Meditating on the Commands of Christ (83): Listen!

So many voices, including “deepfake,” introduced in 2018 and added this year to Merriam- Webster Dictionary. Know what “deepfake” is? it’s “an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said” (Merriam-Webster). In other words, our world is on the cusp of being able to bring propaganda to a whole new level.

Example from Wiki of a deepfake gif, where actress Amy Adams’ face has been modified to look like the actor, Nicolas Cage

We’re already struggling to discern “fake news” from genuine news and determine to what extent the media is agenda driven rather than truth driven. I have no confidence that there’s a completely trustworthy source for discerning fact from fiction and half-truths from outright lies politically. Do you? All the sources I know of are funded by ?? . . . people and groups with political opinions! It will be taking deception to a whole new level if we can’t even trust that the person on the screen is actually whom they appear to be—and if what they appear to be doing is actually what they said or did.

This makes me think of the deceptions of the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), who is out to confuse the entire world into thinking evil is good and good is evil. We are told not to be caught off guard, “for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, ESV). It’s comforting to know that there is a God who is a righteous judge and will someday set things right, but in the meantime, beware!

At a time when the world is struggling to know the truth about COVID and which way to turn for economic and political stability, the last thing we need is even more convincing deception. What can we do? Jesus speaks into the vortex of this confusion: “Hearken!” “Listen!” And then he tells a number of parables (which can be found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8). Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the parables, but for today, I want to invite all of us to respond to Jesus’s command for his disciples (and all of us) to “Listen up!”

If you’re not sure what you should do: Watch and pray, and listen for the answer! “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). I don’t know the answers, but God does, and he tells us to be watchful and prayerful. Do you want to know how to safely tend to your personal needs during the COVID-19 pandemic? “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Ask God to direct your steps, and then thank Him for doing so! Are you not sure for whom you should vote in the upcoming election? “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18). God wants us to pray not only for ourselves but for others!

Notice that these verses tell us to “watch and pray” . . . not simply pray, and not just watch, but to actively engage in both: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Why? Because in this time of national and international crisis, we need true wisdom which is far above our own ability to reason out. If things go badly wrong, it could be the end of America as we know it. If COVID escalates into a plague that disrupts the entire world’s stability, it could be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, at least for our lifetime! The Bubonic Plague back in the 1300’s killed nearly one-fourth of the world’s population, and it took almost two hundred years to recover!

I don’t know WHEN the beginning of the end will come, but I do know that it will come, and we are instructed to be prepared: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7). Are you watching and praying? Are you listening to the Word of God to you? The Bible is the only unchanging source of reliable truth there is! We need to believe it, treasure it, meditate on it, and listen to what God is teaching us in it! Let’s “Listen up!”

Jesus preaching from boat. Jan Bruegel the Elder. 1606.
National Museum. Stockholm. (Public Domain)

Texts for today’s meditation: Mark 4:1-3. “And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,Hearken“—

Matthew 13:1-3; 10 -17 “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.And he spake many things unto them in parables” . . . 10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (82): TRUE Clean

COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world. It’s a time when we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly, so I think the account of Jesus failing to wash up before dinner is particularly noteworthy today. Jesus had been invited to a Pharisee’s home for dinner but was looked at critically for not washing up according to code before the meal.

Was Jesus simply too busy, or did he intentionally choose not to wash up in order to make a point? Either way, his statement (as was so often the case) seems like a skew line from the issue: “”Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luke 11:40-41). The apparent issue was personal cleanliness, but like God, his Father, Jesus didn’t look on the outward appearance. Jesus looked on the heart. In a room full of well dressed and carefully manicured guests, who actually qualified as being “clean”?

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner). This thought kept coming back to me as I pondered giving alms and the question of what is truly clean. The answer? Not those who have washed up, but those who have given out. Not those who have mastered social graces, but those who are actively following God’s call to meet the world’s deep hunger by giving “alms” out of their personal storehouse of deep gladness.

Do you know what “alms” are? I always thought the term was synonymous with “money,” but I was wrong! The term alms is only used 14 times in the Bible (New Testament), and the Old Testament sequel, “tzedakah,” literally means “righteousness.” It refers to doing what is right more than giving charitable monetary gifts. In fact, the Jewish wise man, Maimonides, rated “enabling the recipient to become self-reliant” as the highest form of tzedakah possible.

Jesus was the perfect example of this. There is no record of his giving money to help the poor, although he healed many people, enabling them to become self-sufficient and whole . . . a much greater benefit! This was also true of Jesus’s disciples: “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

In the light of this, it’s not surprising that Jesus told the Pharisees to give alms “of such things as ye have.” What do you suppose they had? If they had wisdom to share or the power to heal, what gifts those would be! If they were truly just and righteous in their dealings with others (rather than being self-serving and oppressive, which is what angered Jesus about the Pharisees in Matthew 21) . . . well, that would have been wonderful too! If the deep gladness of their hearts had been a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah who had come to save the world from sin and set us free . . . what a blessing they could bestow on others!

Sadly, the Pharisees had none of these gifts to share. All they had was money, and they were careful to tithe, but not to use their money to care for others. Jesus had this scathing rebuke to offer them: “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness” (Luke 11:39), and a few verses later he adds, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them” (Luke 11:44).

Just a question, but is there any chance you’re reading this and sense hypocrisy deep within your heart? Do you look pure, clean, and polished on the outside but know that on the inside you’re as dead as an unmarked grave? God does have a remedy, which is rebirth through faith in Christ. (Click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this page if you’re not sure what that means.) Jesus cleans us from the inside out. He can give us a gladness deep in our heart that becomes like a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). Out of that heart of joy will flow a desire to love others, pursue justice, and “give alms of such things as ye have.”

What are the “such things” that you and I have? Well, they are doubtless different, but God wants us to give to others out of the abundance of our hearts. “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27). It might be money to meet a need, it might be volunteering time to help teach, it might be writing a song, singing, sewing masks for COVID patients, knitting hats for cancer patients . . . there is no end to human need and no end to human creativity to help meet those needs. God wants us all to be “busy about our Father’s business” reaching out to others. I love the promise at the end of this command: “give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.

Yes, COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world, and we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly! Yes, it’s a time when “reaching out” physically is much more limited, but we can still reach out spiritually, and if we want to bring joy to our Father—and still be as safe as we can be—if we want to be truly “clean”—then let’s share from the deep place of gladness in our hearts with those who are experiencing deep hunger! It’s important to keep washing the “outside of the cup.” (I sanitize and socially distance for sure, and Jesus said that tithing is good.) But, let’s remember that TRUE CLEAN is on the inside, in our hearts, and that’s what matters the most!

Text for this meditation: Luke 11:37-44, “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

(*Photo used by permission of http://Havenlight.com )

God’s Not Dead

Speaking of confusing light and darkness:

If you’re struggling over whether or not to believe in God, I’d like to recommend the series of movies God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

God’s Not Dead came out in 2014 and got such a poor rating (4.7) that we didn’t watch it, but we watched it this past week and realized that the movie is actually excellent, and I’m convinced the low rating is simply a reflection of Hollywood and movie critics in general disliking Christian themes and material.

The first movie contains some helpful information concerning the origins of Earth and the universe and a clear gospel message.

God’s Not Dead 2 takes us to a courtroom, where a high school teacher is charged for answering a question about Jesus in her AP history class.

In this movie, Lee Strobel and Jim Wallace, both capable defenders of the Christian faith, show up on the witness stand. I’m in the midst of listening my way through Warren’s fascinating series on Christianity, written from his perspective as a cold-case detective on the Los Angeles police force, so I’m doubly a fan.

In both movies, the Newsboys make appearances, sharing faith and singing. If you’re not familiar with the Newsboys, they’re a Christian rock band from Australia that’s released 17 albums, 6 certified gold, and their catchy, clever lyrics have been captivating kids since 1985.

According to Wiki, Michael Tait (who now leads the Newsboys) “expressed excitement about the film to The Global Dispatch during an interview, saying that ‘The movie is powerful because of the whole stance of it…just trying to prove God’s existence…sharing the gospel, living the lifestyle, changing the mindset of people around them in this college, in this university’.”

“Duncan Phillips added in a similar interview that ‘Disney’s Shane Harper plays a college student whose faith is challenged by his professor, played by Kevin Sorbo from Hercules.

Dean Cain from Superman is in it, too. So we got to hang out with a bunch of superheroes. The movie raises a lot of questions and a lot of eyebrows from a culture that questions if there is a God’.”

So, the acting is excellent, the message is great . . . what’s not to love? I guess only the fact that the movies stand up for Christ and the Gospel in the midst of a culture that has become often openly hostile to people expressing their faith in Christ.

In God’s Not Dead 2, the lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe) points out that the term “separation of Church and State” is not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In fact, it first appears in a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to a baptist congregation, explaining that they should have no fear of signing America’s formative legal documents because they guarantee religious freedom—which is the right for people to practice their religious faith without persecution. (Many of the first pilgrims came from Europe because they were persecuted for their faith in their European settings.) Somehow, America has inverted freedom OF religion to mean freedom FROM religion by excluding any and all religious expressions (at least Christian religious practices) from public spaces.

Talk about failing to discern right from wrong and good from evil!

God’s Not Dead Composed and Sung by The Newboys

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35)

Peaceful Thoughts and Gardens

“You can choose to live in the past—or choose to live past it. Make peace with your past before it tears you to pieces” (Linda Swindling, Ask Outrageously: The Secret To Getting What You Want).

Rose in the Musee Rodin Garden, Paris

Ready for some encouraging quotes about peace from around the world? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been struggling with anxiety lately, despite concerted efforts to “Keep calm and pray on.” Between COVID concerns, racial injustice, economic insecurities, rioting, looting, social isolation versus taking some chances on opening social channels again . . . that along with my beloved husband turning 70 and planning to retire in a few weeks . . . well, I’m ready for something to soothe my soul and comfort my heart. I hope what I’ve found will be a balm for you as well . . . so please take a few minutes to meander with me through french gardens while pondering wise thoughts!

Chateau De Cheverny, France

“The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, and humility” (Nelson Mandela).

Honey bee gathers nectar from Johnny Jump ups

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jesus, recorded in John 16:33).

Apple Blossoms and Colorful birds in Giverny Gardens, France

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity . . . Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” (Melody Beattie).

Red Valerian (Centhranthus ruber) from garden at Mont Saint-Michel, France

Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you” (Job 22:21).

Kathi in a field of rapeseed (from which canola oil is made); Loire Valley, France

“May you find peace and purpose within friendships and fruitfulness without” (— Sara Ewing What? You’ve never heard of Sara Ewing? Okay, so she’s not famous; but she’s a very wise friend of mine!)

Pansies at Chateau De Villandry, France

“Peace is not made at the Council table or by treaties, but in the hearts of men” (Herbert Clark Hoover, who was America’s president from 1929-1933, during our Great Depression).

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace” (Dalai Lama).

Gardens of Versailles

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee” (Augustine of Hippo in Confessions).

Giverny Gardens

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace” (Mahatma Gandhi).

Wisteria. Étretat France

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jesus, recorded in John 14:27).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (79): Arise

He was dead and almost buried. All hope was gone, and there was absolutely nothing the young man could do to resurrect himself. This is the second time in the New Testament Jesus tells someone to “Arise,” but in the first instance, Jesus commanded a man who was very much alive (although sick with the palsy) to “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:6).

It would be a great miracle to heal someone too sick to walk, don’t you think? With all due respect, such a “miracle” could be staged by shysters, although I don’t believe this is what happened, given the circumstances and testimony surrounding the account . . . and the fact that everyone acknowledged the miracle as such, much to the consternation of the religious leaders, who were envious of Jesus’s miraculous powers!

However, the second time Jesus commanded someone to arise, he was talking to a dead man. Living people have willpower, but dead men do not. Once we die, we have no ability to raise ourselves from the dead, no matter how much we might wish to! But God. With God, all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe Jesus can raise someone from the dead?

What about the Church? It’s time for each of us as members of the Body of Christ to arise! Dear Lord Jesus, raise us up to passionate life again! Search our hearts! Cause us to repent. Help us to love everyone the way you love us. Help us to walk in your ways: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

On the off chance that you’re feeling “dead” inside, please know that God can raise the dead! He has raised me from spiritual death and given me new life, so I know he can do the same for you! Please don’t give up on life. Please don’t quit trying. I saw a wonderful movie recently called John Light (2019) about an ex-con and his struggles to re-enter the world outside prison. God is here for us. Jesus can raise us from the dead! We all need him. Please let him!

Text for this meditation: Luke 7:14, “And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” (Full account given in Luke 7:7-17.)

“A New Hallelujah”
Writer(s): Michael W. Smith, Paul Joseph Baloche, Debbie Smith
(featuring The African’s Children’s Choir . . .
we need another version featuring an African-American choir, I think!)

Can you hear, there’s a new song
Breaking out from the children of freedom
Every race and every nation
Sing it out sing a new Hallelujah

Let us sing love to the nations
Bringing hope of the grace that has freed us
Make Him known and make Him famous
Sing it out sing to the new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Africa sings a new song
Reaching out with the new Hallelujah
Every son and every daughter
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the song Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Let the song arise…

Let the world sing a new Hallelujah
From Africa to Australia
From Brazil to China
From New York down to Houston

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Everyone sing a new Hallelujah
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

An Answer of Peace

What’s the solution to racial injustice? The root problems are pride, hatred, and fear, and I don’t see an end to these evils until people—one by one—have a true change of heart about what’s good and what’s evil. God gave us each the color of the skin we wear, and it’s all beautiful, unique, and made out of the same stuff for the same purposes . . . just like the hides of cows!

Skin color is no different from flower color, and I’m sure some people prefer pink over red, but personal preference has nothing to do with intrinsic value, and in people, our preferences should have nothing to do with how we respect or treat anybody! We’re all made by God and in His image. There is no difference in our basic nature or in our human rights and responsibilities. “For he [Jesus] is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14).

Can we claim anything that makes us “better” than anyone else? Unique and diverse? Yes! “Better than?” NO! According to the Bible, none of us is morally perfect and without sin, nor do we seek God without his Spirit drawing us: “There is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:10-11). Likewise, every external gift we possess—be it beauty, strength, intelligence, natural talent, or charismatic personality . . . whatever we value about ourselves or admire in others is a gift from God! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

There is nothing innately “good” within or without us that is not a gift from God, which should be accepted with grateful appreciation and used for His glory, not as a point of pride. BTW, skin color is a gift too, and there’s no such thing as a bad gift from our gracious Father, who declared everything in his creation good and intends every circumstance to be for our good: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Black is every bit as valuable as white or brown or yellow or purple. If you don’t think so, take your prejudice to the feet of our heavenly Father and ask Him to help you see others from His eyes. Every person is precious in His sight!

And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me:
God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Genesis 41:16).

COVID Cake

But now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna . . . and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil” (Numbers 11:6,8 NASB). This is just like the coronavirus pandemic! We have nothing to do but stay at home. Yet, isn’t that what people normally long for? Who doesn’t like cake? Who doesn’t long to go home after work and rest? Just like the children of Israel spending 40 years in the wilderness with nothing to do but be together and follow the Lord, we’ve been handed an extended “shelter-at-home” mandate by our government, for our own protection, and for many that even includes some financial support from the government.

The Israelites had been slaving away in Egypt, but God delivered them and moved them back to Israel, even supernaturally providing food for them on their journey. I admit to chaffing a little like the Israelites, who remembered the fish, the cucumbers and melons, the onions and garlic. Manna tasted like the best of the best—the perfect food, yet the children of Israel got bored with the best! I remember the restaurants we used to attend, and the places we used to visit, and I miss the freedom to go here and there at will. Yes, sometimes I’m tempted to get a little bored with the best too.

However, what a blessed time this has been for Alan and me! True enough, we miss our children and grandchildren severely. We miss visiting with our friends and worshiping corporately with our church community . . . all provisions the Israelites were allowed during their wilderness wanderings. Still, we have had more time to work on our home and yard than we’ve had in (literally) years. We’ve been enjoying leisurely devotional times together and morning walks before breakfast. Instead of spending two weeks in Belgium visiting some of our kids, we’ve been spending hours and hours cleaning, sorting, organizing, and redeeming our basement after 27 years of neglect. We’ve been chopping down weedy trees and rooting out the poison ivy that’s been over running the flowers along our fence line. We’ve been working until we’re so sore we can hardly move or think anymore and then enjoying movies together in the evenings. What’s not to love about that? Shouldn’t we be delighted to be able to be at home with our family and relishing the “manna” of more free time to cherish one another?

Dear Father, I know that many, many people are suffering from COVID. Over 100,000 have died here in America, and most all of us are experiencing economic and social losses. However, there are still over 330,000,000 of us who have not gotten COVID. Thank you! For those of us who have not contracted COVID and are alive and well, help us to use this time to concentrate on learning more about loving You and loving one another. Help us appreciate the “manna” of time . . . the “sabbath rest” of being home. There are so many silver linings in this storm. Help us to look up and see them!

The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.’ Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it” (Numbers 11:4-9, NASB).

Trying to Keep Perspective

Have you seen this reminder of what life was like in America a hundred years ago? Yesterday, our governor announced that Michigan is going to be in lock-down for another two weeks, until May 28th. With most of the world, I was feeling a bit discouraged over being cooped up and distressed by the disruption of society as we’ve known and treasured it! Someone came up with this cogent reminder (below the cartoon), which I thought might be helpful to all of us as we struggle to keep biding our time:

“It’s a mess out there now . . . hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900.

On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and it doesn’t end until your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war. Later in the same year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million. 
 
On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. This era of economic ruin lasts until you are 33. America nearly collapses . . . along with the rest of the world.
 
When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet. And don’t try to catch your breath. On your 41st birthday, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. 
 
Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your 40’s, as it killed 300 million people during your lifetime.  
 
When you are 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. From your birth until you’re 55, you have to deal with the fear of polio epidemics each summer. You experience friends and family contracting polio and being paralyzed and/or dying.  
 
At 55, the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. During the Cold War, you live each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. On your 62nd birthday you experience the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War, when life on our planet—as we know it—almost ended. When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they endure all of that? When you were a kid in 1985, you didn’t think your 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was, or how mean that kid in your class was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art, refined and enlightening as time goes on. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Your parents and/or grandparents were called to endure all of the above—you are called to stay home and sit on your  couch—probably worried about how to survive on a reduced income and how to get your unemployment check.”

(I don’t know the author, but I appreciated the straight talk! The cartoon was posted on Sarah Jaeschke’s Face Time Line—thanks for the laugh, Sarah. 🙂 Let’s endure patiently, and if we still have food and shelter, we have great cause for being thankful!)

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18-21).

Happy Twelfth Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Once a year on the anniversary of my blog, I reminisce about the joy of writing and what’s happened over the past year. Technically, my anniversary was April 8th, but last month—as America lunged into the COVID pandemic—it seemed more appropriate to concentrate on trying to encourage others in the face of trials than to indulge in personal introspection. However, now that it’s May (and Cinco de Mayo to boot!), I would be very grateful if you’ll allow me the liberty of reflecting on my writing adventure, and I hope you will offer me some counsel as I wrestle with what the Lord may have in mind for my future.

One of my (unspoken until today) dreams for blogging has been to write until I have a million views and then perhaps try to write a book of devotionals. This past week, the 750,000-view mark came and went, so . . . three-fourths of the way to fulfilling this particular vision! Should the Lord see fit to bless my writing with readers at the current rate, that would theoretically make me mature enough to attempt a series of daily devotionals by 2023. However, COVID concerns have changed not only the world’s economic landscape, but my personal sense of how the Spirit may be leading me.

Instead of spending my days embroiled in joyful experiences with family and friends, traveling at home and abroad, I am spending my days enjoying a “sabbath rest” from life as usual. Alan is working virtually from home, giving him at least an extra hour (commute time) daily to invest in home projects. Instead of waiting until he retires, we’re starting the huge process of trying to unbury our basement from 27 years of family life here in GR, not to mention 44 years of parenting and 47 years of marriage. It is daunting, but exhilarating!

We are almost finished with four years’ worth of renovating our kitchen and adding an addition to accommodate our burgeoning family. We moved into our beloved but small “Tanglewood Cottage” with a young family of seven children. Today—with our children and grand children— we number thirty-two and counting, so the extra breathing room is a wonderful blessing. Now we have the happy task of expanding into the new space, finding and making accessible what we have, and throwing out the unwanted and unneeded extra “stuff” that’s gotten buried. Just a few “for instances” that might make you laugh or be aghast (depending on how good a housekeeper you are): I found one daughter-in-law’s wedding dress, my daughter’s master’s thesis, one son’s “Bod Book” (names and addresses of everybody at his school . . . from 1994), and THE WINNER: a box labeled “boys clothing.” We haven’t had “boys” small enough to pass down clothing for at least 15 years and probably longer! (To be honest, tied for THE LOSER are dead stink bugs and dust bunnies! 😦 )

All this to say, perhaps it’s time to expand, de-clutter, clean up, and reorganize my writing life as well. Alan and I have been trying to walk three miles each day, but just up and down our lane. Instead of glorious vistas from around the world, I’m drinking in minuscule changes in the flora and fauna! The cherry trees in blossom; the goslings and ducklings coming ashore, the weeds popping out. If the COVID pandemic keeps us all from venturing very far from home this coming year, I’m thinking about the possibility of writing daily devotionals starting January 1, 2021 based on “little things” (and maybe some of the grander graces of nature) that are common place and surround many of us. Would that be interesting to you?

If I head that direction, I would still have the rest of this year to finish my meditations on the commands of Christ, family recipes, world travel (which I hope has not ended forever but may be postponed for a year or so), and actively trying to review favored movies and books. To be transparent with you, these are the posts which to date have been the most read, so it might be a big change, although— as life has it and minds inevitably operate—I’m sure whatever I experience will find its way into my writing. But, what if I spend 2021 with more of a focus on learning spiritual lessons from nature? Would a closer look at the simple and common encourage us during our months of more confined living? I’m thinking about just one photo per day and basically one simple message, so shorter but hopefully not less worthwhile. That is the possibility I’ve been praying about lately, and if you read this blog and have an opinion about what might be most uplifting for you, I’d sincerely appreciate hearing what you think! Thanks!!

Where no counsel is, the people fall:
but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Understanding Stress and Stress-Relieving Strategies

This world-wide COVID pandemic has increased humanity’s stress load beyond anything most of us have personally experienced. First, I want to point out that stress is a fact of life and actually improves performance up to a point (see chart above), but it must be managed or we’ll be overwhelmed. So, let’s take on the challenge, identify the pressures, prepare as best we can, and repair what’s already broken.

The first step is assessing the situation. A sense of having no control fuels stress in crises, so we need to control what we can to maintain as much good health as possible. As a wise pastor explained to me: “You may not be able to control your circumstances, and you shouldn’t try to control others, but you can and should control your attitudes and actions.” Not dealing with stress now can result in PTSD or other long-term psychological and physical problems, so it’s important to recognize and respond well to stress with appropriate self care. Assess these areas of your life:

  1. Sleep: Are you getting adequate rest? Are you sleeping enough but not too much? If you’re having trouble sleeping, the best way to improve sleep habits is to set an alarm to get up at a reasonable hour and train yourself to wake up and get up at the same time each morning.
  2. Exercise: Regular, daily exercise is critical to good health. If you can, get outside and walk! Use this time to relax. Intentionally use your five senses to increase your pleasure! Listen to the birds, feel the warmth of the sun (or rain!) on your face, smell the freshness of spring. Breathe deeply (but not as your neighbors pass by 🙂 ) and appreciate the break from being inside in quarantine for most of your time.
  3. Diet: Not going on a diet, but eating well. This is not the time to try to lose weight (which increases stress), but it’s important to eat healthy, nourishing, regular meals. If you can’t enjoy your normal supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, consider using a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Alan and I have never been fans of supplements, but a supplement is better than becoming malnourished. On the other hand, this is a critical time for disciplining yourself against binge eating, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, or eating foods that are bad for you due to medical conditions. I’ve been making one dessert per week as a special treat, but this would not be a good way to improve “self care” for those who have diabetes (for example). Find ways of relieving stress that are within the parameters of your health needs!
  4. Medical/Emotional Needs: Continue to care for your medical conditions, including emotional and spiritual needs. Don’t ignore them just because you’re afraid to go to a clinic or hospital! Contact your physician, therapist, or minister as needed for advice and counsel.
  5. Spiritual Needs: As a Christian, I find my daily “quiet time” critical for my sense of peace and well being. Studies show that people of all faiths (or no faith) profit from 20 minutes (or so) of quiet meditation each day. I meditate on the Bible and pray, and I recommend this 100%. In my personal appraisal of stress, my devotional time comes second only to my sleep in effecting my overall sense of well being. (I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never suffered food or shelter deprivation, but I’m sure that would severely effect my sense of well being too!) Don’t underestimate the importance of getting in touch with your spiritual side—and the God who created you!
  6. Social Needs: The sense of isolation that results from being quarantined tends to amplify tension and stress, so find ways to spend time with loved ones, even if it means communicating through Skype, WhatsApp, Signal, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. There are many ways to keep up with family and friends besides being physically present together (which is everybody’s favorite way). Be creative. I had to learn how to use WhatsApp and Signal, but I now have more active communication with some of my nieces and nephews than I did before COVID hit! My monthly prayer time with my two prayer partners has moved to a Zoom Room. I’d way rather have my kids and grand kids visit than all this virtual stuff, but—praise God for virtual connections! Let’s be glad for what we have during times when we can’t have everything we want and think we need!

The second step is to try to prepare going forward by building some stress-relieving activities into your schedule. During times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to be intentional about self-care and care for others. Get together with those in your sheltering-at-home unit and open up with one another about your needs. Solve problems as a family. Plan “alone” time for each of you into your day to replenish your energy for being together. Parents and elders need to lead well by slowing down, being intentional about earning trust and respect by making wise decisions, asking for forgiveness when they fail, and being “servant leaders” without being overly self-critical or perfectionistic in their expectations either for themselves or those in their care. Be honest, transparent, and timely in communicating the changing circumstances. Don’t try to hide the facts to protect your spouse or kids. They’ll know something is amiss and become uneasy, feeling “betrayed” when the truth comes out later. Keep communication open and flowing. When communication stops, people tend to imagine the worst! Be a good role model. People are eager for good leadership during crises, and your family will be very likely to follow your leadership if they trust and respect your judgment.

How to relieve stress? Here are some ideas:

  1. Plan breaks for relaxation: This may mean some down time for reading a book, playing music or watching a video. For children, it might be some free time to play games; for adults, it might include time for a leisurely hot shower or a soak in the tub. I realize with small children, these might seem close to impossible luxuries, but maybe you can take turns giving your spouse a little time off for a quiet breather!
  2. Be grateful and thankful: Look for the good and focus on that. Be appreciative. Try to compliment others and become an encourager. I remember during one particularly difficult time in our marriage, we were both advised to try to find at least one thing each day to appreciate and thank our spouse for doing or being. I’ve heard that a really good relationship will have about seven times as many compliments and expressions of appreciation as bits of correction or critique.
  3. Look for the silver linings and humor: Laughter is good medicine and a great stress reliever (as long as you’re laughing with and not at someone). Think positive! I remember reading about someone incarcerated (unjustly) who found delight in an ant racing across the floor of the prison. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, read the biography of Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic as a teenager after a diving accident. I recently listened through her incredible story, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus. After reading this book, I feel like I’ll never have anything to complain about again!
  4. Take time to learn something new: In a way, I feel like the COVID pandemic has enforced a bit of “sabbath rest” on everyone (at least those of us who are older), because we can’t go anywhere and are so limited in our options. This is the “perfect” time to pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try. If you have internet access, there are tutorials on just about every subject under the sun, so now’s your golden opportunity to become proficient on the guitar, painting, star gazing, needlework, language, and on and on! If you have kids, possibly you can involve them too! I think most of us totally underestimate how much our children can understand and enjoy things that interest adults too.
Ken and Joni (Eareckson) Tadi—
and she’s still glowing after more than 50 years as a quadriplegic!

So, if we’ve assessed our situations and taken some positive measures to prepare for less stress going forward, the last thing on our “to do” list is to get rid of the things that impact our family negatively. Here are some important stressors to avoid:

  1. Too much media, including T.V. radio, phones, social media: Use only sources you trust and limit your exposure so that you’re only learning what you need to know in order to protect yourself and live a healthy life. More news than you need will only promote anxiety: “While anger can lower one’s perception of risk, fear ratchets it up” (Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 15, No. 6, 2006). Reduce stress by reducing fear.
  2. Faulty coping techniques: Humans tend to have three responses to fear: flight, fight, or freeze. Faulty “flights” (escapes to avoid dealing with reality) are theoretically “stress relievers” but actually add to stress. These include such things as giving in to addictions like alcohol, drugs, porn, playing video games, binge eating or over sleeping, etc. Faulty “fights” include taking your stress out on others instead of taking responsibility for yourself in your situation and learning how to handle the problems appropriately. Becoming verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive solves nothing and does great damage to those around you. Take a break. Count to ten (or 10,000 if need be). Get down on your knees and pray, asking God for help to control your anger. Go for a walk, but don’t hurt the ones who love you the most! Finally, faulty “freeze” responses include things like isolating or withdrawing socially even beyond what is necessary, becoming vegatative or dysfunctional, hiding in your room or refusing to talk to anybody. Short term you may think this is easier than meeting the challenges head on, but like the rafter heading into the white water, if you don’t lean into the waves, you’ll get washed overboard out the back.

Hope this helps a little! We can’t control COVID, but we really need to control ourselves, and by learning to control ourselves, we will lessen our own stress and help alleviate the stress in those around us. I realize that controlling our own fear sometimes seems completely beyond us. If you are feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve already been washed out the back end of your rescue raft, then I pray you will meditate on these verses and ask the LORD to help you find peace in your soul:

Let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4).

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die” (Judges 6:23).

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Psalm 56:4).

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

If you don’t find any of these verse consoling, then perhaps you don’t know the Lord Jesus as your savior. In that case, “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:7)! If you want help in knowing God and being able to “depart from evil,” then please click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this post and read about how you can find peace with God.

(Credit for the first chart and much of the inspiration for this post was found on the website for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where my husband serves as the Chief Medical Officer. This site has a host of valuable resources related to mental health issues. I’ve added the link below just in case you have other questions on your heart too.)