Smiling Faces

A smile can mean a lot of things. Dictionary.com defines smile as: (1) to assume a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor, or amusement, but sometimes derision or scorn, characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth, and (2) to regard with favor (quote source here). A smile can be a genuine show of happiness, gratefulness, approval or sincerity; or it can be sarcastic, sardonic, mean spirited or totally fake (as in the “smiling faces” mentioned in a 1972 song by The Staple Singers–YouTube Video is below).

In a devotion published on July 2, 2020, in Our Daily Bread titled, Talking Bananas,” by Jennifer Benson Schuldt, writer, blogger, and a contributor to Our Daily Bread, she writes about the encouraging side of a smile:

Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some school children in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on the fruit, which the kids dubbed “talking bananas.”

This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’ heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.

New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They’re full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.

Those of us who’ve walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard living for Jesus can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 22, 2019, titled, Beyond Real and Fake: 10 Main Types of Smiles and What They Mean,” by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, she writes:

Human beings smile for a number of reasons. You may smile when you spot your long-lost bestie in baggage claim, when you engage your co-workers during a presentation, or when you imagine your ex’s lawyer tripping on the way into the courthouse.

People are fascinated by smiles—all of them. From Mona Lisa to the Grinch, we’re captivated by those both genuine and fake. This enigmatic facial expression has been the subject of hundreds of studies.

Here’s what we know about the 10 different types of smiles, what they look like, and what they mean.

The social functions of smiling

One of the most useful ways to categorize smiles is according to their social function, or the purposes they serve in groups of people.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of smiles: smiles of reward, smiles of affiliation, and smiles of dominance.

A smile may be among the most instinctive and simple of expressions—just the hoisting of a couple of facial muscles. But as a form of social interaction and communication, a smile is complex, dynamic, and powerful.

Studies have shown that people are incredibly perceptive when it comes to reading and recognizing these smiles in social situations.

Many people are able to correctly identify which kind of smile they’re witnessing, and seeing certain kinds of smiles can have powerful psychological and physical effects on people.

The 10 types of smiles

Here are the 10 most common types of smiles:

1. Reward smiles

Many smiles arise from a positive feeling — contentment, approval, or even happiness in the midst of sorrow. Researchers describe these as “reward” smiles because we use them to motivate ourselves or other people.

Reward smiles involve a lot of sensory stimuli. Muscles in the mouth and cheeks are both activated, as are muscles in the eye and brow areas. More positive input from the senses increases the good feelings and leads to better reinforcement of the behavior.

For example, when a baby unexpectedly smiles at their mother, it triggers the dopamine reward centers in the mother’s brain. (Dopamine is a feel-good chemical.) The mother is thus rewarded for her baby’s apparent happiness.

2. Affiliative smiles

People also use smiles to reassure others, to be polite, and to communicate trustworthiness, belonging, and good intentions. Smiles like these have been characterized as “affiliation” smiles because they function as social connectors.

A gentle smile is often perceived as a sign of compassion, for example.

These smiles involve the upward pull of the lips, and according to researchers, often trigger dimpling in the cheeks.

According to research, affiliative smiles can also include a lip presser, where the lips remain closed during the smile. Keeping the teeth hidden might be a subtle reversal of the primitive tooth-baring aggression signal.

3. Dominance smiles

“Think” by Aretha Franklin in Blues Brothers Movie (1980) (see YouTube Video below).

People sometimes smile to show their superiority, to communicate contempt or derision, and to make others feel less powerful. You might call it a sneer. The mechanics of a dominance smile are different than reward or affiliative smiles.

A dominance smile is more likely to be asymmetrical: One side of the mouth rises, and the other side remains in place or pulls downward.

In addition to these movements, dominance smiles may also include a lip curl and the raising of an eyebrow to expose more of the white part of the eye, both of which are powerful signals of disgust and anger.

Studies show that the dominance smile works.

Researchers tested the saliva of people on the receiving end of a dominance smile and found higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, for up to 30 minutes after the negative encounter.

The study also found that the sneer raised heart rates among the participants. This kind of smile is a nonverbal threat, and the body responds accordingly.

4. The lying smile

If you’re looking for a foolproof lie detector, the face isn’t it. According to research, even the most experienced law enforcement officials only spot liars about half the time.

Nevertheless, there have been studies that revealed smile patterns among people who were actively trying to deceive others in high-stakes situations.

A 2012 study conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of people filmed while publicly pleading for the return of a missing family member. Half of those individuals were later convicted of killing the relative.

Among the deceivers, the zygomaticus major muscle—the one that pulls your lips into a smile—repeatedly fired. Not so with those who were genuinely grief-stricken.

5. The wistful smile

Anyone who has seen the 1989 movie classic “Steel Magnolias” will recall the cemetery scene when M’Lynn, played by Sally Fields, finds herself laughing raucously on the day she buries her daughter.

The sheer dexterity of human emotion is astonishing. So, we’re able to smile in the midst of both emotional and physical pain.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health think that the ability to smile and laugh during the grieving process protects you while you recover. Interestingly, scientists think we might smile during physical pain for protective purposes, too.

Researchers monitored the facial expressions of people who were undergoing painful procedures and found that they smiled more when loved ones were present than when they were alone. They concluded that people were using smiles to reassure others.

6. The polite smile

You dispense a polite smile surprisingly often: when you first meet someone, when you’re about to deliver bad news, and when you’re concealing a response you believe someone else won’t like. The list of social situations requiring a pleasant expression is a long one.

Most of the time, a polite smile involves the zygomaticus major muscle, but not the orbicularis oculi muscle. In other words, your mouth smiles, but your eyes don’t.

Polite smiles help us maintain a kind of discreet distance between people. Whereas warm smiles sparked by genuine feeling tend to draw us closer to others, that closeness isn’t always appropriate.

Lots of social situations call for trustworthy friendliness but not emotional intimacy. In those situations, researchers have found the polite smile is as effective as a heartfelt one.

7. The flirtatious smile

Dating, psychology, and even dental websites offer advice on how to use your smile to flirt with someone.

Some tips are subtle: Keep your lips together and lift an eyebrow. Some are coy: Smile while tipping your head down slightly. Some are downright comical: Smile with a little whipped cream or coffee froth on your lips.

While there’s a lot of cultural influence on these tips and comparatively little evidence to back their effectiveness, there’s proof that smiling makes you more attractive.

One study found that attractiveness is heavily influenced by smiling, and that a happy, intense smile can “compensate for relative unattractiveness.”

8. The embarrassed smile

An oft-quoted 1995 study found that a smile provoked by embarrassment is often accompanied by a downward tilt of the head and a shifting of the gaze to the left.

If you’re embarrassed, you’ll probably touch your face more often, too.

A 2009 study on embarrassed smiles did confirm the head movements. However, it didn’t confirm that people who are embarrassed usually smile with their mouths closed. Their smiles tend to not last as long as amused or polite smiles.

9. The Pan Am smile

This smile gets its name from the Pan Am flight attendants who were required to keep smiling, even when customers and circumstances made them want to throw peanut packets across the cabin.

Widely regarded as forced and fake, the Pan Am smile might have appeared extreme.

Studies show that when people are posing, they use extra effort to yank on their zygomaticus major muscle.

As a result, the corners of the mouth are extra high, and more of the teeth are exposed. If a posed smile is asymmetrical, the left side of the mouth will be higher than the right side.

If you’re one of the nearly 2.8 million people employed in the customer service industry, or if your job requires you to interact regularly with the public, you might want to reconsider relentlessly deploying the Pan Am smile, as it could affect your health.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that people who have to fake happiness regularly at work often end up drinking off the stress after they clock out.

10. The Duchenne smile

This one is the gold standard. The Duchenne smile is also known as the smile of genuine enjoyment. It’s the one that involves the mouth, the cheeks, and the eyes simultaneously. It’s the one where your whole face seems to light up suddenly.

Authentic Duchenne smiles make you seem trustworthy, authentic, and friendly. They’ve been found to generate better customer service experiences and better tips. And they’ve been linked to longer life and healthier relationships.

In a 2009 study, researchers looked at the intensity of smiles in college yearbook photos and found that women who had Duchenne smiles in their photos were more likely to be happily married much later.

In another study published in 2010, researchers examined baseball cards from 1952. They found that players whose photos showed intense, authentic smiles had lived much longer than those whose smiles looked less intense.

The takeaway

Smiles vary. Whether they express genuine bursts of feeling or they’re intentionally created to suit a specific purpose, smiles serve important functions in systems of human interaction.

They may reward behavior, inspire social bonding, or exert dominance and subservience. They can be used to deceive, to flirt, to maintain social norms, to signal embarrassment, to cope with pain, and to express rushes of sentiment.

In all their ambiguity and variety, smiles are one of the most powerful means we have of communicating who we are and what we intend in social contexts. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on February 2, 2020, titled Top Ten Reasons You Should Smile Everyday,” by Mark Stibich, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Xenex Healthcare Services, he writes:

Many see smiling simply as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or laughter. While this observation is certainly true, what most people overlook is that smiling can be just as much a voluntary response as a conscious and powerful choice.

Countless scientific studies have confirmed that a genuine smile is generally considered attractive to others around us. Other studies have shed light on how the act of smiling can elevate your mood and the mood of those around you.

A strong link has been found between good health, longevity, and smiling. Most importantly, studies have shown​ that just the act of smiling (making the physical facial shapes and movements), whether the result of real joy or an act, can have both short- and long-term benefits on people’s health and well being.

Still not convinced? Here are the top 10 reasons you should make a conscious effort to smile every day. [Note: the 10 reasons listed below have more detailed information that can be read at this link.]

    1. Smiling makes us attractive.
    2. Smiling releases stress.
    3. Smiling elevates our mood.
    4. Smiling is contagious.
    5. Smiling boosts your immune system.
    6. Smiling lowers your blood pressure.
    7. Smiling makes us feel good.
    8. Smiling makes you look younger.
    9. Smiling makes you seems successful.
    10. Smiling helps you stay positive.

Try this test: Smile. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Even when a smile feels unnatural or forced, it still sends the brain and ultimately the rest of our body the message that “Life is Good!” Stay away from depression, stress, and worry by smiling. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 6, 2020, titled, Smiling (Bible verses on smiling), by Fritz Chery at BibleReasons.com, he opens with the following:

Always put a smile on your face because it’s a very powerful weapon. I’m not talking about a cheesy fake one. I’m talking about a genuine smile of happiness. Instead of putting on a frown when in hard times which will only make you feel worse, turn that frown upside down.

I guarantee you if you do this, you will feel so much better. Remember God is always faithful. He will hold you up. Rejoice because all things work together for good. Uplift your life and think about all the great things God has done for you. Here are reasons why you should always be thankful.

Think about things that are honorable. Give God thanks and always smile, which shows strength. Bless someone’s life today by just giving them a smile and that alone can indeed uplift them. [Note: 16 Bible verses are listed in the article and can be read at this link.] (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with one of those 16 Bible verses mentioned in the above article: Proverbs 15:30a (NLT)…

A cheerful look . . .

Brings joy . . .

To the heart . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’ll Take You There” (1972) by The Staple Singers:

YouTube Video: “Think” (1980) by Aretha Franklin feat. The Blues Brothers:

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

Pray Without Ceasing

As the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest going on all across America continues, we find ourselves living in highly stressful times. One only needs to turn on the TV or go on any social media site to find plenty of reasons for our stress. In fact, a look at an article published on June 2, 2020 titled, Pandemic, Recession, Unrest: 2020 and the Confluence of Crises,” by Susan Milligan, Senior Political Writer at U.S. New and World Report is just one of a plethora of articles related to the current crises going on around America.

I find myself not wanting to turn on the news on TV very often anymore as I don’t want to add more stressful news to what I’ve already heard is going on out there; yet, a head in the sandapproach accomplishes nothing.

For Christians, our first avenue of defense is prayer. There is a lot of power in prayer, and it is not a static activity. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), Do 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.” 

“Anything” can be, well, anything… coronavirus, the unrest that is going on around the country, a job loss, a death in the family, uncertainty in any given situation. In fact, it can be any kind of upheaval big or small–the list of things that can cause us stress is endless.

In an article published on January 29, 2019 on Medium.com and titled, Living Words: Philippians 4:6-7,” by Lucas Quagliata, Marketing Strategist, he writes:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT)

This verse is special not only because of what it reveals about God, but also for how it empowers us in difficult times. We are told that speaking with God, telling Him what we need and praising Him for what He’s done, will allow us to experience a peace that goes beyond our own understanding, outside of what we can even imagine.

When we face hardship, this is a verse we can look to. When life overwhelms, this verse reminds us to turn to God, ask Him to help us, and think about the positives. The last of those may seem like an odd thing to do in times of trouble. Praising God in times of calamity isn’t our reflexive response.

I don’t believe that Paul, the author, tells us here to think about the positives because then our situation won’t seem that bad, or because it will take our minds off of the trouble, or anything like that. I think it’s more likely that it helps us to view things in a different light and begin to plot a way forward. What can we do to bring good into a negative situation? In a time of scarcity or lacking, what do we have to build with?

While this verse can bring comfort out of context, it can be understood more completely as part of the larger chapter. Paul goes on:

His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Paul reiterates that we should focus on the good, focus on building towards what is right. Even when our hearts are in the right place, it’s all too easy to begin with the negative. Paul says here to flip that on its head, to fix our thoughts on what is lovely, pure, and admirable, and to put those things into practice. Won’t that, in turn, crowd out and eliminate what ails us? By doing this, we add light to the darkness and we show ourselves and others the best way forward.

He then writes of how God has shown him how to live when times are great, and when they’re not. Whether he has a full stomach or is starving, when he has plenty or little. It’s worth reading the whole chapter. This ties in well with the idea that God provides us with a peace that goes beyond what we’re able to understand. After all, shouldn’t we feel more anxious when we’re feeling insecure? When we’re not healthy, or we’re experiencing financial hardship, or having problems with our relationships?

Human wisdom would tell us that we should be worried in those situations. But God tells us to spend time in prayer, to think of what we have, and to take action from a higher, enlightened perspective. By taking time to think things through and pray, we receive a calming guidance about where we are and what to do next. This allows us to center ourselves and face our troubles with confidence—a confidence that we ourselves may not even comprehend. This removes the power that the world claims to hold over us and gives that power to its rightful owner, The Lord above. (Quote source here.)

We tend to want to understand (and try to control) everything that is going on around us, and we don’t want to be kept in the dark about anything. However, life is full of complex, convoluted, and larger-than-our-own-lives situations that all too often we don’t understand and we can’t understand. Our understanding is finite. However, God’s understanding in infinite.

In an article published on June 2, 2016, titled, 9 Bible verses to help us understand how unlimited God is,” by Patrick Mabilog, contributor on ChristianToday.com, he writes:

In our own limited human understanding, we often find ourselves putting God in a box and limiting Him, but the Word of God tells us that we serve a God who is unlimited in power, capacity, knowledge, being, compassion, grace and holiness.

It’s been said that trying to understand the fullness of God is like trying to put the whole pacific ocean into a glass of water. It can never happen and it will never be possible. We will never truly understand God fully. How is He three Persons at once? How is He without beginning and end? How could He have created the world in just a few days?

We try to understand God, but there just comes a point where we leave the books on the table, put our hands up in worship and say, “Lord, how majestically unlimited you are.” Yes, it is indeed hard to imagine and basically impossible to truly fathom God’s whole being and person.  Yet we can trust that God is indeed limitless both in power and in His love for us.  When we really get a hold of that, we will realize how much we should never be afraid of anything in our lives.

Here are nine scriptures that will help you to stop putting God in a box and remember just how mighty and great He is.

1 Corinthians 2:9“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—”

Isaiah 55:9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Ephesians 1:18-19. “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength.”

Colossians 1:17. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Job 36:22-24. “God’s power is unlimited. He needs no teachers to guide or correct him. Others have praised God for what he has done, so join with them.”

Ephesians 3:19. “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

1 Kings 8:27. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!”

1 Timothy 6:16. “…who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

Psalm 147:5. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Quote source here.)

Back to the subject of prayer–prayer can take place anywhere, in any location, at any time, in any situation, and it does not have to be formal or even spoken out loud. I often pray silently. In answer to the question, What is prayer?” GotQuestions.org answers with the following:

The most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God.” Prayer is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God.

Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. All prayer must be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia puts it, “Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit” (“Prayer” by J. C. Lambert). The wicked have no desire to pray (Psalm 10:4), but the children of God have a natural desire to pray (Luke 11:1).

Prayer is described in the Bible as seeking God’s favor (Exodus 32:11), pouring out one’s soul to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:15), crying out to heaven (2 Chronicles 32:20), drawing near to God (Psalm 73:28, KJV), and kneeling before the Father (Ephesians 3:14).

Paul wrote, “Do 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” (Philippians 4:6–7). Worry about nothing; pray about everything.

Everything? Yes, God wants us to talk with Him about everything. How often should we pray? The biblical answer is “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We should keep a running conversation going with God all day long. Some find the ACTS formula of prayer helpful, but there is really no special formula for how to pray in the Bible. We should just do it. We can pray under any and all circumstances. Prayer develops our relationship with God and demonstrates our trust and utter dependence upon Him.

Prayer is the Christian’s way of communicating with God. We pray to praise God and thank Him and tell Him how much we love Him. We pray to enjoy His presence and tell Him what is going on in our lives. We pray to make requests and seek guidance and ask for wisdom. God loves this exchange with His children, just as we love the exchange we have with our children. Fellowship with God is the heart of prayer. Too often we lose sight of how simple prayer is really supposed to be.

When we make petitions to God, we let God know exactly where we stand and what we would like to see happen. In our prayers, we must admit that God is greater than we are and ultimately knows what is best in any given situation (Romans 11:33–36). God is good and asks us to trust Him. In prayer, we say, essentially, “Not my will, but your will be done.” The key to answered prayer is praying according to the will of God and in accordance with His Word. Prayer is not seeking our own will but seeking to align ourselves with the will of God more fully (1 John 5:14–15James 4:3).

The Bible contains many examples of prayer and plenty of exhortations to pray (see Luke 18:1Romans 12:12; and Ephesians 6:18). God’s house is to be a house of prayer (Mark 11:17), and God’s people are to be people of prayer: “Dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 1:20–21). (Quote source here.)

When stress tries to overwhelm us, the best and most immediate solution is to pray. In fact, we should pray even when we aren’t feeling stressful. We should pray when everything appears to be going right. We should pray no matter what our circumstances might be. And even if you have no clue what to pray or even the right words to pray, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB):

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

I also find myself praying Psalm 23 often and even in silence in my bed at night, and I personalize it:

Lord, You are my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
You makes me lie down in green pastures;
You leads me beside quiet waters,
and You restore my soul;
You guide me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
And my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

While 2020 has certainly given us a lot of challenges so far in the first six months, nothing is too hard for God. So if you’re feeling stressed out, take time to pray right now. God is always available. I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV): Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances….

For this is God’s will . . .

For you . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters:

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

A Virtual Memorial Day Celebration

Today is Memorial Day here in America. As stated on AARP’s website: “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know it, forcing us to alter our behavior for the sake of public health. Memorial Day is no exception. Although most parades and public events have been cancelled for this year’s Memorial Day, there are still ways to honor service members who lost their lives. We compiled a list of events and services that can help you observe the holiday from home or within your community.” (Quote source and their list of activities can be found at this link.)

I watched the National Memorial Day Concert on television yesterday that was broadcast on PBS, and it was excellent. It is available to watch on their website at this link, and it is one hour and 25 minutes in length. One of the songs performed during this concert is titled “Still a Soldier” and it is sung by Trace Adkins (YouTube video is at the bottom of this blog post).

There are several veterans in my family including myself, but I don’t count what I did as anything even remotely close to my other family members who served in the military. My dad and stepmother served in the U.S. Navy during World War 2 (and my dad remained in the Naval Reserve for 20 years after his active duty ended); my older brother served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and he was stationed in Saigon; and my stepbrother served in the U.S. Army for several years including being stationed in Germany. I served in the U.S. Army on a two-year enlistment they had at the time, and I was stationed in South Korea at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Three of them have passed on–my stepbrother died in 2008, my stepmother died in 2011, and my dad died a year ago in June 2019. While none of them died in active service, they were veterans at the time of their death, so I remember them on this day as well as on Veteran’s Day.

In an article titled, Memorial Day Meaning,” published on AllAboutHistory.org is the transcript of a speech given by President Ronald Reagan at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986. Here is that article and the transcript of President Reagan’s speech:

Memorial Day Meaning – The History

Each May, the United States celebrates a day called Memorial Day. Does Memorial Day have meaning? What is the history of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day was first widely observed in May 1868. The celebration commemorated the sacrifices of the Civil War and the proclamation was made by General John A Logan. Following the proclamation, participants decorated graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

In years since World War 1, the day has become a celebration of honor for those who died in all America’s wars, as well as those who are Veterans and current members of the US military.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday. The United States celebrates this holiday the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day Meaning – Reagan’s Speech

President Ronald Reagan is credited with reviving the practice of honoring Memorial Day and its meaning. One of his famous speeches was given at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986:

“Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

“I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

“Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

“Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, ‘I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.’ Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, ‘Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.’ [Laughter]

“Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

“Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on ‘Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.’ Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: ‘At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.’

“All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

“I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

“And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

“That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

“Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.” (Quote source here.) (YouTube video of Reagan’s speech is below.)

This Memorial Day is quieter then most due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions that are in place right now and many of the ceremonies have been held online. As we remember those service men and women who have died in service for our country or later on in life, and as we honor those veterans who are still alive; let us pray for God’s blessing on America, and ask for God’s protection over those who are servicing in all branches of our military. And may we never forget . . .

Freedom . . .

Isn’t . . .

Free . . . .

YouTube Video: Reagan’s Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia — 5/26/86:

YouTube Video: Trace Adkins Performing “Still a Soldier” at the 2020 National Memorial Day Concert:

YouTube Video: Moment of Remembrance (Taps) – Memorial Day 2020:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Silver Linings

For over six years now I’ve been trying to find an apartment to rent in an income-based senior apartment complex. I thought that search had finally ended about a month ago when I got a call from an income-based senior apartment complex in the area where I am currently living that had recently opened in 2017, and on my third try at trying to secure an apartment there, I was finally told there was an apartment available for me to rent. Wow. It’s been a very long time in coming.

I met with the assistant manager on April 21st and I filled out the application to rent the apartment and paid the application fee. I submitted all of the paperwork required on my income/finances, and I was told the apartment was available for me to rent on either May 8th or May 15th. I chose May 8th.

I was sent my new address for that apartment via email also on April 21st along with the information I needed to set up utilities and internet/cable in that apartment starting on May 8th, but I had not yet been given a lease to sign. So I didn’t call the utilities company or the cable/internet company yet as it was not “official” as I had not been given a lease to sign nor had I received keys to the apartment.

About a week before I was scheduled to move in I received a communication from the assistant manager that their compliance department requested me to submit complete monthly statements on the two assets I had listed on the application. I had submitted summary statements regarding these two assets at the time of my application, and I had been told that the summary statements would be fine. However, the compliance department requested to see the full monthly statements on both assets that consisted of 23 pages, so I submitted them to the assistant manager. This occurred one week before I was scheduled to move in.

I inquired on that Monday of the week I was scheduled to move in (just this past week) if everything was still in order for me to move in on May 8th. I still has not heard back from the assistant manager regarding when I would be signing the lease and receiving keys to the apartment. I had not yet even seen the apartment as I was told by the assistant manager it would not be ready for me to see until the maintenance staff had completed work in the apartment after the previous tenant vacated it on April 30th.

I should note that I had no furniture to move into the apartment as I lost all of my furniture 11 years ago when I lost a job in Texas and I had to move back to state I previously lived in a year earlier (Florida) where I had lived before accepting that job in Houston that only lasted seven months, and I could not afford to move my furniture back to Florida as I was unemployed, so I gave it away to a inner-city ministry in Houston.

With no furniture to move into this apartment that I was about to acquire, between April 21st when my application for that apartment was submitted, and leading up to the day I was scheduled to move into the apartment, I went looking for furniture to buy. However, I did not order any furniture during that time as I was still waiting to sign a lease.

Exactly one day before I was scheduled to move into this apartment I received an email from the assistant manager stating that after reviewing my 23 pages of documentation, the compliance department stated that I was no longer eligible to rent that apartment as the monthly income they determined me to have from those documents (and not the actual monthly income I live on and I proved to them that it was my only income) was more then I was allowed to have to rent that apartment. So, at the last minute I ended up losing that apartment.

For six years I’ve been looking for affordable senior housing in which I have been placed on several waiting lists in two different states, but I never heard back from any of them even when I called to inquire where I stood on their waiting lists. And now, when I am finally told an apartment has opened up that I can rent (as I mentioned above I’ve gone to that complex looking to rent an apartment three times since they opened in 2017), at the last minute it falls through.

To say the very least, a silver lining can be very hard to find in a situation like this one. However, being an eternal optimist, I’ve gone looking for one. My optimism is firmly planted in reality, too, as I do not believe in a “Pollyanna” or “pie in the sky” type of optimism as there are plenty of forces in our world that try to hold people back from moving forward, and history is replete with examples.

In an article published on April 3, 2014, titled, For Christians, a silver lining to losing the culture war?” by Matt K. Lewis, a political writer and commentator, blogger, podcaster, and senior columnist for The Daily Beast, formerly with The Daily Caller, and contributor with The Week, he writes:

As I wrote last year, the culture war is over, and conservatives lost. For Christians, though, there might just be a silver lining.

Now, of course, it’s understandable why many of my fellow cultural conservatives mourn the decline of Christian values in the public arena, inasmuch as they had a powerful influence on the rise of western civilization. Historians like Rodney Stark and sociologists like Mary Eberstadt (and many others) have chronicled this phenomenon. It’s not simply about “losing power and market share,” but mourning the very real downstream effects of secular liberal policies on issues such as defending the unborn.

But there are reasons for Christian conservatives to be optimistic about these societal changes, too. For one thing, the good times weren’t always so good. The peak of “Christian America” was probably the 1950s, and while this era had a veneer of spirituality and perhaps the post-war evangelical movement was at its apogee (think Billy Graham), America was plagued by the ugly reality of racism, which goes against the gospel. In many ways, the 1950s was a gilded age. While a lot of Americans presented themselves as Ward Cleaver, they drank and philandered like Don Draper.

In the 1960s and beyond, the rejection of Christianity was a logical extension for young people rebelling against the culture’s sterility and their parent’s phoniness. This was an ironic turn of events for a faith that began as a very revolutionary, counter-cultural movement about sacrifice and (yes, sometimes) suffering. But at some point, rather than being a dangerous choice, Christianity became the perfunctory, convenient, de rigueur even, choice of lemmings—and the way to gain the approval of the phony establishment, not unlike joining the Elks Lodge upon moving to a new town.

Eventually, in many parts of the country, the church became an almost wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, which pushed to return America to its Judeo-Christian heritage. This was a noble goal, but there might have been some unintended consequences. When religion enjoys the imprimatur of the state, it risks being corrupted and co-opted. Do Christians really want the state leading their children in prayer?

None of this, of course, is appealing to romantic young people who want to be boldly called to something larger than their own self interest. For this reason, we have seen the decline of mainline churches in America coincide with the rise of Christianity in other (less welcoming) parts of the world. And for this reason, I suspect, we have seen more and more young Christians checking out of politics.

That’s why the loss of the culture war is an opportunity rather than a crisis. It is in times like these—when there is a stark cleavage between the world and believers—that Christianity typically grows and rediscovers its purpose.

Just as political parties wrestle with whether or not it’s better to be a big tent, or (to paraphrase Reagan) to fly “a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors,” there is an argument that “nominal” Christians cause more problems than solutions. In politics, numbers matter, of course, and Christians who are still looking for a political savior may view this trend as bad news. But for Christians focused on something more transcendent—saving souls and winning real converts—there is a silver lining to losing the culture.

Consider this Christian Post article, citing Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:

While Americans have traditionally viewed church participation as necessary for acceptance in their communities, Moore believes that will no longer be the case. This means that there will be fewer “nominal Christians,” or those who call themselves Christian but are not committed to the faith. With this “reverse rapture” of nominal Christians leaving the Church, Moore sees an opportunity for the Church to rediscover its true mission. [Christian Post]

The problem of “nominal” Christianity seems to have observable societal consequences, too. In his latest column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat hints at it, observing that “the social goods associated with faith flow almost exclusively from religious participation, not from affiliation or nominal belief.”

Another possible silver lining: As Christianity recedes as the dominant cultural paradigm, it might also have the ironic affect of sparking a renewed interest and curiosity about spirituality. Absence, I suppose, can make the heart grow fonder. With Noah triumphing at the box office, and a new show called Resurrection on ABC (a show filled with biblical allusions), it would be easy to conclude that a disenchanted and dispirited nation—having given up hope that salvation will come in the form of traditional American institutions—is yearning for some sort of spiritual fulfillment.

Christ promised that genuine Christianity would be met with opposition. And the entire book o1 Peter was written for this purpose: How do we live as a faithful minority? I don’t think anyone should be rooting for persecution, of course, but I do think there may be some very positive developments to come from a nation that no longer pretends to be Christian. It’s hard to be a rebel when you’re The Man. (Quote source here.)

I do realize that this article does not specifically relate to my six-plus-years failed housing search, but then maybe again it does. Let’s continue on with that train of thought started by Matt K. Lewis above.

In an articled published on March 29, 2020, titled, The silver lining: Finding an upside in today’s crisis,” by Dave Edgren, pastor and author, he writes:

I don’t believe God sends calamities. God didn’t send the coronavirus.

What I do believe is this: The Holy Spirit is busy insulating clouds with silver linings.

In the first hundred years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Church went viral. It grew exponentially. The Great Commission was infiltrating families, towns, countries and continents.

Jesus’ disciples grew in number daily.

And they did it in homes.

That’s right. Every church was a house church. The church spread like wildfire because the church was liquid. Then our ancestors turned the church into a solid. They built walls around it—both theological and physical walls. They set it in stone. They bricked God in. Sure, they put in doors and stained-glass windows, but cathedral doors are often locked and theological stained-glass windows are always closed. The church of the Middle Ages restricted access to God.

Then the reformation decentralized the church, allowing denominational divisions to thrive. Now, the world hosts over 30,000 distinct Christian denominations!

And yet, Jesus said to His Father, “May they be one as we are one.” Paul riffed on this prayer of Jesus, saying: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

So, here we are in 2020. Governments in dozens of countries have restricted mass gatherings due to the rapidly spreading COVID-19. Sporting teams played games to empty stadiums attended only by TV cameras, but now most codes have cancelled their seasons altogether. Pop stars cancelled concerts. Places of worship have been closed. Mosques. Temples. Synagogues. Churches. The clouds hang low, blanketing the world in fear. The 30,000 Christian denominations that meet in some 15 million church buildings around the globe have nowhere to go.

Or do they?

The Holy Spirit is unrestricted and goes wherever He wishes, like wind through trees.

Have you ever flown through a cloud? We are in one now. Can you see the silver lining?

Millions of Christians headed home. Not to do church but to be the church. Christianity, for a month or two, is going back to its roots. People meeting in homes. Families worshiping together in sincerity. No sound systems. No professionals professing. The body of Christ is returning to the lounge room. Just people. At home. Snuggled into fluffed up couches, holding steaming drinks. And sharing their hearts.

God didn’t send the COVID-19. But when the “corona cloud” enveloped us, God said, “I’ll take it!” And He sent His Spirit with silver paint and a message: “Where two or three are gathered, God is with you.” (Quote source here.)

“Liquid” –as in fluid and not static or confined. “Unrestricted–like wind through trees.” I like that thought. Sans any furniture of my own, or a year-long lease that I would have had a legal obligation to keep for the next year had I been able to rent that apartment, I am still very much “fluid and unrestricted.” I’m not tied down to any particular place for any set period of time. And where I am currently staying I pay rent by the week, and it came furnished, too. And that means more options are open to me then are closed to me. And that is a very big silver lining.

James 4:13-17 states, Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

I’ll end this post with 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: “Freedom” by Jesus Culture:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Still Rolling

I made an interesting discovery this morning. My blog has been hacked by someone who is making comments on other bloggers’ blog posts but linking them to my blog. This is not me. See comments section in this blog post where she has posted a comment using my blog site’s URL link and my blog site’s name (click here).

How I discovered this was happening is that the blogger who wrote a blog post that the above mentioned hacker commented on using my blog’s name and blog’s URL decided to follow my blog as the result of that comment that was not written by me. This morning I got an email from WordPress stating that this blogger was now following my blog, so I decided to read his latest blog post. I really liked it and he has a very good sense of humor, so I decided to make a comment, and that is when I discovered that someone else using my blog’s name and URL link but using their own picture had already commented on it yesterday. After the initial shock wore off (that someone had hacked my blog), I decided to post my own comment and let the blogger know that the previous comment on his post was made in my blog’s name and using my blog’s URL but her picture was posted instead of mine and the comment was not from me.

The title of that blog post that was published yesterday (May 1st)  is dEAr mE,” and it’s posted on a blog titled, little big things,” by a blogger named Allan Nyombi.  He starts off his blog post by writing by a letter addressed to “Dear me, One day I will write a book…” He goes on to discuss the various topics he might write about like writing about young people, but then nixes that topic as his knowledge regarding young people is limited. The next topic he brings up is writing about children because he used to be a Sunday School teacher, but then he nixes that topic, too. He then approaches the subject of “farming” and “food” as he loves to eat, but he know little about farming so he nixes that idea.

His next topic idea is church as he says it has defined his entire life. He mentions that Sunday School was fun, as was the porridge that Br. Stephens brought every Sunday. He also states:

“It made learning about God worthwhile. And then the plays we acted in. Rose acting as General Naaman. Then came the teen years where confusion rained in. My silly mind started questioning whether God actually existed. If he did, then why do bad things happen? You quickly forgot all that was taught in Sunday school. Porridge just. Didn’t they tell you that sin is here because man disobeyed? Had you forgotten Adam and Eve and the talking serpent? Pause! A woman actually had a conversation with a talking snake! Fear women. But anyway, I can’t write about the church.” (Quote source here.)

However, his next statement, still regarding the church, is this:

“My beef with the church just ended the other day when I got to know Christ personally. How could the church have pulled me in different directions like that? You go for this conference that promises that ‘this is it’. You pray, listen, pay, try everything the man of God said and still it doesn’t work. And the preacher has already left town so you can’t ask him why it didn’t work. You wonder if indeed the man of God had actually heard God! My friend the other day was looking for the pastor that told him this year was going to be his year. I won’t write about the church. So much has already been written about it.” (Quote source here.)

So he nixes that idea as a topic, too. His next topic idea is on relationships. And then he laughs. “Ha ha ha,” he writes–bad idea. At this point he ends his blog post with the following:

What shall I write about then? I guess I will figure it out tomorrow. Tomorrow I will sit and think through a topic. I will switch off the TV and concentrate. Should I wait after the repeat of the arsenal game? Maybe. Who knows, Arsenal may somehow win. Maybe I will first re-watch my favorite animation, home, so am relaxed.

Tomorrow, I will figure it all out.

For a second, pause and think deeply about the most important things in your life. What are the top three things that matter most in your life right now? Can you write them down? How much time we are spending on these things? Are we giving them the care, the time, the energy that they deserve?

Is your top most goal receiving the best and most time of your day? 

Why do we find ourselves majoring on the minor? We are living in a world where books have been written advising us on how to prioritize our days, apps developed to aid in prioritization and practices invented to ensure that we keep the most important thing as the most important things. Yet we still don’t have time for the most important things in our lives. In coming parts, I will engage in practical ways we can overcome the monster called procrastination. (Quote source here.)

Bet you didn’t expect that ending. I sure didn’t. I thought his blog post was splendid. Seriously! I loved it! And the woman/hacker who wrote a comment using my blog’s identity and my blog’s URL link but using her picture was right on point with her comment, so why did she feel the need to use my blog’s name and URL to write her comment? Nice to know I have hackers at work using my online identity.

Procrastination is a killer, but we all do it. Amazing we aren’t all dead yet from our own proclivity to procrastinate, right? (Just a little humor.) In an article titled, 80 Procrastination Quotes to Get You Focused,” by Quincy Seale, KeepInspiring.Me‘s lead editor and content writer, he writes:

Over the years, I’ve come to accept that I’m a natural procrastinator. No matter how much I want to avoid it, its just my nature. Whenever there’s something that needs to be done–whether its big or small, important or irrelevant–my instinct is to “start later” or “put it off until tomorrow”.

I’ve come to accept that–no matter how much I want to avoid it–there will always be times when I’ll find myself frantically slaving away on a task that should have been finished yesterday, last week, or even months ago.

Of course, there are definitely times when I need to get some real work done and overcome my tendencies to procrastinate. When I do, I like to check out procrastination quotes from amazing people who took action and accomplished incredible things in their lives.

Of course, reading quotes instead of actually getting started on an important task is a form of procrastination itself, but after a few quotes I usually find myself pumped enough to get working.

Here are some quotes about procrastination to get you motivated to work–and maybe even a few quotes that will have you thinking a little delay isn’t always a bad thing. (NOTE: I’m not posting all 80 quotes on this blog post–I’m only posting a few.)

Quotes About Procrastination

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” –Theodore Roosevelt

“Getting an idea should be like sitting on a pin; it should make you jump up and do something.” –E.L. Simpson

“Following-through is the only thing that separates dreamers from people that accomplish great things.” –Gene Hayden

“The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action.” –Alexander Graham Bell

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon–instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today.” –Dale Carnegie

“Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today because if you enjoy it today, you can do it again tomorrow.” –James A. Michener

“Perhaps the most valuable result of an education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.” Thomas Huxley. (Quote source here, and click this link to read the rest of the quotes on procrastination.)

Perhaps at times our procrastination stems from not knowing what to do when a certain situation arises and we honestly don’t know how to tackle it. In an article on Forbes titled, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do,” by Francis MacIntosh, Forbes Councils member, she writes:

We’ve all been there: knowing we need to make a choice, but not knowing how. When our brain feels clogged with too many options, choosing just one sends us into a panic.

So, we don’t make a decision. This leaves us feeling stuck, bringing with it feelings of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. In other words, vulnerable.

Feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed could be a red flag, a time when we need to pause and intentionally think of what the next step looks like. In fact, many companies now offer personal or mental health days, acknowledging the importance of self-care which is fantastic. But what can we do when we can’t take time away or need to move forward in the moment? What if we don’t want to reach out for help? How can we get back on track and out of our heads?

It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the answer is this: Stop over-complicating things and just keep it simple. When you stop overthinking, it’s so much easier to move forward and get out of the rut.

Exercise.

There is a wealth of evidence-based research that shows exercising boosts your mood. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that give you a natural “high.” Ever wonder why runners smile? They’re high on endorphins!

For the most impact, exercise outside, taking advantage of the sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D. Even just a short walk around the block will release serotonin and other endorphins. No need to get sweaty to clear your mind–just get moving.

Smile.

Did you know that you can smile your mind into a different outlook? Smiling releases a group of feel-good hormones–endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin–acting as a natural pain medication and an antidepressant for the brain. The simple act of smiling can help change your perspective.

An added bonus? Not only is a smile the accessory that goes with everything, it’s contagious. When we’re making ourselves feel better, we make others feel better too, putting them at ease with something as simple as a smile.

Unplug.

We are way too connected to technology today. Switching off your cell phone or computer will allow you to become more creative. As Simon Sinek highlights, when we disconnect from technology, we allow our minds time to wander and access different perspectives within our own thoughts. When we’re not constantly “plugged in,” we can find solutions for problems that we thought there were no solutions for. We become more energized, seeing things around us that would otherwise be lost.

One last word about unplugging, remember that walk around the block I mentioned? Leave your phone at the office and look up and at the world around you. Clarity could be in the trees!

Watch an inspirational movie.

This is one of my all-time favorite things to do when I feel stuck: go to the movies by myself. Being an introvert, this allows me to just be. No worries about having a conversation, no concern if the other person is enjoying the movie or not. It’s a place to just be, watch inspiring stories and recharge.

Movies aren’t your thing? That’s OK. Find something that raises your energy, clears your mind and allows you to focus on something outside of you to give your mind space.

Get candid feedback.

Often, when we don’t know what to do, we miss ideas, solutions or next steps that are right in front of us. Getting honest feedback from a trusted friend, colleague or coach–who we know has our best interest at heart–can help us see a different perspective or uncover a blind spot. This opens our mind up to more clearly see our options.

Revisit your core values.

When stuck, go back to your core values. These are the foundation of who you are and act as an anchor, keeping you grounded when life gets crazy, scary or uncertain. If you’re not making decisions from your core values, this could be what’s keeping you stuck. If not, recenter on your core values and move forward from there.

Do the very next easy thing.

Sometimes we get stuck or overwhelmed because we are looking at our goal without defining the steps it takes to get there. If you’re focusing on the financial side of a project because you know it’s important, but you’re feeling stuck because you don’t know how to reach your goal, stop! Simply ask, “What is the one next easy step? Delegating tasks? Collecting quotes? Going for a walk?” Look at the next stop, not the end goal.

Being stuck or overwhelmed is human, we all do it or feel it at times. The secret is to not stay in that place. Feel the discomfort, process the “data,” rest, refuel, refocus, and do the very next thing to move yourself forward. Don’t overthink this–it could be as simple as a smile. (Quote source here.)

So, what do to when you don’t know what to do? Beware of hackers (well, at least in my case) and exercise, smile, and unplug…. And remember that…

God . . .

Is still . . .

In control . . . .

YouTube Video: “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Time and Tide

“Time and tide wait for no man.” The meaning of this proverb is “if you don’t make use of a favorable opportunity, you may never get the same chance again” (quote source here). At this point we need to understand what, exactly, a favorable opportunity looks like. What looks good on the outside may not be so good after all. And if you choose it and it turns out poorly, what then? I did that once with a job I accepted, and it totally altered my life in very unexpected ways that I never could have foreseen, and not for the better.

We’ve all had these types of conundrums show up in our lives from time to time. “The definition of conundrum is a situation where there is no clear right answer or no good solution” (quote source here). Perhaps it is best to remember that saying, “all that glitters is not gold,” and not to move too quickly on what on the surface looks like it is a great opportunity. It may or it may not be.

As Christians, we have a powerful resource at our disposal and it’s called prayer. All of us have a tendency to move forward when an opportunity presents itself that, on the surface, seems favorable. In my personal example in the first paragraph above regarding the job I took that didn’t turn out well, I did spend a lot of time praying about it, and I did feel like it was something I was supposed to do. And even in spite of the poor outcome, I can honestly say at this point in my life that it wasn’t necessarily a mistake on my part that I accepted that job even with the impact it has had on the past decade of my life since I lost that job eleven years ago. God’s ways go far beyond our particular “wants” in life (see Isaiah 55:8-9). His purposes prevail regardless of how things turn out from our own perspectives and in our own circumstances.

There must be a zillion articles on praying for guidance from God on the internet. Often when I don’t know what to pray I find myself going to the Psalms and praying a psalm and making it personal as in praying, “Lord, You are my Shepherd, I shall not want” (from Psalm 23). The entire psalm goes like this when I make it personal:

Lord, You are my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
You make me to lie down in green pastures;

You lead me beside still waters.
You restore my soul;

You lead me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod (to protect me) and Your staff (to guide me),
They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Even when a situation might not specifically fit that particular psalm, I find it has an incredibly calming effect when making any kind of decision or just needing guidance in moment-by-moment situations.

Over my lifetime I have heard people who pray prayers that are so eloquent, passionate, poetic; yet, I must admit I do not consider my prayers to be in those categories. Well, maybe passionate but in a private way and not necessarily for public consumption. I’m often at a loss for words when praying about specific situations or people whereas for others those prayers just flow out of them like water. That may have been when I started using the psalms in prayer instead of trying to come up with my own words. God knows my heart, so He knows I don’t often know how I should pray about any situation, other then I ask for His will to be done whether in the lives and situations of others or for myself.

At the time of this writing we are in the midst of a world pandemic known as COVID-19 and much of our society is on “stay at home” orders. As of this past week, over 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past month from all of the businesses that have been closed down during this time. Millions of lives have been turned upside down from shutting down much of our society, and also those directly affected by the coronavirus who are sick and many who have died. And there are also all of the health care workers and others working 24/7 to provide help and supplies for the sick and everyone else still in need of groceries and other necessary items on a regular basis.

In an article published on August 1, 2016, titled, What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” by Ricky Alcantar, Lead Pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX , he gives some great advice that can be applied to any circumstance and situation. He writes:

There are times we simply don’t know what to do.

Perhaps a doctor calls after a routine test and says “You’re going to need to come back into the office and it’s important.” Perhaps a family member or friend calls and says “I don’t know if I even believe in the Bible anymore.” Perhaps a boss calls you into his office and you leave without a job. Perhaps the events of the last few weeks in our country are really personal for you: perhaps you fear the comments that kids at school will make about the color of your child’s skin, or you fear for a loved one who wears a badge. Perhaps you’re even normally a pretty strong person but you find that your strength is woefully inadequate for you what see in front of you.

I remember this feeling last year when the first two medical bills arrived. We were still paying for the expenses related to the birth of our last son when bills arrived for an emergency surgery and then another hospitalization. They were big. Not “we need to go on a cheaper date night for a while” big, but “Oh my gosh how are we even going to make it??” big. I remember feeling angry, defeated, frustrated. Wasn’t I trying to serve the Lord? How in the world were we supposed to get through this?

There’s a verse I love for times like this. It’s tucked away into 2 Chronicles 20. The king of Judah, faced with multiple armies arrayed against him, knew he was outmatched. This was a time of military strength and economic strength in Judah. But the nation’s strength wasn’t enough. And possibly even more frustrating, this was a time of judicial and religious forms where the king was trying to return to correct worship of the Lord. It seemed like the king and nation were doing what they were supposed to, and suddenly their circumstances seemed far worse rather than better.

It’s at this time that King Jehoshaphat leads the nation to pray: “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron 20:12).

Our Strength is Not Our Strength

Notice how the king comes to the Lord: confessing his need and weakness. He does not go out and count his men again (though I’m sure he called them to war). He doesn’t try to come up with the perfect long-shot strategy (though I’m sure someone was working on that). The first thing he does is renounce his own strength and seek the Lord’s strength. He prays “I don’t know why this is happening or what to do–I need you, Lord.” That’s not spiritual weakness, that’s spiritual maturity.

One of the hardest things for us as American Christians with homes and cars and health insurance, with the best economy and the most advanced military, is to come to a place of dependence on the Lord. When God brings us to a place of utter dependence we think we are dying, when in reality God is bringing us to life. We think that our strength is our strength, but that is a lie. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that it’s when we are weak, and utterly dependent on the Lord, that we are strong. Being overwhelmed by circumstances is one of the healthiest places to be if we will acknowledge our insufficiency and go to the right place.

But where do we turn next?

Our Eyes Need Filling

After confessing his weakness the king intentionally fills his eyes with the Lord. Does Jehoshaphat ask for God’s help? Yes. But most of his prayer is simply him rehearsing the truth about God. In moments of severe trial our eyes will be filled with something–that’s inevitable. In a moment when his eyes could be filled with the enemy arrayed against him, or filled with his own insufficient resources, he fills his eyes with God.

In the face of medical bills, I realized something about myself: if I didn’t intentionally choose what to focus my mind on I would naturally drift back to the bills, or over to the budget. I couldn’t just choose to focus on something else and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The only thing that worked was when I filled my eyes with something else before my mind drifted to the budget. I had to intentionally, and daily, fill my eyes so full of God that there was no room for anxiety. This, I think, is what the king is leading his people to do in a moment of great need.

What about God–what does he fill his eyes with?

God’s power for his powerless people. He prays “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (6). The nation of Judah is overwhelmed but the God who rules over every earthly kingdom is not. His resources aren’t limited–he holds unlimited power and might in his hands. Whether we are facing a debilitating illness or social unrest or economic upheaval, none of them are outside of God’s rule or beyond his power.

God’s unique covenant relationship to his weak people–He prays to the “God of our fathers” and then remembers, “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (7). God does not simply have a business relationship with his people, a “take a number” relationship, but a warm intimate personal relationship. He has set his covenant love on them. He calls we who are in Christ (even us!) his friends. We may not understand our circumstances or what God has allowed, but we can be sure his heart and relationship toward us have not changed from his generations of covenant faithfulness and love.

God’s glory in his endangered people–He prays “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” This is a dangerous prayer. He is committing to defend the temple to the very end if the invasion continues because God’s name is in the house. Is he concerned with what will happen to the people and their homes and land? Yes. But what he is most concerned with is the name of God and the glory of God.

He is concerned with the nation’s survival because God’s name is tied to his people. He is praying “Lord help us make your name great on the earth” and committing to it himself. That is a dangerous prayer, but a prayer that fills our eyes with the glory of God. Whether circumstances go as we hope or not, we should pray that God’s name be made great. But in this prayer we can have confidence because God has tied his glory to the good of his people.

There is much more in the king’s prayer but these three things provide a starting place for us. We too can fill our eyes with God’s power, his faithful covenant love, and his glory.

How Do We Do This?

This is where you’ll be disappointed in this post. There is no “One secret weird trick that will change everything” for you. What did Jehoshaphat do? He prayed. What must we do when we don’t know what to do? There are many practical things to do, but let us start with prayer.

A lack of prayer reveals extreme self-sufficiency. Prayer reveals a God-sufficiency. Prayer does two glorious things at once: it both acknowledges our great insufficiency, and then it fills our eyes with God. Praying about my medical bills meant I had to stop trying to come up with a brilliant financial plan for a moment. By coming to the Lord, I had to acknowledge “Father I’m not sure what to do.” But rather than feeling weaker and more defeated, I felt stronger and more sure. Because that very prayer reminded me that I have a heavenly Father, a Father who is sufficient, who loves me, whose name is great.

Today, friend, do you find yourself overwhelmed and not knowing what to do? That’s a perfect place to confess your insufficiency and cling to the Lord. Could you take a moment and go to him in prayer right now? (Quote source here.)

I hope this article has been an encouragement to you. It was to me. I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For my yoke is easy . . .

And my burden . . .

Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Just Need U” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Power of Silence

It’s time to shift gears at least for a few minutes from the constant 24/7 news coverage regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that is going on around the world right now. So let’s get started….

Back on August 2, 2019, I published a blog post titled, The Sound of Silence .” The post was regarding a new book that had been published titled, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, founder of Key Life Network, host on the radio talk show, “Steve Brown, Etc.”, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a former pastor, and author of over a dozen books. As I was trying to find a project to fill up some of my stay-at-hometime (also known as shelter-in-place) during this coronavirus pandemic, I ran across Steve’s book again and I started rereading it. In the previous blog post mentioned above, I quoted from a couple of chapters including Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,” (Chapter 3).

Picking up where I left off back in August from Chapter 3, I’d like to start off this blog post with the last subsection in that chapter titled “Speaking the Truth in Silence” (pp. 30-31):

Sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking. There are some things Christians cannot say without words, but there are other matters that are only confused by words. My wife, who is a musician, has often said to me that music is the universal language. Sometimes it is best to remain silent and hear the language of music. Just so, sometimes it is best to speak the language of silence.

It is a cliché, but nevertheless there is some truth to believing that Christians are the only Bible unbelievers ever read. However, with due respect to that point of view, let me say that most of us sin so much, betray our principles so often, and fail so obviously in our Christian walk that the message is mixed and muddled.

But what if we remained silent by not defending ourselves? What if we remained silent when others are condemning those whose lifestyles, politics, or religious views are deemed unacceptable? What if we remained silent and refused to be the social, political, and religious critic of every opinion that wasn’t our own? What if we remained silent in the fact of rejection? What if we refused to share the secrets we’ve been told or tell the stories we’ve overheard? What if we remained silent and overlooked the foibles of others? What if we looked at the pain of our neighbor and just loved him or her, instead of trying to fix the unfixable? What if our response to confusion, fear, and guilt was simply, “I know”?

There is a powerful witness in that kind of silence. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 30-31).

Why is it that silence is so hard for us to practice? We live in a culture that is very fast paced (or at least it was before this coronavirus pandemic hit last month) and where everyone has an opinion on just about anything that comes up in the news, on social media, regarding politics and lifestyles, and in everyday conversations with others. Social distancing has limited our everyday conversations with others we used talk with in public settings on a daily basis for the time being, but it hasn’t limited our social media or smartphone interactions. We still have plenty of opportunities to give our opinions to others.

In an article published on May 14, 2015, titled, 5 Reasons to Be Silent,” by William Ross, a doctoral candidate in Old Testament at the University of Cambridge, he writes:

Silence is not highly valued in modern culture. When it comes to communication, it seems that we value quantity above all. And in our digital world it only gets easier to add your own voice to the cacophony. I recently read about a new book that suggests the act of writing is outstripping the act of reading in the digital age.

Whether e-mailing or snapchatting or podcasting or hash-tagging, we live in an age distinguished by noise. Not silence.

Church as Faithful Proclaimer

Of course, speaking is at the center of the Christian vocation as well. There is a range of biblical reasons to speak instead of being silent (e.gPs. 32:3; 35:22; 39:2Jer. 4:19Mt. 20:31Lk. 19:40Acts 18:9). Most importantly, we proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:19-20). Paul asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14c).

Yet I want to dwell here on the ways that Scripture counsels God’s people to be silent, and the blessings that come with it.

Five Biblical Reasons to be Silent

1. Obedience 

Simply put, you can’t obey if you are not silent to listen. This is true on a physical level, but also a spiritual one. Scripture symbolically links our hearts with what comes out of our mouths (Mt. 12:34Lk. 6:45). To extend the metaphor, only when we silence our heart are we in a place to hear—to receive God’s instruction—and obey.

Moses highlights this idea in one of his final speeches as he underscores Israel’s call to obey all of the Lord’s commandments (Deut. 27:1-10). That requirement is rooted in their identity as God’s people: no longer slaves, but God’s own inheritance (32:9). Moses puts an exclamation point on his speech with the sharp exhortation: “Be silent and hear, O Israel!” (27:9).

So God’s commandments and our obedience are hinged together by spiritual silence before the King. Conversely, disobedience is the uproar of indwelling sin as our heart denies who we are in Christ. This principle holds in a general way not just for God’s people, but all of his creation, including demons (Mk. 1:25//Lk. 4:35).

2. Self-Control

The silence linked with obedience also manifests self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Obedience and self-control are inseparable, but distinct. On the one hand, lack of silence betrays a lack of self-control that otherwise governs faithfulness (Eccl. 5:2-3). Scripture warns that the wordy fool only gets into trouble and displays his or her ignorance (Eccl. 10:12-14Prov. 12:23). The pragmatic but biblical solution for someone acting like a fool is self-inflicted silence: “Put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32).

On the other hand, being silent demonstrates our willingness to wait upon and serve others in love (Gen. 24:21Job 29:21Eph. 4:29). Silence is also the catalyst for godly self-reflection amid anger (Ps. 4:4). It attests to our resolve to endure difficulties with hope fixed firmly in the Lord (Lam 3:26-29). Silence also governs our ability to evaluate spiritual instruction carefully (1 Cor. 14:29-30), and interact shrewdly with the world without succumbing to its temptations (Ps. 39:1Prov. 21:23).

3. Wonder

It is possible to worship God in complete silence. One of Scripture’s most beautiful paradoxes is that wordlessness can speak clearly about God’s glory. We honor God when were are in awe of him. We are made in his image and therefore bring him glory in our humble silence, while every other creature is simply mute. Scripture is full of instances of silent awe prompted by wonder before God.

This kind of silence works two ways, both of which can bless God’s people. On the one hand, when Christians come to terms with the depth of sinful grievances committed against a holy God, Paul says that their mouths should rightly “be stopped” (Rom. 3:19). Silence is the only possible response in the face of God’s holiness and the coming judgment (Zeph. 1:7Zech. 2:12Mic. 7:16). On the other hand, we ought to be struck silent in light of God’s incredible redemption, worked out in his promised deliverance for his people (Isa. 41:1; cf. Lk. 1:20) and the reconciling work of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:18; 15:12). Silence even in corporate worship, where the church gathers to meet with God, facilitates the reverence that he is rightly due (Hab. 2:20).

4. Rest 

As a parallel to wonder in light of God’s salvation, silence is a blessed product of the rest that we have in him. Knowing that God is our God prompts us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10). Even in the face of uncertainty and suffering, the psalmist can say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation . . . for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:1, 5). Even creation knows its Maker and comes to rest at his command, as when Jesus silences the storm (Mk. 4:39). When Israel faced the Red Sea on one side and Egypt’s army on the other, Moses inconceivably commands Israel to be silent.The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent!” (Ex. 14:13-14). So firm is our hope in God and his salvation that fear may be laid aside, and our silence can demonstrate and encourage rest in him.

5. Wisdom

Often when we think of wisdom we think of speaking, usually to give counsel. But many times wisdom should prompt just the opposite. Especially in the book of Job, we see the tension between the desire to give counsel and the need to be silent. The multiplication of words by Job’s friends does little to help (6:24; 13:13, 19; 33:31, 33). The high point of wisdom in their counsel comes in 2:13: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (cf. 13:5).

Silence as a form of wisdom is frequently encouraged in Proverbs, too. It can help wisely avoid transgression (10:19) and manifest respect and understanding (11:12; 17:27). It is part of wise and even-handed interactions (29:11; cf. Amos 5:13). Silence is so powerful that it can even make the fool at least appear wise and intelligent (17:28).

Church as Silent Witness

Being silent is not only part of how we obey and glorify the King (Job 36:10-12). It is also how we bless others as we are lovingly quick to listen and slow to speak (Jam. 1:19). Silence is thus an unspoken virtue: part of the church’s vocation and the Christian’s delight.

Much more could be said on the topic. But now it’s time for practical application. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 16, 2016, titled, Top 7 Bible Verses About Silence,” by Jack Wellman, pastor at Mulvane Brethren Church, and senior writer at What Christians Want To Know, he writes:

Here are seven Bible verses relating to silence.

Proverbs 17:28–“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something that shows our ignorance, like the many times I’ve spoken too quickly and rather unwisely, so silence can be golden, but even a foolish person is deemed wise by saying few words or by saying nothing at all. It’s better to say nothing than to say something we’ll later regret.

Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The psalmist wrote, “we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:2-3), and even if “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6). All we need to do is to rest in the fact that God is over all things and so we can be still and simply know that He is God, and He “will be exalted among the nations” and “in the earth.” Nothing can prevent that.

Lamentations 3:26–“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Jeremiah’s wise words in Lamentations 3:26 are shown elsewhere in Scripture to be true. Isaiah the Prophet wrote, “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (40:31). By waiting upon the Lord, you’re also waiting for His divine timing.

Psalm 62:5–“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

David was in dire straits when he wrote Psalm 62. His life was in danger due to his son Absalom’s taking over the throne of Israel. David had to escape but harder still, he had to deal with those who had betrayed him as he wrote they plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse” (Psalm 62:4), but David didn’t panic as he wrote, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6).

Psalm 141:3–“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”

Perhaps the psalmist is asking God for a little help in keeping his peace in waiting upon the Lord. He needs to have help in his silence and to keep his hand over his mouth from saying something that he might later regret, or even saying something out of frustration. This is why he prays “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds” (Psalm 141:4).

Proverbs 17:27–“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”

I think what Solomon is saying is that if we restrain our words, we have wisdom enough to know when to keep our mouths shut, because with many words comes the chance for saying the wrong thing. Sometimes is just better to say nothing at all, and in the context of this verse, the one “who has a cool spirit” might be a person who knows how to hold their tongue and temper when angered, even when they don’t feel like it.

Isaiah 53:7–“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

This verse is clearly speaking about Jesus during the Passion and when answering all of the false charges brought up against Him. When Jesus didn’t defend Himself and kept silent before the charges when brought to Pontius Pilate, Pilate was amazed and said to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” (John 19:10), but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11), meaning it was all part of the sovereign plan of God.

Conclusion

I could have also included Habakkuk who wrote, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20) which is a show of holy reverential respect for God, or Revelation 8:1 where the Apostle John wrote, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Rev 8:1), perhaps due to what cataclysmic events were about to shortly take place, but most of these verses deal with how we should trust in God and wait upon Him and to “be still” and know He is God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

No YouTube Video is being posted for this blog post so we can contemplate the power of silence.

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