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.

Was it you?

Some days we can let our circumstances get the best of us. And our emotions. We get tired and we get cranky. On the outside we are adults, but on the inside we can act like an unruly two year old. We want our way, and when we don’t get it, we get upset.

The recent events of the world have stretched me and tried my patience to the point of my becoming that unruly two year old.  I feel bad for feeling bad, which makes the situation worse, it seems. I have been the queen of self- criticism before, and on a particular, hot, tiresome August day, I acted both as a temperamental toddler and a self-critic. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I had been fighting the constant battle of my thoughts. If you read my last blog, you know that I addressed fear versus caution in the midst of this pandemic. Most of the time, I can keep my perspective and my focus on Christ and the things that matter, rather than on the fears that continually get fueled by what I see and read. It is easy to give into fear, especially when you’re worn out and tired.

So, there I was, exhausted, worn out, stressed and alone in a gas station bathroom. I had had enough of it all. The worries of the pandemic, the fears of moving into new chapters of my life, the pressure of resuming my seminary classes after a summer break, the disappointments and disagreements between family members, and the late hour. I felt my eyes well up with tears, but I didn’t want to let myself cry. I’d have to walk back through the store portion of the station, and didn’t want to face anyone, even a stranger with my red eyes and running mascara. I quietly told God I wanted to give up. I’ve had enough. I  knew that much of what had been happening in my personal life was a spiritual attack from the pits of hell, but I was just tired of fighting it.

In those moments of frustration and desperation, it seems like the most logical thing to say or think is to cry “Uncle”. Our faith is being stretched so much. We just want to throw in the towel and tell the Devil he’s won. We’ll stop trying to make a difference in the world. Just look out for number one, forget others, Isn’t that what the world tells us to do? Why go against the current? Why speak up for the truth? Why follow God? Why keep going to school to answer God’s call to be a pastor? How many war wounds and battle scars are enough God? I just wanna give up God, it’s not worth it anymore, can you help me God? If not, I’m giving up!

But, you were there. And you made a difference. I never saw you, might not ever meet you. But I know you had been there and must have listened to God’s voice, that still, quiet voice, to leave me a note in the bathroom that evening. It was such a clear message from God, that in my two- year tantrum mindset,  I tried not to see it. I was just so fed up with everything. I know God it was really a note from you. An answer from you, not just from a person. You are pretty intentional, and you intended for me to see that little piece of folded paper.

There it was, a handwritten note, slightly damp from the water of the sink from others who had seen it, while they washed up. It was written in colored pencil or ink, and some of the writing from the back side of the paper had faded. But there was no doubt about the message; “Jesus loves you so very much” Simple. To the point. And not even a memorized Bible verse. Just the reminder I needed that late evening at a gas station bathroom. I recited in my mind the words over and over again as I walked back out into the parking lot. Jesus loves me. So. very. much. Not just the simple Jesus loves me this I know, of the familiar kids song, but different, personal, and just what I needed to hear from God.

So thank you, who ever you are, you made a difference in my world and hopefully in the world in general. Thank you for not giving up in telling the world that yes, in fact, Jesus does love them so very much. Maybe you were a child, who forget their handwritten picture on the sink earlier that day as you washed your hands, or maybe you were a teen or adult, who knew to hear God’s voice and share the love you know with the world who does not know of God’s love.

We all have a part to play in Christ’s kingdom if we are Christians. Don’t give up and throw in the towel. Your action might be small, like a little piece of paper on a sink. But you make the difference in the world.

The world is desperate for answers, for peace, and for love. God has all that, and He is offering it freely. We all need to encourage each other about God’s love for us. Of His truth. Of His peace He offers. Of His hope that does not disappoint. Of His answers to prayer, that sometimes come in the form of little notes left on sinks.

Maybe you are looking for answers, be sure not to overlook those little quiet voices, reminding you to look to God for those answers. Be quiet enough to listen so that you don’t miss them. They might come in the form of a little, folded, love note from God. God hears you.

Caution or fear

Life is full of challenges. Too many challenges some days, but overall its our attitude in facing these challenges  that can either hold us back or keep us moving forward. Recent days have demonstrated just how quickly life can change. Lives can be disrupted by a small crown like virus. For some it produces no more than the common cold, for others, a serious medical emergency. But all lives have been affected to be sure in some manner or another.

Yet, time continues to pass, whether that time passes while we sit indoors, or as we venture out to our jobs and schools. Circumstances change, locations change, but time is always moving forward.  We can latch onto this forward movement, or resist it and try to drag our heels.We can either find the good in our circumstances or look for the bad in our circumstances, but we cannot change the fact that even if our world seems to stop, life does not. We get older, and hopefully wiser, as we experience life. As the saying goes, time marches on.

I’ve recently been considering how I address the fears that have cropped up since the pandemic, and found that, I have been letting my emotions have first place. I am, by nature, a cautious person. I make sure not to pull out into traffic without looking carefully. In fact, during my driver’s test, that was the one complaint of the tester, I was too cautious! I will agree to that, I’d rather be safe than crash my car. But sometimes too much caution keeps me from enjoying my life. For example, I’m afraid of roller coasters that turn upside down. I love fast roller coasters- in fact the faster the better- but, I’m just too cautious to go upside down. I’m cautious. But, someday I imagine I will get the courage to face this fear and go on one of those crazy twisty, upside down terror rides.

As the days have passed since the beginning of this pandemic I have noticed there is great debate over the seriousness of the pandemic, some toss all caution to the wind, while others are fearful of everyone and avoid everybody. I admit, at first I was scared to death and followed every update on the news. But, then I began to read more about the disease and also a book that challenged my faith. It made me realize how I had allowed my natural caution to turn into fear and here I was with this question posed at me by the author of the book, “Am I afraid to die?” Wow, that’s heavy for anyone to read in a book about helping your thought life. Thanks? for that, I feel so much better now.  Seriously though,that really put things into perspective. I do believe God has given us all a healthy fear of death, so we will be cautious and not hurt ourselves. But, we can allow this fear to control us and manipulate us.

It’s a good question to ask yourself, what am I afraid of? Am I afraid of all the bad news I hear? Afraid of being rejected? Afraid or being hurt? Afraid of failing? Anyone of these fears are normal, but when moved past the level of cautious to downright fearful, we have a problem. It freezes us from moving forward.We close ourselves off to others, and to God. Difficulties will always face us as a planet. There will be more pandemics, more floods, more wildfires, more famines, more earthquakes, more hurricanes, more betrayals, more hurts, more financial problems, more sicknesses and diseases that claim too many lives too soon. But what matters is how we process all of this. We can be filled with fear and resign ourselves to believe that God is a God who doesn’t care what is going on down here, or we can quietly, take a deep breath, pray, seek God’s face and not His hand, and trust. That’s it. Trust. All of our fear and worry will not change the outcome. This planet will move forward.Time will move forward. All the circumstances that cause us fear will disappear as quickly as they came. In the meantime, trust. God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. It is what I have banked my life on. God does not leave. God is with us even through this time of stress and anxiety. We can be cautious and wise, but not let fear get the better of us. God’s got this.

 

Certain.

There’s a popular phrase circulating around the media these days; “In these uncertain times”. I’m not sure who started this phrase, but advertisers have been quick to join others in using it over and over again to promote whatever they are selling. But, are you buying it? Is it really an unprecedented, uncertain times we live in? From the perspective of a pandemic, then no, this world has seen them before. Haven’t we already been living in uncertain times? I mean, does anyone know the future? Life is short and often we are caught unaware when someone close to us passes away unexpectedly. Tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes often hit unexpectedly as well. We could add fires and accidents to the list too. Any one of these tragic events can alter our lives forever or just temporarily. Jobs can be lost, and businesses close overnight. Disease can be lurking within us without our knowing until one day we receive a difficult diagnosis. Life is uncertain at best. Without a major pandemic hitting the world. But is there anything that is certain? Please don’t say the obvious two; death and taxes, but think beyond those.

We can be sure that any event we are going through right now is temporary. We can be sure that there is more to our existence than this life. There is an eternal life past what we can see now. We can be certain that God is still in control. He always has been and always will be. We can be certain that God can work out all things for good. Why? Because we read it in the Bible and we can be certain it is true for the Bible is God’s word for us. We can be certain because what God says in His word is true and His promises are true. We can be certain of the Bible as historically accurate since there is less than five percent inaccuracy between the earliest copies and today’s versions, and of those mistakes, they were misspelled words. So, we can be certain that what God intended to say to us has passed through the generations to us who are living now. We can be certain that God does love the world and that He sent Jesus for us. We can be certain He has plans for us and a future. We can trust Him. We can be certain our peace is found in Him. We can be certain that He prepares a place for us in Heaven. We can be certain that He knows the pain and stress we are going through because He felt it too when He came as a man and dwelt among us. We can be as certain as David when he wrote;  “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2, New International Version Bible).

For those familiar with David’s story, you can recall he didn’t have a perfect life or even act perfect all the time, but he knew what he was certain of: God. So, I challenge you to think about what is certain in these times and avoid getting caught up in believing that somehow God isn’t aware of what you are going through or that everything is out of control or beyond His control. God is still in control and He can use something of our pain and difficulty to help us grow closer to Him. God is certain and we can trust Him. God Bless -Nancy

 

Something Good

We all want it. We are all looking for it. No, its not toilet paper,but we want something good in this world that currently seems spiraling out of control. This new normal that we find ourselves in is stressful and scary at times. What we took for granted, like full grocery stores shelves, seems like something from ages ago. Did we really have stocked shelves? Did we really have jobs we drove to? Did we really get together with our friends and families any time we wanted to? Did we really dine out and go to school?

This good we experienced will be here again as history has shone us. In the meantime can we find the good that still there? Yes, I believe we can, but we have to look for it. I know many of you reading this probably have been negatively impacted by the pandemic in serious ways. Most people have only been inconvenienced. I have a bit of understanding in what some of you are going through as a parent new to staying home with your children and homeschooling them. I stayed at home for all of the years my children were in school and even home schooled for a year. What I’ve learned and can share with you is this;1) Enjoy these moments as your kids won’t always be home with you, 2)When you feel like pulling out your hair, take a break and seek out a quiet place for five minutes.3) It’s okay to let your kids entertain themselves with the t.v or tablet. 4)Homeschooling made me realize just how much schooling can get done in only two to four hours a day- there’s a lot of wasted time at school.5) I learned as my son learned from my homeschooling.6) If you’re married and both of you are working from home, enjoy this time together and allow time in your work schedule to sit down and eat together or cook a meal together. We are all so busy, that we often do not have time to spend together.7) Pray. Do not neglect to pray for others who are having an even more stressful time.8) Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.8) Find out who might need extra help in your neighborhood and offer it.9) If your college age kid is home, remember they are still doing their coursework- do not load them down with projects and chores and treat them like adults- they are. 10) Call and check on older relatives and friends. 11) Encourage your children to video chat with their friends if they cannot get together in person. 12) Video chat with your friends. And as I mentioned before; Look for the good.

It is easy to get overwhelmed and watching too much of the news feeds will tend to make us even more nervous. But try to find something good about your day. I have been so encouraged by my neighborhood in how they have helped each other out. I have seen so many families out for walks and scavenger hunts, laughing and enjoying time together. I have met couples when out walking- from the safe distance of six feet- that I did not know were my neighbors. Normal life used to include watching commuters drive past my house in the morning and returning to their garages where they parked their cars and closed down their garage doors, before I could even see who was inside. It has all brought us closer together as a community. And although we have been told to stay apart, we have actually grown closer together as a neighborhood, community and hopefully as a country as well. Adversity has a tendency to do that when we can look for something good and reach out to help others.

I would be negligent if I didn’t mention that for many of your this isn’t a good time. You are struggling financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Please reach out to others who are willing to help. Many churches are offering online services, words of encouragement and prayer daily. They are also able to help if you need food and financial help or if you just want someone to pray with. If you are in a threatening relationship and the stress of the situation is driving you or your significant other over the edge, law enforcement is still available as are caring organizations who will offer safety. Please reach out. If you feel you are going to go over the edge yourself and harm your children, walk into another room or outside until you can calm down and seek out help. Many faith based organizations have trained counselors who can speak with you either over the phone or online to offer help and advice.

For those of you who want to help, pray and ask God where He needs you and keep up with social media posts that are often posting opportunities to help in specific ways. Sometimes we can be the good others are looking for. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and this seems like opportunity to demonstrate just that. -God Bless Nancy