C and E Christians

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another   – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  – Hebrews 10: 24, 25

The video made me smile. It also brought tears to my eyes.

A group of Ukrainian Christians were gathered to worship. They weren’t in a church. For all I know, their church may have been bombed into oblivion. These people were gathered in a subway station, bundled in coats, hats, scarves, and gloves, trying to stave off the cold.

And they were singing. Their faces revealed recent trauma, but their voices praised the Lord anyway. Though the subway was grey and damp looking, there was something exquisitely beautiful about the scene.

As the songs reverberated through the underground, it struck me how their devotion contrasted with the attitude of so many “Christians” today.

How many believers on a Sunday morning opt to “skip it this week,” for whatever reason? Maybe we’re tired from being out too late Saturday night. Maybe there’s another activity we feel obligated to do, “just this once,” that precludes church.

Maybe a spouse doesn’t go to church, and frankly, we’re tired of going alone. Maybe we’re thinking we work hard Monday through Friday. Saturdays we coach the kids’ soccer team and do all the yard work, grocery shopping, and laundry for the week. We deserve a morning just to sleep in and relax before the whole rat race starts up again.

Maybe we don’t want to admit that church just isn’t that much of a priority.

When I was in high school some of my peers identified as “C and E Christians,” meaning they only went to church on Christmas and Easter. They seemed to find it funny.

I know people these days that I would call “W and F Christians,” meaning they don’t even go to church on Christmas and Easter. (Why waste an hour on a holiday sitting through a church service?) These people come to church only for weddings and funerals.

One of my friends, a refugee from Iran, asked me if I knew a certain woman. She was thinking I probably did, since that woman was a Christian. I laughed and told her there were a LOT of Christians in America.

She replied, “But most of them don’t act like they really believe it.”

OUCH!!!

Is that it? Do most Westerners not really believe what they say they believe?

Five days ago, we celebrated the fact that the Creator of the universe loved us so much He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sins – and then rose from the dead! The Resurrection was the miracle that “sealed the deal,” so to speak. Because Jesus loves, we can live forever with Him! For the believer, death is not the end!

Do we not believe that, or do we not care? Will we only care when we or a loved one is facing death and it’s obvious that this is the ultimate destiny for each of us? Are we that good at avoiding truths that might inconvenience us or distract us from …

… what? Which of our earthly activities is more important than knowing where we will spend eternity?

I’ve certainly had mornings when I didn’t feel like going to church, but for the sake of the kids, my conscience – whatever reason – I forced myself to go. (I’d like to say because of my undying devotion to God, but that probably wasn’t always the case.)

However, on those days when I made myself go to church, I ended up glad I had. When my heart (not my feelings, but my will) was open to what God had for me that day, it came – a song that was particularly uplifting, an encounter with someone, or a report of an answered prayer we could all cheer about.

Sometimes I’d be searching desperately for an answer, and the Scripture that day nailed it!

Other times I encountered conviction, a wake-up call, or a rebuke. Someone was there that I needed to forgive. Or apologize to. Or pray with. Then the weight I hadn’t even recognized was lifted.

Still other times I’ve been in a unique position to minister to someone struggling with something I’ve experienced myself. I had come in asking God (consciously or not), What do You have for me this morning? and the answer was, Nothing. I want to use you today. And somehow, knowing God had used me felt better than being personally blessed.

Sometimes as I was leaving, I was thinking, – Wow, I almost missed that!

For most of the world’s Christians, gathering for worship is not taken for granted. Persecuted believers who escape to the West are incredulous at the casual attitude so many of us have toward what they have longed to do and have risked everything for.

Last night I heard comedian John Crist reading off some Google reviews – yes, GOOGLE reviews – of churches. The reasons for one-star reviews included things like the way the worship leader was dressed or the style of preaching. Crist imagined out loud these believers meeting some first century Christians in heaven:

“We were gathered in a house, worshiping, and the Roman soldiers broke in, arrested us all, and dragged us off to prison! Tell us more about those pews that weren’t properly cushioned…?”

Somehow, gathering as the Body of Christ is more precious to those for whom the risks are greater. Next time you’re indecisive about going to church, ask yourself, how would you feel if you were suddenly forbidden to go? If the penalty for going was being fired from your job, imprisoned, or executed?

Maybe we need some persecution to bring us to our senses.

Or maybe we should ask ourselves, Do I really believe? – Am I really saved? If you’re not sure what “being saved” even means, check out my posts on the road to true happiness. They explain what the Gospel (“Good News”) is.

Prayer: Father, please clear the clutter from our minds so we may see Your glory. Fill us with wonder at Your love, that You gave Your Son to die for us. May we respond with joy, giving You first place in our lives, Sunday and always. In Jesus’ name, amen.

As This Day Comes to a Close…

A fellow blogger asked the question, “What does Easter mean to you?” I responded,

“I was a prisoner of my own sin nature, bound with heavy chains, condemned to everlasting death and hopelessness. Then Someone offered to take my penalty on Himself, and as He suffered excruciating death, my chains fell off, and I was free!

But free to go where? – Now what?

“Next thing I know, there He stands – He’s ALIVE! He looks at me with love and says, “Follow Me.” And life is just beginning.

And that’s what Easter means to me. 

Careful What You Ask for

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:24-25

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” – Luke 23:27-28

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the day Christians call “Good Friday,” is full of examples of the wisdom of the words, “Careful what you wish for.”

According to the apostle John, after Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Pilate was reluctant to condemn Him. In an attempt to free Jesus, he appeared before the Jewish crowd and offered to release a prisoner, according to what had become a custom at Passover. To his bewilderment, instead of choosing the Man who had been feeding the hungry, healing the sick, delivering the demon-possessed, and raising the dead, the people chose Barabbas, who had taken part in an insurrection and murder. My fellow blogger Keith Peterson wrote an excellent piece recently about the implications of this choice. (If the shoe fits, kick yourself with it. And repent.)

https://keithpetersenblog.com/2022/04/07/give-us-barabbas/

John wrote that the Roman governor was afraid, especially after hearing that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, (John 19:7,8). But apparently, Pilate was more afraid of the people. In the end, Barabbas was released, and Jesus was handed over to be crucified.

Attempting to distance himself from the outcome of their decision, Matthew’s gospel tells us Pilate took water and symbolically washed his hands, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” (Matthew 24:24)

At the mention of “this man’s blood,” according to Matthew’s gospel account, the crowd then made an unbelievably reckless declaration: All the people answered, Let his blood be on us and our children!'” (Matthew 24:25) It is doubtful that these people had any inkling of how the fulfillment of that declaration would unfold over centuries to come, but Jesus did. As He made His way to the cross, He spoke to the women who were weeping for Him: “‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children.'” (Luke 23:28)

But there was another person present at the cross who likely had second thoughts about what she had wished for earlier.

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them … the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27: 55, 56)

I can’t help thinking that as she watched Jesus die, she was remembering a certain request she had made of Him a short time earlier.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. (Matthew 20:20-22a)

No, they did not. And as the mother saw Jesus in His agony – with two other men on crosses of their own, she must have felt shame and a chilling sense of relief that her sons were not on His right and on His left.

Jesus had asked them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” and James and John had replied, “We can.” (Matthew 20:22b) Again, they had no idea what they were agreeing to. Jesus foretold then that they would, in fact, drink of that cup, and the brothers were later to be martyred for their faith. Mercifully, their mother did not yet understand that statement as she watched the Lord’s crucifixion from a distance.

How many times in our prayers have we asked the LORD for things without thinking through the consequences of their fulfillment?

How many times have you been given what you asked for (maybe after “helping God a little”) and ended up being disappointed at best, and at worst kicking yourself and wondering, What was I thinking?!

How many times have you seen what the LORD gave you instead of what you asked for and thanked Him that He knew so much more than you did what would truly bless you?

Years ago, I had one of those epiphanies, when my husband Marty and I attended an open house. As many people were reconnecting and visiting (not socially distanced), I noticed Marty was standing next to a man I knew but hadn’t seen in years. They weren’t talking to each other, but as they chatted with others, I had a moment to stand at a distance and get a new perspective.

The man I hadn’t seen in “forever” was someone I had gone out with in high school. I don’t remember why I was so crazy about him, except that he was “cute.” After a few months, he had dumped me, probably because he saw before I did that we didn’t have anything in common – except our cuteness 😉 . I had been crushed and depressed for weeks. If I had been much of a believer in those days, I might have asked the Lord to pleeeeeeze bring this guy back! (I know, what was I thinking, right?)

Now I could see in front of me my plans versus God’s plan for my life. I no longer found this old flame appealing, and knowing what I know now, I would have gladly chosen to be dumped.

(Thank You, Jesus!)

Here’s a suggestion, straight out of the Garden of Gethsemane. Let’s learn to pray, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Prayer: Father, we sometimes think we know what’s best for us, and we ask according to our momentary desires without thinking or praying it through. Forgive us and help us to be wiser. Give us divine perspective, so we can pray according to Your perfect plan, not our own flawed human agenda. And when our prayers are contrary to Your will, please don’t give us what we ask for! We trust You. Help us to trust You more, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Christmas open house?)

Fickle!

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:8,9

“What shall I do then with the one you call king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted.” – Mark 15:12,13

The story is familiar to Christians. The crowds who had witnessed Jesus’ miracles had been recipients of His blessings, from the food miraculously provided to deliverance from demons, to healing, even being raised from the dead. And now He was entering Jerusalem and what they presumed to be the climax of His ministry. Their joy was overflowing, and they praised Him with abandon.

Five days later they were calling for His execution.

Stupid, fickle people! we might say to ourselves. What happened? (And what didn’t happen?)

  1. The Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day was one who would lead a military revolution, overthrow their Roman oppressors, and set up an eternal kingdom on earth. Surely, they thought, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem meant all their hopes were about to be fulfilled! When this didn’t happen, they turned on Jesus.

2. Besides the people’s crushing disappointment, there was the envy of the religious leaders, who saw their influence waning. Desperate to hold onto their power, fearful of what Rome would do to them in the event of an uprising, and taking advantage of the fickleness of the people, these leaders stirred up the crowd to turn on Jesus and ask for Barabbas, a notorious criminal, to be released instead.

3. Since Barabbas was an insurrectionist, perhaps the people thought, if Jesus wouldn’t overthrow the Romans, …

4. Ironically, Pilate, the Roman governor, wanted to release Jesus. But he let himself be swayed by the screaming people.

But the Number One reason for the unpleasant outcome of the week in Jerusalem, is:

This was God’s will.

Jesus had come into the world for one reason: to die for our sins. As much as we would have liked to see Him released back to His family, to the ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding, His release would have left us unforgiven, condemned to die in our sins and lost for all eternity.

A few weeks later the same crowd heard Peter preach his first sermon about the resurrected Jesus – the One they had crucified. “Cut to the heart,” they repented and put their faith in the One whose death they had called for weeks before. Roughly three thousand were baptized that day!

As much as we’d like to believe we wouldn’t be as fickle as those people, none of us can claim that we never go along with the crowd.

The fact is, we are all conformists.

The question is: to whom are we conforming?

We all know people who jump onto every bandwagon that comes to town. They’ll be passionately outspoken about that person or cause. Until the next one comes. (Maybe you’ve been one of those people.) The temptation to follow is especially strong these days, as various internet celebrities present either the latest revelation or conspiracy theory, depending on whether the thing turns out to be true (Who really knows?).

There is nothing wrong with changing one’s position, when what is first believed turns out to be false or misunderstood information. But if we’re careful to do our homework, these shifts in position should be rare. Serious commitment to a belief system or cause should come slowly, after researching reliable sources, digging, and listening to both sides, and most of all, prayer for wisdom, discernment, and strength to resist the pressure from opponents.

(We should also make sure the cause is important enough to be worth committing our time and efforts to.)

Luke, the historian who wrote the book of Acts, commends the Bereans for their response to Paul’s preaching: Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

The Bereans were eager and enthusiastic. But their zeal came with careful attention to truth and faithfulness to the revealed Word of God.

As a college student I hung out with “Jesus freaks,” and I became one of them. My enthusiasm was not accompanied by much knowledge, and I spent way too much time talking about God and not enough time talking to Him or studying His Word. I cringe at some of the memories of those days, and I’m grateful Jesus had the patience to grow me into a more mature faith over the past five decades. I no doubt took a few detours in my younger days, and I still have a long way to go, but I’m going there steadily and (God willing) without being sidetracked by doctrinal fads and internet rabbit trails.

In a few weeks I will be going to my 50-year high school reunion. Every five years I see these people, and it’s always interesting to see where they are spiritually. Some have come to Christ (Glory!), some are more open to hear about Him, and some who were passionate about Him last time I saw them, are now … not so much. I’ve been deeply disappointed to see some of the people I knew in past years who were “on fire” for Jesus, now dwindling in their faith, abandoning their faith altogether, even becoming outspoken opponents of the truth. It hurts me, because I know how much it’s hurting them.

It’s also sobering, knowing that I could have been one of them.

It’s my prayer for my brothers and sisters who are reading this that you will remain steadily faithful to Christ, committed to the truth of Scripture, and very prayerful about joining any cause. Passionate devotion should belong to Jesus alone.

Prayer: Lord, we confess we can be fickle, but we don’t want to be. Give us hearts that are steadfast, patient, and willing to grow steadily in the right direction. Help us to finish well. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You’ve Been Chosen!

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18

According to our pastor in Florida, rabbis in Jesus’ time didn’t actively go around looking for followers. Those wanting to be disciples would seek out the rabbi and hope to be accepted, much like students applying to a college today. In choosing his students, the rabbi would speak a specific Hebrew phrase, translated literally, “Behind me,” meaning “I choose you,” or, “Follow me.”

This was precisely the same phrase Jesus used by the Sea of Galilee, when He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples. According to Luke’s gospel, this was just after the miraculous catch of fish. (Luke 5:4-7)

Imagine the emotions felt by these common fishermen.

First, they’ve just experienced a massive haul of fish, after catching nothing all night. Then, as they are still stunned by this miracle, they hear the familiar words, “Follow Me.”

They had heard these words spoken in the past, but not spoken to them. As young boys, they had been passed up, or possibly had never had the confidence to apply.

Most of us understand the feeling of rejection, whether we’ve been last one “chosen” in elementary sports (which of course means not chosen), turned down for a prom date, not getting the part in the play, not making the team, denied entry to the hoped-for college, having the engagement broken off, not offered the job, or turned down for the promotion. I’m guessing most or all of us have felt that disappointment and eventual resignation that what we had hoped for was not to be. Maybe we never even applied, figuring we weren’t good enough and never would be. We can identify with Peter, Andrew, James, or John, who were expecting nothing other than being fishermen for the rest of their lives.

But now imagine a Man has burst onto the scene, performed miracles, and caused a stir everywhere He went. Imagine being in the crowd, just wanting to get a glimpse of Him. Imagine one day He performs a miracle for you, then looks right at you and says, in essence, “I want YOU.”

Would you say, “Naa, I got work to do,” or “I think You’re getting me mixed up with someone else,” or “I’m going to have to think about this …”?

Or would you have realized that this Man calling you was the greatest Rabbi who ever lived – that He was much more than a rabbi? Would you have had a stirring in your heart that let you know this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed? Would you have done what these men did – drop everything and follow Him, even if you don’t know where He will lead you, or what the outcome will be?

Matthew, the despised tax collector, tells a similar story of his own conversion:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. – Matthew 9:9

When considering the context of the culture of that day and the appearance of this extraordinary Rabbi, what may have initially seemed a little odd suddenly makes perfect sense. I think if I were being called by Jesus, I would react the same way, wouldn’t you?

But wait … we ARE being called by Jesus!

He stands at the doors of our hearts every day, calling, “Follow Me.” It may not be on the shores of Lake Galilee, but He does call us, right where we are. He calls us through His Word, the Bible. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He makes it clear this call is for “whoever. – Is that you?

I’m guessing God has been calling you in other ways, too – in the way you feel a longing for something more, even though you don’t know what that “something” is. He may be speaking to you through someone who knows Him and wants so much for you to know Him, too. He may speak to you through “coincidental” articles, radio programs – or blogs!? – that answer questions that have been silently nagging at you all your life.

If you are feeling insignificant today, maybe even wondering why you’re here on this planet, take a moment and imagine the King of the Universe looking into your eyes, pointing to you – yes, YOU! – and saying,

“I choose you.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so prone to judging ourselves and others by the wrong criteria. While we see “common” people all around us, maybe even seeing ourselves as the most common and insignificant of all, You see what the world doesn’t. You have divine perspective. And You alone determine the value of each of us. We know we are flawed, sinful people. We are utterly unworthy of Your giving Your life for us, and yet You did. Somehow, we must have huge worth in Your eyes – You have chosen us! You call us to forsake the old life of sin and follow You into a new life. Who are we to say “no”? We yield to Your leading, in Your name. Amen.

Top Ten (With Apologies to David Letterman)

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:2b, 3

Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. (Luke 11:1) They had seen Jesus praying often and had seen His prayers answered promptly and miraculously. They wanted to wield that kind of power!

They, on the other hand, had recognized that they did not have the wisdom or the power to pray effectively. They already had a vague idea how not to pray, as I’m guessing most of us have, as well.

I have believed in Jesus for well over half a century, and I have come up with a reliable list of what doesn’t work when it comes to this most powerful force in the universe. (Trust me, there’s a reason I know all of them, with the exception of #10-1/2, which, not being a husband, I got straight from Scripture.)

So here, for your amusement and discernment, is the list of the

TOP TEN WAYS TO GUARANTEE YOUR PRAYERS WON’T GET ANSWERED*:

[10- 1/2 (Married men) Disrespect and mistreat your wife. (I Peter 3:7) ]

10. Give God tiny bits of your leftover time and second-rate resources and reserve the best for other things. Squander your time but hoard your stuff; don’t tithe. (Malachi 3:8-10) Fill your day/mind with secular media nonstop, so God can’t get a word in edgewise. (Romans 12:2)

9. Avoid that person you’ve been having a problem with, or who has a problem with you. (Matthew 5:23 & 24)

8. Accuse God of not understanding how important this is; He’s just not as smart as you are. (Isaiah 55: 8 & 9) Believe that health and wealth are the most important things, and if you aren’t healthy and wealthy, God must not care about you. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

7. Ask once. Then if nothing happens right away, give up. Say, “See? I knew it wouldn’t work.” (Luke 18:1)

6. After saying “Amen,” immediately tell yourself all the reasons God’s probably not going to answer. For extra assurance, tell others, too. (James 1:6 & 7)

5. Keep God confined to one small area in your life, away from all the everyday events and far from any guilty pleasures, bad habits, and secret sins; He wouldn’t want to be around all that stuff, anyway. (Psalm 66:18)

4. Make a list of all the bad things that have been done to you, and who did it. Memorize it and recite it often. Share it with others and invite them to be offended with you. (Mark 11: 24 & 25)

3. Ignore what God has done for you in the past or complain about the way He did it or about what He hasn’t done. Whatever you do, don’t be grateful! (Philippians 4:6)

2. Ask not what you can do for God; ask what He can do for you. (James 4:3)

… and the Number One way to make sure your prayers don’t get answered [drumroll]:

#1.DON’T PRAY. (James 4:2)

Prayer: Lord, truthfully, we DO want to see our prayers answered, but we confess we do not always want the same things You do. Give us the right attitudes and desires for the things You long to give us. May we desire to know You and make You known. May we seek to know You more intimately every day – to see Your face, hear Your voice, feel Your embrace, and have our hearts beat in sync with Yours. Give us hearts like Yours, even if that means having our hearts broken with what breaks Your heart. Give us the right motives and priorities. (Give us wisdom!) Help us to draw ever closer to You, until we are one with You and can truly say, “THY will be done.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

*Excerpted from my book BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)

“Serendipity”: Where ADD Train of Thought Meets Divine Planning

Direct my footsteps according to your word. – Psalm 119:133a

A recent post from another blogger addressed the contrast between the world of the persecuted church and that of the Western culture. In the first, there is only one ongoing daily decision: Do what’s right or do what’s wrong. In our world, on the other hand, we make dozens, if not hundreds, of minor, mundane choices every day. The details of our daily lives can clutter up our minds and make it hard to focus on spiritual issues.

(Sometimes.)

My morning began with some mundane choices, starting with what to wear. Here’s a summary of the train of thought in my ADD/OCD mind:

Jeans? … No, yoga pants would be better for the chiropractor – no waistband and stitching getting in the way. … Sweatshirt? … Too warm. … T-shirt? Not warm enough. … Long-sleeved t-shirt? Perfect. … Which one? … Gray? … Not with black yoga pants. Too dull! ”’ Navy blue? Too dark! Stripes? Too “yacht club” to wear with yoga pants...

It did cross my mind, Why do I care what I’m wearing to the chiropractor?

I grabbed a bright red, long-sleeved t-shirt I had received from the Red Cross as a “thank you” for giving blood. Bingo!

As I drove to my appointment, I passed the shopping center where I had been with my granddaughter the day before. A woman had been at the entrance then, holding up a sign saying, “Homeless. Hungry. Anything you can contribute would be appreciated.” I had stopped at the red light and given her one of the protein bars I always carry in the car for such occasions. It was “chocolate chip cookie dough,” but the way the lady squealed “CHOCOLATE!!!” you would have thought it was pure gold. After such a delighted response, I later wished I had given her the chocolate chip brownie protein bar instead – double the chocolate.

This morning I looked at the entrance as I drove to my appointment but didn’t see the woman there this time.

But driving home, I did spot her and decided to pick up a few groceries there, so I could treat her on the way out.

I was minding my own business in the grocery store, when I heard a cheery voice call out, “I love your shirt!” I turned to see two women, one in a motorized wheelchair, smiling at me. The one seated unzipped her Red Cross windbreaker to show me she was wearing a donor shirt, too. I got into a conversation with these delightful ladies about blood donations, our names and their meanings (Their names were a lot more interesting than mine.), and Jesus and how wonderful He is. As it’s been with other encounters with fellow believers, I felt as though I’d known these sisters for years.

I told them about the piece I’d written for this blog, with the dream where I went to heaven and met a lot of seemingly random people and heard their stories. In the dream I had realized what they all had in common – they had all received a blood donation that saved their lives, after which they met Jesus, who saved their souls. Then I realized the reason Jesus had wanted me to meet all of them; they had been recipients of my blood!

The ladies loved the story, and after “fellowshipping” some more, we parted ways, knowing we’d see one another again – “here, there, or in the air.”

As I said goodbye to my two new friends, I quipped, “I knew there was a reason I put on this shirt today!” They laughed with me.

As I was pulling up to the exit, the light turned red, giving me about 60 seconds to speak to the homeless lady. Before I could give her the chocolate-chocolate protein bar or say a word, she called to me as if she’d known me forever and exclaimed, “I just got great news!”

“What?!” I asked, genuinely interested.

She went on to say how good God is – all the time! She had hit a little “glitch,” but God was still blessing her. She told me about the poisonous spider bite that had put her in the hospital. She had somehow lost her social security money, but she had just learned that she was going to start getting it again. We cheered together.

“You should celebrate with chocolate!” I suggested, handing her the bar.

She grinned and replied, “Is there any other way?”

I told her I loved her positive attitude and asked her if she had checked out any of the places with the “Now Hiring” signs. I said anyone would be delighted to have someone like her as an employee. She told me she had a medical condition that kept her from working.

“I really miss working,” she confessed, but added, “God has blessed me, though. I needed to be here. It’s humbled me.”

(Talk about divine perspective … !)

I know plenty of people who have homes and jobs and food, whose attitudes aren’t nearly as positive as hers. (Sometimes I’m one of them.) I was so touched by her words, all I could say was, “God bless you!” I asked her name, and when she told me, I promised I’d pray for her healing so she could go back to doing what she loved to do and continue to brighten people’s day.

Looking back, I don’t know how all that conversation fit into the time span of one change of a traffic light, but the Lord is not only sufficient, He’s efficient.

On the way home I reflected on the two “chance meetings” I had just been blessed with, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Sometimes my thoughts, actions, and words seem scattered and random, but the joy I experience after a couple of encounters like these makes me believe nothing catches God off guard. He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when I don’t have a clue.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that I don’t have to be a genius with all my ducks in a row to live in Your will. I am amazed at the detailed way You orchestrate my life, moment by moment, delighting me in so many little seemingly random gifts, “just because.” (I love You!) Amen

Letter to My Younger Self

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. – Proverbs 31:26

It’s hard to believe my high school class is getting ready to celebrate our 50th reunion. It has, in fact, been 51 years since we graduated. (Last year’s reunion was postponed due to that thing that disrupted everyone’s life. ’nuff said.)

Since the 50th is kind of a big deal, it was decided we’d put together an updated “yearbook.” Each of us was to design our own page, with a recent photo, information about our lives, and something creative expressing our uniqueness. One of the suggestions was to write a “letter to my younger self.” I liked that idea, and although Marty told me that idea was hardly original (He had to attend a lot of workshops in his job.), I had never done the exercise myself and decided to go for it.

But life was happening, and it was a while before I could set aside the time I felt I needed.

In the meantime, I was asked to speak to a group of younger women at an evening gathering and share some “wisdom from an older woman.” A few days and a lot of distraction later, I had just a few days to complete both assignments.

I woke up with the two deadlines looming and asked the Lord to please help me focus. It was then that He pointed out that they were, in fact, the same assignment! Younger women, younger me. – >Duh<. He also reminded me that the topic had been on my mind during recent beach walks and bike rides, and I already had the letter written in my mind. All I had to do was get it on paper and (the hardest part) whittle it down to one page. Thus reassured, I can honestly say I enjoyed writing it – and reading it to the group of young ladies as a springboard for the evening discussion:

Dear Younger Self,

I know right now you are a young, “cute,” albeit naïve kid, who just graduated from high school. You’re off to college and adventures in faraway places like Virginia, Florida, and England. I also know that the last thing you want is advice from an almost 70-ish has-been, but there’s your first mistake. Older people have experienced things you haven’t, things that you have no idea are even out there. They have lived life. You need to listen to old people, especially this old person, because I have lived YOUR life! A life that isn’t over yet – not even close. So, listen up. Your life can be a great adventure that keeps getting better and better, if you’re looking at it the right way.

Speaking of which, you/I have a blog now, called “Seeking Divine Perspective.” … A “blog” is a regular column you write online … “Online” means … Never mind. The point is, you will do things with your love of writing that will impact lives all over the world! (I know, hard to believe, right?) The title will come from a major lesson you will learn – that every time you’re disappointed, upset, angry, scared, depressed, and otherwise controlled by your emotions, it’s because you’re looking at things the wrong way. You need God’s perspective, not the world’s. Your Creator doesn’t made mistakes. He doesn’t lose control, and He loves you more than anyone else does – enough to die for you! (Read that Bible you got from Ladue Chapel when you were nine. It’s His love letter to you.) Everything that happens to you can work out for good, if you trust Him. You don’t even have to understand how or why now, it’ll all make sense later.

This is the most important relationship you will ever have – more important than that “Mr. Right” you’re looking for. Set that quest aside for now. Trust the One who knows everything about you, and He will give you everything you need, including a life partner.

Connect with Him regularly. Yes, I mean prayer, and no, it’s not boring! Right now, you see it as a tug of war with God, trying to get Him to give you “stuff,” but that’s seeing yourself separate from God. You’re one with God, and what’s His is yours! Prayer – done right – makes you a partner with God Himself! (How cool is that?!)

By the way, one of your books (!) will be about prayer and getting around common “barriers” that hinder them. It’ll be read in many places. Some of your biggest readership will be in Uganda and India. (Go figure.)

Stop stressing. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things [what you need] will be added to you.” – SO true! Ann, you won’t believe the blessings coming your way – all undeserved. Like a loving and faithful husband, three children who love you, at least five grandchildren to play with, spoil, and try to teach all I’m telling you now, and friends all over the world that you have and haven’t met face to face.

– Oh, and that concept you have of being 70-ish, where you look for things to kill time and fill the emptiness of your days? – Not happening. Even with multitasking, you will be trying to cram into each day everything you want to do. (Your typical bedtime will be midnight – 1:00 A.M.)                                                                                                                                                            Ann, I know you aren’t really reading this, and even if you could, you’re going to live your life your own way. You’ll whine about what isn’t, instead of being grateful for what is. You’ll ignore the “Still, Small Voice” of God, make a lot of mistakes, and reap some unpleasant consequences, but that’s how you’ll learn. (Education is expensive.) Keep short accounts with God. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, repent (tell Him you’re sorry), get back up, and try to do it His way instead of your own. You will survive! You gave your life to Jesus early on, and although you don’t always hang onto Him, He is always hanging onto you. This relationship gets sweeter and sweeter. Even now, at my ripe old age, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”

And after this life – eternity with Him! Yep, He rose from the grave, and because you’re His, you will, too!   So be encouraged. You’re in good hands.

LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN! 

Love,        

Your future self

Prayer: Lord, thank You for 69 years on this earth. May I never stop learning, never stop growing into the person You created me to be. (Thanks for Your patience.) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

My Soap Opera Life

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25

When I was in the theater department at the university, at least one teacher suggested that acting majors audition for “daytime dramas” (soap operas), since most of these programs had a multitude of characters and were always looking for more actors. These roles would also give a beginning actor much national exposure on a daily basis. A couple of my former classmates took the advice and landed roles in two of the “soaps,” so I decided to check them out.

Having never watched a “soap” before, I noticed one thing about the plot line of these shows that they had in common. One day something earth-shaking would occur or be revealed. Then, for the next week or two, all the various characters would spend whole episodes telling one another about it and reacting to the news. Sometimes there would be flashbacks of that dramatic plot twist, so one plot twist could stretch out for days, even weeks. One could stop watching for a while, come back, and usually know exactly what was going on.

To transition from the mundane to the sacred, the book of Acts relates so many acts of God that it would seem the apostles were living one miracle after another with hardly time to catch their breath. But we should keep in mind that since the period recorded in Acts spans a number of years, this may not have been the case. Between these miraculous events were probably times of fellowship when the believers were sharing great stories over a meal, planning their next outreach, writing the next message, traveling to the next destination, or working their regular jobs. I can picture the apostle Paul, a tentmaker, working with his hands, telling Aquilla and Priscilla stories of things that happened to him before he met them. He probably told the story of his conversion many times. (Even in the book of Acts that story appears three times, once when it happened – Chapter 9 – and twice when Paul was testifying – Chapters 22 and 26.) So, life for the believers was likely a series of wondrous works of God with a lot of ordinary days in between, days that were made extraordinary because of all the exciting things there were to talk about.

My life as a Christ-follower is like that, too. Although most of my days would appear pretty ordinary, I don’t think of my life as a believer as common or dull. (My favorite t-shirt says, “If being a Christian is boring, you’re doing it wrong.”) Maybe it’s because I majored in drama, but I do love the exciting and challenging times when God clearly manifests Himself. One day I will experience an answer to prayer that’s remarkable, surprising, or even ironic. Then I will spend the next week or two thanking God for it, journaling about it, telling individuals about it, sharing it with the church – and nowadays, blogging about it! I may be doing ordinary things on those days, but I have something exciting to think about and talk about while I’m doing them.

So, by the time I run out of people to tell or stories to write about that awesome thing God did – BOOM! He does something awesome again!

In my younger days I was in multiple ministries and seeing God do amazing things on pretty much a daily basis. I tried to record all the things I was witnessing in a journal, but it was overwhelming. I remember thinking, someday, if life ever slowed down, I could spend a long time just telling “God stories” from my past, and that would keep “old age” from being dull and boring. So far there are still “God moments” going on all the time, although with an empty nest and retirement I do have more time to write, and (more importantly) to pray. With a lifestyle that younger people might think of as “BO-RING!” I still get butterflies in my stomach occasionally. Sometimes I know why – I’m about to speak or sing to an audience or talk to someone about something without knowing how (s)he’s going to react. But other times it’s out of the blue. I’ll get an irrational urge to share my “exciting news” with someone – then realize I don’t yet know what that exciting news is! The only reason I can think of for such a random attack of joy and excitement is that somewhere in the world something I’ve prayed about is happening. And someday, when I get to heaven, I’m going to meet all kinds of people with stories of ways in which my “routine” prayers were miraculously answered.

Here’s a sample of one that I was allowed to find out about in this life:

Another example is in my daily prayers for the suffering Church. In praying for the Christians who are in prison, I am aware that they may be cold, hot, or hungry. For those who are shivering in the cold, I pray for them to be “wrapped in invisible blankets.” One day the devotional from the Open Doors ministry told the story of a Christian man in prison. His cellmate had no coat and was shivering in the cold. The Christian sensed God telling him to give his coat to the other man. He obeyed and was surprised to find he was still warm all night. This true story encouraged me to keep praying for miracles, even in the darkest places. After all, that’s what God does.

With this perspective, life can hardly be boring.

Prayer: Lord, You came to give us life, and to give it more abundantly. How could we ever think of life with You as dull? Make us aware of the miraculous ways You show Your love to us every day, and may we be faithful in praying and sharing the Good News, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Out of the Saltshaker (Christians and Politics)

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” – Matthew 5:13

My family was in the salt business for three generations. My grandfather, after some years working for a salt company, quit his job and started his own company. When he retired, my uncle became president of the company, and my father, vice-president. Later, my husband Marty, a chemical engineer, had a long career with the same company, working in their research and development department.

When my sister and I were growing up, my father educated us on the many properties and uses of salt. Apparently, there was much more to it than what we shook onto our food at the dinner table. Salt was used to melt snow and ice on the roads, to preserve foods, and as a water softener. (I had no idea what that last one meant at the time.) If one of us had a sore throat, Dad encouraged us to gargle with salt water. And as I have had to deal with sinus problems most of my life, I discovered the all-important “Neti Pot” could help me breathe better by rinsing the sinuses with saline solution. I have used salt and olive oil to exfoliate and soften skin. And when occasionally I would buy some “low sodium” product by accident, I was made unpleasantly aware of how important that ingredient was to the flavor of just about any food.

So, if we are to be the “salt of the earth,” as Jesus described us, what exactly does that mean? While one could make a case for applying this passage to several of salt’s uses, the most common interpretation is in the sense of preserving. In Jesus’ time, long before there was refrigeration, salt was used to keep food from spoiling, or at least to slow down the spoilage.

No doubt about it, this fallen world, teeming with fallen people, is in decay. The world system is under the influence of our enemy Satan, and we are hurdling toward destruction. We (the Church) are sent to shine Light into the dark places, to be an influence for good. We can’t stop the destruction of the world, but we can be used by God to delay it, buying time for more people to be redeemed.

So, how do we do that? The answer will be different from one person to the next. But one thing we are not to do is isolate ourselves within our churches and wait it out. As the king told his servants in one of Jesus’ parables, “Occupy until I come.” This parable has implications for us as we wait for Christ’s return – we have work to do.

Does this work involve (*cringe*)”politics”?

Maybe.

In the Body of Christ there are different members with different roles. Most of us are not called to enter the arena of social activism or government leadership. But, thank God, some of us are – I would not want to live in a country run entirely by the ungodly! (No politician jokes, please.)

Those who are sincerely trying to be “salt and light” in our government have an uphill climb, and often feel as though the rest of us have abandoned them. As much as some of us loathe politics and would like to stay uninvolved, we do need to support our brothers and sisters who are in places of authority.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (I Timothy 2: 1-3) So, praying for our leaders is the very least we can do. In addition to praying for them, we could contact them occasionally, to encourage them and let them know we’re praying for them. I know if I were on the front lines, I would want to know I’m being prayed for.

I guess I should mention voting, although I would hope in America that’s a given. Some Christians refuse to get involved in elections, saying they don’t want to choose “the lesser of two evils,” as if that will make them more virtuous in God’s eyes. I could be mistaken, but in my view, refusing to choose the lesser of two evils is letting a vote for the greater of two evils go unchallenged. Again, we are not saving the world, but we are trying to slow down its demise.

In ancient times, God judged whole civilizations according to the actions of their leaders, even though the citizens had no say. How much more will we be accountable, when we are blessed enough to live in a country where we have a voice? True, we may feel our voices are being limited. Nevertheless, we should prayerfully use whatever influence we have been given, whether it’s in voting, writing letters to a leader or editor, or showing up at a city council or school board meeting, as the Lord leads, and conducting ourselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

As for getting involved in the debates of the day, whether in person, through letter writing, or on social media, I have a few criteria for speaking up, and otherwise I try to keep my mouth shut.

1.) The issue must be one that is important enough in the grand scheme of things that it’s worth the time and effort put into the discussion.

2.) I should know that the person I speak to will listen intelligently and that it’s possible (s)he may have a change of heart. Trying to persuade a closed-minded person is wasted time I will never get back, and I’m not getting any younger.

3.) I must be knowledgeable enough about the subject. I don’t want to find out later that I said something that wasn’t true. I would rather stay silent on political issues than lose my credibility and hurt my testimony on more important (eternal) subjects.

Needless to say, after using that checklist, I usually opt to say nothing – to people, that is. Talking to God is always appropriate.

Prayer: Lord, You have called us to be in the world but not of the world. Help us to follow Your lead, always speaking and acting in a way that honors You, in Jesus’ name, Amen.