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 (81): Confusing Light and Darkness

Trying to navigate this COVID pandemic is the perfect time to learn how to walk in the light rather stumble in the dark, don’t you think? “Shall I go here or there, or stay home?” “Shall I allow my children to visit or ask them not to come yet?” So many decisions, and one false move could literally cost us our lives! In today’s passage, Jesus warns us that we can think we’re doing what’s right when in reality we are doing just the opposite: “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35). How can we be sure what we think is a good idea is not really a bad choice, and what we think of as right is not really wrong?

For those who believe the Bible is true, there is an answer: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isaiah 50:10). If you’re not sure what you’re thinking about doing is “the right” thing to do, and if you are willing to obey God, then simply pray and ask Him for guidance. In my experience, God gives me a sense of peace if I’m pursuing “the right” path or a sense of disquiet and restlessness if I am not. If your heart is restless, then “trust in the name of the Lord” and wait patiently for Him to direct you. Don’t rush ahead and do whatever. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Be patient. Keep praying for the Lord to guide you. Don’t make a decision before you really have to, but when it’s time, make the best decision you can, trusting that the Lord is leading you (which He will be doing if you are willing to follow).

Jesus taught: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). This is a promise, but it is made to those who are following him. If you have not been following Jesus, then you may not be able to make wise decisions or discern good from a very bad mistake. In fact, you may have walked so far away from God that you have totally inverted right and wrong. As humans, we are capable of “doing that which is right” in our own eyes even though we are doing great evil (Joshua 17:6).

It is possible that our conscience will alert us if we’re heading into trouble, but if we continue ignoring the warnings, we can become hardened in sin. Isaiah 59 relates this grim warning: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear . . . The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness” (Isaiah 59:1-2,8-9).

What can we do if sense that our hearts are dark and we have no peace or direction? The Apostle Paul had an answer for this: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Paul was writing to the Church at Ephesus, so these were believers. Even those who believe in Christ and have been followers of Him can (often through inattention) lose their sense of direction. If you find that over time you’ve mindlessly walked out of the light and are now groping around in the darkness, come back to the light: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9).

There’s a lot of instruction here, and it may feel like bitter medicine to swallow, but this is God’s remedy for sin and lostness for both those who have become children of God through faith in Christ and those who have not yet. #1. Get honest with ourselves and admit to what we know we’re doing that is wrong. #2. Confess our sins to God and stop “pretending” that everything is okay. #3. Ask God to cleanse us and restore us to spiritual health and wholeness. #4. Walk in the light that God provides through the Holy Spirit, through the example of Jesus, and through the Word of God.

If you’ve been feeling very much in the dark and this message resonates in your heart, please join me in praying this prayer written by King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). If you have never asked Jesus Christ to save you and become your Lord, please do so now! He is the Light of the World and promises to give you the Light of Life to guide you! Wouldn’t you love to have a heart full of light and someone leading you safely from here to heaven? Jesus will do just that if you’ll let him!

Text for today’s meditation: “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.30 For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.31 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.32 The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.33 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.34 The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.35 Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.36 If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light (Luke 11:29-36).

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

The most beautiful prayer I’ve ever read concerning peace came from the pen of St. Francis of Assisi, who is one of the Church’s most revered saints, even though he lived over 800 years ago and died when he was only 44. St. Francis truly tried to life his life in imitation of Christ!

Painting of St. Francis in the Louvre Museum, Paris

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is Hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is Injury, Pardon.
Where there is Doubt, Faith.
Where there is Despair, Hope.
Where there is Darkness, Light, and
Where there is Sadness, Joy.

“O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

Stained glass windows in Notre Dame, Paris
(tragically destroyed by fire last year)

The most profound explanation of how to be an instrument of peace comes from the heart of my Lord, Jesus Christ, who taught us: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:9,43-45).

Sunshine streaming down on a bouquet at Chateau De Villandry, France

Prayer Cooking

Last weekend, our deep freezer died, leaving me a small inheritance of quickly thawing, once-frozen berries which couldn’t be crammed into my refrigerator’s freezer because I’d already stuffed every inch of available space with frozen meats and veggies. Besides that, I had most of a flat of fresh blackberries that were dead ripe and needed to be eaten or frozen. The only obvious solution was to process my motley assortment of orphaned berries into a large batch of cooked, mixed berry jam.

Sadly, I had no pectin for cooked jam. Our family favorite is freezer jam, so I only keep a stash of freezer jam pectin available for that once-in-a-year special when strawberries are less than a dollar per quart. However, without fresh berries and freezer space, freezer jam would be out of the question this spring.

The other problem was that I wanted to use all the berries, not just X cups according to some recipe . . . even if I could I find one (which I doubted). For instance, how do you suppose Google would respond to “recipe for approximately 5 quarts of mixed berries, some mushy and defrosted but others firm and fresh”? It is possible to make jam simply by boiling down your fruit with or without sugar until it’s approximately thick enough to make jam, and that was my first thought, so after dinner I processed the fresh berries, added the defrosted berries, and set the kettle on to boil while I washed up the dinner dishes. What’s that about the watched pot never boiling? I left the kettle a little too long and it boiled over. 😦

 “Drat!” I thought. “Okay, Lord, I have no option here of simply using my head. It’s too late to go to the store (and I’ve been avoiding stores anyway because of COVID concerns). I need your Spirit to guide this process.” Frankly, I pray every morning for the Holy Spirit to lead me into the ways of truth and righteousness. I pray for wisdom and grace and sensitivity to the Lord’s leading. I try to walk by faith and practice the presence of God. I talk to him while I work. At that moment, I recalled the passage I’d been memorizing from Psalm 119:57 -58, “Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.” 

“Lord, will you be merciful unto me according to THIS very word? Will you help me make jam that isn’t too runny and isn’t too firm? I can’t wing this one. This is something new. I have no experience in this type of jam making and know I don’t have the right supplies for any recipe. I need to clean up this sticky mess and get the jam finished so I don’t waste the good food you’ve blessed us with. Will you guide me?”

After cleaning up the jam that had overflowed onto the stove, I returned to my project, brought the fruit to a boil again, dumped in about half of a 4-pound bag of sugar, and entire bottle of freezer jam pectin, a large packet of strawberry jello powder, and 3 individual packets of gelatin into my goopy kettle, stirred until it was all smooth and abubble, then turned off the heat and ladled it out into all the glass jam jars I had on hand. It made just a little over a gallon of jam. I wiped off the bottles and screwed the lids on tightly. (No, I didn’t have proper canning supplies either, having given away most all my canning jars after our kids grew up.) Some of the jars eventually self-sealed as they cooled, but I stored them all in the refrigerator that night just before I went to bed.

Some of the jars of Mixed Berry Jam

There’s an old saying about throwing bad money after good, and so I wondered if I was wasting my pectin, gelatin, and sugar in an effort to save all the berries, but I was comforted by the next two verses of Psalm 119:59,60: “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”  I went to bed, thankful to have felt God’s guiding hand and feeling like I’d done the best I knew how to do . . . and willing to accept whatever verdict the Lord would pronounce over my prayer-cooked jam. “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:62).

The next morning for breakfast, I served bowls of fresh blackberries with cream and English muffins with our new jam. Both my husband and youngest son (who still lives with us) said the flavor and texture of the jam were excellent, so I breathed a great sigh of relief, thanked the Lord for his mercy, and sent one jar off to work with my son to give his girlfriend. Thank you, Lord! “The earth, O LORD, if full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 119:64).

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).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (78): Weep Not

Jesus wept, so why did he tell the widow of Nain to “Weep not!”? Was Jesus being unfeeling or unkind? You know—”Keep a stiff upper lip and show no emotion!”? Luke records that “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” (Luke 7:14). Therefore, Jesus’ response was not rooted in harshness, but in love. He wanted her to feel hope rather than despair, because he was going to restore her son to her!

“Resurrection of the Widow’s son from Nain”
Lucas Cranach the Younger (c. 1569)

There are so many points that could be made about this passage, but there are three I can’t resist making, so please excuse me. First, Jesus was doing something new. This is the first instance in the New Testament of Jesus raising someone from the dead. Those of us who know the Bible well realize that Jesus raised several people from the dead, so we lose the impact of the supernatural nature of this event. It reminds me of a missionary who recounted to me a (true) story of returning from a village deep in the heart of China. When he arrived, one of the Christians told him a member of their church had died but then had been raised from the dead. The missionary exclaimed in amazement, “How did you do that?!” to which the young man responded (with just as much amazement), “What do you mean? You’re the minister! We just prayed like Jesus did. What else?”

“Miracle at Nain” by Mario Minniti (1620)

There is no power outside of Christ that can raise people from the dead. No other great spiritual leader, be it Buddha or Mohamed, or anybody else, has had a ministry of raising people from the dead. (I do know a few Christians who prayed over a dead person who came back to life, but just once in each case, not as a verifiable practice.) The fact that Jesus raised several people from the dead (and rose from the dead himself), sets him apart from any other religious leader in his authority. No one else ever claimed, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). First point? Jesus was unique in his ministry and claims. Either he was a shyster, or he was whom he claimed to be: The “only begotten” Son of God.

The second point I want to make is that “Nain” is a real place. “Nain” means “green pastures” or “lovely,” and is associated with the little village of Nein, still in existence today on the northwestern slope of the Hill of Moreh and overlooking the Plain of Jezreel. Specifically, the GPS is: 32°37’48″N, 35°20’47″E. Up a steep hill, about half a kilometer away, there are tombs cut into the side of the mountain. People can (and do) go to visit the little Franciscan Church there, which is (according to tradition) said to be built on the site of the widow’s home.

So what? So, the Bible is full of exact names and places that can be found in time and space. Christianity is a religion tied firmly to this earth and is unique in this. According to Dr. Barry Beitzel, geographical places are mentioned between 1,100-1,200 times.* Hundreds (though not all) of those places can still be traced today (at least the remains thereof). So, you may not believe the miraculous events recorded in the Bible, but at least appreciate that earnest people saw and recorded actual events in time and space that they believed were true miracles.

Altar in the Church of Nain. Israel

Jesus’ kindness in raising the widow’s son not only occurred at a particular time and place, it happened under the purview of many people, including “many of his disciples went with him, and much people” (Luke 7:12).

This wasn’t done like a magic trick by sleight of hand. All sorts of people knew the widow’s son had died and must have felt such compassion for her that they were attending the procession taking the bier up to the burial site. Nobody was challenging the mother about whether or not her son was really dead! Jesus’ action was so miraculous that “there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16).

“Widow of Nain” by James Tissot

Third point: If this account happened in a real place, at a real time, observed by many people who responded by glorifying God and understanding that God had raised up a great prophet and was in fact visiting his people . . . wouldn’t you want to know this great prophet, also known as “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23; see also Isaiah 7:14)? Jesus rose from the dead, is alive today, and welcomes you to get to know Him!

Jesus can deliver us from death, through death, or in death, but always with compassion, and if we put our trust in him, he will always bring us safely to heaven! So, like the widow of Nain, let’s learn to “Weep not!” Jesus is able to resurrect us, just like he resurrected the widow’s son! “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:1-6).

Text for this meditation:And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.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.15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:11-16).

“Christ Raising the Widow’s Son.” Painting in the Franciscan Church at Nein in Israel

Credits: *Dr. Barry Beitzel, ed. The Lexham Geographic Commentary of the Gospels. I learned this from a fascinating interview between Dr. Beitzel and Dr. Armstong:

https://www.aqueductproject.org/unitas-fidei

**Also, I found several of the pictures and the best geographical information on a site called “Seetheholyland.net.” I don’t know anything about their religious views but very much appreciate their carefully detailed information. Thank you!

Peace in Action

Tuesday I paired photos of wildflowers with verses on peace from the Bible, promulgating the biblical claim that peace can come to our hearts if we will open them to God’s Holy Spirit and allow him to quiet us. Quite coincidentally, all that day (Tuesday), our entire Sunday school class had been praying for one of our members—Sam, who had an MRI scheduled and was worried about how he would do because he’s been extremely claustrophobic for years. That evening we received the following update, and it was such a “real life” confirmation of what God says He will do for us that I want to share it with you today, in case you’re frightened about something in your life. This is the response Sam sent via our Sunday school prayer chain:

Praise the Lord for how He used you and your prayers for my good and His Glory.  For me to ask you for this prayer request was humbling. What does it say about a clinical psychologist who is asking for help dealing with a phobia?  I did not have a problem asking the Lord for His help, but it was humbling to share my problem with each of you. My specific request was for God to remove my fear of feeling horizontally trapped in an MRI machine today.

I think it may be helpful to share a little of the history of where
and how my experience with claustrophobia began.  If you are not
familiar with farm machinery you may not know what a combine is.  When
harvesting soybeans in the fall, especially in the evening, the stalks
can get tough and the combine can get plugged up.  Being 12 years of age
and small, I was the one chosen to climb in the back of the combine
(on my stomach) and unplug the piece of machinery. However, I got stuck; I was frozen and could not move forward, backward, up or down. To add to the problem it was getting dark and my uncle had to dismantle part of machine to free me and get me out.  Never will I forget that evening, but after today it has a new meaning. I’m sure it will still affect me, but it will never again control me.

Most of us know that the solution to getting something out of our mind that we don’t want in there is to use addition, not subtraction.  This is where the power of corporate prayer resides.  I knew that Jesus was with me, and my plan today was to quote Scripture the whole time and to block everything else out of my mind. (This is not a bad idea—God tells us to do that, and it’s often the right thing to do.) However, for today (God, not the devil) told me not to use this particular method.

Over and over again, He said, “All I want you to do is: LISTEN TO ME.”
He told me that hundreds of people were praying for me “this very hour,
right now,”  and that all I needed to do was, “Listen to Me.” I found endless
comfort in Exodus 14:14 (“The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace”) and Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth”)!  What an intimate experience I had with Jesus!  Never once did I experience any fear. It was enjoyable, peaceful, and comforting.

Thank you for praying for me today.  Thank you for taking time out of
your day and for listening to God and for praying for me.  I have been
praying that God would bless each one of you, for your service to Him.
Because you prayed, all I did was listen to Jesus. Your prayers today
enabled me to experience the Joy of the Lord in a whole new dimension.

I expect to find out the results of the MRI test in 3–5 days. I will
let you know when I know. My prayer request for this week is for God
to be glorified through whatever the results of the test are. I am
excited about what He has planned for me.  I trust Him.  Because God
is Love, He always wills what is best for me. He is omniscient. He knows what I need, and since He is sovereign He has the power to bring it all together.  I trust Him.

To God be the Glory,

Samuel J. Roth

Reading Sam’s testimony to God’s faithfulness and mercy brought this verse to my mind: “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me” (Daniel 10:19). And, I know that He is willing to strengthen any of us to cry out to Him for help!

P.S.—Thank you, Sam, for giving me permission to share this wonderful account of God’s deliverance and your peace. God is so good!!

Domestic Violence During COVID

This is a tough subject, but one that needs addressing! I was out walking our lane last week and a young woman was trespassing, although when I stopped to talk to her, I discovered that she was either mentally ill or being abused, or most likely some of both. In the process of trying to help her, I’ve been digging into research and discovered that domestic abuse and violence is becoming distressingly higher during the world’s COVID lock down. Hospitals that are not overflowing with COVID patients are actually significantly down in their censuses. Our psychiatric hospital’s census has been down, and I naively imagined it was because families were home together and better able to attend the needs of their mentally ill family members. I don’t know the “true” truth, but it appears that people are avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting COVID, but this does not mean that the mentally ill are being graciously and patiently cared for by loving family members. In fact, alcoholism, drug use, and abuse are sky rocketing, and in the areas where reporting of abuse has gone down, the fear is that this is only because it’s become harder to get the privacy to make calls for help without being detected.

If you or anyone you know or love is being abused, there is a Hotline for National Domestic Violence in America: 1-800-799-7233. I haven’t actually tested this number, but if you call and find it unhelpful, there probably is a number in your city or country where you can call for help. In America, you can always call “911” and they can direct you. For most people, the danger of coronavirus, though real, may not be as potentially lethal as a violent spouse. For instance, an article in the New York Times on April 17, 2020 reported that “according to various unofficial Covid-19 trackers that calculate the death rate by dividing total deaths by the number of known cases, about 6.4 percent of people infected with the virus have now died worldwide.” This same article went on to say that the death rate “in the United States, [is] around 4.3 percent, according to the latest figures on known cases and deaths.” According to other sources, at this point 80% of those dying are over 65 or have an underlying medical condition. So, if you are under 65 and otherwise in good health, your chance of sustaining a serious or life-threatening injury from a violent partner is greater than your risk of death from COVID, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

Last night Alan and I watched the 2019 adaptation of John Bunyan’s immortal tale, Pilgrim’s Progress (animated version). We both loved it, and I want to recommend it. But beyond thinking it was a well done retelling of one of the world’s greatest classics, one the most significant points of the movie is that if we call out to God for HELP, He will help us. This is not just fairy-tale romance, this is true! God will reveal himself to those who seek him sincerely: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is alive and well, and He is able to help you. I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do if you’re in distress, but I can promise you that if you sincerely repent and surrender your heart to God, He will save you and show you the right path to take. He can do for each of us what no human being can do, and He will if we ask.

My (new) young friend at first could not believe that God loved her, as her father had never claimed her and her mother had died in January. She said she wanted to kill herself because God—if he did exist—did not love her and wouldn’t want her or help her. Thankfully, she did listen to God’s Word and did believe! “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If you will reach out and ask God for help, he will help you too! Please reach out!

(Please don’t think I’m taking this problem lightly in any way by using graphics from the animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, but (of course) I can not use real photographs of real people for this terribly difficult subject. God knows what you need. He can help you!)

Disturb Us, Lord, As You Disturbed The Soldier

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; when having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build the new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim. Stir us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love. All this we pray through Jesus Christ. Amen” (—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, based on an older prayer that has been attributed to Sir Francis Drake, which I heard last Sunday during my son Stephen’s church service).

Isn’t this a beautiful prayer? By the way, how was your Easter Sunday? Despite my initial disappointment over not being able to attend a live church service and my sorrow over not having nineteen kids and grandchildren over for dinner after church, it was a truly wonderful day! As a result of worshiping virtually on-line, Alan and I ended up “attending” three church services: the first in Detroit where our son-in-law had participated in the production of a marvelous 30-minute movie; the second in Hilton, New York, where one of our sons is the pianist (and where I heard the wonderfully disturbing prayer above!), and the last service here in GR—our home church. We could never have done that in person in real time!!

Our pastor mentioned not long ago that one of his worst fears when he accepted the call to minister at our church was that someday he might be preaching to an empty church. I don’t think he ever dreamed that he’d literally be preaching in a sanctuary with 2,000 empty seats, but he was on Easter Sunday. His comment was that even if our “worst fears” actually occur, they probably won’t be as terrible as we imagine beforehand, because God provides a grace in ways we can’t imagine.

I don’t think one of my worst fears was not being surrounded by family and friends on some holiday, but I will say that Alan and I had a truly happy and very spiritually fulfilling Easter. Not only did we get to attend three services online, we had a family Zoom call with many of our children, and over the course of the day were in contact with all our kids and grand kids.

We walked our lane in the sunshine, listened to a beautiful concert at the Duomo sung by Andrea Bocelli (recommended by our CA family), and watched a fantastic production of the Life of Jesus (filmed live in front of an audience) in the evening. Christians, churches, and Christian organizations around the world were offering all sorts of free opportunities.

What a blessed day it was! The COVID Grinch had no chance to steal Easter, and in some ways, our Easter celebration was even sweeter and more focused on God that it is usually. There was no temptation for me to be a “too busy Martha” caught up with serving others. Very quiet but deeply satisfying to my spirit.

One of the highlights of the day for me personally was watching the service at Northridge, which included a 30-minute film imagining how one of the soldiers who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus might have felt, and how he transitioned from disturbed to finding peace, despite (probably) his worst fear coming true. If you have time to watch this some evening, please do! It’s still available here:

https://www.thesoldierfilm.com/ (click on this link, not the photo below)

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Passover Prayer

Have you ever thought of praying for the Lord to “pass over” your family as the tidal wave of COVID sweeps our world? I know some people don’t believe COVID is a significant threat, since many people are asymptomatic and 80% of those who get infected are able to recover without hospitalization. Others believe the whole pandemic is really some sort of conspiracy to take over the world and destroy human rights and freedoms, citing the officers in Colorado who handcuffed a 33-year-old man who was playing T-ball with his six-year-old daughter.

I don’t look at COVID as trumped up hype or conspiracy. I look at it as something akin to the plague nearly 3,500 years ago when God sent his Death Angel to kill the firstborn in every family throughout Egypt except those families which had smeared the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes, as God had directed them to do: “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13).

Last night began the week long Passover festival to commemorate God’s deliverance, which faithful Jews still celebrate today. I know God has not told us to pray for God to “pass over” us today concerning the COVID-19 plague, but I also see no reason why we can’t ask if he will! Maybe he will be gracious and deliver us, as he did the Israelites so long ago.

On the other hand, God absolutely tells us to apply the blood of the Lamb to the doorposts of our hearts so that we will be delivered from spiritual death and receive eternal life. If you read through both the Old and New Testaments, you will see that God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, although at the last minute, God provided a ram instead: “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).

About four hundred years later, God told the Israelites to sacrifice lambs so that the Death Angel would pass over them. This “Passover” was a literal reality which saved them from literal, physical death, but it also occurred to teach a greater spiritual truth to the entire world—the necessity of a blood sacrifice to save us from spiritual death. It wasn’t until Jesus died on the Passover about 1,500 years later (2020 years ago) that God revealed to the world that he was willing to sacrifice his “uniquely begotten son”—God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ—as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. As John the Baptist exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Do you think the stories about Jesus are trumped up hype and his resurrection just some sort of conspiracy theory, or have you beheld the Lamb of God? I am praying for people to recognize the true plague that sin is and acknowledge its power to kill us. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23). Unlike COVID, sin will cause the death of 100% of us. Have you asked Jesus to take away your sins and deliver you from spiritual death?

Painting by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlightministries.com

Will you behold the Lamb of God and pray with me? “Dear God and Father, I understand that you are the Almighty God who has created heaven and earth, and all that is within, including me. I acknowledge my sin and ask you to forgive me based on the sacrificial death of Christ, who was and is the perfect, sinless Lamb of God. Christ died for the sins of the world, and for all who will believe in him, he freely offers spiritual rebirth. I accept this gift, knowing that I therefore become your child—a child of God—and possess eternal life through Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord. Thank you for saving me from spiritual death. I also ask you to save my family! I am asking today—on this Passover—almost 3,500 years since the first Passover—that you might pass over my home and family and deliver us from death via COVID-19. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Revelation 15:3).