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

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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

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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.

Is there a cure for this disease?

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One of my favorite things to do during this quarantine, is to watch multiple church services on TV, either recorded or live stream. I have two that I am most attracted to. There is Dr. Duane Brooks, pastor of Tallowood Baptist Church, Houston, TX . His preaching is always inspirational and helps me keep my focus on Christ and my neighbors instead of myself. The other is Dr. Bill Waddell, pastor of Island Baptist Church, South Padre Island TX. His preaching teaches me from, and grounds me in, the Word. After listening to one of his sermons, I feel prompted to look up all the Bible references I can find about his topic of the week. Both men are completely different in their style and delivery and both are wonderful preachers from whom I am learning all the time.

This week Dr. Waddell was discussing, among other things, disease in Jesus’s time and its similarities to the pandemic in which we now find ourselves. This got me thinking, about disease in general. In Jesus’s time leprosy was rampant (and still is apparently), just like Covid-19 is rampant now. As far as I know, there is no cure for either. But as deadly as both of these diseases are, they are not the worst disease we face in our lives. There is a disease of the soul and of the mind and it is a disease of pandemic proportion. People are being hurt and even die as a result of this disease. Fear of this disease is creating panic, rioting, political unrest and protesting . This disease is called racism. Now I know I promised you I would not go political in any of my blogs, and I intend to live up to that promise. What I have to say about racism is not politically motivated, but rather comes straight from the Bible. What does the Bible say about racism? How would Jesus handle this tragic affliction that is destroying lives?

First let us look at what God the Father has to say about the topic. (Yes I am aware the actual word racism is not in the Bible). The first premise is that of creation. If you are a Christian then you know that one, we were created in the image of God himself; and two, we are created to be children of God. (Genesis 1:27, Galatians 3:26). There are many other verses that support this premise and I encourage you to google the topic. My question to you is: if we truly are brothers and sisters (children of God), created in God’s image, how then can racism exist in our communities? When did we decide that one color of skin was better than another? Or decide that one Christian denomination was better than another? Or that one group of people who share a common ideology are better than another? Says who???

Next, God the Father has given us an instruction book on how to treat our brothers and sisters. For me the Ten Commandments which are referenced in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 take top billing. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. The fifth is the first of the commandments that deal with human interaction, and also the only commandment with a promise. Namely “Honor your mother and father, that your days may be prolonged…” The last five all are about our relationship to each other. Also, let us not forget Matthew 7:12 that says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Golden rule right? Do you know that almost every religion in the world has some form of the Golden Rule? If we all lived according to the Golden Rule there would be no racism.

Unfortunately, in today’s world there are many who believe that one race is better than another, one belief system is better, one political ideology is better. I would say to them, if we think we are better than another human being for any reason, we are not following the commands of the Father. If you follow the Golden Rule there is no room in your heart, mind or soul to harbor a single racist thought.

Next, lets explore how Jesus would handle racism and injustice. Jesus was asked at one point to tell someone what was the greatest commandment. His reply is perfect. He says, “Love the lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, this is the great and first commandment. And a second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40) (Remember, neighbor does not refer to just the family next door, but to every human being.) Try following that line of thought and tell me where you think racism is justified.

.Jesus broke through the barriers of racism in his day. Take for example the woman at the well, found in the Gospel of John chapter 4. She was a Samaritan woman, a different race of people and they were held in very low esteem by their Jewish counterparts. So Jesus sits down at this well, and asks this woman to give him a drink of water. She challenges him with the question of why a Jew would ask a Samaritan for anything, much less a Samaritan woman. Even the disciples were astonished that he was speaking to her. Jesus needed to teach them how to “love their neighbor.” He used the Samaritans again in his parable of the Good Samaritan. A priest and a Levite (those in the priestly line) passed by an injured man and left him laying in the road. Then a Samaritan comes along, a member of that hated race. But even though he was hated, he did not show hatred in return; instead he showed compassion and love to the victim. (If you need to read a feel good story, this parable is one that will lift your spirits.)

Matthew 5:23-24 has Jesus telling us to reconcile with our neighbors, paraphrasing–if you are presenting a gift to God and remember that you and your brother have a disagreement, leave your gift and go make up with your brother first. Go Make Up, don’t hold a grudge, forgive. We must forgive each other, even when we think we are the injured party. The Lord’s prayer found in Luke 11:1-4 teaches us about forgiveness. We know this prayer so well we often overlook a very important clause. We ask God to forgive us our sins, exactly the same way we have forgiven others! Now that should give you pause for thought. If I have not forgiven others, then I will not be forgiven. We need to let go of petty jealousies, mean thoughts and the idea that we are better than anyone else.

I am not one to carry a grudge, because they just get too heavy to be bothered with. However, I hate to admit, that for many years I held one grudge. It was a grudge against a family member, I won’t go into why, because it doesn’t matter. What matters is, the longer I held that grudge the unhappier I became. Living with unforgiveness in our hearts makes us soul sick. When I finally admitted to myself and to God my sin of unforgiveness, God lifted it from my shoulders and healed my heart. I no longer have any animosity toward this person. I have learned that we must forgive everyone even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. It is not ours to judge, but it is ours to live in a Christlike manner, and Jesus was all about love and forgiveness.

In God’s eyes we are all the same. Galatians 3:26-28 says “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t care about the color of our skin. If you look around you see more shades of color than one can imagine. But that is irrelevant. It is not what’s on the outside that matters, but what is on the inside. In the words of a current popular Christian song, “we all bleed the same.”

For me a lot of this is a flashback to the sixties and early seventies. Protests, riots, looting, police brutality, innocents murdered. I thought we had gotten past this but apparently not. Let us stop history from repeating itself. Let’s find answers to create change. Let us spread the Gospel of love. You cannot be a Christian and a racist, you must choose one or the other. For we cannot live in Christ’s love and not have it overflow to those around us. God is love and we are his children. Let us show love to all the people of the world. Love is the cure, the only cure for this disease.

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Clare Herbert Woolston.

To Mask or Not To Mask That is the Question

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Such a “hot” topic. People are either adamantly opposed to or in favor of the use of the mask. Polar opposites, no lukewarm opinions on this. Everyone must answer this question for themselves, but let me give you some thoughts to ponder.

We are told by Jesus in Matthew 22:39 to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is a commandment not a suggestion. It is such an important commandment that it take second place only to loving God with all our hearts, souls and minds. Verse 40 give us the context of importance when Jesus says “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Did you catch that? ALL!!

These are wonderful guideposts for anyone to follow in the way they live. However, for Christians it is mandatory; there is no wiggle room here. So how do we show our love to our neighbor? Especially in this time of pandemic, what are we doing to show our love for others? I have spent a lot of time in prayer lately to find out exactly what Christ wants me to be doing to reach out to others. This blog is just one outlet, I am also following another course of action that I believe God has called me to. I’ll talk about that at a later time. It’s one of those, “okay God, tell me”….and he does….and the answer is not what I expected. But it is absolutely possible.

I guess my point is, we need to be doing things to take care of each other. And by each other I mean all of God’s children. Whether they follow our belief system or not, God still loves them. I have a friend who lives in a retirement community. She goes around leaving little “love” notes for many of those who live with her there. It is particularly difficult for these older people to be living in retirement communities and not able to interact with their friends and family. I also know many of you are involved in charities or church activities that help to support those in need. But what are we doing for those we see as we shop, eat, walk, exercise or any other way you may run into people.

Christ gave us the ultimate example when he washed the feet of the disciples, to teach them to care for one another. Then he went to the cross to die for all of us. His love was so great he took all our sins on his shoulders. So should we be out washing feet? This would be rather difficult for us to do, especially with the social distancing strictures in place.

There is one extremely easy thing you can do. I know some of you think its unimportant to wear a mask for whatever reason. However, wearing a mask is not about YOU! Uh oh, now I’ve probably upset you. But you need to know this. It is not about you but about those around you. I have several underlying health issues that practically ensure a 0% survival rate for me if I get the Coronavirus, or one of many other flu, viruses, or bacterial diseases. So, I cannot be around people who are not wearing masks.

Please for my sake and the sake of others whose health is compromised, wear your mask. If you sneeze, cough, wheeze, have a runny nose or otherwise spew bodily fluids you are possibly infecting others. Did you know you can be without any visible symptoms for up to two weeks and still be contagious with the virus? Just because you feel fine and don’t think you have it, doesn’t mean you don’t!!

If you truly love your neighbor, why are you not wearing your mask? Is your neighbor less important that your right to not wear one? I know they are a pain. Its hard to breathe through them, it can be uncomfortable, but what is that compared to protecting those around you. Just think how awful you will feel if next week you find you have been infected and, not wearing your mask, you have inadvertently subjected an unknown number of people to the virus also. When do the rights conferred upon us by “government” take precedence over the commands of our GOD?

You see taking care of others can be just as simple as wearing your mask when you are out in public. You don’t have to lay down your life, or wash feet, or feed multitudes, you just have to love your neighbor. So please, please show your love today and every day until this pandemic is over.

Privilege, Blessing or Gift?

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A dear friend sent me this Bible recently. Acts 11:18 (NLT) says “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, ‘We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.'” She said that she had never thought of repentance as being a privilege, and then she asked the most interesting question, “Does privilege equate to blessing in the biblical sense?” Is this just semantics or is there substance here also?

I immediately realized I needed to do some research on this. First I went to my Hebrew/Greek Bible (NASB) to look up the verse to find the root word used in the verse for privilege. Guess what? There was nothing there. The NASB translation reads, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” Next I went to my NIV Study Bible and it reads, “When they heard this, they had no objections and praised God, saying ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Still nothing about privilege. I looked up the verse in the New English Translation, the Common English Bible, the American Standard Version, the King James and New King James as well as the Passion Translation and could not find the word privilege in any of those. The closest one was the Passion translation that refers to the “gift of repentance”. Are those two words, gift and privilege synonymous? And are either of those words synonymous with blessing? A gift is something someone gives you without you doing anything to earn it, like the gift of grace. One definition of blessing is something beneficial for which one is grateful and brings well-being. And then, the word privilege is defined as something regarded as a special honor.

Is every gift a blessing? Is every blessing a privilege? Is every privilege a gift? I hope that you readers will weigh in on this discussion and let me know what you think. Here’s what I believe to be true. Gifts can indeed be blessings. Isaiah 11:1-2 tell us of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit–Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Then in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 there are nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed, not to be confused with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous power, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. Just for clarification, the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self control. Interestingly I came across one commentator who described the gifts and the fruit like this: The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the cake and the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the icing on the cake. The fruit of the spirit result from living in accord with the Holy Spirit. However, we will discuss the fruit of the Spirit at another time. Definitely all these gifts listed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament are truly blessings. However, a gift is not always a blessing, as not all gifts are good gifts. We don’t always want what others give us. Have you ever received something that you really didn’t want or that was given out of anger or spite?

Privilege as defined by the Oxford Dictionaries expands our original definition found above to include “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Next question, is every privilege a blessing? I think not. It depends upon who is conferring the privilege and/or how it was conferred. If God is conferring privilege upon you, then privilege is a blessing. However, if the world is bestowing privilege upon you, that may not be a blessing at all.

Blessings are far more than just privilege. The Lord blesses everyone he chooses, in whatever way he chooses. There is no regard to rank and privilege when it comes to blessings. One commentator said that privilege, in today’s society. has come to mean something negative. Privilege is for the few, the lucky, the rich, the famous, but not for the masses. Therefore, privilege often inspires envy, jealousy and resentfulness. None of which could anyone mistake for a blessing.

So my hypothesis is this, blessings can be privileges and/or gifts and are always positive. On the other hand, gifts can be positive or negative but are not always blessings. And finally, privilege can be a blessing or a gift if it brings a positive result. However, privilege can have negative connotations as well. Therefore, the three words, while having much in the way of crossover and similar definitions are not always synonymous. One must examine the gift and the giver, the blessing and the one conferring the blessing, and the privilege as well as the provider of that privilege to determine the context.

One final thought, “Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV). I think this applies to all blessings and positive privileges also as they are bestowed by the Father on an undeserving world. Praise God that he loves and blesses us so completely.

The Gift of Thyme

A dear friend gave me an idea for an article for the blog. I have been doing some research and trying to put the thoughts in order. It will be a discussion of privilege, blessings and guilt. It just wasn’t coming together for some reason (don’t worry it will be my next article, it started to come together as soon as I was led to write this one.)

As usual, I was out walking the dogs this morning. I’m talking to the Lord about the lack of inspiration I feel about writing the article, even though I’m convinced it’s a great topic (you’re going to love it, take my word for it). As I’m walking along I see on the sidewalk two little herb plants that someone has just thrown away. There they were looking sad and forlorn. Suddenly, I bent down to pick them up and said to myself, I have the perfect little pot to plant these in. Then I burst out laughing because it dawned on me that God has just given me the gift of thyme, (time) to relax about writing the other article. He wanted me to take time to talk about time.

This is an easy subject to talk about during this pandemic as so many of us have too much time on our hands. It’s not that I don’t want to be busy and productive, I do. But I’m not burning with fire to do something specific (except write this blog). The problem is that everybody is writing about time right now. Everyone has ideas (including me) for ways to help out in the community. We talked about some of those in an earlier blog. I don’t want to repeat those same thoughts.

You know the verse in Romans 8:28 (NIV) that says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”? Well I think that verse is the clue to this whole topic. Instead of wondering how we can be productive, we need to look at this time as a gift from God. He has given us the gift of time so that we can reflect on our own lives and how we are interfacing with Him. Are you spending this precious time with our Lord in prayer? Are you taking advantage of this time to delve into the Word, or into a Bible study you’ve been putting off? Are you using this precious gift of time to grow closer to God?

I know I wasn’t, at least not as much as I think I should have been. I was focused on doing the outward things. I did a massive photo album for my daughter going from great great grandparents to present day and I wrote a family history to go along with it. I made some face masks, I made some scrub caps and I bought lots of material to make lots more. I was focused on writing my blog, and the more I focused the less I was able to write. I have a sweet friend who often says she hopes that God will be actively using her up to her last breath. It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment, its just that at my last breath, I hope the Lord and I are having a conversation and I’m not so busy do good works that I miss the beauty of my transition to eternal life.

It is wonderful to lead Bible studies and write books and blogs and poetry and be in the thick of all the church projects. I’m not suggesting that we should not be doing these things. I’m suggesting that we spend more time in talking to Jesus . The tagline for this blog is “Pray without ceasing.” We should be in continual conversation with God. After all, His greatest desire was that he should create humans so he could be in relationship with us. Relationships don’t just happen. They take a lot of work– on both sides. I do spend time early in the morning reading the Word, and following several devotions on-line. (I highly recommend Jim Denison’s Daily Article.) However, I’m afraid that sometimes, I come to God with the best of intentions, start my day with him and then leave him behind me after our morning time. I “move on” to my daily activities, and the last week or so those daily activities devolved into very little of anything. I think some of the pressure of quarantine is starting to get to me. I’m feeling very much at loose ends these days.

That’s why when I saw the two little thyme plants laying on the sidewalk just waiting for me, I laughed out loud. I love how God uses the most amazing things to get our attention and to convey an idea to us. I find inspiration more often than not, in the beauty of his creation. Watching squirrels playing, listening to birds singing, dogs barking, and cats meowing always puts a smile on my face. If you haven’t noticed the magnolias are blooming. They are such a magnificent example of the beauty of God’s creation.

So I realize that as in many things in my life God has hidden a gift inside less than perfect circumstances. In this pandemic, he has given me the gift of thyme (time). So I brought the little plants home to have a constant reminder of God’s gift. I have potted them together, because even plants are stronger together than alone. Just as we are stronger together with God than we will ever be if we are alone. “Praise the Lord, oh my soul! With all that is within me, praise his holy name.” Psalm 103:1-2 (NET)

“Hold Please”

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It seems like every business you try to call these days, has a pre-recorded message that says something like “Due to Covid-19, our call volume has increased, there may be a lengthy hold.” Every time I make a call I’m told to hold. Hold. hold, hold. It is a reminder of how much our lives have changed in just a short period of time.

That got me started thinking. What else am I putting on hold? What am I not doing because of the stay at home orders? What should I be doing at home to be a contributing member of this new society? Why am I hesitating to make decisions?

When I think I’d like to buy a newer car, get a new TV, buy a house or even just buy some new clothes, my mind says “Hold off on this till you see if you get the virus.” I seem to be putting everything on hold, refusing to make positive decisions for the future. You see, I am a senior and I have underlying health issues. Getting the virus could well be my ticket out of this lifetime. So I’m avoiding decisions of any financial impact because I don’t want to leave my daughter to have to handle a load of debt.

So you may be thinking, that’s good–makes sense. The question is how long am I going to keep avoiding making decisions? How long am I going to keep my life on hold? At this point in my life, there’s not as much time left for me to sit twiddling my thumbs.

I was fairly comfortable with my decision for several weeks, but as the pandemic keeps growing, I am wondering if I this is still the right decision. Why am I not living like a believer? I don’t mean that I should be out running around getting in people’s faces, but I certainly should not be making decisions based on my fear. I can’t continue to avoid making decisions. I need to be living a full life, even if it is from inside my apartment.

I wondered how would Jesus handle something like this? That answer didn’t take long to figure our. Jesus would keep on living and moving forward. Just as he did 2000 years ago. During Easter week, if you read the scriptures detailing the last weeks of his life, you clearly saw that. Even though he knew what was coming, he continued to move forward. In Mark 8:31 he told his disciples that he would suffer, be rejected and killed, but three days later he would arise. Then in Mark 9:31 he predicts his death for the second time. The third prediction is found in Matthew 20:17 where Jesus is heading to Jerusalem with his disciples. Jesus didn’t go sit in his room and decide whether or not to take a certain course of action. He prayed–and he continued moving forward toward his crucifixion, following his Father’s commands.

So why am I still sitting on my hands waiting for direction? I have always known that at some point I will pass on. Why is the threat of this Covid-19 stymieing my life? Maybe, its because it is right in my face. Everyday. The thought of death suddenly goes from something in the (not too distant) future, to something that could start and end in just a very few days. But that kind of thinking comes from the devil. He wants us to be afraid, he wants us hiding in our homes, he wants us scared to do anything. But he doesn’t get his way this time.

So I am doing what Jesus did. I am praying, I am talking to God about the whole situation. He assures me that no matter what, he will be with me. Joshua 1:9 says “…Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Isaiah 41:10 assures us he will hold us with his righteous right hand. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “He (God) will not leave you or forsake you.” The list goes on and on. He is with me, I do not need to be afraid. There are more than 300 instances in the Bible where we are told to “fear not.” I need to remember that and to live life trusting in Jesus.

This is one of the reasons I keep writing these blogs. It is a way for me to continue the Lord’s work, so to speak, and yet stay within the confines of governmental shut downs. I can make decisions about the future without fear if I ask Jesus for direction on those decisions. Staying in His will provides me with the knowledge to make positive decisions during this time of being in a “holding pattern.” Reaching out to others, via this blog, via telephone calls, via letters written and though those media and social media, offering assurance, love and Christian support to all who need to hear about God’s love and who are waiting for the end of this pandemic. As the media keeps telling us, we are all in this together.

Don’t lose touch with your friends. Don’t stay in a holding pattern. Find a way to help your neighbors (both physical and metaphorical). If you can sew, make masks. If you can write, use social media to post encouraging thoughts. If you can sing, again use social media to post a video or your song. If you like writing letters, write to not only your friends but as many people as you can to offer them encouraging words. And if you can’t find something else to do to reach out, then reach out to God in prayer. Prayer is astonishingly powerful, when we pray with right motives and a contrite heart. Jesus told us there are two great commandments, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-40. Its tough to do those two things if we are cowering in fear. Instead lets take the attitude of what a beautiful day it is when we begin and end with prayer.

Where Have All The People Gone?

Back in the 1960’s The Kingston Trio (does anybody but me remember them?) and about 100 other singers after them, sang a beautiful protest song against war in general. If you are too young to be familiar with this song, I suggest you find it on you tube, it was rated one of the top 20 political songs ever. The lyrics ask five questions: Where have all the flowers gone? (gone to young girls every one); where have all the young girls gone? (gone to young men every one); where have all the young men gone? (gone to soldiers every one); where have all the soldiers gone? (gone to graveyards every one) and lastly where have all the graveyards gone (gone to flowers every one). Each verse ends with the refrain of “when will they every learn, when will they ever learn?”

I pray for wisdom and for strength as I continue to struggle through these last 40+ days of shut down. Trying to fix problems with airline tickets, internet service, phone service, tv service, postal service and the IRS, (yes I have had issues with every one of these things) this song keeps going round and round in my head. The only difference is the questions I am asking. The biggest question of all is “Where Have All The People Gone?” I miss talking to real people. I am fed up with robochats and autobots and being forced to go through endless routines on the computer just to have the conversation terminated by the autobot because they can’t fix your problem.

My favorite response was from the IRS, I called and the recorded voice says, “Due to a reduction in personnel we are not accepting any phone calls, most problems can be fixed using our online website, and the phone is disconnected.

So because I am frustrated and bored, I am writing a little ditty to the tune of Where Have All the Flowers Gone. I hope you enjoy it.

Where have all the people gone? the ones who answered phones, Where have all the people gone? since covid-19. Where have all the people gone? home hiding safe inside. When will this ever end, when will this ever end.

I’m so tired of autobots, and reading FAQ’s I’m so tired autobots, who can’t fix anything, I’m so tired of autobots, taking over all the world When will this ever end, when will this ever end?

I never thought I’d say these words, but I’m so sick and tired of crafts Never thought I’d say these words, I don’t look good in masks Never thought I’d say these words, but even going back to work sounds good. When will this ever end, when will this ever end?

Staying home is really awful, after all this long time. Staying home is really boring, I want to go out to eat. Staying home is really awful, I think I’m losing my mind. When will this ever end, when will this ever end?

My disclaimer is that you and I should all be staying home and practicing social distance. It truly is worth the inconvenience. Stay smart, stay home and stay well.

Also I apologize as this was not exactly in line with the intent of prayerful thoughts. However, I believe humor and laughter are good for us and God wants us to feel happy and find joy. I hope my little song brought a smile to your faces.