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).

C.S. Lewis Thinks About COVID-19

A friend sent this to me, and I think it’s timely. In point of fact, C.S. Lewis was writing about the atomic bomb back in 1948, not the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, so there are some important distinctions. COVID-19 is not a future threat; it is a present reality, and every precaution needs to be taken. We should not be out taking walks in crowded parks or enjoying carefree fellowship with friends and neighbors. However, the point is well taken—which is that the threat of death isn’t novel.* We should prepare for our own death and do all we can to prevent untimely death, but we should not live in a state of fear or panic. We need to keep our minds and hearts “stayed upon Jehovah” and at peace so that we can continue to live lives of love and good will!

This is what C.S. Lewis had to say seventy years ago:

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 Virus [replacing ‘the atomic bomb’ and so on throughout]. ‘How are we to live?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, an age of violence, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the virus began: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics and antibiotics. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a virus, let that virus, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, taking a walk, caring for our family, friends, and neighbors—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about things we cannot see. They may break down our bodies, but they need not dominate our minds or destroy our spirits.” (Written by C.S. Lewis “On Living in an Atomic Age” in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays).

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

*If you are not prepared to die and would like to be, please click on the link at the top of this page that says “Coming To Christ.” It explains what the Bible teaches about how to make peace with God through repentance from our sins, faith in Christ—who died in our place so that we can be reconciled to God—and receiving the free gift of eternal life. Please let me know how/if I can pray for you!!

Prescription for Health by Martin Luther

Perhaps you’ve already seen this wise, practical approach to dealing with a plague. It was written half a millennium ago by Martin Luther to his friend, Reverend Dr. John Hess, while Europe was still trying to recover from the Black Plague that swept Eurasia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, killing an estimated 75-200 million people. Luther’s letter is entitled “Whether one my flee from a Deadly Plague.” I think the advice is still as useful for COVID-19 as it was 500 years ago:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529 (Public Domain)

For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth . . . that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exodus 9:14,16).

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Speaking of loving your neighbor as yourself, the 2019 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is so much more than simply a true life recounting of the friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod!

It’s a story about learning to love and forgive.

Of love lost and love found.

Of reconciliation after injury.

Of Hope.

The real journalist, Tom Junod, with the real Fred Rogers

It’s a wonderful example of how a modern-day saint (Fred Rogers) loved a cynical stranger (magazine journalist) and turned him into a lifelong friend.

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This beautiful day in the movie world is G-rated and perfectly appropriate for young kids.

But, like the true classic it is, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has a deeply personal message for adults on emotional wholeness and healing.

I was also blown away by Fred’s genuine love for people (all people—great and small) and his gentle wisdom in living out what it looks like to be a good neighbor.

Matthew Rhys as “Larry Vogel” (script name for Tom Junod)

At one point “Larry Vogel” asked Fred’s wife what he did to keep being such a genuinely good person. Among other healthy habits, she mentioned that he read the scriptures every day and prayed for people by name. In an interview that I read after watching the movie, I found this quote by Tom Junod: “He clearly wanted me to pray. He clearly believed in prayer as a way of life. He prayed every day of his life. He woke up in the morning and prayed, and wrote, and prayed for people. And so I wrote that. The answer to: What did Fred want? He wanted us to pray. I have actually tried, since that moment, I’ve tried to pray.”

A generation of children (and adults) singing to Mr. Rogers on the subway

What a legacy to leave: A life of living like Jesus, loving your neighbors, meditating on the scriptures daily, praying constantly, and encouraging others to pray!

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ran for thirty-three years, beginning in 1968—the year I graduated from high school. His lifetime commitment to helping children earned him more than 40 honorary degrees and international fame, but he remained steady, kind, and humble throughout . . . using his life to serve others in love. What a beautiful legacy! I am sorry that I was “just the wrong age” to profit from his gentle teaching, but I am very thankful to Lion’s Gate for producing this inspiring story for all of us to enjoy!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13, ESV).

(For more information on Fred Roger’s life and legacy, I reviewed the 2018 documentary about him, with some additional quotes, which can be found here:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/wont-you-be-my-neighbor-would-you-have-liked-mr-rogers-for-your-neighbor/

Also, I’ve noticed that you can get dozens (hundreds?) of half-hour episodes from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for free on Amazon Prime and can probably see most of his programs for free on Netflix or YouTube. My guess is that these gentle shows about life, our world, and learning how to deal with our emotions would still be helpful for small children today.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (69): Seeking and Finding So Much More!

It’s easy to ask for something, but it’s a lot more work to search for something, right? Stop for a second and think with me. Is there anything you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to search for it—forever if need be? Last week we talked about asking and receiving. God invites us to ask him for many good things and says he’ll give them to us, such as guidance, grace, and strength to follow him. But, when it comes to apprehending God himself, we are told to “seek” him . . . which is a great deal harder!

Oh, to know God! Even trying to completely understand a spouse takes more than a lifetime. So, it makes perfect sense to me that finding God is not a simple “ask and receive” offer, because understanding the infinite, transcendent God is without a doubt an eternal pursuit. As Einstein posited it: “I want to know God’s thoughts—the rest are details.”  I’m not sure if a love relationship with God is the one goal you’ve been spending your life seeking, but it is definitely the pursuit of my life, and God is THE love of my life!

Why? I guess because I fell in love with him the first time I heard that he loves me (and you . . . and every one of us)! Why? I don’t know! I’m not sure there’s a real answer to “why” someone loves another person . . . true love, that is! We appreciate those who do good things for us or benefit us in some way, but that’s different from loving them! To love someone is to willingly sacrifice ourselves for their benefit. It’s the energizing power to bless them apart from their benefiting us, and there’s no logical “why” to that in my mind. Still, I want to say that although I fell in love with God initially as a response to experiencing his love for me, I have been hugely benefited from his love ever since.

What are some of the blessings that I have experienced and are available to all who are willing to seek the Lord?
*Salvation and faith.For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
*Liberty.I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45).
*Peace.Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
*Hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
*Love. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).
*Joy and strength. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
*Eternal life.And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
*Goodness and other gifts given by the Holy Spirit.But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).  

Is there anybody on this earth who wouldn’t love to experience all these blessings? However, these gifts are given to “those who belong to Christ Jesus [and] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). Living a life crucified with Christ is a lifelong pursuit of God and his holiness! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s not an easy “ask and receive” fix; it’s a lifelong commitment to seeking God with all our hearts.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do it all on our own, because Jesus is also pursuing us! “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He loves us so much more than we will ever be able to comprehend! Do you know that? Are you responding to his love by daily seeking him with all your heart? “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified” (Psalm 40:16). Amen? Amen!!

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:7, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:8, “He that seeketh findeth.” Luke 11:9-10, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (63): Forgive and Be Forgiven

As 2019 draws to a close, I can’t think of any commandment more appropriate than Jesus’s teaching on giving and seeking forgiveness: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). What a perfect way to end the year! Some people never reconcile with those who have offended them; some wait until they’re on their deathbed or at the funeral of a mutually beloved family member. But, what a waste! Why not offer and receive forgiveness before the year dies rather than waiting until WE die?!!

There are many diverse opinions out there on what it actually means to forgive, but I believe the one from Wikipedia is right on: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledges offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).”

Here are some wise insights from William P. Young’s The Shack: “Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.”

If you wonder whether or not you’ve really forgiven someone, test yourself with these questions: Do I still erupt in anger when I remember the event(s)? Do I truly hope the offender will recover and become a trustworthy person, or am I more focused on wanting the person to be exposed, brought to justice, and punished? Am I willing to accept their confession and request for forgiveness, or do I refuse to believe they’re sincere?

If you’re struggling to forgive anyone, please understand that God tells us to forgive—not on the basis of the offender’s worthiness or repentance—but based on God’s willingness to forgive us for our sins: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus instructs us to forgive, not only for the sake of the offender but also for our own emotional health and healing. It’s not just the Judeo/Christian heritage that promotes the value of forgiving others either; it’s a part of every major religion! Even among the non-religious, there are literally thousands of quotes about forgiveness, In fact, there are 3012 quotes on Goodreads alone! (Here’s one of my favorites: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”― Mark Twain. Talk about a good, challenging resolution for the New Year!! 🙂 )

Below, I’m sharing seventeen of my favorite quotes on forgiveness. I hope you’ll take time to pray your way through, asking the Lord to help you forgive anyone against whom you are still holding a grudge. Before this year ends, may we all be free from the bondage of unforgiving hearts!

(Photo credit for first photo: “I Will Give You Rest,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com .)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (60): Don’t Worry About Tomorrow

It took me quite a while to decide whether this was a separate command or part of Jesus’s earlier imperative: “Take no thought for your life” (Matthew 6:25), but the two commands are like two bookends in the passage (Matthew 6:25-34), and I think the first is telling us not to worry about the present, whereas the last is telling us that we shouldn’t worry about the future either: Matthew 6:34 “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Jesus gives us two good reasons for not worrying. I think he gives the second reason first and the first second, but however you want to look at it, he makes two points:
1. Dealing with the issues we face—present tense, day by day—is enough to keep us fully engaged. If we’re worrying about tomorrow, we won’t be giving our complete attention to what needs our focus NOW! As my pastor says, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
2. The concerns of tomorrow may change, depending on how this day is lived out. If we live the present day well, we may find that some of the things we worried about the most have completely dissipated, like dew on the morning grass! As my husband’s boss likes to say, “I have anguished through many horrible events in my life, and a few of them actually occurred.” 🙂

I notice there are literally hundreds of quotes encouraging us to stop worrying, and I’ve chosen a few favorites to share, but if you need more, there’s no end of them online!

“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” -Swedish Proverb

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
-Leo Buscaglia

“Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.”
– Abraham Hicks

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
-Arthur Somers Roche

“Sorrow looks back. Worry looks around. Faith looks up.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” -Anonymous

“What worries you masters you.” -Anonymous

“It’s not the work which kills people, it’s the worry. It’s not the revolution that destroys machinery it’s the friction.” – Henry Ward Beecher

“Worry is like a rocking chair-it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you
anywhere.” – Corrie Ten Boom

“Most Christians are being crucified on a cross between two thieves:
Yesterday’s regret and tomorrow’s worries.”- Warren Wiersbe

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.”
– Corrie Ten Boom

“Worry causes stress. Prayer causes peace, so worry less and pray more.”
– Anonymous

Matthew 6: 25-34:”Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Day by Day
(—Lina Sandell, 1865, Public Domain)

“Day by day and with each passing moment, Strength I find to meet my trials here; Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure Gives unto each day what He deems best– Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure, Mingling toil with peace and rest.

“Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me, He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r. The protection of His child and treasure Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
‘As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,’ This the pledge to me He made.

“Help me then in eve’ry tribulation So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting, E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting, Till I reach the promised land.”

(Credit for initial painting of Jesus with a lamb and a clock by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com.)