Five Times August is the name of a solo music project by Dallas, Texas independent singer/songwriter/guitarist Brad Skistimas. Another one on this same theme entitled Jesus, What Happened To US?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPzc8ROZEjU.
Anonymity. This is what most people seem to feel like when they get behind the steering wheel of their autos. Especially those with the blackened windows, even on the front windshield (which should be illegal – it’s like driving with sunglasses on even at night! But that’s for another blog.)
The anonymity we feel driving allows us to do things that if we knew the other driver or recognized faces, we would never do. How guilty I feel typing this as it has often been a “clinging sin” of Hebrews 12:1. My bride of 31 years has often tried to help me, sometimes wisely, sometimes with aggravation, sometimes with good effect, sometimes with greater frustration.
A recent conversation about this came up after some clown ran a stop sign when it was MY turn! So I pulled forward and blared on my horn to let the redneck know HE was in the WRONG! Of course, seeing my SUV lunging toward his open window required he give me what he felt was an appropriate “Hawaiian Salute” with a single finger. Anita was very upset with my behavior and afraid I was going to wind up in a wreck and she wanted to go home. But our ensuing conversation finally got to my heart. Somehow the Holy Spirit was able to break through all the layers of anger and bitterness that lay there toward other drivers . . . who drove the way I used to drive.
Later, my mind wandered back to college as I prayed for forgiveness, first for scaring my bride, second for trying to scare the scofflaw driver, third for not listening to the Holy Spirit soooo many, many times. “Lord, forgive [my] sins and cleanse [me] from all unrighteousness” . . . again. A memory of Cecil was triggered. He was a transfer from another school and had a car, a luxury in my circle of friends at that stage of our lives.
Once I asked him for a ride into the city and since he had some time free and we often enjoyed chatting, he gladly agreed. As we got in his car, though, instead of instantly starting the engine, Cecil said, “This will just take a minute.” (???) He leaned his head down, closed his eyes, and prayed. “Father, thank you for blessing me with this car and C.A.’s friendship. Help me to remember You are in the back seat, and keep us safe on our errands.” And with that he started the car and headed into town.
I have no memory of our errands or where we went other than another time to a park outside the city. But I DO remember this: when we finished whatever errands we were on we returned to his car, he again bowed his head and talked for just a moment to his Lord about our trip back to campus. And every time we got in his car, he would spend a moment communing with his Master, and asking for safe travels. Sometimes he would pray for specific things about our travels, sometimes for other things on his mind as we would begin, but every time, BEFORE he started the car, he would pray.
So somehow the Holy Spirit brought this memory of when we were 20 years old to my mind and asked me why I wanted to be anonymous in my car. The Lord’s prompting suggested that I was leaving Him out of the car when I would drive, and He wanted to be with me. (Imagine, the KING wants to be with ME!?) Alone, I wept for my hardness of heart, my ineptitude in driving, and my inconsideration of the deceit with which other drivers were dealing.
And as I prayed I recalled an encouragement from a friend in Alaska: “Most of us don’t seem to realize how we can be a testimony of God’s grace with our cars.” OUCH! That was so many years ago, and I still was blind to what Father has been trying to get into my hard head and harder heart.
But He finally got it into me. Now whenever I get into my car, I first pray. I ask Father for safe travels, for patience with those who are deceived and think they should be able to violate the laws. I request The God Who Is to make me aware that the other drivers are people He loves, even when they are inconsiderate, even behind blackened windows and with stereos bouncing their car off the pavement. And I ask Him to remind me from His seat in the car that I should obey the laws and show His grace to others, as my bride has so often asked me to do.
If you think of me this week, please pray that I will remember His Presence more consistently.
Basement Isolation Reflections
By Karla Duerson
When [insert certain circumstance here] then I will be happy, fulfilled, satisfied.
If only [insert certain circumstance here] then I could live meaningfully, fulfilled.
When all the kids are finally gone . . .
If only he would stop antagonizing his sister . . .
These subtle whispers can rob reality right out of in front of my nose. Life is happening right now. That’s it! Yet the zest and spice of life are illusive. The mundane quotidian lulls me. Sometimes I want to shirk responsibilities. I back away from complexities and challenges.
I work a lot. I do a lot. I think a lot. I take care of people a lot. I get tired. Sometimes I daydream about being alone. “When all the kids are finally gone . . .”
Well, now covid-19 has brought me closer to aloneness than I have been in a long time. No one is talking to me. No one is interrupting me. I have very few tasks to complete. Strange.
The strangest covid-19 symptoms are those that have robbed my senses. I cannot taste coffee! I cannot smell chocolate chip cookies. I cannot touch my children. My vision was even affected for a day.
My friend said, “Taste, smell, touch – God gave us these to enjoy life. When one or all of them go away, it really is a wake-up call to His goodness!”
Well put, my friend. This world is an explosion of God’s breathtaking artistry! Tree-lined mountain tops, a home-cooked meal, gifted flowers in a pretty vase, Wylies’s round little cheeks, and Neva’s brown silky hair, Guy’s strong growing arms. The world above in space, the world below in the sea, the world all around us on the terrain is remarkable beautiful.
How can I stay awake to that splendor? How can I ward away dullness, ingratitude and boredom? One of our very young participants on our Simple Church Zoom call suggested the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Well, sitting in the bed in the basement for the fourth day in a row while listening to the hustle and bustle of the activities going on above, concerning myself about everyone’s well-being without being able to lift a finger, and longing to cuddle and comfort my people, this brought me to tears. I love it when children share.
Even more, Gavin reminded us of the next part of the letter:
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
I will learn the secret that Paul did because just like my BSF notes stated last week, “God intends hardships to draw us closer to Him, so we become more content with His presence and provisions.” So, “whether in plenty or in want,” I will learn to be content and that I “can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
I am in the basement. Topside, in the upstairs of my home, I am in plenty. Either way, I have Christ who empowers me to see, to touch, to taste, to hear, to smell His wonder-filled world, to truly live!
Read more of Karla’s writing at www.karladuerson.blogspot.com
On a lighter side, be sure to check out Gavin’s take on Black Friday:
Inside Joke – Black Friday
And for some thought-provoking apologetics, check out the CSLewisDoodle on “Good Infections”:
This guest blog was what was intended for posting last Saturday, June 13, 2020, but was delayed because of WordPress’s frustratingly opaque system of sites added on top of each other that resulted in my losing control of THIS site when I deleted ‘dummy sites’ on which I was trying to practice. Talk about an object lesson! So I need to read this over a few times to relearn its lessons that Ms. Laura presents.
The context for this blog is the current outrage in our nation, the intention to “defund the police” in various cities and threats of violence to resolve the tragic murder by police officers of an unarmed black man, George Floyd. This is compounded by the tension that has been building up under “stay-at-home” orders from the Wuhan Virus restrictions that have messed up so many incomes and family structures.
Laura H. calls us to rediscover the aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, gentleness.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)
by Laura H. of Christar; https://www.christar.org/
Our world is angry, fed up and disgusted about so much right now. It aches for renewal and restoration. Everyone’s got an opinion on everything. On social media, we scream at each other and into echo chambers, furious about racial injustice, police brutality, wearing masks, not wearing masks, economic relief, overcoming the pandemic, all while we wade through a political madness thick with derision.
These things must matter to us who follow Christ. I want you to care and fight for what is right. I want you to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. But, pick a current event and you and I will certainly find something we disagree about.
Let’s complicate matters and layer our global and national turmoil onto our personal piles of struggle. What cracks in your peace become harsh footholds for erosion and brokenness to take hold? For me, it’s my depression, my stress about my café surviving a pandemic, my deep sadness about my family’s current grief, my unfulfilled career goals. What is keeping you up at night that has little to do with the rest of the world’s issues: your panic attacks, your financial worry, your unfulfilled dreams, your craving for approval?
Under all of this, how can you and I demonstrate gentleness in this world? How can we humbly co-exist with differing viewpoints? Even within our churches and mission organizations, how do we settle on an agreement to keep from arguing with each other because our theology differs? Is it even possible?
If you, my African-American sister in Christ, do not sense that I care about your black life, will you ever feel comfortable serving beside me? If you see no point in wearing masks, but I do, will I not resent you for your ignorance and won’t you in turn resent me for my naiveté? If, in five years, you, a Republican, find yourself on the field on the same team with me, a Democrat, will we irritate each other?
Life on the field has just as much conflict and dissension. If our societal and personal conflicts continue to muddle the waters of our teams and our relationships, how can we ever move past pain and distrust on the field? And if we can’t do that, how will we show the world what reconciliation even is? And if we aren’t willing to humbly reduce our tendencies to badger one another, reducing His message of hope to screaming our truth and retreating to our like-minded safety nets, how will Christ’s name be glorified? But it is also not enough to plug our ears and do nothing. So what can we do?
There are a million steps to get to a place in life where these questions reach resolution, but gentleness, manifested as a humble, uninhibited effort toward “bearing with one another” (Ephesians 4:2), is a good place to start.
Gentleness shows up in a heart-felt apology when you realize you have wronged a sibling, a boss or a teammate.
It is in the patience for a neighbor who puts up political signs you plan to vote against.
It shows up in a peaceful protest for justice.
It is asking grieving friends how you can help, sitting with them as they weep.
It is humbly considering if your worldview needs to be realigned after years of assumptions that you are right and others are wrong.
It is listening more than you talk.
It is speaking up when silence sends the wrong message.
We feel the heaviness of our world. So does our Lord. During His years on this earth, Jesus was tired. He was grieved. He was moved with compassion. He wept. It is right to wrestle with the weightiness of a world awaiting renewal as we prepare for cross-cultural ministry right here, right now. We are permitted to struggle as we work to reconcile our view of the world with a life modeling Christ. Jesus was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He is the calm, the peace and the rest for the weary.
As you reflect on all the heavy issues our world and nation are working through, humbly allow God to help you grow in your ability to approach and respond to hard situations with gentleness.
On March 5, 2020 I went to Turfland Clinic for my INR checkup and was one of very few people wearing a mask. But that was the beginning of what turned into our self-isolation for the last eleven weeks! With only trips to groceries and parks, Anita and I have had minimal physical contact with anyone besides each other for over 80 days!
We are up to walking three miles a day without pain. Once we walked to Boston Road Kroger, about two miles away, and both of us ached after covering four miles for that hike. So we backed off to two miles and have slowly been expanding the lengths. This is similar to what we have to do in spiritual disciplines.
Discipline does not happen overnight anymore that that last ten pounds I added came on in an hour, and those pounds will not go away in an hour either. Even fasting a couple meals will not take them off. They have to come off one at a time by eating a little less (maybe skip the cheesecake tonight?) or exercising a little more (maybe go for 3.2 miles today and eat the cheesecake? 😉).
The formulas for weight control are simple:
calories in < calories out = weight loss;
calories in > calories out = weight gain;
calories in = calories out = no weight change.
The challenge comes in how I control those “ins” and how I control those “outs.”
Patience as a spiritual discipline is very similar to weight control. The formulas are simple, but the challenge of how I learn patience, those little “ins” and “outs,” is somewhat more complicated. Bear in mind we are not talking about salvation here. No amount of spiritual discipline can add or subtract anything from the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection. As my brother says, “That boat has sailed.” It is over and done, and whether you develop any spiritual discipline will not change what Jesus has done for you.
Kind of like weight control and being in a family. Whether you go anorexic and down to 75 pounds (34kg) or if you balloon up to 400 pounds (180kg) your DNA is still from your dad and mom, and no alteration in diet will change that. And my wife is going to love me (and I her) whether we weigh 75 or 400 pounds. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeM7o0IeMZk for BeautyBeyondBones’ amazing story.)
However, think a little more about this and you will realize that weight control can influence your familial relationships. Participation in family sports or games, going on trips together, staying up to the same time at night, even sex in a marriage can be affected adversely by unregulated weight, down or up. In the same way, patience can significantly affect one’s interaction with the Family over which Christ is the head (Colossians 1:15-20).
The most satisfying life with the family of God will come from exercising spiritual disciplines, patience being a major one (See January 8, 2017 and its sequels for more). A word search on “patience” in https://www.biblegateway.com reveals what the Bible teaches about this important discipline.
Please do not rush to your prayer closet and start praying, “Oh, God, give me patience.” We need to realize what we are asking for and how He will deliver on His promises! (James 4:3) When you ask Father for patience do not expect Him to suddenly wake you up to discover you can endure almost any trial. Just as in weight control, do not expect to go to bed one night and have Jesus “heal” you by adding or taking off pounds.
What He most likely will do is provide you with those circumstances that will call you to greater patience than what you had last time you needed it. I could have asked Father for strength to walk four miles the other day, and in special circumstances He has gifted people with unusual physical abilities (See 1 Kings 18:41-46). Instead, the Holy Spirit told me to stop walking so far in one day and work my way up to it. (He sounded a LOT like Anita that day!)
When the Wuhan Virus first became a global phenomenon, I was in full agreement with the idea that governments should step in to inform and guide their populations with what businesses could stay functioning and what type of meetings should be allowed.
But now we have more information than what we know to do with, and even if some of it is misinformation, it is time for our government to step back and stop trying to protect us from ourselves. As C.S.Lewis wrote so eloquently, “A tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometime be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience.”
Thomas Jefferson echoed the same sentiment when he penned, “If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
And Ronald Reagan seemed to be on the same page when he said, “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where we have gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”
- Have patience, first with government busybodies who are trying to protect us from ourselves.
- Have patience with our churches as they attempt to reopen the meeting buildings (which are not sanctuaries; those went away with the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD – – – And have patience with religionists who insist on calling their meeting buildings “sanctuaries.” 😉)
- Have patience with family, friends, and business associates as you all navigate when it will be best to resume previously normal activities.
- Have patience with leaders who may move slower than you prefer, or who may move faster than you deem wise.
- And have patience with me as I work my way up to four miles per day.
For those of you who might not be comic book fans, or at least more interested in Marvel’s Avengers than in The Justice League of DC comics, the Lex Luthor character is one of Superman’s continual nemeses. In the most recent iteration of Superman and Batman, Lex shows up as a brilliant, though maliciously evil, scientist. The movie was panned by the critics, an assessment with which I agree. Do not bother renting the video nor streaming it when it becomes available; one of the rare comic book movies that was a total waste of 151 minutes.
However, the movie does a good job in presenting the argument that God must not exist. In a significant point in the movie, Lex confronts Superman with a brief story of how he was abused by his father, and came to the conclusion that “if God is all-good, He could not be all-powerful; if He is all-powerful, He is not all-good.” About the only coherent and useful scene in the movie: to present an atheist’s view of God. Sadly, even though the “good guys” win in the end, the challenge from Luthor is left unresolved.
Recalling my recent fall that resulted in a broken back, one could wonder, “Well, c.a., why do you continue to believe in a God who could not catch you when you fell, or better yet, prevent you from falling in the first place? After all, didn’t God promise Jesus His angels would ‘bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?'” (Psalm 91:12) Why could not such promises apply to you?”
Interestingly, this was the same promise quoted to Jesus by Satan when the evil one was trying to get Jesus to assert His own authority apart from the Heavenly Father’s. (Matthew 4:5-6) Even if we assume Jesus never hit his thumb with a hammer nor stepped on a nail, one has to wonder what the demons thought when they succeeded in getting the Roman soldiers of Jerusalem to capture Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and proceed to beat the living daylights out of Him. Is God the Father all powerful or all good? How could He possibly be both and allow His own Son to suffer and die? (What the devils were thinking is a subject for another blog another time.) This issue for today is The Problem of Pain. If God is all good, why does He not do something to prevent His children from pain. If He is all powerful, can He be all good?
This problem arises because of God’s allowance of free will and His time frame for justice. Free will, by definition, means that one can choose good or bad. This was the same choice for the first couple in the Garden of Eden: trust (believe in) God or trust Satan (and your own reasoning). Choose His way or another, but since He is the source of all good, the source of all order and sense in the universe, any other way will become bad, disorderly and senseless.
God’s time frame for justice arches over the ends of the universe He created. So allowing for free will means He will not change a bat into a feather simply because someone decided to hit another in the head with it. He will not defuse a suicide bomber’s vest at the moment of detonation and turn it into a radio. But His justice will mete out what is right one day, though for the time being, the poor victim at the bat’s end will suffer and the bomber will inflict terrible damage.
This does little for the victims of abuse or of a bomber in the immediate. If the abuser or bomber repents, there is hope even for him, and there may be elements of redemption for his victims as well. But rest assured that Abraham’s confession of faith will stand in the end: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)
C.S.Lewis covered this subject with much more clarity and wit than I can, so I give you his words to describe the process (with a strong recommendation for the book 😉 ):
“There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by judgement (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying city to city, and may pray to be spared it as our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.
“In the fallen and partially redeemed universe, we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.
“Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse – though by mercy it may save – those who do simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offenses must come, but woe to those from whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.
“We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbor’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously cooperating with the ‘simple good.’ A cruel man oppresses his neighbor, and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good – so the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool. For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Where was God when I fell two weeks ago ()? Just having written blogs about being aware of His presence in everything we do (August 20, 2016, August 28, 2016) I actually had pictured Him beside me as my sister-in-law and I made our way to the Golden Bear Bridge bears for one of my favorite pictures: me atop a statue. So I was “practicing the Presence.” But where was He when I dismounted and put my foot out into thin air so that I flew to port and crashed into a guardrail post, breaking my back in several places and ruining three more days of hiking in the forests, not only for me, but for my wife and sister-in-law?
Each of us at one time or another has probably asked this question, some with more and others with less profundity:
∗ Where was God when my puppy died?
∗ Where was God when my cancer was diagnosed?
∗ Where was God when I was abused?
∗ Where was God when my infant son died?
∗ Where was God when the bombs fell?
My nickname for Him has been “The God Who Is There” because that is what He is; but perhaps I should call Him “The God Who Is Here,” because He is not just housed in a far-away-Heaven. He is ever present with us, in all places and all the time. He was by my side as I climbed the golden bear, He was at my elbow when I stepped out into thin air, He was whispering into my ear when I thudded against the guardrail support.
You see, the real question is not “Where was God?” but “Why did He not do something?” Could He not have ordered angels to prop my foot at the right place? Could He not have “floated” me down to the ground? Of course, He IS God, and could do any number of things to prevent me from falling or suffering injury, so why did He not do something?
The Bible is filled with stories of God’s interaction with us and if you’ve followed Jesus for long, your life probably has its own stories of His supernatural intervention, a miracle or two. Mine does. But what makes a miracle special is just that: it is special for a special purpose.
Consider when Elijah came on the scene in 1 Kings 17 to prophesy a coming drought to wicked King Ahab. He was then told to go to Zarephath in Lebanon, about 200 miles north of Shechem, the Israelites’ capital. There at a widow’s house, God would miraculously provide him food through the drought. Acting as the agency for this miracle meant the widow and her son would also survive the three year drought that left many dead.
Later, Jesus recalled this story to His critics when He pointed out that there were many starving widows in Israel, yet God had sent Elijah to a Lebanese widow; He also noted the many lepers in Israel at the time Elisha, Elijah’s successor, was working miracles, “and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman, the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27) Sometimes God does not behave in ways we think He should, and that takes some getting used to. We must remember HE is God, and WE are not.
God created a universe with sensible order, not one that was subject to magic spells or deific whims. There are times when He decides the “laws” of physics need to be ignored for His purposes, like the instant healing of a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10) or the opening of prison doors (Acts 5:17-26). However, most of the time He allows us to live in an orderly universe that is logical and consistent. And if I choose to step off a statue into thin air, though mistakenly thinking I would step properly, God will not usually change the location of the statue base, the direction of my foot, nor the consequences, beyond what could be understood without faith.
His purposes are not thwarted by my injury, and in some ways may find fulfillment by my ineptitude. Consider the interactions we had with the doctors and staff at Sutter Coast Hospital. On one occasion the physician’s assistant came to my room while my sister was on speaker phone, praying for me. Now my sister knows how to pray, as do many members of my family. But Jacque is one of the best prayerers. She takes you right into His throne room and you know where you are.
I glanced nervously at the PA, in that I did not want to annoy him, but I certainly was not going to interrupt my sister’s audience with The King. When she had finished and we turned our attention to him, instead of expressing exasperation, he commented on how the prayer had moved him! Later this opened a dialog about faith in God and what it means to follow Christ.
The graciousness of my sister-in-law was in full view throughout this episode as well. Afraid she would be upset by the curtailing of her hiking in the forest, I apologized, to which she replied, “It’s not your fault, c.a.. Accidents happen, that’s why we call them accidents.” Later she thrilled me with a comment about how fortunate we were to have God by our side! Hmm, maybe I should ask her if she saw Someone I did not when I fell.
So where was God when I fell? He was there! Right by my side, running to my aid with my sister-in-law, comforting my wife as she drove us to the hospital, opening doors for the growth and sharing of our trust in Him. Yeah, He was there. 😉
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ― C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain