Uncertain Times

I clearly recall every detail of September 11, 2001. I can tell you everything I saw, heard, said, and experienced throughout that day. Where I was, what I was doing, who I was with is all etched deeply into my mind. On that day, and many times since that day, I have commented that 9/11/2001 is for me like Pearl Harbor was for the generation before me.

In my lifetime, there have been a handful of significant events that have created a lasting impact upon me. In addition to the attacks on New York City, Washington D.C., and the downing of the plane in Pennsylvania, there is the day when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded shortly after take off on January 28, 1986. Added to my list of significant dates would be November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. The beginning of the Gulf War on January 16, 1991 is a final date that I will add to my list. There have been other significant dates of events in my lifetime which I recall but each of these on my list had some type of impact directly upon my life. Each created some sense of uncertainty for me.

We have now entered another period of uncertainty in my life. Our nation and our world are dealing with a health emergency at a level that I have never experienced before. Everyone of us is being impacted in some way by the international virus which we have come to know as COVID-19. Today, the mayor of my community issued an order for all people to stay at their homes except for essential trips to the grocery stores, places of work, pharmacies, gas stations, or medical facilities. When I go to the grocery store, meat and milk are in very short supply and what is available is highly limited. Other items are gone from almost all store shelves throughout the metropolitan area. These changes make life a whole new experience for me and millions of others.

So what do we do with all this uncertainty?

First, I suggest we keep everything in perspective. This is not the first time our nation, or our world, has faced a life-altering crisis. Throughout the history of humanity, events such as this one have occurred many times, and yet we have seen the crisis end with our species surviving. This does not mean that significant losses have not happened. Nor does it mean that at the end of crisis, the way in which we live does not look the same as before the crisis began. So rather than panic, we need to take each day at a time, navigate through the crisis to the best of our ability, and heed the advice of those who have the greatest knowledge available.

Second, I suggest we strive to deal with one another in compassionate and loving ways. Where possible, assist those who are combating the crisis, aid those who are most vulnerable, and give rather than hoard. When people work together, the outcome is more positive than when we isolate and only look out for ourselves. Providing comfort to those who experience a negative impact due to this situation expresses love that comes from above.

Third, rely upon your faith to be the strength you need. As a Christian, I turn to my Lord to give me reassurance and hope. I have seen some of my Muslim friends expressing their trust in Allah which is their understanding of our God. No matter what your faith tradition is, I encourage you to connect with that faith as you deal with the uncertainty of this crisis. It is through faith that we have hope necessary to realize we will emerge on the other side of this particular crisis.

We once again live in uncertain times. Like those before us, and those who will come after us, these times are just a period in our lives. Our nation and our world will survive and be changed by this even but it will not be destroyed.

New Life

While winter in Texas is not as cold or stagnant as winter in Iowa, over half of the trees are without leaves, the grass turns brown, and the color of flowers is limited. With the approach of spring, all this changes. Over the last few weeks, we have seen significant change in the landscape. Trees are flowering and budding. The garden centers are stocked with flowers ready to be planted. The sun has increased in its warmth. Rains are helping green to reenter the grass and other plants. New life is arriving daily.

Currently in the Christian Church calendar, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is a time for personal reflection, recommitment to spiritual disciplines, and a time to await new life. The new life which becomes a reality is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which is a reminder of our mortality and forty days later (Sundays are not counted) we are reminded of the truth of new life we share with Christ.

I am sure that the correlation of the transition from winter to spring and Lent to Easter is not coincidence. Just as spring provides new life for God’s creation, Easter provides new life for God’s children. As a child of God, I anticipate the fulfillment of the resurrection in me as much as I anticipate the witnessing of new life during spring. I yearn for both of them. Every Easter I celebrate the truth of my new life while I watch the promise of new life in creation.

What does spring mean for you? How does Lent and Easter create anticipation for you? Where do you see God’s promises fulfilled around you?

May the promise of new life in Jesus Christ fill you with anticipation and great joy. May the witnessing of new life in creation be a present reminder of this promise for you.

Tie That Shoe

Throughout life, I think each person can identify times they have been tripped up. Some of these occurrences may be pretty dramatic and life changing, others are smaller in nature. A conversation taking a wrong turn may cause a person to stumble on their journey. It might be a financial decision which derails plans and goals. There are all types of ways to be tripped up in life.

Just as our plans and journey in life can include ways we trip up, our spiritual journey in life can also include times when we have been tripped up. As you read the stories and accounts in Scripture, you hear of individuals experiencing these encounters. David, who was to be the greatest king of Israel, was tripped up when he saw a beautiful woman bathing one day (see 2 Samuel 11). Jonah thought he knew what was right and what God should do about Nineveh (see the Book of Jonah). Looking out for one’s personal welfare while trying to give to others became the life plan for Ananias and Sapphira but was not right for the community of faith (see Acts 5). Even Jesus was tempted to trip up (see Matthew 4:1-11). There are many other examples throughout Scripture.

With all these ways to be tripped up, how do we protect ourselves from them? Whether it is financially, physically, relational, or spiritual, the untied shoes in life can cause us to stumble in small and large ways. Referring back to Jesus’ temptation mentioned above, I think we are given examples of ways to avoid those stumbling dangers. In addition to that, I think it is vital for us to have someone in our lives who can serve as guide and sounding board. Someone who we can discuss our triumphs, temptations, struggles, and falls.

What trips you up in life? How have you attempted to mediate those situations? Do you have someone who can help you avoid those trips?

Carrying the Load

Living in the community which I now live in, I have become much more aware of the number of semi-trucks and trains which carry freight around our nation. The semi-trucks were not all that new to me since I lived near an interstate highway which transverses from east to west coast and another which transverses down the middle of our nation. However, I thought transporting by train was from an earlier era in our country’s history. I can definitely say it is not since I now cross at least four train tracks to do a lot of my shopping. The number of times I am stopped at a train crossing is amazing. These observations led me to think about how the loads of life are carried.

Who carries your burden or load in life?

One of the items which I picked up when I did a lot of counseling of individuals is the importance of support systems. Life is clearly unpredictable. No life escapes challenges, hardships, and brokenness. During those periods in a person’s life, having friends and family who can offer support, a listening ear, or solicited counsel can make a tremendous difference. If someone is able to walk the path with you, then there is less of a feeling of isolation. Another person can assist you in putting your burden in perspective. While you still will need to walk the path and carry the majority of the load, having a support system can ease that load for you.

The gift of family and friends is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to provide rest for all who are weary and burdened. (See Matthew 11:28). The Lord understands the loads which we carry. We were never intended to live life alone. God saw the importance of having others to assist us at the very beginning of creation. The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We are to have a helper or set of helpers to join in carrying our load.

I know that there are some people who try to carry their burdens by themselves. This type of person does not share with others those times when challenges come their way. The person may even place a lot of effort into presenting an image that they are fine. They may choose not to share out of shame, guilt, or because being self-reliant was modeled in an extreme way to them. For anyone who chooses this approach, I want to say this is definitely not what God intends. God has given others to carry the load with us. Do not let this gift go to waste.

So who assists you in carrying the load? Who are the individuals which have been placed in your life right now who can provide comfort, counsel, encouragement? If you have not, identify those people now. Utilize them to help carry your burden. You do not have to go through anything alone.

The Struggle

I saw a person wearing a t-shirt which read, “The struggle is real.” After reading the words on the shirt, I began to ponder some questions. What is the struggle? Is it life? Is it a specific situation? Is it a project or task upon which effort is being made? Is it something spiritual? Is this in reference to an addiction? What exactly are we talking about here? Then I came to realize that the specifics are not what matters, what matters is the acknowledgment that for this person the struggle is real.

The truth is that all of us have struggles whether we declare it by wearing a t-shirt or if we keep them to ourselves. For some of us the struggles change over time. Others have a constant struggle like those dealing with addictions. There are times the struggle seems overwhelming. At different times we may even be able to manage the struggle and even overcome it. While facing whatever struggle is in our life, that struggle is completely real to us.

During his ministry, Jesus encountered many individuals who faced struggles. In the Bible, these struggles at times are verbalized in a spiritual sense using words which conjure up images of demons. An example of this is the man who is found naked in the graveyards outside of Gerasenes. Different stories of struggle are shared using words which create the idea of physical abnormalities. The man who was blind is an example of this imagery. In every one of the stories about Jesus encountering people with struggles, Jesus demonstrates a loving response. Jesus does not minimize their struggles but instead shows compassion, a willingness to listen, and provides for their needs. This example is one which can be very important as we strive to understand how to respond to the struggles of those around us.

Jesus also encountered struggles of his own. Stories of Jesus struggling to continuously minister to those around him are numerous throughout the Gospels. Jesus also struggles with the frustration of his message not being heard and understood by those with whom he speaks. The most poignant display of Jesus’ struggle is when he is in the olive trees on the Mount of Olives, the night of his arrest. The struggle is so intense that the author of Luke shares, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Again, Jesus gives us an example of what to do when our struggle seems so real, every time he would go to the Father in prayer.

Yes, the struggle is real, but Jesus provides examples of how to handle the struggle. Whether the struggle is someone else’s or our own, Jesus shows us the way.

The Chains

One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol. I prefer the version with George C Scott playing Scrooge. For me to feel like it is Christmas time, I have to watch this movie. I think the reason is this adaptation of Charles Dickens story speaks to the heart of Christmas, the attitude of giving and being set free from those chains which bind us from appreciating life.

As a Christian, this movie also reminds me of the breaking of chains which accompanied the work of the Lord. Jesus shared the love which God has for every person and gave us the opportunity to be free from the chains which prevents us from appreciating life. In his teachings and actions during his ministry, he worked at destroying the chains which society placed on people. He held leadership accountable for putting burdens of rules and expectations on the people. Jesus taught that love, not oppression, was the intention of God. He redefined social norms. He confronted boundaries established by the world. Jesus taught and demonstrated that God’s love provides freedom.

Every year when I see Marley come to warn Ebeneezer about the chains which he is forging in his life, I wonder about my chains. What is it that is forging the chain which I wear? How am I contributing to the forging of someone else’s chain? This can be a very humbling self-reflection. I always think of the lessons Scrooge learned from the three visitors as I am reflecting on how I live my life and the comparisons.

Then after some self-reflection and recommitting myself to work at providing a better reflection of God’s love, then I am reminded of the promise which I have received. The Lord has promised to remove those chains which bind me. I am set free in the Lord’s love and grace. All I have to do is reach out and accept it. Then my reflection of God’s love is a response and not a requirement. In order for Scrooge to reduce his chains, he had to change his life, his view of Christmas, and the way he treated others. The Lord takes away my chains even before I change my life.

What chains are you forging in your life? Have you allowed the Lord to remove those chains or are you still clinging to them? Are you responding to what the Lord has already done for you or do you think you still have to earn the removal of your chains?

Let the Lord remove your chains forever and enjoy the happiness of life and love!

Remove the Clog

Sometimes in life we encounter clogs. Drains and toilets clog for a variety of reasons. If you have dogs who shed, like we do, you often find that you have to deal with a vacuum which clogs because of all the dog hair it is picking up. Whatever the cause, clogs can be very frustrating and may require a large amount of effort to remove. As long as the clog is there, the flow of water, air, or other materials will be impeded.

Times in life occur when we are clogged. I had a pretty wicked cold at the end of the year and for a couple of weeks my breathing was hampered because of a clogged nose. The experience is actually what started my thought process around clogs. Realizing that I was continuously blowing my nose in an attempt to remove the clog, I began to think about how at times I can become spiritually clogged, congested so that nothing is flowing through me.

I have heard others express what I have felt at times. A person might talk about not being able to feel connected to the Lord. The individual may mention that there does not seem to be a sense of spiritual energy flowing through them at a given time. When I preached regularly and led worship, I would have times when I felt disconnected from the Lord and disengaged in some ways. There existed a hindrance of some sort.

During these periods of time, I had to pause myself to do some examination. Much like with a clogged drain, I had to determine what was the source of the clog. Only by understanding the source could I go about the task of unclogging it. After discovering the source and taking the proper action(s) to remove the clog, then I felt the Spirit flowing through me once again. I think this is vital for everyone. Self-examination done on a regular basis is necessary to discover and remove whatever may clog our lives and prevent the Spirit from freely flowing through us.

Have you ever felt that you might be spiritually clogged? Do you regularly check to determine if a clog, or even the start of a clog, exists in your life? Is the Spirit flowing through you unimpeded?

Cravings

I was in Starbucks the other day and on one of their signs said, “Feed your cravings.” The sign caused me to pause to consider the implications of what was written. Of course Starbucks was encouraging me to buy one of their specialty drinks but I began to think about other cravings and how they are fed.

One type of craving is for some specific food or flavor. Times occur when I have a craving for salty food. I want a snack that has salt detectably in it or on it. It might be popcorn or chips or peanuts. I go rummaging through cupboards at the house until I find an item which will take care of what I strongly desire. Other times I may crave not just a specific flavor but a specific food. I may be wanting a grilled hamburger with all the toppings. These cravings are pretty easily identified and often easily fed.

Another craving which may present itself but may not be as quickly satisfied has to do with human interaction. This may be a desire to have someone to hug and with whom you have physical contact. Or it could be the strong need to have an individual with whom you can talk. This craving usually requires more time to satisfy since it involves some level of relationship being established.

I am sure that you could list many other cravings that may need fed. Cravings for wealth. Cravings for fame. A craving to be noticed. All cravings require some level of effort to be satisfied. They may also require involvement of other individuals. If I followed what was on the Starbuck sign, after I made the decision to feed my special latte desire, I would still need a barista to prepare the drink so my craving could be fed.

There is one craving which we have been born with but is not always acknowledged. Each person has been born with a craving to find someone or something bigger than self. It is as if there is a hole inside us that needs something beyond us to fill it. I consider this to be our craving for God. We were designed to be integrated with God. The hunger for the divine nature is real. Many people attempt to feed this craving with aspects of this world but find that the fulfillment is not lasting and soon the craving returns. I think this is what often drives individuals to want something bigger or better than what they currently possess. The feeding of this craving with anything less than God is futile.

So yes Starbucks, I will feed my craving. I will feed it through daily conversation with the Lord. My feeding will include time spent reading Scripture and the writings of other Christians. Quiet times to reflect upon my relationship with God will be part of my effort to feed my craving.

How do you feed your craving for God? Are you even aware of this craving in your life? When have you attempted to feed the craving with something other than God?

Blessings

“You will be blessed the moment you realize that you already are.”

Bryant McGill

When I think of blessings, often what comes to my mind are big things like the home in which I live, the work which provides for us, my husband, my family, and my friends. However, recently I have discovered that there are many small blessings which fill my day and I do not pause to acknowledge. The quote from Bryant McGill reminds me that realization of being blessed allows those smaller blessings, along with the larger ones, to create an attitude of thankfulness within me.

A few days back, I was taking a break and sitting on the couch. One of our dogs, Leroy, who is a one hundred pound black lab mix suddenly decided to join me on the couch. This rarely happens, often because our smaller beagle/basset mix dog has already claimed space on the couch. This day not only did Leroy join me on the couch, but he decided to lay his head on my lap. I cannot recall a time when he chose to do this. Add to this amazing action the fact that at the time he was wearing a cone due to a medical procedure to his ear a few weeks prior. I was totally caught off guard and savored the moment. This was an unexpected blessing which filled me with great joy.

This event opened my eyes to see other small blessings in my life. Blessings like sitting outside in our backyard on a warm, sunny day while watching birds at the three feeders I have placed by one of our fences. I enjoy watching the birds and seeing what different types come to eat. One of my favorites is a cardinal which lives in the trees and bush found in our neighbor’s yard in the corner where our fences meet. Recently, as I sat outside, I noticed the brilliant red color of the cardinal’s feathers as he moved between the feeder and the fence. I decided that if he was going to be a frequent visitor, he should have a name, so I named him Roger. A small blessing which brightened my day.

Having moved into our new home last November, life had been pretty hectic at the end of the year. The holidays added to the busyness of our lives. At Christmas time, my husband gave me the awesome gift of Adirondack chairs which he painted white. I had been saying how much I wanted a pair some day. After we took down the Christmas decorations from our front porch, he moved the chairs there along with a fun half-barrel stand which he also painted white. Now when the sun is shining I can sit on our front porch, greet our neighbors, read, and enjoy the beauty of our neighborhood. This has become another small blessing in my life.

These are a few examples of the small blessings which can easily be overlooked or taken for granted. The Lord continues to give me both large and small blessings. When I take the time to realize how blessed I am, I am moved to express gratitude. The key is taking the time for such a realization to manifest. I encourage each of you to look for not only the large blessings of your life but also the small ones. I leave you with this quote…

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”

W T Purkiser

The Heart

I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.

As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.

Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.

While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.

Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.