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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

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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

Privileged? Don’t Just Wallow in Guilt!

“From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”                                                                              Luke 12:48b

The above verse has always convicted me; I’m privileged, and I know it.

When I was still quite young, my parents took me to see the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I was only in about fourth grade, but I was old enough to recognize “NOT FAIR!” when I saw it. I remember years later reading Black Like Me and seeing movies featuring scenes involving the KKK that made my blood boil.

Thanks to my church, I had an awareness not only of racial tensions, but also of the plight of children who had no homes, parents, or enough food. I thought of them with a twinge of guilt whenever I put coins into the little cardboard church bank, where I saved up for the annual Sunday school offering for the hungry.

Thoroughly aware of all my privileges (white and otherwise), I lived the first few decades of my life in guilt. When meeting new people I was reluctant to disclose where I lived or the private school I had attended. In college I dressed in the faded jeans and T-shirts that were the norm then. I went through occasional bouts of depression and self-loathing, and from the ages of 17 to 30 I battled an eating disorder.

I married Marty at the age of twenty. He was clearly a better man than I deserved, and although I was thrilled to be his wife, at times my unworthiness added to the guilt I was already feeling, until a certain moment of enlightenment.

Shortly after we had splurged and bought a new car, we were notified that we owed some back taxes that we had been unaware of. The amount seemed staggering at the time.  This was the closest I had ever come to having “financial troubles,” and I wondered if I was finally going to be transformed into “a good [poor] Christian.”

Well, Lord, is this when You’re going to teach me how to be poor?

I’d had silent conversations with God before, but they usually ran through my head with few surprises, so I was never really sure if it was the Lord speaking to me or just my imagination. But occasionally His answers were so unexpected I was sure the words weren’t coming from me.

Poor? [Chuckle] You haven’t learned how to be rich yet.

Huh?

Ann, you’ve spent your whole life apologizing for what I’ve given you! 

The answer startled me. I had to think about it for a moment.

Wow, I have … How ungrateful of me.

I confessed my ingratitude, accepted the Lord’s forgiveness, and vowed to be more thankful in the future. I gave the financial hiccup over to Him, and waited to see what He wanted me to do.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do anything. The Lord solved the problem so quickly I almost sank into the guilt trip again. (Why do some people have such a hard time receiving grace?)

My hard-working husband got a promotion at work, and one of the perks was driving a company car. He told his boss thank you, but he didn’t need it, he had just bought a new car. His boss asked him how much he had paid and reimbursed him for the amount.

Which happened to be just what we owed in taxes.

I saw the Lord’s blessing differently this time – not as something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to praise Him for His goodness. I underwent a major change in my attitude.

I had done volunteer work most of my life, starting with being a teen-aged “candy striper” at the children’s hospital. Through my twenties I did ministry of various kinds every chance I got. After my little revelation I continued doing ministry regularly, but for vastly different reasons.

Before, my motivation had been guilt and trying to make up for my privilege. As if I could somehow pay God back (Silly, proud woman!) and show everyone that I was really a good person, and please-don’t-hate-me. (Besides, it beat doing housework.)

Totally selfish motives.

Once I realized I could never repay God, my motivation changed, starting with acknowledging that Jesus had died for me, sins and all. In fact, my sins were why He died. Sin needs to be atoned for with a perfect sacrifice, and I sure wasn’t qualified to do that! So the Son of God, in His perfection, had laid down His life in exchange for mine.

Talk about a lavish gift … !

Now I still do ministry, but not to earn His love. I do it because I have His love. I want more than anything to offer Him back everything He has blessed me with, to make Him smile – to make Him laugh with delight! Marty’s career enabled me to be flexible with my time, giving to the community and being a positive influence with my students, using the gifts and skills given me throughout my life.

Past experiences – piano lessons, French, and my excellent education – all came in handy. (Mrs. Striker, who saw to it we didn’t pass seventh grade until we could write, spell, and punctuate perfectly, would be pleased with my blog, four books, and frequent letters to the editor.) Even my struggles with food, self esteem, and depression helped in working with youth.

Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) But “abundant life” doesn’t mean having a lot of stuff! It’s being able to enjoy whatever God has given us (tangible and intangible) and letting Him use it to help others. Like the loaves and fishes, Jesus knows how to multiply whatever we offer Him.

How much should we offer Him?

Everything. Because it’s all from Him in the first place.

Prayer: Lord, whatever You have given is sufficient for whatever You are calling us to do. You’ve blessed us. Make us a blessing to others, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Guilty on All Counts

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;                                                                                   test me and know my anxious thoughts.                                                                                       See if there is any offensive way in me,                                                                                        and lead me in the way everlasting.”

                                                            Psalm 139: 23-24

I am guilty of racism. 

There, I said it. The latest thing these days is for all white people to accept the fact that they are part of the systemic racism that is plaguing the country. A couple of people I know (or thought I knew) have been encouraging me to take this view of myself.

At first the implication startled me. I wondered if any of my black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or Asian friends had ever shared that opinion of me. If so, they never let on. I had never suspected it myself, although admittedly I’ve probably committed many sins I don’t realize or remember. Since I’ve had friends of all colors and backgrounds, have done ministry in various cultural settings, and have tried to love everyone the way Jesus would, I wanted to know where it was that I might have failed. I was told that since I questioned the idea, now my “defensiveness” was proving that this assessment of me was true.

(Please don’t misunderstand my confusion! I could make a long list of sins of commission and omission, failures and bad attitudes . I just wouldn’t have thought of “racism” as being one of them.)

But then I came across a verse of scripture that reminded me of something profound:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”                                                  (James 2:10)

*GOTCHA!*

I remembered then that we don’t have to be hardened criminals to be under God’s condemnation; one sin is enough to make us guilty of all sin.

So that means I am guilty of racism.

And lying. And cheating. And stealing.

And adultery. And murder. And blasphemy. And idolatry …

You name it, I’m guilty! And no amount of regrets, study groups, zoom meetings, marches, activism, or good deeds can make me “not guilty.” Even if they could, I would wake up tomorrow, and the first selfish thought – the first hint of envy, anger, or self-righteousness – would plunge me back into a guilty state. I wouldn’t want it, but I would be helpless to change it.

I’m apparently not the only one who has struggled this way. Paul wrote almost two thousand years ago,

“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”                                                           (Romans 7:18b-19)

So, as much as I want to be a good person, I can’t. There is nothing good in me.

– in just me.

But I have an Ally that I didn’t always know. When I was a hopeless sinner, Jesus offered to pay the penalty – to post my bail, so to speak – and die in my place. The perfect Man – God’s Son – who deserved nothing but good things, died a horrible death to break the power of sin in my life. Better yet, He didn’t stay dead – He rose back to life, the Victor over death, to open up the way for me (and anyone else who believes in Him) to have eternal life, as well!

Eternal life started the moment I confessed my sin and placed my faith in Jesus to save me. His Holy Spirit lives in me now and empowers me to live for Him, doing the good that was impossible for me do on my own. Any goodness in me is because of Him.  (Some of the best things He has done though me have been done without my even being aware of it.)

Anything evil in me … well, that’s the residual sin nature that I have to fight every day for the rest of my earthly life. The difference is that now I have a fighting chance! I may not have arrived, but I am going in the right direction, as He leads me and makes His will known to me day by day.

What about my “white privilege?”

I’ll be the first to admit I have been given all kinds of privileges, way more than I deserve, and I’ve been aware of them for a long, long time. The question isn’t how to get rid of my privileges, but How can I use whatever advantages I have to lift up the disadvantaged, to draw them closer to Christ and the “abundant life” I have known?

Jesus said,

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

In light of that convicting verse, I have a lot to do – and He will empower me to do it. It may mean getting involved in fighting racism. It might be in the area of serving refugees, helping the homeless, defending the preborn, doing music ministry in nursing homes and hospitals, writing more books, or living out the love of Jesus with one person at a time, one day at a time. His plan is unique for each of us.

What about my other labels – “Racist“? “White supremacist“? “Bigot“? (“Liar,” “thief,” “murderer,” etc.)?

Jesus has given me a new label: Child of God.”

I am free to identify with my Creator and keep my eyes on Him. My life’s goal is to be everything He wants me to be. With all due respect to the authors of the trendy best-sellers, I’m going to let Jesus define me. After laying down His life for me, He’s earned the right to call me whatever He wants.

Prayer: Father in heaven, You knew everything about me – my sin, my ingratitude, and my weakness, and You wanted me anyway. Thank You for paying such a heavy price to forgive me and adopt me into Your family. I am Yours. Make me what You want me to be, and use me to carry out Your purposes for me every moment of my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Easing Back Into Blessings

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.                                                                                                                                                         Philippians 2:4

Recently I had the privilege of being one of first invitees to come back to my church after eleven weeks of “attending” on line. We are coming back in limited groups, different people each service for a while; those who aren’t there in person can still live stream on line.

As much as I wanted to charge full speed back into church life as I’d remembered it, there were certain rules to be followed now, and I dutifully took one last deep breath of fresh air before donning my face mask upon arrival.

Although we all wore the masks from the moment we left our cars, we could still recognize one another. (I resisted the urge to say, “Trick or treat!”) Walking up the steps to the church entrance, it felt like forever since we had been there, and at the same time it felt as though no time had passed at all.

There was no cluster of people around the table in the foyer that usually held the bulletins, and the coffee stations looked sad with hand sanitizer in lieu of their usual fare. We walked directly into the sanctuary and picked up sterile bulletins from where we sat down. Every other pew was blocked off, and seating was spaced with 6-foot gaps between families. People were discouraged from using the rest rooms, which were limited to just one person at a time.

Watching a service on line, I had always sung along at home with the “socially distanced” worship team appearing across the screen (four singers, a piano, and a couple of guitars). I had sung with gusto, filling my living room the best I could. But somehow my “joyful noise” had been lacking.

However, that night at church when the music started with about a third of the usual congregation, I was overjoyed to hear us all singing the familiar songs again. I was surprised at how well our voices carried through the masks, complete with four-part harmony, some of us with hands lifted toward heaven. It felt like being in God’s throne room. Although it wasn’t close to the experience we used to enjoy, it was such a blessing just to be together again that I had happy tears in my eyes. Later I heard the pastor get choked up, too, as he led us in prayer.

I remember reading somewhere that when people have been starving for extended periods of time, it is a very bad idea to gorge on food as soon as it’s available. It’s reportedly healthier – and I would think, more gratifying – to take a little at a time and savor each bite, while the stomach gets used to being fed again.

Yes, I am REALLY looking forward to the day we can all gather again with no one left out, singing with smiles uncovered, enjoying hugs, hand-shakes, fist-bumps, high fives, whatever your thing is. We’ll “catch up” on one another’s lives over cups of coffee, while our children and grandchildren run around together, laughing and playing. We’ll lay hands on the sick and gather in small huddles to offer up impromptu prayers for one another. We’ll feast on the fellowship we’ve been missing during our times of isolation.

But for now, I’m happy to taste the morsels of joy I’ve missed so much  – the smiling eyes peeking out from masked faces, familiar voices, and gestures of “virtual hugs” from friends long absent. I’m trying to exercise patience and savoring the moments as they come.

If we take our blessings back one at a time, we have a better chance to truly appreciate each one, not to mention showing respect and compassion for those whose fragile health might still be making them uneasy about rejoining the community.

The fact that there are different opinions about the closing down of our society has become painfully obvious. It seems some people with opposing viewpoints are at each other’s throats, one side accusing the other of not caring if they die of Covid, and the other accusing anyone who disagrees with them of not caring if they go bankrupt and die homeless on the street. (I’m about to take a break from social media. I need a breather.)

I would describe myself as neither a terrified recluse or a defiant protester. As a friend used to say, “I’m a staunch middle-of-the-roader.” I believe and hope that there is a way to gather safely, to be the much-needed support system for one another, while at the same time being respectful of those who are still frightened of the virus.

(Sometimes I feel like I’ve had it, and I want to scream at the Corona virus, like a child having a tantrum, “JUST LEAVE US ALONE!!!” But obviously if that strategy had had any chance of working, someone would have done it by now.)

So for now, we take back our privileges as they become available, savoring each one, each moment, as a gift from the Giver of Life. As we set aside our preferences to show consideration to the needs of others, we have an opportunity to grow in the “fruits of the Spirit,” such as patience and self control.  With God’s help, we can benefit from the experience ourselves, as we can from every life experience when we give it to Him.

Prayer: Father in heaven, we confess that some of us get impatient with what we consider partial blessings. We long to get back to the full experience of fellowship with the Body of Christ. And yet we remember how Your Son Jesus suffered the separation from You as He hung on the cross to pay for our sins. Give us patience and a selfless, Christ-like attitude as we ease back into the blessed life we enjoyed and took for granted before – and may we never take it for granted again! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Racism: The Cause and Cure, Part 2

“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

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”                                                                                                                                                                                         Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Every day the news reports have been full of turmoil, anger, and anguish. Images of the murders of African American individuals, violence, vandalism, and robbery haunt us. A sense of despair has gripped our nation like another invisible virus.

But one day in Louisville there was a different kind of story on the local news, one that began as sadly as the others, but which offered some hope before it was finished.

A grocery store had been severely damaged and looted the night before. It had been the only source of food and medicine in the area, and now it was out of commission for at least several days. A group of compassionate people had come to help clean up the mess, and as they were sweeping up piles of broken glass, another sound could be heard …

A gathering of Christians stood in a circle in front of the boarded-up building, praying heart-felt and passionate prayers. Hands raised, they sang songs of worship. Moments later they were setting up tables and handing out bags of groceries to the people who needed them. These Christ-followers were not just helping out in tangible ways, they were fighting back against the spiritual forces that had fueled the hatred and destruction the night before. As I watched with tears in my eyes, a verse of Scripture came to me:

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

This is what Christians are called to do – feed the hungry, bandage up the wounded, and give comfort to the grieving. We can make a difference, whether it is through social action, petitioning to have laws changed, combatting lies with truth, or offering comfort and hope to people who are feeling despair. It may seem that we are hopelessly outnumbered, but we have God on our side!

His help is always just a prayer away.

So, before we do anything else, we need to enter the Throne Room, pour our hearts out to the King, and let Him show us His plan. Otherwise, we’ll only be spinning our wheels as our own plans wear us out.

To the unbeliever prayer may seem like empty words, a waste of time. But believers know its power, because we know the One who answers those prayers. I could see that power in the joy that radiated from those Christian people both that day and when they came back the next day. As the reporter questioned them, their faces were beaming. All they wanted to talk about was the Lord.

https://www.wave3.com/2020/06/03/prayers-answered-after-kroger-reopens-west-louisville/?fbclid=IwAR1HzM_K-tilRiyESRUxm8Hdbvi2ntARVCO3wSojpXErY1qqEKX2dTnwIas

A few days later a video showed a multiracial gathering in my home town of St. Louis, MO. Believers had gathered under the St. Louis Arch to worship and spend time in prayer for the end of racism in the country, and for the love of Jesus to be poured out through them.

Then two days ago I saw a photo of people in Minneapolis being baptized on the street where George Floyd was murdered. Faces both black and white were smiling, and in their smiles I could see hope – Light piercing the darkness.

I am grateful to those who spread these glimmers of hope in a world where it seems “good news is no news.” I’ve tried to share these images as much as possible as an antidote to the hatred and rage that seems to saturate the nightly news and social media.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News! But first there is the bad news:

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)

In other words, nobody’s perfect … So what?

“The wages of sin is death … “ (Romans 6:23a) That’s eternal death.

No Justice, No Peace.” But how will we ever have peace if we get the justice we deserve?

Answer: We look to Jesus Christ, the only perfect Person who ever lived, who was willing to take our judgment on Himself so we could be forgiven and clean. The price had to be paid, and He paid it. “Bail,” “ransom,” whatever you want to call it – that’s the Good News! 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Galatians 2: 8-9)

PLEASE NOTE: although we may not be saved by good works, we are saved for good works. Anyone who calls himself a follower of Christ but doesn’t show it by his actions is only fooling himself.

“Faith without works is dead.” James 2:26

Sadly, in this world there will never be a complete end to racism, or for that matter any other form of sin, not as long as Mankind is terminally sin-sick and the majority refuse to accept the Cure.

Scripture warns us that when the righteous go against the current of evil, we will suffer for it in this world.

But none of that means we shouldn’t be faithful where we are and be a light in the darkness wherever we can, however small that light might seem.

No matter what is going on around you, you can work toward justice, equality, and better relationships between races, wherever, whenever you have opportunity. Just don’t forget the most important strategy of all – PRAYER.

It’s our lifeline – and our power cord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we look around us, we can get so discouraged. Help us to look to You instead. We know that we can’t solve every problem in the world, but show us what we can do right where we are. May we bring hope and healing to those who are within our reach, and in doing so, glorify You, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Racism: the Cause and Cure, Part 1

The heart is deceitful above all things                                                                                                      and beyond cure.                                                                                                                       Who can understand it?                                                                                                                                                                     Jeremiah 17:9

Like many other cities, Louisville is reeling in the aftermath of the injustices of recent days. Our nation is rightly outraged about the killing of individuals at the hands of those whose job it was to protect them.  Closest to home was Breonna Taylor, a young EMS worker, shot by police in her own Louisville apartment in March.

In recent days and nights the streets have been filled with mourners, grieving the senseless deaths, but more than that, grieving that our system that was supposed to uphold liberty and equality is still poisoned with such reckless and irrational acts.

Gatherings of concerned citizens started out as peaceful, constructive demonstrations. But each night the  people just wanting their voices to be heard were joined by outsiders who escalated the tensions and hijacked the event, until the city saw rampant vandalism, arson, and looting that had nothing to do with the original purpose of the gathering. As I watched events unfolding on live news, it was clear that many of those present cared nothing about Breonna Taylor or her family. Images of the latecomers showed smiling, chatting, laughing faces moving through the streets like a parade of athletes who had just won the pennant and were ready to celebrate. Behind one reporter an individual covered completely in black, including his face, wielded a hammer, systematically smashing every window he could reach. Recycling bins and other objects were in flames, and we wondered how attempting to set fire to the Muhammed Ali Center was supposed to benefit African Americans, when racial justice was the original stated purpose of the event.

Over the course of several nights, buildings were destroyed and businesses robbed of everything, many of them businesses owned by minorities. Innocent people saw years of their hard work go up in smoke. They watched helplessly as their possessions were hauled away by those who clearly cared nothing for the lives of their brothers and sisters but only saw an opportunity to get free stuff. People who had gathered to make their voices heard left more wounded than ever. After the battle, it seemed the only winners were racism, greed, and violence.

But racism, greed and violence are symptoms of a bigger problem: sin. Ever since the first man and woman disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, every human being born has inherited the same sin nature that first rebelled against the Creator.

Sin wants to feel  superior to others because of color, gender, race, or any other random, irrelevant difference. Sin gives nothing and will do anything to get more – robbery, human trafficking, and dealing in substances that destroy the lives of others. Sin is OK with the suffering of others, as long as its own welfare is secure.

Sin wants all the attention and recognition and credit for every accomplishment. Sin will lie to gain popularity. It wants everyone’s approval and gets angry with anyone who disagrees. Sin doesn’t want to listen to others. Sin can’t be happy about the good fortune of someone else and may even rejoice to see others “get what they deserve,” ignoring the fact that we all deserve judgment.

You don’t need me to tell you that our society is broken and sick and desperately in need of a cure. But in the end that cure is not going to come in the form of a new law, program, better facilities, or any amount of money.

We should certainly strive for changes that make life better for others – shame on us if we don’t! Ultimately, however, we will never be able to root out the sin in the hearts of others – or even ourselves. We were born sinful, and the only way society can be changed is for individuals to be changed, from the inside out.

We need to be born again.

I stated that every human being born has had the sin nature of Adam. But there is one exception, and that’s Jesus. Without a human father, Jesus had the divine nature of His Father – God. He was both fully human and fully divine. (I know that’s hard to grasp, but stay with me here …) Jesus is the One who bridges the gap between unholy Man and a holy God. Sin (and racist or not, we all have sin in our lives) needs to be atoned for, and since only a perfect sacrifice is acceptable to God, the only One who could offer that perfect sacrifice is the perfect Man, Jesus. When He gave His life on the cross, He was paying the debt we couldn’t pay, so we could be forgiven, cleansed, filled with His Spirit, and given a new nature – not as perfect people, but people who desire to serve God in any way we are called to. First and foremost, serving God is loving Him, and loving others.

We need to admit our sin and need for a Savior, surrender our lives to Jesus, and ask Him to fill us with His Spirit. We won’t be instantly perfect, but He will set our lives on a different path when we repent. The word “repent” means “to change one’s mind.” As our minds are changed, our lives will be changed, as well.

Recent events have shined a spotlight on the depraved condition of the human race. To see these events unfold, one might think there is no hope for us as a society. But other events have been unfolding that are shining a light in the darkness. Stay tuned …

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so quick to point fingers and rail against the blatant injustices we see around us. Our world is broken. But in our anguish we have failed to acknowledge our own sin. We’ve tried to right wrongs without Your help and only made a bigger mess of things. Bring us back to You, our Creator, who made us in Your image. Fill us with Your divine nature, and help us to be a light in all this darkness. Have mercy on us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Turn It Off!

DISCLAIMER: I am well aware that during this time of pandemic not everyone has had spare time on their hands! I know that some have been overwhelmed with trying to juggle working at home and home schooling kids. I know that some of you are working harder than ever to hold down your jobs in ways that are safe for everyone, and that some of you are risking your lives caring for the sick. – BLESS YOU ALL! This post was written more for those who have found themselves isolated, bored, and restless, a perspective where we have an extraordinary opportunity to hear from God – an opportunity we should not be wasting. On the other hand, when our lives are busier than ever – when we would welcome some boredom – this is something we may need even more.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”                                                                                                                                                                                                             I Kings 19:11-12

Elijah had prophesied a three-and-a-half-year drought for the rebellious nation of Israel. When the drought took place as predicted, the prophet spent three and a half years alone in the wilderness, hiding out from the evil and unrepentant Queen Jezebel, who was bent on killing him.

(You might say he was quarantined.)

During this time of isolation Elijah drank from a stream and was fed by ravens. The nineteenth chapter of I Kings describes the day the prophet heard from God. First he was assailed by all manner of natural disasters. Like special effects in a Hollywood blockbuster, a wind whipped through, powerful enough to split rocks, followed by an earthquake, then a fire. But it was only after these things had passed that Elijah heard the voice of God.

Today we have our own types of distractions, demands, interruptions, and crises coming from every direction, and sometimes it seems there is never a moment of quiet.

Until recently. Now for some of us our hyperactive minds have tended to think there’s been too much quiet, and reaching for a device to fill the void was almost an involuntary reflex. But as the quarantine continued and many have grown impatient, we have gone from filling the void to being bombarded by countless voices – opinions, rants, conspiracy theories, scandals, propaganda, trivia, and pointless chatter about every topic under the sun. How can staying “safe at home” feel so stressful? And how do we transition into the “new normal” without taking that extra stress with us?

Before turning on the noise again, let’s consider an alternative.

As abnormal as our present situation has felt, this lessening of daily demands may have been offering us an opportunity to hear a Voice we’ve possibly never heard before – a Voice well worth hearing.

Recently I came across this parable of a present-day “Elijah’s” experience that I wrote years ago. I wish I had found it a couple of months ago, but it’s still relevant – maybe more than when I wrote it – and it’s never too late to reevaluate our priorities and start making necessary changes. Check it out, and if the shoe fits, it just might be the last thing you’ll want to read on line today:

A young man was looking for God. He took his smartphone, read his text messages, checked his voicemail, and looked at his pictures. But the LORD was not in the smartphone.

He took his laptop and checked his emails, Facebook, and Twitter. But the LORD was not in the laptop.

He turned on the TV and checked the news, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. But the LORD was not in the TV.

Finally, the young man turned off all technology and sat in silence. And in the silence, there came a still, small voice …

As we wait for our society to finish reopening, instead of regretting the boredom, quiet, and isolation, let’s take advantage of every moment of solitude and quiet, while we still have a chance. Let’s use this time to develop a good habit to take with us into the “new normal” – the habit of not only talking to God, but also listening for his Still, Small Voice.

OK, I gotta go. I think Someone’s trying to reach me …

Prayer: Lord, we know that the battle for our souls takes place in our minds. Whether we are quarantined or back in our usual routine, help us to clear out mental clutter and make room for You. Help us daily to tune out the world and focus on Your still, small voice – to hear, to understand, to remember – to have Your divine perspective. Then help us to heed and obey what You tell us, in Jesus’ name and for Your glory. Amen

Mystery Blogger Award x 2 (and more information about me than you ever wondered about)

Outdo one another in showing honor.           Romans 12:10

 

First of all, I’d like to thank Alicia at For His Purpose ( link http://forhispurpose.blog ) and Debi Sue at Seriously Seeking Answers (link http://seriouslyseekinganswers.com ) for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award. Alicia shares heartfelt stories centered around Jesus, told with honesty and humor.  Debi Sue shares her personal spiritual journey with “fellow travelers” – “plus a few recipes.” 😉  Be sure to check out their blogs if you haven’t already.

About the Mystery Blogger Award

This award was created by Okoto Enigma (link HERE) to recognize bloggers who “find fun and inspiration in blogging” and who “do it with so much love and passion.”The award also gives us a chance to create a friendly blogging community by telling others about our own favorite bloggers.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Put the award logo on your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  3. Mention the creator of the award.
  4. Answer the five questions you were asked.
  5. Tell the readers three things about yourself.
  6. Nominate 10 bloggers.
  7. Notify the bloggers that you nominated them by commenting on one of their posts.
  8. Ask your nominees five questions with one weird or funny one.
  9. Share a link to your best posts.

Three things about myself:

  1. As soon as I could write, I created stories in a little brown spiral notebook (Readers who are old enough will remember those.) with multiple chapters and illustrations hand drawn in crayon by yours truly. In the second grade I wrote about an astronaut going to the moon. Since it hadn’t happened yet, I didn’t include many details. I explained why I was telling the story in the past tense: “I know this hasn’t happened yet, but by the time this story is published, it will have happened.” It seems even then I had an inkling of how long it took to get something published, as well as being pretty prophetic for a 7-year-old. (Are you impressed yet?)
  2. I have been told by my former students what a fun teacher I was. I did make the class entertaining for my own sake, since I myself had the attention span of a squirrel. Fortunately, my teaching experience had plenty of variety. Over the years I taught every grade from K4 through 12th grade. I taught public school, private school, Christian school, charter school, home school, and a home school co-op. Subjects I taught included English grammar, literature, public speaking, drama, French, and music.
  3. I have been more privileged than 99.99% of the rest of humanity, but not without some struggles, namely chronic allergies/laryngitis and other health problems that were probably due to an eating disorder, that was probably due to low self-esteem, that was probably due to not knowing who I was as a child of God. Jesus has delivered and healed me, and as long as I stay close to Him, I can be confident that I am in His will, even when things aren’t as pleasant as I’d like them to be. Staying close to Him involves remembering that while I am utterly unworthy of His love, He loved me enough to die for me, so I must be incredibly valuable anyway.  😀 ! Although I am weak and utterly dependent on Him, He is strong and utterly dependable.

My best posts:

  1. “Forsaking My First Love” https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2020/02/14/the-dream-that-broke-my-heart/
  2. “Worth Repeating” https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2020/01/03/worth-repeating/
  3. “True Love Is for Losers” https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2019/02/13/true-love-is-for-losers-2/

Five questions I was asked by my two nominators: 

1.Why do you write? I have always loved to talk, especially telling stories, but sometimes after a while people’s eyes start to glaze over, so I figured if I write these stories down, they can be read by more people, only those who want to read them, and in their own time. And I can talk less and listen more. 😉

2. How often do you post blogs? I usually post once a week, on Fridays. I want to respect my readers’ time by writing something excellent (worth reading). I usually spend an hour or so writing a post, then another hour trimming it down to 1000 words or less. And the next few days “perfecting” it (Nit-picking 😉 ). Obviously this post is an exception, but I couldn’t trim it down any more without cutting out the rules of the award or my recommendations.

3. Are you a night owl or a morning person? I am mostly a night person. I wrote much of my first book between the hours of 2:30 and 4:00 AM. It was nice and quiet then. 😉

4. How would you describe yourself? A work in progress: self-centered, becoming Christ-centered; a good talker, becoming a good listener; hypersensitive, becoming thick-skinned (but tender-hearted – God has assured me it is possible!); scatter-brained, becoming focused on the things that matter – gaining “divine perspective.” 🙂

5. What inspired you to start your blog? Frankly, I’m not sure I would call it “inspiration,” more of an assignment done with selfish motives.  I was writing a book proposal for a major publisher, and one of the questions was about blogs and followers. I had never read a blog, much less written one, so I decided it was about time I tried blogging.  It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life. I love having readers from all over the world, and some of you I think of as my friends. I’m trying to get back to my latest book, but it’s hard to be motivated, when the rewards of blogging are so immediate.

My nominees:

  1. “insanitybytes” at “See, There’s This Thing Called Biology” (https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com) This is a Christian lady whose snarky personality comes out in everything she posts. You may or may not agree with her, but there’s never any sense of “come on, i.b., tell us how you really feel,” and you will find her entertaining and thought-provoking.
  2. Bruce Cooper at “Reasoned Cases for Christ” ( https://bcooper.wordpress.com/ ) some excellent pieces defending the faith. If you’re interested in apologetics, this is the blog to read.
  3. Nora Edinger at “Joy Journal” ( https://noraedinger.com/author/noraedinger/ ). Nora is in the process of treating her readers to her newest novel, “Suspended Aggravation,” which she is sharing with us one chapter at a time, with background information on real places and landmarks that are in the story.
  4. “SlimJim” at “The Domain for Truth” ( https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ ) He has a series that debunks so-called “contradictions” in the Bible. He has also been publishing weekly suggestions for positive ways to participate in church, or, more recently, to contribute to the life of the church while separated from one another.
  5. Lisa V. at “The Write Side of the Road” ( https://writesideoftheroad.wordpress.com/ ) I am a new follower of hers, but she expresses herself well and addresses current issues of interest to all of us. (I reposted one of her pieces yesterday.)
  6.  David Ettinger at “Ettinger Writing.Com” (https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com) is a Messianic Jew who writes on biblical themes, sometimes with video of classes he teaches. David is more knowledgeable about the Old Testament than most Gentile Christians, so his perspective is especially enlightening. He recently reposted video from Israel.
  7. Lady Quixote/Linda Lee at “A Blog about Healing from PTSD” (https://ablogabouthealingfromptsd.com/ ) shares her everyday battles and triumphs, relating to her struggle with PTSD. Although I’ve never met her, she’s one of those who feels like an old friend. 🙂
  8. eccllibya at “Evangelical Christian Church of Libya” (https://eccllibya.wordpress.com/) This blog caught my eye, because years ago at a conference we committed to praying for a nation, my nation was Libya. Their daily posts are very short, sometimes just a Bible verse, with a picture. There’s always time to read this one. 😉 I guess in countries where the Word of God is not as easy to come by, one verse of Truth can sustain a believer more than you’d think.
  9. Kavita Ramlal at “Sunshiny SA Site” (https://sunshinysasite.wordpress.com) is “proudly South African” and posts her unique perspective of current events, the state of her country, and gorgeous photos that make you want to hop the next plane to South Africa.
  10. Efua at “Grace Over Pain” (https://graceoverpain.com) has a thoughtful blog that looks at familiar Scriptures and applies them to life today, encouraging us to take a deeper look into our own lives.

Questions for my nominees:

  1. If you could ask God one question and receive an immediate, definitive answer, what would you ask Him?
  2.  When you get to heaven, who (besides Jesus) is the first person you want to see?

To my nominees, please don’t feel pressured to participate. (Or, if you’ve been nominated before, don’t feel obligated to participate again.) Just know that I appreciate reading your posts, I’m so grateful you read mine, and your comments and feedback help me grow!

If you do participate, send me a link and let me know. I would love to read your answers! Stay healthy!

Blessings,

Annie

 

Tired of Fighting

(What she said.)

Write Side of the Road

(Hopefully, this is my LAST pandemic post)

It seems like we humans have done nothing but fight and judge for the last twenty years, and I am sick and tired of it.

Political Correctness has run a muck. Though after some research, I wonder if it was ever a good thing. Turns out, according to Britannica, “The term first appeared in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian Revolution of 1917. At that time it was used to describe adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (that is, the party line).”

But today’s “political correctness” is dividing and is an excuse to point fingers.

The 24-hour news cycle certainly doesn’t help, nor does social media. We’ve mistaken “journalism” with “factual news.” Journalism, much to the general population’s disadvantage, includes “feature writing,” which has NOTHING to do with facts. Think the Weekly World News Tabloid of…

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Pandemic: God’s Plan A???

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”                                                                                                                                                               Jeremiah 29:11

A while back I wrote a piece encouraging people to stay flexible when seeking divine perspective on their lives. “Your ‘Plan B’ (or ‘Plan C,’ or even ‘Plan D’) might just be God’s Plan A.” I recently heard a couple of good examples of this concept unfolding.

A radio pastor announced in his on-line service this morning that since the pandemic and the enforcement of “social distancing” that his audience has gone from about 30,000 to over a million. For his ministry a good 3-day crusade might result in 10,000 people indicating decisions to follow Christ. Since not being able to hold crusades, their taking the ministry to the internet has resulted in over 36,000 indicating decisions.

Another favorite ministry of mine is the “JESUS” Film Project. The movie that was made several decades ago telling the story of Jesus, taken word for word from the Gospel of John, is by far the most translated film in history. It has been produced in over 1,800 languages and used to reach largely illiterate people in tens of thousands of villages in remote parts of the world. The ministry teams would bring equipment and copies of the film into these remote areas, often on foot, and after getting permission to set up their screens or to show the movie on the side of a building, they would present the gospel to people who have never heard the Good News before – and often have never seen a movie in their own language, either. They would be so excited to hear Jesus speaking in their language, they would sit enraptured, hearing His teachings and watching Him heal the sick, feed the hungry, even raise the dead. They would weep as they saw Him being crucified, and they would cheer wildly at the resurrection.  At the conclusion, as it was explained to them that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for their sins, and His resurrection means all who believe will be raised with Him to eternal life, most if not all of them would respond to the invitation to place their faith in Him.

Of course, with the Corona virus pandemic and nations in lock-down, gathering people together for a showing was virtually impossible. In my daily prayers for the ministry I asked the Lord to bless this time of isolation and to help the ministry workers and planners come up with new strategies to reach people.

The answer to that prayer came when I received word that the “JESUS” Film Project had been granted permission to air the film on not one, but six secular TV stations on Easter Sunday, in a country that until now had seemed very hostile to Christianity. I was so excited, thinking of how many millions of people might be watching and learning about the gospel for the first time in this nation that is 98% Muslim and only 0.2% Christian.

Realizing that Easter was still eight days away, and with this new vision of what was actually possible, I prayed even harder that more doors would open up in other parts of the world.

My prayers (and no doubt the prayers of many others) were answered “exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we could ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) Two days later I got an email with a world map and a list of all the countries that would be airing “JESUS” on Easter.

All 72 of them.

These countries included Communist, Islamic, and Hindu nations, many where Christians had been persecuted the most. I was incredulous, wondering, What were they thinking?? – But I had no complaints!

So, as far as I know, in the absence of being able to take the gospel into little villages the way it’s been done in past decades, recently the gospel has been proclaimed in nations all over the world, to literally billions of people.

(Could this have been God’s “Plan A” all along?)

In the first century the Apostle Paul was a key figure in the evangelism of the civilized world. He was well educated, multilingual, and able to travel from one Roman province to another to preach the gospel. People from every ethnicity were being saved, and churches were planted and growing everywhere Paul went. But then something happened that was unexpected by many, although a few had had an inkling of what was coming. These followers had begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested and handed over to the Gentiles (Romans). But Paul proceeded and indeed was arrested, as expected.

So ended his followers’ “Plan A.”

Confined to prison and “house arrest” (quarantined), Paul could not travel to visit the churches, he could only write letters and send them to the churches by way of his good friends. The early believers so esteemed Paul that his letters were kept and treasured.

And this is how we got roughly 28% of the New Testament. I firmly believe that as Paul trusted and obeyed God, his situation was God’s “Plan A” unfolding.

So, instead of sitting around waiting for this pandemic to be over, let’s be in prayer and ask how we can be part of God’s Plan A, even when the rest of the world sees it as a major holdup. How might He want to use you during this time?

Prayer: Lord, You reign supreme. You are infinitely wiser than we are. Help us to be a part of Your plan, even when Your plan doesn’t conveniently fit into ours. In Jesus’ name, amen.