Thursday, September 19, 2019

Monitors and Mittens







Don't you wish you could sleep in mittens like these!

A few weeks ago, my rheumatologist determined I can add carpal tunnel syndrome to my list of ailments. After steroid injections in both wrists (no fun at all!), I now get to sleep with these boxing-glove-like mittens.

Who knew getting older would bring such fun accessories into my life!

And lets not forget the joy of wearing a heart monitor for the last month. Thankfully, the monitoring is now completed, and I'm just waiting to see what, if anything, the monitoring revealed.  I was very pleased to pack that monitor and its associated parts, and return it to the "monitoring people".




Even as I am wearing my mittens and waiting on monitoring results, I have become aware that a number of friends and relatives are also being "monitored". We are all in a similar season of life, so perhaps this is just an inevitable part of getting older.

I'm not sure who said it first, but it is certainly a true statement: Getting old is not for sissies!

Yet even as I complain about the monitor and the mittens, and even as I joke about aging, I am very aware that every day is a gift from God. And that is also true of old age. Or of older age, since I haven't yet reached that place where I could really be described as old.

Every day of life is a precious gift, no matter what our season of life. And even as we move toward the senior years, there is still joy and purpose in each day.

The psalmist has a good reminder for us about that, no matter what our age or our health or our circumstances. It's a reminder I needed today. Perhaps you do too.

"O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come." (Psalm 71:18-19 ESV)




Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Remembering 9/11

It's that day again. The day that still makes my heart ache. That makes me almost ill. The day our world changed.

Those events are burned into our memories. Where were you on that awful day? I remember the day vividly. On that Tuesday morning, as on every Tuesday morning, I was heading to church. Tuesday was the day for Ladies Bible Study in the morning and staff meeting in the afternoon. We were planning to begin a new study on that morning, and as I had been preparing the introductory session, my thoughts had been focused on Psalm 62, specifically on verses 7-8: "On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." As the day progressed, I found myself holding on to those verses.

I walked into the family room just minutes after the first plane had hit. Our son Brian, who had just gotten home from his job at UPS, was watching TV (the Today Show, I think) before heading upstairs to bed. We both stared at the TV in disbelief. And then we watched as the second plane hit. On my way to the church, I heard the news about the Pentagon on the car radio.

Our Bible Study that morning turned into a brief time of prayer, after which I sent the ladies back home. Our staff meeting was cancelled. The pastor and I met briefly to talk through preliminary plans for the following Sunday worship service, and then he sent me home.

Life as we knew it changed forever on that day. I remember well the shock and the grief and the numbness that followed for so many days. For many those feelings are repeated each year as we mark another anniversary and as we see those horrible events replayed over and over and over on television.

Life changed on that day. We've grown accustomed to taking our shoes off at the airport and to having our purses and backpacks inspected. Sadly, we're no longer surprised by acts of violence. 

But not everything has changed. It is still true that "my refuge is in God." I still grieve with and for those families who lost so much on that day just because their family member went to work that day. I still grieve for the families of first responders and military personnel who, on that day and in the years that have followed, paid the ultimate sacrifice. I am still grateful for men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

Even more, as I reflect on the ways that life has changed, I cling to this unchanging truth:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear." (Psalm 46:1-2)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Thinking About Storms

There's a storm moving up the coast. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard of Hurricane Dorian. Here in South Carolina, Dorian has been a big topic of conversation for several days. Residents along the coast have evacuated in advance of the storm's arrival; those who didn't evacuate have hunkered down. Dorian has been a slow-moving storm and has taken a while to get here, so we've had plenty of time to think about it.

Storms are inevitable. As long as we are in this world, there will be storms to be faced. It isn't a matter of "if" there will be a storm, but "when".

Physical Storms

Certainly Hurricane Dorian fits into this category. Even as we in South Carolina have been preparing for the possibility of a direct hit from this very strong storm, I am reminded that at this time just a few years ago we were under water because of thunderstorms and flooding. Physical storms take various forms: tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, Nor'easters, blizzards, floods, earthquakes. We have all experienced physical storms in one form or another.

Political Storms

Currently we are heading into another election season. This is already a particularly rancorous election season, in part thanks to social media. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with information, insults, and innuendo. Just as Hurricane Dorian is even now battering the coast, we are being battered day after day with tweets and posts and opinions that overwhelm us. Being able to stand firm through this barrage of information is a challenge indeed.

Personal Storms

Day after day each of us face challenges in our personal lives. Illness. Bereavement. Depression. Job stress. Accidents. Financial stress. All sorts of challenges are part of our daily lives and are often as difficult to deal with as hurricanes. We often struggle to hold our heads above water as we try to navigate life on a daily basis.

We need an Anchor.

What do we do when the storms come? And they will come! How do we cope? I've been thinking about that a lot since I first heard of the destructive nature of Hurricane Dorian. Because my faith informs how I think about things, I have found answers to the what do we do? question in the pages of Scripture.

"When I am afraid, I put my trust in You."  (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving."  (Colossians 4:2 NASB)   

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)  Note that it doesn't say give thanks "for" all circumstances, but give thanks "in" all circumstances!

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus."  (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

"Be still and know that I am God."  (Psalm 46:10 ESV)

Whatever storm may be coming your way today, your "shelter" is the same: keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the storm!



 
"The Lord's our Rock, in Him we hide,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Secure whatever ill betide,
A Shelter in the time of storm.
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land;
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm."
(words:Vernon A. Charlesworth; music: Ira Sankey)
 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hard Questions

Summer is winding to an end and children are going back to school, at least in the part of the world where I live. Definitely an occasion for prayer. For my grandsons. For my daughters-in-love as they resume their responsibilities as teachers. For friends who are sending their children off to school. For educators and students all across this great land.

For some, this back-to-school season is the last first day of school before their children graduate. For others, the journey is just beginning. In every case, the back-to-school season is time for some serious praying. Because it's a hard world out there.

Yet even as our children venture out into this hard world with their new clothes and new lunchboxes and new book bags, across the world there are children and parents facing a different set of circumstances. And they could only wish for a beautiful late summer day with a new lunchbox and new book bag, and for the opportunity to innocently begin another year of school. Across our world, for many, life is a much harder reality
.
Some time ago I read Anne Graham Lotz's book The Daniel Prayer, and along with that, I spent some time reading in the Old Testament book of Daniel. As I think about everything going on in our country and our world, Daniel's story becomes so much more than just a Bible story I remember from childhood. Daniel's story is very much the story of many men and women and boys and girls around the world.

In Daniel's day, King Darius had signed a decree that no one could worship or pray to any god or man except himself. The penalty for violating this decree was to be cast into the lion's den.  And that, of course, is equivalent to a death penalty, since we all know what would happen if a person were to be cast into a den of hungry lions.

How did Daniel respond?  He knew the decree had been signed. He knew what would happen if he continued to pray to his God. Even so, "when Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem.  He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously."      (Daniel 6:10 ESV, emphasis mine)

In spite of what it might cost him, Daniel continued to pray, just as he had always done. If we bring Daniel's story into the 21st century, Daniel is very much like men and women and children in the Middle East and elsewhere today whose lives are on the line because of their faith in Jesus. For Daniel, the command was to renounce his faith or face the lion's den. Men and women and children in the Middle East today, and in other parts of the world as well, are faced with a similar threat:  renounce your faith, convert to Islam, or die.

The question is often asked, why doesn't God put a stop to this?  Why doesn't He protect these people from this kind of persecution?

My question is a bit different. Why do they have to suffer like this and I don't? Why am I protected from this kind of suffering? Why is there this level of persecution and suffering in some parts of the world, and not in others? No one stands at the door of my church to prevent me from entering. No one is knocking on my door this morning and holding a gun to my head to prevent me from praying or reading my Bible. And for that, I am very thankful indeed.

But what if they were? Would I be strong enough in my faith to stand firm? When that kind of persecution comes to this country, and it may at some point, will I be strong enough in my faith to do as Daniel did? Will I be strong enough in my faith to continue doing as [I] have been doing previously?

If it were difficult to go to church, if there were people with guns blocking my way, would I go anyway? If I were commanded not to pray, would I pray anyway? When persecution comes, will I stand firm?

Why are believers in other parts of the world suffering such profound persecution? Why do some suffer and not others? Why them and not me? 

Hard questions.

But things we need to be thinking about.

I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary.
I believe whatever the cost.
And when time has surrendered
And earth is no more,
I'll still cling to the old rugged cross.
(Gaither/Oldham)



"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed."  (1 Peter 4:12-14a ESV)

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."                  (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Another Birthday



I celebrated another birthday this week. To celebrate, we headed to Charleston, where we spent a few days filled with good food and good times. Since my stroke in November 2016, every birthday has become especially meaningful. In fact, I celebrate every day as a precious gift! These months since the stroke have given me a new appreciation for life. A new awareness that each day is a gift not to be taken for granted.

Birthdays bring inevitable thoughts about getting older. I can remember when, once upon a time, I thought anyone who had passed their 60th birthday was really old. As I enter my last decade in my 60s, I no longer think of 60 in quite the same way. Because the truth is, I really don't think of myself as old. I don't feel old. At least, not on most days!

Each birthday brings to mind Jonathan Edwards, that great American preacher of days gone by, who had seventy resolutions for his life, all of which he wrote while in his early twenties, and which he read every week for the rest of his life. His Resolution 52 is my favorite.

"I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again. Resolved, that I will live as I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age."

Having passed another birthday, Johnathan Edwards' resolution continues to be my resolution, for the coming year and for however many years lie ahead:  to live as I shall wish I had done.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Because Sometimes I Need To Be Reminded...

Yesterday was not one of my better days. I hadn't slept well the night before, which probably contributed to the fact that is was a little "off" all day. Last night was even worse.


We have a new neighbor whose teenaged grandchildren, and their friends, spend a lot of time at her house. They spend a lot of time on the patio talking and listening to music. Loudly. This has disrupted my peaceful, quiet life. Last night an ambulance was called to a neighbor's house further down the street, but the road was blocked because the neighbor's grandchildren had parked in the street, right across from another neighbor who had also parked in the street. Since the ambulance couldn't get through, there was a lot of horn blowing. Eventually the cars were moved and ambulance moved on. But apparently, since the kids were awake, they headed out to the patio.....and they are back there again this morning, making it hard for me to concentrate as I type this post.


I feel a little silly even bringing this up when there are so many much bigger problems in the world. Violence and hatred are everywhere these days. And my heart is grieved over what I see happening in my country.


As I was thinking about all this today, coincidentally (and you know I don't believe in coincidence), a song from Phillips, Craig, and Dean came to mind. 


You are God alone, in the good times and bad, You are on your throne, and You are God alone.....


I went to YouTube and listened to that song. And I worshiped.


Life is not about me. It's not about you. It's not about always having everything perfectly in order as I would like them to be. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.


God is God. And I am not. He is on His throne. He is God in the good times and the bad, and in all the in between times. He is unshakeable. And unchangeable. And unstoppable.


I get frustrated by little things like loud neighbors. I am even more frustrated and grieved and heartbroken by what is going on in the world around me. But that doesn't change who God is. And that's what I need to put my focus on.....


"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10 NASB)



Friday, August 2, 2019

Diligent

What comes to mind when you hear the word diligent?


As students head back to school, parents and teachers alike hope the students will be diligent in their studies.


An athlete may work diligently to improve his performance.


A brick mason works diligently stacking one brick on top of another to build a house.


Someone who refuses to give up is described as diligent.


The word diligent is defined as constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing something; done or pursued with persevering attention.


The apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15:  Be diligent to present yourself approved unto God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.


That is the NASB translation of that verse. Like me, you might have originally learned that verse in the King James version:  Study to show yourself approved unto God.....


The word translated as study or be diligent is the Greek word spoudazo, which means earnestness or diligence, and conveys the idea of energy and intense effort and motivation. It speaks of intensity of purpose followed by intensity of effort.


2 Timothy 2:15 is one of those verses that often just slaps us in the face. Because how many Christians can honestly say they are being diligent when it comes to the Scriptures. How many of us, if we are really honest, can say our attitude toward Bible reading and Bible study, is diligentAre we really being energetic and intense in our approach to Scripture?


How many are satisfied with a "verse of the day" grabbed from an app on our phone, and then go on about the day with business as usual.


How many are spending more time reading a devotional book than spending time in the Word of God.


How many are actually diligent to study?


One of the great problems in our culture today is biblical illiteracy, even among Christians, and that can be traced back to the fact that we don't spend time in God's Word. We don't study. We don't memorize Scripture. We don't take time. We aren't diligent. We're too busy. Or too lazy. Or too "whatever". We have all sorts of excuses.


But Paul's instruction to Timothy, and by extension, to us, is that we be diligent. That we study, not just read.


And for what purpose? Why is it so important?  So that we would not be ashamed before God. That we would accurately handle the Word of Truth.


How can we accurately handle the Scripture if we don't take time to study it?


Reading Scripture is important. But we must go beyond reading. We must be willing to study. We must be willing to be diligent. And that requires time and effort.


Consider these two verses:


"Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it." (Ezra 7:10 NASB)


"I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 23:12 NASB)


Ezra was diligent.


Job was diligent.


May I - may we - be diligent as well.