Working things out in life takes time

Time is such a blessing. Recently, I was trying to help a friend who was in distress about some difficulties in her life. I consulted two other friends who love God and care dearly for this friend. What could we do to help our friend improve her situation? I was completely blown away by the helpful ideas they had. They were inspired and uplifting with no selfish motives at all in the mix. One focused on spiritual help and the other focused on practical ideas to improve the situation. I was thinking about it all afternoon and it gave me a sense of awe at the gifts of God and how specific and kind He is. He only wants to help and uplift. However, when I approached the friend in trouble with some of the ideas, there were mixed reviews. Obviously, the person in trouble was still reeling from the repercussions of the situation and was still immersed in the difficulty. Her situation was in fact quite complex. For the rest of that day, I found myself a little flummoxed. The suggestions seemed so inspired and practical and I had felt so inspired by them. Then suddenly it all seemed to fall flat. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t instantly make sense to the person involved, that is, until I thought of Daniel and the angel’s answer to his prayer about Israel. The angel said (Da 10:12, 13),

Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.

It’s true that my friend’s situation didn’t improve instantly, but over the last few weeks, it has slowly been working itself out. Some of the ideas that were discussed don’t really fit for her, but others do and are starting to take shape. We continue to pray for her, and bit by bit, positive things are happening. It reminds me of a situation my dad was in for many years. He had a brother who was a pill for nearly his entire life. My dad always took care of his younger brother and prayed for him throughout his brother’s life. When his brother was about 75 years old, his doctors discovered a new drug that helped alleviate his behavioral issues. For the first time in my dad’s life, he was able to sit down and have a normal meal with his brother. His brother died a few years later, but how kind of God to work things out for the two of them before the brother died.

My lesson learned is that God inspires us either through our own gifts or the gifts of others around us, but it often takes time to work things out in this natural world. So many times this natural world puts up barriers, both natural and spiritual, to impede our progress. However, as my mother often used to say, “Patience is a virtue.” I never really liked that saying when I was young, but our experience teaches us that time to work things out is really one of God’s greatest blessings.

Our God is eternally kind and works overtime to bring everything into a better state. Let’s try not to get weary when things don’t work out immediately, but let’s maintain our love and our prayers and be grateful for the gift of time to work things out.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

At Eventide

From Christmas Eve night into most of Christmas day, the skies over our small part of the world were very dark and out of them poured deluges of wind driven rain, carrying away every speck of a white Christmas and leaving some in nearby towns without power. Finally, as Christmas evening arrived, I saw a golden hue from my window. I grabbed my phone and rushed out onto the porch to find this spectacular sunset.

The sight of it reminded me that our darkest days have the potential to bring the most spectacular results in our lives. How kind of God to remind us of this encouraging fact in the midst of our troubling times.

We should not fear the darkness, but search for meaning and for ways to overcome as we travel through it. I wish all of the WordPress family many happy adventures and much overcoming in 2021 and may we all remember the simple lesson of the rainbow after the storm or the spectacular evening sunset that follows the darkness. Let this be our hope.

Best wishes in 2021!

We are weighed in the balances and found wanting

The other day I was listening to a local radio talk show.  The guests and the host were discussing the problems in our state and lamenting the downturn in business and the difficulties suffered by restaurants and other small businesses.  I think that we all agree that this is a horrendous situation. The speakers on the show were mostly blaming our governor and other officials who are using this world wide tragedy as a platform to bring in more restrictions and limitations on free speech.

I listened and thought on that for a while.  On the surface, some, or even many, of these allegations may be true, but then God showed me another way to look at it.  The citizens of our country have had the liberty of free speech for several hundred years.  We have had much freedom and many opportunities to build businesses and create schools and hospitals and libraries and so many other avenues of expression and enterprise for ourselves.  What have people done with this great freedom of speech and opportunity?  Has God been magnified?  Have our enterprises uplifted others? Has it been clear to the world that the blessings that we have enjoyed come from the living God whom we serve?

It’s true that some of these freedoms have been successfully used for the benefit of mankind and our country has been very generous to charities that do uplift many.  In the past our country was like a beacon on a hill, calling to the world’s oppressed and mistreated.  However, that same freedom has been used to mock God, destroy his worthy name and create businesses that lead many down a road of debauchery.  We have also used this freedom to build ourselves magnificent homes, go on luxurious vacations, and create entertainments that fill our lives with godless meaninglessness.  We have become a country of overabundance and wastefulness. Our magnificent Father, God, has been relegated to a small and insignificant corner of many lives, and even kicked out of most daily activities.  It’s clear that we have had freedom of speech and have abused it.

So, why do we blame our leaders for what is happening?  Why do we continue searching for scapegoats?  It’s our own fault.  In the days of Daniel the prophet, King Belshazzar was in his palace drinking wine and praising the gods of gold, silver, and brass etc.  Just then, he saw part of a man’s hand writing on the wall.  It wrote, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”  No one was able to explain it to the king, until the queen told the king that there was a man named Daniel, full of wisdom and understanding, who could explain it to the king.  Daniel was able to translate the whole sentence, part of which – tekel – meant “thou art weighed in the balances and are found wanting.”  When the main desires of our lives are to yearn for more and more money or more and more material goods and beautiful houses filled with expensive furnishings, are we any better than King Belshazzar?  Perhaps we have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

We should not look for others to blame.  We should look inside of ourselves and see what it is inside of us that is wanting in God’s sight.  Why did God give us free will?  Why did He allow us to pursue freedom of expression? What if He were to let us continue going on down this same avenue? How bad could it get? Would the actions of the majority make it impossible for the increasing minority of those who truly love God to continue?

God never allows difficulties in our lives unless He intends them to produce something good. Could He be allowing this to happen to us so that we have the opportunity to change? Just because we are found wanting does not mean we have to stay that way. Therefore, we should not look at this pandemic as a curse, but as an opportunity to look at ourselves and change the negatives into positives, to turn from those ways and seek God.  We can pray for our country, help our fellow citizens and pray for as many as possible to look within and to see where we need to change our motivations, after which both our individual and collective behavior will follow suit.  Because we will turn our hearts to God, we can then pray to Him and He will listen and heal both us and our country.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

How can this guy be best friends with everybody?!

No one alive today needs someone to tell them that these are really difficult days to be alive on planet Earth. For most of the world it has been about eight or nine months (ten if you’re in China) since we last felt normal. We don’t know when or if normalcy will return. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, and/or the companionship of friends and family. We’re collectively lonely. Everywhere.

Personally, I miss my children and wonder when they will be able to come for a visit again. It’s not easy for them to come since they live quite a few hours away by airplane. Of course, we have the facetime chats, which are greatly appreciated, but it’s just not the same. Normally, when they visit, we would be heading to the local coffee shop for a cup of tea and a chat, or perhaps heading out for a drive in the northwest hills of our state (with more tea and more chatting).

With so many ideas of COVID-19 and loneliness and election craziness running through my head this morning, I thought, “Lord, we need you to be close more than ever.” Right away, I realized the error of my ways. The Lord is always close to us. It’s us that need to be close to him. It sounds a little trite to say it, but yes, we need him. Obviously.

We need more than a distant, two dimensional “facetime” chat with him. He’s real. We need to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat with him. There are so many issues we need help with. He can give us the patience to wait out the vote counting process, the faith to accept whatever the election result, the love to fill our loneliness, and the strength to bear up through these difficult days.

He’s not a boring God. He’s very personal. If we like gardening, so does he. If we enjoy reading or writing, he loves it too. If we love a long bike ride on a Sunday afternoon, he’s always up for it. Sewing? Knitting? Yup! He’s great at it. He would love to come along, no matter what we’re doing, and fill our hearts and minds with inspiration and ideas about living a complete and whole human life.

Take him to work and he’ll give us ideas on how to do things better and be more efficient. He can show us answers to problems that we have not been able to resolve. If we’re going out for a walk or to work out at the gym, he’s already dressed and raring to go. He can’t wait to help. Getting ready to cook dinner? He has the perfect choice and is always careful not to let food spoil or go to waste. It’s going to be tasty and healthy with a bit of a treat now and then. He really is our best and most loyal friend.

Try it! He never disappoints! How can this guy be best friends with everybody? Well, he’s God! 🙂

How excellent is God’s name in all the earth!

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Psalm 8:1  Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

Verse 3  When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

King David, as a youth, spent many hours and days and nights out in the field with his sheep.  He came to appreciate his natural environment.  He could lie down and look up at the sky and observe all the magnificence of the Milky Way above him.  He spent his days looking for fresh green grass for his flocks and most likely appreciated the shade given him by the trees.  Because of his situation, he developed an appreciation for the natural creation.  As an older man, he was able to express his admiration for God’s creation in the psalms that he wrote.

Many people today live in large cities built by men (or women).  They see very little of God’s creation during their day and the night time skies are completely blocked out by the city lights.  They have no time to contemplate the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or the movements of an ant.  They forget how unique and marvelous God’s creation really is.  They don’t know how it all works together in unison and functions perfectly when left alone, untouched  by man’s unthinking hand.  They get ideas to ‘tame’ and change the earth to suit what they think will be beneficial to their schemes.  Then once one thing is changed, they find out perhaps years later how necessary that element was and how it had been part of a whole that sadly no longer exists.

We need to go out into nature and take our children out to experience it.  We need to sit and marvel at the miracle of a tree and appreciate the wonder of the night sky.  When we do, we, like David, feel how infinitely small we are in the midst of this vast universe and we can wonder, as David did, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.”  We can receive a true spirit of humbleness and of awe at the creation we live in and our place within it.

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Fighting the good fight

In the battle of life, we should never, ever give up.  Life has seemed like a battle lately for many, perhaps even for the whole world.  During a physical battle in World War I, an important French general, General Ferdinand Foch, is famous for having possibly said:

“My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.”

I love that attitude.  Whether he said these actual words or not is not important, but in his life he made it a priority to maintain a constant positive attitude.  He did not let the confusion of the battle or the situation overcome him.  He stayed focused and in control.  He did actually say the following:

“A lost battle,” he proclaimed, “is a battle which one believes lost. A battle won is a battle we will not acknowledge to be lost.”

Hang in there.  We should not be attacking one another.  We are not the enemy.  The enemy is the hateful thoughts, selfish attitudes and angry feelings that we harbor.  We should attack whatever demons are hiding in our closets that are holding us hostage.  When we feel as if our center is giving way, our right is in retreat, we should remember General Foch.  The situation is excellent.  Time to attack.  Attack the negativity with positivity.  It will soon disappear.  With the help of God, we can overcome.  With such confidence, we are well able to gain the victory.

DO NOT GIVE UP!

Love and weddings in these stressful times – a story

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For young people in love

Coming home from another stressful trip to the grocery store, the music on the radio turned to love and nostalgia.  It made my heart feel weepy and my thoughts turn to other days of stress and turmoil long past when young people were in love.  Just as there were in those days, there are today so many young couples who would like to get married, and so many long planned weddings that were to take place this summer, but big weddings have all been put on hold.  Maybe romantic movies have changed our expectations of what a wedding should be, but I would like to tell you a different story.  It ain’t about the weddings, my darlin’s.

To Ken and Marie

My parents were young and in love in the early 1940’s.  Dad joined the army before Pearl Harbor.  He had aspirations to be a pilot, but a small problem with color blindness kept him from it.  In the early spring of 1942, he proposed to my mother, his Marie, by long distance phone call one day when she got home from work.  He had sent the ring to Mom’s mother, but Mom had already intercepted the package and knew what he was going to say and what her answer would be.  There was no time for long engagements then.  Pearl Harbor had come and gone and there were plans for Dad’s unit to be shipped overseas.  A quick and simple wedding was all that could be arranged.  To marry her sweetheart, her Ken, Mom bought a new blue suit and traveled to North Carolina by train with her mother and best friend.

The day of the wedding was a day of torrential downpours and it also just happened to be the first day of gas rationing.  Dad had forgotten to fill up and they ran out of gas on the way to the church.  Someone helped them out, but the new blue suit got wet.  At the church, they had to hop over a puddle in the middle of the center aisle.  They each had one attendant.  Mom’s maid of honor was her best friend, her brother’s wife.  Dad’s best man was a friend from the army.  My grandmother and the priest were the only others there.  They got married, spent a couple of days together and then Mom had to go back to Michigan with her mother.  Not long after that, Dad got orders to ship out to England.  So Mom went back to North Carolina to see him before he left.  So many of the guys had their wives visiting them that there was no place to stay.  Most of the young couples, my parents included, spent the night in the woods near the base.  The second night, someone Dad knew arranged for a room for them.  Then he was off to England, and Mom went back home to spend the war years with her parents and her sister-in-law.  My parents did not see each other again for two years.

While working and crying on each other’s shoulders, Mom and her best friend, my aunt Mary Ann, waited anxiously for the letters to come and for any good news about the war.  Dad was not in immediate danger because he had done shorthand and typing during his high school years and so he spent the war as a secretary, traveling first to England, and then eventually to the Rock of Gibraltar and Italy.  His unit helped to plan the invasion of North Africa and then he was with the British in Italy.

Returning from the war in 1944, they finally had a honeymoon in New York City.  Life after the war was also difficult, but they began their family, bought a house on the GI Bill, and made a life for themselves.  Their marriage lasted for 75 years until Mom passed away two years ago at the age of 96.  Dad is now 99 and misses his “Marie” every single day.  In their elder years, they always held hands as you see in the picture above.  Their marriage survived economic hardships, the crazy sixties and seventies, sons in the army in Vietnam and Thailand, illnesses, caring for elderly parents, marriages, grandchildren and so much more.

So, you see, love is more than a wedding.  Love is a lifetime commitment to uphold each other, encourage each other, see the best in each other, help with the worst in each other and maintain an everlasting faith in the God who brought you two together and who will get you through the worst and the best that life has to offer no matter which way the road leads you.  And in the end of it all, you will look back and be astounded at all the way that the Lord has led you.  A wedding without love is just a party and a big waste of money, but love, even without a big wedding, will stand the test of time and keep you feeling young at heart all of your life.  Yes, you will cry and yes, you will laugh, but most of all, your love will continually grow.

Don’t be afraid to marry your sweetheart even in troubling times.

Independence? Selfishness?

We Americans have an independent streak.  Is that a truth or an understatement?!  Personally, this quality of ours often stares me in the face because I have been teaching students from other countries for many years.  Did you ever know that people in some other countries consider the group to be more important than the individual?  Therefore, they make their decisions based on what is best for the group.  In their countries, it would be rude and shameful to do something that would hurt the group, whether that group is the local town or the entire country.  With the best of intentions, that could be a very good quality, but in the worst of times, it could also have very bad results.  In the U.S., our independence is our greatest strength, and yet it can also be our downfall.  How can this be?

It is our greatest strength when we rely on our intuition and inner strength to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps when we’re down.  In our personal life, it is our greatest strength when we search inside ourselves for solutions to our problems.  We don’t want to burden anyone with having to take care of us, so we try to remain independent for as long as we can.  In our economic world, we forge ahead and create new businesses through entrepreneurship.  In technology and science, we are not held back by previous ideas and traditions.  In all of these situations, our independence has helped to build our country into a strong nation.

However, it also becomes our downfall since it easily turns into selfishness.  This virus situation gives us an amazing view into this independent world of ours.  Most of us are willing to stay home so that this disgusting disease will spare our elders and our loved ones.  Perhaps we have seen its ravages in either friends, family or acquaintances.  Others of us will not be told what to do.  Wear a face mask in order to protect others from getting sick just in case we are unknowingly infected with this virus?  Not on your life.  Even fist fights are breaking out over refusals to just put on a face mask.  Stay away from public places?  Forget it.  We have our rights to congregate by the thousands in beaches and parks.  Stay home for the good of our elderly, our families and health care workers?  Fahgeddaboudit!  “I want to go to the mall and I will do what I want to do when I want to do it.”  We go to the state capitol and protest for our rights when we don’t want to be told by anybody what we should do, even screaming into the faces of those who are employed to protect us, our police force.

Martin Luther had a different idea.  He wrote a letter to his friend, the Rev. Dr. John Hess in 1527 when the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe.  In his letter, he demonstrated this amazing attitude: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Many of us are reaching deep into whatever strength we can muster up in order to work together towards a common goal of eliminating this “thing.”  I believe that many of us do have Martin Luther’s attitude of avoiding “places and persons where my presence is not needed.”  We are rallying behind our health care workers, our leaders, our teachers, and other public servants who are doing their best to keep our country whole and healthy.  Let’s try to demonstrate this attitude daily and pray for those who don’t have it.

 

Rippling Effects

Most of us think that as long as our actions don’t bother anyone else, we can do whatever we want.  I hear people saying that.  “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”  Hmmm.  Or does it?!

We have a huge example staring the world in the face right now.  Although it’s not certain as to how the novel 19 coronavirus got started, some believe it jumped to humans when someone or some people ate a certain type of unclean creature.  You know what, God is waaaayy smarter than us, and He told us not to eat certain creatures.  I guess He had a terrific reason for saying that.  In any case, once that happened, that disease has affected the entire world in one way or another.  Businesses, schools, hospitals, travel disruptions, events cancelled, governments, mounting hysteria and a growing number of deaths.  The ripples just spread further and further out.

There are so many more examples.  One person discards a cigarette in a dry forest.  One person decides to clear all the trees off of his/her property.  Another person, too lazy to follow correct disposal protocol, pours his bottle of chemicals in a local stream.  It all ripples out.  Our actions, large and small, some even apparently insignificant, do affect others.  We are all one family with common DNA.  We are all affected.

Consider something so small as a smile.  One person smiles at another.  That person leaves feeling a little better and smiles at someone else and that person goes to work humming, which in turn affects the whole atmosphere of the workplace.  Because of the warm welcome a visiting businessman receives, the company gets a new contract with a company in India and then more people in that country are smiling because they have jobs.  It all ripples out.

If my actions are going to affect people that I have never even heard of in a far distant place, wouldn’t it behoove me to mediate my behavior to make sure that I am benefiting my distant brothers and sisters?  We are all responsible for our actions.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Just think of how that will ripple out through our world!

Take heart in 2020

Daniel was a much beloved man of God.  In the book that bears his name, the mighty king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a strange dream.  In it he saw a large statue with a head of gold, the upper torso of silver, the lower torso of bronze, its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  What potter would try to make a statue with feet of iron and clay?  How can those two materials adhere to one another?  As Nebuchadnezzar watched, a stone was cut out of a mountain without any hand doing it and it began to roll down the hill, gaining speed as it went.  It reached those feet and smashed them into pieces.  This brought down the whole statue and it was all completely broken in pieces.  It says that the pieces of it were like the chaff of a summer threshing floor and it all blew away in the wind so that no trace of it could be found.  However, that stone grew and became a great mountain and filled up the entire earth.

We can clearly see that the Scriptures show that this supernatural stone will begin rolling during a time when there is a kingdom in power that does not adhere to itself.  It is one part this and one part that, a divided kingdom, partly strong, partly brittle.  We know from the gospels that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision will be blown away so completely that there will be no traces left of it.  You can imagine the stone gathering momentum as it rolls down the mountain until it smashes into the divided kingdom and destroys every single aspect of it.  It is also not hard to see that there is so much turbulence in our world today.  We see it everyday in the news.  No one can agree about anything.  Politics has become very personal with each side calling the other “haters.”  Around the world, political opponents are not getting anything done because they are completely divided; they cannot agree on even the smallest detail.

Those of us who love the Lord need to take heart.  If we are already living in the time of the iron and clay feet, then we should know that the stone is also either being cut out of the mountain or it is already rolling down the hill, ready to smash into those toes and destroy them.  Despite this vision of complete destruction, it is not a vision to create despair.  Nebuchadnezzar’s dream does not end in despair, does it.  In the end, Daniel describes the kingdom of the stone that grew as a kingdom set up by God Himself that will never be destroyed nor will it be left to another people.  If we love God, we’re going to love His kingdom.  It’s beautiful.  People get along in it.  They love one another and never want to see their brothers or sisters hurt.

God’s kingdom is coming.  Is today the day?  We don’t know the answer to the question of when our physical world will change.  It is not given to a man to know the times and seasons.  Only God knows that.  However, every single day that stone is crashing into my kingdom.  It’s destroying what I thought was gold, but is in reality just dross.  God’s kingdom is destroying all of the idols that I once held dear.  It is smashing all of the pieces of my life that don’t adhere with God’s life.  Just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, there will be no trace found of those former parts of my life.  His Spirit will blow them all away.  I have not really lost anything because in the place of those things, that living stone, Jesus, is creating within me a kingdom that is pure and ready to be filled with love for all that belongs to God.  Each one of us has to allow that process to happen to us.  God is kind and doesn’t smash everything at once.  He leads us one step at a time to tear down the old life, remove the sins and build up his life.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within and when we allow Him to create His kingdom within us, we are getting ready to live with Him in that beautiful kingdom that will never be destroyed.  What we need to do as this process churns in our lives is to maintain our love, faith and trust in the one, true, living God.  He is above all and yet in all.

I wish you a very happy new year and may you grow in God this year and may His Kingdom grow to be strong in your lives, a strength that will never be destroyed or given to another.