Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Beauty in falling

There's beauty in every season, but I think fall is my favorite. Maybe it's the foggy mornings, the clouds hanging low in the hills, making them look like islands floating in a white sea.
 
Maybe it's the spider webs sparkling in the field in the morning, tiny threads so delicately spread across the grass. Maybe it's the first hint of cool weather, when you're greeted by crisp mornings that pair perfectly with steaming coffee and a front porch swing.

Maybe it's because I like the reminder that God uses brokenness. I think fall is His way of showing us that there is beauty in letting go.

As the leaves change colors, it's Him whispering, "There is beauty in the endings, too." The greens give way to reds, golds, oranges, and browns as His creation seems to slow just a bit.

The leaves fall to the ground and the branches are left bear, stretching--empty--up to the sky. With that, God tells us to bring Him our brokenness, our emptiness, when everything else has fallen away and left us with nothing to offer but empty arms stretched up to Him, knowing that anything we're given comes from Him.

Like the trees, we have to learn to stand even when our beauty falls. We have to learn to be exposed, everything else stripped away. We have to face the cold and the darkness of this world with nothing and no one to cling to--but God.

There is beauty in the trees after the leaves have fallen, beauty in the time of waiting. There is beauty in knowing that there is nothing left, that you have been stripped of everything you hide behind and that God still sees beauty there.

Friday, September 18, 2020

masks?

Sometimes I search for something to write. Other times, though, it seems like a topic is dumped on my lap, even if it's something I've been trying to avoid. Today is one of those times. I guess a more apt description would be "shoved in my face," because that's what's happening right now. Right now, that's the division over masks and government mandates pertaining to this virus.

I'll be honest--I have friends and family on both sides of the issue. I see and hear arguments on both sides, which normally wouldn't be a bad thing. Normally, I appreciate a good debate. I think I must get that from Pop, because he's been known to play "devil's advocate" on more than one occasion. I love learning something new, and you don't ever get to do that solely by watching, reading, and listening to the people you already agree with. New things are learned by putting yourself into a place of slight discomfort, a place where you acknowledge that you don't have all the answers and that there are things you don't know.

The problem right now? Nobody seems to be willing to listen to anyone on the other side of the issue. Instead, we see long lists posted on social media talking about the reasons people wear masks. They typically look something like this:
  • I wear a mask because I'm educated enough to know...
  • I wear a mask because I care about other people...
  • I wear a mask because I want to be part of the solution...
  • I wear a mask because I'm an adult who contributes to society...
  • I wear a mask because it means I'm caring and responsible...
  • I wear a mask because I know this isn't a hoax...
  • I wear a mask because I don't think an inconvenience is more important...
  • I wear a mask because it could save just one life...
At first glance, it looks positive. The problem, though, is that all too often the assumption seems to be that if you do the opposite, that means you believe the opposite. In this case, if you don't wear a mask it must mean that
  • you are uneducated
  • you don't care about other people
  • you want to be part of the problem
  • you aren't a contributing member of society
  • you are uncaring and irresponsible
  • you think the virus is a hoax
  • you think inconvenience is more important than lives
  • you don't care if people die

But wait--no one would ever say that, right? The problem is, that's exactly what these lists are doing.

I'll go out on a limb here to say this: I don't think we need to be wearing masks. No, I don't think the virus is a hoax. I do, however, think it's being used to create division and hatred in our society, just like everything is that happens in an election year (no matter which side of an issue you are on). There is overwhelming scientific evidence that shows that the vast majority of people are not at risk from this virus. Schools are closed or meeting virtually, though the risk to children is so low that it is statistically insignificant. People are losing businesses they've given everything to build. People in nursing homes are being forced to live out the end of their lives alone. I think those who are at risk should take precautions, and like always I'll stay home if I'm sick (isn't that what we're supposed to do?). I'll cough and sneeze into my elbow so that I'm not putting those germs on my hands.

I wear a mask at work, because I've made a choice to work for an organization that requires masks. That's one of the wonderful things about living in a free society--organizations have the right to make rules and guidelines, and I have the right to choose whether or not I work for them. If I choose to work for them, though, I choose to abide by their rules and guidelines. The same goes for businesses--it should be their choice whether or not to require masks, and my choice is whether or not I visit that business.

My choice not to wear a mask doesn't mean I'm uneducated. It doesn't mean I think the virus is a hoax or that I don't care about people. It does, however, mean that I've done my research (as I hope you have) and have come to an informed conclusion. It also means that I believe our rights in this country trump emotions and opinions. That's part of growing and maturing--children are controlled by their emotions and opinions. Mature adults? They depend on facts and truth.


Monday, September 14, 2020

when friends seem few...

To the teen girl, trying to find her "people":

Oh my goodness, sometimes this "friendship" thing seems hard. Sometimes you feel like you don't really have anybody you connect with--the people around just don't really seem to want you around, or you've found out that you've outgrown the friends you used to have so much in common with. You look at your childhood friends and realize that as you've started to grow up, you've started to grow apart.

The teenage years are far from easy. You're in a body that has become foreign to you, dealing with a mind that seems to have become your enemy at times, and prisoner to hormones that definitely don't seem to have your best interests at heart. You feel like you don't fit anywhere--at school, at home, or in your own body.

But can I tell you something? You're not supposed to fit right now.

You're in that in between, the time when you're not a little girl anymore but you aren't really grown up, either. The whole world is trying to convince you of who you should become, how you should look, how you should act. And all those girls who have been there with you through the childhood part of your life? They're in the same boat. That means all of you have lost your minds together, which makes it incredibly hard to be together.

You're not supposed to fit, because if you fit you get comfortable. And if you're comfortable, you stop growing. Right now, the only one you need to try to fit with is God. He's the One who can help you figure out which pieces of the childhood you should be kept and which pieces should be tossed away to make room for the new. He's the One who has designed you and who is shaping you into who He wants you to be.

Sometimes, that shaping is hard. Sometimes it takes grinding or scraping or melting or squeezing. It is so worth it, though. These hard times you find yourself in the middle of will create a treasure that can withstand the pressure and the flames of an uncertain future.

But that's the future, which I know is hard to think about. Right now, you're in the middle of the hard stuff. You're facing the fire and feel like you're alone--but I hope you remember that you're never alone. Remember the fiery furnace? And when Jonah called out from the belly of the fish? And when Peter started sinking on the waves? And in Lamentations when Jeremiah was crying out in the midst of the devastation of Israel?


Even right now--maybe especially right now--God is with you in the hard time. He's close enough to be able to whisper in your ear, and He's got you. He's holding you and there's no power that can ever be strong enough to pull you out of His grip.

One day, you'll feel the pieces of your soul start to slide into place. You'll start to learn who God wants you to be and you'll see glimpses of why you've gone through the hard things to make you who you are.

I'm not saying it will all make sense, or that suddenly one day you'll find "your people" and feel like you fit in the world. To be honest, I've never gotten to that place myself. I still have times when I wonder who my friends are, where my "tribe" is. I don't have a big group of friends who all hang out together and bring their families together for barbeques. I do, however, have a friend I've been able to count on for more than 20 years now, one I can count on no matter how little we've seen each other. I have family (blood and not) I know will love me no matter what. I have a husband who has stood next to me through all my craziness and who loves me in spite of myself.

Most of all, though, I have a God who promises me that He's always close enough to whisper in my ear.

He's your "people" and that will never change.

Monday, September 7, 2020

lamenting a nation

Israel had been warned, time and time again. They had been given so many chances to turn away from all the wrong they had been doing and to return to God and His purpose for them. Over and over again, though, they refused. The leaders, priests, and prophets kept lying to the people, telling them that everything was fine. Instead of pointing out where Israel was falling short and showing them what needed to change, they overlooked all the shortcomings. Instead of guiding them back to the right path, they pretended like the people didn't have anything to be worried about.

"They never warned and exposed you to correct your wicked ways so that things would go well again with no captivity. Instead, they told divine oracles of lies and deceit, that everything was fine." Lamentations 2:14

Lamentations isn't a fun book to read. Right now, especially--because as I read through these 5 chapters I keep seeing glimpses of the United States. If I'm being honest, they seem more like big, flashing, neon signs of the United States, actually.

The poet is talking about a nation whose beauty and worth have faded. It's a nation that has allowed the enemy to take over everything, even the temple of God. It is a once great nation that is now mocked by its enemies, all its failings exposed and put on display. It is a country that has even begun to sacrifice babies in order to make life "better" for the mother. A country that doesn't care about anything other than this moment:

"Impurity clung to her inside the cover of her clothes. She refused to consider anything but the present, never expecting her impurity would be revealed." Lamentations 1:9a

We, as a nation, have turned away from God. Our children are paying the price for our sins--through abortion, gender reassignment, pedophilia, and human trafficking. We have "pastors" who are telling us that all the wrong we're doing is fine, saying that the Bible didn't really mean that sins are actual sins, that right and wrong changes with society so things like homosexuality and sex before marriage and greed and lust and pride aren't bad now because our society has changed. Our enemies are watching in glee as all our failures are put on full display, and none of them have any interest in coming to our aid.

I wish I could point to Lamentations as an example of a nation realizing just how far they have fallen, repenting, and running back to the God of their salvation. That's not the case here, though. Lamentations is the grief of a nation lost deep in the consequences of their sins, finally bearing the punishment that God has long warned was coming. To be honest, I'm afraid our nation has followed suit. I'm afraid we are finally reaping what we've sown (though I sure hope I'm wrong). The Scriptures are really plain when talking about the reasons God will bless a nation and the reasons He will destroy one, and we seem to be comfortably camped out in the behaviors of the latter category.

In the middle of Lamentations, though, we have a reminder of hope:
"Saying Your name, Eternal One, I called to You from the darkness of this pit. Surely You've heard me say, 'Don't be deaf to my call; bring me relief!' So close when I've called out in my distress, You've whispered in my ear, 'Do not be afraid.'" Lamentations 3:55-57

Even when we're in the pit, crying out in despair, God is close enough to His children to whisper.

Monday, August 31, 2020

religion and politics

Religion and politics--the two things we're never supposed to talk about, right? Thankfully, I was blessed to grow up in a family where both were talked about with equal fervor. One is a given, seeing as how I've spent the majority of my life with a pastor for a dad and mom who has always led children's ministry. Faith was never something reserved for Sundays. Lessons in morality and God's way vs. my way were a never ending (and admittedly for a teenager, somewhat annoying at times) part of everyday life.

At the same time, I grew up in a family with a military background. That means politics were never a taboo subject, though the same thing applies to those discussions being annoying to a teenage girl at times. I can remember one conversation between Pop and Michael when they were talking politics that eventually turned into a discussion about what Michael would do if he were in charge. Pop has always had a bit of a habit of playing devil's advocate, and by the end of that conversation Michael had to concede that the only way to ensure what he wanted politically would be to become dictator with strict rules on who could enter his country.

So needless to say, I've never really been one for avoiding those conversations. I'm pretty sure both topics were covered during my first road trip with my boss, actually, and there were some things we agreed on and some on which we differed--and neither of us got mad. For the first time in my memory, the whole country is talking nothing else. The problem is, most people seem to have bought into the idea that the only way to discuss hard topics is to yell and scream and insist that anyone who doesn't agree with you is a horrible human being who can't possibly have any redeeming qualities.

And to be perfectly honest with you, I'm in the group that's being screamed at lately.

I was raised to believe that my faith could only be genuine if it impacted every aspect of my life. If you speak one way on Sunday, a different way in the office on Monday, and another way when you go out with friends on Saturday night, that's not faith. It's some sort of show, something you do because it's expected of you or is somehow the "right thing" in a specific circle. That kind of faith, though, really isn't worth much.

That's the kind of faith that people can comfortably separate from politics. It's a handy set of relativistic morals that can be changed with the times and trends--focus on the happy parts, like love and "acceptance" (whatever people mean by that), and leave out all the uncomfortable things like sin and repentance and accountability. If you do that, you can buy into the idea that everyone should just do whatever feels right and that no one should have to answer for their actions.

The faith that I've been raised in, though, doesn't allow for that. It tells me that Truth doesn't change according to my moods or whims, and that means that there are times I'm wrong. It tells me that I have to take responsibility for my actions and admit that I've fallen so far short of the goal--perfection--that I can't even see it. It tells me that there is only one way to reach that goal, and it is through the redeeming sacrifice of Yeshua, the one and only son of the Eternal God.

That faith tells me that every decision I make should be based on the teachings and laws found in the Scriptures, including decisions about politics.

I'm not typically outspoken about my political stance. Those who know me know where I stand on just about every issue, but I'm not one who usually gets loud about elections. I'm patriotic and know more than most the cost of the freedom so many take for granted, so I have always encouraged people to get out and vote. I'm quick to say that if you don't vote, you can't complain. Usually, I leave it at that.

This year, though, I don't feel like I can leave it. I fully believe that this election is the most important I have seen in my lifetime. I never would have dreamed that I would see our country so bitterly divided, with so many people so blatantly calling for its destruction. This country has defined freedom and liberty for people all around the world since it's inception, but there are people who are trying to take that away. They are telling us that if we don't support "democratic socialism," we don't support equality and we can't possibly love our neighbors. And after all, isn't that what Jesus told us to do?

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of my Savior's words being twisted to fit an agenda. Yes, I love my neighbors. I am called as a follower of Christ, though, to love as He did. That means leading people to the truth, not letting them wallow in darkness while I tell them I love them. As my Mom always told all of us growing up (and by "us" I mean any kid she has ever taught...or met), "I love you too much to let you act like that."

Love isn't letting people do whatever makes them happy. It is hard and honest and "rejoices in the truth," as we're told in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. Love is telling someone when what they are doing is harmful. It is showing them God's plan, even when they don't want to see it. Love is supporting one another, but it isn't letting someone have a free ride through life simply because they think they are entitled to it.

I look at the cities being burned and looted, at livelihoods being destroyed, and am sickened by the idea that people claim to be tearing down so much in the twisted name of "loving" people. It isn't love to take jobs. It isn't love to force people into hiding in their homes--whether they are hiding for fear of a virus that has been blown out of proportion or fear of the angry mob threatening them if they don't give in to senseless demands. It isn't love to scream at people that they are racist for not joining a Marxist group called "Black Lives Matter." It isn't love to tell people that not wearing a mask means they want people to die. It isn't love to say that a woman should be able to choose to take the life of an innocent baby simply because that baby hasn't been born. It isn't love to say that kids should be given hormone therapy and sex changes.

Love is God, and God is righteous and pure and holy. His truth isn't relative, and it doesn't change with the tides. It doesn't matter if biblical principles are "current" or "trendy" of if people say they are outdated and meant for a different time and a different culture. The fact that we have moved away from God and His ideals doesn't mean that those ideals are any less right than they were.

It just means that we have gotten so far from the truth that we can't see it clearly any more.

So I'm not going to say, "If you're a Christian, you can't vote for X." To be honest, those dumb facebook posts that say "If you keep scrolling, it means you don't love God" are the ones I scroll by the fastest. What I will say, though, is that as an American, you have a right and a responsibility to vote. Examine the issues that make the United States a country of freedom and equality, the issues that affect the Bill of Rights: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, bear arms, fair and speedy trial by a jury of your peers...just to name a few. Look at the mandates that are being made by governors while our representatives--those we have elected to speak for us in making decisions--are not getting a say. Consider the fact that we have been forcibly told where we can and can't go (riots are all well and good, but church services aren't...) and what businesses are required to enforce...all in the name of a virus that on its own has a lower mortality rate than the seasonal flu (the CDC only attributes 6% of reported deaths to Sars-CoV-2, which right now puts the number somewhere around 10,000).

And as a Christian, you have a responsibility to weigh all the issues against God's truth. Voting is not about a single person. It's not about picking a perfect candidate--and I can say without a doubt that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have put forth a perfect candidate. Voting, for the Christian, is about figuring out which candidate represents a platform most in line with God's ideals and laws. It is about who values the life of the unborn more than the politically correct stance on "choice." It is about who values the family structure that God has instituted. It is about who supports God's laws: God first, don't steal, don't murder, don't lie, honor your parents...just to name a few.

For me, the choice is clear. I will vote for those who will uphold the Constitution, because I believe the founders of this great country were truly following God's direction when they wrote it. I would ask you to pray, then vote as God directs.




Monday, August 24, 2020

hopeless?

I got an email the other day that opened with these words:

"Eighty percent of college students reported the COVID-19 crisis has had a negative effect on their mental health and one-fifth say it has significantly worsened, according to a survey conducted by Active Minds in April." (Higher Ed Hot Topics newsletter)

My first reaction was surprise. 80%? That sounds absolutely crazy. How can that possibly be true? The surprise changed to sadness pretty quickly, though, because I spent a lot of years in college. I understand the stress of classes, and I understand the added stress of all the other stuff in life that looms over you, a massive dark cloud at times that makes it nearly impossible to focus on studying. In the midst of all that, it would be incredibly easy to give in to despair and overwhelming anxiety.

But God.

When I was in college, there were many times when the pressure got to me. It was easy to start spiraling down into that sea of dark hopelessness...but God. He was my source of strength when all my own strength was gone. He was the One who pulled me back to the surface over and over again-- through family, friends, and even some of my professors.

As believers, we lose sight of the fact that so many things in our life would be completely different if it weren't for those two little words: but God. The sad truth of the matter is, a majority of today's college students don't know the importance of those two words. Our kids are being raised in a society that has decided to push God aside, not understanding all the consequences of such a decision. As a result, they are dealing with the stress and anxiety and pain that comes with living in this fallen world without the comfort and peace that comes with knowing the Creator of the universe.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not making light of mental health and mental illness. I am, however, saying that the only source of healing is God. Without Him at the center of it, no amount of medication or counseling or therapy is going to heal a broken life. In Him, we are promised a "peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7), a peace that endures through the hardest of times solely because "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). He promises to be with us through the struggles of life, so close to us even when we're in the depths of despair that He can whisper in our ear.

"Saying Your name, Eternal One, I called to You
    from the darkness of this pit.

Surely You’ve heard me say,
    'Don’t be deaf to my call; bring me relief!'

So close when I’ve called out in my distress,
    You’ve whispered in my ear, 'Do not be afraid.'"

Lamentations 3:55-57

As believers, we've fallen short. We watch people being swallowed up by hopelessness but we don't tell them about the source of the hope we have. We need to listen to the instructions Peter gave: "Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

How exquisitely important is it right now, in a time when people are admitting they feel hopeless, to point others to hope?

Hope is Christ--the Son who humbled Himself and submitted to the excruciating death of the cross, simply because of His devotion to the Father and love for us.

Hope is wisdom--promised to us by the source of all wisdom, the Creator of the universe.

Hope is a promise--a future, no matter what today holds. A promise that even when this world is spinning out of control, God isn't knocked off balance by any of it.

Hope is strength--not our own, but His strength.

Hope is waiting--quietly, patiently waiting on God's plan instead of rushing forward into your own, knowing His plans for you are like nothing you could ever imagine.

Hope is boldness--being able to step forward even when it means walking into the fire, knowing that God is powerful enough to rescue you from the flames, yet still taking that step if He decides not to pull you out.

Hope is salvation--from fear and despair, but more importantly from ourselves and all the ways we have fallen short of God's glory. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

What about the end times? (part 2)

We're going to pick up right where we left off last time--the seventh seal was opened, and silence filled heaven for half an hour. Although we're not told exactly why all of heaven was silent, I think it was probably a moment of grief for what is to follow: the seven trumpets.

What are the 7 trumpets of Revelation? – Part 1 (Rev 8 ...

Thunder, rumblings, lightning, and an earthquake start things off, then the first angel sounds his trumpet. We're told that hail and fire mixed with blood is cast down to earth, and 1/3 of the land is set on fire. It burs up 1/3 of the trees and scorches all the green grass. If all the horrors that came before weren't enough, you would think that this would get people's attention.

The second trumpet sounds, and a burning mountain is cast into the sea. It kills 1/3 of everything in the ocean, including wiping out 1/3 of the ships, and turns 1/3 of the water to blood. Taken with the first, it leads me to wonder about the possibility of an asteroid striking the earth.

The third trumpet sounds much the same as the second--the star "Wormwood" falls from heaven, turning 1/3 of all the rivers and springs bitter and poisonous. This disaster results in the death of many.

The fourth trumpet wipes out 1/3 of the lights in the sky, leaving us without sunlight for a third of the day and without lights in the sky for a third of the night.

And then here's something that really makes me pause for a second. It's at this point that we are told about a being, described as an eagle, flying around declaring "woe to the earth dwellers" because of what is about to happen. Think about that for a second. All this horror and disaster that has just been described, combined with the events that happened when the seals were opened, and we're getting a warning about how bad things are about to get.

The fifth trumpet starts it off with the abyss being opened. Black smoke rises from it that is thick enough to cover the sun. And from that smoke we see something unbelievable--something John first describes as locust, but goes on to say that they look like horses covered in war armor. He says they have what look like human faces and teeth like a lion, with iron plated armor and wings that sound like chariots rushing to battle. He also says their tails can sting like scorpions and cause torment to people.

Now, I've wondered a lot about these locust. I can't tell you for sure what they are. What I can say, though, is that John did his best to describe what he saw using the things with which he was familiar. Personally, there are two ideas that I go back and forth between when I'm trying to think about what these might be. My first thought, which is probably the more mainstream and logical, is to think that John was describing some sort of machine. Maybe a personal vehicle of war, something that will be used as a weapon by an army that tortures the people of the earth for the 5 months John describes. My other thought, arguably the more "out there" idea, is that these creatures from the abyss are demons given a physical form, much like the insectoid, mechanical-looking aliens we've dreamed up in so many movies.

Whatever the case, though, that's not really what's important. The important part of this section is the power they are given. Revelation 9:4-5 says, "However, they were instructed not to damage any grasses, plants, or trees that grow from the earth. Instead, they were given power for five months to torture, but not to kill, the people without the seal of Go upon their foreheads. The torment they inflicted was like the sting of a scorpion when it strikes."

If you'll remember, back in Revelation 7 we heard about the 144,000 who would receive the seal of God, a mark that they were His people. This was one of those places where I tend to have a different view--as I said, I fully believe the 144,000 sealed are from the literal tribes of Israel (as verses 4-9 say). I have no doubt that there are people from every group in the world who will be in heaven as God's children (we're told that very thing in verse 9), but I don't think we are included in those who are sealed. That means, as much as I don't like the idea of it, that I fall into the group that the "locust" of chapter 9 are allowed to torture. Even in the midst of that five months of torture, though, we have a promise. Despite the power given to them, they don't have the power to kill. It may not seem like much of a promise, knowing it means we will be tortured. I think it's a pretty important one, though, and it reminds me of this verse: "Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—slow is how some people want to characterize it—no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God’s." (2 Peter 3:9) By allowing the torture but not death, God is giving all of us the opportunity to be witnesses in the midst of suffering so others can turn to Him.

The sixth trumpet is next, and it brings a cavalry of 200,000,000 bringing with them plagues that wipe out 1/3 of humanity. It may sound like a metaphor, but think about it this way: these "horses" are described as being armored, with heads like lions, and breathing fire. To me, that could easily be John trying to wrap his mind around some sort of armored vehicle and describe what he saw in terms his readers could understand. If that were the case, it's not so far-fetched to think of the plagues being spewed from their "mouths" as biological warfare.

What follows is a very sad, very familiar statement on humanity: despite all they've seen, the people refuse to turn away from the evil things they're chasing and choose to turn their backs on God. They decide instead to continue to worship powerless gods created by men.

We have a bit of an interruption here, a warning from one of the powerful messengers of Heaven: when the seventh trumpet is heard, the day of God will come. That will mean His judgment, and that isn't a cozy thought.

Beauty in falling

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