Is the Polar Vortex Coming to Town?

First, what is a “polar vortex”? It’s not even listed in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (yet), although it’s become a very popular term in the last few years.

Strong Polar Vortex

As I understand it (and feel free to improve my understanding), it’s literally a cyclone of low-pressure air in the upper troposphere and stratosphere that rotates around the North Pole. (Ditto for the South Pole.)

Diffused Polar Vortex disrupted by infiltration of warm air

Cold air is heavier than warm air, so when the vortex is strong, all is well, but if the cyclone weakens in strength, then warm air from beneath can force it’s way up under the cyclone, knocking it off center or even breaking it into several smaller elongated areas.

I couldn’t find an exact model from 2021 yet, but this one from 2014 gives a feel . . .

The first week of January 2021, there was a profound temperature change in Siberia—from – 92°F to +8°F—a one-hundred-degree jump, known as a “Sudden Stratospheric Warming” (SSW) that seriously disrupted our happy 2021 North Polarian Vortex, shooting one leg down toward Europe and another toward Canada and America. Weather and finance prognosticators are predicting the possibility of frigid weather and economic storms: “This year, the pandemic has already hobbled travel and in-store shopping. Snowstorms, however, could be a nightmare for delivery services” (Brian K. Sullivan, Yahoo! Finance).

If you have three minutes to watch a video, I think this one shared by a Philly newscaster yesterday gives the best, most concise explanation:

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/weather/stories-weather/why-does-the-polar-vortex-affect-philly-explained-in-5-steps/2669051/

What does all this mean for those of us living in the northern areas of North America and Europe? Well, if you have a few extra dollars, you might buy a few extra groceries and think twice before making plans to travel in the next few weeks. On the other hand, I notice that those weathered scientists who’ve lived through many storms are reluctant to predict whether the sky will actually fall or the polar vortex really come to town, because we all know that the only thing we can know for certain about weather is whether or not there will be weather. There will be. What we don’t know for certain is what the weather will be.

On the other hand, Jesus will becoming to town for sure! We don’t know when, but the Bible predicts it with complete certainty: “Behold, he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty‘” (Revelation 1:7-8).

Are you ready to meet the King of Kings? Is it in your heart to deny Him and make war against Him, or to bow down before him in worship and adoration? He loves you and is calling you to come to Him, but he gives the choice to you. What will it be?

If you’re not certain what to believe, may I share with you “Pascal’s Wager”? Basically, he posits that humans are forced to either believe that God is or that He is not because no one can prove or disprove God’s existence. Therefore, it is more reasonable to believe the God of the Bible exists, since the gain if He does exist (eternal life for those who believe) far outweighs the loss (eternal separation from God after death), whereas the gain if He does not exist (more license to a licentious lifestyle) is of questionable value, and if there is no life after death, then there is nothing to lose after death because you believed.

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

Rick Rigsby Still Making an Impact!

“Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he’d leave his mouth shut!” That was just one of many quotable quotes from Rigby’s book, Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout (2019), that not only made me smile but made me think.

Rick is a former professor at Texas A&M who has become an ordained minister and inspirational speaker. His graduation address at the California State University Maritime Academy went viral, and today nearly 300 million people have watched it! That speech—reminding graduates of the lessons he learned from his humble but amazing father (who had dropped out of third grade)—became the basis for the book I just finished reading. He’s also written Afraid to Hope (2018)) and has a podcast called How Ya Livin’? to motivate people to have greater dreams, reach higher, and go after the impossible!

Rick is not only wise, he’s funny. Easy to listen to. Hard to forget! Here are a few of my favorite lines from his book:

“Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. Pride is the burden of a foolish person.”

“Son, make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.”

“Son, there will always be people in life who rub you the wrong way. Some you will work with, others you will work for. Make every effort to respect them. Make every effort to learn something from them. Son, sometimes you have to just stand. Sometimes you have to just hold firm—knowing that you will get through whatever it is.”

“Good enough is not good enough if it can be better. And better is not good enough if it can be best.”

“Hearing tells you the music is playing. Listening tells you what the song is saying!”

“What good is technological supremacy without authentic leadership? What good is an information superhighway without trustworthy travelers?”

“Ours is a visual world with citizens who delight in those who appear good or gifted or great. Thus, we find it pleasantly acceptable for morality to be replaced by materialism, principle by popularity, or character by convenience.”

“An interruption in the flow of wisdom will not necessarily threaten technological supremacy. Few eras have witnessed the technology boom of the twentieth century. However, an interruption in the transfer of wisdom produces an invisible malaise just as destructive as sickness, war, and famine.”

“Note the tangible characteristics of wise people: • They are slow to talk. • They are quick to listen. • They are always thinking. • They evaluate every message. • Their response is measured and thoughtful. • They are wordsmiths; they do not waste words. • They use words to elevate understanding.”

“My parents, like other parents of this era, represented a generation of helpers—what I refer to as generation of doers. We have become a generation of viewers. We talk a good game when it comes to helping, but there’s no follow-through if we sense the slightest degree of inconvenience.”

“Life boils down to choices. You cannot choose what happens to you. You can choose how you will respond.”

“Don’t just make an impression; make an impact.”

“Most people I meet are asking themselves the same unrelenting question, ‘I wonder how great I can actually be?’ What a privilege to help people make such profound discoveries!”

“Just Keep Standing: three words to guard your life. Keep going. God will bring you through.”

“I had to learn I could no longer trust my feelings and my emotions. They lied to me every day. I had to trust God. Had it not been for God, I would have given up.”

If you want to hear Rick’s 10-minute address (which is how I got interested in his book), I posted a link here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/commencement-addresses-short-sweet-powerful/

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Writing Your Life Story

“We can hardly wait to retire!” she confided with a grin. I was too surprised to respond. I looked deep into my best friend’s bright blue eyes and saw that she was absolutely sincere.

“But Cheryl, you guys haven’t even started working yet!”

“I know! We’re excited to move to Miami, and I think Tom’s going to love his new practice, but we want to save hard and retire as soon as we can.”

Forty years later, I still remember feeling shocked and confused. Maybe I just wasn’t far-sighted enough, but the thought of retiring had never crossed my mind in all my twenty-nine years. To me, “Retirement” was the “R word” and not to be spoken . . . until necessary . . . and only in hushed tones.

Cheryl and I had been “resident widows” together while our husbands slugged their way through medical residencies at the University of Michigan. Cheryl’s husband had just finished (one year ahead of Alan), and they’d found an excellent opportunity to join a thriving practice in Miami. They were just about to embark on the greatest adventure in their life. Could they really be overlooking the next 35-40 years? What was so attractive about being old, grey, and tired? It all sounded scary and threatening to me. At this same time, my own parents were considering when to retire, and my Dad was fighting with the State of Michigan over an upcoming mandated retirement from his professorship at age 65. He didn’t want to retire!*

Cheryl’s two kids and my two oldest had played together incessantly through all those years of medical combat. Some weeks Alan was gone for 117 hours (I counted). Aaron and Michael got all excited when Alan was on overnight call, because on those nights we got to go “to Daddy’s house” (as they called it) for dinner. We’d pack a picnic and share supper with him in his tiny call room, which was especially thrilling to the boys because it was furnished with a hospital bed that could go up and back and down and up and . . . kept them occupied endlessly!

It was during those days that Cheryl kept the number for protective services above her phone. I thought she might be kidding, but she said she wasn’t. She promised herself she would call that number before she ever took her frustration out on her son, and it kept her from getting physically violent even when she felt like it.

Our oldest sons were so much alike! As first-time mothers, we were convinced they were both geniuses . . . not only in their insatiable curiosity about life and thirst for adventure, but also in their ability to oppose their mothers in every conceivable (and inconceivable) way. Sometimes Cheryl would call me, impersonating the voice of her son.

“Mrs. Armstwong, are you going crazy?”

“YES! Are you?”

“YES! Do you want to go to the mall?”

During the icy winter months, we often escaped with our children to the Briarwood Mall, with its endless maze of wide halls, escalators, stairways, fountains, and gleaming storefronts filled with tantalizing scents and sights to lure in shoppers. We didn’t shop, though! We wouldn’t have trusted our children inside the stores, but we did let them run (in theory “quietly and avoiding people”) through the hallways. It was the best way we knew to let them burn off some of their boundless energy during times when public parks were uninhabitably slippery and cold for toddling toes and noses.

Sigh. Happy times. Hard times! We are still friends today, and I’ll skip trying to share the huge middle chapters of our stories, but I’ve had two revelations: 1. I was right about retirement: Tom is gone, and Sue is alone. Being old and grey . . . and alone . . . isn’t to be prized too highly, so make every day count and stay present-minded. 2. Sue was right about retirement: Alan and I are loving retirement, because it gives us a chance to pursue our avocations! Medicine was his calling, and mothering was mine, but I’ve been delighted to discover how much we are energized by pursuing new “careers” and new chapters in our lives.

What an adventure life is! Every life! Yours too! We are writing our stories as we live our lives. For you who are young and just starting out, I hope you make every day special and a tale worth telling, even if it’s a story of coping with pain. For those of us who have survived to retirement, we can invest our lives in whatever we want—or better yet—in whatever God wants! What a privilege and responsibility! As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Oh, for a billion happy endings to the stories of our lives!

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.”
(2 Corinthians 3:2)

(* Notes: My father retired in 1980. Since that time, the laws in Michigan have changed, and university professors no longer have to retire at age 65. Also, I will always change the names and a few facts [like locations] to protect the privacy of those I write about, although we did go to Briarwood Mall, and Alan was completing his residency through the University of Michigan. ALSO: a reader says the real author of the quote I attributed to Lewis is James Sherman from his 1982 book, Rejection: “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.” Apparently it is commonly attributed to Lewis but has not been found in his writings.)

Passion and Productivity; Work and Vocation

How are you feeling about work these days? Do you love your job . . . or hate your job? Or . . . somewhere in between? Do you even have a job? If you could have any job you want, what would it be? Have you ever thought about the difference between a “job” and a “vocation”?

“Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need” (Frederick Buechner). “Vocation” comes from Latin and means a “calling, or summons.” A true vocation comes from God. What do you see as the world’s greatest need? What is your greatest passion? Can you think of a way to use what you passionately love doing to help meet the world’s greatest need? This is likely God’s calling for you, although it may take you much of your life to get there!

I’ve also seen Beuchner quoted as saying “joy” (rather than “passion”). I don’t know if on various occasions he said it both ways, but I believe in his ideal. If we can find a job doing something that we believe in with a passion that energizes us . . . if we can make a living doing something that brings us true joy while ministering to the deep needs of others— what an ideal job that would be!

However, I think the majority of people are lucky to have work at all, and I’ll bet many fewer than 50% of people are presently working at their “ideal” job. This is one of the key issues with midlife crisis. People often feel “stuck,” unfulfilled, and overwhelmed by their workload. “Work” is called work because it’s hard, not because it’s fun or fulfilling or life-giving. We earn our keep by “the sweat of our face” (Genesis 3:19). Our Lord, in fulfilling his passionate purpose—to redeem us from sin through his death on the cross—was in agony and “sweat was as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Still, Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Somehow, Jesus was able to live out Beuchner’s ideal perfectly. Jesus’s greatest passion and joy intersected with our world’s greatest need: He died to save us from our sins and make it possible for us to be born again into eternal life.

I wonder, is it possible for us to reconcile our passion and joy with living a life so difficult we can hardly keep going? Jesus fell under the load of the cross, but he “set his face like a flint” and never gave up. Are we able to do the same?

During our work careers, God encourages us to work hard to provide for ourselves and our loved ones (see 1 Timothy 5:8). All honorable work is good work, and whether it’s tightening bolts on an automotive line or washing cars or sweeping floors, all such jobs help people and are worthy ways of supporting ourselves. No matter what we do to earn a living, God wants us to do it “heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). If we do what we do to the best of our ability out of love for God and to love others, no matter how menial or difficult, we’re honoring God and can take joy in that!

However, I believe we have every reason and “right” to work hard toward the goal of obtaining a job where we can fully utilize our gifts and talents in a true vocation (see 1 Corinthians 7:21-22). Got a dream? Do you think it’s a dream God has given you? As we journey through this new year, let’s examine our lives. Are we doing “the right” thing? If not, what can we do to start working toward a true vocation? Also, how can we bring more passion and joy into our present job, so that we’re experiencing fulfillment right now?

Midlife Crisis: Just Keep Standing

“Kathi, when a man turns 40, it’s either a new wife or a new car. Go for the car.” My beautiful sister-in-law (11 years my senior)—with her no-nonsense Brooklyn accent—passed on this sage advice when Alan and I turned forty. My husbands’ sister, around the same time, counseled me that marriage to a man is like learning to ride a bucking bronco: “It’s a wild ride, but just keep hanging on and never let go.”

This past year, 3 of my own 13 children and in-law children also turned 40. There is an old saying that “Life begins at 40,” but I don’t think it begins without a struggle somewhat akin to the birth pangs of our first difficult journey into a life of breathing air rather than strictly enjoying the hospitality of our mother’s lifeblood.

Last weekend a dear young friend, who has been like a spiritual niece to me, celebrated her fortieth birthday, and her husband asked some close friends to write her letters. What a great idea . . . but also what an exercise! It seems like just a few minutes ago she was a young teenager and we were roomies on an incredible trip to China together. She was brilliant, radiant, indomitable, fearless, and adventurous. I’ve only had the joy of seeing her a handful of times since, but my guess is that she still possesses those attributes today, although her life has been very hard in some ways (physical challenges with one of her babies, employment problems, etc.).

Reflecting back on my own struggles through midlife crisis (because, of course, women go through midlife crises too, whether or not they get as much air time!), I’d like to encourage any of you who are confronting midlife issues with some advice I read in Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout by Rick Rigsby. It was profound wisdom his father gave him as he stood over the casket of his beautiful young (mid-aged) wife. She died of breast cancer, leaving Rick with two small children. It’s advice that’s always timely, good for everybody, simple to remember, and only three words long: “Just keep standing.”

I’ve never suffered the unimaginable loss of my mate, but somewhere between 35-45, I remember waking up each morning fantasizing that I was about to grab my machete and start cutting a path through the jungle. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go, but I would pray for the Lord to lead me and help me get my kids safely through. I’m not sure why I had that visual stuck in my brain, and if you’re a midlife mom with small children, I hope you don’t feel that way. But if you do, I want you to know that you’re not alone!! God brought me through, and He can and will bring you safely through the jungle of life if you’ll let him. And, during times when you feel like you just can’t stand anymore, fall on Jesus!

Are you struggling emotionally to survive these days? Are you between 35-45? You may be suffering from a midlife crisis! I went through mine alone, not understanding that all my jumble of feelings was just a normal part of human life and growth. I thought “midlife crisis” was just for men. NOT SO!! I am praying for two young women in this age group right now who’ve been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, overwhelmed by the burdens they’re carrying (and they are both super heavily loaded). If you’re someone who is struggling, please don’t feel alone or defective!

Honestly, I think most of us get overwhelmed by the burdens and pace of life about midway through our careers, and if you are one of them, please don’t give up. Think of a baby trying to survive the birth process. Most of the pressure comes from the outside, crushing his little body, squeezing his head. Everything must hurt horribly! Do you feel like you’re being squeezed to death? Do you feel like your brain is going to explode? My firstborn came out with a terribly bruised face and an elongated head, but he did survive. And, if you’re willing to surrender to the terrible contractions of life squeezing you, you’ll survive too.

God is good. I hope you will remind yourself of that every day. It is my prayer that as you wrestle through the assessments and readjustments of midlife crisis, you will abide in faith, hope, and love. And, as you begin the next phase of your life, I pray that you will do so with hope, courage, and reinvigorated stamina to just keep standing, to fall on Jesus when you can’t keep standing, and to experience great love as you abide in Christ.

Deuteronomy 32:10-12

“He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
    that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
    bearing them on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him,
    no foreign god was with him.”

Changes Coming in America

How do you feel about the results of Georgia’s senatorial election? Momentous and historic for sure! Rev. Raphael Warnock made history as the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a southern state, only the 11th Black senator in the entire history of our nation, and the first Democrat to win the senatorial race in Georgia in the past 20 years.

Jon Ossoff, age 33, is the first millennial to be elected to the Senate, the youngest senator-elect since Joe Bidden in 1973, and the youngest sitting senator.

I think these two men winning the election in Georgia is indicative of the radical changes that are likely to occur in America over the next few years, given that the Democrats will be in control of both the presidential office and the Senate. Personally, I’d like sweeping changes, but what I’d love to see is our nation returning to faith in God, repenting of our national sins, and rededicating ourselves to supporting biblical principles, not only in our hearts and homes but throughout our legal system.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican—or a citizen of some other nation—if you’re a Christian, would you join with me in praying for America’s healing? And, it’s not just in America. I’ve been praying with Carmen, a blog follower from Argentina, for the senate race there, where on December 29, 2020 legislation was passed supporting legalized abortion throughout pregnancy with possible recrimination for physicians who don’t want to perform abortions.

Also, the elders at Trinity Bible Chapel in Ontario, Canada have been summoned to appear in criminal court with the possibility of being fined $10,000 for allowing a church service, as the government had ruled that church is a non-essential service. Just for your prayers and consideration, here are a few more of the facts:

“We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God. We are not criminals. Officers from the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS) showed up at each of our homes last night at roughly 8pm and gave us each a summons to court. While other pastors in Ontario have faced similar charges under the [Reopening Ontario Act]for holding church services, to our knowledge this is the first time that each and every member of an entire elders board has been charged for gathering a church to worship. Although we know of officers within the WRPS who personally disagree with these charges, it appears the WRPS is trying to make an example of us. For years we have taught our children to respect police, and now our children and grandchildren are witness to their fathers and grandfathers receiving charges from police for worshipping Christ with our church. It is a dark day for Waterloo Region and Ontario.”

In their defense, the elders pointed out that “Our Saviour shed His blood to purchase the church, and therefore deeming the church ‘unessential’ is tantamount to deeming the blood of Christ unessential, which is a public act of blasphemy. One day our elected officials, bureaucrats, and police will stand before the court of God’s justice for these acts. We earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit would draw them to his Son, Jesus Christ, who offers free grace and forgiveness to all who would repent and put their faith in him. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and therefore we must honour and obey him above all earthly governments.”

They ended their defense with these stinging words by C.S. Lewis: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Christians of the world, we need to unite in prayer! May God’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

P.S.—If you are free for the next 8 Thursday evenings from 8:00-9:30 Eastern Time and would like to join me in an intensive time of studying and practicing prayer, please let me know! We start tomorrow night, but it’s not too late to sign up! If you’re interested, there are more details here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2020/12/08/come-pray-with-me/

A New Year’s Eve Blessing

At the close of 2020, may I share a blessing with you? Over the course of this year—The Year of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic (as I call it)—the Aaronic Blessing has been on my heart pretty much every day:

This ancient benediction has been used for over 3,500 years to proclaim God’s blessing over his children.

It was given first by God to Moses for the High Priest, Aaron, and his descendants as they ministered to the children of Israel.

However, we learn from Romans 11 that even Gentiles (like me for sure, and possibly you too?) who believe can become “children of Abraham” and be grafted into the family of God through faith: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).

We learn from Hebrews 7:24-28 that Jesus has become the great high priest for the entire world: “But he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.  For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”

Not long ago, a song called “The Blessing,” which is rooted in this ancient Aaronic benediction, was written and has become popular at many churches, including our own and our son Dan’s church, where he’s used it in leading worship. Alan and I often play it together at home during our own times of worship, too.

“The Blessing” has become precious to our family over the course of this year. In fact, even our youngest grandson, at 18-months, sings along on the “Amens!” I thought it might make the perfect way to end this tumultuous year as we look forward with hope to the dawn of 2021. God will bless his children! It is my prayer that you are one of them—or will choose to become one of them tonight by surrendering your heart to God’s love and forgiveness through faith in His Son, Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (107): Proclaim the Gospel to the Whole Creation

As we end this year and start looking ahead to 2021, I can’t think of a more fitting way also to end this series of meditations on the life of Jesus—how he lived and the instructions he has given us in the Bible. In the last chapter of each of the three synoptic gospels, Jesus’s parting command to his disciples was to preach the gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). What is “the gospel?” In Luke’s account, Jesus gives a simple explanation of what “the gospel” is: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24: 4 6-47).

The account in Matthew, often known as “The Great Commission,” states it this way, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This last passage, where Jesus tells us to teach others to observe “all that I have commanded you,” is what first inspired me to meditate through “The Commands of Christ” on my blog.

Finally, in the book of John, Jesus’s last command (given specifically to Peter) is very much the same, “Follow me!” (John 21:22). “Do as I do and teach others.” If you are part of a church that has any other agenda greater than that of sharing the gospel, may I encourage you to consider finding a different church for your spiritual fellowship in 2021? Why? Because even though healing the sick and feeding the poor are crucially important ministries, they are only secondary to reaching people with the spiritually life-giving message of the need for repentance for our sins and salvation through faith in Christ! There is no social, physical, or political agenda on earth that can compare in value to reaching people with the gospel.

How do I know? Because first and foremost, Jesus preached the gospel, lived the gospel, died for the sake of the gospel (for our salvation), and commissioned us to share this good news with the world around us. Not only did Christ command us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, but this is also exactly what he did! At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) . . . “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) . . . “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he has anointed Me to preach the gospel” (Luke 4:18, NKJV). In the book of John, Jesus’s first command (invitation really) was to “Come and see” (John 1:39), but his first clear command is exactly the same as what Jesus told Peter at the very end of his earthly ministry, “Follow me!” (John 1:43).

If we believe that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the world . . . if we have personally repented of our sins and asked Jesus to be our Lord and Savior . . . then our first and foremost commission is to follow him . . . to do as he did . . . to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Are we doing this? How can we do this?

God’s calling to discipleship and to proclaim the gospel is universal, but He helps us fulfill our calling in unique ways. He calls some to follow him across cultural boundaries, learn new languages, and struggle to understand people very different from themselves. However, all of us are called to be witnesses to those around us of what we have experienced of the love, grace, mercy, and power of God. What has He done for you? What is He doing for you? Can we share what we’ve experienced in our walk with God with those around us? Our family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and neighbors?

I heard one minister explain the Great Commission this way: “AS you are going . . .” Even if we aren’t called to go to another country, we all go here and there as the normal part of our lives, and wherever we go, Jesus wants us to share the Good News with those we meet. Jesus actually prohibited the healed mentally ill man from following Jesus across the sea, instructing him instead to “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19).

As 2021 approaches, let’s spend a little time reflecting on what great things God has done for us this year. Has He provided for you and been faithful to you for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health? Has He loved and cherished you? God has never left me and has carried me through every trial. His mercies have indeed been new every day, and His compassion has never failed. Jesus is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother.” God has never turned me away when I prayed for grace and strength. He has been my rock. His Word has been a lamp to my feet. His Holy Spirit has been my guide and wise counselor. God is more wonderful than I can begin to explain . . . but I’ll keep trying, and I hope you do too!

Della Reese singing “God Is So Wonderful” at the Grand Old Opry
(just prior to undergoing brain surgery)

Texts for this meditation (all from the English Standard Version): Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mark 16:15, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Luke 24:46-49, “And said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

(This is the song I was originally looking for . . .
a song we often sang in our youth group during the 60s and 70s!)

(Painting of Jesus with a sheep in the winter used by permission of Yongsung Kim, https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim )

Way to Die

Have you thought about dying lately? One thing on my mind since turning seventy is facing the fact that I’m going to die one of these years, so it’s probably time to start preparing— not only spiritually, but physically.

Physical death is a one-way, dead-end highway with no optional “OFF” ramp. Whether or not we approve, death is the natural end of life on this earth. We can prolong our lives by living wisely, but sooner or later we will enter the one-way vortex from which no body escapes.

I agree with the top half of this tombstone: There is no escape from death. However, we don’t have to feel trapped by this fact, because we can be born again into the family and kingdom of God. Spiritual rebirth endows us with eternal life through Jesus Christ, so that even though our physical body will die, or spirit will never die (John 11:25).

Do you believe this? “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). We don’t have to wait until we die to know what’s coming next!

If we never rise again, it will be because we made a conscious choice to reject the good news that Jesus died for our sins and will save us if we cry out to him in repentance and faith.

Nevertheless, on this earth, we need to figure out what to do with our bodies after we die. My parents were cremated and asked that their ashes be mingled and scattered in the Rocky Mountains where they were married 80 years ago. That seemed totally appropriate and romantic, so I thought it would be great for Alan and me to request something similar, only maybe have our ashes scattered over one of the great lakes. I also told him that if I die first, I would happily be cremated and buried in an urn under his arm in his casket wherever he decides to be buried.

Alan isn’t dead sure what he wants yet, though, so we’re still considering.

Do you ever read tombstones? Most of them are sweet, simple, and straightforward, but some epitaphs are pretty outrageous, whether they’re intended to be humorous or intentionally slanderous. Here are a few that made me laugh, although I would never want them for my head stone!

They say you can’t take it with you, but I guess you can at least keep any of your loved ones from having it. 😦

Some are cleverly esoteric but also bizarre.
Is this man rising from the grave to offer his beloved a rose?

This is one of the saddest (to me): A monument to deadness? Was their last name “DEAD,” or are they expressing their theological assumption that there is no life after death . . . or something else?

This one strikes me as funny but sweet. When we moved to Grand Rapids, I fell in love with an old farmhouse that only had one bathroom. Alan vetoed it given we were a family of nine. Five females sharing one bathroom would definitely test family synergy!

This couple must have had a good sense of humor!

Did these two commit suicide? Die doing something very foolish? I’m guessing whoever oversaw the design of this gravestone was feeling more than a little angry.

How about this one? What?!?
Aren’t epitaphs supposed to epitomize the person?

This one is getting a little closer to something I’d like. It made me stop and think: What would I like on my tombstone? What message would I like to give any person who stops by my grave? How about you? What would you like for an epitaph when you die?

I believe that when I die my spirit will arise and go straight up to be with Jesus and my heavenly Father, and I don’t care what happens to my physical body, although I do want to be considerate of the feelings of those I’ll leave behind. What caused Alan and me to reconsider our stance on cremation was one daughter-in-law who felt strongly that she wanted us to have a grave site.

Whatever happens in my future, I now know the message I would like to leave: “Jesus Saves!” I also know from the depths of my being that even though my physical body will die and decay—ashes to ashes and dust to dust (Genesis 18:27), nothing will hold back my spirit from rising up to be with Jesus forever. I pray that you won’t let anything hold you back either!

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
(Acts 16:31, ESV)

(P.S.—I cannot take credit for any of these great photos. The text is [obviously] mine; but the photos were passed on to me as an email forward from a friend who has no clue who originally found them or sent them around. If you are the photographer, please let me know so I can credit you! Thanks!)

We Are What We Watch

After a very taxing day and the expiration of our productive energy, Alan and I sat down to watch a video. Somehow, there was a new movie in our queue which neither of us remembered adding. It had an intriguing title, and the first line mentioned a burned-out FBI agent going to the country and befriending a special needs child. It sounded like a warm, Hallmark-style movie with a happy ending, which seemed like the perfect way to end our day. Also, being a 2020 release, I thought it might make a good story to pass along to you as well! 🙂

Wrong! The movie started out warm and wonderful—panning mountains and idyllic country roads—but before long we were seeing artsy FBI flashbacks to sensuous ballet dancing, eruptions of profanity . . . and suddenly the realization that we were heading into a lesbian romance. Not at all what we’d hoped for. We shut it off and headed for bed, but the next morning when I looked it up, I was chagrined to discover that if I’d bothered to read the entire synopsis, I would have saved us both some time and frustration!

How many times do I make snap decisions based on incomplete information? Too many to count, for sure! Even videos that sound good aren’t always good; have you noticed? I need to be more careful and more prayerful, not only concerning what I watch, but also how I spend all my time, how I eat . . . even how I’m going to vote! What sources do I trust? Which candidates stand for what I believe is right? And on, and on!

I have a trio of little bronze monkeys sitting on a window ledge to remind us: “Speak no evil, see no evil; hear no evil.” It’s also been said:
“What goes in comes out.”
“You are what you eat.”
“What you sow you will reap.”
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (see Proverbs 23:7).

That next morning, I received an ad from Revelation Media concerning a free premiere showing of a new release called In His Image, which anyone who signs up for can watch free on October 20th. (They invite you to donate and they’ll send you a DVD, but I think you can watch it free without donating anything.) I’m going to share the link with you, but be sure to check it out for yourself! If you—like me—think it will be worthwhile, maybe you’d like to watch it too! It sounds good; I hope it is good, but if you watch it, I’d love to hear your critique!

https://inhisimage.movie/

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).