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.

 

Are We Praying God’s Priorities?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,                                                                                            neither are my ways your ways,” declares the LORD.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Isaiah 55:8

Most Christians these days are praying more than usual. Some are praying for protection, some for the healing of the sick, wisdom for our leaders, and the stop of the Corona virus. Some are asking – pleading – for the eradication of the disease, others boldly demanding it, some directly commanding it to leave in the name of Jesus. Is one approach better than another? And are we praying for God’s will or our own?

In my book BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) one chapter deals with the “barrier” of wrong priorities. We forget that sometimes what we consider of utmost importance is secondary to God, and vise versa. For example, God has made it clear that He values a person’s spiritual health more than physical health, and eternity more that our brief lives on this earth. He cares more about our deeds than our material wealth.

Does that mean God doesn’t care if we’re sick or dying or out of work? Of course not! He delights in blessing us in every area of life. But when “blessings” don’t seem to be happening, we need ask ourselves whether there is something else going on.

The following is an excerpt from BARRIERS, Chapter Five: Wrong Priorities:

In the Old Testament God was constantly warning the children of Israel of the dangers of prosperity. Moses pleaded with the people not to forget the Lord when they had times of plenty and ease in the Promised Land, and again and again they did just that. The pattern repeats itself throughout history: God blesses His people; they become comfortable; they stray from Him; He disciplines them; they repent and come back to Him; He blesses them again; again they get comfortable and stray. In reading the history of the Israelites, I have been astonished that they never seemed to catch on. It could be because, while I was reading a condensed history of the people, they were living out their lives, day to day, without stepping back to look at the Big Picture – the eternal picture.

Then I realize it isn’t just ancient Israel’s nature; I have seen the same pattern in recent history in the U.S. God has blessed this country more than any other, and over time our culture as a whole has drifted away from Him, with occasional milestones that indicate which direction we are going.

Occasionally there is a disaster that makes headlines – a shooting at Columbine high school, a bombing in Oklahoma City, mass murder on 9-11 – and for a while churches in America overflow with people grieving, searching, maybe even repenting. But it isn’t long before most of them get back to “business as usual,” with attention to God relegated to one hour on Sunday morning, if they think of Him at all.

I have often wondered what would happen if people came to love the Lord in the hard times, but then continued to love Him, even in the good times.

We may never know.

On a smaller scale, take the example of the woman who is praying for her son to know the Lord. Maybe he has known and served Him before, but in times of prosperity he is now distracted by work, vacations, entertainment, money matters, and everything else that comes with an affluent lifestyle. The devoted mother faithfully continues praying that God will get his attention.

The one day the diagnosis comes: terminal cancer.

And now God has his attention!

And what is the request that the prayer team gets? “Pray for healing!”

Now please don’t misunderstand – I’m not at all against healing – I’ve been healed on several occasions, and I’m thankful to God for it. It has enabled me to serve Him with more physical energy and strength. And I do pray that my friends and acquaintances who struggle with sickness will be healed. But I have another prayer for them that I consider far more significant.

Think about it. Which is worse – having cancer, dying at age 50 knowing God and spending eternity in heaven, or living in good health for 100 years without any regard for God, then spending eternity in darkness and regret? I realize it doesn’t have to be one or the other, but it does seem a little ironic that we pray fervently for God to get someone’s attention, and once He does it, what we immediately cry out to Him is, in essence, Make it stop!

After many years of unsuccessful prayers for sick friends, I have changed my approach. Acknowledging that God is ultimately in control, that He has a plan, and that He probably knows way more about what that person really needs than I do, I pray:

Lord, whatever You want to accomplish with this sickness (or job loss, or other trouble) I pray that it will be accomplished in Your perfect will, in Your perfect timing.

And the sooner that is accomplished, the sooner trouble can be done with and victory celebrated.

I have even come to the point where I can pray for myself with this eternal perspective, although sometimes I let my immediate pain keep me in the make-it-stop! mindset, which usually just prolongs the agony and afflicts those around me with my bad attitude at the same time.

Well, one cure for a bad attitude is the realization that I can’t make it by myself. …                                                                      excerpted from  BARRIERS, Chapter 5

Prayer: Lord, we are in troubled times, yet we know that nothing happens that hasn’t gone through the filter of Your will. You have our attention. Please guide us in how to deal with our present circumstances with Christ-like attitudes, and help us to trust You in the things we have no control over, knowing that You love us more than anyone else can. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Spiritual Exercise (Blessed Crisis, Part 2)

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”                                                                                                                                                                                                      Hebrews 10:23(ESV)

(Today I’m sharing the conclusion of the story that started last week with a predawn phone call that shook our world. There was reason to believe that our daughter and her family had been exposed to a deadly parasite through a baby squirrel their oldest daughter had brought home and played with. The squirrel had died, followed by three of their four guinea pigs. The parasite in question is incurable and, more often than not, fatal to humans.)

Joanna’s husband Sean contacted a friend who was the head of Metro Animal Services. He validated their concern and offered to pay for the dead guinea pigs to be sent away for autopsy. They could have the results Monday.

This was going to be a rough weekend for all of us.

I wanted to rush down to Louisville to be with the family, but when I suggested it, she told me they already had plans for the weekend. So I packed and headed across Michigan for my scheduled speaking engagement.

But as I drove, my mind was consumed with the crisis. When I wasn’t talking to Joanna, I was praying. A part of my regular prayers took on special significance that day. It was the part where I gave my heart to the Lord for the day and spoke out loud (so I could hear myself saying it) the truth about emotions:

Lord, thank You for emotions that confirm the Truth, but I also thank You that Your truth stands on its own and needs no confirmation from me or anybody else.

Thank You for emotions that motivate me to serve and obey You, and thank You for enabling me to serve You, whether I feel like it or not.

I thank You that my emotions don’t get to define me. They don’t get to dictate what I say, do, focus on, believe, or choose. Lord, I choose You as my Lord, my Savior, my King, my Counselor, my Shepherd, my Bridegroom – my everything!

After reminding myself that God was God and Truth was Truth, no matter how I feel, I decided to purposefully worship Him, stress or no stress.

I popped in a CD of worship music and sang God’s praises at the top of my lungs, continuing to give thanks for His promises. Hearing myself sing God’s Word gave me courage.

As strange as it may seem, Joanna’s family spent the weekend camping. It was the wisest thing to do, since all they could do about the crisis was wait, anyway. Out in the beauty of nature she and Sean took each child aside to make sure that child knew the gospel and was assured of eternal life. One by one, they made sure their children understood that their sins had separated them from God, but that He loved them so much He had sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to pay for those sins. They were reminded that by believing in Him they were forgiven, washed clean, and “born again” into eternal life. Each child gave his/her life to Jesus (again), and the whole family was assured that whatever happened, they were all going to live forever in heaven with the God who loved them so much. The rest of the weekend was spent just “being together and enjoying being alive,” according to Joanna’s text.

Meanwhile, I changed my topic for the author event. Whatever I had planned to say, I felt compelled to share honestly with the attendees what my family was going through. It turned out I was speaking not once to the whole group, but multiple times, to smaller groups throughout the event.

I told each group that God is good, that I trusted Him completely, and that no matter what, I would praise Him for the rest of my life. My daughter, her husband, and all three of their children were in God’s hands, and if He chose to take them from us, I knew they would be in a much better place, where someday I would see them and be with them again, forever. I didn’t particularly like that plan [understatement!], but this wasn’t about me. God is God, and He knows best, whether I agree or not. From the response I received, I knew there were people there who needed to hear it, who were undergoing their own crises.

I have long been a teller of “God stories,” but this was the first time in my life I was telling a story as it was unfolding. I didn’t yet have the part where “God worked it all out!” – the happy ending, tied up in a neat little bow.

Like physical exercise, this spiritual exercise made me stronger. Each time I told my story I found myself speaking with more confidence and certainty, even though I didn’t yet know how the story would end.

I didn’t know that while squirrels can get the parasite from raccoons, they can’t transmit it to humans, only raccoons can. I don’t understand why, and we still don’t know what killed the rodents, but we don’t need to. The important thing is that the tests came out negative, and that Joanna’s family was fine.

(For now.)

Just like today’s pandemic has done on a mass scale, this crisis of faith caused my family to face (again) the fact that our lives are finite. Like it or not, “We’re all gonna die,” sometime, somehow. If a crisis causes us to face this reality and prepare for the inevitable (which we should have been doing all along), then I say, “God bless the crisis.”

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the priceless gift of life. Forgive us for so often taking it for granted. Thank You for the “wake-up calls,” as unpleasant as they are, that turn our minds and hearts toward You, toward eternity –  that give us “divine perspective.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Blessed Crisis

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”                                                                                                                                                                               Psalm 46:1

While it seems that the whole world is stressed out about the pandemic, today my mind goes back to a time last September that was even more stressful (I’d say “terrifying.”) to our family.

Marty and I were in western Michigan, and I was scheduled to be part of an author event on the other side of the state. Both locations were hundreds of miles from our children and grandchildren. It was the morning when I was to drive across the state when the proverbial bomb was dropped.

At 4:45 A.M. my phone buzzed me out of a deep sleep. It was my oldest daughter Joanna. I felt a wave of adrenaline; the only reason for a call at this hour was some dire emergency. I hoped against hope that she had somehow “butt-dialed” me. But the moment I heard her voice, worn out from prolonged weeping, that hope evaporated.

“Mom,” she sobbed, “we found out what was killing the guinea pigs.”

I blinked. WaitShe’s calling me at 4:45 A.M. to talk about guinea pigs?!

I knew how the children loved the little critters. It had been sad for all of them when the first one had died inexplicably and especially heartbreaking when the second one had died a few days later on Caroline’s birthday. Recently I had heard that the third one was “walking funny” and seemed disoriented.

But as much as the children loved their pets, did this merit a predawn call on the day before my author event? I tried not to sound too irritated as I asked what the cause of death was.

Joanna explained that wild rodents can get a parasite that humans are susceptible to. “It’s fatal, Mom. And there is no cure.”

My heart dropped into my stomach. But something wasn’t adding up.

“Wait a minute, honey. You got the guinea pigs at a pet store. They wouldn’t – ”

Mom. The squirrel.”

My heart dropped to the floor.

A couple of weeks earlier their oldest, Caroline, had found a baby squirrel that seemed to be injured. She had picked it up, taken it home, and tried to nurse it back to health. After a day or so it had died. All three children had been playing with the squirrel and the Guinea pigs, and at their age, they may not have washed their hands or the cages that thoroughly afterward.

“Mom, please pray for us!

I was weak in the knees, short of breath, and for once in my life, speechless. I still had questions, such the source of her information. She had been on line all night.

When I heard the word “Wikipedia,” a wave of  relief mixed with irritation kept me standing for a few more moments, but when she added, “Harvard’s medical website confirmed it,” I sank into the nearest chair and again felt the blood draining from my face.

By this time Marty was awake. I turned my phone to “speaker” just as Joanna said, “Dad’s gonna want to know the name of the parasite…” She spelled the unpronounceable word, and Marty was already typing it into his phone. Moments later I heard him say a word he doesn’t normally use.

The good news was, the disease in humans is rare. The bad news was, for those who get it, progressive nerve damage spreads to the brain, and the victim loses muscle control and eventually dies an excruciating death. Some survive, having severe brain damage for the rest of their lives.

I felt my world spinning out of control as I finally did what Joanna called for. I sank to my knees (not that I had a choice at that point) and tried to pray, although all I could get out was the Lord’s name, over and over.

He had been so good to me – good to my whole family – a good marriage, three dear children, godly spouses for each of them, and five darling grandchildren. We had had our struggles, but they all seemed like nothing now. The thought of losing half my family in a matter of weeks changed my whole perspective on everything.

                                                                                            ( … to be continued … )

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been realizing lately the things we take for granted – things like hugging family and friends, snuggling up with a child to read a book, gathering around the table for a family meal. Even things that used to be seen as chores have taken on new meaning – going to school, running to the grocery store for a few items, getting a haircut, meeting a friend at the coffee shop. Things like going to a concert or play or sporting event now seem like a slice of heaven on earth.

Let’s all take this time of seclusion to appreciate the little things – and the not-so-little things – things we can still enjoy now, things we have enjoyed and can look forward to enjoying again.

More than anything, I am thankful that I can spend uninterrupted time with the God who loves me and cares for me. The quietness and solitude helps me gain the perspective I need for the rest of my day. He gives me hope, whatever else may be going on. That hope is greater even than the world’s “worst case scenario,” because He loved us enough to pay the penalty for our sins by dying in our place.

Best of all – as we just celebrated in a more subdued (and yet possibly more meaningful) way, He rose to life again! Now by believing in Him, we can be raised up as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for showering us with blessings, most of which we’ve barely notice, much less given You thanks for. Open out eyes to Your goodness, and may we have hearts of gratitude that will shine for You, even in our darkest times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

The News Going Viral (Pardon the Expression)

Everyone seems to be reposting this, but I couldn’t not post it. I think it’s destined to be a new Easter classic. It’s not my original, although I would love to be able to claim it. Gather the family around and enjoy an Easter version of the familiar story:

How the Virus Stole Easter

By Kristi Bothur

With a nod to Dr. Seuss 😊
“Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.
As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.
April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”
Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.
“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.
“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.
And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!
It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!
Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”
Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?
The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.
May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.”
Happy Easter to all! May the Lord lift up your heart today and always!

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the assurance that You are and always will be victorious over every enemy, including death! You are not limited by time or space, so wherever we are, we celebrate Your Resurrection – we celebrate YOU. May we spread the good news wherever You send us – physically or virtually – joyfully in Your name, amen.

“It’s Friday. But Sunday’s Coming!”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.”                                                                                                                                                                     John 16:20

If the title of this post looks familiar to you, it’s because S. M. Lockridge (1913-2000), a prominent African-American preacher, preached a sermon by that name that has moved people, stirred their passion, and given them hope for years. Author and speaker Tony Campolo was so moved by Lockridge’s words that he has been sharing the message with his audiences and written a book by that name.

Even though the circumstances in the world have changed, the power of the Cross hasn’t, and the hope of the Resurrection remains timeless. Today of all days, let’s remember the incredible LOVE that was extended to us on that gruesome Friday so long ago, ponder its meaning, and share it with our loved ones.

Here is an excerpt from that famous sermon, as relevant as ever, followed by my “updated” 2020 version of the conclusion:

It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s a sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying. They don’t even know That Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The disciples are running Like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying. Peter is denying. But they don’t know That Sunday’s a comin’.

It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robe him in scarlet. They crown him with thorns. But they don’t know That Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling. And his spirit’s burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning.
It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands To the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross. And then they raise him up Next to criminals. It’s Friday. But let me tell you something Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning. What has happened to their King. And the Pharisees are celebrating That their scheming Has been achieved. But they don’t know It’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by his Father. Left alone and dying Can nobody save him? Ooooh It’s Friday. But Sunday’s comin’.

It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields his spirit. It’s Friday. Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered. and Satan’s just a laughin’.
It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place. But it’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is a comin’! *

It’s Friday. An invisible enemy has invaded nation after nation. The peoples of the world are terrified. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Once booming cities are all but empty. London, New York, and Paris are ghost towns. Italy is a graveyard. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. People are isolated from loved ones, separated by glass, social distancing, and fear. Smiles are hidden behind masks. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Hospitals are filled to capacity. Medical staff look like ghosts. They try to extend compassion through masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, and their own anxieties. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Families are devastated, losing loved ones without saying good-bye, mourning without funerals, grieving without comfort. Unless they know that Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jews are commemorating another time they were hidden in their homes, shielded from the Angel of Death by the blood of a spotless lamb on their doors. Again they are awaiting their liberation, watching and waiting for the second Moses, the promised Messiah. He has come! And He is coming back! (Sunday’s coming.)

It’s Friday. Christians are remembering the spotless Lamb of God, betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, spit on, nailed to a cross and left to die, the Lamb whose blood saves us from eternal death. (Sunday’s coming.)

It’s Friday. Skeptics and scoffers are shaking their fists at a God they claim not to believe in. They mock believers – “He’s coming back? You people have been saying that for almost 2000 years!” … almost. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Some are wondering if these are the end times. Some are predicting the end of the world. Some have given up hope. But don’t give up hope – Sunday’s coming!

It’s Friday. “Has God forgotten us?” some are asking. “Is He mad at us? Does He hate us? Have we gone too far?”

Yes, we have sinned, yes we are all guilty, yes, we desperately need forgiveness, but He has paid for our sins on the Cross, so we can be forgiven and receive eternal life.

Does God still love us? Look at the Lamb of God, sacrificed for you.

(YES, He loves us!)

He has not fallen off His throne! He is in control! He knows things we don’t, and He tells us to trust Him. Death is not the end! He is coming back. Whatever the world, the flesh, or the devil are telling us, we need to keep looking to Him, knowing that 

SUNDAY IS COMING.

*https://thepreachersword.com/2016/12/31/its-friday-but-sundays-coming/#more-1309

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, today as we remember Your suffering on the Cross to pay for our sins, we look to You as our only hope in a fallen and desperately wicked world. It has been said that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. We have seen the price You were willing to pay for us, and we know that You won’t give up on us now. We thank You, we praise You, we rejoice in the Love that was demonstrated by Your sacrifice, and the hope of the Resurrection that we celebrate this Sunday – and every day of our redeemed lives. In Your name we pray, amen.

But Seriously Folks … (Sound Familiar? Part 2)

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”       – Exodus 20:3

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.     – I John 5:21

The book of Jeremiah contains the writings of the “weeping prophet,” who was routinely ignored and persecuted as he tried time and again to warn the people of the coming judgment for their blatant unfaithfulness to their God (idolatry). The book of Lamentations follows, written during the nightmare of the siege of Jerusalem, just before the Babylonian Empire defeated Israel once and for all, carrying them away into captivity. Sadly, Jeremiah suffered along with everyone else when the starvation was so severe that people were eating their own children. I’m sure it gave him no pleasure to say “I told you so.”

How could a loving God allow such horrors? Good question.

Another good question would be, How could Israel abandon the Lord and worship idols after all He had done for them? He had freed them from slavery in Egypt, opening up the Red Sea, feeding them supernaturally in the wilderness, conquering nations far bigger than they, and giving them the “land flowing with milk and honey”? For centuries God pleaded with His people to come back to Him, sending one prophet after another to warn them of the consequences of their disobedience. But time and again God’s people turned to the idols of the nations they had conquered, preferring the false prophets who assured them that all was well, believing that God either didn’t see their sin or didn’t care. Finally, through the Babylonians, the nation was defeated and scattered, even as the Lord promised He would bring them back someday. (Notably, although Israel has sinned in various ways like any other nation, since the Babylonian siege she never again returned to idolatry.)

Sunday our pastor delivered a message on line centered around the Exodus, especially regarding the ten plagues God sent to Egypt. He pointed out that every plague was a blow to a false god. One by one, Egypt’s deities were attacked, including the gods of the Nile, frogs, the earth, the fly, the bull. The last two plagues were three days of darkness, attacking the sun god, and finally, the death of the first born, even the first born of Pharaoh, who considered himself a god.

In preparing for the last plague, the Israelites were told to stay in their homes. (Sound familiar?) To protect their own firstborn, they were to sacrifice a lamb without defect and place its blood on the sides and tops of the doorframe – a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who centuries later would be slaughtered to save us from the slavery of sin. Those who believe in Him will be saved from eternal death.

That afternoon, I received a timely email with yet another perspective of the Corona virus, seemingly taken right out of the Old Testament:

“In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church”
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.”

While I am not saying that every word of this “prophecy” is true for everyone, it has been “food for thought.” America certainly has many examples of idolatry today. We have allowed the preborn to be slaughtered by the millions in the name of “freedom of choice.” While we have decried the proliferation of human trafficking, we’ve ignored its connection to the porn industry, which we have allowed into our movie theaters, and even into our homes via television. We have worshiped the rich and famous, devouring every bit of gossip about them that we can get our hands on, while ignoring the true heroes, those who minister to the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.

Do I believe everyone in America deserves what is happening to us? No, other than the fact that without Jesus we are all hopeless sinners. There are many in this country who have remained faithful to the Lord in the midst of the evil all around them. But I have no reason to believe that they won’t suffer along with the rest, as Jeremiah did.

Is the Corona virus the work of a loving God? I don’t believe so. But Scripture is clear that nothing happens without God’s knowledge and permission. So, why is He allowing it?

Is it a loving thing for a parent to yell at his child and yank him so hard that he dislocates the child’s shoulder? That depends. Was the child just being annoying, or was he ignoring the parent and running into the path of an oncoming semi?

For centuries Israel ignored the warnings of God, running headlong toward spiritual (eternal) destruction.

When times are hard Scripture shows God disciplining His children, destroying His enemies, or both. Israel was eventually gathered again, even becoming a nation. Egypt has never again been a major world power. The mighty empires of Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Rome all have disappeared.

How we apply this to ourselves depends on where we stand with Him. The hard truth is, He will do whatever it takes to bring back His wandering children. We can make it easy on ourselves, or we can make it hard.

Right now His children should bear a striking “family resemblance.” When others are suffering, Christians should stand out as the most generous, loving people on the planet. But there also comes a time when we must have the courage to speak the truth in love. After all, what’s loving about letting a child run out into the street when a semi is barreling his way?

Prayer: Lord, as Your children, help us to reflect Your heart – a heart of both holiness and grace. Help us to speak the truth in love, even when it is hard, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sound Familiar?

There is a time for everything,                                                                                                              and a season for every activity under heaven:                                                                            a time to weep, and a time to laugh …                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4a

Yesterday fellow blogger Mitch Teemley posted these timely words:

“After performing tragedies, the ancient Greeks always staged comedies, often making fun of the tragedies they’d just presented. Why? Comedy relief. Likewise, humor flourishes during wars and epidemics. Morbidity? No, survival. When we’re under attack, we ridicule our attackers and tease ourselves. Why? Because it helps us cope, reminds us we’re in this together and, well, simply provides comedy relief. Those Greeks had it right.”

Inspired by Mitch’s words (and in honor of April Fool’s Day), I’m finally posting a piece I had hesitated to publish …

So, people are stockpiling non-perishable foods, drinking water (not sure why on that one … ) and of course, toilet paper. (What is it with the toilet paper???)

For anyone over 30, this scenario brings back memories of another world-wide emergency: “Y2K.”

For you who don’t remember this crisis, here’s a little background:

It seems that when computers were first invented they had built-in clocks keeping track of times and dates. Unfortunately, the years registered only in two digits, so 1984 was just “84,” 1999 was just “99.” Apparently it hadn’t occurred to the technology geniuses until the late 90’s that there might be a problem when the year “99” turned over and became “00.” This situation provided fuel for a major scare world-wide. By now virtually every part of our society from our car engines to our banking to our communication was computerized. Rumor had it that even the latest toys, “Furbies,” were more technologically complex than our first space shuttle – Don’t quote me on that one, please.

It just happened that I was asked to sing at a Christian Women’s Club luncheon on January 4, 2000. The format was to sing one light, secular song early on, then a “sacred” song just before the speaker. For the “secular” selection I couldn’t resist writing an original song for just such an occasion. I only performed it once, but here it is, resurrected after 20 years+.

You can sing along. The melody is the same as “Jingle Bells.” The song should start out light and fun, then gradually build in speed and intensity until it reaches a frenzied climax just before the last two lines, after which the song should end with a line of hesitation and an abrupt final line, sung with a big, relieved smile.

(Have fun, and happy April Fool’s Day.)

Y2K

Y2K! Y2K! What is Y2K?                                                                                                                         The end of all life as we know it, coming any day now!                                                                  Y2K! Y2K! Everyone beware!                                                                                                                Stock up fuel and food supplies, so you will be prepared.

All commercial planes will fall out of the sky!                                                                                   Reservoirs will drain and leave us high and dry!                                                                               Every ATM will tell you that you’re broke!                                                                                       All cars on the road will simultaneously choke – OH!

Y2K! Y2K! What are we to do?!                                                                                                              I’m prepared for Y2K. (But I won’t share with you – Ha!)                                                                  Y2K! Y2K! All computers die!                                                                                                                 We have great technology.  At midnight it will fry.

Desktops all will fail, and laptops lose their drive!                                                                            If we don’t comply, we will not survive!                                                                                                 Floppy discs will flop, and CD’s will not work,                                                                                While a million Furbie toys go totally berserk!!! – OH!

Y2K! Y2K! Panic in the street!                                                                                                                Will we freeze to death that day or have no food to eat?! – OH!                                                      Y2K-Y2K- Running-out-of-time!!!                                                                                                        … what? … It’ January 4th?

In that case …                                                                                                                                                                            never mind.

*(Today this song is dedicated to all the computer engineers and technicians who worked tirelessly to make “Y2K” a non-crisis, and to all the doctors, researchers, and world leaders battling the Corona virus today.)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we see everything from the worldly, temporary  perspective of this life, and quite honestly, things seem very grim today. But we know that nothing is out of Your control, and from Your throne things look very different. We know that when we get to heaven we will be able to look  back on everything You’ve brought us through – including death itself – and smile. Give us the faith and trust to smile even now, when we can’t see the outcome, but we know that You are all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving. And Lord, for those reading this who aren’t there yet, please use this blog to draw them closer to You, their loving Father, in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

Was that ME?

… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                                                          Philippians 1:6

With the increased hours at home, I had anticipated more hours writing, but I should know by now that I can anticipate all I want, but the Lord usually has other plans. Or at the very least, He tweaks mine. And I’ve earned that that’s a good thing!

With all the adjustments people have been making regarding “social distancing,” my husband Marty’s lifestyle has changed very little. My beloved architect is immersed in his latest D.Y.I. project – replacing our old eye-sore book shelves with his own handiwork, a beautiful pair of book cases, complete with sliding glass doors.

These shelves are, in fact, far too nice now to hold mere books. Most of our books aren’t all that attractive, – worn out paperbacks, beat up hardbacks, and chewed-up children’s books collected over the past three generations. Hence, the project I no longer had any excuse to put off was to haul several large boxes of books, photos, and “miscellaneous” down to the basement, sort through them, and arrange all the ones we wanted in some kind of orderly fashion on the cubicle shelves. The items we didn’t want were set aside to give to our children and grandchildren or donate to the library or Good Will.

I expected this to be a relatively quick job; I’d just have to decide which ones to keep and which ones I’d give away, and place them on shelves or in boxes accordingly.

Simple, right?

But anything involving the printed word or old photos can get me bogged down for hours, if not days.

Phase One: Curiosity

Do I want to keep this book? Hmm …  I remember buying it, but I don’t think I ever got around to reading it …  It does look good …  I’ve heard good things about this author …  Let’s check out the table of contents … That chapter looks fascinating! I wonder what he says about that … hmmm, I don’t get what he’s talking about. Must be referring to something in an earlier chapter…

[Twenty minutes later] OKAY, ANN, DECIDE! DO I WANT THIS BOOK OR NOT? 

… Naaa …

Old college term papers were even worse. I had forgotten about them, but upon finding them I remembered how hard I had worked on them, all the research I had done, and how passionate I was about some of the subjects, how persuasively I wrote, and dang it I was good writer! Thus began

Phase Two: Nostalgia.

I was knee deep in old schoolwork and pictures, everything from yearbooks to wedding photos to catalogues Marty and I modeled for when we were both worth looking at. Baby books with adorable pictures and memorabilia of the kids, Shutterfly calendars with pictures of their kids, and on and on.

When I finally got all of them on shelves categorized as “College” and “photo albums and yearbooks,” I came across another genre … my old journals.

Uh-oh …

Abandoning all illusions that this would be a quick job, I sank into one of the kids’ TV chairs on the floor and opened one. I would just read a little, then get back to work …

Wow.

I scarcely recognized the person who had written this drivel. I remembered the people mentioned, the circumstances that I had written about, but oh my – !

I was a moody woman then, to say the least. For someone with a relatively easy life, I had written with great passion about my journey into self-discovery … with the emphasis on self. What I discovered reading was that I was utterly self-centered: a self-conscious, self-loathing, self-important, self-pitying drama queen. (In my defense, I did major in drama at the university, but still … !)

I was so thoroughly disgusted with the young lady that had written this self-obsessed garbage that I didn’t see the silver lining for a while. Then it dawned on me –

I’m not that person any more!

Now my days begin with thanking God for one thing after another. Once I’ve given Him my body, mind, and heart (again) I’m seeing the bright side (“divine perspective?”) of everything. If a friend rejects my invitation to do something, I’ll call another friend. If nobody wants or is able to get together with me, instead of sinking into a pit of “what’s wrong with me?” depression, I get excited.  Jesus want me all to Himself today! And I eagerly look forward to seeing what He has in store, whom He might bring across my path, and what He’s going to teach me about the world and the people around me.

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a moment that I have “arrived.” I sometimes get discouraged with my lack of visible growth and have to remind myself that God’s grace covers my faults – that Jesus died so my sins could be forgiven, and that He’s not going to give up on me now.

I still have a LOT of growing to do. But that day I found the journals the Lord showed me that while daily growth has usually been imperceptible, over time He has brought me a long way. I’m so much happier now than I was 35 years ago.

(And no doubt the people around me are, too.)

Prayer: Lord, thank You for not giving up on me. Because of Your patient working in me, I am not what I was. But I’m not yet what I will be. I gladly yield myself to You (again) and trust You to grow me in the sunshine of your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Faith, Fear, and Folly

   Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:                                                                                                                                                  ‘He will command his angels concerning you,                                                                           and they will lift you up in their hands,                                                                                       so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”       Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

                                                                                                              Matthew 4:5-7

The other night, as usual, the majority of the news concerned the Corona virus. Locally, we were informed how many new cases had cropped up in the Louisville area. Most disconcerting was the statement that one of the infected people was refusing to self isolate.

I wondered what type of individual would take such a stand. Someone with no concern for anyone but himself? A conspiracy theorist convinced that the Corona virus is a hoax? Or someone so impressed with his own importance that he thinks the world will fall apart without him?

This morning another possibility occurred to me. Oh Lord, I hope this isn’t some misguided Christian trying to make a point about faith!

Historically, Christians have been known to respond to an epidemic differently from the average person. The Antonine Plague in the Roman Empire during the second century reached a point where 2,000 people were dying every day. The sick were being abandoned by their leaders, physicians, and even their families. Meanwhile, the Christians were staying and caring for the sick, including their pagan neighbors. *

About a hundred years later (250-270 A.D.) another plague hit, believed to be measles or smallpox. This time 5,000 people per day were dying in Rome alone, and again the Christians were the ones staying to help the afflicted. Emperor Decius tired to blame these believers for the plague, but considering they were dying along with everyone else, how many truly believed it? *

Examples of Christian selflessness throughout history are as recent as Mother Teresa’s missionaries, who devote their lives to caring for dying lepers. This is Christian faith at its best.

Back to last night’s news… Deliberately exposing other people to a disease is the opposite of these! It is being willing to risk someone else’s life for the sake of one’s own convenience. The one is heroic, the other despicable. If I could speak to that person refusing to quarantine himself/herself, I would say:

“Sir (or Ma’am), if you have been tested positive for the Corona virus (or any other contagious disease), you are not engaging in an act of great faith – or bravery or greatness – by refusing to be quarantined. You are engaging in an act of total selfishness. Get over yourself. Stay home.”

Besides this act of recklessness, I’ve seen two other counterproductive ways of responding to this pandemic. One is to react in panic. We’ve seen it displayed in grocery stores by people who take every last package of toilet paper, or every last can of soup leaving none for the rest of us. I’ve even seen footage of screaming brawls. These are prime examples of how fear can turn normal people into selfish animals. I sincerely hope that no one who professes to trust Christ has engaged in that kind of behavior.

Another bad response I’ve seen that shows up on the news a lot these days is grabbing hold of the issue and exploiting it for political purposes, widening the division this country already has. Perhaps they think pointing a finger will help. But the Blame Game only stirs up more anger.

Before giving way to any more knee-jerk reactions, please note:

Fear and rage wreak havoc on the immune system.

The best way for a Christian to avoid these two health hazards is to remain calm, follow reasonable guidelines to protect yourself and others, and look to God for protection, strength, and peace. As a fellow blogger pointed out, one of three things will happen: (1) You won’t get the disease, (2) you’ll get it and recover, or (3) you’ll get it and go to be with Jesus. For the Christian it’s “win-win-win.”

If you aren’t a Christian, my advice is, become one, A.S.A.P. No, I’m not joking. See my post from last week, “We’re All Going To Die,” ** because like it or not, we are. Really. Maybe soon, maybe not, but it’s going to happen. Why not be prepared now?

If you are a health care worker and must be around the elderly, including those infected with the virus, God bless you! Our prayers are with you. If you are healthy and like the early Christians you truly believe God is leading you to put your life on the line to help sick, God bless you! Our prayers are with you. If you believe you may have Corona virus, please show your love for others by distancing yourself from them. Our prayers are with you, too.

For those of us in isolation, some things to think about: When was the last time you were able to spend a solid hour in prayer without keeping one eye on the clock? When was the last time you were able to sit quietly listening for God’s Still, Small Voice? When was the last time you sensed His sheer delight in having you in His presence? Don’t let the coming days be wasted. Solitude can be a blessing when used well.

(Besides, a child of God is never truly alone.)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are so accustomed to running around from one activity to another that being still seems strange to us. And yet You told Your disciples “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”[Mark 6:31] I believe You are extending that invitation to us, even today in the midst of the Corona outbreak. Help us quiet our hearts and hear Your voice, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*https://www.christianpost.com/news/running-toward-the-plague-christians-and-ebola.html
** https://wordpress.com/post/seekingdivineperspective.com/986