Surprise!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is surprise.jpg

I’m not at all sure how I feel about surprises. I used to really enjoy them, mostly because they were usually good surprises. However, 2020 and now 2021 have been full of very unpleasant surprises.

Covid-19, of course, being one of the biggest and worst surprises ever in my life. Just about the time the world is starting to get a handle on that and get people vaccinated, a whole raft of new strains have emerged and it seems as though no one is really sure if the vaccines will work on all of them. This big ugly surprise keeps playing hide and seek with us. (PS I’m a 1B and on every list I can find and still can’t get scheduled. If anyone has any insight, let me know.)

We finally get past “the worst year” most of us have ever experienced, only to be met with 2020 2.0 aka 2021. Not only are more new strains of the virus arising, the weather had some very unpleasant surprises for us too. I live in Houston, which has generally very warm weather year round. Winter usually feels like fall would feel anywhere else. For the first time in many years (disregarding all the little snow flurries) Houston had a memorable snow event. The last one before this current storm was December 2017, and the main reason it was so memorable was that, surprise, surprise it followed on the heels of Hurricane Harvey. Prior to that, the most recent big snow event was 8 years before that. (Internet source, google search: ABC13 Winter Weather, Houston KTRK, Copyright 2021KTRK-TV) Along comes 2021 bringing one of the worst winter storms ever. Not because of the amount of snow, but because of the near zero temperatures. Water and power were out in many parts of Texas.

Now that may not sound like such a big deal to any of you who come from cold country and as my friend in Wyoming told me it was -24 where she live and they managed to maintain power and water! Way to cold for me. The reason it was a big deal here, is that municipalities either didn’t have a plan for this type of emergency or their plan failed. (FEMA offers some of the best disaster training for cities and counties that you can imagine. Perhaps someone will see the need for that now in Houston. )

At any rate, as I understand it, the water was frozen in the pipes and could not flow and the power needs overloaded the grid. I’m sure all of us have at one time or another been without either water or power or even without both at the same time. But it is not too often that those losses extend over several days (at least not in the dead of winter. Hurricanes, of course, are a different story). We forget just how dependent we are upon water and power. The worst, for me anyway, was that we could not flush a toilet without water or power.

Fortunately for me, I had spent the last 8-10 years in hurricane prone areas and so I had an emergency plan. Cook everything in your freezer, fill your car with gas, have enough bottled water on hand for a week. And check your emergency backpacks to make sure you have the supplies you will need if you must leave. Most gas stations ran out of gas as the roads were too unsafe to deliver gasoline to them. People panicked and bought all the water they could lay their hands on. Packaged ice made for great cooking water, especially when the boil water notice was posted. You can melt ice and cook (if you have a gas stove or bbq grill).

I live in an apartment complex and fortunately had access to a swimming pool where residents were bringing their containers to fill them up with water to use to flush the toilets. It is also amazing how dependent we have become on electricity to survive. I would have given a great deal to have had a gas stove or gas fireplace at that point. Instead, several days were spent getting out in the bitter cold to walk the dogs and then crawling back into bed to get warm. You can’t read, you can’t play games on your phone, you can’t check the internet (it goes down too when the power does). It is very disconcerting. It is extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything by candlelight.

However, I found there is one activity that rises to the top when everything is quiet and dark–and that is prayer. You can focus when there are no extraneous noises or distractions. You can really take time to speak with and listen to God when you don’t have to run to the next meeting or cook the next meal or deal with whatever else we have filled our lives. You can see God in the beauty of the storm and the gleaming white snow all around You can praise him for the warm blankets you have and a safe place to sleep. You can get so much closer to the kind of relationship we are supposed to have with Him. As I prayed, I found so many things to be thankful for even in the midst of the winter storms. I have a roof over my head, blankets on my bed, warm clothes, food in the fridge and water. I am blessed beyond all measure.

I know I have gone on and on about unpleasant surprises, but the flip side to that coin is the wonderful, unexpected pleasant surprises. I received one just yesterday. Many of you know my son passed away almost 7 years ago now. A few years prior to that he had been living in Oregon with the love of his life. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. He moved back to Las Vegas then down to Texas. When he left Oregon he left practically everything behind. One thing in particular was a beautiful frame with a picture of my dad in uniform and some of his personal mementos. I had spoken to the young woman some years ago and she assured me she would send his things to me. It just never happened, until now. Several days ago, she reached out to my daughter and told her she still had Sean’s (my son’s) belongings and she wanted to send them to us.

She did just that. Not only was the framed item I mentioned included but things I never knew my son had kept. Included in the things he kept were all the cards and letters my dad, my daughter and I had sent to him when he was living away from us. I knew he had a kind heart, but I didn’t know just how sentimental he was. There were mementos from races and concerts, and pictures of his two younger half-brothers, even notes from his step-mom. I was absolutely moved to joyful tears. The anniversary of his death is a little more than a month away and it is always a difficult time for me. However, having these wonderful items to sort through and put in an album will help turn my sorrow to joy. People say time heals all wounds, but they are wrong. It doesn’t. It just puts more distance between the event that caused the wound and today. C S Lewis likened it to an amputation. You can learn to walk again, but you will always know the leg is not there. That’s so true, there is a hole in my heart left by my son’s death even though I know he is safe in heaven and look forward to whenever God calls me home to join him.

In the meantime, I thank God for sending me this miracle surprise. One I never expected or even thought about. Thank you Lord for the gifts that you give us. You do indeed give us the desire of our hearts, even though we may not know what those desires were until you provide it. Bad weather may come and go, sorrows may occur and surprises may be happy or sad, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Psalm 86:5 says “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” Surprise, God loves you (and He loves me too).

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Blood, Sweat and Tears was a large rock and roll group that was popular from 1967 to 1981.  They disappeared from the music scene, for about 3 years and then started up again in 1984.  They had a distinctive style of music that was a fusion or rock, blues and pop music.  The band featured brass instruments and did lots of jazz improvisations.  A style of music that can still catch your attention and get your toes tapping.

I am crazy about rock music.  Not the hard or acid rock but the early rock and roll.  It makes me want to get up and dance.   Joan Jett said it beautifully in her song, “I Love Rock and Roll.”  There’s a lyric in the song that talks about putting another dime in the jukebox and the record machine.  I don’t know if many of you remember how prevalent jukeboxes were several decades ago.  There were big ones in lots of restaurants, bars and clubs.  In some of the restaurants, there were small juke boxes on each table.  You could put your money in there and select the songs you wanted to hear without getting up.  The big drawback was that you didn’t know how many other people had done the same thing before you and it might be a while before you heard your favorite songs.  But waiting was easy while you listened to your favorite tunes.

For me it was always about the lyrics and the beat.   Whether they were silly, maudlin or romantic, songs could say things that I had no words to express.  I love how the music always told a story, and you could actually understand the words they were singing (usually).  Oh yeah, there were no F bombs being dropped and no crude or lascivious lyrics and certainly no rappers threatening to blow up the world or kill all the police.     

Most of all I love the danceability (is that a word?) of the music, that strong back beat that you hear in so many songs.  For me to really engage with the music I had to be able to sing along and dance to it.  When I was in my 20’s on my days off I would put on my favorite records–yes I did say records, those vinyl discs that went on a record player, if you were lucky you had a stereo.  The records came in three separate sizes, 45, 78 and 33 1/3.  The 45’s were small discs that held one song per side.  The 78’s were larger but still only had one song per side whereas the 33 1/3 were the long play discs.  You could put an entire album on those babies.  The stereo had the place of honor in my house.  Sure, I liked TV but I liked music a whole lot more.  I would crank up the stereo and blast out my favorite tunes while I cleaned my house and sang all my favorite songs.  It was amazing how fast I could get that housework done that way.

My kids grew up listening to this kind of music.  I played music all the time whenever possible.  I bought 8 tracks and cassettes and finally moved up to CD’s and then a Walkman.  Wow, I thought I was on top of the technology world for music.  It’s funny, as my kids grew older of course they found their own music style, most of which did not impress me in the least.  The sad tale of the generational split.  LOL.  To this day though, my daughter can remember the words to several of “my” songs.  And though our music tastes differ quite a bit, there are a few artists we can agree we really like.  If you can spontaneously burst into a chorus of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” you have a picture of my family get togethers.  Even my granddaughter and her husband know and love Jimmy Buffett.  There are many things which hold a family together, and music can be a part of that.

My daughter and I both enjoy contemporary Christian rock.  As a matter of fact, other than a few oldies, or some good country music, contemporary Christian rock and old-fashioned hymns are all I listen to these days.  Songs can express emotions for which I truly have no words.  The beautiful old hymns can ease my soul and soften my heart ache.  I believe all good Christian music is inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Life can be difficult to say the least.  There are times when I just need to get on my knees or fully prone and let my emotions flow through.  Often there are many tears that accompany a prayer time like this.  Knowing the Holy Spirit is interceding for me is crucial to my emotional survival. Romans 8:26 says “In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  And I am so grateful that he does.

 I need the Holy Spirit in every part of my life.  I need the Holy Spirit in order to write this blog.  I have simply not been able to write anything in several weeks.  The political split that our country has been plagued with was at a fever pitch during that time.  I promised I would not allow my blog to become a political forum so I felt completely blocked from writing anything prayerful.  I am sincerely hoping that the madness of the past few months is retreating, and people will settle back into a more normal lifestyle.  Although, I can hardly call it normal when we are still living in a pandemic situation.

Today, I am filled with the spirit of hope.  Hope for our future as individuals, as Christians and as part of our great nation.  The hope does not come from what may or may not be changing in the political arena and does not rest on who is in what office, or on anyone on this earth.  Instead, my hope comes from Jesus Christ.  When He ascended into heaven he gave us all the Holy Spirit to indwell with us.  The Holy Spirit is our comforter.   No matter what is happening on the worldwide front, my life as a follower of Christ is secure.  You see, I may not know the end of the story, but I can see the next phase.  The one where we “graduate” from earth to heaven.  Paul expressed the way I feel these days.  His letter to the Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Simply said living for Christ we are able to continue the good works of making disciples of all nations, but to die means we get to go to heaven. 

For several weeks I was struggling with the concept of heaven.  My finite mind could not picture how heaven could possibly hold all the  trillions of people who have died before us. The logistics of it all is what caused my struggle.  Regardless of what I may be able to understand, Jesus tells us very simply, “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I got to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2. There is a place for each and everyone of us who have accepted the gracious gift of salvation.

Jesus paid a very high price for us to be in heaven with him some day. Just like we do sometimes, Christ also struggled with the right words to pray on the night before his crucifixion.  His struggle was so intense that the drops of sweat were like drops of blood. As Luke tells us, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly.  Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44 I never realized that this was anything more than a dramatic description of Jesus praying.  It is far more than that.  Jesus did actually sweat blood.  There is a name for it.  Hematidrosis is what it is called, and it is caused by the blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands.  The blood vessels can burst and then seep into the sweat glands, so that indeed the drops of sweat are bloody.  The cause of this condition is extreme anguish.  And Jesus was certainly suffering extreme anguish.  He says of himself, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

The Bible tells us Jesus suffered all the temptations that we can suffer, but we certainly do not suffer everything Jesus went through.  And He did it all for us.  For in the end, He was obedient.  He prayed earnestly for God to remove the cup of suffering, but then, like the dutiful son that He was, he said “Not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42.

As children of God, we too need to remember to be obedient.  That doesn’t mean we have to suffer as Christ did, it means that we must listen for the voice of God or the leading of the Holy Spirit and be willing to follow.  Follow wherever God leads us.  We will walk down that road with him, and I picture myself doing just that while singing my favorite rock songs.  Rock on!

Fear

Isaiah 43:2a “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…”

There are songs and poems about fear. There are stories and movies too. But no song, poem, story, or movie can make you feel the gut-wrenching emotion that is true, unmitigated, abject fear. Intellectually, I know that God is with me no matter what happens, but in the middle of such a shocking experience, my brain can only call out to God in terror. If everything could stop for just a moment, I would be able to breathe and think and I would remember that the Bible addresses our fears and reassures us in Isaiah 41:13. God says to us: “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do Not Fear, I will help you.'”

My greatest and probably completely irrational fear is dying a horrifyingly painful death in a sudden violent occurrence. Knowing that my time has come, and it is going to be ugly, and it is going to hurt. Strange as this may seem, there are several times in my life when I was in a situation so terrifying and overwhelming that I thought I was going to die.

One such time was on a white-water rafting excursion. It was early spring, and the rivers and the snowmelt made for what we thought would be ideal conditions. We had a group of foreign exchange students visiting us. We wanted to provide them with a unique, exciting adventure. Little did we know just how exciting this would be.

We piled in the cars and headed to a place just outside Marysvale, UT where we could access the Sevier River. We had our rafts, our oars, our wetsuits, and life jackets. We thought we were thoroughly prepared. What we didn’t know was that the river was running too fast and the National Parks people had not yet opened it up for rafting because it was too dangerous. Ignorance was not bliss in this situation.

We split up between the two rafts, 3 of the kids and I were in the first one, the others followed in the second. It didn’t take long to realize we could not control the rafts and we were hanging on for dear life. I was horrified that I had put these teenagers into such a dangerous position and if anything happened to them it would be on my head. Little did I know what was in store for me.

Suddenly the raft hit a large rock and I went flying forward out of it and into the freezing waters of the Sevier. I couldn’t breathe, the water was carrying me downstream beating my body against the rocks. In just minutes I could no longer feel my legs. I knew I was going to drown in this icy cold river, but not before my body would be beaten to a pulp. At just that moment, the raft caught up to me and I tried to grab hold of the side. Unfortunately, the raft ran over me and I got caught underneath. I don’t think I have ever been as scared as I was right at that moment. Hands (God’s hands?) reached into the water and grabbed my arms and I came up with my head out of the water and able to grab hold of the side of the raft.

However, the cold water was doing its job and my whole body was becoming numb. I knew I could not hold on much longer. I told the kids in the raft I was going to let go I couldn’t hold on any longer, I was no longer afraid. I had reached a point in this near-drowning that I knew I would be with the Lord, and I was sure that it wouldn’t be long before the cold took over and I would no longer feel the pain of death. With strength only granted by the grace of God, these kids pulled me into the raft. I was out of the water, but we had lost our oars. I had no idea how we would ever navigate to a safe place.

The promise that God made in the Isaiah 43:2 verse held true because within minutes the raft grounded on an outcropping on the far side of the river. One of the kids and I got out, my leg was gashed and bleeding. Before the other two could get out, the raft, without the extra weight, took off. The two young girls alone in the raft. Again, by the grace of God the raft ran by some branches from a bush sticking out into the river. They grabbed the branches and got out of the raft on the opposite side of the river from where I was.

Before long the other raft came by and saw what had happened. They had to go almost all the way down the river before they could find a place to get out, hike back to the vehicles, and rescue us. By the time we got to the hospital in Marysvale, my leg was bleeding profusely (it had to warm up enough to really bleed) and I was battered and bruised and had several broken bones in one foot.

Psalm 46:1-3 says it beautifully, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters rage and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” I thank God for his miraculous rescue of us all from the raging, foaming waters. Without his divine providence, I would have died that day.

I guess God just wasn’t finished with me yet. After all, if I had not survived and was not here, who would write this blog?

(PS I have never again gone white water rafting since that incident.)

If God Loves Me Why Am I So Sad?

Some of us have lives that are as smooth as silk.  They flow from day to day with rarely a downturn to deal with.  Others, like me, have lives that are complex and confusing.  It often feels as if we have our own little dark cloud over us all the time. We are the ones who suffer from clinical depression. 

Now, I am not talking about situational depression, where you suffer when a tragedy happens.  That is what we are supposed to feel at that point.  No, I am talking about a sadness that is inexplicable and overtakes you without a valid reason.  Yes, I know there are medications that can be prescribed for this.  However, I have been on those medications for many years and unfortunately, they are not a magic wand. 

You see this kind of depression is a physical illness, an illness of the brain.  There is some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it react the way it does, the medications do help but not always and not forever. Do I believe that God can cure this?  Absolutely!  But, for those of you who would tell me that if I pray hard enough or am a good enough Christian, he will remove it;  I remind you that Paul prayed for God to remove the “thorn in his flesh” and God’s response was that His grace was sufficient for Paul.  It is sufficient for me also. 

Even so, this kind of depression assails my faith. It cannot rock me from the love of the Lord, but it can shake my positive attitude. The hard questions come flying into my mind. Those questions that have no easy answer. If God loves me why am I so sad? Why does God let bad things happen? Why doesn’t God stop the pandemic? Why do innocent children and sweet animals suffer? And my favorite, why doesn’t God punish those who are so mean and vile and vicious?

I have no answers for these questions, I wish I did.  However, I do have faith. I have faith that God is with me no matter how deep the pit I fall into, no matter how bad I may think life is at any particular time.  And I know that God has given us the Bible, his own Word, to help us through the trying times. 

I have a wonderful little booklet of verses for women that I found at the Dollar Tree store. It is called the “NLT Bible Promise Book for Women.” It is just a small booklet but packed with wonderful scripture. If you did not know, Dollar Tree has a nice selection of Christian reading material. I often find small Bibles and other books to use as gifts. The booklet has verses organized by categories; wisdom, confidence, celebration, forgiveness, and truth to name just a few.

So, when I have these periods of depression, I like to keep that little booklet close by. And I go from category to category and read the verses for encouragement. These help to keep my focus on God and not on my feelings.  Keeping my focus on God’s loving qualities, prevents me from drowning in doubt from the questions that I cannot answer. I long ago realized that there will always be some questions about God that I will not have answers to until I get to heaven.

There are lots of verses about being able to focus. Lack of focus often accompanies periods of depression. Read Proverbs 4:25 “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” One of my favorites is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable., whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Now there is a good list of things on which to concentrate.

I am sure you already know this, but the internet is a wealth of information about Bible verses. You can put in the search line “Bible verses about (almost any topic you can think of)” and it will bring back several lists of verses about your topic. While my little booklet doesn’t have a depression category, the internet does. And I will bet you know that the Psalms are one of the greatest resources for uplifting verses. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Crushed in spirit is such a good description of how one can feel in the throes of depression.   Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Or Psalm 30:11 “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Imagine being clothed with joy. How amazing is that?  One more, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

So, my advice is this: Turn to scripture, always, anytime, but especially when you are feeling the weight of the world and can’t focus. God’s word will calm your spirit and ease your mind.  He will give you the strength to endure, the downtimes and he will rejoice with you in the uptimes. Wherever you are, God is there too.  Remember, He is holding you in his righteous right hand and nothing can snatch you away from him.

Trampolines, Kangaroos and Red Rubber Balls

What do you suppose these three things have in common? They all bounce!

Do you remember jumping on a trampoline as a kid? I sure do. That feeling of almost flying as you bounced as high as you possibly could was amazing. When was the last time you felt that free, that unencumbered? Very few things in life give you that feeling of freedom that defying gravity while you soar upwards brings you.  I’m not sure trampolines are still a big deal anywhere, but they invoke wonderful memories for me.

Then there is our friend the kangaroo, a truly extraordinary creature.   They bounce along at incredible speeds.  Did you know that for short sprints they get up to 44 mph, and on longer runs they can maintain a speed of 25 mph for up to a mile.  All these while they are carrying little ones in the big front safety pouch. My mind is like a kangaroo sometimes.  Jumping from thought to thought.  I’m not a very focused individual and as thoughts bombard my brain, I mentally bounce all over the place and usually at a pretty high rate of speed.

Finally, there are red rubber balls.  One of my favorite old 60’s song is named Red Rubber Ball.  The singer laments his inability to stay away from his cheating girlfriend and keeps bouncing back to her like a red rubber ball.  I sometimes feel like this is how I interact with God.  I wander off mentally, physically or emotionally.  Then when I finally come to my senses, I go bouncing back to him.  Of course, there are some days when I feel like a kangaroo jumping on a trampoline trying to catch a red rubber ball!  So much bouncing around.  So many distractions. 

Strangely, a distraction can be either a problem or a solution to the problem, if the problem is focus.  I can be focused on writing this blog, then a simple wrong set of keystrokes and I am super distracted as my entire first draft just disappeared.  Now my focus is irritation with myself for not paying more attention and the fact that I now have to recreate everything I had just written.  Talk about annoying.  That is exactly what happened.  Then when I was redoing the entire blog, I had one more idea of a place to look and I found the first draft, or at least most of it.  Hallelujah!!

On the other hand, a distraction can sometime bring me back into focus.  For example, I start my morning by reading my Bible, selecting a daily Bible verse to share on Facebook, reading a few of my favorite devotionals and spending some time on a Bible Study.  This is my most focused time of the day.  However, as the day wears on I begin drifting out of focus.  I start thinking about meals for the day, chores to done, errands to be run or what the weather will do today.  Then, suddenly something will catch my attention and I realize how far my thoughts have drifted and I am able to go back and refocus with God at the center of my thoughts and plans.

Matthew’s gospel tells us a wonderful story about distraction.  Peter sees Jesus walking across the water from the shore to the boat in which the disciples are waiting for him.  Peter is super focused on Jesus and tells Jesus that if he will order Peter to come out to him on the water, he will do it.  And sure enough, he gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water.  Suddenly he was distracted by the strong winds blowing on the sea.  He took his eyes off of Jesus and was frightened.  He started to sink and cried out “Lord, save me!”  And of course, Jesus did.  But he asked Peter a very important question.  “You who have so little faith, why did you doubt?”

How well can we answer that question?  Why do we let distractions take our eyes away from the Savior?  There’s another great scripture (actually there are 1000’s of them) in the Bible about how to focus.  Also, in Matthew, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Matthew 6:33. And the same words are echoed in Colossians 3:2    Philippians 4:8 gives us an expanded version of the same thought, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Truly, if we keep our eyes on Jesus and our thoughts on heavenly things, life might just smooth out a bit for us.  After all, if we are thinking about God and heavenly things, we don’t have any room to worry, about anything–which we are told we shouldn’t do anyway. 

There is a verse in Matthew that asks us if we can add even a single hour to our lives by worrying. And the answer, of course, is no. So why do we worry? Well, partly because when our thoughts are bouncing all around we lose focus. Philippians 4:6 tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So try to stop bouncing around; get off the trampoline, stop chasing kangaroos and give that red rubber ball to your dog. Stay focused on Jesus, he is “the way, the truth and the life” John 14:6.

Goody, Goody

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is a very old song (my parents generation so we’re talking a really long time ago), called Goody, Goody sung by several different artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. It a song about someone getting what they deserved. The refrain goes like this:

“Hurray and Hallelujah, you had it coming to you. Goody, goody for her, goody goody for me I hope you’re satisfied, you rascal you.” Now I always thought the words, instead of I Hope You’re Satisfied, were, You Got What You Deserved.” When I went to verify it, I found the correct wording, but it really doesn’t change the message of the song at all. The original lyrics were much more polite than my assumed lyrics. Its still all about the jilted lover rejoicing over the heartache her ex-boyfriend is now suffering, just like she suffered. Sounds like a very justified emotion don’t you think? I don’t know about you but I have been guilty of feeling that way once or twice in the past.

However, the Bible tells us those feelings are not what God expects from us. Instead of rejoicing over their misery we are supposed to love them and pray for them. I recently heard a sermon where the Pastor said much to the effect of, we should pray that we will see them in Heaven. Now that’s a powerful request. Do I really want to see certain people in Heaven? And if not, why not? Was their alleged crime against me so bad I would wish them thrown into outer darkness, for ever? Seems a little harsh doesn’t it?

The Bible says we should not rejoice when our enemy falls, see Proverbs 24:18 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls. And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Which I always thought meant you just don’t have a party over it, but you can feel “justified, as in he got what he deserved.” Wrong! If you look at Matthew 5:44 which very plainly states, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Wow! Really? Yes really. You know what happens when you pray for those enemies, you are blessed. Seems counter-intuitive, but it happens just the same. Actually praying for those who persecute you allows to you release all of the negative feelings involved in disliking someone. The more you pray, the happier you become. Now that is not the reason we are supposed to pray for them, but it is a by-product of that prayer.

I have become very intentional in praying for my enemies. I pray for people from my past, I pray for people in my present and I pray for those groups of people so full of hatred they are willing to take drastic measures to destroy us. As a Christian, our enemies are not always just people. Our enemies become concepts or beliefs held by others. We are attacked and maligned for our beliefs, but told we must accept and tolerate every one else’s beliefs. If we don’t we are labeled intolerant and narrow minded. I think the only thing narrow is the road to Heaven. Matthew 7:13 says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Part of the problem is that Christianity doesn’t fit into today’s culture. The Bible holds to certain absolute truths. In today’s culture truth is situational and individual. And I just don’t understand that at all. Just because someone chooses to “believe” that the moon is made of green cheese, doesn’t make it true. And conversely, just because I believe what the Bible has to say about sin and its consequences does not make me anyone’s enemy. It is not I, who will be judging anyone for we are told distinctly, in many verses, that judgment is not ours. I like the way Luke 6:37 says it best. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven.”

The point is that when we pray for our enemies, and if they repent, they will no longer be our enemies. So we probably will see them in Heaven. Now I know its easier to just believe they will not enter Heaven and think, well they got what they deserved. I can tell you I fervently praise God and thank him that I have not gotten what I deserve. My life was a mess for a long time, but instead of turning his back on me, God loved me back into his arms. And he can do that for our enemies also. So you see it is the Lord God himself who will judge each and every one of us. And he is an amazingly forgiving God. So don’t think you know what he’s going to decide for each person. That person you so smugly thought you would never see in Heaven, just might be the one greeting you at gates.

Habitual Learning

The human brain is an amazing thing. I learned a new word today. I think I may have heard it before, but I now know what it means. The word is neuroplasticity. Isn’t that a fantastic word? It just sort of rolls around in your mouth when you say it. New-Row-Plaa-Stis-City. That’s the closest I can come to phonetically spelling the word. Picture in your mind, a switchboard operator (from many decades ago) sitting in front of a massive switchboard with wires being endlessly pushed in and pulled out and you have a mental image of neuroplasticity. The word neuroplasticity is broken down into two parts, neuro referring to the neurons in the brain and plasticity which refers to the ability of the brain to reshape and categorize information. “Well”, you say, “isn’t that lovely, so happy you shared that; however, what does that mean and how does it apply to my life?”

So glad you asked. Neuroplasticity basically controls the learning process. It is the brain function that allows us to form and break habits. It describes how the brain takes new information and files it away in our brains. This function can also take old information and re-categorize it allowing us to look at the information from a different perspective.

Annnnnd…..this is important why?  Because this is how we learn new habits and unlearn (so to speak) less appealing habits.  For example, you may want to create a habit of reading your Bible first thing every morning.  Your habit now is to just get up and start getting ready for the day.   Every time you actually take time to read your Bible first thing, the stronger the signal becomes in your brain.  Repeat the process enough times and reading the Bible first becomes a habit.  Conversely, each time you don’t repeat a process, the signals in your brain for that process become weaker and weaker and soon the old habit gets replaced by the new habit. 

Obviously, this is a huge over-simplification of the process of neuroplasticity, but you get the idea.  Interestingly enough, there is one part of the habit-forming/unforming process that isn’t accounted for with neuroplasticity.  It’s the will or desire to change the habit.  Is it possible, some unpleasant habit you have feels almost impossible to change? This is where desire comes in. The brain is capable of doing it, but do we really want to change a particular habit?

Luckily for us, most habits are just that, habits.  We become used to way we do things and they become rote and nearly meaningless.  Even a good habit can become sterile if we don’t actively think about what we are doing.  Surprisingly, your quiet time with God can turn into just another checkmark on your to do list.  Imagine, here you are ready to spend some time in prayer and contemplation.  Within seconds, literally, your mind starts darting around thinking about everything else you have to do that day.  You realize you haven’t been actively praying at all. 

Developing the habit of focusing on just the current action, is difficult in our distracting

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-3118214.jpeg

world.  Your time with the Lord needs to be more important than anything else you have to do.  The Bible tells us in Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  This is not the only place in the Bible where we told to seek God first.  Look at 1 Chronicles 16:11 “Seek the Lord and His strength, seek his presence continually” (that means ALL the time). One verse that I particularly like is Psalm 14:2 “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”  Do we actively seek after God? Top on my list is Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” That is a tall order. Let us use these marvelous brains that God gave us to seek him with all our hearts and minds. We are never too old to learn.   Continue to read uplifting books, including your Bible.  Don’t let the climate of our culture determine how you live.  Follow God’s word and do his will, seek his righteousness.  Open yourself to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and live like Christ is coming back tomorrow.  Make every minute count. 

And So It Begins

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Waiting. It is not something I do well. I am still, and always have been, rather much of a Type A personality. I need to be busy, to be productive, to keep my mind stimulated.  I enjoy social activities and being around friends.  I don’t sit still well.   I will admit that I am doing better with down time now that I am retired. But it has taken me almost 15 years of retirement to get here. I am learning to be patient (without being cranky along with it).

In the early weeks of the pandemic before the complete shut down, I went grocery shopping and visited craft stores to tackle new projects to keep myself occupied. Then I switched to online ordering with curbside pickup and ordering to-go meals that offer either curbside pickup or home delivery to avoid interaction. I have watched more TV in these last few months than I have in the last several years.

As the pandemic continues, I go out less and less and find myself to be in almost complete isolation.  I have been very compliant with all the new rules and regulations I wear my mask; I wash my hands, I sanitize everything frequently.  I don’t go out often because I am considered high risk. I am well over 60, I have several underlying health conditions which are known to be problematic to COVID-19 patients.  I have really done my best to keep to myself with only a once a week drive (sometimes with my friend Barbara) to pick up some paper work for a prison ministry in which we are both involved; but that is a no-contact little trek unless I have my friend with me.  I have not put myself into any circumstance that would expose me to danger, or so I thought.

Imagine my surprise, when I got an email from a health provider informing me that an employee of theirs had been exposed to the virus and therefore all the patients seen within a two week period were possibly exposed and they were advising us to get tested.  I was fairly sure I didn’t have the virus as I had no symptoms, but one can go two weeks or more without symptoms and still be contagious.  So began the waiting.  I needed to schedule a test and wait for the results.   While I was waiting, I had to be in complete isolation.  No physical or in-person social contact at all. Not even with my daughter. This is hard waiting.

When I told my daughter about the need to be tested, she immediately started checking out testing sites and got me registered for one for the next day. I went and waited in line for only about 20-30 minutes, but thinking about what was to come, that was long enough for me to come remarkably close to having a panic attack. Finally, they allowed me to pull my car forward, only to find out I had to administer the test myself. Now I know people who have had the test given to them and it requires an exceptionally long cotton tipped swab, not the little 4″ version they provided to me.   I did my best to get far enough into the nasal cavity, but I was quite sure the test would not be valid. At any rate, I had several days to wait for a result from the self-administered test.

In the meantime, my daughter convinced me to call my doctor. And the doctor’s office response was to make an appointment for me to come in and have the doctor perform the swab correctly. So, I was waiting for the first (mostly worthless) test results and waiting to go see the doctor to have it done correctly. This is not a comfortable procedure. I had to wait in the parking lot, because doctor’s waiting rooms are pretty much a thing of the past now. We had a virtual visit, then the doctor came to my car to perform the swab. Then began the next time of waiting, this time waiting for the new results.    

I do not like waiting; I think I’ve probably mentioned that before. Along with the waiting, there is fear knocking at the back door of my mind, trying to gain access. I do not want fear in my life. It is no way to live. I have lived in fear in the past and I will never allow fear to gain a stronghold in my life ever again. No matter what the test results yield.  The bottom line for me is that I must wait. Wait for appointments, wait for results, wait for shopping deliveries, wait for food delivery, wait for repairmen, wait for this pandemic to end; wait, wait, wait. 

However, there is another type of waiting, the good kind of waiting, the most important waiting I do.  That waiting is to wait upon the Lord. Why should we wait upon the Lord? Psalm 27:14 says: “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  So, we wait upon the Lord for he gives us courage and strength. And Lamentations 3:25 says ” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” I particularly love this verse as it reminds me to take time to seek the Lord and wait upon his presence, for He is so good to me.  Sometimes I become impatient with waiting.  It seems like we are waiting a long time for Jesus to return.  More than 2,000 years of waiting, that seems like a long time doesn’t it?  Then 2 Peter 3:9 comes to mind.  “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

And so, it begins, the waiting with faith in my heart.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” When we have faith, when we have Christ in our hearts, when the love of God dwells within us, waiting is so much easier. Thank you, Lord for being with us in our times of waiting and for loving us unconditionally.  Come, let us wait on the Lord together.

I Pledge Allegiance to God

Governments come and governments go. We have been lucky here in the United States that ours has been in existence for more than 200 years. We think that’s a very long time, but in reality it is just transitory. Before becoming a Republic, we were part of England and ruled over by a King George. Before that there were the indigenous people and each of the tribes had their own hierarchies. The monarchy in England goes back thousands of years. Even though the form of government was a monarchy, the monarchs themselves changed throughout the years. Just as our highest elected leaders change every four to eight years depending on the elections.

I think what is wrong with this world today, at least one of the things that is wrong, is that there are far too many people who will pledge allegiance to a country or form of government or political party, or an ideal, but not to God. They don’t seem to know that God will outlast all the governments, God will outlast all the trials and tribulations, God is bigger than anyone can imagine. People don’t understand an eternal being and creator, or as the new terminology says, “intelligent designer”. Wikipedia defines intelligent design as “the pseudoscientific argument for the existence of God, presented by its proponents as ‘an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origin.'” Pseudoscientific. Doesn’t that just tell you where Wikipedia stands on the issue of God? I was watching the old West Wing series recently. In one scene the democratic presidential nominee (played by Jimmy Smits) is asked if he believes in intelligent design. I loved his answer. He said, “I believe in God, and I believe that God is very intelligent.”

One reason people give for not believing in God is that they think the Bible doesn’t correlate with science. That is not necessarily true. I don’t want to get off on this tangent today, except to say that I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and is never changing. Science changes all the time. Science thought the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Of course modern science doesn’t believe that now. The point is that with science there is no immutable truth. Scientific truth is variable, situational and ever-changing.

Another reason people give for not believing in God is that if, in their opinion, there really was a loving God, he would not allow horrible things like this pandemic to happen. We try to explain away the terrible things by saying “We live in a fallen world, and Satan is prince of this world, at least until Jesus returns.” Even that doesn’t really explain to me why God allows these terrible things to happen. It doesn’t explain to me why He has allowed this pandemic to wipe out millions of people, including innocent children. Just because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. I trust Him with my immortal soul.

A third reason people say they don’t believe in God, is because they can’t see him, even in their imaginations, so they believe He must not exist. “But a natural man (unbeliever) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 Additionally, our current culture will tell us, truth is relative to the individual, there is no absolute truth.

You see, the difference between my beliefs as a Christian and those who are unbelievers, is faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (emphasis mine). Isn’t that amazing? Faith allows us to believe, even when we can’t see. I have faith that God is the supreme being . I have faith that He created this world in seven days, just as the Bible says. I have faith that God is good all the time, in spite of what we might see in this world. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (emphasis mine) Romans 8:28 I believe!

So, how can I have such faith? That would require me telling you my testimony and that’s not today’s discussion. Just trust me when I say, once you have a “personal experience” with God, you cannot help but believe. So yes, I pledge my allegiance to God first, then to my country, and then to my state (after all it is the great state of Texas). Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…” I take that to mean that we should put God first. Communicate with him he will show you the way to go. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God for you.” Daunting little list of commands, but with practice it gets easier to do those things. And just why should we do those things? Because God loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that, whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

So pledge your allegiance to God. Because governments do come and go, but God is eternal. And eternity is a very long time. God is bigger than all the things on this earth. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Amen– Revelation 21:6

Its All In The Attitude

I haven’t written anything in a while. I don’t know why, but I am stymied. It seems there is so much hate swirling around everywhere I look. I’m not sure how to take a prayerful attitude with this. But then I remembered Jimmy. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge Jimmy Buffet fan. (During any large family gathering, all four generations of us are likely to spontaneously burst out with the chorus from Cheeseburger in Paradise. I love this about my family.) Listening to his music with its laid back attitude, can lift my spirits from almost any blue funk. Jimmy is all about kicking back a step and looking at the world and its problems from a new perspective. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating his perspective, as that is usually alcohol related, but I am advocating looking at things from a new, biblical perspective.

One of my favorite of his songs has the following lyrics; “Its these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same. With all of our running and all of our cunning if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” You see, that’s whats missing right now: it’s the laughter–happy, kind, wonderful laughter of pure enjoyment. The hatred that has settled over the world, like a miasma of darkness, is shutting down the laughter. Everywhere we look, almost, hatred is being spewed out into the atmosphere. It comes from some of the usual places, like politics, racism and discrimination against one another based on color, creed, religious affiliation or sexual orientation. But the hatred is so pervasive that, people with opinions from opposite sides of the mask situation are losing friends over their perspective. Conspiracy theories abound and divide people on either side of that issue. And then the rights versus responsibility question is a huge argument these days. It seems no one is happy.

I am a strong believer in the power of prayer, and I am praying everyday about the situation in today’s world. It’s almost ridiculous to say, but I hate hatred. Its debilitating, its ugly, and its depressing. There are no easy answers. I don’t want to sound facile or act as if prayer is a magic silver bullet, because we know God answers prayers in his own good time. Regardless, of when or how prayer is answered, it is still our best and most effective defense against hatred. The Bible tells us in James 5:16b that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” So are we righteous people? That’s a point to ponder.

There are more than 100 verses in the Bible that refer to righteousness. Some talk about living righteously, some talk about what righteousness does for us, some talk about being trained to be righteous. The most thought provoking of them all, at least for me, is Romans 3:10; “None is righteous, no, not one;” If none are righteous, then we certainly are not, and that would make our prayers would be ineffective and powerless. Why would Paul say this? He is actually quoting from Psalm 14:1-3. “The fool says in his heart,  ‘There is no God.’They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
So if we have all turned aside and have all become corrupt, how do we even begin to think that we can be righteous? Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who, knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

There it is, the answer to how we become righteous. We don’t. There is nothing we can do to obtain righteousness. It is a gift, much like the gift of grace, that is bestowed on us, because God loves us, not because we deserve it. So now that we know we have been given the gift of righteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ, how should be we be living? Should we be allowing the hatred, the despondency, the loneliness and the isolation to turn us from the path of righteousness? Absolutely not. It is not easy to behave like a committed Christian in these times. But we need to stand firm on our faith. (I believe I am speaking to myself as much as to anyone who may be reading this.) Remember this world is temporary and all the things we think are so important right now, are really just of little value. The battle is already over, Christ has won and Satan has been defeated. Satan just doesn’t know it yet. Don’t let him divert your attention away from God to focus on this world. This world will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. As the song says, “Keep your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”

Yes, we still have to live in this world and deal with those around us. But if we focus on God and pray continuously for Him to guide us, we can be a beacon of hope and light for those around us. Let them see our joy even in the face of this horrific pandemic. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and he can shine through us if we let him. If you look on a globe you will not see a latitude for Heaven, but that is the latitude we need to strive toward in order for attitude change to occur. “It’s these changes in latitudes and change in attitudes,” that will change us and the world around us.

Love is the pathway to changing our attitude. Love is always the right answer. Love can defeat hatred. Love, God’s love is so powerful we cannot even imagine just what changes can be wrought if we live in that love and show that love to everyone. Our present circumstances may be dire indeed, but that doesn’t mean our attitude has to match the circumstances. If we, as the song says, “turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” May you experience his glory and grace every day of your lives.