Featured

What Color Is Jesus?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            Isaiah 53:2

On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.

Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”

Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”

Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.

But then, why not?  I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.

There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.

These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.

And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?

The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).

As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.

One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe! 

SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)

The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)

The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on.  John 1:14 says,     “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving the throne room of Heaven to live in this fallen world as one of us. Thank You for offering Your life for all of us as the perfect sacrifice. You paid the debt we could not afford, so our sins might be cancelled out and we might live with You forever. And now, as we place our faith in You, we can look forward to eternal life in Your glorious kingdom, along with Your children from every nation, tribe, people and tongue! What a glorious day that will be!  Lord, help us to focus less on the superficial and more on what’s truly important – how much You love us, how much we love You, and how much we should love one another in Your name. Amen.

Featured

To Seniors and Others Missing Out

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.         Colossians 3:2

This piece, originally entitled “What Else Matters?” was posted May 3 of last year. I wanted to share it again, for all my readers who are or have seniors missing their prom, graduation, and other festivities they thought they would be enjoying now. Feel free to share this with them. I hope it encourages those who are feeling the loss.

It was the morning of the National Day of Prayer. I was sitting in the auditorium at City Hall, listening to my daughter’s school choir singing a goosebump-raising rendition of “You Are God Alone.” They were warming up for the city-wide prayer meeting that was starting in half an hour. And I was crying.

My daughter Kelly had been having a rough time in high school. The migraines that had first appeared when she was four years old had continued to plague her through grade school and middle school and had caused her record absences through high school, in spite of years of prayers and attempts to find a solution through medicine, both traditional and “alternative.”

But in spite of enduring more pain than some people suffer in a lifetime, Kelly had found a few sources of pleasure in her life. By far her greatest joy was singing, and her favorite part of school was choir. When the students performed, Kelly’s face radiated with unmistakable joy. She had looked forward to the national Day of Prayer and taking part, and as I had said goodbye to her that morning and she left for school, I had whispered a special prayer of thanks to God for this special day.

My optimism had been short-lived, however. Kelly had called me from the parking lot of a McDonald’s half a mile from school to tell me about the migraine that had assaulted her shortly after she had walked out the door. When I had suggested that she come home, take some medication, and rest until the assembly, she had sobbed that if she didn’t show up at 8:00 she wouldn’t be allowed to sing with the choir.

There are definite advantages to a small Christian school, one of them being teachers who know each student well and practice grace along with discipline. As I called the office to explain Kelly’s dilemma, the choir director, who “happened to be” right by the phone, responded with compassion. She said to let Kelly come home, take a pill and a nap, and meet the choir at City Hall at 11:30 if she was feeling better.

But the medication that knocked out the migraine had a way of knocking out the patient as well, and when I had tried to rouse Kelly for the prayer meeting, she had been hopelessly (and predictably) dead to the world. Now as the choir finished their warm-up and filed off the stage, there I sat, with nothing to do but feel sorry for Kelly, thinking of all the important high school events she had missed and would never again get a chance to do. And yes, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as well. (When “BabyBear” hurts, “MamaBear” hurts, too.) So in spite of my efforts to contain them, the tears flowed.

I was digging through my purse, looking for a tissue when I came across my small New Testament. Since the prayer meeting didn’t start until noon, I knew I had twenty minutes to kill, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend them wallowing in self-pity. So I pulled out the Bible and prayed.

Lord, Jesus, please encourage me. I don’t want to feel this way today!

I was not in the habit of looking for answers to problems by haphazardly opening the Bible; I hadn’t done that since college. But since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I opened the Book at random, planning just to read until I found something helpful, or until the prayer meeting started, whichever came first.

The scripture that first caught my eye was the last chapter of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”                    (Mark 16: 1-6)

Something told me I had seen enough, so I stopped reading.

OK, what does that have to do with Kelly’s migraines? I wondered. But then I pondered the significance of the passage.

Jesus is alive … JESUS IS ALIVE! That means that death is not the end … for Him or for us! And it certainly means this life isn’t the be-all and end-all for those who trust in the Lord. – It’s barely the beginning!

Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to … what else mattered?

What else matters? I asked myself, and I found that in spite of my pity-party, I was smiling. I decided that I would pour myself into the Day of Prayer and keep a better perspective on life from that day on, by remembering the one thing that really matters –

Jesus is alive!

Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)                           c 2015 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that You are alive! Keep us mindful of what really matters. In Your name, amen

Featured

On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light was streaming in, and the need for cleaning was so obvious, I grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

Every summer we go to the house in Michigan that my grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty-six years ago my husband Marty and I got married there, and two years ago our youngest daughter married the love of her life there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all.)

A few years ago we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt onto Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but two years ago before our daughter Kelly married the love of her life on the lawn at that house, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

God’s Heart and the Olympics

I am not a huge sports fan.

OK, that’s not quite accurate. I am not a sports fan at all, with two exceptions: 1.) When I personally know someone who’s competing, and 2.) the Olympics. With the Olympics I enjoy the events that are aesthetically pleasing, like figure skating and gymnastics. As for who’s the fastest, who’s the strongest, etc., I watch to root for the Americans. On rare occasions I’ll root for someone I know something about and like, and who has an interesting background story, whatever country they represent.

By far my favorite part of the Olympics is the night of the opening ceremonies, when no one is competing at all. (My husband finds this amusing.) As a theater person, I love the pageantry – the choreography, the music, the colorful costumes from each nation, the pyrotechnics and other special effects – the elaborate production presented by the host country.

Most of all, I love the “Parade of Nations,” when hundreds of athletes enter the stadium with their teams and their flags.

And their faces! I love the looks of excitement and wonder as they smile and wave to the spectators and their friends back home, taking videos and “selfies.” Some are hamming it up, and it’s clear that others can scarcely believe they’re really here! I love the diversity in the faces of these people from all over the world, every one of them created in God’s image.

This year the parade was different. The bleachers were empty, and nearly every athlete was masked. With half their faces hidden, they nevertheless entered energetically, waving enthusiastically, some dancing or jumping in excitement. Though unable to see their smiles, my heart still went out to every one of them.

(Translation: I was in tears most of the time.)

I want to hug all of them!

That same feeling has overwhelmed me at another time some years ago when I was out West with my sister. It was a feeling far more intense than admiration for the gorgeous landscape.

There was another “parade of nations” going on, and we were a part of as we walked along the Lower Rim of the Grand Canyon. One of my first blog posts ever, entitled “A Heart Like His,” described the experience. I was planning to repost it, but as it just disappeared before my eyes, (Oh goody, a chance to exercise patience...) I’ll have to write it again and paraphrase:

A HEART LIKE HIS

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

Truly one of God’s most amazing creations is the Grand Canyon. I have been there several times with my Arizona sister on some of our annual “sisterly adventures.” The canyon seems to have infinite variety at every turn – different colors, rock formations, vegetation, even totally different looks at different times of day as the shadows shift, and the hues with them.

But this particular time when I was there with my sister Susie and her friend Bill, I was fascinated by the sea of humanity that surrounded us, even more than I was by natural beauty of the scenery.

A tall blonde woman with a Scandinavian accent asked me about a word on one of the plaques, and as I helped her pronounce it and explained its meaning, she slowly pronounced it, thanked me, and continued to gaze at the canyon. A middle-aged Japanese couple who didn’t speak a word of English gestured that they wanted their picture taken with Susie’s 80-something friend. They got on either side of him, giggling and hugging him as though he were their best friend. Bill smiled as Susie took the picture, although he seemed a little confused.

Two darling French children were posing for a picture for their parents, while some young German students laughed heartily at a joke no one else understood. Two black men conversed in a beautiful language I couldn’t identify.

A young mother had stopped to rest, smiling and talking to her baby in a stroller. An elderly couple who seemed to have been together forever, walked hand-in-hand, evidently content to say nothing.

Surrounded by many races, languages, and ages, I noticed some things that weren’t happening. No one seemed angry. No one was arguing politics. No one had an agenda. No one was trying to control anyone else. We all seemed to be in agreement (How often does that happen?) and were there for one thing, to stand in awe of this masterpiece of God, although admittedly not everyone there would have called it that.

As the incredibly beautiful diversity of faces passed by and I pondered what it was about this “United Nations at the Canyon” that was moving me to tears, I made a surprising discovery:

I was in love with everybody!

I then remembered that recently I had begun praying for “divine perspective.” I wanted to see everything – especially people – the way God sees them. And today I was getting a glimpse of His heart for the world – “every people, tribe, nation, and tongue.” He was answering that prayer!

Prayer: Lord God, You’ve created every one of us, and we are each uniquely designed, yet all made in Your image. Help us to see everyone – even ourselves – in light of that truth, in Jesus’ name, amen.

PS If you aren’t sure whether you will be part of that “parade of nations” entering heaven someday, if you don’t feel like “heaven material” because of your flaws, mistakes, blunders, and downright sin, know that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God the Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, the perfect Man, to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross in our place. By believing in Him and becoming His followers, we can be forgiven through Him and adopted into His family. You can read more about this in the third chapter of the Gospel of John in the Bible. If you do not have a Bible, email me at bascha3870@yahoo.com, and I will gladly send you one.

How to Make God Happy

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.  – Zephaniah 3:17

I’m in the middle of a long-awaited visit from my son and his family. Long-awaited, because we don’t live in the same state, and also because the pandemic kept us apart for a big chunk of the last year and a half.

I have noticed a little difference in my older grandson, Parker, who is ten years old now, but there’s no doubt he’s the same kid I spent a week with five years ago.

His mother was recovering from the birth of his new baby brother, Kaplan. The whole family was adjusting to the new dynamics, transitioning from a family of three to a family of four, and my job was to make sure Parker still felt important and didn’t get bored. He got my undivided attention for most of the week, as we baked “Nana muffins,” did crafts, dug in a block of clay for dinosaur bones and assembled them into a stegosaurus, built “the most awesome Hot Wheels track ever!” using books as ramps and couch cushions as tunnels, and discovered all the great properties of balloons, including the fact that if you rubbed them on the carpet you could stick them all over the wall and they’d stay. We read books, went grocery shopping together, and colored pictures to welcome the new baby.

Today Parker is still an energetic, critter-loving guy, bursting with enthusiasm, whatever the activity.

Kaplan, now five, has changed more than Parker has, at least in regards to “Nana.” He was pleasantly playful during our last few visits, which were too short and far apart for us to do much bonding. But this time I can tell something has changed.

A day or two after the family arrived, everyone except “Nana” went to the beach. I stayed home and packed sandwiches and snacks, walked the dog, answered some emails, and then went to join them.

As I started down the steep steps to the beach, a little voice cried out, NANA!!!Hey Beepaw! Nana’s here!” I can’t remember when I was last greeted with that much enthusiasm – by someone who not only was happy to see me, but was also eager to share the good tidings – “Nana’s here!” To say my heart was warmed would not do justice to that moment.

The next morning when I emerged from the bedroom and walked into the living room, I found most of the family hanging out on the chairs and couches, engaged on their devices. I said “Good morning,” answered by preoccupied grunts from most of the clan. But Kaplan looked up from what he was doing, and his little face lit up with joy.

NANA!” he squealed again, jumping up and trying to get to me for a hug. “Beepaw’s” legs were blocking the way.

Move your feet!” I barked. – I wanted that hug! Kaplan managed to squeeze through and when he reached me, he gave me the biggest, happiest hug. Patting my back, he said, “How ya doin’?”

It amazes me how someone so much smaller than I am, who isn’t strong or educated or savvy or rich or impressive as far as the world is concerned, can light up my day in a split second, delight my soul, and make my heart feel as if it will burst with joy. It makes me think of something I consider and pray about every day.

Have you ever wondered what in the world you could give to God? He is the Creator of the world. He knows everything, He owns everything, He has power over everything. He is forever and infinite; we are finite. I think of my own sinfulness, my inadequacies, my blunders. Then I think of what Jesus went through for me. The only One who didn’t deserve to suffer, who didn’t have to do anything He didn’t want to, willingly died on the cross to pay for my sins, so that I could be forgiven and be welcomed into His family as His child.

After Jesus did all that for me, today I want to make Him happy! I don’t want Him to suffer any more for me, or even just tolerate me, I want to make Him smile! I want Him to laugh with pleasure! I don’t want to be a child that frustrates Him or grieves Him or embarrasses Him, I want to be the child He delights in.

So how do I do that? Today I took some “divine perspective” from Kaplan. What gives Nana pleasure just might be what gives our heavenly Father pleasure, too.

When I spend time in prayer or Bible reading or worship, do I do it with joyful anticipation of Jesus’ showing up? Do I delight in His presence and want to run into His arms? Do I joyfully share with others that “He’s real! He’s here! He loves us!”? Could it be that we have the power to make the Lord happy – that if we delight in Him, He delights in us?

We study the Word of God to understand Who He is and what He’s done, to know truth, and to get our theology right, and this is very important. But in our searching for knowledge let’s not forget to take time simply to delight in the One we’re studying. We can never know all He knows, we can never give a fraction of what He gives, we can never outwork Him. But as His beloved children, we can still make Him smile, maybe even laugh with pleasure, when we take pleasure in Him.

Prayer: Jesus, You suffered so much for us, and it grieves us that our sin caused You so much pain. Today we want to cause You to rejoice, to smile, to laugh with pleasure. Help us to give back to You the joy You give us. We want to be the children You delight in, nothing less. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You Assume WHAT?? (“Can’t We Do Both? Part 2)

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. I Peter 3:13-16

I recently read a post on social media that caught my attention. It wasn’t aimed at me personally, but I found myself reacting, because in referring to “people like you,” I knew I probably qualified as one of “those people.”

What was the massive offense “people like me” do that makes us “what’s wrong with America”?

We believe in the right to life.

I have had three babies of my own, and five grandchildren I have held in my arms, not to mention all the newborns of friends and couples in our church where I serve in the nursery on occasion. These precious little people are to me a picture of pure innocence, created in the image of God. These little ones are utterly helpless, dependent on us older, less innocent people to provide for, protect, and defend them – a duty I take very seriously. To harm one of these is to attack the purest image of God, and I make no apologies for holding that belief.

But apparently because I value the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages, it I assumed that I have no concern for children who have already been born. Many of these are abused, have special needs, or live in poverty, and it is assumed that “people like me” don’t care about those children.

Really? Is there a legal limit to one’s capacity to care, and have I somehow used up all mine on the preborn?

Just FYI, Mister, I have volunteered my time with several ministries that care for kids in the inner city, as well as at a children’s hospital. I’ve helped my fellow Christians feed hungry children (and their impoverished parents) all over the world. I have sponsored needy children for decades, and at the present time I have four of them who consider me “mummy.” Most of the people I know who are pro-life have done similar things. (How many children do you support, Sir?)

Apparently we are also assumed guilty of other crimes, such as dumping toxic waste into the oceans. How defending the unborn precludes caring for the environment is beyond me, but there are apparently those who have come to that conclusion. As I wrote in a former blog about strengthening our immune systems vs. hand washing – “Can’t we do both?” Sir, why do you see caring about society’s most helpless and caring for their environment as mutually exclusive convictions?

Just so you know, I recycle everything from plastic, to clothes, to water. (Yes, I look pretty silly with my bucket, flushing the toilet with yesterday’s bath water, but hey, no one’s watching…) I have been married to someone with a degree in environmental engineering for nearly five decades, and before he retired, when I was supportive of him, I was being supportive of what he was doing to make the world a cleaner, better place.

I guess my chief question for this individual who has so much contempt for “people like me” is this:

Just what exactly were you hoping to accomplish with such a post? What kind of response do you expect to receive from such a venomous attack on so many people, most of whom you have never met? Is this your idea of making the world better? Do we need more hostility, more bigotry, more polarization?

(Could it be – just maybe – that it’s your kind of attitude that is what’s wrong with America?)

My final FYI to you, Sir:

As much as you may hate me and people like me, I want you to know, I do not hate you. You are clearly an unhappy person, and I can’t help wondering what it is that you are really so angry about.

I wonder, because on past occasions I’ve lashed out at people who had nothing to do with my real struggles. But I found Someone who understands and who gave Himself to die for all my sins, flaws, and mistakes. The incredible sacrifice Jesus made to save me and give me eternal life makes me willing to do whatever He asks of me. And what He asks of me is this:

“Love God. Love people – not just your friends and neighbors, but also the poor, the weak, the helpless, and [the most amazing command of all] love your enemies.

You may consider me your enemy, but I do not hate you. I have been commanded to love you by Him who IS love. I believe if everyone who claims the name of Jesus would do this, we could be what’s right in America. We could fulfill God’s Word that says,

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Prayer: Lord God, there are those who make assumptions about us, and we are tempted to react in anger. Help us to do better. Rather than argue, let our lives, lived for You, speak volumes, so that those who criticize us may not only be ashamed of their slander, but that they might want to put down their rocks and join us in serving You. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Christianity – the Source of Today’s Evil?

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”       – Jesus (John 13:34-35)

“All oppression in Western civilization has been caused by Christianity” is an opinion that seems to have been gaining popularity in recent days.

When considering such a sweeping statement involving the world’s problems over the past two thousand years, we need to start by:

Defining the terms. What exactly is meant by “Christianity”? – Is it an organized religion loosely based on a few selected Bible verses? A political establishment made with the word “Christian” attached to it to give it credibility? A cult wanting to lure the gullible away from the truth to their own warped version of “truth”?

Is the stated opinion referring one of these, or to the words of Jesus of Nazareth: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.“?

Defining terms makes a huge difference in the validity of what social media celebrities post every day. And latching onto one interpretation or the other can have far-reaching consequences. An impressionable person hearing a confident, authoritative tone of someone denouncing “Christianity” will readily respond, “Yeah! That’s right! #*&% them!” And the next guy in a Jesus t-shirt who tries to talk to him about the claims of Christ gets blamed for every evil from American slavery to the Spanish Inquisition.

Of course, before hearing this universal condemnation, chances are most listeners have had some kind of experience with what they would call “Christianity.”

One person may have spent his early childhood in poverty with an abusive, addicted parent and then been taken in by Christian foster parents, who later adopted him and gave him a loving home and a bright future. Such a person, hearing Christianity equated with oppression, would write off the statement as nonsense.

On the other hand, another person may have been abused multiple times by someone belonging to a church, and those in authority may have refused to believe one of their members had done anything wrong. That person would agree wholeheartedly (and understandably) that “Christianity is evil!”

So, I repeat, defining “Christianity” is extremely important in evaluating statements made by the enemies of the Church.

(We also need to define “the Church.”)

I propose that the logical approach is to go back to the Founder of the faith – Jesus of Nazareth – and see what exactly He taught. It only makes sense that Christ should be the one defining “Christianity.”

Jesus had many teachings, but He said there were two commandments that summed them all up:

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40)

The child adopted by loving parents has seen these basic commandments being lived out through his family and their social circle.

The child being abused in a church has not. Destroying a child for one’s own gratification could not be considered loving by anyone’s definition. Which begs the question:

If that person had been practicing the opposite of what Jesus taught, why would he be considered “Christian” by any stretch of the imagination? He may call himself a Christian, but that only makes him a liar on top of everything else.

Religious hypocrites have been around since Jesus denounced them Himself, and probably long before that.

The Greek word for “hypocrite” means, literally, “play actor.” In a typical Sunday morning service one can usually find good people who believe in Jesus and are doing their best to follow His teachings – and people who are play-acting. (In other words, both Christians and those who are only pretending to be Christians.)

Ironically, many people reject Christianity based on the behavior of people who aren’t Christians!

The Church, as defined in Scripture, however, is not a building but a body made up of true believers in Jesus Christ world-wide. It has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, politics, or organizations. It does have to do with people who admittedly are sinners, have realized that they are, and have repented. They have accepted Jesus’ atoning death on the cross as payment for their sins and the promise of eternal life. Out of gratitude they are trying to live out their faith through love for God and others.

Are Christians perfect? Certainly not. Are they better than they were? By the grace of God, yes. This is the true Church, the “Body of Christ,” and God alone knows every one of them by name.

He also knows who is play-acting, and unfortunately history is full of those who attach the sacred name of Jesus onto every form of evil – no wonder people are confused!

If you saw a movie about Mother Teresa and later heard about something destructive, immoral, or illegal done by the actress who played the lead role, you wouldn’t judge Mother Teresa by the actions of the person who had pretended to be Mother Teresa! So why do people judge Jesus’ Church by the actions of those who are only pretending to be part of it? Can they not tell the difference?

Here’s how to differentiate between true Christ-followers and the fakes:

Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” And what are His commandments?

Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and imprisoned. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you,” among others.

So, if someone you encounter is consistently hateful, cruel, spiteful, and selfish, with no regard for the less fortunate (or anyone else), if that person claims to be a Christian, (s)he is a liar. (I John 4:20)

I say “consistently,” because Christians have bad days like everyone else. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t let us be content with living contrary to Christ. Repentance, apologies, and forgiveness are a regular part of life for a true Christ-follower.

So, I submit for your consideration that the words “Christian” and “hypocrite,” by their truest definitions, are mutually exclusive.

Prayer: Jesus, the world is confused about who Your people are, and they spew hatred toward Your Church. Help us not to add to the confusion with an un-Christ-like response, but rather to reflect Your light by loving our enemies and praying for those who hate You, that they may grow to love You as we do, in Your name, amen.


 [AA1]

Easy Go, Easy Come

I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. – Psalm 104:33

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have had my struggles with my health, mainly allergies and frequent colds, bronchitis, and one summer, pneumonia. (Good grief, who gets pneumonia in the summer?! I do, apparently. – *eye roll*)

The most frustrating thing about these physical frailties has been the loss of my voice – my singing voice, and at times, even my speaking voice. I have written a few posts regarding the kind of frustration that comes with losing the ability to communicate easily.

I would like to “sing to the LORD as long as I live,” but I’ve learned that’s not something I can take for granted. Every time my voice takes a vacation, I experience the feeling of an empty space in my life, until gradually it returns, and I promise myself I will never take singing for granted ever again.

A couple of years ago I lost my singing voice for an extended period of time, even longer than usual. Over the weeks and months I sadly came to accept that at church I was to mouth the words of the songs, meditate on and appreciate their meaning, and relish the time surrounded by brothers and sisters who sang their worship in heavenly four-part harmony. I felt I was getting a brief glimpse of eternity in God’s presence, a scene of which I was not yet a part but could look forward to as I wait for that glorious “someday” when I would be singing with them – forever.

Another blessing in my life is my church home group that meets every two weeks to fellowship, discuss the recent sermons, and pray for one another. On one of those nights I was asked, as usual, “How can we pray for you?” I responded with the first thing that came to mind:

“Would you pray I get my voice back? I want to sing to the Lord!”

When the prayer time came, the hostess of the group prayed a wonderful, heartfelt prayer that the Lord would give me back my “beautiful voice” so I could sing His praises.

A couple of nights later we had our daughter’s kids over to spend the night. As I lay next to Charlotte, she asked, “Nana, would you sing to me?” Of course, my heart melted, and I “gave it the ol’ college try.”

The results were less than stellar. After my voice cracked for the fourth or fifth time, I sighed and gave up. The little one was already asleep, so she didn’t see the tears. I prayed and again committed my voice to the Lord and resolved to be patient while it ever-so-slowly came back. I already knew what to expect – little moments of clarity and hope with slowly diminishing periods of hoarseness in between, until at last I could sing again.

Sunday morning I was in church with Charlotte, and just before the service started, we needed to make a quick trip to the ladies’ room. As we walked back into the sanctuary, the congregation was singing one of my new favorite songs, and the desire to sing with them was overwhelming.

What the heck... I thought, and I impulsively began belting out the words I had memorized …

loudly, clearly, and right on key! My voice was back! Just like that!

I had never experienced a rebound as sudden as what had just happened, and it wasn’t a momentary recovery. I sang the entire the song by heart, and my voice stayed strong for every song after that. This time the tears weren’t from frustration but from sheer joy and wonderment. This was not the agonizingly slow recovery I had been expecting.

But then, it wasn’t about what I was expecting, or what I could do, or what I had worked on. This was God, pure and simple. It was an instant miracle that left me awestruck. He did it not only to surprise and delight one of His children, but more than that, for His glory. I knew it instantly. The title of song said it all:

“Yet not I, but through Christ in Me.” 

Prayer: Lord, Your gifts are so precious, never to be taken for granted. You’ve given us ways to worship You that not only please You, but fill us with joy, as well. Your Word says that You inhabit the praises of Your people, and when we sing our hearts out to You, we sense Your presence among us – and within us. Thank You for being our heavenly Father, the Lover of our souls, our Counselor, Comforter, Shepherd, Provider, Protector, Healer – our Everything! How could we not sing to You? May we sing Your praises for as long as we live! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This Is War

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood … Ephesians 6:12

It’s been a while since I’ve written about spiritual warfare, possibly because of all the distractions from other kinds of warfare going on in the world today. But the enemy is as real as ever, the battle as intense as ever, and our position as warriors for the kingdom of God unchanged. We may not particularly like the idea of being in a war, but as Christ-followers we have no choice.

I can already sense some readers getting uneasy, even fashionably “offended” by yet another “conspiracy theory,” so I will let Scripture speak for itself. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, read these verses, no matter how familiar they are, and be encouraged. If you are not yet a believer, consider what the most enduring book in the world has to say about the struggles we face in life.

THE ENEMY IS REAL.

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith … “ – I Peter 5:8-9

GOD IS GREATER THAN THE ENEMY

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. – I John 4:4

THE BATTLE IS REAL, IT IS A SPIRITUAL BATTLE, AND WE ARE IN IT.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

JESUS HAS GIVEN HIS FOLLOWERS AUTHORITY OVER THE ENEMY.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy.” – Luke 10:19 [JESUS speaking to His disciples]

THAT AUTHORITY EXTENDS TO ALL BELIEVERS.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” [emphasis mine] – Matthew 28:19-20 [Jesus speaking to His disciples regarding future disciples – us!]

WE HAVE SPIRITUAL ARMOR TO PROTECT US.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. – Ephesians 6:11

WE ARE SHIELDED BY OUR FAITH AND GOD’S FAITHFULNES.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. – Ephesians 6:16

His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. – Psalm 91:4

THE WORD OF GOD IS OUR SWORD.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. – Ephesians 6:17

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. – II Corinthians 10:4

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil … The tempter came to him … Jesus answered, “it is written …” [after the second temptation] “It is also written …” [after the third temptation] Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written …” Then the devil left him – Matthew 4: 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12-13

THE BATTLE IS GOD’S, NOT OURS.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14 [Moses speaking to the children of Israel just before God parted the Red Sea]

“This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s.'” – II Chronicles 20:15

NOTHING CAN HARM US, IF WE REMAIN IN HIM.

“Nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:19b [Jesus speaking to His disciples]

“No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD. – Isaiah 54:17 [emphasis mine]

If you make the Most High your dwelling — even the LORD who is my refuge — then no harm, will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. – Psalm 91:9-10

NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM HIM. WE ARE MORE THAN CONQUERORS.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39

For the believer these passages are incredibly encouraging.

But if you are not yet a committed believer in Jesus Christ, none of these promises pertain to you – yet. If you sense the battle heating up around you, I strongly urge you to check out Jesus’ claims as recorded in the Bible by eye witnesses to His life, and consider that this Man, who has impacted history more than any other, was either who He claimed to be or a fraud or a crazy man. His well-documented death and resurrection convince me that He was and is the Son of God and greater than any enemy – human or otherwise – that can come against us.

For more on the Christian life, see

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Commanding Officer, we acknowledge the spiritual battles that are being waged around us. Thank You for giving us everything we need to be good soldiers, covered with the armor of God, holding fast to the shield of faith, and wielding the sword of the Spirit. Help us to hide Your Word in our hearts, to stand fast in the Truth, and to know without a doubt that the battle is Yours, and the victory is ours, in Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here’s Our Big Chance, Folks!

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. II Timothy 2:23

I was saddened to read a blog post recently about the selfishness of people. I don’t deny that selfishness is part of the human condition. But this blogger was basing his judgment on one thing – who is or isn’t wearing a mask.

For the past fifteen months our nation has been embroiled in controversy regarding (among other things) masks – whether or not they work, whether they increase bacterial infections, whether they decrease the oxygen supply to children’s growing brains, whether emotional damage is done when people can’t see one another’s faces and smiles, whether masks are dehumanizing, and whether not wearing a mask is a sign that a person doesn’t care if they infect and kill people.

Hearing-impaired people, no longer able to read lips, are feeling cut off from society. People wearing glasses get cranky because wearing a mask fogs up their lenses … Maybe that’s just me…

I even heard on the news of a man who was ticketed for wearing a mask and glasses while driving. He was told he could wear a mask or glasses while driving, but not both.

People wearing masks while driving alone have their intelligence questioned. People not wearing a mask in stores get hateful looks from people who are.

Crossing to the other side of the street when seeing another person approach used to be considered rude, now it’s deemed considerate. Keeping one’s distance in general is considered thoughtful, while elderly people with dementia sadly wonder why no one hugs them any more.

And I haven’t even mentioned the closed businesses, bankruptcies, suicides, riots, and social media wars.

Face it, it’s been a crazy, confusing, and potentially depressing year.

Now there’s hope on the horizon…. allegedly. The new “va**ine” is being either touted as the savior of the world, or feared as a conspiracy to rid the planet of half its population.

So we have yet another controversy fanning the flames of hatred among us.

People getting the injections are called “guinea pigs” by those who won’t, while those who rolled up their sleeves are enraged at the “anti-vax” people, blaming them for delays in getting us back to “normal.”

People asking questions, instead of getting reasonable, well-documented answers, are simply being “cancelled” and looked upon as trouble makers. Physicians who have practiced medicine for decades are being blocked on social media by anonymous “fact checkers.”

What am I trying to say here? … Good question.

I’m saying that everything that has been happening for the past year and a half is way more complicated than “If you wear a mask, you’re a good person who cares about others. If you don’t, you’re a scumbag.” Since when do we have the right – or the ability – to judge other people’s hearts?

To many, a healthy lifestyle involves more than avoiding microbes. Emotional health is also vital – enjoyable activities, human contact, meaningful relationships, creativity, and learning new things. Bodies are weakened not only by germs, but by fear, stress, rage, isolation, loneliness, sadness/depression, and hopelessness. We will never know how much damage was done in the past year to people driven to the breaking point by both the virus and the “solutions.” Children especially don’t need more fighting to add to the stress.

I certainly don’t have definitive answers to any of the myriad questions, and there are people way smarter than I am on all sides of the debates. But here’s what I do know:

CHRISTIANS, THIS IS OUR BIG CHANCE!

While the rest of the world is screaming at one another about masks and shots, election fraud, who’s lying and whos’ gullible, who doesn’t care about others and who’s virtue signaling, here are a few things we can do to stand out from the others, to represent Christ well:

  • Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. When you see people wearing masks, assume those people believe they are doing what’s best for the people around them, and respect that choice. If they seem to be glaring at you, assume that underneath those masks their mouths are smiling – and smile back. Assume people who don’t wear masks have their reasons. Don’t waste emotional energy being angry.
  • Treat everyone with the respect you would want. If someone seems nervous about getting near you, keep your distance. If you‘re nervous, keep your distance. If people have a different opinion from yours, assume they simply have a different perspective, which they arrived at honestly.
  • Refuse to get sucked into an argument (See scripture above.), especially considering it’s highly unlikely at this point that you will change anyone’s mind, even if you were 100% right about everything. (Trust me, you’re not.)
  • Priorities! “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” While educated, sincere, passionate people debate political issues and social problems with no perfect answers, believers in Jesus Christ can be confident about one assignment: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 There is only one decision people will make that affects their eternal destiny. Everything else is details. Don’t squander your credibility arguing over lesser things.
  • Remember God is greater. Nothing can happen to you without His permission, and He loves you. He loves your children more than you do. He has more power over lives than any disease. His kingdom is greater than any political party, and it is forever. We don’t have to be burdened with judging anyone – in fact, we’re told not to. He knows hearts, and He will judge everyone justly.

Even if God has called you to battle in a certain area of social or political change, while you’re “fighting the good fight,” you can still stand out with a Christ-like attitude.

We should be the most unconditionally loving people on the planet. We should be staying joyful in the middle of everyone else’s angst.

People will notice. They’ll notice, because grace in these times takes more than human effort and being “right.” It takes supernatural help, the kind we get only from our Savior.

Time is short. People are lost. We have the answer!

Now’s the time to stand out.

LET’S DO IT!

Prayer: Jesus, help us, especially in these times, to be more like You – in the world, but not of the world. Make us a reflection of Your love, extending to everyone Your invitation to eternal life. In Your name, amen

*#%?! It Happened AGAIN!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – I Peter 3:15

Lately I’ve had conversations with some unlikely allies regarding medicine, politics, and which conspiracy theories might not be theories after all. I am not a doctor or a scientist or a politician, and I am not willing to risk my credibility asserting things I’m not absolutely certain are facts. Since there are people with all different perspectives that are way smarter than I am, I’m willing to respect anyone’s point of view, as long as they arrived at it with a degree of intelligent reasoning.

I recently had a long phone conversation with someone I didn’t know very well, who wanted me to send her a link to some information I had shared with a mutual friend. After about a half hour I was sensing a connection between us and possibly an open door for sharing something way more important than any current event.

I told her that at the end of the day Jesus gives me peace, so while I’m concerned about certain things, I’m not freaking out over them. She responded that she gets her peace from good feelings, positive vibes, and such. Then we were out of time and had to hang up.

Suddenly I realized, It had happened again! I had used up a full thirty minutes talking about issues that won’t ultimately matter, and I had missed an opportunity to share the only thing that does!

I wanted to call her right back, but not feeling 100% prepared for a debate, I wrote her this letter instead. (I’ll call her “Renee” here.)

Renee, I’m glad we got to talk the other night, although I was kicking myself after we had hung up, because I had spent 30 minutes talking about somewhat important things, but then only about 30 seconds on the most important.

As you may have sensed, I don’t like confrontation, but nowadays we can’t let fear of conflict keep us from telling people what needs to be said, whether it’s regarding experimental shots or smothering their children, however well intentioned. If I warn them and they don’t listen, it’s on them, but if I say nothing, I am at least partly to blame if disaster strikes.

However, the most important message I’ve been given to deliver is not a warning about microchips, poisonous injections, election fraud, socialism, or a One World Order. Jesus told His followers to tell people about Him. Those other things are important now, but not as important as eternal things. If I can address both, that’s great, but if not, I have to get my priorities straight.

As I told the “contact tracer” recently, I am going to die.

In fact, you are going to die, too.

Are we going to die of C*vid? Probably not – but we might.

Are we going to die today?! Probably not – but we might.

The question isn’t really “Are we going to die?” We already know the answer to that one. But the next question, and the more important one is, “What happens after that???

A belief system needs consistency, a permanent point of reference, and for me, that’s the Bible. While positive vibes and good feelings might be enjoyable, they aren’t stable enough to give me unwavering direction. In fact, I’ve found them to be downright deceiving! As the Bible says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25) and “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) I’ve learned this truth over and over, through painful experiences when I realized my heart (emotions) had been lying to me!

On the other hand, the Bible has always said, unwaveringly, that someday we will face God to be judged and told where our souls will spend forever – either in His presence in everlasting joy, or apart from Him, in everlasting misery.

This will be the defining moment of our lives for all eternity.

I can guarantee that when that day comes there won’t be one person who gives a rat’s rear end whether they died of C*vid or an experimental injection, or shot by a racist cop, or whether they were living free or under a socialist government, or who was President and whether or not he cheated. It’s not going to matter. This life is a tiny blip on the radar that will soon vanish into nothingness. In the eternal scope of things, all that matters is whether we have followed the truth and our sins (We’ve all committed them.) have been paid for by Jesus’ death on the Cross, clearing the way for us to be forgiven and clean.

Jesus said that He is the ONLY way to heaven, (John 14:6) and I believe Him. Why wouldn’t I? He is all-powerful (He created everything.), all-loving (He sacrificed Himself to save me.), and all-knowing (He created it all in the first place.). And He has never let me down.

Just as with the C*vid information, I can’t make anyone else’s decisions. What you choose to believe is up to you: Either

(A.) Jesus is who He said He is and the only way to eternal life (John 3:16), or

(B.) He isn’t.

Option “B” means Jesus was either a liar who would tell us He was something He wasn’t, or a lunatic who thought he was God. There is no option “C.” Contrary to popular opinion, He can’t have been a “good, wise, moral teacher.” Good, moral people don’t lie about something as basic as their identity. And wise teachers aren’t confused about who they are.

Maybe you have already decided that Jesus was a liar or a crazy man, and that’s your choice that no one else can make for you. But if don’t do my job and tell you what I know, then shame on me.

Feel free to call me again any time if you want to talk about this.

Blessings,

Annie

Prayer: Lord, please reveal the truth to “Renee.” Let her be reborn into Your family and live forever with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

OH … You Mean LITERALLY? (Part 2)

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

Loving those we find it difficult to love doesn’t always involve people who hate us or do mean things to us. Sometimes the people who are nicest to us are the hardest to tolerate. When Marty and I first moved to our “little house in the big woods” early in our marriage, I had a neighbor who craved company. She would “drop by,” sometimes several times a day, and talk to me at a volume I found myself matching as I tried to communicate with this person I was assuming must be hard of hearing.

Hard of hearing or not, I knew Vicki was lonely, and the Lord had been showing me that I wasn’t truly showing her His love. While I tolerated her constant visits, I had never initiated any contact. Instead, I got involved with my new community to a point where I was rarely home. It was easier for me to be involved with the youth or the ladies in the Christian Women’s Club than with this retired hairdresser that I had very little in common with.

While something in me really didn’t want to, I decided one morning that I’d beat Vicki to it. I would come to her house, show her the love of Jesus. No matter how loudly she yelled, I would sit and take it, I would smile and nod, and try to be the friend she so desperately needed.

As I left my house, not feeling at all ready for this visit, I prayed for God to steady my heart.

Lord, You know I don’t enjoy these visits with Vicki. I get stressed, and …

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” He admonished through the familiar verse.

I got annoyed.

I know, Lord, I’m TRYING to be nice to her! What else do You want me to ... ?

“STOP.” He cut me off, then added, like a patient parent, “You’re not listening to Me. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

I stopped in the middle of the road and pondered what He had said. It was a simple concept. What was I missing???

What do you want Vicki to ‘do unto you’?” He coaxed. I sighed.

I just want her to speak to me in a normal voice – not shout!

“So…”

Seriously? I thought. Could it be that simple?

I knocked on Vicki’s door, and when she opened it, her face lit up.

“ANN! HI! IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU!” she bellowed.

“Good morning, Vicki,” I said in a voice that was almost a whisper. “How are you?”

“Come on in!” she said – at a perfectly normal volume!

I was stunned. I didn’t know which surprised me more, that she could actually hear me in the soft voice I was using, or that it took only a moment for her to bring her volume down to the same level as mine.

We went on to have a very pleasant visit over tea.

As I walked back to my house, the profoundness and simplicity of the lesson sunk in. Sometimes I can overcomplicate things. But people really do tend to relate to you in the way you relate to them, maybe not always as quickly as Vicki did, but do we give up too easily? Do we assume that someone can’t be changed? We certainly can’t change them, but God can.

I’ve also noticed that for all my seeking the wisdom that can seem so elusive, the LORD will drop a nugget of understanding into my mind and heart unexpectedly – right after I have just obeyed Him! Before I had even finished walking back to my house, it occurred to me after all those months why my neighbor had the habit of shouting.

Vicki had worked in a salon for years, communicating with women whose heads were under noisy hairdryers. And if the majority of her customers were elderly, even without the dryers there was the daily challenge of speaking to the hard of hearing.

But once I had communicated in six words that I was not one of those hard-of-hearing, under-the-dryer people, she had lowered her voice immediately.

(As my daughter used to say, “DUH.”)

I chuckled at the memory of my long bouts with laryngitis, having no choice but to whisper. People would whisper back, until halfway through the conversation they would ask, “… Uh … why are we whispering?” I would laugh and respond, “I don’t know why you‘re whispering, but I have laryngitis.”

For the most part. people respond to others the way they are spoken to. If that is true with volume, it’s not a stretch to believe the same principle applies to the tone of voice. And if that’s true, isn’t it logical to think that if we just speak to others kindly, they will usually respond positively?

If we are being snapped at or yelled at for no particular reason, we tend to respond defensively. But if we will take it upon ourselves to do a “reset,” speak softly, calmly, – and yes, kindly – that response could change the direction of the whole conversation – even the relationship. As the book of Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Like many Proverbs, this isn’t complicated, it’s just a simple fact of life, one that we don’t need to overthink!

I may not be able to control others, but when talking with another individual, I have control over my half of the conversation, and if I remember to use what control I have in a positive way, God might use me to let His love overflow onto the other person.

(I might at least avoid a migraine.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we don’t know the hearts of other people the way You do. Help us always to speak others the way we would want to be spoken to, and if they are resistant to our message, rather than shout, we will leave it up to You to convince them of Your truth, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

OH … You Mean LITERALLY?

Jesus replied, “‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-39

When we first moved to Michigan, this city girl felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Our “little house in the big woods,” was a beautiful setting that Marty adjusted to quickly, having grown up in rural Illinois.

(When Marty is in the city, he wonders, Where are the woods? the lakes? the creeks? When I’m in the country, I wonder, Where is everybody?)

We lived at the end of a dirt road that had three houses at the time, and we could only see one from our front door. It was hardly a setting where one would expect challenges in neighbor relationships.

I learned quickly who lived in that house across the road, when as we were still unpacking, the woman who lived there came to visit, bringing something she had baked and enthusiastically welcoming us to the “neighborhood.” How nice, I thought. She stayed and talked a while, and I learned all about her and her husband. They were both retired, and while he seemed to keep to himself, Vicki clearly wasn’t used to being without people around. She seemed downright giddy to have a neighbor to talk to.

And talk to … and talk to…

She was a retired hairdresser, and her specialty had been elderly ladies. She told me numerous times about the “senior citizens” coming in on certain days and getting a special discount. I learned all about perms and body waves and what might look good on me. Vicki told me about her dog Sandy, a large, undisciplined German Shepherd that was always running off into the woods. I already knew about “Sandy-Bandy-Boo-Boo,” as Vicki regularly stood at her door calling him, seemingly oblivious to the fact that despite her shouting, he would come back when he was good and ready.

It was not only Sandy’s perpetual absence that brought out Vicki’s booming voice. Even in our visits (In those early days it was two or three times a day), she shouted. The moment she yelled, “HI ANN!” I would greet her back at nearly the same level, assuming she was hard of hearing, and the volume would either remain or escalate as the conversation went on. Usually by the time she left, I was a bit hoarse and totally stressed.

I was a young Christian in those days, just learning to have regular, uninterrupted time with Jesus every morning. Before long I was having that time even before Marty got up, in order to be “prayed up” before any surprise company arrived. Soon I joined a women’s Bible study that met one morning a week, got on the board of the local Christian Women’s Club, and signed up to substitute teach at the local high school. The substitute teaching led to my having an informal “youth group” in my living room one evening a week. I did like to be involved, but I think at least part of my eagerness to get out of the house involved escaping my loud neighbor’s constant visits.

I was keenly aware that Jesus commanded His followers to love others, even those who were hard to love. I had always assumed this referred to people who were unkind to us. When someone insulted us or ridiculed us, or even persecuted us, we were to “turn the other cheek” and respond to their hatred with His love. We were to love those who didn’t love us, who abandoned us, ignored us, or treated us as dispensable.

It hadn’t occurred to me to apply that command to the neighbor who wouldn’t leave me alone, who was so overwhelmingly friendly day after day after day, and whose baked goods were piling up on my kitchen counter, as if they were the price of admission for an hour of companionship.

I realized that Vicki, was one of those people – the “least of these” – that was hard to love. And while I wanted to delve into the deeper things of God, to become a more mature Christ-follower, I knew if I hadn’t yet mastered the grass-roots concept of “love thy neighbor,” I was a pretty pathetic believer.

I knew Vicki was profoundly lonely, that she needed Jesus, but whenever I had tried to talk to her about Him or about my church, I had been interrupted or shouted over, and the conversation would go back to baked goods and perms and dogs and senior citizens, and I would give up. Now I wonder if I gave up too easily – if deep down I was just reluctant to have her and her loud voice join my church or Bible study.

It also occurred to me that I had never actively shown Vicki the love of the Lord. She had always come to my house. I had never once initiated a visit, had never even seen the inside of her house.

I had tolerated her, but never really loved her.

As usual, Jesus was not content to leave me at that shallow stage of discipleship. But knowing that I wasn’t exactly a spiritual giant, the lesson had to be quick, simple, and profound. And it was, evidence by the fact that over forty years later I still remember it quite clearly…

(To be continued …)

Prayer: Lord, You are infinite in Your love and understanding, and we are limited in both. We find it hard to love, not only those who don’t love us, but even those who do love us – who need us. We are selfish creatures. We need to be needed, but we don’t want to be tied down. We don’t understand others, and frankly at times we don’t want to understand them. Lord, bring us out of our self-centered bubbles and open our eyes to see the way You want us to live. Fill us with divine love, not merely human tolerance. For only then will we experience true joy that we can pass on to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.