Seeing the Unseen

Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging, therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) (Featured in: Oswald Chambers Quotes; quote source here.)

I read the above quote in a devotion this morning titled, Sight Unseen,” in Our Daily Bread, which led me on a Google search for other articles on the topic of being able to “see the unseen” (which is at the heart of believing faith). One of the links lead not only to the picture I have used at the top of this blog post, but also to an article that opens with a story that illustrates the nature of “seeing the unseen” through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl. The article was published on April 16, 2018, titled, Seeing the Unseen,” by Lynn M. Miller, minister of families and children for The Church at Liberty Square, and a contributor on Evangel Magazine. She writes:

Several years ago, a friend and I were chatting in a church lobby after morning worship. Her 7-year-old daughter, who had been quietly standing beside her, immediately took her hand as a man walked over to speak with us. The conversation with the man was short and pleasant as we discussed how anointed the service had been that day. He didn’t pay any attention to the girl nor glance in her direction.

As soon as the man walked away, the usually shy girl loudly said, “That is a bad man!”

Her mother and I were stunned, and she quickly chastised her daughter for saying such a thing. Two weeks later, that man was arrested on multiple counts of child molestation!

That was the first time I experienced the spiritual gift of discernment displayed so clearly. Since then, I have seen the “discerning of spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10) manifested through other children as well as through seasoned leaders, and I have learned two truths:

  1. Those who are entrusted with the gift of discernment must be bold enough to speak up in order for it to edify the body of Christ.
  2. It is imperative that those who hear the words of discernment heed the words and take the appropriate action.

The young girl in the church lobby was bold enough to speak up about what she knew to be true. But her mother and I were not willing to “hear” the words of discernment coming from her and take appropriate action. Instead, we corrected the very one who was speaking with the voice of the Father.

Both boldness on the discerner’s part and obedience on the hearers’ part is required for this gift to function in a manner that will help keep holiness as the standard in the church.

What would have occurred if, prior to the “bad man’s” arrest, I had recruited him for children’s ministry? Back in the early ’90s, most churches didn’t require background checks (like we do today) before placing people in ministry. However, even if we had checked this man’s background, it would have come back clear since he had not yet been arrested. But then came his first-time arrest on multiple charges of child abuse! I shudder to think of the outcome of that local church if we had placed that man in children’s ministry.

Seeing how critical the gift of discernment is within the body of Christ created a new course of action for me. I began recruiting individuals for ministry positions in a different way.  Although I did not have the gift of discernment working in my life like the young girl did, I wasn’t ignorant: I began praying for the gift. Until discernment was manifested in my life, each new ministry recruit was introduced to my favorite 7-year-old girl! We also immediately began doing background checks at the sheriff’s office.

Revealing the Hidden

The spiritual gift of discernment is different from the everyday action of discerning a matter. Normal discernment perceives the obscure elements of a situation and finds ways to resolve it. The gift of discernment reveals not only those elements that are obscure, but also those hidden from our natural viewpoint. The gift of discernment allows us to view a matter with supernatural ability and speak with authority concerning it. The God from whom “nothing in all creation is hidden” (Heb. 4:13 NIV) reveals unseen reality through this gift.

The gift of discernment can help the bride of Christ remain pure and ready for His coming. Discernment has been given for this very reason. It helps the church distinguish the demonic from the holy. Let’s consider two examples from the Scriptures.

  • In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus discerned that Peter had worldly intentions in his heart rather than godly gain. When Peter reprimanded the Son of God for mentioning His forthcoming suffering and death, Jesus’ discernment prompted a stern rebuke. He called Peter “Satan” and instructed him to get out of the way so God’s will could be done.
  • In Acts 16:16-18, as a young girl was proclaiming loudly that Paul and Silas were sent from “the most high God,” Paul turned and spoke directly to the demon who possessed her, commanding it to come out of her. Why did Paul stop a young girl from speaking when she was telling the truth about his mission in her town? Because Paul discerned that the spirit in her was not of God. Her true words in this situation might cause others to believe the false words of fortune-telling.

Encouraging discernment as an active gift in the body of Christ is risky because our cultural norms do not allow us to identify an individual’s struggles as wrong. Yet, when one discerns a person’s motive is detrimental to the church, it is imperative that the person with discernment speak boldly. Then the church must listen and respond in a way that brings holiness into the situation. Doing so will set the church apart from the world and allow those who are speaking the truth (through the gifts of teaching, preaching, and prophecy) to be heard without the confusion of conflicting messages.

Seeing the Heart

Whether it’s being an usher or a greeter, singing on a praise team, or ministering in the nursery, every church needs members who will serve. When searching for the right church members to be released into ministry, the gift of discernment is a huge blessing.

Understanding the difference between discernment and the gift of discerning of spirits is key in ministry placement. For example: When you are speaking to a new church member who wants to become more involved in ministry and they begin describing issues of division they experienced at their previous church, you can use natural discernment to help you understand that this person is going to carry the repercussions (lack of trust, resentment, and misperceptions) of their previous issues into any new ministry placement. Thus, the new member should be placed with care and watched closely for signs of developing division.

However, if while speaking with a new member about their previous church involvement and they are only positive, never mentioning any struggles with their previous congregation, yet you are given a clear inclination that they are going to cause division at your church, that is likely the supernatural gift of discernment at work. Proverbs 6:16-19 reveals how God feels about dissension in the church, while Revelation 2:2 shows the good result of those who have discernment and put it into action.

Activating the Gift

In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks clearly about the gift of discernment. Jesus teaches us to ask the heavenly Father for help in understanding the difference between (a) being judgmental of those who are practicing God’s Word but sometimes struggle to do right and (b) taking action against those who are false prophets.

I can think of no better time for discerning of spirits to be fully functioning within our churches than now. Pray God will activate this gift in your church. Ask the Father to give boldness to those who possess it, no matter their age or status, and receptive hearts to those who hear it and need to act accordingly. (Quote source here.)

I read another article that is about a ten-minute read, and it’s too long to quote in my blog post, but I want to steer you to it in case you might be interested in reading it. This article was published on September 11, 2020, and it is titled, What is Spiritual Warfare and How Do I Do It?” by Steven Molloy, Onsite Groups Director at Crossroads Church, who describes himself as a “Jesus freak. Frequent Office quoter. Cheap beer enthusiast. Dad x five. Married to the best lady on earth.” He opens his article with the following:

Ever felt like no matter what you say or do—something is out to get you?

Yeah, me too. Well, I don’t know if this is comforting or not, but you’re not crazy. Something actually is out to get you.

Whether or not you believe in God, stick with me because this might explain a lot. There’s a concept in the Bible called spiritual warfare. No, it isn’t the horror section on Netflix. Spiritual warfare is something you bump into every day.

  • It’s the feeling of rejection you felt from your wife/girlfriend.
  • It’s grabbing the beer that was one too many.
  • It’s the pull to visit the porn site you promised yourself you’d never use again.
  • It’s the fear of something bad happening that wakes you up night after night.

The good news is that you aren’t helpless against it. With God, you can do something about it.

So, what is spiritual warfare? I know it sounds crazy, but the Bible tells us there is a cosmic war happening, and we are the battlefield.

God wants us to follow Him, but there is an enemy (the devil) who is doing everything he can to make us choose anything else but God. It goes so far as to say the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy us (John 10:10). He’s got more than a few reps in and has a solid playbook.

Now let’s be clear, I’m not saying every bad thing happening in your life is a supernatural attack, but there is an enemy working against us (1 Peter 5:8). So, here’s a simple “Spiritual Warfare 101” to lean into God and the tools he gives us to know how to handle it when the enemy strikes…. (Quote source and the rest of his article are available at this link.)

Now would be a good time to mention that in case there are some folks reading this blog post who think that religious beliefs and this “spiritual warfare” stuff are the stuff of pathology, the American Psychological Association, in an article titled, A Reason to Believe,” by Beth Azar, a contributor, opens her article with the following:

Religion may fill the human need for finding meaning, sparing us from existential angst while also supporting social organization, researchers say.

Harking back to Sigmund Freud, some psychologists have characterized religious beliefs as pathological, seeing religion as a malignant social force that encourages irrational thoughts and ritualistic behaviors.

Of course, psychologists’ doubts—and those of countless others throughout history—haven’t curtailed religion’s powerful hold on humans. Religion has survived and thrived for more than 100,000 years. It exists in every culture, with more than 85 percent of the world’s population embracing some sort of religious belief.

Researchers who study the psychology and neuroscience of religion are helping to explain why such beliefs are so enduring. They’re finding that religion may, in fact, be a byproduct of the way our brains work, growing from cognitive tendencies to seek order from chaos, to anthropomorphize our environment and to believe the world around us was created for our use.

Religion has survived, they surmise, because it helped us form increasingly larger social groups, held together by common beliefs.

“If we’re on the right track with this byproduct idea—and the findings are really getting strong—it’s hard to then build the case that religion is a pathology,” says psychologist Justin Barrett, PhD, director of the cognition, religion and theology project in the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University…. (Quote source and the rest of her article are available here.)

Back to the topic at hand. For those of us who adhere to a Christian worldview, spiritual warfare is a very real thing. So let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about spiritual warfare. GotQuestions.org provides the following information:

There are two primary errors when it comes to spiritual warfare—over-emphasis and under-emphasis. Some blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons that need to be cast out. Others completely ignore the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible tells us our battle is against spiritual powers. The key to successful spiritual warfare is finding the biblical balance. Jesus sometimes cast demons out of people; other times He healed people with no mention of the demonic. The apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6) and warns us to oppose the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–18).

Ephesians 6:10–12 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This text teaches some crucial truths: we can only stand strong in the Lord’s power, it is God’s armor that protects us, and our battle is ultimately against spiritual forces of evil in the world.

Ephesians 6:13–18 is a description of the spiritual armor God gives us. We are to stand firm with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and by praying in the Spirit. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent in spiritual warfare? We are to know the truth, believe the truth, and speak the truth. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the gospel no matter how much resistance we face. We are not to waver in our faith, trusting God’s promises no matter how strongly we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, an assurance that no spiritual force can take away. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. And we are to pray in the power and will of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is our ultimate example of resisting temptation in spiritual warfare. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). Each temptation was combatted with the words “it is written.” The Word of the living God is the most powerful weapon against the temptations of the devil. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

A word of caution concerning spiritual warfare is in order. The name of Jesus is not a magic incantation that causes demons to flee from before us. The seven sons of Sceva are an example of what can happen when people presume an authority they have not been given (Acts 19:13–16). Even Michael the archangel did not rebuke Satan in his own power but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9). When we start talking to the devil, we run the risk of being led astray as Eve was (Genesis 3:1–7). Our focus should be on God, not demons; we speak to Him, not them.

In summary, what are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? We rely on God’s power, not our own. We put on the whole armor of God. We draw on the power of Scripture—the Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. We pray in perseverance and holiness, making our appeal to God. We stand firm (Ephesians 6:13–14); we submit to God; we resist the devil’s work (James 4:7), knowing that the Lord of hosts is our protector. “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words found in Hebrews 11: 1-3, 6: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible…. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…

And that he rewards those . . .

Who earnestly . . .

Seek him . . . .

YouTube Video: “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Brighter Side of Life

Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” 1952

Did you know that “studies suggest that adopting a sunnier outlook may improve your health and even extend your life”? It’s true! In an article published on February 14, 2017, titled, Look on the Bright Side and Maybe Even Live Longer,” in Harvard Health Publishing (author’s name not mentioned), it states:

In these turbulent times, it’s sometimes a struggle to maintain a glass-half-full view of life. But if you can, it may serve you well. A growing body of research links optimism—a sense that all will be well—to a lower risk for mental or physical health issues and to better odds of a longer life.

One of the largest such studies was led by researchers Dr. Kaitlin Hagan and Dr. Eric Kim at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their team analyzed data from 70,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who, in 2004, had answered questions about how they viewed their futures.

The researchers found that women who scored higher on the optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who scored lower. In fact, compared to the most pessimistic women, the most optimistic had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer, 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease, 39% lower risk of dying from stroke, 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, and 52% lower risk of dying from infection.

How you can acquire optimism

Even if you consider yourself a pessimist, there’s hope. Dr. Hagan notes that a few simple changes can help people become more optimistic. “Previous studies have shown that optimism can instilled by something as simple as having people think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives,” she says. The following may help you see the world through rosier glasses:

Accentuate the positive. Keep a journal. In each entry, underline the good things that have happened and things you’ve enjoyed, and concentrate on them. Consider how they came about and what you can do to keep them coming.

Eliminate the negative. If you find yourself ruminating on negative situations, do something to short-circuit that train of thought. Turn on your favorite music, reread a novel you love, or get in touch with a good friend.

Act locally. Don’t fret about your inability to influence global affairs. Instead, do something that can make a small positive change—like donating clothes to a relief organization, helping clean or replant a neighborhood park, or volunteering at an after-school program.

Be easier on yourself. Self-compassion is a characteristic shared by most optimists. You can be kind to yourself by taking good care of your body—eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Take stock of your assets and concentrate on them. Finally, try to forgive yourself for past transgressions—real or imagined—and move on.

Learn mindfulness. Adopting the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment can go a long way in helping you deal with unpleasant events. If you need help, many health centers now offer mindfulness training. There are books, videos, and smartphone apps to guide you. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in Psychology Today on October 21, 2020, titled, Why Does Looking on the Bright Side Work,” by Nicola Gates, Ph.D., registered Clinical Neuropsychologist, neuroscience researcher, and best-selling author, she writes:

COVID-19 is profoundly impacting the lives of people, communities, and nations. The universal message is that COVID-19 has wrought profound change in our daily lives. For some that change may include grief and/or overwhelming stress however, many report hope and are optimistic about the future.

An international research project which examined individual responses to COVID-19 found that most respondents believe that COVID-19 can enable us to have a better life. The aptly titled survey, ‘The Better Normal’ project from Australia’s Optimism Centre has collected responses from over 2500 people from 24 countries, and this study is ongoing. The results indicate that most of us are hopeful and are actively engaging in activities to build and reinforce positive emotion.

Now that we are into the long phase of living with COVID-19 it is an ideal time to regroup and harness this groundswell of optimism so we can reap the benefit of the positive changes and make things better as individuals and as a society.

Optimism can simply be thought of as the belief that things will work out positively in the end. It is not Pollyanna thinking that everything is wonderful or naïve that there are no problems, but the expectation that things will ultimately get better. Research indicates that optimistic thinking people are better at coping with difficult situations and adversity than pessimistic people.

Being optimistic drives curiosity to find a way out of a problem situation. Alternatively, optimistic people will move on if they cannot alter the situation and instead channel their effort and energy elsewhere. Either way, they move forwards and their optimism means they are energized and find the good in order to make things better. In the time of COVID-19 optimists have looked to make the ‘new normal’ better, and along the way they have improved their resilience and their health.

Thinking positively or optimistically has been shown to improve your health, feel healthier, and enjoy greater well-being. Optimists also tend to engage in activities to protect their health as they recognize they have control and self-responsibility for their health and recovery. They are more likely to engage in physical exercise, eat a good diet, sleep well, and follow medical advice, which not only reduces their likelihood of getting sick but also improves their recovery and recuperation from illness. Optimists see a better health future and take action to make it happen. Positivity boosts the immune system and evidence from the Nun Study suggests that optimistic or positive thinking people live longer.

Although we are all born with a unique temperament or predisposition, being a combination of genes and early life experience, research from the last decade indicates that we can cultivate and develop an optimistic and positive outlook. It is estimated that optimism is only about 25 percent inheritable and perhaps the same amount can be attributed to other factors that are out of our control, but the rest is how we live and view our life experience. Being an optimist by nature I think that presents an exciting opportunity for positive growth.

The simplest thing to do to become positive and optimistic is to put time and energy into focusing on the positive, finding the joys, or as Rick Hansen says, “focus on the good.” If that sounds too hard, perhaps think of all the things you want to remain the same or keep as they must be right for you, and instead of perhaps taking them for granted begin to appreciate them. The next simple trick is to find purpose in work and life and sometimes that means only changing how you think about or value the things you currently do.

Research from the Optimism Centre during COVID-19 indicates that the most popular positive actions that have increased optimism were engaging in regular positive conversations, expressing gratitude, sharing positive stories of hope and optimism, along with yoga and exercise, and simply smiling at people. We know from neuroscience research that mood is contagious, so a good way to become positive and optimistic is to spend time with positive people and to put your positivity back out there to build the positive loop.

We also know from neuroscience that the brain is dynamic and by changing our thinking to be optimistic and positive we change our brain. Change is one thing humans do remarkably well, even if we don’t like it. We can adapt as we have always done: Remember, we have survived ice ages and many plagues. Being able to manage change is something we have evolved to do, and if we can be optimistic and see the positive we will create what we want, a better normal. We have got this. (Quote source here.)

Now let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about optimism. The following article is taken from GotQuestions.org at this link:

Optimism is “the tendency to expect the best possible outcome or to dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.” Optimists usually feel that “good things” will happen in the future or that what they hope and dream for will happen. By nature, most people tend toward either optimism or pessimism, regardless of their relationship with God. Everyone’s glass is either “half full” or “half empty.” So, optimism is not necessarily the same as faith in God. It can be a natural personality trait that has nothing to do with faith.

Worldly optimism is not based on faith in God. Many unbelievers simply refuse to worry because life is more pleasant that way. “Don’t worry; be happy” is their motto. They may place their faith in any number of lesser gods, such as karma, denial, the “universe,” or intentional ignorance. This may work temporarily, but it is a misplaced optimism with no real foundation. Optimistic people find more enjoyment in life and are usually more pleasant to be around because they refuse to worry about things they cannot control. However, simply because a person appears optimistic does not mean that he has great faith in God or that her faith is appropriately placed.

Without realizing it, some Christians also place their faith in a “lesser god” because they have a misunderstanding of faith. They may stubbornly cling to the belief that they will receive whatever they want simply because they believe it hard enough. They take care to appear outwardly optimistic because they fear that “negative confessions” might cancel out their prayer requests. Or they simply cling to the notion that there’s power in positive thinking. This is false optimism because it is not based on the sovereign nature of God but on their own ability to believe hard enough to get what they want. This can lead to confusion and disillusionment with God when their requests remain unfulfilled.

Biblical optimism is the result of faith in the character of God. The Bible refers to this ashope.” Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When we hope in God, we put our trust in His sovereign plan above what our circumstances tell us. Romans 8:23–35 explains it this way: “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Paul is speaking of our future reward and the things thatGod has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Regardless of what may happen in this life, we know that God sees, cares, and will “wipe every tear from our eyes” when we are forever with Him (Revelation 21:4). That confidence can give us an optimistic outlook, even in difficult circumstances. Biblical optimism does not place so much emphasis on earthly events. It can accept difficult circumstances because it believes that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Godly hope looks beyond what we understand to view life from God’s perspective.

God designed us to live with hope. Psalm 43:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Optimism is a choice. When we choose to trust God for everything, we can rest in His promises to take care of us the way He sees fit (Philippians 4:19Luke 12:30–31). We can “cast our care upon him” (1 Peter 5:7), “let our requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6), and accept His “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Knowing that we have a loving heavenly Father who desires to care for us and provide for us should give every child of God a reason for true optimism (Matthew 6:8Luke 12:29–31). (Quote source here.)

In contrast, GotQuestions.org also states the following about pessimism at this link:

Pessimism is the tendency to see the worst in things and expect the worst possible outcome. A pessimist is a person who sees the glass half empty and wants to point it out to others. Pessimists sometimes prefer to call themselvesrealists; however, reality is usually not as dark as they claim it is. Some people are by nature optimistic. They see the sunshine in every day and find the silver lining on every cloud. Others seem to have been born with a darker disposition and see no need to change it since “that’s just the way I am.” But, even if pessimism is just the way we are, should we remain that way?

The opposite of pessimism is hope, and the Bible is a book of hope (Psalm 119:105Proverbs 6:23). The Lord is the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). From Genesis to Revelation, God weaves His theme of hope into the story of man’s sin and sin’s consequences. While many events recorded in the Bible seemed dark and hopeless at the time, God always offered a way to be restored (Deuteronomy 30:1–2Zechariah 1:3). God’s ongoing offer of restoration should trump our natural pessimism.

Another way to think of pessimism is faithlessness. It is impossible to have faith while being pessimistic. Pessimists preview a future without God in it—or maybe a God who doesn’t care—but Jesus showed God’s love and offers a bright future (Romans 5:8Titus 2:13).

We were doomed by our sin to an eternity without God, and we had no way to save ourselves (Romans 3:236:23). In that condition, we had a right to be pessimistic. “Life is hard, and then you die” is an accurate statement for those refusing God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life. But, for the Christian, the saying can be modified: “Life is hard, but Jesus is with me. And when I die, heaven awaits!” Jesus told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because His victories are our victories, the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world should turn pessimists into optimists (Romans 8:37).

Extreme pessimism is not the same as realism, just as extreme optimism is not realism. Realists attempt to see life as it actually is, not as they would like it to be. Pessimism acknowledges the facts and then speculates about how much worse they will become. But the Christian, whose faith rules out pessimism, simply acknowledges the facts as they exist and then entrusts them to the miracle-working God (1 Peter 5:7Proverbs 3:5–6Psalm 33:20). Psalm 42:5 should become the prayer of everyone with pessimistic tendencies: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Pessimists can retrain their negative thinking to that which honors the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can look at a situation realistically, but we don’t need to stop there. Faith requires us to push past what we can see and understand. Scripture is filled with examples of God working in supernatural ways to turn a truly negative situation into good for His people. Second Kings 6:15–17 recounts the story of Elisha and his servant being surrounded by an army. The servant was terrified, but Elisha calmly told him, “Don’t be afraid. . . . Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (verse 16). He then asked the Lord to open his servant’s eyes. God answered, and the servant was astounded to see the “hills full of horses and chariots of fire” protecting them. Elisha’s optimistic faith in God trumped his servant’s pessimism.

Christians should view their pessimism as a negative trait to be overcome. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He brings with Him love, joy, peace, and a new ability to believe God (Galatians 5:22). Love “always hopes” (1 Corinthians 13:7). We should learn to listen to our own words, which can become negative by habit. When we are intentional about speaking only truth and responding to our situations in faith in God’s Word, our pessimism can change into optimism. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these encouraging words from Jesus found in Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them [his disciples] and said–All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely…

I am with you always . . .

To the very end . . .

Of the age . . .

YouTube Video: “Breathe” by Michael W. Smith:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

May Day Around the World

When I was a kid, we used to make May Day baskets from construction paper and fill them with candy and flowers and deliver them on May 1st to our neighbors by hanging them on their front door knob. I knew nothing about the history of May Day other then it was a fun celebration to take part in as a kid and it was very festive. However, it seems to have fallen out of favor over the decades.

In an article published on April 30, 2015, in NPR.org titled, A Forgotten Tradition: May Day Basket,” by Linton Weeks, NPR History Department, he writes:

Maybe there really was a time when America was more innocent.

Back when May Basket Day was a thing, perhaps.

The curious custom still practiced in discrete pockets of the country—went something like this: As the month of April rolled to an end, people would begin gathering flowers and candies and other goodies to put in May baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors and loved ones on May 1.

In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest. If a basket-hanger was espied by the recipient, the recipient would give chase and try to steal a kiss from the basket-hanger.

Perhaps considered quaint now, in decades past May Basket Day—like the ancient act of dancing around the maypole—was a widespread rite of spring in the United States.

May Basket Tales

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, May Basket Day celebrations took place all across the nation:

A reporter in the Sterling, Ill., “Gazette” in 1871 explained the seasonal ritual this way: “A May-basket is—well, I hardly know how to describe it; but ’tis something to be hung on a door. Made of paper generally, it contains almost anything, by way of small presents you have in mind to put in it, together with your respects, best wishes—love, perhaps. It is hung after dark at the door of anybody the hanger fancies. Which done, the said hanger knocks and scampers.”

The writer went on to say, in the spirit of the times, that if a boy hangs a May basket on a girl’s door and the girl catches him, “it’s a great disgrace.” If a girl is the hanger, “it disgraces the boy again not to catch her.”

In St. Joseph, Mich., the “Herald” reported on May 6, 1886, “little folks observed May Basket Day custom in hanging pretty baskets to door knobs.”

The Taunton, Mass., “Gazette” in May 1889 told the story of a young man who got up very early and walked a mile and a half to hang a basket on his sweetheart’s door, only to find another basket from another beau already hanging there.

“With the young, in rural communities especially,” the “St. Louis Republic” reported on May 1, 1900—in archaic-speak, “it is May Basket Day—when the youthful fancy manifests its turn to thoughts of love by surreptitiously leaving baskets of spring flowers on the stoop appertaining to the home of the one adored.”

Two bold children hung May baskets on the White House front door on May Day 1925. The Indiana, Pa., “Gazette “reported that first lady Grace Coolidge found her admirers and gave them flowers she had picked.

In Dunkirk, N.Y., the “Evening Observer” observed on April 30, 1932, that young people were collecting samples from wallpaper dealers and “creating baskets of all sorts and varieties as to size, shape, and color, and will hang them on the doors of their friends at dusk on May Day.”

Writing in the Humboldt, Iowa, “Independent” in May 1976, the local extension home economist reminisced: “What a gallant occasion Mother made of May baskets. Lists were made and rewritten. It became almost as exciting as Christmas.” Her family used old milk cartons for containers and they made popcorn and Boston cremes for each basket. People in her community returned May baskets to their owners at Halloween.

Basket Cases

Here and there you can find recollections of May Basket Days past. Marci Matson, director of the historical society in Edina, Minn., writes: “The practice has a long history, stemming from the European pagan festival of spring, Beltane. The more raucous elements were toned down after the continent became Christianized, but the May pole dance and May baskets survived in a more G-rated form.”

She points to other reminiscences: Joan Gage inA Rolling Crone” remembers making baskets as a child in Milwaukee and leaving them for old folks in the neighborhood, just for the kindness of it.

AndOld Fashioned Livingthat Louisa May Alcott wrote about May Basket Day in New England in her 1880 children’s bookJack and Jill.

From Alcott’s story: “Such a twanging of bells and rapping of knockers; such a scampering of feet in the dark; such droll collisions as boys came racing round corners, or girls ran into one another’s arms as they crept up and down steps on the sly; such laughing, whistling, flying about of flowers and friendly feeling—it was almost a pity that May-day did not come oftener.”

Fade Away

Eventually, May Basket Day—like the spring flowers arranged in the baskets—began to wilt and droop. Though vestiges of the sincere ceremony still pop up on the Internet, the in-real-life event has pretty much evanesced.

Observing May Day traditions on May 1, 1963, an Associated Press reporter in Providence, R.I., wrote that there were only a “few May baskets hanging from door knobs” that year.

“Remember May Basket Day?” a syndicated columnist asked in the spring of 1963.

So what happened? Maybe the ritual receded because of a national fall from innocence. Or an increased desire for get-off-my-lawn privacy. Maybe modern innovation overwhelmed the May basket tradition: A household-hint adviser suggested “May Baskets from plastic bottles” in the Belleville, Kan., “Telescope” in 1976.

Whatever the case, Madonna Dries Christensen, a writer in Florida, is not totally sure she wants the habitual ritual to flourish again. “I harbor a fear that some major company will rediscover May Basket Day and mar its simplicity with commercial baskets, cards and trinkets,” she writes in her 2012 memoir,In Her Shoes: Step By Step.” “To ward off that calamity, please do not share this … with anyone who might be in cahoots with such a manufacturer.” (Quote source here.)

In an article published on May 5, 2020, titled, 10 Curious Facts About May Day,” by Melissa Breyer, Editorial Director at Treehugger.com, she writes:

The first of May is a contradiction as far as days of observance go. It’s a holiday suffering from multiple personality disorder; one identity dedicated to strike and protest, the other embracing all things spring and frolicsome.

In the late 19th century, leaders of the socialist Second International were fighting for an eight-hour work day and they called for a global day of protest to be held on May 1, 1890. It has lived on as an international workers’ day, and has received renewed vigor in the United States over the years. But this is a relatively new side of the date, which was celebrated as a pagan festival in pre-Christian times and peaked as a celebration in the Middle Ages. Honoring the Roman goddess of flowers, Flora, the date was also associated with other festivals, such as the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night.

Marking the beginning of spring, May Day has long been celebrated to mark vitality and fertility — which means that early incarnations of the holiday involved all kinds of raucous debauchery. Along with the frisky antics, some other traditions were born as well, some of which are listed here.

1. The Maypole Dance

May Day is probably best known now for the medieval tradition of “dancing the maypole dance,” a custom that continues to be practiced. Fair young maidens circle the decorated pole weaving together patterns of ribbons in the process. Hawthorne and lily of the valley are traditional flowers used for garland. Similar ribbon dances were performed in pre-Columbian Latin America and were later incorporated into Hispanic ritual dances.

2. Masculine and Feminine

The pole is thought by many to (not so subtly) represent the masculine, while the decorations of flowers, wreaths and ribbons are thought to symbolize the feminine. Although some scholars assert that sometimes a tree is just a tree—the pole was not a phallic symbol, but rather a nod to the sacred nature of the tree. The pole was traditionally made of maple, hawthorn or birch; the men of a community would select the tallest, straightest tree they could find, and place it in the village green.

3. Rolling in the Hay

The celebration of fertility and abundance led to couples disappearing in the fields and woods for a “roll in the hay,” so to speak—the practice of which promised abundance. In general, it was a day marked by a libidinous mood; excessive promiscuity encouraged increased fertility in general for the year to come.

4. It Was Once Banned

Persecution of May Day festivities began as early as the 1600s, and in 1640 the Church ruled against the debauchery when the British Parliament banned the traditions as immoral. A much tamer version was brought back in 1644 under the rule of Charles II.

5. Fairy Tale

Some beliefs held that May Day was the last chance for fairies to travel to the Earth.

6. Facial Treatments

Tradition dictates that washing one’s face in the dew from May Day morning beautifies the skin.

7. May Day Baskets

The giving of May Baskets has, sadly, faded since the late 20th century. Small baskets of sweets and flowers would be left anonymously on doorsteps to the delight of neighbors. (We vote for a revival.)

8. Happy Day

In Italy, May Day is regarded as the happiest day of the year, by some accounts.

9. Hawaii’s Own Celebration

Since 1928, May Day in Hawaii has been known as Lei Day, a spring celebration that embraces Hawaiian culture and in particular, the lei. The holiday song, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i,” was originally a fox trot, but was later rearranged as a Hawaiian hula.

10. Distress Signals

The international distress signal, “mayday,” has nothing to do with the first of May. It derives from the French venez m’aider, meaning “come help me.” (Quote source here.)

And, one last article published on April 29, 2018, titled, 8 Interesting May Day Traditions from Around the World,” on Tandem.net (the author’s name is not mentioned) provides this information:

May is seen as a special month across the world. Winter has finally come to an end, meaning many people take the chance to celebrate the coming summer! May 1st is International Labor Day, a public holiday in many countries, where workers (and usually, workers rights) are celebrated. But May Day festivities often have their roots in older celebrations – with many taking inspiration from pagan or ancient religious traditions. Here are a few of the most quirky festivals from around the world!

1. Scotland/Ireland

Beltane–which means ‘day of fire’ in Celtic–was an ancient Celtic fire festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man on May 1. Bel was the god of the sun in Celtic tradition, so the festival celebrated the seasonal transition from the dark winter to the beautiful and light summer.

Ancient Celts believed that the sun was taken prisoner during the winter months, so on Beltane they would light special bonfires to welcome the sun back to its rightful place. This tradition has undergone a revival in recent years and still takes place in parts of Scotland today.

In Edinburgh, for example, they light huge bonfires on a hill above the city. Another Scottish legend from Edinburgh says that young women who climb Arthur’s Seat (a big hill overlooking the city) at sunrise on May Day and wash their faces in the morning dew will have life-long beauty!

2. Germany/Scandinavia

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, or Hexennacht, is almost like a second Hallowe’en. Legend has it that witches would meet on this night to celebrate the coming season with bonfires and dancing. To combat the witches, local German people made as much noise as possible and lit huge bonfires to keep the evil witches and spirits at bay. Walpurgisnacht is still celebrated today across Germany and Scandinavia, with big parties, bonfires and dressing up.

The name of the holiday is said to come from St Walburga, an English nun whose feast day is on May 1. At that time in Germany, Church authorities banned pagan celebrations, and would punish anyone found to be celebrating them. In order to carry on observing Hexennacht, the local people used the excuse of celebrating St Walburga’s feast day as a way to appease the Church.

3. Russia

In Russia and other former Soviet countries, May 1 is still a very important holiday, marking the start of spring/summer and Labor Day. Workers’ rights were of hugely important significance in countries under the influence of the Soviet Union countries, and this day continues as a major holiday today. There are often marches or demonstrations on this day too against capitalist systems or just as a celebration of unions.

4. England

While the Scots and Irish celebrate with fire festivals, in England, May Day is traditionally celebrated with dancing around the Maypole. Maypoles were traditionally made from young trees which were cut down and placed in the middle of a village green with multicolored ribbons attached to the top. It was then the job of the young people in the village to each take a ribbon and skip around the outside of the pole to make various patterns with all the ribbons. Maypoles are still a key fixture on Mayday in rural villages, and are even making a comeback in more urban parts of England.

5. Italy

At the ancient festival of Calendimaggio in Assisi, people dress up in traditional dress – including swords and shields for the men – and there are a variety of specific activities to participate in. These include horse riding, crossbow-shooting competitions and the election of a Madonna Primavera (Queen of Spring). There are also singing competitions, day and night processions, feasts and flower dances to welcome the new spring and the renewed joy of life.

6. Hawaii

Lei are traditional Hawaiian flower necklaces, and are worn by practically everyone on the Hawaiian islands on May 1, the official Lei Day! They are a symbol of the aloha spirit in Hawaii. Each island has a different style of Lei. On Lei Day there are lei making demonstrations, concerts, food and drink stalls and lots of celebrations.

7. Bulgaria

The Bulgarian festival Irminden stems from the legend in Bulgaria that snakes come out of their burrows every year on March 25, but that their king and leader comes out on May 1. So, anyone who works in the fields is likely to get bitten on this day! All workers take May Day free in Bulgaria as to avoid any such bites. There are bonfires to keep the snakes away and lots of celebrations to welcome in the spring and summer.

8. France

Demonstrations and parades have been a common Labor Day fixture in France since 1890. However, an older tradition remains alongside them. It is customary to give the Lily of the Valley flower to friends or family members. This actually dates back to 1561, when Charles IX presented Lily of the Valley to all ladies present at his court. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with a May Day poem posted by Jancalligrapher at this link:

Do you remember back in childhood
How we loved the first of May?
When we hung flower-filled baskets
On doorknobs, then ran away?

Do you remember how the sweetest basket
Was for the one we loved the best,
And in it went the blossoms
That were fairer then the rest?

Such a beautiful and gracious custom
Somehow lost along the way.

But the memories still linger . . . 

As we welcome in . . .

The May . . . .

YouTube Video: “May Day Explained | Behind The Lore | Myth Stories”:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here