BACK TO CHURCH

I went back to church on Sunday.  HALLELUJAH!  For the first time in five months, we gathered together.  I must admit that, because of my age and underlying health issues, I was a bit hesitant, but I really needed to get out of this house.  I guess I was not the only one who was hesitant.  Only sixty-five of us showed up.  I guarantee we had plenty of room for social distancing in a sanctuary that seats five hundred.

Fact is, sitting in my recliner, watching the service on line, on my phone, had lost a great deal of its charm.  Oh, I always sang along, and I listened intently to the sermon.  It was good, but something essential was missing.  My fellow worshipers were not there.  To be sure, I knew they were out there somewhere, but I could not see their smiling faces, nor hear their booming voices.

Yes, of course, I worship alone every day of the week in my home.  But, for some reason, on Sunday, I need to be with other people.  Five months was just too much deprivation.

Normally, for a few minutes, in the middle of the service, we have always been encouraged to wander around, greet people, shake hands, hug necks, and reconnect after a long week.  We were not allowed to do that this week.  We could wander, but we couldn’t touch. However, that didn’t matter.  We were at church—together again.

I laughingly tell people that I have been in church every time the doors were open since I was two weeks old.  That’s nearly eighty-five years, my friends, and that is no exaggeration.

My family just went to church.  There was never any discussion about whether or not. I never heard my parents use their children as an excuse for staying home.  Weariness, homework or school the next day was never a good enough reason.  Illness was the only thing that kept us away.

In those growing up days and for years after, we went to church at least three times a week.  There was Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night Bible Study.  

Several times each year an evangelist came for what we called a “Revival.”  Then we had service every night except Saturday.  Those revivals always lasted at least two weeks and sometimes longer.  When I was little, my Mama put a blanket under the pew, and when I could no longer keep my eyes open, I crawled under and went to sleep.  

Even our social activities were church centered.  I loved that little white framed church on Lebaron Street near the old train depot.

I was grown, living on my own, teaching school, before I realized that I didn’t have to go to church, if I didn’t want to.  I was my own boss, but by then it was too late for me.  I was already hooked.

Now, I realize that times have changed.  We are so weighed down with responsibilities that getting to church once a week is almost more than some of us can manage.  However, this period of isolation has, for me, underlined the marvelous privilege that we still have in this country to worship where and when and how we please.

Many believe that religion was the foundation of American society, and believing that they have left imprints of their moral ideals on State Constitutions and judicial opinions for much of American history.  In 1663 Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, said, “The happiness of the people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depends on piety, religion and morality.”

Still others believe that to say our government is founded on Christian values denounces the very efforts our Founding Fathers made to promote the separation of religion and government.  That discussion may continue until the cows come home, but regardless of what many want to believe, strong religious convictions played a role in the development of the United States.  

In 1892 the Supreme Court said, “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind.  It is impossible that it should be otherwise, and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”  Oh, how far we have digressed in one hundred and thirty years!

Take a look at our history.  Did you know?  The first Christians in the New World settled in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, 224 years before the U.S. Constitution came into force in 1789.  Many of the North American Colonies were settled in the 17th century by men and women who, fleeing Europe, refused to compromise their religious convictions.  The Anglican Church was established in the colony of Virginia in 1619, four hundred years ago.

Beginning in 1630, 20,000 Puritans immigrated to America from England to gain the liberty to worship as they chose.  Between 1700 and 1740 an estimated 75 – 80% of the population attended church.  All of this before America ever became a nation.  And the story goes on and on and on.

The Constitution did not create a nation nor religions and institutions.  They already existed.  The Constitution was framed for the purpose of protecting them for the people.  The first amendment prohibits our government at any level from establishing a national church or interfering with religion in any way making religious expression a fundamental human right apart from government control.  I treasure that provision that allows me to worship according to the dictates of my own heart.

Sadly, I wonder how long I shall enjoy this freedom, for there is a war being waged against Christianity in our land today.  Christians and Christianity are mocked, belittled, smeared and attacked on a daily basis by subversive groups and openly encouraged, sanctioned, and participated in by many others.  If you are an openly, practicing Christian in the U.S, you will become a target of some sort.  It is only a matter of time.  Persecution of Christians in other parts of the world is a precursor to what can happen closer to home, if we are not careful.

But should we be careful? 

The first amendment provides that religion and government must be separated, but religion is not separated from politics or public life. Individuals are still free to speak openly of their faith in the public arena.  

Christians must not be caught off guard.  When we see our faith treated with such hostility, we must not run and hide.  That’s what the enemy wants.  No!  We are responsible to stand up for our faith, to speak the truth in love, without fear. 

2 Timothy 3:12 tells us, “…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

BUT are reassured in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…”

The challenge is great, but so is the God whom we serve.  Persecution may be certain, but so is the reward, and that reward is worth it.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

MONSOON SEASON RECYCLED

Dear friend, 

It is once again, Monsoon season here in the Arizona desert, so I have decided to recycle the blog I wrote at this time last year.   We have seen very little evidence of rainstorms or sand storms during these summer months, but to one degree or another we have all been in the “eye” of a storm for months now.  Just remember that God is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble.

***********

Monsoon season is now underway in Arizona and the rest of the southwest. Arizona monsoons are typically experienced during summertime, July through September.  At this time of the year there is a shift in wind direction bringing a different kind of weather.  Temperatures rise, humidity increases, and winds are high.  Thunderstorms move through the region bringing dust storms, periods of heavy desert rain and flash flooding.

If I understand correctly, storms develop when warm, moisture filled air rises.  As the air rises, it cools and the moisture condenses falling back to earth in the form of rain—hopefully lots of it—or other forms of precipitation.

Storms can come out of nowhere in a hurry.

Many years ago, on a hot summer day, I was driving from Phoenix to Las Angeles through the Mojave Desert.  The sun was shining brightly, the sky was cloudless, and the air conditioner was doing its job.  The drive was a bit boring the barren landscape broken only by an occasional Joshua tree and countless wind turbines, but I was enjoying my brand new 1974 Oldsmobile sedan.

As I neared the Palm Springs area, I noticed that the sky ahead had darkened precipitously.  All of a sudden I found myself in the middle of a storm.  There was no avoiding it.  A rainstorm I might have handled, but this was one of those notorious desert sand storms.  Powerful winds had kicked up the desert sand forming a wall of dust, which blocked out the sun and lowered visibility almost to zero.  I could barely see the road a few feet ahead.  

This storm had appeared out of nowhere in an instant of time.  What was I to do?  The National Weather Service advice is to “seek shelter from dust storms in doors,” or “pull to the side of the road and turn off lights.”  In the middle of the desert, there was no shelter to be had, so I pulled to the side of the road, my only alternative, and waited out the storm, while the swirling, pounding, abrasive sand blasted all the paint off the front end of my new car. 

Dangerous storm conditions can appear suddenly and wreak havoc on everything in sight, and being observant isn’t always enough to avoid disaster.

However, I have discovered that storms do not only originate when the weather is hot, when humidity is high and winds are strong.  Storms do not always have to do with the weather.  Often, storms have to do with life itself.

We all suffer the storms of life.  They originate with a doctor’s devastating diagnosis, a failed marriage, a troubled child, the death of a loved one, or financial disaster.  

On a Saturday morning, I sent my healthy, laughing Cecil away to run errands, and in the emergency room, before nightfall, his impending death was pronounced—a sudden storm out of nowhere!

Darkness descended eclipsing the brightness, and the joy of our three and one-half months of marriage blasting away the beauty of years that were to follow.

Where do you go in that kind of storm?  Do you just pull over to the side of life until it passes by?  Where do you find shelter from such a disaster?  How do you survive the unmitigated pain?

Unlike the Mojave Desert, where there was no shelter, I knew there was shelter in this storm.  So I called on God.  My prayer was one of desperation.  Howling like a banshee I prayed the only words I could find, “Lord, I need you.  Please help me, Lord, please help me.” Yet, in essence, I was praying King David’s prayer from Psalms 32:7 and 17:8.  “You are my hiding place…Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings.”  God understood completely.  He wrapped me in His great arms becoming my shelter for the weeks, months and even years to come—until the boisterous wind abated.

Perhaps this is Monsoon Season in your life.  This storm was so unexpected, but now you are living in the middle of it.  What do you do? Where do you go?

Psalms 46:1 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  

In Psalms 31:3 and 61:2-3, David cries, “For you are my rock and my fortress…Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For You have been a shelter for me…”

Face it.  You cannot weather this storm in your own strength.  Run to God!  Take refuge in the rock that is higher and stronger than you, the rock that is higher and stronger than a category 5 Hurricane with winds up to 157 miles per hour, a rock that is higher and stronger than anything that will ever come against you.  Take shelter in Him.  There is life after the storm!

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

MAKING HARD DECISIONS

MAKING HARD DECISIONS

All these hours of aloneness have afforded me ample time to think—more than I needed, certainly more than I wanted. 

I am an expert at being alone, but I must admit that this forced situation has become stifling to the point of declaring, “I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

This feeling was triggered partly by a fall I had a few weeks ago.  I was in the guest room retrieving some sewing notions when I tangled my feet in the corner of the bedspread that cascades to the floor.  I fell forward on my knees hitting my chin on Mama’s old wooden rocking chair.  Since having both knees replaced, I can no longer kneel or place pressure on my knees.  They were bruised and swollen, and my chin was cut, and I hurt. I just laid there and cried for about thirty seconds.

Finally, I rolled over and sat up, but I couldn’t get up, so I scooted on my backside across the living room where I reached up and unlocked the front door.  Clutching my phone, I called 911.  Four handsome young firemen were at my door almost immediately.  They came in, helped me up, and determined that I didn’t need any stitches.  I assured them that I am a “tough old gal,” so they laughed and left.

Now, I know what some are thinking.  “Why don’t you have one of those little “thingamajigs” around your neck?  You just press it and someone comes running.”  

I don’t have one of those “thingamajigs” because they are for “old people,” and I am determined not to be old—sheer foolishness on my part. That’s what we call “failure to face reality.”

These times of uninterrupted reflection have forced me to think about my age (I will be eighty-five my next birthday), and the fact that there are some things I can no longer do for myself.  I was also concerned about what to do in case of an emergency.  All kinds of feelings were roiling around in my head, and I found myself asking, “God, how did I wind up like this.  Why am I alone?”

So, I made a decision.  I decided I will sell my house and move to a retirement place where I can live independently in my own apartment.  I can be alone as much as I please, and I can be with other people when I want to.  There will always be someone to eat with, to play with, to talk to, etc.  My brother thought it was a good idea.  I was excited!  I called the facility and waited anxiously for the literature they promised to send.

That literature is what you could call “A WAKIN’ UP MORNING.”  It didn’t take long to wake up to the fact that, at $ 42,000.00 per year, there was no way I could afford such a life unless I am planning to die soon.

I tossed and turned all night trying to figure things out, and then I thought about my cherished little house and how I would hate to give it up, how hard it would be to get rid of most of my belongings and cram into a little one-bedroom apartment.  Actually, I had not really thought through the thing at all.

In the bright light of day, I realized that I had made a decision on the spur of the moment, a decision fueled by emotions and a sense of loneliness.  My decision reflected the desires of my heart at that given moment but considering my situation, it really made no sense.

One day I will have to make such a decision, a decision that will be life-changing, a decision that may be painful.  I want to make that decision while I am still capable, and I will.  I don’t want someone else to determine my future.

However, before I make such a decision, I will do some research thinking through the whole thing thoroughly.  Then, I will consult God, He sees the whole picture past, present, and future.  He has promised to instruct me and teach me in the way I should go.  He assures me that He has His eye upon me, and He will show me what I must do.  I am convinced that He will have the right place for me, and as long as I follow His will, I will enjoy His peace and blessing.

Are you in the throes of decision making today?  Perhaps you have no idea which direction to take.  Ask God for wisdom.  Trust in His promises.  His Word often gives us needed direction.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

2 Peter 1:19 tells us His Word, “…is as a light that shines in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 

Be encouraged!  He will shine His light into your dark place, and help you make the right decision.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!