The Power of Persistence

I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging year so far here in America, and to top off everything else that has already occurred and is still ongoing, a very heated and divisive Presidential Election is only 62 days away.

Three words keep coming to mind when I think about all that has already transpired this year. Those three words have very similar meanings, and they are: (1) resilience (the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns); (2) perseverance (continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition); and (3) persistence (the act or fact of stubbornly continuing to do something; the act or fact of continuing to exist longer than usual).

In a word search on Google using these three words, one of the first links I came across was this short devotion published on December 28, 2017 titled, Faith Produces Persistence,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that is the sixth-largest megachurch in the United States (source here). Here is that devotion (note: all three of those words stated above show up in this devotion):

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

Faith unlocks the promises of God, it shows us the power of God, it turns dreams into reality, and it gives us the power to hold on in tough times.

God doesn’t always take you out of the problem. He stretches your faith by taking you through the problem. He doesn’t always take away the pain. He gives you faith-filled ability to handle the pain. And God doesn’t always take you out of the storm because he wants you to trust him in the midst of the storm.

I remember reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, a young Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust before being sent to Nazi concentration camps. After World War II ended, she said that the people who lived through those camps were those who had the deepest faith. Why? Because faith gives you the power to hold on in tough times. It produces persistence.

Study after study has shown that probably the most important characteristic you could teach a child (and that you need in your own life) is resilience. It’s the ability to bounce back. It’s the ability to keep going. Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes. Everybody has failures and mistakes. We all embarrass ourselves. We all have pain. We all have problems. We all have pressures. The people who make it in life have resilience.

Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to resign as pastor at Saddleback Church? Just about every Monday morning! I say, “God, it’s too big. It’s too many people, too much responsibility. I’m not smart enough. What am I supposed to say to that many people? Get somebody else who can do a better job than this.”

Yet God says, “Keep going.”

Where do you get the resilience to keep going? Faith. It’s believing God could do something at any moment that could change the direction of your life, and you don’t want to miss it, so you keep moving forward. It’s believing that God will give you exactly what you need when you need it as you learn to rely on him to accomplish his purpose in you.

This is the testimony of Paul, a great man of faith: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

What is God’s purpose of adversity in your life?

How has faith helped you persevere through a difficult time in your life?

Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem. Faith often takes you through the problem. How will this truth shape the way you respond to the problems you face right now? (Quote source here.)

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should “always pray and never give up” in the form of a parable titled, The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable from the NLT:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

GotQuestion.org states the following regarding this parable:

The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8) is part of a series of illustrative lessons Jesus Christ used to teach His disciples about prayer. Luke introduces this lesson as a parable meant to show the disciples “that they should always pray and never give up” (verse 1, NLT).

The parable of the widow and the judge is set in an unnamed town. Over that town presides an unjust judge who has no fear of God and no compassion for the people under his jurisdiction. In the Jewish community, a judge was expected to be impartial, to judge righteously, and to recognize that judgment ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 1:16–17). Thus, the judge in this story is incompetent and unqualified for the job. Justice was not being served.

A needy widow repeatedly comes before the judge to plead her case. According to Jewish law, widows deserve special protection under the justice system (Deuteronomy 10:1824:17–21James 1:27). But this unjust judge ignores her. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up.

Eventually, the judge says to himself, “I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:4–5, NLT). The widow gets the justice she was seeking. Then Jesus explains His point: if an uncaring, unfit, ungodly judge answers with justice in the end, how much more will a loving and holy Father give what is right to His children?

We do not always get immediate results when we pray. Our definition of swift justice is not the same as the Lord’s definition. The parable of the persistent widow demonstrates that effective prayer requires tenacity and faithfulness. A genuine disciple must learn that prayer never gives up and is based on absolute trust and faith in God. We can fully count on the Lord to answer when, where, and how He chooses. God expects us to keep on asking, seeking, knocking, and praying until the answers come (Matthew 7:7–8). Disciples of Jesus are people of persistent faith.

The parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge is similar to the parable of the persistent neighbor (Luke 11:5–10), another lesson in Jesus’ teachings on prayer. While both parables teach the importance of persistence in prayer, the story of the widow and the judge adds the message of continued faithfulness in prayer.

Jesus presents a final quiz on the matter at the end of the parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge. He asks, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). Just as Paul stresses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, continual devotion to prayer should be a way of life. The Lord wants to know if He will find any faithful prayer warriors left on the earth when He returns. Will we be among God’s people still praying at Christ’s second coming, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10)?

Faithful, never-ceasing, persistent prayer is the permanent calling of every true disciple of Christ who is dedicated to living for the Kingdom of God. Like the persistent widow, we are needy, dependent sinners who trust in our gracious, loving, and merciful God alone to supply what we need. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 26, 2020, titled, The Power of Persistent Prayer,” on apastorsview.org by Dr. Jim Denison, co-founder and the CVO of Denison Forum, he writes:

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.

Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.

If you’re like me, the chronic nature of our challenges is becoming discouraging and worse. Your congregation probably feels the same way.

In this context, I wanted to share a reminder that has been encouraging me in recent days, one drawn from what is perhaps Jesus’ most misunderstood parable.

A rude neighbor

You know his story in Luke 11 about the persistent neighbor who knocks at a friend’s door at midnight to ask for bread he can serve a guest. The man’s reluctance is understandable: Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.

In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.

So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.

A loving father

Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.

Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.

That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as theqal wahomer.” Literally, “from the light to the heavy.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.

They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer in these challenging days?

Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.

Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?

In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus taught us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.

Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.

An invitation from God

Jesus’ story invites us to define our greatest challenge as a pastor in these days. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.

I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.

There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).

Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?

It is always too soon to give up on God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples (and that includes his followers today) in Luke 18:1

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Agents of Mercy

In the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic that has already gone on way too long along with the outrage and rioting mentioned in my last blog post published two days ago titled, In the Age of Outrage,” most of us have viewed the protesters and the riot scenes from our TV screens or social media accounts, and many of us have managed to evade the specter of Covid-19 whenever we step outside while donning our face masks and practicing social distancing for yet another day.

During this time, conflicts have erupted around the country whether it’s dealing with pandemic issues or the #cancelculture#defundthepolice , #blacklivesmatter, and #whitewokeness sectors as well as the continuing riots. In the midst of this we are also in an election year here in America, and in less than 90 days we will be voting for President and other elected officials, and it seems as if our country has never been more divided then it is right now.

If there is one ingredient that is sorely missing that we could use a very large dose of in the midst of everything that is going on, it is mercy. Dictionary.com defines mercy as “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence” (quote source here).

A devotion I read in Our Daily Bread three days ago titled, God’s Mercy at Work,” by Xochitl Dixon, author, speaker, and blogger at xedixon.com, brings the topic of mercy closer to home in a way that we can personally relate to it:

My anger percolated when a woman mistreated me, blamed me, and gossiped about me. I wanted everyone to know what she’d done—wanted her to suffer as I’d suffered because of her behavior. I steamed with resentment until a headache pierced my temples. But as I began praying for my pain to go away, the Holy Spirit convicted me. How could I plot revenge while begging God for relief? If I believed He would care for me, why wouldn’t I trust Him to handle this situation? Knowing that people who are hurting often hurt other people, I asked God to help me forgive the woman and work toward reconciliation.

The psalmist David understood the difficulty of trusting God while enduring unfair treatment. Though David did his best to be a loving servant, King Saul succumbed to jealousy and wanted to murder him (1 Samuel 24:1–2). David suffered while God worked things out and prepared him to take the throne, but still he chose to honor God instead of seeking revenge (vv. 3–7). He did his part to reconcile with Saul and left the results in God’s hands (vv. 8–22).

When it seems others are getting away with wrongdoing, we struggle with the injustice. But with God’s mercy at work in our hearts and the hearts of others, we can forgive as He’s forgiven us and receive the blessings He’s prepared for us. (Quote source here.)

We live in a culture that seeks revenge instead of reconciliation when we are unfairly treated or perceive that an injustice has been done to us or those we care about. The propensity for us to want to hurt others who have hurt us is great, as the author mentioned in the devotion above. However, for those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians, revenge is not an option–ever.

An article published on June 15, 2009 titled, A Clean Slate: How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You,” by Insight for Living staff members (no specific author is mentioned) states the following:

Walking closely with the Lord means we must come to terms with forgiving others.  Yes, must. We can’t avoid or deny the fact that relationships often bring hurt and the need to forgive. Whether we have been wronged by another or the responsibility is ours, Ephesians 4:31-32 beautifully summarizes how we can have a clear conscience and be free to love and serve God with all our heart:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (NIV)

In different stages in our life, we may be confronted with the difficult task of forgiveness. The following steps help us get started toward a choice of obedience and godly love.

Cultivate a Heart of Forgiveness

  1. Deepen your understanding of God’s forgiveness through Bible study and meditation. God has been astoundingly, absurdly generous to us. Let that grace prompt humility and gratitude. See Romans 5:8.
  2. Learn to recognize the signs of a forgiving heart: letting go of the need for punishment, looking at the offender with pity and compassion, and choosing to reach out in love.
  3. Learn to respond well when old feelings come back. Rely upon the Shepherd’s help to change your heart. Turn (repent), tune in to the Shepherd’s voice (depend), and travel His path for us (obey).

Steps to Forgiveness

  1. First, realize that forgiveness is risky. Even a repentant offender is likely to fail again, perhaps in the same area.
  2. Second, rely on God. Cry out, “Lord, I lean on You for the grace and strength to love this one who has hurt me and to work for what is best for him [her/them].”
  3. Third, actually cancel the debt. Through prayer, express to God that you relinquish the right to collect debt on any level and to release your bitterness.
  4. Fourth, evaluate whether you should tell the offender what you have done before God.
  5. Fifth, if appropriate, verbally offer them forgiveness. If they repent, your relationship can resume. If not, the relationship cannot be resumed; but with forgiveness offered, good can be returned for evil (Romans 12:21).

What If Forgiveness Can’t Be Had?

If you want to make things right with someone you’ve hurt [or who has hurt you], but they are unavailable, allow God’s forgiveness to suffice. Trust Him to intervene on your behalf to ease any heartache you have caused. It may help to confess your sin to a trusted friend.

If the person is available but refuses to forgive you, ask yourself, Does their refusal indicate that I haven’t genuinely repented? Test yourself by the standards found in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. If genuine, then God’s forgiveness is sufficient. Realize, too, that forgiveness can be a process. They may need time to be willing to forgive. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on December 20, 2017, titled, 4 Reasons to Show Mercy to Others,” by Rick Warren, Founder and Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church, he writes:

God wants you to be an agent of mercy in the world.

Everyone needs mercy because everyone has messed up. We’ve all hurt other people and made mistakes. We’ve all sinned and we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups as a result of the mistakes we’ve made.

Mercy changes the lives of people who have made mistakes, and we who have received mercy freely can change the world around us by showing mercy to others.

Here are four reasons to keep showing mercy to others.

1. Show mercy to others because God has been merciful to you.

The Bible says that God is merciful. It is emphasized all throughout the Bible. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of verses that talk about God’s mercy and his love, his compassion, and his grace.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace you have been saved” (GNT).

The point of that Scripture is this: God wants me to act in the same way to other people.

2. Show mercy to others because God commands you.

In Micah 6:8, God speaks through the prophet to give us three big instructions for our lives. “The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (NLT).

God says if you want a summary of what life’s all about, and if you’re going to be in his family, this is what’s required of you: You need to do what is right with others, to love being merciful to others, and to live humbly in fellowship with God.

One third of God’s requirement for you on this planet is to learn mercy. Why? Because God is merciful.

3. Show mercy because you’re going to need more mercy in the future.

You’re not going to be perfect between now and when you get to Heaven. The Bible tells us we cannot receive what we are unwilling to give.

James 2:13 says, “You must show mercy to others, or God won’t show mercy to you . . . But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment” (NCV).

Don’t you want to be able to do that on judgment day? To be able to stand without fear on judgment day? It says the person who shows mercy can stand without fear on the judgment day.

It isn’t the people who have kept more rules than anyone else who get to face their eternity with the greatest confidence. It is believers who have shown mercy to other people.

4. Show mercy because it produces happiness.

Showing mercy brings happiness. The Bible teaches over and over that the more merciful I am, the happier I’m going to be.

Proverbs 14:21 says, “If you want to be happy, be kind to the poor; it is a sin to despise anyone” (GNT).

Being kind to other people actually blesses you and makes you happier in life. And mercy certainly produces greater joy in those to whom you’ve shown it.

Would you rather live in a world that is harsh or a world where the people around you value mercy?

You get to help shape a world of mercy around you and allow more people to find freedom from their past when you’re willing to show mercy. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on October 15, 2017, titled, Being Agents of Mercy, by Steve Williams, Co-Senior Pastor at Northpointe Community Church, he gives us several passages from the Bible to bring home the message of how we can be “agents of mercy” in our world today:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (TLB) God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you — be reconciled to God.

Increasing your ‘mercy quotient’

James 5:11 (NLT) The Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

1. Consciously turn the focus away from yourself.

Philippians 2:4 (TEV) Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.

2. Don’t be put off by others’ wrong choices.

Jude 1:22-23 (TLB) Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.

1 Peter 4:8 (ICB) Most importantly, love each other deeply. Love has a way of not looking at others’ sins.

Matthew 9:10-13 (NLT) Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

3. Be sure you respect your word power!

Colossians 4:6 (CEV) Be pleasant and hold their interest when you speak the message. Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions.

James 3:17 (TLB) The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy…

4. Value caring for persons above pious practices in your faith journey.

Matthew 23:23 (NLT) “…You teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income …but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

Staying on the lookout with Jesus

Matthew 9:36 (NIV) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Persons caught up in crisis.

Galatians 6:2 (GW) Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.

Those with unmet needs we can help.

Romans 15:1-3 (MSG) Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.

People in grief we can comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT) God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Persons needing friendly hospitality.

Romans 12:13 (NJB) Look for opportunities to be hospitable.

Matthew 25:36 (Phi) “…I was lonely and you made me welcome…”

Someone needing a second chance.

2 Corinthians 2:7 (CEV) When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.

Those especially rude & difficult.

1 Peter 3:9 (CEV) Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:7 (GNT): Happy are those who are merciful to others…

God . . .

Will be merciful . . .

To them . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Divinely Orchestrated

This year of 2020 has certainly turned out to be a year we won’t soon forget, and we are only half way through it right now. This past week I was thrilled to discover that the  Barnes & Nobles Booksellers “brick and mortar” stores are back open again after being closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I looked over the books on their bargain shelves, I came across a book titled, Blessed in the Darkness(2017), by Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

That book has a very appropriate title for this particular year with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way we live practically overnight starting in mid-March 2020 when lock downs and stay-at-home orders went into effect around America (and in other parts of the world), and then with the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, that lead to peaceful protests and also violent rioting and looting in many cities across America the following two weeks and in the middle of the pandemic.

It’s all been enough to frazzle the nerves of even the most resilient among us.  You might even be one of the millions who have been left unemployed by the pandemic, or your business was forced to close either due to the pandemic or the rioting that took place in which many businesses, restaurants, and other establishments were burned down, looted, and destroyed. And we are all wondering what America will look like once we are finally on the other side of this pandemic. Will social distancing become a permanent way of life? How long will we need to wear face masks? What will happened to the millions who are unemployed? And the questions go on and on.

To those who have been severely affected and are wondering when the “light at the end of the tunnel” will show up, there is a section in Chapter 12 titled, “Trouble is Transportation,” in Joel Osteen’s book, Blessed in the Darkness,” that I’d like to quote. It is found on pages 135-137, and the section is titled, “Every Step Divinely Orchestrated”:

I wrote about Joseph in the previous chapter. When he was a teenager, God gave him a dream that he was destined for greatness, but before the dream came true, he went through a series of very dark places. There were many years when he did the right thing but the wrong thing happened. It didn’t seem as though the dream would ever work out, but Joseph understood this principle: as he kept being his best, the trouble couldn’t stop him–it was moving him toward his destiny. When you study his life, you can see how God connected the dots. Every step was divinely orchestrated. If you left one step out, the others wouldn’t work. If Joseph’s brothers had not thrown him into the pit, he would have never been taken to Egypt as a slave and sold to a man named Potiphar. If he had never been sold to Potiphar, he would never have met Potiphar’s wife, been falsely accused, and put in prison. If he had not been put into prison, he would never have met the butler and the baker and interpreted their dreams. If he’d never interpreted their dreams, Pharaoh would never have called on him to interpret his dream, which led him to put Joseph in charge of the nation.

If you isolate any of those steps along the way, they don’t make sense. It was just one bad break after another. But you have to believe, as Joseph did, that what looks like a disappointment, a betrayal, or a setback is all a part of God’s plan. It’s transportation. It’s moving you little by little through the darkness into your destiny. God knows what He’s doing. God knew that He was going to need somebody in charge in Egypt who would show favor to the Israelites. So years earlier, He’d started this plan to move Joseph into place. What looked like trouble was really the hand of God. Joseph’s brothers took away his coat of many colors, which represented their father’s favor, but they could not take away the calling on his life. What people take from you doesn’t stop your purpose. What’s on the inside is more powerful than anything on the outside. You keep doing the right thing despite the trouble, despite the betrayal, despite the bad break, and one day God is going to connect the dots for you just as He did for Joseph. He’s going to take you to your throne, so to speak. You’ll say, as Joseph said, “They meant the trouble for harm, but God used it for my good.”

The Scripture says, “God will deliver us from trouble.” That means that God will stop the trouble. But consider it in a different light. The post office picks up a package in New York, and drivers deliver it to California. “Deliver” means they transport it; they move it from one location to another. It may have to go through five different stops along the way. The regional post office sends it to the city post office, which sends it to the neighborhood post office, and the mailman brings it to your house. It is “delivered.” In the same way, right now God is delivering you from trouble. You’re en route, the process has started, and there may be some stops along the way. But don’t worry, you’re not delivered yet. Like Joseph, you may be in a pit or a prison, but the palace is coming. You’re in debt, but God is delivering you into abundance. You’re dealing with depression, but God is delivering you into joy. You’re facing an illness, but God is delivering you into healing, wholeness, and victory. When those thought tell you, “This trouble is permanent. It’s never going to change,” just answer back, “No, I’m being delivered. I’m en route. This trouble is not going to stop me; it’s going to transport me.” (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 135-137.)

In Chapter 16 titled, “I’m Still Standing,” the opening three paragraphs on pp. 239-241 state the following:

The Scripture says, “Rain falls on the just and on the unjust.” No matter how good a person you are, there’s going to be some rain in your life. Being a person of faith doesn’t exempt you from difficulties. Jesus told a parable about a wise man who built his house on a rock. This man honored God. Another man foolishly built his house on the sand. He didn’t honor God. Then the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the houses. What’s interesting in that the same storm came to both people, the just and the unjust. If the story stopped there, you’d think that it doesn’t make a difference whether we honor God or not. “The same thing happens to me that happens to everyone else. I built my house on the rock, yet I’m in this storm. I got a bad medical report, my child is off course, and I lost my biggest client.” But that’s not the end of the story. If you judge it too soon, it will seem as though faith doesn’t make a difference.

Jesus went on to tell that after the storm was over, the house build on the rock was still standing. The house built on the sand collapsed and was completely ruined. The difference is that when you honor God, the storms may come, but you have a promise that the others don’t have–when it’s all said and done, you’ll still be standing. In tough times you have to remind yourself, “This is not the end. My house is built on the rock. The enemy doesn’t have the final say; God does, and He says that when it’s all over, I’ll still be standing,” You may get knocked out. You may suffer a setback and have to go through some dark, stormy times, but don’t get discouraged or bitter–that’s just a part of life. It rains on everybody. If you’ll stay in faith, you have God’s promise that when the smoke clears, when the dust settled, you won’t be the victim, you’ll be the victor. You’ll still be standing.

All of us can look back and see things that should have defeated us. You may have gone through a divorce or a breakup that could have given you a nervous breakdown, but look at you–you’re still standing, still happy, restored, and whole. That’s the goodness of God. That addiction, all that partying, should have killed you, but because of your praying mother, you’re still standing–clean, sober, and free. The medical report said you were done, that sickness would end your life, but God said, “I have another report. It’s not over. You’re still standing.” Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and didn’t think you could go on, believing your best days were over; but God breathed new life into you, lifted you out of the pit, put a new song in your heart, and here you are still standing. You’ve been through some difficult, dark places, but you’ve also seen the goodness of God. You’ve seen Him lift you, restore you, heal you, and protect you. When you have this history with God, and you remember what He’s done, you don’t get discouraged by every difficulty, you don’t get upset when people talk negatively about you, and you don’t fall apart when you have a disappointment. You know that God brought you through the darkness in the past, and He’ll bring you through in the future. (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 239-241.)

In a brand new book titled, Acres of Diamonds (2020), by Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church in Georgia, there is a story tucked in Chapter 5 titled, “Hell in the Hallway,” in a section titled, “Thank God for Doors that Didn’t Open,” regarding the story of Esther in the Old Testament (pp. 89-92):

In the story of Esther, we learn about a feast begun to celebrate this very idea [e.g., God protecting and delivering us from things that didn’t happen]. God established seven feasts in the Old Testament so His people would always remember certain events in their history. Human beings have a tendency to forget. This was God’s way of making sure the people of Israel always remembered what was most important.

Before I get to the story, I want to share a couple of interesting things about the Feast of Purim. First, it is not one of the original seven feasts, and it was not commanded by God. It was a divinely inspired feast authorized by King Ahasuerus

The other interesting fact is that the book of Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God’s name is never mentioned. You won’t find one Hebrew name of His. Not Elohim, not Jehovah, nothing. And yet God’s fingerprints are all over this record in Scripture. (Side note: Seasons will come in life when you have zero evidence to believe God is working, but when you look back on that time, you will discover He was there all along. Active behind the scenes. From the shadows. Undercover. God is always at work in your life.)

Here is a quick summary of the story.

The Jewish people were on the verge of destruction because of the evil conspiracy of Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’s advisors. Haman hated Mordecai because he did not bow down to him. Instead of just killing him, however, Haman decided to kill every Jewish person in the kingdom. So Haman cast lots, similar to a lottery, to determine on what day this would happen. Once he established this date, Haman approached King Ahasuerus to make the genocide official. He got his permission, and a decree was sent to everyone in the kingdom, notifying that all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, were to be killed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.

You need to understand the significance of this. In the moment that Haman cast this “lot,” he was officiating the worst day in the history of the people of Israel. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews would face annihilation. Do you see how precise the enemy’s plan is? He operates the same way today.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10). He hates you because you reflect Jesus Christ. And he sets up certain times and events to destroy you, to take your kids out, to cause your marriage to fall apart, to crush your dreams, to steal your job, to kill your faith. Hell in the hallway.

The word “pur” means “lot,” as in the casting of a lot. Purim, as in the Feast of Purim, is the plural of “pur” with means “lots.” Evidently, the enemy had planned to do one thing on one day, but an unseen party was watching, and He said, “I know you cast your lot, devil, but I’m about the cast lots. And what I cast is going to overcome what you planned and strategized against My people.”

Back to the story.

The people of Israel were about to be slaughtered. Eradicated. Butchered. Massacred. Wiped out. Mordecai sought help from Queen Esther, asking her to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews. His request meant Esther would have to literally risk her life, for it was very dangerous to approach the king without being summoned first. Consequently, Esther called a fast. Those 72 hours of fasting changed the history of the world.

When Esther finally approached the king on behalf of her people, they became a nation not of defeat, annihilation, suffering and shame, but of favor. Not only did the king abolish Haman’s decree, he also bestowed upon the Jews honor and promotion. The king allowed a holiday called the Feast of Purim to be established, which is honored in Israel still to this day, to celebrate this reversal–to celebrate what didn’t happen. The Jewish people threw a big party. They ate. They drank. They danced. They exchanged gifts. What the devil had marked as a day of massacre, God turned into a time of gladness and joy.

God has a way of canceling the verdict of the enemy.

The enemy may have planned for them a day of destruction, but God, through Queen Esther, determined for them a day of deliverance. God can turn your day of destruction into a day of deliverance.

We often talk about being grateful for what we have and the wonderful things that have happened to us, but when was the last time–if ever–you thanked God for what didn’t happen? We ought to stop whatever we’re doing and throw a party for the door that God didn’t open. For the guy you didn’t marry because years later he would have been a deadbeat. For the girlfriend who broke up with you because she would have gone back to her ex-boyfriend. For the job that didn’t work out because you held out for the one God wanted for you to have. For the business deal that went sour before it would have bankrupted you.

Often, when God shuts a door, it is for our protection. Am I ever glad the Lord is my doorkeeper and not me. I can’t tell you how many doors I would have kicked in, thinking I was supposed to do something that in reality was not part of God’s plan. If something doesn’t work out after you have prayed about it, guess what? God just shut a door. Not to punish you or hurt you, but to protect you.

Like Esther, there are times in our lives when God protected and delivered us from things that didn’t happen. He shut the door and locked it. He kept us safe. He said that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. It should have happened. It almost happened. But because of God’s hand of protection, it didn’t happen.

Hasn’t God been good to you? Where would you be today without Him? Before you take a step forward today, take some time and give thanks to Him for all the things that could have happened, that should have happened, that almost happened, but because of His unseen hand of protection didn’t happen. Think about an opportunity that didn’t pan out for your good, or a situation that could have proved destructive but left you unscathed. Start celebrating all the doors that closed in your life.

When you are in the hallway, God can turn things around. You might not see Him. You may not feel Him. You may think He is not even there. But He is. The enemy may have cast one lot to destroy you, but God casts another lot in your favor. It just takes a door. Whatever it is you are facing, decide today to trust that He who began a good work in your life is faithful to complete it.  (Quote source: “Acres of Diamonds,” pp. 89-92.)

In these very challenging times that we are all going through right now, I hope the above quotes will be of great encouragement to help us get through these trying times. God is not silent, nor is He missing in action. He is very much present each and every day, just like He was back in Esther’s time. God is there for us, too.

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What I Learned in the Dark

Okay, I have a confession to make. The title of this blog post did not come from me. It is the title of a blog post (actually, a monthly letter) written by a friend of mine whom I have, on several previous occasions, posted about regarding a few of his books as they were published (see here, here, here, and here). His name is Steve Brown, and in April, he wrote his monthly Steve’s Letter,” for his ministry website, Key Life Network, that isn’t actually published until  a couple of months after it is written. With everything that is going on right now here in America, I thought it would be good to include some of what he has written in this blog post. You can read his entire letter at this link. Here is part of his letter for June 2020:

I’m writing this in April and you’ll read it in June. It’s the same way with the broadcasts I record and the books I write. Most of the time that doesn’t matter. Truth is truth whenever it’s spoken. And the general themes of these letters, the broadcasts, and the books concern biblical truth that is, like God, the same yesterday, today, and forever….

As I write this, we are still in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Who knows where we’ll be when you receive this in June? I hope everything will be getting back to some kind of normalcy, but maybe not. Some have said we might have months of social distancing and even the quarantine. Other than how hard it is to smoke my pipe wearing this stupid mask, that irritates me and I don’t know what to do with the irritation. But the real difficulty is that it’s hard to say something relevant about the crisis if, in fact, when you read this, it might be over.

You’ve probably heard Christian teachers say about difficult times that you shouldn’t doubt in the dark what God taught you in the light. That works for me. But let me tell you something else that is also true. Don’t doubt in the light what God taught you in the dark. In other words, this pandemic¾as horrible as it is¾can be a place of growth and learning. As a friend of mine says, one has the past to look forward to. Not only that, one has the past to learn from.

Do you remember the two guys walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24)? Jesus showed and they didn’t even recognize him. After Jesus taught them and then disappeared, Luke wrote that they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They almost missed it…and him. Just so, if we aren’t careful, we could miss stuff too. It’s important (at least to me) that I not waste the aloneness, fear, and worry by missing the reality that God was in the midst of it all. Paul was, of course, talking about salvation when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore remember…that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12). However, the memories aren’t just about salvation, but often about what God taught us in the dark.

For instance, I was quite busy almost all the time before the pandemic and now I’m not busy at all. Makes me wonder how much of all that was just busy work. Nothing has fallen through the cracks, Key Life is functioning the way it always has, and I have a whole lot of time on my hands without hurrying to do anything. How much of what I was doing wasn’t altogether that important? That’s one of the gifts God gives us in a crisis. We can now see more clearly what is important and what isn’t. I’m a man of prayer and I spend considerable time with Jesus each morning. (I’ll repent of my self-righteousness in telling you that after I finish writing you.) But that time was always hurried and harried because of my long to-do list. That’s not as true during the quarantine and I sense God saying, “Settle down, be quiet, and let’s just sit together for awhile. Where do you think you’re going to go and what do you think you’re going to do…play golf?”

Jesus told his disciples in the midst of a very busy time to come apart from the crowd and to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31). What he didn’t say and should have (I know, but it would have been appreciated) was, “If you don’t come apart and rest, I’ll send a pandemic, and then you won’t have a choice.” If we ever get back to some degree of normalcy, I plan to throw away my to-do list and just be still. Well, at least more still than I was before.

But there’s more. The more you want something and can’t have it, the more you want it. Losing something important is often the way we see its value. Someone has said that we never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. I remember after Hurricane Andrew, when we had lost everything, and we were thirsty and hot a lot of the time, just how good the frozen orange juice was at McDonald’s. They were the first fast food restaurant to open after the hurricane, and they served only hamburgers and frozen orange juice. That orange juice was the best orange juice I ever had and, even to this day, I value and love orange juice more than a Floridian should. (Quote source and his letter is available at this link.)

Steve goes on to write about what he has learned in the dark during this pandemic, but I don’t want to spoil it by quoting the entire letter in this blog post. You can read the rest of it at this link.

Also, during this time since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March (and after he wrote this letter in April), America has become embroiled with the controversy concerning racism and racial inequality that have been systemic in America’s history from the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, at the hands of the police (see articles/videos at this link), and the peaceful protesting and violent rioting and destruction that has following and is still ongoing in cities across America.

2020 is not a year we will soon forget, and it’s not even half over with yet.  It has been compared to one of the worst years in recent American history, 1968. James Fallows, a staff writer at The Atlantic,” has written an article published on May 31, 2020, titled, Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?” comparing 2020 to 1968 that offers “some disquieting lessons for the present,” at this link. He opens his article with the following:

The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.

How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined?

How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests? Protests in some cities decayed into looting or destruction. Then in many cities, police and troopers kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003 widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.

Most of the objects of police roundups have been civilians. But in a rapidly expanding list of cities—first Minneapolis, then Louisville, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere—reporters appeared to be singled out by police as targets, rather than caught up by accident. In Minneapolis, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested while in the middle of a broadcast to a live national audience. Also in Minneapolis, according to Molly Hennessey-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times, Minnesota State Patrol members approached a group of a dozen reporters, all bearing credentials and yelling to identify themselves as press, and “fired tear gas … at point-blank range.” In Louisville, Kaitlin Rust, a reporter with WAVE 3, an NBC affiliate, yelled on camera, “I’m getting shot!” as her cameramanJames Dobson, filmed an officer taking careful aim and firing a pepper-ball gun directly at them. In Detroit, the reporter JC Reindl of the Free Press was pepper-sprayed in the face, even as he held up his press badge. The examples keep piling up. (Quote source here.)

In comparison with 1968, he writes:

“… here is what anyone around at that time will remember about 1968: The assassinations. The foreign warfare. The domestic carnage and bloodshed. The political chaos and division. The way that parts of the United States have seemed in the past week, in reaction to injustices, is the way much of the U.S. seemed day after day. I think I can remember every week of that eventful year.” (He describes all of those factors in his article).

I remember 1968. I was a sophomore in high school when the year started. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April that year followed by Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June (he was a candidate for President on the Democratic ticket). They were 39 and 42 respectively at the time of their deaths. The Vietnam War was raging as was the death count, and there were the protests against that war on college campuses all across America.

There is a big difference between seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old and seeing it through the eyes of a 68-year-old, which are the ages I was back then and I am now during the turmoil of 2020. In between the two has been a lifetime of experiencing the massive changes that have taken place in America during the past five decades. Dark times come in all shapes and sizes, individually and on a national scale. And to use a well worn phrase, it would seem when reviewing history that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In answer to a question on Quora.com, “What does ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ mean?” in May 2017,  John Soroushian wrote:

The quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a reference to situations where there appears to be a meaningful change, but many underlying fundamentals are still the same. It nicely catches peoples thoughts in a diverse array of matters including:

  • A drug lord is arrested and people think things are improving, then another drug lord takes his place and things stay the same.
  • A new government promises change but reverts back to the policies of its predecessors once in power.
  • When a person knows the sun will rise everyday, regardless of what else is happening in her life. (Quote source here.)

That is not to say that there aren’t actual changes going on. A case in point is noted in an article titled, The 10 Most Important Revolutions of All Time,” by Joseph Kiprop, published on May 28, 2018 in WorldAtlas.com. Listed among the top ten revolutions in the world, and coming in at #2, is The American Revolution which took place between 1765 and 1783 (the official start is 1775 but it was preceded by a decade of unrest). Coming in at #1 is The Russian Revolution that occurred in 1917. Indeed, the sun still rises everyday even in the midst of revolutions taking place.

Individually, we all have dark times that we go through regardless of whether or not they affect the rest of society and/or the world (as is the case with the current coronavirus pandemic which is still ongoing around the world). In an article titled, 7 Things You Can Learn in Hard Times,” (subtitled “a pink slip, a medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one–finding meaning in it all”), by Michelle Cox, published on August 14, 2017, in GuidePosts.org, she writes:

I’ve never heard of anyone attending a “Congratulations on Your Difficult Times” party before. Maybe that’s because job losses, health situations, messed-up family relationships, and disappointments are just plain hard to face.

So how can we cope when we’re reeling from the pink slip we’ve just received, or we’ve just gotten one of “those” phone calls from the doctor, or we’re grieving the loss of a loved one?

Here are some things God has shown me when I’ve taken one of those unplanned—and unwanted—journeys: 

1.  I am never alone when I go through hard times.

2.  His grace is sufficient. It will be there when I need it.

3.  He will provide all that I need.

4.  What I learn from those dark days isn’t wasted. God can use me if I’ll let Him.

5.  Even when I don’t understand what God is doing, I can still trust Him.

6.  Hardships draw me closer to Him in a way that often doesn’t happen when times are good.

7.  Hugs, cards, a casserole or dessert, or some heartfelt words go a long way to help soothe a breaking heart.

Have you ever been reading your Bible and felt like God put a spotlight on a verse? That’s what happened recently as I read Psalm 119:71, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.”

Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before, “My suffering was good for me.” That phrase was a sweet reminder that God has a purpose in all that He does. And if He has a difficult circumstance for me to go through, I’d be foolish to complain about it.

“Lord, during difficult moments in life, help me learn the lessons you want me to learn. Help me find the nuggets you want me to discover. And when I get to the end of those hard times, help me look back and see how those days of suffering were truly good for me. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

During the dark times in which we all find ourselves in right now, the Message Bible translates Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:28-30 as follows:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For those who like a more standard version I’ll end this post with the words from Matthew 11:28-30  from NKJV: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For My yoke is easy . . .

And My burden . . .

 Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Vineyard Music:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Uncertain Times

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has thrown much of the world into a panic is unprecedented in our lifetime. In case you might not be aware (I wasn’t until I ran across the following information online), coronavirus is actually not new. In fact, it has been around since the 1960s (source: WebMD). The following information on coronavirus comes from WebMD:

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses aren’t dangerous.

What Is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.

Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection at any time.

Severe coronavirus outbreaks include:

    • COVID-19In early 2020, after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which can be fatal. The organization named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and named the disease it causes COVID-19. The outbreak quickly moved from China around the world. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
    • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): About 858 people have died from MERS, which first appeared in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula.
    • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome  ( SARS ): In 2003, 774 people died from an outbreak. As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS.

Common Symptoms of Coronavirus

You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.

What to Do About Coronavirus

There is no vaccine for coronavirus. To help prevent a coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:

    • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are infected.

You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold:

A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.

Even when a coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.

Sign up for the latest coronavirus news.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 22, 2020 (Quote source here.)

When I was out shopping this past week, it was hard not to notice the empty shelves where bottled water, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, and other supplies are usually found. It is obvious that the panic is palpable regarding coronavirus (COVID-19). Many cancellations and closures of schools, university classes, theme parks, concerts, and a host of other public events is taking place all across America right now (click here to see the latest list of cancellations).

I posted the information above from WebMD because I was not aware that coronavirus is not new and, in fact, it has been around since the 1960s, and to hopefully alleviate some of the intense panic feelings concerning COVID-19. That is not to say precautions should not be taken, but rather to ease the severity of panic that is in the air. The latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are available at this link, and the latest updates from WebMD can be found at this link.

In an article published on March 2, 2020, titled, Christians and the Coronavirus,” by Andrew Fouché, Senior Pastor at Sunset Community Church in Renton, WA (King County), he writes:

The alarm of a possible Coronavirus pandemic is increasing and in a sense we find ourselves at the epicenter in our country (the true epicenter is in Wuhan China) now with the only six deaths in America happening in Washington, five being King County. So, whether you’re stocking up on food and staying home or just treating it like any other seasonal flu, we’re all being impacted by its effects, as schools are closing, the stock market is tanking, and surgical face masks are flying off of the shelf.  The fear is real and it’s affecting us, whether we are buying into it or not. Fear also has a way of exposing what we believe and what we place our hope in. 

So, I have to ask you the question; How does your Christian faith affect how you respond to something like a possible pandemic?

How we respond to most things in life is a combination of emotional reaction (you could call it instinct) and what has been modeled for us in the past. For example, when a grease fire happens in the pan on the kitchen stove our initial reaction is to panic, but if you happened to remember your Mom calmly putting a lid on the pan you’ll know that’s far more effective than trying to douse it with water. So, as followers of Jesus, sometimes it’s helpful to look at how Christians from the past have responded to similar circumstances of tragic pandemics. 

The Cyprian plague in the third century was one of the most devastating plagues to hit the Roman world. At its height it’s believed to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome. This wasn’t the first plague to hit the Roman empire though. The Antonine plague of the second century had been equally devastating and would impact nearly every corner of the empire. What was often noted in these plagues was the response of this still fairly new religious group known as Christians. While many Roman citizens were deserting the sick and dying, the Christians we’re tending to them and even helping with their burial.

Many historians credit the plagues as contributing to the downfall of the Roman empire and at the same time while enduring the same plagues and increasing persecution, Christianity began to spread. The pagan emperor Julian was recorded as saying: “[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” For Christians their faith was causing them to act different in the face of uncontrollable tragedy and this action was rooted in their beliefs.

 We can also look at a more recent example in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. One aid worker, Stephen Rowden, volunteering with Doctors without Borders was tasked with the terrible job of collecting 10-25 Ebola stricken bodies a day in Liberia. When asked by NPR host Robert Siegel if his Christian faith was tested during this tragic assignment he said: “No. No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family.”

The strength that Rowden drew from his faith is based on the belief that there is something greater than this life and someone greater that has made a way to it. Jesus is our peace in this life because he promises us peace in the next one. Fear is powerless when it’s up against this kind of faith.

 As we read the headlines today it’s good to be reminded that we are part of a long line of Jesus followers who know that sickness and death doesn’t have the final word over our lives. And so, as the world is gripped by fear, we have an opportunity, like those who have gone before us, to be people of peace and compassion in the face of uncertainty. Yes, we should pray for and be wise in uncertain times but as followers of Jesus we don’t let fear determine our steps. Just as the message of Jesus spread in times of persecution and plague, you and I have an opportunity to demonstrate that same message of peace and love here in King County.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT) (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 9, 2020, titled, ‘Be of Good Courage’: Greg Laurie Encourages Congregation to Replace Fear of Coronavirus with Faith,” by Mikaela Mathews, freelance writer and editor, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com, she writes:

This weekend, pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California encouraged his congregation to replace fear over the coronavirus with faith.

“I think the viral fear about it may be worse than the virus itself,” Laurie said in a three-minute video posted to Instagram. “And we need to think about it for a moment. And we need to pray about it.”

He gave three “P”s to help his church located in the West Coast state with the highest rate of diagnosed patients:

1. Be Practical

After talking to several doctors, Laurie said that members should be smart about protecting themselves from the virus. Washing hands with soap and for a long time, as well as avoiding touching the face, can help people avoid the virus.

2. Be Prayerful

“We should pray for our church; pray for our nation that God would protect us. And the Lord can do that, he can put a shield around us.”

He added, “And we want to pray for anybody who has it, that they may heal.”

3. Use as Proclamation

He also shared with his congregation that the virus can be an opportunity to share the gospel. Because many communities are fearful of the virus, Christians can tell others about the hope and peace of Christ.

According to CBN News, Christian pediatric infectious disease specialist Scott James has encouraged his patients with similar advice.

“One thing that does cause me some concern is the general tendency to focus on the unknowns in a way that stokes panic and fear,” he said.

“Instead of fretting over potential catastrophes, pay attention to the opportunities that are right in front of you: take care of yourself, take care of others, and do your part to limit the spread of disease.”

As the CDC has warned Americans to prepare for the spread of the virus, James says, “Preparedness simply means we will seek to inform ourselves of the situation and to make responsible choices for our own good and for the good of our communities … [We should maintain] a biblical perspective based on the understanding that no matter what threat is on the horizon, God is still in control. Trusting in God equips us to take the threat seriously without giving into panic or despair.” (Quote source here.)

In the days and weeks ahead we need to allow our faith to replace of our fears, and compassion to replace our panic, because, as 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) reminds us, God has not given us a spirit of fear…

But of power . . .

And of love . . .

And of a sound mind . . . .

YouTube Video: “Faith to Believe” by Shane and Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fully Known

After I published a new blog post on my other blog earlier today titled, The Right Attitude,” I felt there was still a stirring inside of me to keep on writing another blog post, so here it is. It’s rare that I write two posts on the same day, but the weather outside is dreary and wet, so it’s a great day to write blog posts.

If you read the first post I published titled (as I mentioned above), The Right Attitude,” I was feeling the need for an attitude adjustment as the dreary weather outside for the past several days was starting to give me the blahs (big time!). It worked, too, as I’m feeling much better!

Yesterday, I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread that reminded me of the fact that God knows everything about us even before we were born and he knows all the details of our lives as we live them out day by day (and that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly). The devotion is titled, Fully Known,” by Dr. James Bank, author and founding pastor at Peace Church in Durham, NC. Here is that devotion:

“Before I formed you… I knew you.”Jeremiah 1:5

“You shouldn’t be here right now. Someone up there was looking out for you,” the tow truck driver told my mother after he had pulled her car from the edge of a steep mountain ravine and studied the tire tracks leading up to the wreck. Mom was pregnant with me at the time. As I grew, she often recounted the story of how God saved both our lives that day, and she assured me that God valued me even before I was born.

None of us escape our omniscient (all-knowing) Creator’s notice. More than 2,500 years ago He told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows us more intimately than any person ever could and is able to give our lives purpose and meaning unlike any other. He not only formed us through His wisdom and power, but He also sustains every moment of our existence—including the personal details that occur every moment without our awareness: from the beating of our hearts to the intricate functioning of our brains. Reflecting on how our heavenly Father holds together every aspect of our existence, David exclaimed, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!” (Psalm 139:17).

God is closer to us than our last breath. He made us, knows us, and loves us, and He’s ever worthy of our worship and praise. (Quote source here.)

The most inspiring passage in the Bible regarding just how well God knows us inside and out was written by King David, and it is found in Psalm 139. Here is what David wrote (actually, composed as a psalm):

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

In an article published on June 4, 2018, titled, What Does It Mean to Be Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?” by Jennifer Heeren, contributing writer on Crosswalk.com, she writes:

Meaning of “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”

“So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Psalm 139 says that God made all the delicate, inner parts of my body. He knit me together within my mother’s womb. I was made wonderfully complex. God knew me as He was painstakingly designing me with much loving care.

I didn’t just evolve into what I am. I was created and designed with a purpose. And the blueprints of me are similar to other human beings but they’re not exactly the same. I am unique—and so are you.

The human body is a unique design of multiple systems that all work intricately together. The cardiovascular system gives you the energy to move. The muscular system gives you the ability to move, lift, and hold things. The digestive system processes food into energy and discards waste. The immune system keeps you healthy. The hormonal system determines your gender. The eyes cause you to see. The nose lets you smell. The tongue and mouth let you eat and taste. The ears enable you to hear. And your skin enables you to feel textures. You have the ability to encounter an incredibly diverse world with an equally amazing diverse body!

Then you were also blessed with a brain so you can think, process, and create. Isaac Asimov said the brain is “the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe.” Your emotions help you to relate to other people and feel compassion. All of these systems (plus many more) were uniquely designed to make you who you are.

God created you on purpose with love.

You have the innate ability to discern right from wrong. Although, that ability is hindered somewhat until you connect with your Creator. He didn’t just design you to do your own thing. He created you so you would desire an ongoing relationship with Him.

You were made with a hole in the center of your soul that only one thing fits. Until you find that very specific something, you will never be fulfilled. And that very specific something is God Himself. You were designed with an intense need of your Creator, God. Without a relationship with Him, you will always be searching for something to fill that void. 

Drugs, alcohol, food, money, sex, material goods, occupations, hobbies, travel, success, fame—these are some of the ways in which we try to fill that empty space inside. But none of those things will ever fill it. They are like round pegs in square holes. The vacant areas at the edges will still leave you desiring more of something else. Whatever you attempt to put in there will dissipate because it never completely fills the space. Those things were never meant to fill the space; they never can.

Sadly, many continue to shove mismatched pegs into that hole. A little of this, a little of that… hoping that one day they will feel complete. They surmise that this thing over here didn’t work but maybe this other thing will do it. They just haven’t found the right thing yet but one day they hope they will.

One day…

    • I’ll have enough money to feel safe and secure.
    • I’ll find the perfect spouse that will complete me.
    • I’ll get my dream sports car and life will be grand.
    • I’ll be on television and people will know my name.
    • I’ll be the best in my field and people will scout me out.

“One day” will never come. If you’re not happy with who you are today, right here and right now, you’ll never be. You’ll never be happy with who you are today unless you begin to praise God for creating you just as you are.

People want to look at everyone and everything else before they turn to God.

“Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” (Isaiah 64:7-8)

Fortunately, God made a way for us to repent and turn to Him by sending His very own Son to make the way.

When you do finally realize that without God you are unable to make the most of yourself, that’s when things begin to change. The clay cannot mold itself no matter how hard it tries. However, God, the Potter, cannot only mold His clay but He also knows what His original design of you was. He is both a Potter and an Architect with a Master Plan.

Sometimes in this fallen world, people are born with birth defects that disrupt one or more of the intricate systems of the body. God foresaw even those defects and uses them for good when we look to Him. Even our weaknesses are fearfully and wonderfully made.

A blind person can develop hearing beyond the normal capacity. Conjoined twins can teach us about getting along with one another, for they have to do it 24/7. Someone born without arms develops the ability to use their feet in wondrous ways. Another born without legs develops the upper body strength to get around smoothly.

We all have weaknesses that sometimes make us feel like we are of no use. But God’s grace is sufficient to cover our weaknesses. More than that, God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Weaknesses keep me humble and leaning on God’s strength which is much more sufficient than my own.

Should I always feel like I am “Fearfully and Wonderfully” made?

No. Sin and pride always want to drag me back into my own way of thinking. The same thinking that kept me reaching for those mismatched pegs. Those thoughts tell me that I can do whatever I want, by myself, without God. They lie and they don’t even make sense. They say I can do anything but then turn around and also say that I’m not good enough to do what I want to do. Feelings can’t be trusted unless they line up with the Word of God. And the Word of God tells me that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made for a specific purpose. Therefore, with God’s help, I will walk in that purpose as often as I can.

Whether I always feel it or not, I can trust God and His plans for my very life.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10) (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus of a song titled, Known,” by Tauren Wells (see YouTube Video below): I’m fully known and loved by You. You won’t let go no matter what I do. And it’s not one or the other; it’s hard truth and ridiculous grace, to be known fully known and loved by You…

I’m fully known . . .

And loved . . .

By You . . . .

YouTube Video: “Known” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Divided in Love

Since Valentine’s Day was just two days ago, I’ve been thinking about the topic of love. This morning I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread titled, Divided in Love, by Leslie Koh, a journalist from Singapore now working at Our Daily Bread Ministries, and this is what he wrote:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Ephesians 4:2

When public debate erupted over a controversial Singapore law, it divided believers with differing views. Some called others “narrow-minded” or accused them of compromising their faith.

Controversies can cause sharp divisions among God’s family, bringing much hurt and discouraging people. I’ve been made to feel small over personal convictions on how I apply the Bible’s teachings to my life. And I’m sure I’ve been equally guilty of criticizing others I disagree with.

I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?

Yet there are times when we need to address false teaching or explain our stand. Ephesians 4:2-6 reminds us to do so with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And, above all else, to make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3).

Some controversies will remain unresolved. God’s Word, however, reminds us that our goal should always be to build up people’s faith, not tear them down (v. 29). Are we putting others down to win an argument? Or are we allowing God to help us understand His truths in His time and His way, remembering that we share one faith in one Lord? (vv. 4-6). (Quote source here.)

Zeroing in on the key issue, Koh states, I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?” It seems as if humility is a dying art in our society today.

In a blog post published on August 23, 2016, titled, Is narcissism becoming a virtue or whatever happened to humility?” by Brian Harris, Principal of Vose Seminary and Pastor at Large for the Carey Group, a church, school and community center planting movement based in Perth, Australia, he writes:

The answer appears to be yes. A study by Hoover (2007) researching 16,000 students between 1982 to 2006 found that the average score on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory increased 30% in that time. Given that this study is now aging, I suspect the rise would be even more dramatic if tested now. Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell have written a book,The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” …which clearly chronicles our increasing obsession with self. The same book also helpfully distinguishes between self esteem and narcissism, recognizing that a realistic and valued sense of self is important, but that it is at risk of being tipped over the line in our time.

What’s wrong with narcissism… Many things, but here are a few:

    • An inflated sense of self sees us magnifying trivia. Everything about me must be awesome – and if it isn’t that’s tragic. But if everything is awesome, how do we differentiate and nuance things. How do we cope with disappointment? How do we face our shadow side? And how do we celebrate the ordinary?
    • Narcissism blinds us to sin (and I mean sin in the biblical sense of being people who miss the mark of God’s goal for us). It stops us from seeing our need for forgiveness and redemption.
    • A world that is about me, myself and I quickly becomes too small.
    • The order is wrong. Jesus taught that if we are willing to lose our life, we will find it. Paradoxical though this is, it is true. When it is all about me, something inside of me dies.
    • I become a consumer of services to which I feel entitled (because I matter so much). I become fixated on my rights, and usually gloss over my responsibilities.
    • Self preoccupation blinds me to the needs of others.
    • It makes me indifferent to the stories of others–the only story I want told is my own.
    • I place my confidence in myself. I want my world to be about me. Worshiping Jesus and having him at the center quickly disappears from my agenda.

It is never enough to simply tut tut about a social trend. What can be done about it?…

Could it be that the rise of narcissism is a comment on a world that has become too small… a world that has lost a narrative that can inspire, and challenge and motivate… a world that can make me bigger by getting me to move beyond my own very limited parameters? Perhaps we need fresh reminders that while God assuredly loves me, a God sized love actually encompasses the whole world. There are many stories to be told, and even more waiting to be written. And my role does not have to be the lead character in each. Simply cheering on the sidelines, and celebrating a story that has nothing to do with me, can be a helpful start. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 14, 2016, titled, Humility–The Lost Virtue,” by Tony Agnesi, Hall of Fame broadcaster, author, speaker, and storyteller, he writes:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  –C.S. Lewis

What ever happened to humility?  Once valued in our culture, humility just isn’t practiced at all.  Instead, we have a self-centered, chest-thumping, braggadocios, pat yourself on the back generation with an exaggerated self-importance.

The NFL running back, who years ago would credit the linemen for their great blocking and opening the way for his touchdown runs, will thump his chest and tell you how great he is, the best running back ever!

The mid-level boss at work takes credit for every accomplishment in his department never complimenting his staff for work well done.

The musician who interrupts an awards presentation to tell the recipient that someone else is better than she is.

The gossip, who is constantly putting down friends in an effort to make herself look better.

Yes, it’s true, humility is the ugly duckling of virtues, lost in a quagmire of self-centered bravado. This foolish pride is hubris and humility is the anecdote for hubris.

Somehow, over time, we have come to believe that humility is a lack of self-confidence, that humble people are shy or timid.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

That’s why C.S. Lewis’ quote is so important.  Humility understands that giving credit to others for their achievements doesn’t diminish our accomplishments. We gain respect, by being humble.  By simply shifting the focus away from self to others we make a powerful statement of leadership.  Try it sometime, and you will see the power of humility.

So, what are some examples of modern day humility?  What are a few simple things we can do to be more humble?

    • Try opening a door for someone, or giving up your place in the checkout line to the woman with a fussy child.
    • Clean up the coffee spills in the lunch room at work even though you don’t drink coffee.
    • When being honored for an accomplishment, use the opportunity to thank the people that helped you get there.
    • Cook a meal for the woman down the street who recently lost her husband, or invite her to lunch.
    • Instead of donating money to the local soup kitchen, volunteer to wait on tables once a month.

I am sure you can think of many others.

As Christians, we don’t have to look very far for examples of humility.  Jesus himself was born in a stable, had few possessions, and no place to live.  He led a humble life, but changed the world.

If we realize that our goal on this earth is not how great we can become, but how much of a difference we can make in the lives of others, then we will begin to understand the virtue of humility.

Let’s practice humility! (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 22, 2017, on PsychologyToday.com, titled, How Practicing Humility Can Help Your Love Life, by Kristen Fuller, M.D., she writes:

Humility is a simple human characteristic that is lacking in today’s society. We live in a world where it is “all about me”, from the upkeep of our physical appearances, our reputations on social media, self-gratifying behavior and the obsession with money and consumerism, it is so easy to lose touch with placing others before ourselves. With an astonishing rise in divorce rates and an increase in individuals choosing to be single, we as humans, must go back to the basics of kindness and humility.

It is not always about you

To be humble or practice humility means to value other people and their opinions without indulging in self- pride. Humility is the opposite of boastfulness, arrogance and vanity.  Oftentimes we are so concerned with winning the argument, making a point, being right and correcting other people that we forget to listen to others, and to allow the unimportant things to dissipate. Yes, there will always be that antagonizing individual in your life who always has to prove their point, but it is your choice to engage in their argumentative or opinionated behavior. You have the right to walk away from the conversation or to simply just agree with them in order to create peace. You always have the choice to practice humility even in the presence of chaos.

In a world filled with self-aggrandizing online dating profiles, it may be surprising to learn that humility is actually a direct expression of an individual who is truly confident and expresses a high self-esteem. How many of you have gone a first date where the other individual talked about themselves the entire time and did not ask you a single question? By leaving ‘you’ out of the date just a little bit, you allow yourself the freedom to discover whether this is someone you should be with. Or what about that one friend who is always telling you about his or her own problems but never takes the time to ask how you are doing? Or that family member who never stops talking about a past unresolved issue? We all love to “toot our own horns” however it is not attractive, in any way.

Staying humble to keep love alive

A humble person does not always have to prove their point, or be right or lead the conversation because they are truly comfortable with who they are.  Being vulnerable and showing humility to a romantic partner can allow for better communication and trust to develop in the relationship. Being aware of what you don’t know and asking questions allows for learning to take place within a relationship and humble individuals are more likely to admit their faults, apologize and practice forgiveness than an individual who is boastful or who is a narcissist. Many conflicts and arguments within relationships can be easily fixed however the majority of individuals are more concerned with proving a point and being right rather than listening to the needs of their partner and trying to understand the underlying catalyst that initiated the argument in the first place. The goal of a relationship is to grow with your partner, not fight against them or come out winning. Practicing humility requires the following attributes:

    • Active listening
    • Taking a different perspective
    • Empathy
    • Admitting wrong
    • Apologizing
    • Being confident in what you don’t know
    • Seeking forgiveness
    • Asking questions
    • Putting your relationship before your own personal needs
    • Serving others
    • Staying present
    • Practicing gratitude

In terms of dating and relationships, there is a lid that fits every pot however it is easier to find the lid for your pot if you’re not blowing off every lid with steam, hot air and arrogance. (Quote source here.)

As a last reflection for this blog post on the topic of love and humility, let’s consider what James 4:1-12 (MSG) states:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others? (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Corinthians 13:3-8 (MSG): If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love . . .

Never . . .

Dies . . . .

YouTube Video: “Get Together (Try to Love One Another Right Now)” (1967) by the Youngbloods:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Turning the Other Cheek

The last blog post I published on my other blog two weeks ago titled, Demonstrating Grace,” was on the topic of extending grace instead of dispensing justice even when justice would have been justified. I’ve thought a lot about that topic since I wrote that last blog post, and I was given another opportunity to “turn the other cheek” again a few days ago.

After that second opportunity occurred so soon after the first, I humorously emailed a friend stating that 2020 has already given me two opportunities to “turn the other cheek,” and I had now run out of cheeks to turn and February has only just begun. The subject of forgiveness can get pretty bogged down as we live in a fast paced society today where insults are spewed all over social media at break neck speed, and a general lack of hospitality and civility has infected even the most seemingly innocuous interactions we have with others.

For instance, doesn’t it just rankle you when someone sweetly says, “Bless you,” but you know they don’t really mean it, and it’s given as an insult with a nice smile cover-up? Seems our society runs on short fuses most of the time today. No wonder I feel like I’ve run out of cheeks to turn in such a short period of time since 2020 burst upon us just over a scant month ago. All of those insults can wear a person down.

Apparently, doing good isn’t fashionable today. No gold stars or brownie points are given out for doing good or turning the other cheek. Laughter and insults are often the response, and they are often disguised as “nicey-nice” expressions, but they don’t hide the hate. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a society where we can so freely express our hate for each other on a regular basis by disguising it by using nice words and a fake smile?

Social media has also had a big part in programming us in that direction whether spewing hate out in the open and in your face, or hiding it behind “nicey-nice” words and smiles that mean nothing. Slinging mud while disguising it in pretty words and an insincere smile might make it seem not as bad as actually spewing the “F” word, but it all means the same thing.

It was Jesus who said we should turn the other cheek and not return evil for evil. So what exactly did he mean by turning the other cheek? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

In Matthew 5:38–39, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” The concept of “turning the other cheek” is a difficult one for us to grasp. Allowing a second slap after being slapped once does not come naturally.

In the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He commands us to turn the other cheek, He addresses the need for true transformation, versus mere rule-keeping. It’s not enough to obey the letter of the law; we must conform to the spirit of the law as well.

Much of the material surrounding Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek complements the nature of His coming, which was characterized by mercy, sacrificial love, and long suffering toward sinners. At the same time, Jesus affirms the “last is first” principle upon which the kingdom of God is based. For instance, He tells us to go the extra mile for someone who abuses us (Matthew 5:41) and to love and pray for our enemies instead of holding enmity against them (verse 44). In summary, Jesus is saying we need to be pure inside and out and as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world.

A word about the “slap” that Jesus says we should endure. Jesus here speaks of personal slights of any kind. The slap (or the “smiting,” as the KJV has it) does not have to involve literal, physical violence. Even in our day, a “slap in the face” is a metaphor for an unexpected insult or offense. Did someone insult you? Let him, Jesus says. Are you shocked and offended? Don’t be. And don’t return insult for insult. Turn the other cheek.

Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse is helpful: “Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort” (Concise Commentary, entry for Matthew 5:38).

Turning the other cheek does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in danger. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is simply a command to forgo retaliation for personal offenses. He was not setting government foreign policy, and He was not throwing out the judicial system. Crimes can still be prosecuted, and wars can still be waged, but the follower of Christ need not defend his personal “rights” or avenge his honor.

There was a time in history when a man would feel compelled to protect his honor against one who slandered him or otherwise besmirched his character. The offended party would challenge the offender to a duel. Swords, firearms, or other weapons were chosen, and the two enemies would face off. In most cases, senseless bloodshed ensued. Samuel Johnson wrote in favor of the practice of dueling: “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” The problem is that “invasions of character” are exactly what Jesus told us to tolerate in Matthew 5:38. Turning the other cheek would have been a better option than dueling, and it would have saved lives.

Retaliation is what most people expect and how worldly people act. Turning the other cheek requires help from on high. Responding to hatred with love and ignoring personal slights display the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and may afford the chance to share the gospel.

Jesus was, of course, the perfect example of turning the other cheek because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him. Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). (Quote source here.)

In an article published on January 29, 2018, titled, Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean ‘Get Walked All Over’?” by Chris Nye, pastor of leadership development at Awakening Church in the Silicon Valley and the author of “Distant God,” he writes:

I have sometimes heard well-meaning Christians counsel those going through difficult circumstances that “this is your cross to bear” or “Jesus told us we would suffer” or “you’ve got to deny yourself.” Some cite Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:39 as a proper response to the people in our lives who have hurt us. Sometimes these well-meaning people tell us to stick around in unhealthy relationships because isn’t that what Christ would do? He was crucified, after all, and aren’t we supposed to follow in his steps?

But does turning the other cheek and denying ourselves really mean we should endure unhealthy relationships and circumstances, no matter what? Should we stick around in relationships we sense are damaging us because we need to “deny ourselves”?

Here are four observations that might help as we consider such questions.

1. There is a difference between laying your life down and someone taking it.

Scripture instructs us to “lay down our lives” for Christ’s sake and to take up our cross (1 John 3:16Matt. 16:24). But notice the active agent in that sentence: you. There is a difference between voluntarily laying down your life and someone taking your life from you. Jesus said he laid down his life so that he “may take it up again.” He went on: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

There were many times Jesus could have allowed his life to be taken, but he escaped because “his time had not come yet” (John 7:30, 44; 10:39). We need not pity Jesus for his death—he was accomplishing his mission, on his terms. And we need not pity ourselves, out of a false martyrdom complex, when we allow dangerous or unhealthy people to dictate our lives. We must be certain that we, like Jesus, are laying our lives down on our own accord and not having them taken from us by life-sucking individuals.

2. We are to pick up our cross, but not every cross.

When Jesus teaches us to daily pick up our cross, he uses the possessive: it’s our cross to bear (Luke 9:23). What is this cross? It will likely be different for everyone, but you’ll know when it’s yours. We cannot carry every cross and burden we see in our sights. As Paul tells the Galatians, “For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal. 6:5). But wait, doesn’t Paul also say in that same passage to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)? Which is it? Should we bear our own burdens or others’ burdens? Yes. Both.

We are called to discernment—to wisely assess if such burdens are ours to carry. Can we handle it? Is this our battle to fight? Am I getting involved to show love or to prove a point? Am I getting involved to serve another or to serve myself?

3. Jesus set limits and boundaries on his ministry.

There were so many people Jesus disappointed; so many in the back of crowds who never got close enough to touch the hem of his garment. One interaction stands out: a young man asks Jesus to settle a legal dispute between him and his brother. Jesus responds: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). It’s a good question. Jesus understood when he was being asked to do things outside of the focus of his ministry. He knew his calling, he knew his ministry, and he protected these things while remaining remarkably compassionate.

4. You are just one part of the body.

In certain kinds of churches, two or three people shoulder all the burdens. It’s common for one pastor to do most of the weddings, funerals, and hospital visits. But I do not see any evidence in the New Testament to support this kind of organizational structure. Paul speaks of the “body of Christ,” of which all of us are differing “members.” When someone carries a backpack or lifts something up, the weight is distributed to many different places on the body. While one area will bear the most (you can hear your dad saying, “Lift with your legs, son!”), your whole body feels the pressure. Likewise, you should entrust your burdens to the body of your church. You’re not the only one who can visit a hospital, offer relational counsel, or pray for the hurting.

Again, Jesus set limits on his ministry. We forget all the people he passed by, all the sick who left unhealed simply because he couldn’t get to them. We forget how he evaded crowds and escaped the masses. We forget that while many stones were thrown at him, he dodged them all so that he might pick up his cross.

Jesus was not walked all over, and no one took his life. If you are to imitate him and become like him, no one should take yours.

Disciples of Jesus would be wise to follow him specifically in this area by setting boundaries. You don’t have to text that person back right away. You can answer your emails during an allotted time. The tasks ahead will always be infinite, but you are finite. Especially for those of us in full-time ministry, we must learn the art of wise dismissal, of letting people down, and saying “no” so that we might say “yes” to the fullness of life in Christ Jesus. (Quote source here.)

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:38-39 that we are not to resist an evil person, and that we are to turn the other cheek. So what is the best way to not resist an evil person? Paul stated in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In a brief article titled, Explain ‘Do Not Be Overcome with Evil, But Overcome Evil with Good’,” by Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; host of The 700 Club, and CEO of Regent University, he writes:

There is only one way that evil can overcome a Christian, and that is if the Christian returns evil for evil. If someone insults you and snarls at you, you are not overcome. You are overcome if you begin to snarl right back. Then the unpleasant person has become your role model. You are copying evil and evil is overcoming you. If someone hates you and you hate him back, then evil is getting the victory. If someone strikes you and you strike back, then you have become like the evil one.

The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If someone reviles you, you are to smile back and say, “God bless you.” The person will not know how to react to that, and you have overcome him. You have won. That person has not changed you, but you have gone on the offensive with the most powerful weapon in the world–love! If someone strikes you on the cheek, Jesus said you should turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39Luke 6:29). And that will leave your adversary totally confused! And then on top of that you should say, “I love you.”

If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well (see Matthew 5:40-41). Do so graciously, cheerfully, even assertively. God has given you the spiritual weapons to discern who your enemies are and then to conquer them by making them your friends. (Of course, as long as there are vicious criminals and international tyrants in the world, there must be a system of restraint through local or international police. In Romans 13, police and legitimate armies are considered by the apostle Paul as “ministers of God” to bring vengeance on lawbreakers.) (Quote source  here.)

Turning the other cheek may not be a popular response in our culture today, but it is the only right response according to Jesus. And how do we do that? We do it by…

Overcoming evil . . .

With . . .

Good . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lacrae:

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Predictably Unpredictable

Back on February 25, 2017, I published a blog post titled, Divine Appointments,” and I quoted a section from a book titled, The Grave Robber (2014), written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. I picked up that book again this afternoon, and when I ran into that particular section quoted in the blog post above, I thought to myself, “This would great to include in a blog post.” That’s when I discovered that I had already written a blog post on that exact same section back in 2017 (you can read it at this link).

Déjà vu…

So, I continued looking through the book and I came upon two back-to-back sections titled, “Critical Realism” and “Eleven Dimensions,” in a chapter titled, “The Rule Breaker.” But before I quote those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a STRAC trooper (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots. A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance”) by my Commanding Officer when I was stationed in the U.S. Army in South Korea back in the 1970’s, and I’ve been the quintessential “rule follower” for most of my life. I figured if I always followed the rules, I’d stay out of trouble and I’d have a relatively straight forward life, but as my life moved forward, I discovered that is not always the case. Life is unpredictable no matter how hard we might try to control it, and I discovered what Mark Batterson states below.

In the first section titled, “Critical Realism,” on pp. 129-130, Batterson writes:

According to the research of Rolf Smith [author ofThe 7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results”], children asked 125 probing questions per day. Adults, on the other hand, ask only six probing questions per day. That means that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions per day! At some point, most of us stop asking questions and start making assumptions. That is the day our imagination dies. It’s also the day miracles stop happening. If you want to experience the miraculous, you need to quit making assumptions.

In the philosophy of science, there is a concept known as critical realism. It is the recognition that no matter how much we know, we don’t know everything there is to know. In the words of Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” What if we borrowed the concept of critical realism from science and applied it to theology? I’m not suggesting that we question any of our orthodox doctrines as revealed in God’s Word. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is a good theological starting point when it comes to the study of God: “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

Scripture says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) , so the words, “I can’t” should never leave our lips! But “I don’t know” should come out of our mouths which great regularity and humility. You aren’t omniscient. In fact, you aren’t even close! Your best thought on your best day falls at least 15.5 billion light-years short of how good and how great God really is. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129-130.)

Batterson continues in the next section titled, “Eleven Dimensions,” on pp.130-132, with the following:

A hundred years ago, we thought we lived in a four-dimensional world. Then along came Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity. He threw science a curveball by positing that the space-time continuum isn’t as linear as we once thought. Then string theorists extrapolated the existence of more dimensions than meet the eye–ten dimensions in the case of superstring theory theory or twenty-six dimensions according to the Bosonic string theory. In either case, this critical dimension is necessary to ensure the vanishing of the conformal anomaly of the world sheet. And if you have no idea what that means, I’ve made my point. If the universe is infinitely  more complex than can be imagined with the human mind, then how much more so the Creator Himself? His infinite complexity demands a degree of critical realism called humility.

If string theorists are right, then God is operating in at least eleven dimensions of space-time. and therein lies our greatest shortcoming: putting four-dimensional limits on the Almighty. In the words of Dr. Hugh Ross, “Orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God’s nature, powers, and capacities by at least a factor of a trillion in one time dimension.” Multiply a trillion by a minimum of seven additional space-time dimensions, and we begin to understand why Scripture states that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)! We can’t even imagine one extra dimension!

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. And the second half is far more difficult then the first half. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard that is was said… but I tell you.” He was uninstalling Old Testament assumptions with New Testament revelations. Going the extra mile or turning the other cheek was more than behavior modification. Jesus was reverse engineering the old rules and installing new ones (Matthew 5:38-48).

In 1932, a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics. His discovery ranks as one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, determinism ruled the day. Physicists believed in the clockwork universe that was measurable and predictable. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under the scientific community. Here is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in a nutshell: we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Here’s why. Sometimes matter behaves like a particle–it appears to be in one place at one time. Sometimes matter behaves like a wave–it appears to be in several places at the same time, almost like a wave on a pond. It is the duality of nature. So the imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes. Simply put: there will always be an element of uncertainty.

Here’s my translation: God is predictably unpredictable.

You never know exactly how or when or where God might show up and show off. But you can be sure of this: He will probably ask you to do something unprecedented, unorthodox, and unconventional. And if you have the courage to do something you haven’t done in thirty-eight years, you might just experience something you haven’t seen in a long, long time. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 130-132.)

In a blog post published on January 27, 2016, titled, Predictably Unpredictable,” by Dave Henning, Director at Crown of Compassion Ministries, a ministry to downsized workers, he writes:

“I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.” — Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 6 ofThe Circle Maker by reflecting on a favorite saying of his grandmother: “You can’t never always sometimes tell.” Translation: “Anything could happen.” The same is true when you circle a promise in prayer. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than any other kind of surprise. Mark explains:

“When you draw a prayer circle, even if that circle is limited by your ignorance, you never know how or when or where God will answer it. One prayer leads to another, which leads to another, and where they will take you no one knows except the One who knows all.”

Pastor Batterson notes there is one caveat: you have to give up control if you want God to surprise you. Although you’ll lose a measure of predictability, this frees God to move in uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, you live with holy anticipation, understanding that coincidences are providences and that any moment can turn into a holy moment. Mark observes it is at this point many of us become spiritually bogged down:

“It’s at this place where God wants to do something unprecedented that many of us get stuck spiritually. Instead of operating by faith, we switch back to our default setting of logic. Instead of embracing the new move of God, we fall back into the rut of our old routines.”

Mark’s solution? Don’t simply brainstorm, praystorm.

Today’s question: How difficult is it for you to give up “control” of your situation? (Quote source here.)

Lately–in fact, more times then I can count–I keep coming across a verse that speaks to the “control” issue many of us have when it comes to our sometimes very perplexing life circumstances. The verse is found in Psalm 46:10 (NASB):

Cease striving  and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

In the past decade since I lost my job in April 2009, I spent the first several years searching for another job that never materialized, and I had to apply for Social Security at 62 to have any income again. At the time I applied for Social Security, I lost the apartment I had been living in for over four years when new owners purchased the house where my apartment was located, and they wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. That has now lead into a five-plus year search for low income senior housing that has still produced nothing in the way of affordable housing.

I can attest to the fact that it isn’t easy to “cease striving” when perplexing circumstances keep going on and on after a decade of waiting for an answer to show up. Yet, what I have learned and experienced during this past decade is priceless even though what I thought would happen long before now (in fact, a decade ago) is that I would find another job and move on with my life.

God is predictably unpredictable, and He is also sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. What Mark Batterson describes above regarding our own understanding of God is right on when he states:

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129.)

This is where Psalm 46:10 is so important. Since we can’t ever totally understand what God is up to we are clearly told to cease striving (be still) and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. GotQuestions.org gives us an understanding of what this verse means:

This verse comes from a longer section of Scripture that proclaims the power and security of God. While the threat the psalmist faced is not mentioned specifically, it seems to relate to the pagan nations and a call for God to end the raging war. Here is the whole psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Notice that the majority of the psalm is written in the third person as the psalmist speaks about God. However, God’s voice comes through in verse 10, and the Lord speaks in the first person: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

What better way to end this post then by quoting Psalm 46:10Cease striving and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

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Taking Flight

Back on March 20, 2019, Lifeway Christian Resources, the nation’s biggest Christian retail bookstore chain, announced it was closing all 170 stores by the end of 2019, and “shifting its offerings entirely online.” Family Christian Stores shut down all 240 locations of it’s stores in 2016 after 85 years of operation in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. And Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013 and shifted to online sales, also.

Slate published an article titled, The Decline of the Christian Bookstore,” on July 11, 2019, by Ruth Graham, a writer for Slate who lives in New Hampshire, with a subtitle reading, “Yes, they sell sanitized music and “Jesus junk.” But something important gets lost when Christian bookstores disappear” (quote source here). In the article she states:

The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book,Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America,” will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.” (Quote source here.)

The Lifeway bookstore near me is permanently closing this week. When I stopped in there last week it was pretty bare from previous closing sales leading up to this last one, with what merchandise was left reduced in price by 70%-90%. I picked up five books I might not have normally thought about reading at a discount of 80% on four of them and 70% on the fifth book. Such a deal! For true blue book lovers, there is nothing quite like walking through a real bookstore and browsing the shelves. Online bookstores just don’t cut it in that way. Besides, there is no chance of having a lively serendipitous conversation with a sales clerk or other customer in the store when buying books online.

Online communication has totally changed the way we relate to the world and to others. What used to be a social event (like actually going to a bookstore and look at real, published books, and communicating with clerks in person as well as other customers) is now going online. See if you don’t relate to this nine-year-old article published on August 13 (which also happened to be a Friday), 2010, in The Guardian titled, Twitter, email, texts: we don’t talk anymore!” by Michelle Hather, mom to three now all-grown-up sons who were still kids nine years ago:

Michelle Hather and her three sons communicate increasingly in a silent world of emails, tweets and texts. Will her boys forget how to speak altogether, she wonders?

It’s 7:28 am and I crack open my laptop and take a crafty peek at my email. I’m not yet out of bed but it’s a simple task to reach across the duvet and pull my MacBook towards me. Emails checked, I click on to my Facebook page, in case I’m missing anything. That’s when I notice my 13-year-old son (and FB friend) is online and doing exactly the same thing.

“Get off the damned computer and go downstairs for breakfast. NOW!!!!” I message. Frantic footsteps rush past my bedroom door.

The night before, as his food sat cooling on the dining room table and he sat in his bedroom, I had texted my middle son: “Dinner ready now! Get down here immediately!!!” Two minutes later, he was down the stairs and sitting at the table.

Then there are the crucial messages I need to pass on to my eldest: “I’m working late tonight”; “Your rugby training is cancelled”; “Where’s the 10 quid you owe me?”; “Can you return my entire collection of mugs, plates and glasses from your room, please??!!!” All sent by email because they have more chance of reaching his brain than actual, face-to-face human- being exchanges.

What has happened to my family? We’re in danger of never speaking to one another again …

I’m not kidding myself that we’d normally be gathered round the dining table discussing anything meaningful – with teenage hormones raging and parental resentment kicking in, I’ve become adept at translating grunts. But I’ve suddenly realized these kids have sucked me into their hi-tech way of doing things. Now I’m communicating with them via message boards, phones and computers – just like their friends.

Gone are the days when we tripped over each other in the kitchen or slumped happily against each other on the sofa to watch a family film. I should thank my lucky stars we had our children before the age of cheap laptops and mobile phones for primary school children, otherwise we might never have known those times.

Fast forward to 2010 and, with four computers in the house, it’s usual to find all five Hathers in five separate rooms, clicking or bashing away on the PlayStation. And when you’re chatting by email to friends in New Zealand, it seems reasonable to slip in a message to your child, sitting in front of his own computer a few yards away on the other side of the bedroom wall.

While we’re at it, why not use unlimited texts courtesy of our phone contracts as a kind of house intercom system? No more bellowing up the stairs – our boys leap on any incoming message with an urgency last seen when they were in short trousers. Crushing disappointment only hits when they realize the message is from mum or dad. I’ve even been known to send them a printed message in the television room, where we keep the wireless printer. As I work in my own office, I can still nag them in red 78-point Ariel Black upper-case letters: “TURN OFF THE PS3 AND GO AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!”

But with laptops before breakfast, mobiles left switched on by bedsides and iPods stuck in ears as they fall asleep, I do worry my sons will soon lose the power of speech entirely. When I was a kid, I would spend hours gossiping with my mates, hanging out down the shops discussing clothes, boys and other urgent matters. My children are often happy to stay in their rooms and converse by keyboard.

“Switch off the computer and get to bed,” I yell, as I get ready to turn off my own bedroom light.

“Yep, I’m just saying goodnight to my mates,” they tell me.

Should I resist the inevitable march of progress? Is it enough to use proper grammar and spell out text words in their entirety – much to my children’s amusement – or should I be communicating only when I can see the whites of their eyes? After all, I know I’m a hypocrite when it comes to the lure of the laptop … I used to start every day gazing at my children; these days I open my Mac before I open their doors.

Lisa Warner is a parenting expert whose website Fink (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids) produces conversation prompt cards for teenagers. She says you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “The way we communicate is changing and your family can’t live in a bubble and ignore technology,” she says. “But kids learn how to communicate from their parents and we lose all sorts of things – crucial body language for example – by not talking face to face.

“By all means make use of the new methods of communicating but make sure you take time to talk about things other than the daily routine.”

The Bercow report of 2008 warned that we were all going to hell in a handcart. “If a child is exposed to a relentless diet of TV and computer games and deprived of interaction at home, that is very damaging,” the soon to be House of Commons Speaker told the Guardian at the time. And 2011 is earmarked as the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

It’s falling on deaf ears in our house. The more gadgets that appear, the less we have to do with one another. The other night our street was plunged into darkness by a power cut and the boys were truly shocked. Once the excitement of candles and no showers had waned, the horror of the situation sank in and they slunk off to bed. Nothing better to do, you see.

The way they plan their social life has changed, too. Everything is left to the last minute because everyone can be reached immediately, no matter where they are. Hours of no visible or audible signs of communication with their friends are suddenly followed by a slammed front door as they react to an urgent message or email. “What time are you coming back????” I text after them as they disappear up the road. I leave my phone next to my pillow as I try to sleep–comforted only by a bleep-bleep of a response and an eventual key in the door.

Then there’s Facebook. My youngest tolerates me as a friend, but he has nothing to hide… yet. My eldest two won’t let me near them, though I’m sure I could easily hang around unnoticed among the thousands of friends they have somehow collected. Interestingly, some of their peers have added me as a friend and I often spy on my children from a distance. Oh, how I laughed when I read that my baby had thrown up into a gutter during one jolly jape. And don’t get me started on the photos… when did 15-year-old girls learn to pose like that?

It’s not just speech that is disappearing in our house. The handwritten word is an endangered species, too. My boys rarely trouble a ballpoint pen and homework is always produced on the computer; handwritten notes left for me are therefore no more than a scribble. I think back to my own school days, of aching fingers and 90-minute essay exams, and wonder how on earth these children manage when they are not used to holding a pen.

It’s a worry. But then one day you see their online work and hope is resuscitated. They can write, they can express themselves, they do still have a language–they just don’t do it or use it the same way we do. Last month, I asked my eldest son to email me his latest piece of English private study. It was a beautifully crafted piece of work based on Sebastian Faulks’s “Birdsong,” in which my boy used words and phrases I could only dream coming from his mouth. It was thoughtful, moving and nothing like the usual clipped language I get in his texts and emails. You see, it’s all there–it’s just lost inside the computer.

With keyboards or phone pads prompting most communication within the Hather house, it’s easy to forget we are still chatterboxes at heart. So I didn’t hold back when I told my son what I thought of his essay: “It’s really lovely,” I texted. (Quote source here.)

Do remember that this article was published nine years ago. And the issue has only escalated since that time. Does it sound familiar? It reminds me of a phrase that Jesus stated several times–“he who has ears to hear.” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer to what Jesus was meaning when he made that statement:

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of those who have “ears to hear” at the end of a difficult saying or parable (e.g., Matthew 11:15Mark 4:923). Who is “he who has ears to hear”? Better yet, who is “he who has ears”? Ears are a feature shared by all of humanity—to not have ears would be an unnatural occurrence. Therefore, when Jesus addresses those who have ears, He refers to all who have been given His words—no matter their age, ethnicity, language, or status.

But there is a difference between having ears and having “ears to hear.” Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed contrasts types of hearers: those who let the Word of God pass straight through their ears and those who truly listen and seek understanding (Mark 4:13–20). Some hear the Word, yet they do not allow it to take root because the seduction of worldly pleasures and comfort overcomes them. Others end up rejecting the Word because of persecution or trials. Others hear the Word and open themselves to understand and accept it so that it transforms them. Those who have “ears to hear” allow the Word to bear fruit to the glory of God. It is up to the hearer to decide whether to take the Word seriously and pursue understanding; only a few are willing—the rest have ears, but they do not have “ears to hear” (Matthew 7:13–1424–27).

Whenever Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is calling for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Speaking in parables was one way in which Jesus sought to gain the attention of the crowds–people love stories, and the parables depicted events and characters with which they could readily relate. But unless they were willing to tune out other distractions and come to Jesus to understand the meaning of His preaching, His words would be only empty stories. They needed more than ears, however keen they were; they needed ears to hear.

When asked by His disciples why He was speaking to the crowds in parables, Jesus refers to Isaiah 6, which speaks of people who have eyes and ears, yet who have hardened their hearts and chosen to ignore the Word of the Lord (Matthew 13:10–15; cf. Isaiah 6:8–10). Part of the judgment on those who refuse to believe is that they will eventually lose their opportunity to believe: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:12; cf. Romans 1:18–32).

A similar phrase is found in Revelation in each of the seven letters to the churches: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:71117293:61322). And in Revelation 13:9, immediately following a description of the Antichrist, we read, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The readers of Revelation are called upon to pay close attention and seek God’s wisdom concerning what’s written.

Who is “he who has ears”? The simple answer: all people who have been or are being given the words of God. Like the parables’ original audience, we must also “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Jesus’ simple request is that we use our God-given faculties (eyes to see, ears to hear) to tune in to His words (John 10:27 –28Mark 4:24Revelation 3:20). “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mark 4:22). Seeking God’s truth takes energy and focus; it takes a willingness to be challenged and changed. While the way of God’s truth is not the most convenient or fun path to take, we can be assured that it is the best one (John 1:410:914:6). And so He bids us, “Come” (Matthew 11:28 –30).

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:1–3). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above and taken from Revelation 2:71117293:61322Whoever has ears…

Let them hear . . .

What the Spirit says . . .

To the churches . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here