Meditating on the Commands of Christ (84): Sow, Reap, and Weep—Or Sow, Weep, and Reap!

“You’ll reap what you sow” is foundational, not only to farmers but to all of us as humans. Not only physically, but spiritually. That’s doubtless why Jesus urged us in Matthew 13:18 to “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.”

Reaper by Victor Borisov-Musatov, 1897. Public Domain

What was that parable? “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

What did Jesus want his disciples to understand? “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

If you’re a believer, then the message for us is to sow the Word of God (the Bible and the Gospel of Christ) liberally, everywhere, to everyone, without worrying about whether or not it will always be successfully received.

As a case in point, I eagerly received Jesus as my Savior the first time I ever heard the Gospel, which was at a Youth for Christ rally when I was twelve. The next day, I started trying to explain the great, good news to Jocey, who took clarinet lessons with me at our junior high school. “Oh, I’m already a Christian,” she replied casually. “I got saved when I was four.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “Then why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because I didn’t think you were the type.”

Fifty-seven years later, I’m still pondering that one. Who is “the type?” I don’t think any of us can tell who might or might not respond to the wonderful news that God loved us so much that He sent his uniquely begotten Son (Jesus) to die in our place so that we can have our sins forgiven, be reconciled to God, and become his children—receiving his eternal life and being assured of going to heaven to be with Christ when we die.

Therefore, Jesus tells us to share the living seed of the Word of God freely. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Bible also gives us several wonderful promises to encourage us in our task:

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). So, beyond the “sow and reap” principle, there’s the even better, “sow, weep, and reap with joy” principle.

Contrarily, there’s the “sow, reap, and weep principle: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:8-9). How much better to continue in patiently sowing the Word of God despite persecution, belittlement, and weariness. God promises to bless us with everlasting life, and I think in this context, He’s not saying our own. Our own promise of everlasting life was secured for us when we committed our lives to Christ. The promise of Galatians is that we will reap the joy of seeing many other people receive everlasting life if we don’t give up!

Do you ever get frustrated and tired of sharing the glory of God with those who don’t believe a word of what you say and think you’re nuts? Don’t grow weary! Don’t give up sharing the blessed Good News of the Gospel! “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

God wants us to keep sowing the good seed of the Kingdom of God so that some day we will be overwhelmed by the joy of seeing multitudes experiencing the bliss of heaven with us. Beloved, keep sowing and weeping. We may never know in this life the effects of our scattering God’s Word, but someday, in heaven, we will reap with joy!

The reaper after millet by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public Domain

(P.S.—As a tribute to Jocey, she became a wonderful friend, and her mother patiently drove both my sister and me to church several times a week for over two years until my sister got her driver’s license and we could get there on our own!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (80): Go In Peace

Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). To me, this is the most comforting “command” that Jesus ever utters. I don’t think of Jesus as really commanding us to do anything, but he admonished us in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That’s what this study is all about—understanding what Jesus taught and what we can apply to our own lives today. What are his commandments? Well, this is the 80th time Jesus gives someone an imperative, and it’s wonderful!

Banquet in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, 1573.
Now in the Accademia, Venice, Italy

Jesus had been invited to dinner at Simon’s home. Simon was a Pharisee—one of the elite religious “right” you might say, who were known for rigorously keeping every detail of the Law of Moses but had somehow become unbalanced. The Pharisees were focused on justice but had become blind to the other half of God’s mandates, including mercy, humility, and kindness.

Mary Magdalene at the door of Simon the Pharisee,
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1853.
Now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England

Common courtesy in those days included washing the feet of guests, but Simon did not honor Jesus in this way. However, there was a disreputable woman who came to the dinner, not as a guest, but with the desire to worship Jesus.

Mary and Christ at Simon the Pharisee’s Home by Peter Paul Rubens, 1620.
Now at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

She washed his feet with her tears and wiped his feet with her hair, then anointed his feet with ointment from a precious alabaster box she had brought. Simon was displeased. (In truth, I might also have been uncomfortable with such a public display of affection had I been there.)

Woman pouring water into a jar by Gerrit Dou in 1640.
Now in the Louvre in Paris, France

Thankfully, Jesus saw past the awkward externals and into her heart. He understood her sorrow over her sins and her desire to be good! So, instead of condemning her inappropriate behavior, he defended her repentance and faith as genuine, rebuked Simon for his lack of graciousness and love, and sent the woman on her way with this benediction: “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

If you—like me— have a tendency to be like Simon, may we hear and heed the rebuke. May we learn to be hospitable and kind to everyone, not just those we admire and find fascinating company, but also those who have repented and have hearts full of love for our Savior! If you identify more with the woman (traditionally thought to be Mary Magdalene), pursue Christ whole-heartedly. Don’t worry if you don’t meet all the mores for socially appropriate behavior. Your love for Jesus is fresh, passionate, and beautiful. Don’t worry about what anybody else is thinking. Worship the Lord and sit at his feet!

For all women, here is a very sweet two-minute video encouraging us to be like some of the virtuous women in the Bible:

Text for this meditation: “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).

Mary Magdalene 1899. Viktor M. Vasnetsov

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (79): Arise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the song arise…

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

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

Everyone sing a new Hallelujah
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

An Answer of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Cake

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

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

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

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

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

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (77): Finding Rest in the Yoke

In India, I learned some striking lessons about being under the yoke! “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Although I’d memorized those verses years ago, I must have stopped at the “and I will give you rest” without paying attention to the rest of what Jesus directs us to do. This isn’t just an offer for a life of ease!!

Riding on an ox cart in Lumbini, India

Jesus does offer us rest, but he’s not promising us a life of rest per se (i.e.—freedom from labor). He is challenging us to find rest for our souls while laboring with Him (rather than without Him). A yoke is not a pillow! It’s a wooden bar laid over the neck of beasts of burden so that they can pull together and share the load.

Most all of us labor “and are heavy laden,” although if we try to carry all our burdens alone, it can be unbearably grueling at times.

Sometimes, we are tempted to make our burdens lighter by teaming up with those who do not share our faith, but we are warned against this: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

The offer Jesus gives us is to partner with Him! He is the Light of the world, and when we walk with Him, we will always know where to go! “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, 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). I’ve found that Jesus often carries me altogether, but even during the hardest times when I feel like I can hardly keep going, I know He is with me, also bearing my load and walking beside me.

Although we may find it initially hard to surrender to being “under the yoke” with Jesus (and indeed—a yoke is a sign of surrender to someone else’s authority), the best news is that by partnering with Christ, we have a new master! We’re no longer bond slaves to sin, but rather we become spiritually free! God becomes our Father— the one to whom we are ultimately surrendered . . . and who provides lovingly for us!

In India, the ox cart driver guides his team by putting pressure on their tails. This makes me think of our sweet Holy Spirit, who also puts pressure on us. We may resist at times, but ultimately his promptings help us know which way to go, and because we know He loves us, we can trust his counsel.

Once we surrender to Him, he sets us to work caring for others and bearing one another’s burdens: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We might be tempted to fuss and fume—or rebel altogether and run away, but the beauty of living with Jesus is that we eventually begin to love others supernaturally, so helping them becomes a burden we want to bear: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). In fact, we discover that it actually makes us happy to help others! “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Haven’t you noticed that?

I think if we can only keep practicing these verses—learning to come to Jesus and find our rest in Him—then we will discover what it means to want to partner with him . . . to become “meek and lowly in heart”. . . to find rest for our souls . . . to share His yoke . . . to accept the burdens He gives us and experience them as “light” because He is pulling with us.

Text for this meditation: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). However, to understand the context more fully, here is the entire passage: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:20-30).

Two Brahman Bulls Yoked Together

(*A special thank you to Yongsung Kim for permission to use these two wonderful portraits of Jesus. http://Havenlight.com )

Understanding Stress and Stress-Relieving Strategies

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

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

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

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

How to relieve stress? Here are some ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!)