Our Life in Review

 

 The convergence of several crises such as we have dealt with in recent years can create a sense of upheaval and bewilderment. At the beginning of this century’s third decade, America’s economy was booming. Unemployment rates were low, the lowest ever in several minority sectors. The usual political rancor and vindictive rhetoric of Washington D.C. continued to dominate the media in anticipation of November’s national elections. But, despite the deep political and value-based divisions, our country seemed to be doing pretty well. Most of us had no clue what was about to hit us.

A SARS virus, commonly called Covid-19, discovered in late 2019 in China, made its way to the United States and almost 180 other countries by early 2020. Confusion reigned concerning the virus’s strength, how it spread, and the steps needed to mitigate its potential effect. Responses made at the national, and some state and local levels were considered by many as an overreaction that inflicted death to many elderly, unnecessary damage to the economy, and interrupted our children’s education. Children were forced to remote learning for months without seeing their classmates or inside a classroom. Life as we knew it was drastically altered by “lockdowns,” imposed by governors, mayors, school administrators, and teachers unions.

Predictions about the effect of the loss of in-class learning on this future generation are pretty grim. And what will be the lasting impact on our nation’s economy and our national psyche going forward?  Will these events leave emotional scars and fears similar to the generation who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s?

While Covid-19 dominated daily news, other devastating events were also hammering us. Thousands of acres of California and the Northwest went up in flames. An unprecedented ten hurricanes hit our country’s mainland; lives were lost, properties destroyed by floods and raging winds.

While we were dealing with the personal challenges related to the virus and the forces of nature, the long-term, internal battle for our nation’s identity continued. For many years, there has been a constant tearing and stretching of the fabric of our country’s soul by political rancor in D.C., racial tensions, and the “counter-culture” movement. 

You may have been among the multitudes who hoped the arrival of January 1, 2021 would somehow usher in a sense of optimism and healing, a cessation of our troubles, and a return to “normalcy.” What happened? Almost miraculously, vaccines to combat the virus were available by January 2021, but the process of getting people inoculated was cumbersome and disorganized in many states and communities. It would be several months before the medicines would be available to all who needed them.

The estimated count for American lives lost due to covid-19 was in excess of 500,000, over 3,000,000 worldwide. As summer of 2021 arrived and several states began to “re-open,” there  was enough vaccine available for every American citizen, but a large part of the population was unwilling to take it. This reaction was due partly to the growing distrust of the national health leaders and the belief, by many, that the covid-19 issue had become politically “weaponized.” 

 February, 2021 brought a winter storm that paralyzed much of the nation with ice and snow. Wind turbines, which areas like Dallas depended on for electricity, were knocked out of service, leaving hundreds of thousands without heat or water in single-digit temperatures. Many lives were lost, and property damages reached into the billions.

In the last few weeks we have been horrified by the ineptitude of national leaders and the tragedies our citizens have suffered in Afghanistan. I agree with many who believe that this situation was man-made, ill-planned and unnecessary. What is to become of our nation if God  does not intervene?     

While it is painful to look back at these personal and national tragedies, we must learn from them and move ahead. Will our nation become more united as a result of our shared suffering? Will you and I learn vital lessons and grow from our experiences?  

Events such as these serve to remind us that we are often on the thin edge between life and death. The pandemic and other crises underscore how unpredictable life can be. Many who were fortunate enough to survive the staggering assaults of 2020 and beyond might never fully recover from the financial toll exacted on them. Even more tragic was the loss of irreplaceable lives of loved ones who succumbed to the virus and other devastations. And, now we have variant D to deal with.  

Overwhelming isn’t it? We are in trouble, trouble to the depths most of us have never experienced. There is only one hope. Surely we know by now that hope doesn’t reside in Washington, D.C. Why is God allowing all this to happen to us? Maybe we’re reaping the stupidity and sin our nation has been sowing for many years. Maybe, also, God is inviting us to repent and be healed. How far does our nation have to slide into ruination before we come to our senses?  Join with me and pray daily for our nation. God tells us He will save us if we repent, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then I will forgive their sins and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.  

Responding to Crises

 Crises are nothing new to our country. We have been through tough times before. A 2016 Times Magazine article reminds us we have had at least three major national crises in addition to the National Division (1970-present) we are currently experiencing. An update of the article would surely add our recent experience to the list. If so, the new list will look like this: Revolutionary War (1774-1783), War Between the States (1861-1865), Great Depression (1929-1938?), National Division (1970-present), and Covid-19 (2020).

The title of the article referenced above is “How Today’s American Crisis is Different.” The article’s focus is how, from the 1970s until today, there has been a fracturing of, a tearing apart, of the sense of unity and purpose that helped us overcome the earlier crises. E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” doesn’t appear to be working out for us. Political gridlock and polarization define national politics. Where is our great unifying purpose? The constitution and government which survived the former crises seem to be under serious threat. How long can our nation survive conditions like this? 

One of the challenges we have about learning from our problems is the forgetful mindset we have adopted because of the instant news cycle we have become accustomed to. We are bombarded with multiple tragedies, murders, scandals, wars in real-time from home and across the world. Crises are part of the daily news diet and we simply cannot digest it all. We tend to become hardened to it and develop a survival attitude; reluctant to ponder the profound life lessons crises may hold for us. 

How can we look at these enormous challenges from a more personal, optimistic, and faith perspective? In his book, Faithful Change, Dr. James Fowler says that each generation has felt they lived in unprecedented times, experiencing the full range of challenges of human living. To live faithfully, we must learn to make good choices in light of those challenges. Fowler discusses  three kinds of change we must negotiate if we are to live faithfully: (1) developmental change,(2) healing or reconstructive change, and (3) change due to disruptions and modifications of the systems that shape our lives.

Developmental change is the process of physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges we face in the life cycle from conception, birth, young children, pre-adolescents, teenagers, young adults, and so on until old age and death. This process is ever-present as we deal with the two additional areas of challenge. I’m in my eighth decade and certainly notice lots of challenges that come with the territory. The next step in this process for me is dying. That idea doesn’t appeal to me but I know the One who will see me through that just as He has faithfully brought me to this stage of life. 

The second area, which Fowler refers to as “healing or reconstructive change,” has to do with the need for healing from harmful patterns of emotion and thinking which we have adopted to help us feel safe and less vulnerable to the harsh realities of life. This false sense of self and security is challenged when we lose a job, face a major health crisis, lose a loved one or go through a divorce or other significant disruption. Such a crisis presents an opportunity to reassess who we are and to make necessary changes. Think about how true this is in your personal experiences. How has God helped you faithfully change in light of personal loss or crises in your life?

Change due to systems that shape our lives has to do with the challenges that come from our participation in our society’s social, political, and economic processes. We often feel the only control we have in these areas is how we will respond to the decisions of those in power. We are in the midst of what is often labeled as a “cultural war.” One of the challenges a believer faces in this postmodern culture is how to maintain a faithful, loving witness in a society we believe to be in a rapid downward spiral. While we don’t control many of the financial, health-related, and political issues that affect us, we must learn from these crises and take responsibility for our choices. Our nation is in a mess on different fronts. How can we respond faithfully to what we see is happening to the country we love? 

 Life often poses a variety of challenges; coming at us from various directions. To live well, we must understand how our everyday choices form patterns of decision-making that will ultimately prove to be wise or foolish when the next crisis comes. And, troubles will come to each of us in one way or another.

Sadly, lots of folks may look back on these crisis events and regret their lack of preparation for the problems they faced. Some will wish they had spent more time with those they have lost. Others will chide their lack of financial discipline and regret they didn’t put away some savings for times like these.

Those most fortunate are those who will come to terms with the fact that material possessions and money, while necessary, are not a reliable source for our security. We are made for another world, and it is to our great benefit that we invest our life and temporal possessions in that world.

Whether solely personal or shared with much of humanity, every crisis is an opportunity to reassess how you live and invest in God’s priorities. There are more crises ahead, and the daily investments you make will be crucial in weathering the coming storms.

 Many believe our nation is in a great crisis politically, economically, and morally. Are the vitriol and divisiveness a harbinger of a country that is about to come apart at the seams? Where is that something or someone to bring us together, to unite us?

 

 

 

 

Antidote for Anxiety (part two)

I believe a great deal of the personal pain and problems caused by anxiety could be avoided altogether if the correct spiritual prescription were followed when we first realize anxiety is becoming a problem. I say this not to condemn or judge anyone who deals with chronic anxiety but to emphasize the need to recognize and deal with anxiety before it gets to the controlling stage. We need to” nip it in the bud.”

What can you do to guard against anxiety becoming a controlling factor in your life? What is the spiritual antidote for anxiety? Simply stated, the antidote for controlling anxiety or worry is prayer. “That certainly seems simple enough,” you say, “but I pray every day and I am still worrying all the time. Praying is not working for me” I know many wonderful Christian people who seem to make a practice of trying to worry their problems to death. What they find is that it doesn’t work and they are subjected to many of the problems that come to those who worry. They often feel defeated and may begin to believe that praying about things isn’t useful. At this point, they may stop praying at all.

However, it is a clear teaching in scripture that we are not to be overcome by worry or anxiety. It is also without debate that we are taught to pray for what we need and trust God to supply it. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus contrasts the futility of worrying with trust in God to supply the basic needs of our life. Worry accomplishes nothing related to our needs but does indicate we have taken God out of the equation. Worry is an attempt to not depend on God and solve the problem on our own. Not only is worrying useless, but it also depicts a lack of trust in God and is an affront to Him. Worrying is a serious spiritual issue.

Let me mention a few of the many reasons why a person can pray about something and continue to be overwhelmed by anxiety.

The motive of praying may be wrong. For example, a person may pray for something in order to simply advance himself or his cause and not to honor God. James 4:3 tells us that one hindrance to answered prayer is selfishness in the way we ask. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James also tells us in 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” What we want from praying is an important factor in getting our prayers answered.     

Effective praying involves an important caveat that some may not be willing to obey. That is, the request must conform to the will of God. Another way to say this is; the prayer must be one that honors God and advances to his purpose. In the model prayer, Jesus gives us a broad outline of how to pray. One very notable feature of that model is the phrase, ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” While God wants us to live in his peace, anxiety may overwhelm us because the issue we pray about is not completely released to his will. We may not trust that whatever he decides is best or really what we want to happen.

Effective praying requires unwavering trust in God. Here again, James’ words are instructive to us. James 1: 6-7 reads as follows: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Answers to our prayers require that we trust God to do for us what we ask within his will. Doubting nullifies our praying.

Effective praying also has the quality of persistence. Do we really want what we ask God to do? How do we show we are deeply committed to what we pray for? By continuing to pray, to hang on, to persist day after day. Only when we prove we are serious about our praying will God give us what we ask for.

Motive, God’s will, trust, and persistence are ingredients of effective praying. When considering these four things it is quite easy to see why God doesn’t answer according to our wishes or why a person may give up on the work of praying. True prayer involves work on our part. It calls for us to keep our selfishness and pride in check, to abandon the idea that we can do things on our own, to be unwavering in our trust in God, and to hang on, to persist until what we pray for becomes a reality we can celebrate.

With these ideas as a backdrop let us consider a couple of Paul’s ideas about prayer as the real antidote for anxiety. One of the things we know about Paul is that life got much harder for him after his conversion on the Damascus road. He faced many anxious times in his attempt to share the good news about Jesus.  Paul suffered some type of chronic physical ailment, was imprisoned, beaten, run out of town, shipwrecked, contended for the gospel with unbelievers in hostile situations, criticized for his preaching, at times totally dependent on the goodwill of others to supply his basic needs, and put on trial for his faith. He knew about anxiety and how to deal with it.

The first thing that seems obvious about Paul’s approach to troubling situations is that he firmly believed in God’s sovereignty in his life.  Simply put, Paul believed that whatever God allowed in his life he would use for good. We are never abandoned to the whim of fate or without an anchor in the storms of life. For the believer this means that there is gain, there is good to come from the pain, problems, and disappointments in life. This hopeful and reassuring reality should help us pray with thanksgiving and assurance. My favorite verse related to this idea, and perhaps Paul’s clearest statement, is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The specific statement about prayer as the antidote for anxiety is found in one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” It is called a prison letter or epistle because Paul was imprisoned in Rome and facing a possible death penalty for his faith. These words resound with an assurance that comes from having seen how prayer had calmed and focused him in many uneasy situations in life, and even now as he awaits what is before him. Philippians 4:6-7 reads as follows:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

How do these words apply to us as we deal with our anxiety-causing situations?

First, this is a negative command. We are to STOP, quit, to refrain from being controlled by anxiety. This is not a polite suggestion but a directive, a command. STOP IT.

Second, it is an all-inclusive command. We are not to be anxious about “anything.” There are NO  EXCEPTIONS. There is nothing that we are to worry about. Marital problems, money issues, sickness, world calamities, aging parents, unruly children, and whatever else you can name or imagine are covered by this command. This gets uncomfortable for us because it destroys the illusion that we have control over some things in our life. All these things are important but worrying is not the solution to any of them. Paul tells us we are to worry about absolutely nothing. 

Third, is a transition indicated by the word “but.” Paul does not strip away our useless worrying about real-life issues without giving us a better solution. The word “but” signifies he is going to tell us what we need to do about the things that worry us.

Fourth, we are given a positive command to compliment the negative one. In the negative command, we are told not to worry about anything. With the positive command, Paul gives us a new and effective way to handle anxiety. And, it, too, is all-inclusive. “…but in everything. ” What? What are we to do? We are to pray to our Heavenly Father.

Fifth, we are told how we are to pray concerning the things that make us anxious. This is not to be a flippant, light-hearted approach but an earnest, heartfelt, sincere asking. Praying like this is a serious and sober matter. It requires a willingness to come time and again and to prove our earnestness about what we pray. This is the idea behind “prayer and petition.” It has nothing to do with God’s reluctance to bless us. It is about proving our readiness to receive the blessing and to give God the glory for it. Paul uses the word petition as a way of telling us to be specific, to be clear in our own mind what we want God to do for us. Generalized phrases such as “God bless us” do not qualify for a petition. How, specifically, do you want God to bless you? A petition is a specific statement of our need or desire. Search deep within your heart for what you need and say that to God. Paul also adds the idea of giving God thanks with our petition. We are to pray, to petition God “with thanksgiving.” Thank God for that he has given you life today and any good thing that comes to mind; all of it comes from him! This awakens gratitude and confidence in our praying. It also is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. We simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same time. You may notice that anxious people are not very thankful people.

Sixth, peace will replace and become our state of mind when we pray this way. When we truly turn the situation over to God something beyond human understanding happens. God gives us a sense of peace that will stand like a sentry or guard over our mind and heart. Like a powerful guard protecting a valuable treasure, God’s peace will keep you safe from the devastating effects of anxiety.

If you want to replace the spiritually debilitating grip of habitual anxiety with God’s peace, try praying as Paul encourages us to pray. How do you know this works? There’s just one way to find out; try it for yourself!

How Is Your Spiritual Vision ?

Several years ago I had an experience with “floaters” which caused me to do some research and thinking about my eyes. Your eyes are a marvelous testimony of the ingenuity of our Creator. If you haven’t done so, take some time to investigate some of the marvels of one of the most intricate and wonderful parts of your body, your eyes.

For many years I had perfect (20/20) vision. But as I continued to age, I needed glasses with a corrective lens to enable me to read and see things up close more easily. Another change came and I now wear glasses to correct my vision at far, intermediate and close distances. This is the last step before I will have surgery to replace the lenses in both eyes to remove cataracts and correct most of my vision issues. I take care of my eyes in order to see correctly. 

Vision is important, physically and spiritually. I encourage you to take care of your eyes, protect them from injury and get the medical help you need for them to serve you well until you don’t need them any longer.

What is spiritual vision about? It is how you “see” life. It involves such things as attitude, prejudice, selfishness, gentleness, honesty, faith, love, hope, and many other moral and spiritual qualities. Someone has said, “We don’t see life as it is, we see life as we are.” We bring our personal interpretation and perception to everything we do? You deal with your spouse, children, family, friends, and strangers based on your spiritual vision.

Spiritual vision, the way you “see” life is what Jesus is referencing in this statement, “…if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  Matthew 6:22-23.

Your spiritual vision has been formed through how you have interpreted your life experiences. Good for you if you have chosen to believe and act on some very healthy perspectives on life from parents, teachers and other authority figures. On the other hand, you may have been very stubborn and prideful and chose to learn some lessons “the hard way.” Have you interpreted life through the lens of  God’s Word? If not, where do you get your outlook on life?  

How is your spiritual vision? My ophthalmologist checks my vision by having me read four lines of different letters and symbols of different sizes. That is his standard to determine the accuracy of my vision.  Where do you go to have your spiritual vision checked and corrected? We need to go early and often to Jesus to correct our thinking. Go to His teaching, go to his actions and think about how you are to do life. Paul prescribes the cure for  prejudice, selfishness, and pride which can distort our thinking, “Have the attitude which Jesus had..” Read the entire prescription to fix your thinking in Philippians 4:4-8. Blessings, Cos   

What Was I Thinking?

 

Do you ever have to change your thinking about something because new information about it causes you to reconsider? This kind of thing happens to me often.

Recently, I contacted a yard treatment company for an additional application for my yard. The price for the work seemed much higher than the quote I was given a few weeks earlier. I texted them back and told them the original quote on the work was $70.00, not the $100.00 they quoted. Let’s stop right here for a moment and see how the new information affected me. How do you respond when the information you receive is counter to what you have been thinking is correct?

Trustworthiness is the first thing I look for in a company. Some bad experiences have caused my unconscious thinking to be a bit skeptical until I believe I can trust what I am told by the company. Thus far, the work by this group had been very acceptable, but this new quote raised a suspicion that I might be getting ‘bamboozled.”

Then, I did something I should have done before responding to the quote. I went to my notes on our initial conversation to verify that I was correct. What I discovered was that I had conflated different parts of our discussion. My thinking was wrong and I acted on wrong thinking. There it was in my notes; the cost for the application was $120.00, not the $100.00 they quoted.  

What did they think about me? Did they think I was trying to get a better price? A cheap person trying to cheat them?  Well, I wrote a quick text apologizing for my misunderstanding and told them I would be getting back to them concerning the work.         

You probably have stories of how you were on one side of a situation where you or the other person were acting from wrong information. How did the issue get resolved? Or, did it ever get resolved? How did your feelings change once you got better information?

What am I getting at with this story? I want you to consider how the truth underlying my simple story can have profound effects on the most important relationships in your life. The truth is: your thinking will determine the way you act toward God, your spouse, your children, etc.. Actions follow thinking. I will attempt to share more specifics about this in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, consider how this idea is working in different areas of your life.

Since the way we think is so crucial in how we act, let me offer a few pieces of advice for all of us.

  1. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. James 1:19.
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  3. Consider the possibility you don’t have all the facts.
  4. 4.Hold yourself accountable for how you think and how you act.

Not Guilty

The guilt or innocence of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is in the hands of twelve jurors. Chauvin, as you know, has been charged with the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. The jury’s task is to listen to witnesses, weigh the facts, and decide the innocence or guilt of Mr. Chauvin. The verdict will determine this man’s fate, a judgment that is likely to be unpopular no matter which way it goes.

Courtroom or legal words such as judgment, guilty, and innocent are part of the language Paul and others use to write about the life of faith. For example, God is the supreme Judge, sin is the breaking of God’s law, and the penalty for sin is death. Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is our only hope for a Not Guilty verdict.

Human judges and jurors have been known to make mistakes in judgment, sometimes convicting the innocent or freeing the guilty. Our judicial system is not perfect because people are not perfect.

But God is perfect; He doesn’t make mistakes about our guilt or innocence. Guilty or not guilty? What is your standing before God?  In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us we are all guilty before God, “All have sinned and come short of God’s expectations (glory).” Thankfully, that’s   not the whole story, “For the payment we receive for our sin is death, but the gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What role does faith play in our guilt or innocence before God?

Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into the grace in which we stand; and exult (have joyful expectation) in the hope of the glory of God.”

The legal term, justified, is used to describe our standing with God. What does the word mean? It means you are innocent of the sin you have committed. Your past sin is expunged or erased, as if it never happened. Yes, you have sinned against God, but now you are declared innocent. Is that because God doesn’t care about sin, or He takes your wickedness lightly? No, a thousand times no!  Why did Jesus die on the cross? Your precious Lord died for your sin so you wouldn’t have to face life and eternity separated from God.

God has done everything necessary to save you, and the one thing you must do to have your sin and its penalty canceled is to put your faith in Him, to trust him with your entire being. You don’t have to agonize over the future of your soul; God declared you “innocent” the moment you accepted Jesus as your Savior. You are justified, pronounced NOT GUILTY, before God. The battle is over, and you are at peace with Him by faith. Your trust in Him brings you into a relationship of grace where you are especially pleasing to God. And, because of faith, you can live in the joyful expectation of your eternal future with Jesus, your Lord. Not Guilty, what an indescribable verdict !! Live in that victory today.

Postscript: Do you occasionally have past sins called to your attention? Are you sometimes reminded of the wicked things you once said or did before you accepted Jesus? Who or what is that? It is the work of the accuser, the devil, attempting to discourage you. The evil one is alive and well and wants to cause you to doubt your salvation and lessen your witness for your living Lord. By faith you have been brought into a place of grace (Romans 5:2). Your standing with God is secure. When the devil visits, remind him that you belong to Jesus and watch him run.