Halloween in the time of Covid-19

This year almost every tradition is being impacted by the restrictions of the pandemic. This includes Halloween. Here in California, we are discouraged from Trick or Treat, church or school carnivals, or even neighborhood gatherings, all in the name of preventing the spread of disease.

While some of us appreciate the authorities trying to keep us well, many people resent what they consider draconian measures meant more for exercising the power of government. What many see as good, others perceive as evil.

When re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the Christian classic written from the perspective of one of Satan’s demons, I came across this line, “All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.”

While that sounds profound, I think that is true only some of the time.

We’ve all seen people (politicians come to mind here) pretending to be honest and upright in order to impress an audience, but who are eventually revealed to be dishonest and self-serving at heart.

I think it is a person’s motives that determine the effect pretense has on character.

Christians are sometimes advised to act “as if” we feel love or forgiveness toward someone when we have difficulty calling up the genuine emotions, because the action can be the precursor of the feelings.

If you pretend to be better than you are simply to fool and manipulate others for your own gain, it is like slipping into a Halloween costume; you remain unchanged beneath your mask.

Walking a higher road in order to help others and in the hope of eventually becoming what you are emulating can really change you.

Rather than a false face to hide behind, we should be putting on the character of Christ, allowing it to mold us into His image.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:29

I want to be authentic in all my relationships, yet always striving to overlay my flawed character with generous, loving, and courageous actions for the benefit of others and the glory of God.

Don’t you?

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What are you afraid of?

Almost everybody I talk with, lately, mentions how afraid they are. They fear disease, violent unrest, and the unknown direction of our government which might result from the upcoming election.

It seems as though everyone is afraid of what the future may hold in these unsettled times. So, what is the antidote for so much fear?

Is it courage?

While it takes courage to tackle our fears and do what must be done, even when we are afraid, the courage to act is secondary. Before every brave action comes faith. Whether faith in oneself or faith that help is on the way, we need faith to overcome the paralysis of fear.

Even in the midst of fires, floods, riots, and disrespect toward one another, we can live bold lives if we have faith.

There is a passage in the Old Testament which assures us that whatever we may be going through has been endured before:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Even a brief look at history tells us that during Bible times, both Old and New, the people knew as great or greater calamities and uncertainties as we do today. Yet, the prophets of old and the writers of the New Testament acted boldly to follow God’s leading despite the risk to their very lives.

This should give us confidence to respond fearlessly to the perils of today. The Apostle Paul was in great danger throughout his ministry, yet he wrote the following words to his young protégé, Timothy:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

As Christians who have received that perfect love which casts out fear (1 John 4:18), it behooves us to display the power of our faith in God by exhibiting love and self-discipline in all we do. Even in these scary circumstances.

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“I just don’t know what to believe, anymore!”

Two years ago, I posted about the confusion and lack of confidence in our news sources. In this election year, the issue deserves to be revisited.

In our information-dense culture we are constantly bombarded with information; every source claiming to have the true take on every topic. With wildly conflicting versions, no wonder we don’t know what to believe. This is a real problem and one we can’t simply ignore. 

What we believe guides our actions, for good or ill. 

We are often told to believe in ourselves, that if we only believe strongly enough in achieving our goals we can make them happen. The inference is that the power of belief is the important value in life’s equations, without regard to what is being believed.

The dictionaries say that belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof.

If we are to believe without definitive proof, how do we know what to believe? Are we to remain entangled in a morass of conflicting information, never knowing what is real and true?

We can, and should, refer to a variety of sources to try to confirm what we are being told, and we should test differing claims against what we have seen for ourselves, whenever possible. This can filter out some of the more obvious misinformation, but not all.

Ultimately, as a Christian, I must place my trust and belief in God’s Word, the Bible.

When battered by storms of confusion, I cling to His promises, knowing that upsetting events, dramatic headlines, and extreme rhetoric cannot shake my firm belief that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

John 8:32 (CEV)
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Will we pass this test?

Never in my wildest imagination or darkest dreams could I have envisioned the confluence of turmoil and disaster we have endured this year. Confusion and controversy surround the sources of our travails, but one thing I think we can all agree upon is that these past months have been a time of testing.

Our patience, relationships, and faith are all being tested; perhaps our faith most of all.

Everyone has faith in something. Whether faith in our own endurance, the basic decency of our fellowman, the government, or God, everyone relies on something or someone and each of these faiths is being severely tested.

As Christians, we know where our faith belongs.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:5 (NLT)

However, being overwhelmed by events, it is tempting to question whether God is as trustworthy as Scriptures promise. Whenever these doubts creep in, I am reminded of a sermon illustration about the inscrutable nature of God’s plan.

The most beautiful tapestries involve the intricate weaving of many different threads to create their lovely design. Viewed from the front, when completed, the artist’s vision is plain for all to see, but when seen from the back, especially when its still unfinished, the tangle of threads only makes sense to its creator.

The plans of God are like that.
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The lust for power: the true root of all evil

There’s an old adage that money is the root of all evil.

This is based upon 1 Timothy 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” which, like all Scripture, is essentially true. However, it fails to elaborate on one big reason people love money: for the power it imparts. Money brings power over material things and over people, as well.

It is human nature to want our lives to make a positive difference in the world, to overcome problems and help one another. When by our efforts we are able to make things happen, it gives us good feelings about ourselves and our abilities.

We feel powerful. Seeing our wishes fulfilled is intoxicating.

We may begin with the most benign motives, but we can easily start to exercise power over others for its own sake.

Lord Acton is often quoted as saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is true because power feels good and the more power we have, the better it feels.

We only have to look at the abuses of power displayed during the Covid-19 crisis to see how true that is. Giving up power is not nearly as appealing as clinging to it or grasping for more.

This stands as a warning to Christians. It is in our human nature to want to influence and exert power over others, especially when we see ours as a good cause.

Believers must be vigilant, remembering that God holds all the power in our world.

When tempted to force our will upon others, we should step back and trust God to lead.

When witnessing or trying to influence others for the Lord, we must be sure to speak and act according to Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB):

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Our only power is the power bestowed by God for His purposes.

Christ instructed His disciples to include this reminder in their daily prayers.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

AMEN

Matthew 6:13 (KJV)

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Pollyanna may have been onto something, after all.

As Christians and citizens we have a responsibility to be aware of what is going on around us in order to respond wisely, whether in action or prayer. However, with so much distressing information bombarding us daily, we need to take a break from the bad news once in a while to regain balance and perspective.

Some people have the gift of joy in the worst of circumstances. The lead character in Disney’s movie from the 1960’s, Pollyanna, illustrated this gift beautifully with her insistence upon finding the blessings in any situation.

According to Webster a Pollyanna is a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything. You can sometimes hear someone say, “Oh, don’t be such a Pollyanna,” implying that the optimist is naive or unaware of reality.

In the film, Pollyanna often irritated others with her insistence on playing “the glad game” of always finding something to be glad about, no matter how small. Incredibly, some people would rather give in to bitterness and depression when troubles come.

It’s not necessary to deny the reality of ugliness in order to find beauty in our lives. Sniffing a rose, cuddling a baby, or admiring inspirational art can lower a person’s blood pressure and ease muscle tension. Just as laughter is like a good medicine, purposefully searching for the blessings we enjoy can heal our souls and strengthen us for the spiritual battles we face.

… whatever is true, whatever  is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or  praiseworthy— think on these things. 

Philippians 4:8

Just for today, I am not going to let fires, floods, political unrest, illness, or injustice blind me to the truly lovely things in my life. Those challenges will still be there to be tackled tomorrow and, hopefully, I will feel more ready to face them as I remember that the cup is neither half-full nor half empty.

My cup runneth over with blessings, and if you look for them, I’ll bet yours does, too.

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What do you expect?

Some of you may have seen the photos of the smoky, blood-red skies over California this week. I can tell you those photos can’t fully convey the shock we felt waking up to find this otherworldly scene outside our windows. Even life-long Californians never expected something like this.

September 9, 2020 Northern California

There’s an old Monty Python running gag, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” While we haven’t seen the return of that infamous time in history, 2020 has held more than it’s share of the unexpected. From pandemics, riots, and freak weather events to more personal tragedies, we’ve all been subjected to one unexpected event after another.

I’m writing this on September 11, the nineteenth anniversary of the completely unexpected terrorist attacks on our country that destroyed the Twin Towers and many innocent lives. I remember watching the TV in horror as another plane crashed into the second tower. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

Denial is a common response to the unexpected events in our lives. “This never happened before, so it must not be happening now,” is our unspoken thought, even though life is absolutely filled with the unexpected.

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes,” we say, laughingly quoting Benjamin Franklin as if we don’t really believe what he wrote.

Actually, wise though he was, Franklin was wrong. Taxes may come and go, but only death remains absolutely certain.

This week my neighborhood suddenly looked like a scene from science fiction. Throughout the day, as the skies remained dark, there was more than one nervous joke about the End Times, Armageddon, and the Apocalypse. We joked as if we didn’t really believe our earthly life will ever end.

Our belief or lack of it, can never change the fact of our mortality. Just as our belief or lack of belief in God and the Biblical truth of eternal life has no impact on the reality.

You may scoff at the idea of Heaven and Hell and firmly believe there is no afterlife, but if God is real, you will be in for a shock. Finding your spiritual self in the presence of God will be the ultimate “unexpected” event.

What do you expect? Are you ready?

Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:17 New American Standard Bible
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Don’t give up on prayer

The situation in our country continues to become more chaotic and discouraging.

“What can I do to help?” is a question many of us are asking.

This morning I read a post from Franklin Graham about the Prayer March to the Capitol scheduled for later this month. In his post he referred to how the prophet Elijah lived in equally troubled times as ours and when he continued to call out to God in earnest prayer, God responded, as referred to in the Book of James.

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

James 5 (NASB)

The disciple, James, admonishes us first to openly face our own sins and to pray for each other. This humility and compassion frees us up to submit our pleas to Heaven.

We mustn’t give up or turn away from God during this turbulent time.

A recent prediction is that at least one fifth of all churches will never recover from the Corona Virus lock downs. Those congregations represent thousands of individuals who will be without church homes at the very time when spiritual nurture and support is most needed.

I encourage you to pray for all our shuttered churches and restricted congregations. If you belong to one of these struggling congregations, or know of those in your community, please consider offering financial support, as well, if you are able.

“Thus the Lord was moved by prayer for the land.”

—2 Samuel 24:25 (NASB)
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This is shocking, isn’t it?

When I opened the Disrn newsletter and read this article this morning, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was becoming shock-proof to the lack of logic and common sense in our current culture, but this news boggled my mind.

How can a person claim to be a Christian (a Christ-follower), let alone one who is Evangelical, while denying the deity of Jesus the Christ? This is a complete logical disconnect, isn’t it?

I’m so confused!

For those who argue that Jesus never claimed to be God, I refer you to the Scriptures.

Peter’s Confession of Christ

15 “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven.…

Matthew 16 (Berean Study Bible)

So, those Evangelical Christians claiming not to believe Jesus was indeed God incarnate are either following a “good teacher” who was delusional or a liar.

OR they do not believe the Bible is true.

Of course, there are many atheists, agnostics, and followers of other faiths who consider the Holy Scriptures myth or worse, but at least they don’t choose to identify themselves as Christian.

Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 7:15
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I believe…

I believe every experience God allows into my life is for my good and His glory. Whether joyful or pain-filled, God has decided to let me have the experience as a gift. He walks with me, if I let Him, in the good times and bad, gently pointing out the lessons and blessings in each day. When I remember to look for the lessons and blessings in even the minutia of my life, I have no time to worry …

Power Walking with Jonna, November 18, 2018

When I wrote that, I was addressing the subject of forgiveness. I still believe those words, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the “lessons and blessings” God sends.

Because I believe that God IS, and that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, I believe every experience in my life is filtered through His perfect will; each moment holds both blessings and lessons for my benefit.

I confess that it is often easier to find the lesson than the blessing in some situations.

Here in California we are experiencing our annual wildfire season with smoke-filled air, excessive heat, and frequent power outages. When added to the unpleasantness of Covid-19 and our divisive political climate, it is hard to see any blessings.

Some days it seems the main lesson is to just give up. However, when I look hard enough, I believe I will find what God is trying to tell me. Even if it takes some time, I believe I will eventually see the blessings, as well.

I believe Christianity is a relationship. God deals with each of His children individually. The blessings and lessons in these days may be different for me than they are for you, but I know they are there for all believers.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

John 3:16 (NIV)
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