 11, in which Jesus shows His power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead and proclaims...
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
As Christians, we have an amazing opportunity this Easter season to share this great news with people who truly might be ready to listen. In times past, we may have found it difficult to begin the conversation to share our faith with family, friends and neighbors for any number of reasons. But everything that the world offers as stability is now shaken - and it remains true that the only sure foundation to stand on is Christ, and the only way men can be reconciled to one another is through Him. The conversation is started! Speak freely and share that in Christ, we can have not only the blessed assurance of forgiveness of sin, but also His peace and steadiness to see us through any storm.
May the love and peace of God fill your heart and home today. Let's be generous with this good news and freely share the living hope that we have in Jesus.
In March I celebrated a definitively more-than-middle-aged birthday, right as all of the mitigation practices were first being rolled out. I mention this because I have never experienced anything like this pandemic and the corresponding massive social changes, and that means no one younger than myself has either.
Certainly, we are not the first age to face pestilence or war - many still living today remember other times of war, outbreaks of disease, and financial uncertainty. History is filled with awful circumstances for the people of the given era to wrestle, and we who have come later can look back and see how well they reacted. What will posterity say of us when they look back to this time? Together, we are experiencing a sea change, and it remains to be seen how we will respond as a generation.
I would like to re-post a thought about "Storms" that I wrote in September of 2018, but have repurposed with the present Coronavirus storm in mind...
Here are two thought-provoking questions - what should life be like? What makes life, or even one day in life, good?
Most of us live under the tremendous misconception that things are always supposed to be easy, pleasant, and “right”. We are continually and completely surprised and distressed when things don’t the "right" way. This is probably some shadowy memory in our cellular structure from the Garden of Eden, and of the way things were supposed to be before the fall of mankind. But the world is fallen, and unfortunately, awful things do happen all the time. One great struggle that many people face is the question of why terrible things happen to good people. If God is so good, then why does He let such bad things happen, especially to people who live for Him?
The Book of Job is an attention-grabbing book in the Bible, and I encourage you to read it again or for the first time. It tells the story of a man named Job, who was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” It actually says he was the greatest man among all the peoples of the East. He was wealthy and blessed and had a beautiful, large family. In verses 6-12, however, we read that Satan comes into God's presence and accuses that Job would never worship God if all of the good things were taken from his life. That passage catches my interest! It goes on to say that God responds to the Enemy in verse 12. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan then proceeded to destroy everything Job had and loved - his family, his possessions - everything.
There are so many things to notice in this account. First, I want to remind us that the starting place for understanding anything in life is to realize that the character of God is eternally and entirely without fault. The Bible teaches that we are created in His image - not the other way around. He is not just a magnified version of us. God is always good and always chooses for the highest good. Second, notice that the terrible things that happen to Job were not God’s idea, they were Satan’s idea. Third, remember that we do not have the perspective that God does - He can see everything without constraint of time or location. The things we do not understand and which seem devastating from our perspective are not unclear to God, and we truly can trust Him to work all things for good. (Romans 8:28)
Like Job, some of us have been through some awful things. People suffer and endure hardships like abuse, betrayal, or horrible traumas at the hands of wicked people. Other troubles take us by surprise - illness in our own body or in that of a loved one, the death of someone close, addictions, marital problems, rebellious children, or a terrifying pandemic and corresponding economic instability. The list of life’s storms is long, and I am in no way belittling any of those things.
I do want to challenge our thinking. Storms have a few interesting qualities:
We know storms are going to happen, we know life is not always going to be easy. What if we stopped letting life’s storms render us unable to help anyone, and started seeing them as a great opportunity to minister to others who are hurting? What if we started treasuring hard times as a way to become more like Jesus? The Bible says in James chapter 1: 2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Listen to this powerful thought from Samuel Chadwick, who lived and ministered over 100 years ago :
“Sometime in the country I have stood and watched the village blacksmith at work, and for a long time could not make out the use of the little trip hammer. The big hammer I could understand, but why should the smith strike in turns the anvil and the iron puzzled me. One day I ventured to ask an explanation, and found that the little hammer regulates the stroke of the big one. The smith holds the glowing metal, turning it lest the stroke fall too often upon the same spot, directing the blows that they may descend at the right moment; turning, tempering, regulating till the metal is fashioned to the desired shape. So God holds the soul and regulates the stroke. Sometimes He makes the Devil His hammer-man . . . Satan strikes to smash. God regulates the stroke, and turns his malice to our perfecting, and the Devil sweats at the task of fashioning saints into the likeness of Christ.”
That horrible thing that happened in your life - the very thing that the Enemy meant to use to destroy you - God can take it and use it to make you better and stronger than you could have been before. This trying time we are facing as a nation can make us better families, friends and neighbors than we ever have been before. We can become more empathetic, more caring, more aware of others, more mature, more wise, and full of steadiness and help for the hurting all around us.
Read the end of Job’s story. God was right - Job was not just serving Him because of the good things in his life. Job trusted God and refused to curse or turn away from Him during the difficult times, even though that is what many advised Him to do, and God “blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”
The storms of life are going to come on this side of Heaven. Let the devil sweat, and let God make all of us stronger than ever.
We are experiencing something so unusual and unique, certainly as a nation, but truly as a world. There have been pandemics before our time, and we can read about them in our history books. We know just a little about the Black Plague that swept pre-printing press Europe, we know a bit more about the global Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918, But now we have such amazing techonology which allows us to have instant updates each day, then endless commentary about each update in real time. We certainly know just about everything about this Coronavirus, even what most people are thinking about it - except the one very big unknown of where this might all be going in the immediate future.
We are all faced with just a few options for reaction:
-we can pretend nothing is wrong and ignore all of the news and all of our neighbors
-we can give into fear and panic, and sink into despair
-we can turn to God and see what He has to say to us in a time like this.
We are learning in real time why it is so important to practice a healthy devotional life in “peacetime.” A real devotional life is letting ourselves have minds that are fully engaged in and in love with God, and it includes daily prayer and study of the Bible, and a healthy diet of reading books written by and about Christians who have gone before us. If you have not been in the habit of a praticing a regualar devotional life, there truly is no better time than the present to start!
All year long, day in and day out, we practice this spiritual discipline of learning and thinking deeply about the things of God. It is like an athlete who spends all year training for the big championship game, or - even more true to our current situation - like a doctor who spends years in school learning how to treat a sick person or a soldier who spends months in boot camp to prepare for war. All of the thousands of hours of preparation serve them well when the stakes are high and the situation is no longer simulation.
It is the same way for us as Christian people. We have faith in God (for more about this, please look back to my first blog post in August of 2018), and we practice our faith day in and day out, year after year. We have been so blessed and most of us have lived rather peaceful and protected lives, and have not had much opportunity to have to lean in on our faith or on our God. But this is what we have been practicing for - the world needs us to show them what people of faith know about God and the reality of life and death. In a time like this, full of tumult and turmoil, we are able to quickly turn in our minds and spirits to what is real and what is true. The Word of God is true, and more real than anything we can see with our natural eyes alone; the ways of God are steadfast, much more real and steady than anything and everything else.
Today, let’s dig into one of my favorite passages, found in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians 4: 4-13, to find comfort, truth and direction for this season…
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is an amazing exhortation - even more wonderful when we realize that though it was written long ago to a specific group of people, it remains perfectly applicable to our 2020 situation. The Bible says, "Christians, rejoice! No matter what, and let me say it again…rejoice! Don’t fall into anxiety about anything, but thank God for everything."
Wait, don’t be anxious and give thanks, even for a scary pandemic? Yes, even for this. We may not understand how this can be happening, but we know that God is good and we can trust Him to lead us through this (Psalm 23). And we can bring everything to Him - our fears, our hopes, and our prayers for others. We can pray, and that truly is a great work that brings real change through the power of God. Worrying accomplishes nothing; prayer accomplishes much.
As we choose not to give in to anxiety, and as we choose instead to be grateful and give thanks and pray, a miraculous thing happens. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Ask Paul and Silas, who were able to wholeheartedly worship Jesus in prison. Ask Corrie ten Boom, who survived a horrendous concentration camp in World War 2 - the peace of God was with her and her sister Betsy, even as they lived in hell on earth. It does not make sense to the natural mind, but it is real - God is real, His peace is real. The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds all the time, but especially in times like this. Our friends and neighbors need to know this.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.
And the God of peace will be with you.
Most of us are home, and the power is on - which means that the temptation is there to watch tv or stay online all day and just watch and read news and commentary. While I do think that we should be informed and know what is going on in the world, I also know that too much internet and television consumption is very bad for us right now. Most of the people writing and commenting on current events know just as much about what is going on as you and I do - which is not much! Do not dwell on negative, fruitless, doom-filled thoughts. This will do nothing to bring you peace and will do nothing to help anyone. Make some limits for yourself - maybe just plan to spend 30 minutes a day catching up on the news and then turn it all off.
The rest of the day, as we all sit at home waiting, follow this scriptural advice to think about noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things. Put these good things into practice, and watch the fruit of this action be born in your heart and mind. As you dwell on these lovely things of truth, the peace of God - what we need so desperately right now! - will flow in your heart and mind. If your have never shared Bible reading or praying in your home, now is a wonderful time to start.
Speak the Word of God to one another, read great books out loud together, encourage one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (that is Ephesians 5:19). Connect with your church online - most of our churches are making sermons and prayer meetings available, and what a wonderful way to stay connected with our church families. Use some time to call and connect with your neighbors and friends, to speak life and encouragement to them, and to pray for them. We all hope and pray that this disruption will be over very soon, but in the meantime we can make the most of it to bring some peaceful and healthy new habits into our homes and families.
…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
This is such a sobering time for us. I am afraid that most of us took for granted how much we had and how good life was. We were beginning to grumble and complain so much about so many silly things, but almost overnight everything has changed. We as a society have an excellent opportunity to turn our hearts, attention, and gratitude back to God - the Giver of all good things. We have an opportunity to turn away from selfish ways, to thank God for life and to treat it with reverence again, to love our neighbors and to help one another.
As we walk through this season, we can learn this lesson of contentment that Paul learned. We do not need more things or money or activities to make us happy and content. If and when all of that is taken away, we still have God, and He is sufficient; He is and always has been all we need. This is an important lesson to learn in life, and we will be wise to remember it.
So many Christians have been praying that God would help us to share the Good News of Jesus, and that we could see change come to an obviously broken and hurting world. None of us would have expected a pandemic to open doors of conversation for us that just weeks ago were slammed shut in our faces, but the mystery is that, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
May the Lord bless and keep you and those you love - may this be a rich time in His presence for you and your family. I pray that God gives you many opportunities to share His love and peace with others over the days and weeks to come.
TRY THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK...
It is amazing how tempting that phrase is. Advertisers continue to use it frequently, which means that it must work, and most of us would have to admit that we actually would like to know any shortcuts which lead to health, wealth and happiness. Truthfully, most of the time there is no shortcut at all, just a lot of hard work and consistent smart, unselfish choices. However, occasionally there really is one trick that makes a big difference in outcome.
For example, I played 18 holes of golf with my parents last weekend. They are very good at this game, and I am…not. Actually, I am not bad until it comes to putting, and then everything breaks down quickly. On one hole, my mom happened to watch my method closely and said, “I think you turned your wrist there right at the end of your swing. Keep your wrists steady as you follow through on the put.” The next hole, I tried her advice, and she was right! I was much less horrible at putting from then on out. It is amazing what one small shift in thinking can do.
Similarly, there is one shift in thinking that can dramatically reduce conflict and misery. This change in perspective was a theme in the writing of Anne Ortland, and it has been so revolutionary in my own life. Her premise is that so much negativity in thought and action comes from the fact that many often enter each day, each room, and each conversation with the idea, “Here I am - what can you do for me?” It is like wearing my feelings right on my sleeve. Then, when people do not care sufficiently that I am with them, my feelings are easily hurt. When my husband or my children or my coworkers or the people in my church do not rejoice and drop everything to pay attention to me, my day is ruined.
What if we were able to start with any tragedy in relationship and work backwards from the explosion to find exactly what caused it? A man and a woman are divorcing. They can no longer stand to be in the same room with one another, and can not say or think anything but vile and hateful thoughts towards one another. Bitter arguing and accusation is the only form of communication left in their relationship. If we pick up the thread and trace it back, we could see that at some point, each decided that the other was no longer for them, but against them. At some point, each of them decided that “here I am” was the only important thing in the relationship.
It can be argued that all of the trouble in the world comes down to how we treat one another and respond to one another. Certainly, on a global scale there are vastly different worldviews that clash, but in the day-to-day, hurt feelings often come down to one person believing that they have been overlooked or slighted by another and then choosing to take offense. Families break apart over this, children are damaged forever because of this, churches fracture because of this - and it is remarkably easy to fix.
Instead of entering each interaction with, “Here I am - what can you do for me?”, everything changes if we enter each interpersonal interaction with, “There you are! How can I help and encourage you today?”
I can handle it if that guy at church says something slightly rude again - perhaps he does not mean to sound quite so condescending. I can handle it if my coworker snaps at me - perhaps she is going through something difficult that I do not know about. I can handle it if my spouse or child is in a grumpy mood - I know that I feel grumpy sometimes, too and do not have to add drama to the situation by reacting poorly. I cannot control what other people say and do, but I can refuse to retaliate, and instead sow only kindness and mercy into the relationship. When a choice is made to focus on the other person’s well-being, everything changes. It is amazing what one small shift in thinking can do.
As Christian people, there is just One whose approval matters. Our security comes from Him, our hope comes from Him, our worth comes from Him, our purpose comes from Him. No one else can take any of that away. If we have the sure foundation of the love and approval of Jesus, then we can face everything and everyone else with a selfless and giving posture - the same selfless and giving posture that Jesus modeled to us...
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” - John 15: 9-14
Jesus has loved us so beautifully; He laid down His very life so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life. Because He has shown us the way, we can follow Him in "there you are" love.
Andrew Murray said this so well in The True VIne…
“Love one another. Let your interaction with the Christians in your own family be holy, tender, Christlike love. Let your thoughts of the Christians round you be, before everything, in the spirit of Christ’s love. Let your life and conduct be the sacrifice of love - give yourself up to think of their sins or their needs, to intercede for them, to help and serve them. Be in your church or circle the embodiment of Christ’s love; let the life in which you live it out be all love.”
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! There is no better day to remember the great love that God has shown to each of us in giving us life, salvation, and a tremendous future. There is so much hope and life in Christ!
God so loved the world, that He gave His Son to save us. When we were yet sinners, God rescued us from our helplessness. It seems almost too good to be true, yet it is true. And this reality is what so many lovely fairytales are based upon - a wonderful king who leaves everything to save the one he loves.
Jesus Himself told many stories about the True King and His Kingdom. Our family favorite has always been that tremendous parable Jesus told about the Good Shepherd...
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
Luke 15: 1-6
I am mindful today of a meeting we attended a year or so ago, in which the superintendent of the Assemblies of God fellowship from a war-torn nation on the other side of the globe addressed us. He told many stories of the bravery of the believers in his nation, where it is actually illegal to convert to Christianity. The men, women and children who have given their hearts to Jesus there are in constant danger from the government, their countrymen, and even their own families. Still, many are putting their hope and trust in beautiful Jesus, who truly does bring real hope and peace even in the midst of suffering.
One story in particular was about a little boy, whose believing parents had been killed. He was suddenly homeless, and had to forage the filthy streets of their great capital city to find enough to eat to stay alive. Thankfully, another believing family found him and took him in - but what might have become of him?
The gentleman finished addressing us, and the congregation joined in a time of worship. We sang this song, which has been a popular chorus in our fellowship lately, which again tells the story of the Great Shepherd…
There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God -
It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine.
I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away,
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
We have sung this song many times, but this time was different for me. I could not get the image of that little boy, homeless and alone in the gutters of a town I cannot even easily pronounce. I wept as I sang, wondering how many boys and girls, men and women exist right now that desperately need to know the Good News of a King who loves them and who would leave everything to save them?
But then, I remembered that the song is true - there truly is no shadow He won't light up, or mountain He won't climb up coming after precious souls like that little boy. There is no wall He won't kick down, or lie He won't tear down coming after His dear lost lambs all over the world.
How does He do it? How do they hear of this Good Shepherd, especially in places hostile to Christianity?
God sends His message through our friends and co-laborers who have responded to His call to serve all across the globe - our great missionary family. There are so many missions fellowships and agencies that are mobilizing many thousands of people from all over the world to go and tell the Good News of Jesus. These courageous souls have left behind everything that is familiar and comfortable to take the message of the Cross to God's lost lambs everywhere. At great risk to themselves, they daily climb mountains, light up the shadows, kick down walls, and tear down lies to bring one more home for our King.
This Valentine's Day, would you join me in praying for our missionaries all over the world? Pray for their children on the field with them, their families here in the States, and for their budgets and their safety. Pray that everyone they are meeting and befriending would be open and responsive to the Good News of our Great Shepherd. Pray that the wicked spiritual forces and also wicked people who might be conspiring against them would be thwarted. Pray that all of Heaven will be able to rejoice today as many more lost sheep are brought home.
To all of our missionary friends who might be reading this, please know that you are remembered and covered in prayer. Thank you for your great sacrifice for Jesus, and know that you are dearly loved!
I just spent a few minutes reading the news headlines, and that was enough for me. The internet can be a wonderful thing, but one of the downsides is an absolute overload of information. A steady stream of this in our diet is surely bad for us, and we really do need to be careful about ingesting too much. But one good thing is that it certainly does keep the problem of the sinfulness of mankind in front of us - there is no forgetting it while reading today's news. We have a few choices in life when faced with such a broken world: we can despair, we can pretend that everything is okay, or we can do something to make the world better. I really love that third option! But, what can we do?
Recently, we were teaching at a student conference. My assignment led me to spend a significant amount of time in the book of Romans, chapter sixteen. We were using the salutations in Paul’s letter to this thriving early church in Rome - the capital city of what was arguably the most powerful and significant empire in the history of the world - as a snapsot into what the early Christian church looked like. It truly is a fascinating and thought-provoking study; men, women, Jew, Greek, Roman, young, old, rich, poor - all were represented in the leadersip of the New Testament church.
As I prepared, I could not help be struck by one of the last sentences in the chapter. It captured my attention like a bolt out of the blue…
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
This has got to be one of the most intriguing sentences of all time. It seems so contradictory, but is quite effective to make us pause and dig a bit deeper to understand. Can our God actually be peaceful if He crushes things?
The Peace of God is such a beautiful thing. We know that the shalom peace of God is part of His character. It is His wholeness, completeness, and contentment, and is available as a gift to every believer. But for today's thought, we must understand that peace can also be a term that has meaning only when juxtaposed with its counterpart of strife, or war. When used in this sense, we cannot understand one word without the other.
Since that dark day in the Garden of Eden, when man and woman disobeyed God and plunged of the cliff of sin and selfishness, the battle for the souls of mankind has been raging. The wicked prince of this dark world does all he can to steal, kill, and destroy, and to keep men and women fighting and striving with one another - remember the news headlines? So deep is his hatred for God, Satan seeks to keep men and women bound in chains of darkness and oppression, to keep mankind in perpetual hatred of one another, and to keep man and God separated forever.
But though our sin and selfishness made us His enemy, God Himself fights for us and rescues us. This is why the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to men on whom His favor rests!” When the Messiah was born, the end of the war was near. When Christ was crucified, the death blow was indeed struck - not to our Great God, but to Death itself. Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price for our sin and rebellion, bringing the possibility of peace between man and God again.
In every war, the winner of the battle sets the terms of peace, and the loser of the conflict must accept them. The enemy of our souls would have every man, woman, and child believe that there is no hope for mankind - that we are doomed forever. But Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The winner sets the terms of peace, and through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross, there can be peace between God and man as well as between man and man.
When Jesus delivered His great, revolutionary teaching on the Kingdom of God, the listeners were amazed. We are still amazed today. The Kingdom of God is utterly different than any kingdom or system we see here on earth, where the most ruthless and powerful often make it to the top, and where the one who has the most money or the most weapons or the loudest voice often ends up in power. But Jesus preaches of His Kingdom, which is entirely other - to win you must lose, to live you must die, and to love you must give yourself away.
In the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes, which are a description of what men and women who walk with Him in His Kingdom will look and act and be like. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” God graciously invites us to join Him in HIs Kingdom work of peacemaking. The battle is won, and He is patiently waiting until the most prisoners of war have been rescued and brought back into His Kingdom by those of us who accept this commission to be peacemakers in God's name.
At the student conference, one young man stood up to give a testimony of a wonderful thing God had done in his life. He happens to be the younger son of our good friends, Scott and Crystal. Even if I had not already known who this student was, I could have easily guessed after a minute or two - he is so remarkably like both his mother and his father. His tone, his mannerisms, and his words were unmistakable and everyone who knows the parents can see that this is their son.
In the same way, Jesus says we will be known as God’s children when we do what God has asked us to do with Him - make peace. This is what He does, so this is what we must do, with His tone, mannerisms, and words. Our assignment is to go and make disciples of all men and women (Matthew 28: 18-20) and to show them how peace with God is possible, and how peace with other people is possible. This is our mission, this is our call, this is what we must be about. This is precisely how we can make a difference in this hurting world.
The question becomes, am I a maker of peace or still a participant in strife? Do I properly reflect God as His son or daughter - do people look at me and see God, or do they just see more of the same old stuff the world has to offer? What do our churches reflect, our marriages, our relationships with family and friends - are we fully submitted to God and His peace? If we cannot honestly answer that we bring only peace and not more strife, then it is time for change. If we are to be peacemakers, then there is no room in our lives for strife. We must love one another, forgive one another, and choose to believe the best about one another.
When we take our place as sons and daughters of our King of Peace, and rightly represent Him, we can look at our college campuses and cities and know, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” God has done the hard work; He has saved us and made a way for peace. Now let’s bring it.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
- 2 Timothy 4: 7-8
We are already two weeks into 2020 - a new year and a new decade! This year is special in my heart because it was exactly 30 years ago that I started a new chapter in my life, finishing high school and moving away to college in Stockton, California. I had no idea what lay in store for me there, but God’s plans turned out to be infinitely better than any of my own. During that first year at university, I met my wonderful husband, and both of our hearts and lives were gloriously revolutionized by Jesus. I am so grateful for all He has brought us through and for how amazing our experience has been so far.
As this new era begins, I am mindful of how quickly this life passes. Honestly, I cannot remember taking much time to process the turning of the new year and new decade in either 1999 or 2009 - in the former I had a three-year-old and an infant, and in the latter the girls were thirteen and ten. Eli and I were serving as campus pastors, and living the rich, busy life that comes with that season. Now we are in a different place - no less rich or even busy, but quite different nontheless. Now I can look back and see a full thirty years behind in my adulthood, and that makes me pause and take a personal inventory of my life. Have I made it count? Am I on a good trajectory of physical, mental, and spiritual health and of usefulness for the Kingdom of God?
I am delighted to say that the readers of this blog range in age from teenager to ninety years old. That means that some of you can see as many or even more years behind you than I can, and others of you are just beginning your race. I know from years in the ministry that it is quite normal for young people to be full of faith and zeal and hope. Interestingly, the same is true for many Christians as they near the end of their race. It is during the long decades in the middle that it is difficult to keep our eyes on the goal of Heaven forever with Jesus, and with as many people as we can bring with us. It is hard in this sleep-inducing, broken world to keep our attention fixed on the big picture and reality of God’s Kingdom.
One of the greatest lessons I learned in college took place in the swimming pool. I was a swimmer throughout all of my childhood, but have not a single fast-twitch muscle in my body, and so was recruited to swim the dreaded mile. This is the longest and most boring race in all of sports to watch - 1650 yards, which is 66 lengths in a 25-yard pool. It is also a very difficult race to learn to do properly.
My college coach was very wise. He taught us to view the race not as a whole, but as three distinct sections: the first 550, the second 550, and the third 550. When you swim a mile, 550 yards seems like a cakewalk, so we learned to tackle the race one 550 at a time.
Further, he taught us that the entire race is not won at the beginning for the person who starts the fastest, or even at the end depending on whether you can rally yourself to finish strong - the entire race is most often won by the person who is still paying attention and giving great effort in the middle of the middle 550. How easy it is to drift off and think about something - anything - else while you are swimming such a long race! How many times you get to the end and wish you had remembered to keep going strong in the middle. Of course, you can still finish if you forget about the middle, but you cannot get back the ground you lost.
As we enter a new year and a whole new decade, may the Lord help us to be mindful of our race - that we would fight the good fight and keep the faith.
-For those of you just beginning, keep going strong! Those of us just ahead of you are cheering for you and believe in you, and will do all we can to help you. Start your race with good, healthy habits and a strong committment to God and His Kingdom so you can look back years from now with no regrets, confident that you made these years count.
-For those of you nearing the end of your race here on earth, keep your eyes on our beautiful Savior and finish powerfully. Your life and testimony are so impactful to the ones following behind you, and you have such great wisdom and guidance to impart. Sow hope and life deeply into the younger generations.
-For those of us in the middle of the race, let us strive to give our best effort here. May we not get to 2030, should Jesus tarry, and wish we could do the entire decade over again. May we not fall into the temptation to live for selfish gain, or to remain for even one more day in deeply-engrained unhealthy habits. May this decade be one of life and health and hope, and of great purpose in the Kingdom of God as we long for His appearing.
Are you ready for a fresh start in your walk with the Lord in 2020? Kingdom Minded is a great tool for you and your small group to learn to walk with God in health and wholeness. Click the link to order your copy today!
Merry Christmas, from our home to yours!
This is such a special season, and a lovely way to end each year. We all slow down a little from the work-and-school rush, spend time with our loved ones, and reflect on some of the most important things - like gratitude for the blessings we have received, and the wondrous fact we can express that gratitude to a caring Father who loves and provides for us.
As Christmas Day draws near, let's take just a moment to reflect on why this day is such an important remembrance...
Recently, I had to drive down into Houston for a meeting. Our little town of Huntsville does not have traffic jams; in fact, we rarely have to stop at a light for more than one cycle. When the college students are out on break, you can actually get anywhere at all in less than ten minutes. Of course, Houston is not like our little town. I am not sure there is ever a time with only light traffic in such a huge city, but this day was much worse than normal. I was so grateful that I did not have a deadline to be anywhere, because the freeway came to a complete standstill for an hour and a half. Evidently, someone had been driving under the influence of some substance and had caused a horrific accident. Thankfully no one was killed, but as I sat and waited, I began to think of the real-world cost of just one person’s one day of selfishness.
The traffic was stopped across all four lanes of the interstate for a seven mile stretch. Conservatively speaking, that would be roughly 5600 cars and the people inside of them whose plans were impacted by the wreck. Even accounting for just one person in every car, and assuming that every one of them made a modest $10 per hour, that would total $84,000 lost as they were stuck waiting. But what about other costs - who might have been on their way to a much-needed job interview and missed it? Who might have been rushing to the hospital, or to help someone, or to catch a flight?
This brings up two very important points.
Sin is terribly costly. The example of a traffic accident shows a picture of what selfishness does. It causes great damage to oneself and others with far-reaching repercussions. Causing that one wreck is certainly not the only selfish thing that person had ever done, but just look at the effect of one day's worth of selfish choices by one person. What could decades of sin cost, in both material and spiritual currency? Not just money or work lost, but spirits crushed, bodies abused, minds wasted, hope lost - the Bible tells us clearly that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The truth of the matter is that each of us is born with that same capacity for a lifetime of selfishness. The almost eight billion of us alive today combined with all of those who came before us continue to wrack up an enormous debt of costly, devastating sin.
Many, many people do not know or believe that each of is sinful and responsible for our own sinfulness. But not knowing and not believing are not qualified excuses. This would be like not knowing or believing that you owed income tax each year. The debt is real, and one day a settling of accounts must happen. Which leads to the next thought...
Someone has to pay the price.
Who can possibly afford to pay for this costly sin, which separates each of us from our holy God? The tempter thought he had a foolproof plan in offering the forbidden fruit to mankind. As a result of that awful Fall, all of us are impacted by sinfulness and selfishness - and therefore none of us can be with God forever. On our own, the best we can hope for is bleak eternal death to settle our debt.
CS Lewis describes this dilemma so perfectly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a delightful children's book that I encourage you to read again if you have not lately. One of the children in the story has betrayed everyone in exchange for some enchanted candy, and now the horrible witch is rightfully demanding payment for the betrayal, and the price is the boy's life. His brother and sisters are devastated, but unknown to them is that the good King Aslan has a different plan in mind to settle the horribly real debt. In fact, Aslan offers his own life as payment in exchange for the boy's.
The witch ecstatically murders the king atop the ancient Stone Table, and she and all of her evil minions rejoice. This was better than they ever could have imagined. Now the great king himself was dead, and her wicked reign of terror could last forever.
But no. In the earliest hours of the morning, a tremendous shaking occurred, the Stone Table broke into pieces, and the body of the king was gone - or was it? Aslan soon came back to the children, very much alive, and explained all that had happened...
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
And this is why we remember and celebrate the tremendous occasion of Christmas.
God is Creator and King of all things, and His holiness and justice are perfect. Our sin is awful and separates us from Him; our debt is real and terrible and requires our death as payment. Only one, perfect in holiness and without sin, could pay the price; a man who never sinned and who willingly gave himself for all.
On that first Christmas so long ago, a far more extravagant a gift than anyone could ever have asked or imagined was given. Jesus, the mighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was born as a tiny, helpless baby - not in a palace, but in a rude and smelly stable in a village few had ever heard of, God became man so He could offer Himself as the payment for our debt. How great is the love of God for His children! "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
This week, as we stop to remember the first Christmas, may our homes radiate the warmth and love of God. As we give and receive gifts, may our hearts be full of gratitude and remembrance of this perfect gift of Jesus our Savior.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)