Memorable Memorial Day

26 May

After reading a few posts shouting the real reason for Memorial Day, I quipped, “Yes, the reason for Memorial Day is to honor those who died having served our country and its freedom. Over the years, it has evolved into remembering all loved ones who have died. And the current generation honors those who

We were teenagers the last time I saw this one cousin

don’t burn the steaks on the grill.”

Well, I had the most unusual and rewarding Memorial Day I can remember. Intermittently over the years, I have tried to find contact info for a cousin I’ve not seen in 54 years. I found a phone number online yesterday for a man whose info looked like the perfect match, so I tried it. Answering machine. The message was terse, “We’re not home. Leave your name and number.” I thought that fits a man who had dropped out of the family. The one thought that gave me hope was the voice sounded so much like our uncle Bob. But, would he call me back?

I never checked the clock, but I think a couple of hours or more went by before I heard my phone ring and raced to the counter where I had left it. I think we talked for as long as I had waited for that call.

Our memorial service over the phone, honoring the memories of loved ones so very dear to us, elevated the day above any I’ve experienced. I’ll long remember this Memorial Day for being able to reconnect and share our lives together once more.

When will you ever have the time to do this than right now with everything still in lockdown. Reach out. Connect or reconnect. Create a  positive memory. 

Will you help me?

10 May

I have a writing project underway that I could use a little help on. I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to respond to this brief survey. Thanks in advance.

To Shut or Not to Shut

5 May

I was the first in my circle of influence to speak out against shutting down church meetings. The attacks online against my position were both endless and ruthless. I was the evil to be destroyed, in some eyes, all because I stood behind the science of social needs of humans and the scripture that exhorts believers to not forsake assembling together. The spiritual and the science agreed on my position.

Becoming flexible
In time, I bent my position and spoke to church leadership about having services on zoom. To my knowledge we were the first at least in our area to have a zoom service. Not only our main Sunday service, but also the various weekly small group meetings continued seeking, worshipping and serving Jesus in this way. It wasn’t the same as being in the physical presence of one another, but it still encouraged and built up the church.

New vision
Out of those meetings came the realization that the church could actually come out of isolation stronger instead of weaker. It’s too easy to rely on the experience of others to feel the Lord’s presence. We were being called upon to enter his presence in our own space apart from others. Another stumbling block to intimacy with him has been the busy-ness of our world. It seemed like the Lord said, “The hustle is gone now. Draw near.” We have challenged each other to use this time to learn to hear his voice more clearly, to enjoy his presence more fully, to become mighty in spirit by faith.

Turning tide
My struggle has changed considerably since the beginning. The restless tide is swelling. We all want an end to the virus and the shut-down. The fear of the solution against the spread (and doubting its wisdom) is becoming greater than the fear of the disease for many people. Two past experiences probably best explain where my opinion teeters now.

Spiritual dieting
First, my wife and I started a diet about a week or two before the disease was even heard about. We’ve laughed with the good-natured memes that depicted post-Covid body weights. This diet proved successful for us years ago. We lost the weight up to the point of leveling off the balance between our metabolism and caloric intake. Relaxing the discipline along with life interruptions and stress allowed the pounds to pack back on…and then some. We understand stress eating, but we have been able to stick with the diet and lose weight in spite of all the changes Covid brought. In some ways, the shut-down may have helped us because we focused on buying nothing more than what we needed to prepare our meals, spending the least amount of time in the stores necessary.

In like manner, our time before the Lord has been more intentional, more frequent, and deeper reaching in our hearts. The key for coming out of seclusion stronger is maintaining the discipline of the daily minimum requirements for a healthy spirit. It’s too easy to slip back into the old ways and start packing on the weight of busy-ness and wrong philosophies/attitudes.

Proper baking
The other metaphor I am pondering comes from watching my mom bake a sensitive cake. I remember the care she took to avoid strong vibrations in the kitchen. Shooing me away from opening the oven door to check the progress of a promised dessert. I remember the sickening feeling when something caused the cake to go flat and the thrill of seeing one come out of the oven as designed, seductive in its beauty.

My challenge
We have used this time of Covid closures to let the Holy Spirit cook us, in a way. After all my strong objections to shutting church meetings and my fears of how America will change and come out of the disease reaction, I am now concerned the process which the Holy Spirit has begun will be ended by our impatience and our “cake” will go flat. I pray that doesn’t happen whether we remain secluded or not. I know the Holy Spirit will work in our lives either way. I can trust him. My concern is for our part of the recipe. Will we continue the new discipline of our spiritual diet, or will we be too quick to return to the deceitful delicacies offered by this world along with its busy-ness.

How has your life changed during the isolation?
What new life patterns are you planning to maintain?
What are your prayers for the future?

A Pandemic Spiritual Retreat

21 Apr

I admit I took the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders personally. It sounded too much like an attack against the Church, intending to weaken believers. Self-development gurus claim only 21 days are necessary to create a new habit. Temporarily closing churches had the potential for creating a new lifestyle that didn’t include assembling together to worship. The writer of the Book of Hebrews warned against forsaking the gatherings. The order to stay at home stood in opposition to that.

Moreover, scientific tests have proven the need we humans have for touch, even how much it helps in the healing process. The response to this pandemic has pitted need against need.

We’ve witnessed the world agreeing with these points as a united gasp escaped at the sight of freezer trailers parked to receive the bodies in New York City. The world stood in somber compassion for the families separated not only by death, but also from the normal grieving process of the death.

More uncertainties
I have begun to see posts asking the same question I pondered in the beginning: What is our nation and the world going to be like as we exit the pandemic and afterward? One unsettling conclusion from our experience involves how quickly Americans will give up their freedoms if the fear is great enough. The writers of our Constitution knew rights, once surrendered, are difficult to impossible to regain. That concern created the Constitution’s first amendments known as the Bill of Rights. It is not yet known what America will be when the pandemic is behind us. Everyone hopes we return to normal, but they also wonder what our new normal will be.

Table turned
What we can be certain of, as I think back to my opening concern for the Church, is much more positive. By the way, I use the capital C to refer to all believers as Jesus sees them—one Church, not any particular division of His body of believers. The busy-ness of our daily lives often bumped study time in the Bible and spending time alone with Jesus off our calendar. Maybe we complained about not having time but struggled to arrange or make that time a priority. This time of isolation has given us the time we have needed. Instead of weakening the Church, I have seen signs that individual believers have been strengthened. Many are anticipating another Great Awakening as we come out of this because we have not been able to depend on the pastor to satisfy our weekly duties. We have learned to hear the Lord’s voice for ourselves and for our specific needs.

Value—and use—the remaining time
For that, we can say we have more good news. We are still in lockdown. We still have time to turn our hearts more fully to the Lord—to develop that habit, if you will—to walk in His counsel and constant presence. This pandemic may or may not have been a conspired attempt to weaken the Church, but it has instead been our opportunity for a spiritual retreat to refresh us, to get us back to our first love. With that, let’s renew Jesus’ vision for the Church, working outside the realm of politics and bringing new souls into the freedom in Christ.

Don’t Drop the Curtain Too Soon

7 Apr

I hadn’t set out to write a blog about Easter, but I read a few verses in 1 Peter 4 this morning that fired me up. Not about the traditional Easter story. Rather about the part of the story we’ve chopped off.

The 3-act play portrayed
By traditional Easter story, I’m talking about how the story of Jesus has been portrayed in the movies, in Sunday school classes, etc. Writers have followed the three-act play structure. Act 1: Jesus is born, shuttled to Egypt, back to Israel and finally settling in Nazareth. Act 2: Jesus begins His ministry which faces opposition in spite of the mighty miracles He performs. Act 3: Jesus is crucified—His final opposition to overcome, which He does when He is raised from the dead. The story then quickly ends with His ascension to heaven.

Final curtain dropped too soon
Either we have the wrong storyline for the three-act play, or as my wife observed, perhaps it should be a five-act play. You see, we writers are taught that a strong story requires a big goal that the protagonist must overcome obstacles and setbacks to finally achieve, giving audiences or readers the thrill of the victory. Jesus’s big goal was not the resurrection. That was only the means to achieving his big goal: creating and preparing His bride.

Peter wrote, “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen,” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NKJV).

The true big goal
As I read those verses, the three-act play structure fell over it, and all I could say was wow! In our best rendering of the Jesus story, the church is a sequel with its own big goal and obstacles. That’s so wrong. Even Jesus explained the “end of the play” to His disciples. He describes in Matthew 24 the obstacles the church will face when as yet there was no church. There will be natural disasters and persecution. Many will let their love grow cold because of the lawlessness in their hearts. A fierce battle wages to keep Jesus from achieving His big goal of bringing forth His bride. He assures us it will happen.

Setting the final climax
Covid-19 had the potential to bring discouragement and defeat to the believers, but I see the disease has had the opposite effect. An excitement and hope that I’ve not witnessed in a long time is spreading across the nation in the churches. Others are expressing an anticipation for a great revival.

That’s when I reread Peter’s words: “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another….” And could say only, “Wow!”

Out of the Uglies

24 Mar

Whether they looked to the left or to the right, they could see only trouble, panic, hardships. Barred from most businesses, they could not find work. To make matters worse, religious leaders and the government added harsh threats. In a desperate effort to survive, many left lands, homes, and anything they could not carry or cart as they escaped to foreign nations.

Peter wrote words of deep encouragement to the people described above. No catch phrases or empty maxims for him. He might have used a most exceptional meme if they had been around at the time, but only if it touched the heart and spirit in a convicting way.

After acknowledging their circumstances (calling them pilgrims or sojourners among foreign nations—forced out of their homeland), he directs their thoughts to a higher level. He gives them a new identity to take on. He calls them the elect (personally selected, chosen) of God, and he gave them a mission: wherever they are, sprinkle the blood of Jesus.

Our lives have been upended by a microscopic enemy invader. We have been forced into a lifestyle foreign to us and filled with massive uncertainties. The uglies in us have risen to the top. Even if we haven’t participated in the aggressive or greedy activities we see on the news, what has been our reaction? I know I’ve spoken about the insanity of buying a year’s worth of supplies. I ridiculed the fact that shelves were cleaned of toilet paper, but healthy foods were still in full supply.

Then a brother gently reminded me that people were reacting out of fear. When I thought about it, so was I. My imagination had played out one scenario after another of possible outcomes and how our country could be forever changed in ways I hoped I’d never see. I wanted to push back and force others to see hazards in their paths.

The day after my friend spoke, I read the opening to Peter’s first letter. I thanked the Lord for preparing my heart for seeing how Peter’s words apply to our time and to my heart. It’s no chance happening that I’m alive in Christ at this time and in this calamity. Jesus chose me, and if you are in Him, He chose you, too. With His selection, He has assigned unto us the task of “sprinkling the blood of Jesus” wherever we are. The Holy One is within us and will touch others through us as we give Him glory and honor in our lives.

Grace and peace be multiplied.

Words: in Jest, in Fear, in Faith

17 Mar

A week and two days ago, people joked about the week containing the return to daylight savings time, a full moon, and Friday the thirteenth. By the time Friday came, it was no longer funny. Full-out panic exploded on the land. Before we could prepare ourselves for how much worse people’s reaction could get, the U.S. has been put on a shut-down anything from two to eight weeks. Now is when Bloomberg should have put his money into families instead of advertising.

Not expecting anything close to that happening, I can begin to imagine what else we may face on the other side of the disease curve. Having worked on the emergency response team for our city, I have been trained to anticipate the unexpected and plan for responses. While that exercise is invaluable, it supplants the one focus I need to maintain and that is certain. God is in control.

Two weeks ago, my post focused on the first five chapters of the letter to the Hebrews. I didn’t know then about the Covid-19 when I echoed the writer’s exultation of Jesus. I realized this week how much I needed to remind myself of it. I have a choice in these troubled times. I can join the masses and respond with fear, blame, rants, and theories. Or, I can seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.







With His purpose in fixed as my top priority, I can then begin to apply my emergency responses:

Jesus is bigger, greater, better, more, almighty. He has this. Whatever happens and whatever the outcome, if you are in Him and He in you, nothing can separate you.

Jesus wants no one to die without Him. He said “Blessed are they that mourn…” I believe that is having a heart that grieves for the impact sin has had in our lives and the lives of those around us. That grief should be multiplied in us as more die without Jesus in their lives. He also commanded that we pray for the Lord to send harvesters to the fields.

Love your neighbors as yourself. Instead of hoarding, remember the words of Jesus that whoever has given a cup of water in His name has given it to Him. Consider how we can serve and how we can give comfort.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. These are dark, troubling times. We are told to be light in the darkness. Of course, that can’t be something we generate; it is the light of Jesus within us—our confidence that He who began a good work will complete it, a confidence that He is Lord of all.

Put on the full armor of God that you will be able to stand firm in your faith.

Share how God has encouraged your heart this week.

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