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!

Freedom?

Every day in the news recently, we see some people who are choosing not to wear masks and choosing to flout social distancing rules.  They are usually the loudest ones,  honking horns at the state capital, screaming in the faces of law enforcement officers and even congregating at large pool parties.  I saw the comment of one such person on a blog about wearing masks.  “I woke up this morning a free person.”  By that, I assume that he believes that he can do whatsoever he wants with no thought of anyone else.  That is not freedom.  That is selfishness.

If I am truly free, I can maintain the essence of my life no matter what is happening outside of me.  A selfish person cannot ever be free because his/her one great longing is to fulfill his/her selfish desires.  That totally depends on the outside circumstances.  A rebellious person can never be free either.  That person is always going to do the opposite of what anyone asks him or her to do.  Therefore, if a rebellious person is imprisoned or confined in some way, the confinement will always impinge on his/her ability to behave rebelliously.  Even a religious person in the sense of loving the outward manifestations of religion, can never truly be free.  That person’s religiosity will always desire those traditions and will always feel limited and somehow less holy if he/she cannot have a physical presence in the church or with religious articles such as rosary beads.  True freedom can only mean being free from Satan’s kingdom.  Know the truth and the truth SHALL make you free.  In other words, if you don’t know the truth, you are not free.  It cannot be both ways.  You are either serving God or the other guy.

Jesus always spoke in parables.  Ministers and teachers love to use parables to teach us a lesson.  Parables are stories that help us to see an important point.  What if God also loves parables and what if our whole lives are parables?  This whole pandemic is a parable.  The whole world is stuck inside.  We are all in a kind of prison.  Why?  This strange new parable is showing us how captured we are, but we are all reacting differently to this quarantine.  If I feel stuck and in prison because of the restrictions of the quarantine or of social distancing or wearing a mask, then I am captured.  However, if I’m free in God, no one and no thing can take my freedom away.  If I’m wearing a mask, I am still free.  If I’m staying in my house, I’m still free.  No matter my outward circumstances, I am still free to love, free to serve and free to pray always.  That is what is happening inside.  No one can take that away.  My mind and heart are always free to speak to God, to worship Him or to pray to Him.  If I am confined, my inner life’s freedom continues on.  Wearing a mask cannot stop me from loving God and my neighbor.  Standing six feet away from a person cannot stop me from praying for him/her.

Though we may all still be captured to varying degrees, if we watch our reactions to this confinement and recognize that we are reacting negatively for a reason, we can learn from this situation, and we can yet be made free on that point because recognizing our negativity leads us towards the solution.  That is the first step on the path to knowing the truth.  That path will always lead us to the truth which will make us truly free.  Only then we be free indeed.

That is why Jesus is my hero.  Satan had nothing in him.  For that reason, he could stand tall, look Pilate calmly in the eye and say, “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given to you from above.”  (John 19:11)  He was completely free even in the face of the man who apparently had the power to put him to death.  Even in the face of that possibility, he had total faith and trust that nothing could happen to him unless God the Father allowed it.  Because he experienced the best and the worst of this earth and yet maintained his integrity, he is well able to help us reach that place as well.

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.

 

The Earth gets a rest

And on the seventh day, God rested.  I wonder what God did when He rested!  Here on earth we always think about doing.  Most of the time we “do” stuff even when we’re resting.  We’re reading or watching TV or out walking.  Maybe God just watched His creation for a while.  Sometimes we do that after we’ve made something, but we have a really hard time just resting.  There is always something going on in our world – traffic flowing, airplanes buzzing, jackhammers pounding, cement trucks rumbling, drills drilling, etc.

Scientists are reporting that because people are required to quarantine throughout most of the world, human activity has come to such a great halt that the earth’s crust is not shaking as much as normal.  It is quiet.  I never even knew that human activity could cause the earth’s crust to shake, just never even thought about it.  So, in spite of the increasing misery among humans, the earth is getting a rest.  Imagine that.  The earth is resting.  She has needed a rest for a long time.  God is always so kind.  He considered the earth in His early messages to mankind.  He provided for a rest for our earth every seven years.  Wow, when was the last time that happened?  Well, it’s happening to a very large extent now.

What does the earth do while it is resting?  It recovers.  It recovers from us and all of our non-stop activity.  Think of all the things that are recovering.  Apparently there is much less pollution throughout our earth.  The canals in Venice have cleared up.  Because fewer planes are in the air and fewer factories are producing smoke, there is much less air pollution.  There is less noise pollution in our cities and because there are fewer boats (think cruise ships!), the oceans are quieter.  Think of how happy that must make the dolphins, whales and other fish!  Maybe while we are stressing and praying, the earth is rejoicing.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-earth-pollution-noise/609316/

https://www.ecowatch.com/coronavirus-earth-shaking-less-2645628570.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

So, as we continue our social distancing from one another and as we continue praying for health and safety for our loved ones and our nations, let’s consider the earth.  Pray for her.  Let her rest and recover for a time.  And when our quarantine is over, let’s be kinder, not only to each other, but to one of God’s greatest gifts to us: our earth that we live on.  Stay well.

Hope, Spring and Resurrection!

With one grim news story after another, it has been hard to keep negativity at bay.  This afternoon, I was looking out my kitchen window while washing my hands for the umpteenth time.  The woodpeckers were pecking at the suet, a gentle spring rain was cleansing the landscape and a patch of bright yellow daffodils were lightly dancing in the gentle breeze.  Wow! I thought.  It’s spring!  Why did God allow all this to happen in the spring?

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God is always looking for a closer relationship with each and every one of us.  We have forgotten Him and put Him in second (or third or last) place in our lives.  He wants to be first.  Is that selfish of Him?  Absolutely not.  When He is first in our lives, He can lead us in the way we should go.  He can show us the right way.  We do have free will, but our free will should guide us to choose the right way.  There is a right way and a wrong way.  The wrong way always leads us into trouble.  He wants the best for us, but individually and collectively, we have let Him down.  He’s not allowed in very many places at all any more.

People are fond of quoting this Scripture: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)  It’s one thing to quote it and shove it into people’s faces, kind of raw and self righteous, but it’s another thing to take it to myself.  Looking at myself, having a serious talk with God my Father and admitting my own issues.  I can be sure, 100% sure, that when I do the first part of this Scripture, God will always keep His promise and do the second part.  He is over the top reliable and dependable.

Sooo, why is this happening in spring?  Spring is the season of so many hopes.  The hope of warm weather.  The hope of a great garden this year.  The hope of quiet evenings out on the deck or afternoon picnics in the park.  We have a spiritual hope as well.  He will never leave us without hope.  “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.”  (Matthew 12:20)  This is also the season of resurrection.  We can resurrect our connection with our Father.  He is always there to encourage and sustain us.  When we do the self reflection, the repentance, the restoration, He will absolutely hear from heaven, forgive us, and heal our land, both the personal “land” of our hearts and the land of our nation.  Let’s not take this time in quarantine lightly. Let’s use it to reconnect with Him.  We can resurrect His life in us.  Sincere best wishes for a fruitful (and healthy!) time of quarantine and a peaceful season of resurrection.

We all need a rest!

 

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This morning, the radio talk shows were all about the current issues with the corona virus.  Most of us have felt the impact of this national crisis this week, perhaps in many ways.  Elementary school classes are being cancelled for several weeks.  Universities are moving their classes to an online platform.  Most events are being cancelled, even professional sports games and championships.  Grocery stores are maxed out on certain apparently necessary items.  I was out doing my weekly (plus a little extra) grocery shopping this morning.  The stores were mobbed, but every single person was kind and polite.  No one was rushing around frantically taking cuts in lines or grabbing things off the shelves before others could get it.  It was very orderly and almost peaceful.  It was actually a nice kind of experience in simple human camaraderie.  We are all in this together.

On the way home, the local talk radio host remarked that when we were young, everything shut down on Sundays.  That brought me back to those days when banks, stores, gas stations, and just about every other kind of establishment except perhaps restaurants were closed on Sundays.  Only churches remained open and they were filled.  Sundays were mostly spent with family.  Our family dinner was always around 3:00 pm on Sundays and took several hours to prepare, after which we all enjoyed sitting down together and eating it at our leisure.  There was always conversation and many times laughter, but never a need to rush through it.

The talk show guy’s comments reminded me of a few Scriptures about the relationship between God and Israel.  God Himself was the first one to rest.  Genesis 2:2 tells us that after God finished his work of creating the earth and everything in it, He rested on the seventh day.  Then in Exodus 20:8 – 11, God included a day of rest in the Ten Commandments.  In Leviticus 25:1 – 4, the Lord laid out his requirements concerning sabbath days:

And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.  Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.

In Leviticus 26:33 – 35, God explained what would happen if His people did not keep the sabbaths, and finally in 2 Chronicles 36:21, the Scriptures record that, in fact, God forced a sabbath of seventy years on the land of Israel by letting the people go into captivity and therefore leaving the land desolate for those seventy years.

Our modern life is so busy.  We are always doing something.  Whatever day we take for a sabbath no longer keeps us from working, shopping, doing business or doing anything we please.  Even the old “blue laws” have been voted out and you can buy alcohol any day of the week.  With smart phones and globalization, people can do business 24 hours a day, seven days a week … but is it good for us?  Most people are running ragged on just a few hours of sleep.  They have no time for meditative activities and no time for leisurely Sunday dinners with family.  Human beings require rest.  The land requires rest.  Even our machines require rest.

Have we once again forced God’s hand?  Is He forcing us to sit things out for a while and take a Sabbath?  Let’s make this a true sabbath.  Sit down, connect with God, our loving Father, and enjoy a pleasant Sabbath.  Happy Sabbath to you!  I hope that you are well and that you stay that way.  We can do this.  We can stop for a few weeks and let this thing pass over.  I wish you all the best as we rest and ride this out.

 

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.

Life is full of purpose

This morning’s reading in a daily Bible podcast was from Ecclesiastes.  In chapters four through six, Solomon repeats many times that everything is just vanity.  He seems to say that there is no purpose to life on earth.  Solomon was for most of his life a very wise man.  In fact, in the same chapters there are many very wise sayings, but he was a naturally minded man.  He did not have the faith of his father, David.  It would be easy to find fault with Solomon and dismiss much of the book of Ecclesiastes, but perhaps the greatest lesson in this book is its warning to me.  How many times do I say, “What’s the use?”  “What’s the point of continuing in this job?”  Or, “why bother?”  When I think like that, I am thinking like Solomon, a naturally minded human being.

The second reading this morning came from 2 Corinthians 6.  It says that we should separate ourselves from unbelievers because we are the temple of God Almighty and He will live in us, walk in us and be our God and we will be His people.  Connecting that idea to the lessons in Ecclesiastes, if I’m a naturally minded person, I will stay home and separate myself from anyone who doesn’t believe the same as me.  However, the most important separation needs to be inside of me.  We should all separate out of us whatever thinks as Solomon did and banish those thoughts that believe that there is no point.  Is there no purpose in our lives?  Are we just natural human beings?  Or does God direct us and have a purpose in every person we meet, in every situation we encounter every single day?

Let’s remember, think on these things and have faith that we are the temple of the living God and that all the things that happen to us in our daily lives are working together for good because we do love God and are called according to his purpose in our lives.  (Romans 8:28)  He is constantly directing our paths and doing His best to bring us into a higher light.  Life is very full of purpose.  If we can’t see it, we have only to ask Him.

An Encouraging Springtime Thought

Isaiah 61-11

Creator: Thomas_A_Clark
Copyright: TAC. Photography
No copyright infringement is intended

This morning I was looking for encouraging scriptures for a daughter who is having a rough time right now.  I found this beautiful photo with Isaiah 61:11 in it.  This Scripture encourages me so much.

Every year, I make a little garden.  I plant the seeds, add compost or composted manure and water them faithfully.  Sometimes it seems as if they will never come up.  I wait.  Sometimes, I water more and wait some more.  Then suddenly, one day, perhaps even when all hope for my little seeds was nearly lost, up pops a tiny shoot.  That tiny shoot, the fulfillment of my hope, reaches for the sun and soaks up all the nutrients it needs to become a mature plant.

Is there a year when spring fails to come?  When the buds fail to come out of their winter hiding place?  When leaves don’t unfurl themselves at the appointed time?  Spring is our hope come alive.  It arrives every year without fail, whether at the time we had wished for or a bit later.  I think that we don’t appreciate spring’s reliability enough.  We anticipate it and love it when it comes, but how thankful are we for the dependableness of spring?  In all of my years, there has never been a spring that did not arrive.  That is amazing!  Thank God!

Well, as assuredly as the little plant bursts out of its seed cocoon, as assuredly as spring arrives each year, so will a time come when all creation will praise God, when God will cause righteousness and praise to bloom before every nation.  It will happen!  Let’s pray for that.  Let’s thank God for that day as much as we thank Him for the beautiful spring days that we enjoy.  We have so much to look forward to and to be thankful for!

Isaiah 61:11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

They fell for the miracles; they didn’t fall for the truth.

Motivation.  No one does anything without it.  We all need motivation to get up in the morning, motivation to go to school or work, motivation to turn off the TV and get up off the sofa.  It has never been otherwise.

When Jesus, the king of heaven, was walking here on earth, the people that ran into him had many different motivations for seeking him out.  There were probably as many motivations as there were people.

  • For some it was the miracles.  John 12:9 says that “Much people” found out that he was in Bethany.  Perhaps we could say today that hoards of people found out that he was in Bethany and came “not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.”  So, it wasn’t really for the truth, but because of the stupendous miracle that Jesus had done.
  • For others it was the food that he provided.  John 6:26 says that the people did not look for him because of the miracles, but because of the bread that he had given them.  They were hungry and the bread had filled them up for a few hours.
  • For Judas, it was the money.  He appeared to be concerned with the poor, but the apostle John noted that, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein (John 12:6).”
  • For a very few, it was the truth.  Jesus told a crowd of people that he was the living bread and that they had to eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood or they would have no life in them.  (John 6:53)  Some people thought he was a nut case and said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Even his disciples had no idea what he was talking about.  The spiritual correspondence flew completely over their heads, but Peter, in spite of his confusion, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”  Here’s a guy that was there for the truth, nothing else.

It’s clear from these examples that the majority of the people in Jesus’ day were not motivated to find Jesus for the truth’s sake.  What is motivating our lives?  Sometimes we deceive ourselves about our motivations.  It takes a careful, clear and objective view of our lives to find out why we do the things that we do.  Are we looking for approval?  Do we want a lot of “likes” on social media?  Is our reputation the main focus of our lives?  Is money the reason we head into the office in the morning?  We all do need money to live, but is that the only reason we go?  Some are looking for power and others for control.  Every one of these reasons is a sham.

If every shred of natural, material motivations are taken from us, if our religious or spiritual life does nothing to improve our outward natural life in any way, would we still love Jesus just for his truth alone?  The Scriptures below make it abundantly clear that it’s the truth that needs to be the focus of our lives.

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Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Jeremiah 45:5 And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not:

The Scriptures say that it is the love of the truth that saves us.  2 Thessalonians 2:10 “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”

John 8:32  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

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