You are enough

My students plagiarize. I teach ESL to adults at a local community college. Plagiarism has been an ongoing problem, but since the onset of Covid, it has become a major plague. Spring semester 2020 began in late January and was humming along normally (albeit with some worrying news from Asia) until suddenly Covid made a grand entrance into our lives in the U.S. You know the rest. Immediately after our spring break, all classes went completely online. Up to that moment, we had already been using computer programs and sometimes did assignments online, but in the blink of an eye everything changed and ESL students, especially adult immigrants with families who are frequently already stretched to the limit, found themselves struggling just to keep their heads above water. During the following fall semester and into spring semester of 2021, class sizes diminished dramatically. This semester especially, classes seem to be at an all time low. My current class started with just nine students (versus 24 a year ago). Three of those nine have since withdrawn from the class, two of them because they were going to fail anyway. There are yet two more of the remaining six who are still failing.

So, why are those two continuing to fail? Because they plagiarized. Why did they plagiarize? Because it’s convenient when students are already working online and because they are insecure about their abilities to know the right answers to questions on an online test and because they are not confident enough to think that they can express themselves. How many other students have either plagiarized by copying phrases from the Internet without me catching it or by asking their fluent relatives to write their online homework for them? I don’t know that, but again, why do they plagiarize? Because they don’t believe that they are enough.

It’s easy to catch them most of the time. Suddenly there is a word that I know they don’t know or maybe just a way of phrasing something that an ESL student wouldn’t do. I can copy and paste too. I just google it and presto, there it is. It’s easy to find fault with them, but many of us do the same sort of thing in our lives. It’s easy for God, or even someone we know, to catch us at copying someone else’s inspiration or life. Suddenly, they see us do something that doesn’t fit in with our character or we’re talking about a topic without being genuine since it’s not our life. Do we also think that we are not enough? I think that we could all ask ourselves that question. What happens in our daily lives that we feel is too much for us? Are we accusing God our Father of requiring too much of us? I have to ask myself that question. Is God not able to strengthen us? Do I trust his life in me? Honestly speaking, it’s often easier to look at what others are doing and copy their inspiration or their way of doing things instead of praying for my own inspiration and listening for God’s answer. Isn’t that the same as plagiarism? Plagiarizing is copying what others have said or done. Am I plagiarizing the lives of others? To rely on God in my own life to give me inspiration and guidance can seem daunting. It’s so much easier to follow the leader or to simply do what my neighbor is doing.

However, God is not asking me to be like anyone else. If he wanted me to be like my neighbor, why didn’t he just make a whole bunch of clones? But no, he didn’t do that. Not only did he give us unique personalities and gifts, but he also let us be born into different cultures and circumstances. We all have different life experiences and outlooks on life. He made each one of us unique and gave us gifts and talents that can be useful in the situations that we find ourselves in. Because I don’t have to live your life and you don’t have to live mine, I shouldn’t try to be like you or do things the way you do them. What is God inspiring in my life?

Some personalities in the Bible never appeared to lack confidence. They seemed to know innately that God’s life in them was enough. Joshua and Caleb declared to the children of Israel: We are well able to defeat the giants in the Promised Land. David knew beyond the shadow of doubt that God in his life would slay Goliath. He demanded, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sa 17:26) In Philippians 4:13, Paul writes: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In the end, we are all well able to take on God’s plan for our lives if we believe that he has given each one of us, his children, the right gifts and talents to do the things that he wants us to accomplish in our lives. He didn’t give me the talents to accomplish what someone else needs to do. He gave me the talents to accomplish events and plans along the road in my life, and what he is asking of me is not so far off that I need to plagiarize someone else’s life or reach into the sky or into google or ask Alexa for the answer. No, his answer is very quiet and close at hand. It’s right in my mouth and in my heart. It fits right in with the personality and interests that he gave to me. Truly, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

A milestone birthday

Today is my dad’s one hundredth birthday! Yes, he’s one hundred years old! That’s hard for me to believe or perhaps it’s hard to register that in my brain. He has lived a long, amazing and productive life.

Sometimes we don’t know why God allows someone to live such a long life. Some people live long in spite of being life long smokers. Others live long and nasty lives. However, the Scriptures do tell us, “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land that the Lord your God gives you.” That’s one thing that my dad did quite well, honor his mother and father. Even as a young child, his mother made him responsible for his younger brother who had developmental challenges. As a young man, he was responsible to work and help his parents with expenses. As an American citizen, he was responsible to his country and joined the army before Pearl Harbor to serve. Then came marriage and his responsibility to his wife and children. As his mother and brother aged, he became responsible for their well-being and took care of them until they each passed on.

Last year I was talking to Dad on the phone. He told me that he was looking forward to seeing my mother again. She had passed away two years before that and he was missing her terribly. Immediately after telling me that, he added, “But I have to think about my children.” I nearly burst out saying, “But Dad, we are all mature adults now with our own houses and families! We are doing fine!” I didn’t say that though, maybe because he was so innocent in the expression of his thought. It’s just the way he is, very responsible.

So, I believe that God has allowed him to live this long and beautiful life because of that fifth commandment spoken so long ago. It is a testimony to us that the Ten Commandments are still very current and important in our lives. They never expire. The keeping of them gives us life and hope. You can be sure that life was not always easy for him. He married Mom just a few short weeks before he shipped out to England. They were separated for two long years. Troubles and heartaches came and went over the years. When my mother broke her hip and they could no longer live in the same house they had lived in for more than fifty years, he just gave it all up in a day and moved with her into my brother’s house up north. He left everything he was used to and moved to a colder climate. Everything changed in an instant, but he never looked back. He didn’t want to go out and do things by himself because he wanted to be there for her.

So, I am wishing my dear dad a very happy birthday today and am looking forward to as many more birthdays as the Lord will give him until he leaves us to rejoin Mom.

Dad at Meadowbrook Hall on 70th anniversary

God will rescue us (if we let Him).

This morning’s Bible reading was from Deuteronomy 4. In that chapter, God is pleading, even begging, His people to keep his commandments and remember how he took them out of Egypt with mighty miracles. He asks them a few questions:

  • Is there any other nation that God is so close to?  No!
  • Is there any other nation that has such righteous statutes and judgments as have been given to this nation?  No!

His questions got me thinking.  Is there any other nation that God absolutely went in and dragged them out (even if kicking and screaming) with such incredible miracles?  Not to my knowledge.  He even reminds His people that the mountain burned with smoke and was covered with thick darkness as they heard His booming voice giving them the Ten Commandments.

He implores them not to make a graven image of anything that He created. This one has been a trial for mankind since the dawn of time.  Our Father’s creation is so beautiful that men/women fall in love with the creation rather than with the one who created it.  He continues on by explaining what will happen to them if they do such things.

However, even though it sounds grim, He doesn’t leave them hopeless. He reminds them that if they end up in tribulation, even in “the latter days,” if they turn back to Him, He will remember them and rescue them.  Are we in those “latter days” at this time?  The love of many is growing so cold.  It is becoming hard to hang onto our faith, hard to maintain a constant connection and prayer life with our Father.  In a fulfillment of the story of the frog who jumped into a pot which slowly heated up until he died, much of Christian belief is being slowly turned into “hate speech.”  It’s no longer politically correct to speak your mind and no one will even listen to a differing opinion, especially if it’s a Christian point of view.  In their eyes you are a “hater.”  How can God’s love for humankind, His best hopes and love for them have turned into something that people call hatred?

We must be in those latter days.  And yet, even so, God is reaching out.  If we turn to Him, humble our hearts, and ask His forgiveness, He will always rescue us from the pit that we have dug for ourselves.  Is there any pit so deep, or perhaps dark, that He can’t find us and drag us out of it?  NO!  We all find ourselves in all sorts of pits from time to time.  The pit of depression, of despair, of self pity or of pride, insecurity or anger.  No matter what it is, all we need to do is turn back to Him.

As I was driving along later this morning, God, the best DJ in the universe, inspired someone to play this song on the radio.  I hope you enjoy it.  (Sorry, I could only paste the link here.  It’s a Lauren Daigle video.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYR0xP1j4PY

Back to God

This is a song for our time. We are all (and when I say all, I mean the entire world!) wondering about these strange times that we live in. Politicians do not have an answer. They can send us money, give us vaccinations, tell us to stay home, require us to give up our gatherings, but they do not have an answer. Giving us money is only a short term fix for some, but it further increases a national debt that we will never be able to repay. Giving us vaccinations may protect us, but how long will it last? Will there be long term side effects? Will this plague ever go away completely? Staying home creates such incredible loneliness and spells disaster for small family owned businesses. We need each other. We need companionship. We need community. People are so needy these days.

This morning my husband and I were out on a walk in the neighborhood. As we walked a few streets away, we were admiring some of the Victorian style architecture and the large covered porches where people used to gather. Suddenly, a woman came out onto her porch and began telling us all about the roofing job that had just been completed on the house closest to us. She went on to introduce herself and her husband and in the end, invited us to come back one day to sit on her large front porch and have tea. She said, I am human. You are human. We all need each other. How right she is and how terribly heartbreaking. People need companionship. Not only was this short chat heartbreaking, but it was also incredibly uplifting. She was so needy and yet so welcoming and thoughtful. We need each other. We would love to go back in the spring and sit on her porch and have a nice cup of tea with this neighbor who rushed out to greet us on a cold winter day with such a warm welcoming spirit.

Yes, we are all human and we need each other. However, no amount of money or government intervention will ever fulfill our heart’s needs. What we really need is God. We need God Himself, not religion. We each need our Father in heaven for ourselves. We need to have a conversation with him and pray that He will be with us and guide us. We need Him personally in each of our lives. If we have grieved him, we need to apologize and make it right. We need to ask His forgiveness and change. He is so longsuffering and kind. He will come swiftly when he hears a humble and repentful heart. Others can feel it if our love for God and our fellow humans is true. People are looking for true, sincere, and righteous lovers of God. When they feel that kind of love, they look up and take notice; it gives them a kind of divine jealousy. They want to get whatever it is that person has. True love is contagious and will spread. We gotta give this world back to God.

You gotta get down on your knees, believe
Fold your hands and beg and plead
Gotta keep on praying
You gotta cry, rain tears of pain
Pound the floor and scream His name
‘Cause we’re still worth saving
Can’t go on like this and live like this
We can’t love like this
We gotta give this world back to God

The most valuable book ever written

It is an outstanding gift to be able to read the Bible from cover to cover in a year. There are many apps that help us to accomplish it these days, making it very available to us in several formats.

As your year of reading begins, you read the story of how God created the world. By his word, he proceeded step by step, and each of those steps added to the creation of an amazingly beautiful world. He put the man and the woman in the garden of his creation and gave them an apparently simple restriction. Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if you do, you will surely die. Although that seems simple enough, along came the evil one lying, making insinuations and creating doubt in the woman’s mind. We all know where that led to.

At the end of your year of reading, you arrive at the book of Revelation. In it, God shows the culmination of mankind’s journey from the state of sin, through the process of overcoming, leading to his/her salvation and the ultimate return to God’s paradise. When we read the last chapters of Revelation, the paradise that is described appears to be similar to the first, but when you compare it to the first, this paradise seems more glorious than the first. The first one had a garden, everything that mankind needed to live, trees that were pleasant to the sight, and a river that split into four rivers. Most importantly, God Himself liked to walk there. In the paradise in Revelation, sits God’s throne and the throne of the Lamb, and from that throne comes a river, but this river is the water of life, clear as crystal. On either side of that river of life is the tree of life. There is no more curse in this place and no more night. God’s servants will see God’s face in this place and there is not even a sun because God Himself gives them light. You can see that this paradise is clearly even more magnificent than the first.

In between the first paradise and the last, all the pages of the Bible tell the story of sin and its consequences and mankind’s struggle to overcome it, the life stories of men and women who succeeded and of those who did not. It tells of overcomers, prophets, evil kings, good kings, simple people and so much more. We read of Abraham, Jacob and Esau, King David, his son Solomon, Manasseh, Moses, Samuel, Rahab, and so many others. Each of their lives added to the human story, both good and bad. Those whose lives demonstrated overcoming added to the river of life and showed the way of salvation to those who would come after them. Those who succumbed to satan’s ploys added something important as well. They gave us an image of what not to do, how not to live. Looking at the whole, we see a grand snapshot of God’s eternal plan of salvation and the final restoration of Adam’s descendants. We see God’s compassion and kindness and learn from the mistakes of those who went before us.

Through the richness of the Bible, we learn that we do not have to live as some have lived, but we can live following the example of the most amazing life ever lived, the life of Jesus. What an awesome and splendid story we find in the life of Jesus. We can read his life’s story over and over again and learn more from it each time. Even today, in the midst of a world that seems to have gone mad, we can still find his words jumping out from the pages of this book, beckoning us to live them and make them our own. This book tells us of those who did it. They lived his words. In their lives they succeeded and showed us that we can too. Jesus showed us that God is his father. We are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, whose father was God. That makes God our father as well. That means that we can all find the path to salvation if we desire it. With the life of Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are well able.

Best wishes for a successful overcoming life with Jesus 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)

Which would you choose: the news? or the Bible?

When I was young, my family got two newspapers every day, a morning paper from a nearby large city and an afternoon more local paper from our county. Then once a week we got a paper from our own small town as well. I read them all. My parents read them all and perhaps some of my brothers and sisters read them all. I’m not sure about that last point because I never paid that much close attention. The point is that we devoured the news and we depended on its veracity to keep us informed.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find real news. The evening news has mostly just two main stories, politics and the coronavirus situation, which is also often mixed in with politics. Very little else. My husband and I do still get a morning newspaper, and in that paper we often find small articles that you would never see on the evening news, but yet these articles contain important and interesting information. However, even so, both the newspapers and news shows all have a slant these days. The once strict principle that journalists had to be objective seems to have been completely run over by the freight train of political gain. At the same time, lot of people just get their news from social media, which is an absolutely frightening idea.

It occurred to me yesterday that the only news that we have nowadays that you can truly trust is the good news of the Bible. It never changes. When you read it, you always get something fresh and encouraging that you can make a part of your day. Even when the Scriptures seem to be reprimanding us, they always leave a place for hope. If you just turn your heart back to God, you’ll see a change in your life.

More and more, the newspapers and the evening news just don’t deliver. The Bible is ever reliable, ever hopeful and ever fresh. All you need is one of them to get fresh news delivered to your door each and every day. I highly recommend it.

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

milky way

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.

IMG_2840

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.