THANKFUL, OH REALLY?

I am almost certain that everything that can be written about Thanksgiving has already been written.

O, people will meet together, if they are allowed.  They will eat turkey and watch football games, but in this Pandemic year, where we have lost loved ones, homes, jobs, and are perhaps struggling to keep food on the table, many will find little for which to be thankful. 

We have been left numb and dazed wondering how much worse things can be.  

I heard a story yesterday about a sweet little bird that sang all the time.  One day, while vacuuming, the lady of the house accidently sucked the little bird into the vacuum.  Frantically she unzipped the bag and fished out the little warbler covered with dust.  Running to the sink she turned on the cold water and washed the dust away.  By then the poor bird was shivering   violently, so she grabbed the noisy hair dryer and dried him off.  What trauma for such a tiny creature!

When asked how the little bird was doing, his owner said, “Well, he doesn’t sing much anymore.  He just sits there and stars off into space.”

Like that little bird, you may feel as though you have been sucked into a great, dark place covered with the ugliness of life.  Life, as we have known it, has changed drastically, and most likely will not return to the normal that we have enjoyed for so long.  Perhaps, you have experienced so many catastrophes this year that you have lost your song.  Now, you are just staring into the future wondering what in the world will happen next.

A friend, a friend who has suffered much this year, said to me, “You know 2020 is going to become a swear word.”

Not understanding I questioned him.  

“Oh,” he said.  2020 has been such a disastrous year that in the future, when one thinks of it, he will only want to swear.”

I felt sad for my friend, and for all of us.  I hate this pandemic and the things that have transpired as much as anyone.  I hate being alone most of the time.  I hate that some of my acquaintances have sickened and died.  I hate being separated from my suffering sister.  And I long for the day I can leave my house without feeling at risk.  I want it all to be over as much as you do.

However, looking back on this year from a perspective of one, two or ten years, I believe we will be able to see the good things that have taken place.  Think of the beautiful, healthy babies that were born this year, the Sweethearts that have found each other, the families that have rediscovered themselves, the kindness and generosity of neighbor to neighbor, the food banks that have spread feasts on empty tables, and the doctors and nurses and other first responders who have helped to save lives.  Then there are those who, in this time of need, have come to trust in Christ.  What could be better than that?

I know!  I know!  You can find a negative for all these things I have mentioned, but let’s quit looking at the negative for a little while and concentrate on the blessing remembering above all, that regardless of the way things look now, God, who loves us passionately, is still in control.

Truth is this world, and yes our own country, is not a very welcoming place today.  Those of us who have openly declared ourselves to be followers of Christ sometime imagine that we are exempt from hurts and bad things.  We think, “If I do everything right, bad things won’t happen to me.”  Of course that is not the case.  We all live in a sinful world, and often suffer the same sorrows no matter how good we are.

Matthew 5:45 tells us, “He (God) makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”

We need to look a little closer to find again our thankfulness.  Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest.  The BAD looms so gigantic before us that we fail to see the GOOD.  Each morning, when I ask God’s blessing on my breakfast, I first thank Him for “this new day.”  For I realize that, at the age of eighty-five, everyday that I live is a divine gift.

In Psalm 90:10, Moses said, “The days of our lives are seventy years…” There is the belief that God has allotted to us 70 years to live here on this earth, and if we live longer it is a gift from Him.  So, according to this I have had 15 gifted years.  I cherish them all and long for more.

People, who have no time for God, fail to give Him credit for anything not knowing that He wills every breath they breathe and every day they live.

In memory of the Pilgrims we set aside one day each year, and call it Thanksgiving.  To my way of thinking, everyday should be a day of Thanksgiving.

Psalm 100:2-4, “Come before His presence with singing.  Know that the Lord He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.”

In the middle of this pandemic, you can learn a new song, a song of praise and thanks to God for so many gifts that we enjoy everyday.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

TRY, TRY AGAIN

If at first, you don’t succeed,

Try, try again…

This well-known proverb is traced back to 1840, and is credited to Thomas H. Palmer, an American educator.  However, the adage was popularized by Edward Hickson in his morals song.

Then your courage should appear,

For if you will persevere, 

You will conquer, never fear.

Try again.

If we strive, ‘tis no disgrace,

Though we did not win the race.

If you find your task is hard,

Try again.

Legend says that the essence of this expression has its roots long before this date.  Robert the Bruce, a 14th-century king of Scotland, after suffering a major defeat at the hands of the English, went into a cave to hide and lick his wounds.  While there, he watched a spider try to spin a web.  Each time the spider failed, it simply started again.  Robert was so inspired by the little arachnid that he left the cave and lead his troops in a series of victories against England.

How often have you been advised to “try again?”  “Just try again,” Mama said.  “Try again,” your teacher encouraged.

Some years back, when I was being prepared for surgery, a sweet little nurse attempted to slip a needle into my arm in order to open a portal for anesthesia and other medication.  She must have tried six or eight times.  Each time was more painful, and each time she apologized. 

When her supervisor came by to check on her, he asked, “Do you want to try again?”  

“No, she doesn’t,” I said.  I know she had to keep trying, but not on me.

Remember when you were learning to tie your shoes?  You tried and tried and tried again.  At times, you probably wanted to give up, but you kept trying.

Remember when you were learning to write?  You clasped that fat pencil in your little hand, and clenched your tongue between your teeth, and tried desperately to trace the letters perfectly.  It was hard, but you kept trying.

Maybe you remember when you were learning to drive with that old stick shift.  It was hard to shift gears without stalling, but you tried again and again.

Someone has said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then stop.  No use being goofy about it.”  Some people feel that way.  After a couple of tries, they just give up, but you kept trying, because you wanted to succeed.

I admit that we do not all succeed to the same degree.  We seldom reach perfection in most things we attempt.  Some of us are born with certain talents—musical, artistic, technical.  If given opportunity, those with talent excel in a particular field, but they do not, overnight, progress from being talented to becoming a virtuoso.  There’s a lot of trying before perfection is reached.

All of us struggle with certain things in our lives.  Though, I had piano lessons, and I can read the music, and I know the fundamentals, still my playing is sort of at the beginner’s level.  Yes, I am sure that had I tried harder, I would be better at it, but I am also sure that I have no real talent for it.  However, I must be careful that I don’t use that as a cop out for everything.

I believe we struggle most in our spiritual development.  As we develop spiritually, our lives become increasingly aligned with God’s truth and purpose for us.  Soul, spirit, mind and strength are transformed, and we begin to understand what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is.  Then what do we do?

If you are a true follower of Christ, you will desire to please Him.  So we ask, “What does it take to be a good person?  The answer is simple.  Obey God. That’s where we get into trouble.  We want to, but we don’t want to.  We want our own way, but God has certain statutes that serve as guidelines for our behavior.  He has commandments that He expects us to live by

Psalm 19:8-11, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…more to be desired are they than gold… And in keeping them there is great reward.” 

So, we try to please God.  We try to keep His commands, but what do we do when we are tempted and we fail?  And we do fail!  So we start over like the little spider.  We try again, and again, and again, and with each try we become a little stronger until we are victorious.

James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he is approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

In Revelation 3:10, Jesus promises, “Because you have kept my command to persevere, (because you never gave up, because you kept on trying) I also will keep you from the hour of trial…”

Understand!  Jesus didn’t leave us with a bunch of rules and then desert us.  NO! 

We have His promise in Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, yes I will help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So, take a lesson from that tenacious little spider.  If he can spin a web, so can you.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

IN DISGUISE

I walked into the cubbyhole, where I was to prepare for the procedure that would fix my leaky Mitral Valve.  There, waiting for me, was that ugly, faded, pea green hospital gown made of course, heavy, uncomfortable fabric.  Alongside was a pair of yellow socks and a clear plastic bag for my personal effects.

“Take everything off,” I was told, “And put that on making sure it is open in the back.  Don’t tie it.  Spread it out before you lie down.  Don’t lay on it.”  

  From past experience I had already determined that hospital gowns were designed and produced by some sadistic person who hates sick people.

“Taking off everything” meant that I also had to remove my wig.  My hair is sparse to say the least, so I never leave my house without my store bought hair.   However, I refused to remove my eyebrows.  I pencil them on, because they are just as non-existent as my hair.  Without them I look like a “Nightmare on Elm Street.” 

In surgery, they want you just as you came out of the womb—nothing that hinders their work nor infects the surgical site, but I wasn’t about to go into the “Cath Lab” without my eyebrows, and somehow I got by with it.

I learned one thing.  There is no way for a patient to disguise himself in the operating room, for he is stripped down to naked flesh.

Now, I can’t help but think of all the effort we go to and the money we spend to make ourselves look better—in a sense, to disguise ourselves.  On a day, when I don’t have to leave the house, I don’t bother with makeup.  A little bit of moisturizer does it, but I don’t like to look in the mirror.  I like me better with makeup applied.

Do you have any idea how much is spent each year on all this beautifying stuff—makeup, hair, pedicures, gym membership, etc.?  Research says that, on average, a woman spends $3,756.00—yearly, and $225,360.00 in a lifetime, and 30% of women say that they would lay out more money for cosmetic surgery to maintain a youthful appearance.

The amount of money spent yearly to beautify ourselves is in the billions.

Least you think I am against all of this, let me tell you, “Just like you don’t like the way I look when I get up in the morning.  I like to be beautiful.  I never let anyone in my house until I have my hair and eyebrows on.

So we spend a great deal of time and money disguising our outward appearance, but I am more concerned about our “inward man.” Someone has coined the phrase, “The intimate stranger.”  To me that simply means that we know a lot of people whom we do not know at all.  Many of us live in masquerade all our life never daring to allow a look into the depths of our soul.  The mask is securely attached keeping our true identity a secret to everyone but God.  Sometime we even believe we have Him fooled.  

In a sense, we are buttoned up living in disguise never revealing our true self to the world around us.  We keep our hopes and dreams and problems to ourselves, because being transparent is a risky business making us vulnerable to all kinds of hurts and disappointments and disillusionment.

Truth is we spend far more time and resources beautifying the outward me than we spend on the inward “me.”  Yet God created the “whole me.” 

In Psalm 139:13 David said, “For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.”

He not only gave us eyes and lips and cheeks to beautify, but He also gave us a heart, a soul, and a spirit.  It is that soul that longs to be beautified. Our outward beauty means little, if there is no inward beauty.

In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus railed at those who “appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of uncleanness.  …hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  He was speaking to those who pretended to be something they were not.

In 2 Corinthians 5:12 Paul speaks of those “…who boast in appearance but not in heart.” 

God is more concerned with our inner beauty than our outward beauty.  So how do we beautify the soul—the real me?

In 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul says, “Therefore do not lose heart…the inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Be honest with yourself and with God.  He knows the worst about you.  Spend time in His presence every day.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will be like Him, and day by day He will renew the inner you.  The words to an old song come to mind.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

Oh, thou spirit divine all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

Let God refine and beautify the inner you—the real you.  Then take a risk, and hang up your mask.  The world needs to see the real you and God wants to use the real you.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

SLAYING GIANTS

 

Most of us are well acquainted with Goliath.  He was the 9’ 7” Philistine, who terrorized the army of Israel.  Seventeen-year-old David, a shepherd boy, was the only one who had the courage to confront this giant and achieve victory for his people.

A giant is a being of great stature, strength, and power.  However, we have also come to understand that anything unusually large or powerful may be referred to as a “giant.”

We all face such giants from time to time in our lives.  Giants are real not some figment of our imagination—not something we dream up.  They plague us with insurmountable problems, unendurable pressure, and pain.  They may not wield sword and shield, but they are fearsome bringing discouragement, depression, heartache, anger, and fear.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  They threaten our health, our financial stability, our family, our relationships, our marriage, our jobs, our churches, and anything else we hold dear.  These giants want to control our emotions, steal our peace, own our world and dictate our well being.  They show up first thing in the morning and leave us sleepless at night.

In these eighty-five years, I have suffered my share of giants.  When I retired in 2010, after having been gone for more than forty years, I moved back to Arizona.  Except for my sisters, I knew no one.  I wasn’t really happy with retirement.  After forty years in the pulpit, I didn’t know who I was anymore.  I didn’t fit into the retirement world.  I didn’t know how to golf, do lunch or wander around in an RV.  

I was often confused and sad and lonely.  This giant did a job on me, but God saw me through that time.  Eventually, I found a church where I made friends and was put to work teaching an adult Bible study. 

In the intervening years, a parade of giants descended upon me hardly leaving a moment to breathe between attacks.

All of a sudden, without warning, my healthy, happy husband of five months, became ill and was gone in seven weeks.  I couldn’t see that giant, but he was there turning out the lights in my life and weighing me down with sorrow and grief.  

Then, there was my little sister who was struggling with Alzheimer’s and refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong.  I had ignored the problem as long as I could because I didn’t know what to do.  There followed the agony of moving her to a care facility, and selling and giving away her life—another seemingly invincible giant.

Of course, there is this pandemic that has sent all of us into a tailspin.  Among other problems has been the lockdown of the elderly depriving us of treasured time with loved ones.  Now that I can see my sister again, I find that she is no longer the girls I last saw in May. I left behind a sister who still laughed and sang with me, and tried to tell me things.  Now, I have to coax her to open her eyes and look at me.  Giants find nothing sacred.

I have had heart issues for a number of years.  I know that my pacemaker keeps me alive, but for thirteen years, there has been no trouble at all.  Now, all of a sudden, there are serious problems.  The mitral valve is leaking and I’m too old for open-heart surgery.  

That’s when the giant rang my doorbell swooping in to terrify me, to discourage and defeat me, to steal my peace.  For the first time ever I began to think, “Perhaps this is my time.”

So you ask, “How in the world did you handle all this pain and sorrow? 

First, I knew that this battle against giants is a spiritual battle, so one by one I handed the problems off to someone who is bigger than I am, Jehovah Jireh, the God who meets my needs.  Then I was encouraged by remembering past victories over giants.  Finally, I know I am totally dependent on Him, so I give Him credit for the victories.

Faith may not seem to be the best option, but, in fact, it is the only option that will kill giants.  We have no great army, no weapons, and no armor, but God surpasses all of these.

Isaiah 54:17 tells us, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord…”

Not even Goliath’s 15-pound sword can take you out.

There is no other way to confront the giants in my life.  As simple as it may seem, trusting God works.  I have proved it.

Please understand, I do not wish to paint myself as a Spiritual heavyweight, who never wavers.  God certainly knows the struggles I have had.  I just want you to know that you never walk alone.  You never fight the giants alone.  You never have to live in defeat. 

David has received all the press as a giant slayer, however, I remembered another giant slayer, who fits my profile better.  Caleb was one of the twelve sent to spy out the land God had promised the Israelites.

When Israel finally entered the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the land was divided among the tribes, and, at the age of eighty-five, Caleb also asked for his promised inheritance, the mountains of Hebron, knowing that they were inhabited by giants.  

In Joshua 14:12, Caleb said, “Now…give me this mountain…It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them (the giants) out as the Lord has said.”

Joshua 15:14 tells us, “Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak (the giants) from there…”

I will be eighty-five years old in a couple of months.  When it dawned on me that at eighty-five Caleb was still killing giants, I felt like dancing a jig.  If he can do it, so can I!  It was a divine revelation.  That coupled with the good news that the doctors have another way to fix my heart valve, changed my whole thought trajectory.  Just because I have a damaged heart doesn’t mean that my days of usefulness are over.  I feel like I have a new lease on life.

Know this!  God does not want you to give up.  He wants you to get up and put your confidence in Him.  

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

LOOKING FORWARD

In fourteen hundred ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain

He sailed through sunshine, wind, and rain.

I learned that little ditty in elementary school, and thinking about it reminds me that today is Columbus Day—the day Christopher Columbus first made landfall in the New World.  Though Leif Eriksson beat him to the New World by four hundred years, and the First Americans centuries before that, Columbus is still credited with having discovered the Americas.

He was an Italian explorer on behalf of the country of Spain.  After having cajoled needed finances from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a faster route to China and India, the Far East, only to stumble, after three months, upon the New World.  Mistaking what is now known as Bermuda and The West Indies for India, he called the Native Americans Indians, and the name stuck.

Between 1492 and 1502, Columbus made four transatlantic voyages, never finding the hoped-for route to Asia.  However, his voyages did open the way for European exploration, exploitation and colonization of America.

Columbus Day became a Federal holiday in 1968. However, opposition to Columbus Day dates back to the 1800’s.

Some wanted to eliminate its celebration altogether. The more common opposition today was led by Native Americans and refers to the treatment of the indigenous population by the Europeans, who settled this country. 

Other criticism spot lights the character of Columbus stating that while he was a brilliant Mariner, he exploited and enslaved the Native American population killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing them.

Actual observance of this day varies across the country.  Thirty-eight percent of Americans agree that the day should no longer be recognized.  Some states observe Indigenous People’s Day instead.

Columbus Day is only one of the debates going on in this year of unrest, but somehow this debate relates to the other issues that are confronting us today.

Many question whether or not our nation was established on a Judeo-Christian foundation, and while it is true that our Founding Fathers separated church from state, they did not separate God from state.  They never meant for this to be a Godless country.  Instead, they acknowledged God as the source of our rights, and, in fact, they were careful to place Biblical morality directly into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and into our values to prevent a future of totalitarian or tyrannical rule in America.

The Declaration of Independence says that, “…all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Our political and human rights come from a power higher than human government, higher than King George III or the USA Legislature.  There is still a connection between God and Liberty.  He is the author of it.

               Thomas Jefferson and John Adams noted, “Liberty cannot survive among men without Divine connection.”  If government gives us our liberty, they can also take it away.

As we have grown and prospered through the years, we have successfully pushed God to the sidelines and abandoned the values that underpinned American politics, law and morals, fragmenting our country into hostile groups bent on destroying all that we hold dear.

We are supposed to believe that these “Protests,” Demonstrations, and Riots, which encourage destruction of property and the taking of lives, benefit our Black Americans, or Native Americans or other “downtrodden” citizens.  We must not be fooled.  These supposed beneficiaries were, long ago, left behind in the dust, for the present chaos in our nation is fueled by those who hate America and are dead set on destroying it.

They are attempting to rewrite our history.  Teachers are brainwashing our children.  Churches are being closed down.  We are accused of “White Supremacy, and Racism. To be sure, there are regrettable, shameful things in America’s past.  I can regret and be sorry for our history of slavery.  I can wish that our Indigenous people had not been treated as they were, but I cannot change any of it. It cannot be rewritten.  Attempting to change the past is an exercise in futility.  It is what it is!  But, by the same token, we have much for which to be proud.

America is a melting pot of diverse people, people from every part of the world, from every culture, language, and religion, people all made in God’s image.  The values, by which we have lived from the beginning, have made us strong and successful.  These are the values that have allowed us, through the centuries, to welcome this diverse throng of humanity, offering them safety, freedom, opportunity, and a new life.

I believe our nation is in terrible turmoil today, because little by little we have abandoned these values, which made America great.  What is to be done?

2 Chronicles 7:14 gives us the answer.  “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Notice, it is His people to whom He speaks, people who call themselves Christian.  He is speaking to people who have loosened their grip on God given values, and failed to fight for the truth allowing the disunity that permeates our society today.  He asks us to humble ourselves, to seek His face, and admit our wrong doing.  It’s as easy and as difficult as that!  In turn, God promises that He will hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land.  

  I cannot change the past!   I must look forward believing that I can make a difference in the future.  I must come to terms with my own responsibility determining to speak the truth and live out the values I have so long cherished regardless of opposition or perhaps even persecution.  I must love my neighbor as myself sharing Christ in every way possible. And, I must, I must, stand up against evil!

GOD HEAL AMERICA!

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

THE HAPPIEST WOMAN

At the beginning of the New Year, in 2008, I was told that I must have my Aortic Heart Valve replaced.  I sat across the desk from my doctor as she questioned me concerning symptoms I may or may not have experienced.  My honest answer to each question was “NO!”  I truly was not aware of a problem.  I finally said, “Nothing is wrong with me.”

“Well,” she replied. “We might be able to put it off.”

“NO,” I declared.  “Now that you say it must be done, then it must be done.  I know me.  Every day it is delayed, I will imagine it to be my last day.”  So much for optimism!

I was unhappy to learn that the surgery would be done in Oakland, in the Bay area.  Oakland was a two-hour drive from my home.  I had no friends or acquaintances there, so it promised to be a lonely sojourn.  I did complain to the Lord about it.  I told Him it was ridiculous to go so far, when I could just as easily go to Sacramento thirty-five miles away.

In preparation for the surgery, it was necessary to make a trip to the hospital in Oakland for further tests.  I was ushered into the intake waiting area, where I was given a little cot where I could rest.  A  Doctor came to sit by me.  We talked and laughed together for a moment.  Then she asked how I felt.  I told her that I had been having some indigestion, which was unusual for me.

This lovely lady looked me in the eye, and said, “My dear, you are not going home today.  We are going to find a surgeon and get this done before nightfall.”

Up to that moment, I had been my usual happy, laughing self—joking with everyone, but when I was told that the surgery was eminent, I felt like crying.  “No, no,” I said.  I have no family here.  My niece is coming to be with me for the surgery.  I don’t want to do this alone.”

I was whisked away for an Angiogram that would identify any blockage in the heart that could be taken care of during the surgery.  The doctors doing the procedure were a bunch of cut-ups.  I wasn’t sedated, so we were soon teasing and laughing again.

The surgery was not performed that day, but they wouldn’t let me go home.  They insisted on keeping me overnight as a precaution.

Later in the evening, after I had been taken to my room, the same doctor, who had questioned me earlier, came to see me.  This pretty lady stood by my bed and told me the strangest story.  After all these years I do not remember all the details, but in essence, she said,

“I dreamed that I went to Tibet, and I visited the Dalai Lama.  He was so kind, and he told me many interesting things.  That day I met THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD.”

Then, looking me squarely in the eyes, she said, “And today, I have met THE HAPPIEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD.”

In that split second, I knew exactly why it was necessary to have this surgery in Oakland rather than Sacramento surrounded by friends.

God sent me to Oakland for the sake of this Doctor.  You know, God does do things like that.  

Taking the Doctor’s hand in mine, I said, “Let me tell you why I am so happy.”

I had the unequaled privilege of sharing, with this searching woman, the truth of the gospel and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  

I do not know the outcome of our conversation, for I never saw that doctor again.  However, I was able to lead her to the only source of genuine happiness.

For the most part, I believe, we are totally unaware of the multitude of people who are looking for—longing for some semblance of happiness.  Happiness, for the most part, is fleeting, for it depends upon people, and things, and events.  When people fail and things are gone, happiness evaporates, and we are forced to go looking again.

In Psalm 144:15, King David tells us, “…Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!”   I believe this means that putting God first in my life is the only means to lasting happiness.   People sometimes give their hearts to the Lord, but they never give Him their lives.  Making Him my Master, my Lord means that I give Him control.  I let Him call the shots.  He is in charge.

I do believe that God blesses those who are faithful to Him.  Temporal gifts are a part of happiness, but still the heart and soul of happiness lies in the individual being right with God, and having full possession of Him.  Even if we never have earthly blessings, we have something better.

Charles Spurgeon said, “If we have not the silver of earth, we have the gold of heaven, which is better still.”

An old children’s song says:

Happiness is to know the Savior

Living a life within His favor

Having a change in my behavior

Happiness is the Lord!

Is He the source of your happiness?

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

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!

 

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

Last week I wrote about the fact that most people long for that illusive thing called peace.  I said that peace is first and foremost a personal condition and that it will never envelop this world until it is first found in the heart of men.

Thinking a lot about that in the last few days, I have come to realize that it is possible to enjoy a “sort” of personal peace without affecting or influencing the world around us.  I am admitting to you that I am ready to turn off the news and watch Andy Griffith instead.  I don’t want to watch “out of control” people destroy our historical landmarks.  I don’t want to hear how the pandemic has spiked in Arizona.  I don’t want to be a captive audience for looters, burners and killers.  I hurt for the people who have had to board up their businesses, and get out of the way of hoodlums.

When I was a child, I had a little figurine of the “Three Wise Monkeys.”  They are a Japanese pictorial maxim.  We always called the monkeys “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil.”  One monkey covers his eyes, one covers his ears, and the other covers his mouth.  

Various meanings are given to these wise monkeys.  See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil was meant as an example of being of good mind, speech and action.  The phrase could also mean just remaining quiet, or denying reality.  That’s exactly what I want to do some days.  I want to shut my eyes, stop my ears, clinch my teeth and forget about what is going on outside my door.  Then I am reminded of the quote I shared with you last week.  “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”  So, the so called peace I may experience by turning off the television may simply be a refusal to face reality.

The phrase “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” is often used to refer to those who deal with evil by turning a blind eye implying a lack of moral responsibility and refusal to acknowledge wrong doing.  It seems to me that many of the leaders in our country fall into this category.  They are turning a blind eye refusing to acknowledge the havoc that is being wreaked, afraid of reprisal, if they speak out. 

I cannot turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to what is happening, nor can you.  If I possess any real peace in my heart, that peace must become active in some way.  I am not called to be a peacekeeper.  I am called to be a peacemaker.

When Jesus was here on this earth, great multitudes followed Him.  One day, seeing the multitude, he climbed up a mountain, sat down, and began to speak to the people. He shared with them eight conditions whereby they would be blessed.  The seventh condition was, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”  Matthew 5:9.

“Blessed are the peacemakers…!” A peacemaker is a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.  

2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us God “…has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” If we possess that wonderful peace of God in our heart, then we must ask the question, “How can I sow this peace into a world that is devoid of peace?  I am asking myself that question today.

Here’s what I think.  Serious divisive conflict is everywhere, within families, in the church, and in the world.  As a lone individual, I probably wouldn’t make much of an impact in Minneapolis or Seattle, but in my home—in my neighborhood, I can be a Peacemaker.  That’s a good place to begin my ministry of reconciliation.

  It is said that “Time heals all things,” but that is not true.  Often hurt is swept under the carpet and never dealt with, and bitterness, resentment, and anger fester.  As a peacemaker, I can take the first step, face the conflict, and deal openly with the problem. 

Of course, I have to forget about my own interests.  I have to listen to, and consider my spouse, my child, my parent—the person who is hurting.  Arguing never solves anything.  Blame destroys any possibility of reconciliation, and peace flies out the window.  I must attack the problem and not the person.

I council you today to let the “Peace of God” reign in your own heart.  Keep your eyes and ears open to those about you.  Deal honestly with problems that arise. Take every opportunity to speak the truth.  There is a devastated world out there. Be aware of those who are afraid, angry and hurting, and speak to them a word of understanding—a word of peace.  

This world needs an army of peacemakers, an army commanded by The Prince of Peace.  He is our source.

Remember, Peacemakers are blessed.

“…They shall be called sons, (daughters, children) of God.”

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

PEACE OR PANDEMONIUM

PEACE OR PANDEMONIUM

Peace or pandemonium?  That’s the question!

I fear that peace is in short supply these days.  Though there is certainly strife in our country, most of us lived in comparative peace until Covid-19 raised its ugly head and succeeded in stripping away that peace which we enjoyed so casually a few weeks ago.  

As a country, America has had its ups and downs, but never, since the civil war, have we fought a major war on our own turf.  We have sent our boys to Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, and we are still engaged in armed conflict in The Middle East.  However, unless you have loved ones involved in the fight, being thousands of miles removed from the scene serves to make the whole thing a little less real.  It is amazing how we can go about our everyday lives without giving it a thought.

Now finally, war has come to our own shores—not a war fought with bullets and bombs, but war none the less—a deadly and damaging war.  We find ourselves fighting an enemy about which we know very little.  

This pandemic has disrupted daily life, altered global economy (1.3 billion dollars loss on oil and gas, and the loss of two-thirds of our restaurant industry), killed almost a quarter-million people and reminded us all not to be tricked by complacency, and an atmosphere of comfort and safety, for we are really never far from a disaster.

To some degree, this is a traumatic time for all of us.  For those who have lost jobs and homes and businesses, for those who can no longer pay the bills, and are perhaps wondering where the next meal is coming from, and for those who have lost loved ones this is a dark and devastating time.

For all of our technology, our best weapon against this enemy is simple.  “Stay at home and don’t get too close to anyone else.” My governor has extended our “Shelter in Place” quarantine by two weeks, until the middle of May.  Honestly, I am aching to go to church, to see and interact with my friends and family but, at the same time, I am kind of hesitant about mingling with crowds of people again.  What if it is too soon?  What if Covid-19 is still out there ready to pounce? 

However, many people are fed up with the quarantine.  They are tired of isolation, and they are beginning to question the wisdom of having closed down everything.  Protest rallies are cropping up here and there, and mobs are marching on state capitals.  Placards read, “LIBERATE THE STATES,” “FREEDOM,” “OPEN THE U.S. NOW,” “WE’RE REVOLTING,” “END THE LOCKDOWN.”  As people take to the streets demanding their freedom, peace disappears and pandemonium takes over.  

John Milton, in his epic poem “Paradise Lost,” coined the word Pandemonium as the name for the capital of Hell—“the place of all demons.”  Today the word refers to a place of chaos and confusion or a wild uproar or tumult.  A homespun definition would be, “when all hell breaks loose.”

I believe that our leaders are honestly trying to determine when we can best and most safely return to normal living, but, when it comes to this virus, most of them are novices just as we are.  They don’t know any more about it than we do.  They must take the word of those who are struggling from day to day to find the answers, and the longer we have to wait, the more likely it is that unhappy citizens will revolt, and “All hell WILL break loose.”  

One day, I’m confident, life will return to normal, but it won’t be the normal that we knew.  I am praying that it will be a better normal.  I am praying that we will be more thoughtful, kinder, and cautious, and more aware of God’s goodness.  We may have to live with some shortages for a while.  Perhaps we cannot all attend church at the same time, because there must be some kind of crowd control, at least at the beginning, and sitting six feet apart in the restaurant may be a problem.

As difficult and upsetting as this whole trial has been, I have learned and relearned truths—some wonderful and some not.  I am impressed by the kindness of strangers.  I am humbled by the devotion and commitment of our medical personnel, and I am offended by the sheer meanness of many government leaders. 

The most wonderful truth I have relearned is that it is possible to live in perfect peace even in the middle of the battle, even when the world is in turmoil.

Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.” 

Isaiah 9:6, speaking of Jesus, says, “…His name shall be called…Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 26:3 gives good counsel, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

The message is this.  Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is our only source of real peace.  His peace is beyond understanding.  He has promised, if we trust in Him and keep our minds on Him instead of on our problems, He will give us His perfect peace.

I choose HIS PEACE over PANDEMONIUM any day!

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE

HEAVEN!  Do you realize how often that word is used?  I just went on line and scrolled through an enormous list, too long to count, of Film, Book, and Song titles that include the word “heaven, and did you know that “heaven” is mentioned in 291 of Shakespeare’s works.

Then I think about how we often use the word heaven.  We express our exasperation with someone or something by exclaiming, “For heaven’s sake!”  We describe a vacation in Hawaii as “Heaven on earth.” When I moved into my new house, I remember saying, “I feel like I have died and gone to heaven.” I laugh about that one, for I have no idea how heaven feels.  We just use those phrases without really thinking or understanding.

We throw around the word “heaven” so casually.  It has just become a catchphrase.  In fact, for many people, these phrases have no real meaning. 

When we use the word heaven, are we thinking of the sky that surrounds us, or God’s dwelling place, or do we think of heaven at all?

A few mornings past, I awoke thinking about heaven.  Really, I had been dreaming about this blog and how I would put it together.  I looked out my office window at the blue heaven in which our earth is suspended, and I remembered Genesis 1:8, where God first spoke of “heaven.”

We are told that God made the firmament or the “sky,” and He called it heaven.  He was speaking of the heaven with which we are so familiar—the heaven where the birds fly, the clouds form, and astronauts have actually walked.  In the same chapter, we are told that God also made the sun, moon, and stars, and placed them in the heaven He had created.

Through centuries of study and exploration, we have learned a great deal about the heaven that surrounds us.  In fact, the USA has spent $650 billion or, when you consider inflation, closer to $1.17 Trillion on our space program.

Stephen Hawking, the British Scientist, who taught the world about the universe, was a passionate advocate for space exploration.  He stressed that the long term future of the human race must be in space.  “We must not have all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “But we must expand beyond our birth planet or face extinction.”

Hawking was an atheist.  He cared about the human race, I guess, but he had no concept of the immortal human soul.  He declared, “There is no God.” Neither did he believe in life after death, nor a place called heaven.  Hawking is quoted as saying, “Heaven is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark.” 

I have heard about heaven all my life.  I heard it preached and taught hundreds, if not thousands, of times.  I have sung, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be,” and “When We All Get to Heaven” until I can sing those songs in my sleep.  I believe in heaven, as do all those who love and fear God.

Jesus said, John 14:2, 3 “…I go to prepare a place for you…and…I will come again and receive you…that where I am, (in heaven) there you may be also.”  

Heaven is a real place.  I’m as sure of it as I am my own name. Jesus will come back, and I am going to spend eternity in heaven with Him.

However, Jesus made that promise more than two thousand years ago, and still, He hasn’t come.  I wonder at times if we have heard it so often that it sort of becomes like a fairy tale to us.  It may seem like it’s never going to happen.

Cynics ridicule our hope of heaven and eternal life.  They laughingly call it “Pie in the Sky,” meaning that heaven is pleasant to think about, but very unlikely to ever be realized.

The Apostle Peter tells us that in the last days unbelievers will mock saying, (The Message) “So what’s happened to the promise of His coming?  …everything’s going on just as it has from the first day of creation.  Nothing has changed.” II Peter 3:4.

We don’t really know a lot about heaven, or what life will be like there.  Revelation 21 describes an enormous city, 15,000 miles in length, width, and height.  Imagine a city with streets of gold, gates of pearl, and foundations adorned with precious gems.  A River of Life flows down the middle of the street, and there is no night there, neither sickness, nor crying, nor sorrow. 

Though my tiny little mind can’t really comprehend it, still I believe every bit of that. Laugh at me if you wish.  Talk about “Pie in the Sky,” if you like.  Your cynicism changes nothing.

Yes, heaven is a beautiful place, but its physical beauty is immaterial when you consider that Jesus, Himself, will be there, and His beauty will outshine all other splendor.

Hebrews 9:28 says, “…To those who eagerly wait for Him, He shall appear a second time…”

Don’t give up hope.  Be eager for His coming.  Heaven is not a fairy tale.  Heaven is real, and His coming is real.  It could be today.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!