A Little Bit of Jesus

So, it’s been a while since I posted and while many of you might have been waiting with baited breath, you might not be after you read the post. You see it has taken me some time to wait to hear from God on what to write. Yes, I wait until there is something that He puts on my heart to write about. This will probably make some uncomfortable, but maybe that will be a good thing.

Early on in my undergrad degree I learned something called religious syncretism. It by definition is ” An amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” (Google). In my coursework it generally referred to Christians in non -western areas that incorporated Christianity with their old religious beliefs. Generally, it might have involved the use of icons or fetishes with prayers to God. It could be a bit confusing for missionaries working with syncretisms biases.

But the question I want to pose for us all today is how much have we been affected by syncretism in our own faith? Do we pray and then consult a horoscope? Do we sing along to Hillsong praise and worship and seek out palm readers? This may or may not seem obvious to you, depending upon your knowledge of how God feels about occult practices, but are there others areas in which you have blended an eastern religious practice with a Christian one? Meditation is another example. meditating on God’s Word is scriptural, but emptying our minds to seek nirvana is not.

This is just a brief example and many will not agree with my observation, but if we truly want to grow in our faith we must leave the childish things behind as the Apostle Paul says;”When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”(1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV). We will only grow when we follow Christ with our whole hearts and minds. We do not need to blend Jesus in to our own beliefs but rather follow what He teaches in the Bible. Too often we add Jesus onto our lives, similarly to adding sprinkles on top of our ice cream. We want just enough to look good on the outside, or just enough so we can talk with other Christians in church, or maybe as a sort of good luck charm or last resort to get our prayers answered. But, No, Jesus want to be all, not just added in or sprinkled on the top of our lives. Faith might be small like a mustard seed, but Jesus should be greater in our lives.

Nothing New

Recently I came across an article describing the overnight phenomena of a woman who rose to the top of the music charts for her song that bashes the church. I would applaud her except for the fact it isn’t anything new, but she has been able to corner the market on criticism to her advantage.

It is easy to look at others and find fault with their lives, while overlooking our own and the church has always been a target. It is an easy target because of the expectations placed upon the church. While it is true the church is supposed to be the Body of Christ and certainly much of the New Testament addresses how Christians within the churches should behave, we sadly fall short of expectations. Why? Because we are frail, imperfect human beings who need God. The thing is those who are in churches realize this fact. We need God, we all need God. We all have our own brand of being messed up, if we’re honest. We are people. People who sometimes say unkind words, get jealous, get angry, refuse to forgive, lie, steal, hurt others, swear, drink too much, face addictions of many kinds. I’m sure you can think of more things to add to this list.

Not everyone is so messed up, but we have our stuff that God is working on in us. Maybe its fears or insecurities, mental illnesses, anxieties, relationship issues, marriage problems, grief, homelessness, unemployment, financial issues. The point is: there is stuff. We all have stuff. We go to church because we need to be reminded that through all of our stuff it is God who cares.

It is not about fitting in and conforming ourselves to be carbon copies of others, it is because we desire to cry out to God in prayer, songs, and find support from others in church. We go to pray for others, and have others pray for us. We support each other in good times and bad. We are definitely not perfect. If we were, we wouldn’t be in church. We would be on some mountain top or starting our own religion and having people worship us and not God.

It is far too easy to point fingers at the people in church and declare they are messed up and harsh or judgmental, but really when you think about it, who is really being judgemental? Those who stand back and find reasons why Christianity is not for them because of its representatives? Or those who have reached out to God and fall at His feet as a broken people in need of a savior?

I do not deny that there are some pretty bad apples within Christianity. There always has been since the beginning. There are those who see it as a way to get rich and take advantage of others, There are those who exploit women, and children. There are those who lie and cheat in the name of God. This is never accepted by Christ, but it happens because this world is pretty messed up, inside and outside the church.

I hope no one would look at my life and judge Jesus by it. I am not perfect. Only Jesus is. I am a work in progress.

Last year I went on a very popular diet plan in order to lose weight before our son’s wedding. I had used this particular plan before, so I thought it would work great to shed a couple of pounds and fit into my wedding clothes easier. Well, if I had told you I had been on the plan and convinced you it would work for you, you might have questioned me. It didn’t work. Well, let me put it this way…. I didn’t do the work. I was lazy. The plan didn’t work, because I didn’t stop eating some of the foods I really liked, and I didn’t really exercise. The reality is that reading the plan, tracking the food, buying special foods, wasn’t going to work if I refused to realize my metabolism had changed as I got older, and that I needed to get rid of my bad habits- junk food and watching tv.

So, if someone wanted to look at me and judge the diet plan because of the way I looked to them, it would be easy. I would look like a failure, or more importantly the diet plan would look like a failure. Soon, word would spread to avoid this diet plan, because it was a fake, that it took your money, and did not produce the desired results. Examples would be found of others who were still overweight after joining the program. Photographs would flood social media and soon it would go viral. It would be called a scam, even if it did in fact work for some people.

We have become such a critical judgemental society, the very thing that Christianity is accused of being, without realizing the common thread in our criticism: we criticize ourselves when we criticize others about being judgemental. If we judge others for being judgmental, we are in fact being judgmental. We are all people. Imperfect people. All of us. Finding fault in others is easy. Blaming others for our own insecurities is easy. Humbling ourselves and admitting maybe we need God is hard.

De clutter

So, here in the United States, we have this tradition of allowing a small furry animal predict when Spring will arrive. Earlier this week that furry little animal decided for all of us here that we would in fact have six more weeks of winter. Which doesn’t really mean too much to me, except that I can put off my Spring cleaning. To be honest though, I am not really into that sort of thing. I admire people who do a thorough cleaning of their homes in the Spring, but I just try to avoid it altogether. Unless, there’s an upcoming get together, well then….. I will throw myself into high gear and deep clean my house……… Don’t want anyone to think we live like slobs or anything. But, most of the time I am quite happy to just de clutter everything…… It’s like my therapy or something…I really enjoy clearing off all the junk mail from my kitchen island and counters. I like to organize my drawers and clear out closets. I might have dirty windows and floors, but I will have clean counters and drawers. I just dislike clutter on counters and disorganized drawers and closets.

Whenever the counters get full of stuff, I find my thoughts get cluttered and jumbled as well. Anyone out there feel me? I like to have everything organized and in its place and then I can think clearly. But, sometimes, no matter how much I clean the surfaces and re- organize my closets or drawers, there is still a cluttered mind.

So, what happened? You maybe thinking,” I thought she just said, cleaning up your surroundings, makes you think clearly?” Well, yes it does help. But, sometimes….ok…… a lot of the time, its my thoughts and not my counters that need the de cluttering. There is so much going on these days for all of us.. the pandemic…the economy…our children….our parents…..our work….our education…our spouses. We can all get cluttered in our thought lives.

You may have heard of the importance of clearing your mind of thoughts.. To empty your mind and relax. But, actually…. an empty mind is a space for negative thoughts to enter and take up residency. You simply cannot empty your thoughts and think of nothing. You actually need to think about what you are thinking about. Replacing the clutter with real thoughts. Good thoughts… Healthy thoughts.

I have found that when my thoughts are cluttered, they are generally thoughts about worry and anxiety. I am thinking about things which have not really happened or if they were related to some event, I was probably just second guessing myself. I did not need empty space in my mind, just positive truth. A fact checker if you will. If I am worried that I should or should not have done or said something for fear I offended another person, I am not thinking clearly. I will not know if I did any harm unless I speak to the other person. So why worry about it and clutter my thoughts? Or if I am worried about what the future holds. I do not know the future and anything I might imagine- like defaulting to the negative- will probably not actually happen. So why am I worrying about what I cannot control?

So, the solution is to replace these thoughts with truth thoughts. By now you are wondering where do I find truth thoughts? Well, the best place is to find them in God’s word. Yes, the Bible. See, there is a bunch of truth thoughts in the Bible that are just as good today as they were when they were written down by a group of people who were worried and stressed just like we are. Human nature has not changed. If you are looking for a place to start try the psalms. David often struggled with his thoughts and fears. Some were justified fears, people were chasing him, he felt really bad for some of the actions he had taken, he felt abandoned by God, he had issues with his father in law, and his kids,had an affair, tried to cover it up, got a woman pregnant who was not his wife, lost a baby, and he mixed some politics in there, yep, he definitely had some issues going on.

One of the Psalms that I sometimes think about to de clutter my mind is Psalm 23. It’s usually saved for funerals but I find comfort in it now. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” Reminds me that God is in control. He is guiding me and providing my needs, I do not have to be anxious. This reminder might be small, but it can stop my anxious thoughts, and get rid of the clutter or worry in my mind.

As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, giving them advice on living out their Christian walk, may we find the same advice helpful;”We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2Cor.10:5, NIV). Or also in his letter to the church in Rome;”Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

We can control our thoughts by basing them on the truth of the Bible. By replacing our negative thoughts with the truth thoughts, we can de clutter our minds. It’s about time for some Spring cleaning of our brains, don’t you think? God Bless -Nancy

Default

What kind of person are you? I mean really! What kind of person are you? Are you positive, or negative? Do you look for the silver lining in the clouds, or see just the storm and rains? We all seem to have a default setting. The setting we have allowed to program our thinking and reactions to our circumstances. But, can we change our defaults? I believe so, but it will take effort on our part.

Recently, my husband and I have been reading through a couples communication study. The author, who is a respected psychologist, offers questions for couples to consider to aid in their understanding of their communication styles. Yes, we all have different styles of communicating. And it doesn’t just refer to how much or how little we talk, but what words we choose. It is also based upon our preferred learning styles. My husband is primarily an auditory learner, while I am a visual learner.

One of the recent topics we have read about is the need to focus on what works in our communication over what needs improvement. It might seem counter- intuitive, but it is what athletes do in order to regain ground after a slump in their performance. Focus on what you are doing right and not what you’re not doing so right.

I believe this can be true of our communication with others as well, not just with our spouses. It is way too easy to look only at the problems we see in society- in our neighbors, co-workers, schools, communities, etc. and not see what IS working. To find the good in others, and not default to the negative aspects. Anyone can find faults to complain about. Commentators and critiques have found ways to make their judgements on the failures of others into jobs. Whether in sports, business or politics, finding fault is an industry. We even sometimes refer to these critics as analysts. But, in our striving to find faults and solutions, we really need to look at what is being done right. What works. Work on strengths, not weaknesses. God Bless- Nancy

Candid Conversations

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – Jesus Christ

Comforting words to hear especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. My Mom used to quote this verse from John often. I didn’t fully appreciate her wisdom in reciting it, however, I was young and naive. I thought the world revolved around me and whatever I had planned. The thought of dying really never entered my thought much. Or at least not as much as my Mom. Sure, Jesus was building a room, or mansion, as some Bible versions quote, but that was SOMEDAY, not right now, not today. There was so much life I had in front of me. It was a good verse for older people, but not anything to think about in my teens, or twenties, or even thirties, really. Just a thought for a someday when I would be facing down a terrible disease, or walking side by side with someone who was. Someday.

But, today is part of a whole year in which the entire planet has been facing down a terrible disease. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, everyone has had to come to terms with Covid-19. And even though it is almost Christmas and we all are getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, facing the future still worries us, if we are honest.

So many people have been affected by this virus, either personally or through a neighbor of friend, that we can no longer pretend that it does not exist. I’ll be honest, I have seen so much divisiveness over how to contain the virus, that it has been the most frightening thing, instead of the virus itself. We really do need to come together and fight the virus and not each other. That being said, I want to have a candid conversation with you, right now, as we are all thinking of the sweet baby in the manger, singing our Christmas carols, baking our cookies and other Christmas treats, attending church, sending gifts, etc. Have you thought about dying? I mean, if we really think about it, that is what Christmas is ultimately about. Jesus came down from heaven to be with us, be one of us, but then take our sins upon Himself, so that He could return to heaven and get a place ready for us.

That is the Good news of the Gospel. Yet, if we are honest we all have this measure of fear about getting sick and dying. It’s scary, because we just aren’t sure what happens, maybe a little, but not completely. And honestly, no one likes being sick and suffering. Or at least I can’t think of anyone who does. We find comfort from Jesus’ words, that He is preparing a place for us. He wants us to be there, in Heaven with Him and our loved ones who have died before us. And He made it fair for everybody, not only those who have lived a perfect life or donated the most money or were nice to everyone. But, just that He would take on our sentence, and we would be acquitted, if we would ask Him to apply His payment on our behalf. It’s like racking up a credit card and having someone offering to pay it off for you, you just need to say okay.

I realize that is an oversimplification, but I think it puts the free gift of salvation in an easy to understand way. I do realize that we need to understand that we have debt, that we have fallen short of what God intended for man in the beginning, and have sinned against a holy God, which has separated us from Him, but we also must realize just how accessible God’s gift of salvation is for mankind.We did nothing to deserve it. It is all based upon God’s love for us, not getting extra credit on anything we have done.

There is so much anxiety these days and it is very easy to let ourselves get worried and let our hearts get troubled. We fear the worst, instead of hoping for the best. If we are honest with ourselves, it comes from our own fears about dying. We hear so much negative stories, that we all get fearful that we will get sick, like that person in a story we saw, and we will die. We get paralyzed by the thought of dying from some stupid virus that has the world on edge. The virus everyone is scared of and may or may not have been engineered in a lab as part of a great, horrible scheme. This fear doesn’t just sit by quietly, but rises up to manifest anger and hostility. Many think of anger as one of our primary emotions, but actually it is a secondary emotion. It stems from a hurt, or perceived hurt or threat. So whenever our well-being is threatened, we will often react out of anger. In other words, when we feel scared, we get mad. At others. At ourselves. At God.

I believe God has given a bit of a healthy fear of dying, so we will try to be careful and not jump out of planes without parachutes, but not so much that we live paralyzed lives, restricting ourselves to the point we lash out at others, like a caged wild animal. We cannot predict our own future, even in the best of times and situations. Life has many turns and twists that we do not see coming. But, God does have a plan for everything to work out. We can face anything with the assurance that God can be trusted. That what He tells us in the Bible. Some versions of the verse I quoted in the beginning of this blog, substitute the word ‘believe’ with ‘trust’ “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

Heaven is a real future for us, Jesus told us this, and even though we might feel a bit scared when we think about dying, we need to think about what Jesus’ promised. There is a place for us, He is getting it ready, for whenever it is our time to move in. The Covid virus has scared us, because for some of us, we had to face the big question- what happens if I get the virus, or what will happen to me if I get sick and don’t recover, that is die? Before the pandemic, people might not have given it much thought, but now they must consider this important question. And it scares them. This fear creates anger towards others, even God, but whether it is from a virus first appearing in China, or some other cause, we will all die someday. It is not something we can avoid. No mask or physical distancing will keep that moment from coming. The question is, Are we ready? Have we trusted in Jesus? Is is working on a room for you? I’d like you as my neighbor. -God Bless – Nancy

Together

I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this off for awhile. I don’t like to be controversial and I fear rejection most of all, but it is something that has been weighing on my heart and mind. See, if you’re like most people, you are probably feeling a bit anxious with the world in the state it finds itself: a global pandemic and social and political unrest. Here in the United States, we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s a time to celebrate with thankful hearts what God has provided. It has its roots in the early pilgrims who risked it all to leave England and sail to America to establish a community of religious freedom for themselves and their children. The first year was difficult as they were not fully prepared for the conditions in New England. Many of the new immigrants died of sickness and disease. Without the aid of the local people, they would have all died. So, according to history, they gathered together and celebrated to thank God for His provision. We in the United States remember that early celebration by having our own version. Some people gather for a large meal with family or sometimes with friends; a friendsgiving.

But, as we have been repeated told by media, this year is different. Well, sort of…. It’s true many avoided family and friends this year for Thanksgiving, but what is actually different this year is the silent crisis that is growing, that a few are talking about, but should be.

There is a real pandemic that is creating problems that are more widespread than the Covid virus. See, we are not made for this pandemic I’m talking about. With Covid, are bodies can fight it off, if we have a healthy immune system, but with this accompanying silent pandemic, few are immune, because we are wired for each other. We will all be touched by it in someway.

What am I talking about? The accompanying mental health crisis and addiction crisis that has far reaching effects than the Covid could ever have. We simply are wired by God for each other; for relationships. Genesis 2:18 makes it pretty clear, when God saw Adam alone, He said it wasn’t good. Being alone isn’t good. So God created a partner for Adam, Eve.

If you don’t believe the Bible, but prefer science than here are some science facts: The Heath Resources and Service Administration reported in 2019, (before the pandemic) that 20% of Americans felt socially isolated and lonely, creating the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day. (Christian Counseling Today, vol. 24, no.3) Let that soak in: the health affects of being lonely and socially isolated touch you physically as if you smoked. Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing because of the social isolation imposed upon people. Drug and alcohol addictions are on the rise as well, creating more problems for society.

There are connections between our mental health and our physical health, as noted above and are called pre-disease pathways (The Loneliness Epidemic, 2020.Mayfield, CCT, vol. 24, no. 3). According to Mayfield, loneliness and isolation can “Predict both morbidity and mortality.”(Mayfield, 2020). Heart disease alone claims 647,000 and cancer 606,500, or one in four people. Many of these diseases are scientifically linked to loneliness as much as other factors, such as nutrition. Our bodies are simply not made to be alone. We are meant to be together, doing life with one another.

Please don’t get me wrong, Covid is very real. It is dangerous for some, but not all people. By now, we probably have all known someone who has gotten Covid. We may have known someone who died from it, or someone who has survived. The real question we should be asking ourselves, is whether we know someone who is struggling emotionally through all of this? Can we recognize mental health issues as accurately as we do physical systems? Can we recognize this in our children? Many professional educators and counselors are very concerned with the effects of social isolation upon the younger generations. Kids need each other for proper development and growth. Are we making them afraid of other people? Are we prepared for the long term results of social isolation?

We are creating a ticking time bomb by isolating our children and ourselves from others, particularly the multi generational connections. The elderly are very vulnerable to virus, because they are weaker sometimes due to other complications. However, they are also very isolated and lonely. Depression is high for this age group as well and this takes a toll on their physical health.

I know not everyone will agree with me that we should be spending time together with our families and friends despite a pandemic. I also want to make sure you understand that I believe we should exercise care, such as wearing a mask, especially if we are not sure if we are a carrier of the virus. But we really should not refrain from visiting our families or keep children from attending school. I learned several years ago the most important things in life were not things; they are people. We all want to believe we are somehow doing the best thing by staying away from our older relatives, but really, can we be certain? I know I am not God. I do not know when any of my family members might die. None of us do. We might believe we somehow will “keep them from dying” if we refuse to visit them in person, but… do we know that for certain? Are we God?

I’m being honest and vulnerable here; I would give anything for just one more day to spend with my Mom. I enjoyed talking to her and appreciated her wisdom and advice from a life well lived. I cannot imagine not seeing her, to spend time with her when she was in the nursing home and hospital. Even at the end, I visited her at the hospital and read to her, although I wasn’t sure if she could hear me or not. We cannot get back those moments, once they are gone, they are gone. But I do know that I will see her again, when we get together once again and celebrate with thanksgiving and praise to God for His provision; Jesus, so that we can be together with Him and one another, who have called upon Him for salvation.

Life is too short and too precious to give up seeing my family and friends. We must be careful to be sure, but we really do need each other, to be together. It is what we are made for.- God Bless- Nancy

Faithful and True

For the Word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does- Psalm 33:4

If you ask my kids or my husband about me they will probably tell you that I’m too hard on myself- Too critical- To quick to judge myself and find myself lacking.- Too concern with doing everything right- Too worried about what others think of me- Too uptight about making a mistake. I suspect I’m not the only one.

We too often try to keep up with others, or at least what we think others are doing- all those perfectly touched up social media lives and perfect Instagram photos. Have we lost sight of our real selves, in favor of trying to be who we see on our phones? Have we lost the uniqueness God has placed within us? Are we allowing ourselves to imitate others, like we post our tik tok videos? Can we allow ourselves to be real, open, vulnerable, and admit we are not perfect? Can we be original, instead of copies?

We make mistakes. We can fail. We can repeat our mistakes and fail many times. But that never lessens what God thinks of us. He knows we will fall short. He knows we try. More importantly He knows our hearts, our intentions. And yet He loves us. Many of you I’m sure have John 3:16 memorized, or at least have seen it at football games- that is back when football games had fans in the stands. God loved the world. But do we really get that He loves us? Personally? I’ve heard before that its a good idea to insert our name in place of the “world” when we recite this verse…. Try it. For God so love_______, that He gave His only Son for her/him, that if ____believes then ____will not perish but have eternal life.

I know, it might seem extra to you, but the point I want to remind you of today is that God is faithful. He loves you. Nothing will keep Him from being faithful. Nothing will stop God from loving you. He sent His Son for you. He knows you cannot measure up to His standards. That’s why He sent Jesus.

And He knows that trying to seem perfect, to try to live perfectly in an imperfect world, is impossible. Trying to be like someone else, is impossible. He created you to be you.

Believe me, I know how difficult it is to let yourself off the hook, off the endless futile cycle of trying to do everything perfectly. Just to be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about what we do and become lazy, but just that we need to realize since God understands that we cannot measure up and sent Jesus, then maybe we should try to extend more grace upon ourselves. To let ourselves make more mistakes, not intentionally, but just not deal with ourselves so harshly. We all have what is known as self- talk, how we talk to ourselves. Aligning this self- talk with what God’s Word says about us is so important. We have been fearfully and wonderfully made. He never makes mistakes- we are who we are because God created us that way. We are all just works in progress. Someday we will be finished, looking like Jesus, but until then, we will be ourselves, imperfections and all. God Bless- Nancy

Perseverance

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance- Romans 5:3

Perseverance is a tricky word. When we think about it we might picture an athlete pushing through pain to accomplish his goals. The runner pushing themselves toward the finish line. The single mom pushing through her exhaustion to care for her child after a full day at work. Persevere. Keep on course. Push through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment.

The world we live in now is a place of perseverance. What we thought would last only for a little while, is now dragging on. Our plans have been changed so many times to accommodate new rules, new restrictions, new guidelines, new quarantines, it almost seems pointless to make any plans.

We have also seen the worst in people, at times, and not the best. Those who cannot deal with this world of change and of suffering. Some are pushed too far and seek to take it out on others. Hurtful words. Violent exchanges. Demands for things to get better.

Others bury their heads and pretend it is the new normal, or that the reactions to the pandemic are overblown and exaggerated. They hide their frustration when they need to, out of the fear they might offend. The frustration builds until they too, begin to find fault with their fellow human being and lash out on social media upon people they barely know.

We might wonder, and rightly so, just what has happened to the world in which we live. It is not the way it should be and its not about a world wide pandemic. We are all being pushed and squeezed, aroused by the pressures to survive. We all have this deep need for freedom. To live free. To live in Grace and Mercy. Yet we find ourselves struggling to persevere. We are so accustomed to fast food, fast internet, fast dating, fast connections to a global community that when we must wait we cannot bear it.

If you are familiar with the Bible, you will notice that I did not complete the verse above from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you read on in the rest of the verse, you’ll find Paul’s adds that perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I did it on purpose because I think we all want to quickly move past the perseverance part, past the character and move onto hope. We want hope. We need hope. Hope that everything will get better. Hope for this world. Hope in Christ. Hope in Heaven. Even before the verse mentions perseverance, Paul tells us to rejoice in suffering. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like suffering. I do not find anything to rejoice about when I am suffering. Yet this is what Paul begins with. Is there something that Paul knows that we do not? If we study his life we will find that yes, he does know suffering. He nearly died several times after being stoned and beaten. He was shipwrecked and nearly drowned. He was bitten by a venomous snake. He lived with the guilt that he had personally seen and approved of the arrest and deaths of Christians,including women and children, before he himself became one. He had been put on trial and put in jail. He knew suffering. He knew perseverance. He developed character.He found hope. He, like many of the Roman Christians he was writing to, were persecuted, arrested and beheaded because of their faith. But he did not think of himself as a type of superhero or martyr, he knew his weaknesses. He struggled with them, he prayed for his thorn in his flesh to be removed. God said no. Instead Paul relied on God’s strength. not his own to persevere. He wrote and he encouraged others to do the same. God is our strength.

What we are going through now will produce character, not in a flash, but overtime, as we learn to trust in God and rely upon His strength and not our own.

Doing Battle

We all know that the past several months have not been easy and more than likely you thought we would all be out of this much sooner. Back to normal. Back to regular. But in some parts of the world, we are still feeling the effects the global pandemic has brought us. At times we do not know what to call the feelings we are all experiencing. Is it stress? Yes. Anxiety? Yes. Fear? Yes. Frustration? Yes. We can identify many of those feelings and I have brought up in previous posts, how to limit the effects of those overwhelming feelings. Move away from dependence on social media and news, have a quiet time with God, read the Bible, get away and pause to hear from God. But, perhaps we have been overlooking the one feeling, the emotion that might seem unlikely; grief. See, grief can come in many ways, not just from the death of a loved one.

I was reminded of grief this week upon hearing of the sudden passing of a pastor’s father. My Mom passed away five years ago, so I have been well acquainted with grief that hits like a train. Like a tornado. It’s inescapable. It’s overwhelming. It hurts. And it changes everything in our world. It is something that simply cannot be undone. It’s final. Permanent.

Grief can be felt with any kind of loss. A job. A home. A business. A relationship. A reputation. A schedule. A normal life. We often experience this sense of loss and sadness that we can’t shake. We feel guilty for feeling sad over what seems such temporary losses. We know we can find another job, another home, another boyfriend or girlfriend, start another business, create another routine, start over. But we still grieve that which has been lost and what has been changed.

So, how do we deal with it? Well, much in the same way we deal with anxiety, fear, stress. We need to go to God. We need to pray. And we need to realize that the emotions we are feeling do not need to consume us and consume all our thoughts. We must choose our thinking. We must get back to capturing every thought and weighing whether or not the thought is truth or a lie. When we recall the losses in our life, we can remember the good, let go of any guilt, and remind ourselves that God is still in control.

We do not do this battle alone. God is with us and will answer our prayers, even when we are not quite sure what to pray. Sometimes the best answers to prayer I have experienced are after I simply cried out “Help! God I need you” Just a simple request when I’ve realized I am in over my head.

We also need to do battle for our thoughts alongside others. We can encourage each other. Open up to each other and share our personal struggles. The body of Christ should never shy away from a friend who wants to share their struggles. We are all broken vessels, needing God’s help. If we really think we have it all together, we are mistaken. And if anyone looks to Christians to have it all together, they will sadly see us fail miserably. Christians do not have it all together, we just know who to go to when we are overcome by sadness and grief. We do not need to stay in our sad, discouraged places. This is only temporary. Life will get back to normal, even if normal means change.

Finding Rest

Finding rest. Sounds pretty simple, unless you are a workaholic or over achiever. Now I wouldn’t consider myself either of those, but I really do have a difficult time finding rest. My mind seems to keep going long after I decide to sit or rest. Any small item in the farthest reaches of my mind can find their way to the surface and disturb my peace and rest. The same goes for any noise. Maybe that comes from parenthood, always listening for the noises of our kids at night when we first brought them home from the hospital. This was an era before baby monitors or cameras.

Whatever the reason, it has been difficult to rest and relax. We are all a bit wound up right now as we still face challenges in restarting the world that has been on pause over the pandemic. Even when many of us were forced to stay home, we found multiple projects to do around our homes. Here in the US the home improvement stores never closed and were the busiest places, and the most crowded as shoppers found that doing home remodels and “Do it Yourself” projects kept them busy and gave them some sense of normalcy and purpose.

But now, as we start back to normalcy, we still have this sense of uneasiness and anxiety. Most of it is fueled by media, which we can be intentional to reduce. But still, sometimes it takes get away from the noise, the worry, the stress and anxiety and learning to rest. To Sabbath. To relax from our struggles to figure it all out, solve every problem, keep busy, keep working, keep striving. To simply stop and rest.

Here in the US we just celebrated Labor Day. It is a day designed to give the American worker a day off. A day to celebrate all the hard work accomplished. One day out of a year. To rest from labor and celebrate the hard work done. Think about that. One day a year. God knew we needed more than one day, so He created sabbath for us to rest from our labors. Just so we understood it, He himself rested, that is stop creating on the seventh day, the sabbath day.

For the first time in a while, I finally was able to experience a true sabbath day rest. My husband and I were able to travel to a nearby state for the Labor Day weekend. We stayed busy on a couple of the days visiting an aquarium and local sights, but we also made time just to rest by the pool at our hotel. I know that might sound a bit sacrilegious to sit by a pool on a Sunday and rest. To stop and listen to the birds, smell the flowers blooming nearby in the planters instead of being in church. But, it is what I desperately needed. To stop for a moment and cease working. Striving. Trying. Just enjoy what God has created for us to enjoy. To still my thoughts for a moment. To cease worrying and stressing over everything. To breathe. To close my eyes and be in the moment. To let go of taking care of everything and trust God to run the world. My world. Too often I think I am the one who must run the world or else it won’t get done. But, that is of course not true, but let me ask you have you ever felt that way? That it is all up to you? You have a difficult time taking time for yourself. You keep working in your mind long after you have finished your work and drove home? Or maybe you worry over your kids, even though they are fine. Or you worry over your health, or someone close to you’s health.

Whether you realize it or not, you are working, not resting. What you need is rest. It might not be easy for you to find time off. I understand. Sometimes you have to find a place to rest by finding a quiet spot near where you live. Somewhere to get away from the noise and stop and listen to quiet. A place of rest. -God Bless -Nancy