Sometimes I feel like a motherless child

Since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic life has changed for most of us. We have experienced a lonelier, less connected life as we shy away from gatherings and fellowship. This has been especially hard on those whose social lives have revolved around the local church. We have felt abandoned and isolated. While grieving our loss many of us could relate to the words of that poignant spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”

Since at least the times of St. Augustine, “Mother Church” has been a term to refer to the Christian Church as a mother in her functions of nourishing and protecting the believer.  No wonder so many of us of all ages are feeling like orphans. We miss the presence and nurturing influence of our mother church.

We hear a lot about influencers these days, but the first and most powerful influencer in most of our lives is our mother. No mere social media celebrity, she oversees the formation of our personalities and values. The same can be said of the church.

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV)

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:42 (NKJV)

Especially in turbulent times like these, Christians need the influence of fellow believers in order to be stirred up to love and good works, to spiritual maturity, and Christlikeness.

Next month we will celebrate Mother’s Day in the USA. I pray that most of us will be able to mark that day in the bosom of our Christian family as we honor both our earthly mothers and the nurturing church fellowship that influences our daily lives.

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The Invisible Enemy

How long have we been striving to overcome an enemy we can’t see?

When we can’t see it, how do we even know it exists ?

I suppose we know because we have been told about it and we can believe what we were told because we have seen the effects in those who have fallen victim to this pernicious foe.

Early on in this struggle the powers that be recognized how vulnerable the church is to this pandemic and moved to swiftly shutter the sanctuaries and forbid us from gathering together for worship.

The invisible enemy I am referring to is not, as you may have suspected, a germ or a virus. The pandemic infecting and threatening the Body of Christ is apostasy, apathy, and worldliness.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

Even more than we may fear the Covid-19 virus, our enemy dreads anyone being infected with the Gospel.

Isn’t it time for Christians to remove our muzzles and inoculate those around us with regular doses of truth?

The current pandemic, like all material things will surely pass. In even these troubled times, our best efforts, as the Body of Christ, should be expended on those things which are eternal.

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV)

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What is truth?

Pilate’s comment (John 18:38) to Jesus just before sentencing Him to death is especially appropriate today.

History is under attack these days as a mere social construct subject to political manipulation. However, there still exist physical artifacts and historically proven writings to which those seeking the truth of the past may refer. Until all the museums and libraries are destroyed, there will remain a few eminently provable historical facts.

One of these is the historically documented fact that a man from Nazareth, a carpenter named Jesus, existed, was first acclaimed as the Jewish messiah, and then was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem approximately 2000 years ago. As columnist Erick Erickson lays out so succinctly in his Good Friday entry on, the proofs are there for anyone to see.  And yet, we often hear unbelievers refer to Jesus contemptuously as the Christians’ “made-up God” or “their imaginary friend.”

However, even those who refuse to accept Christ’s resurrection and divinity cannot deny the impact of His life on humanity.

Occasionally, Easter, when Christians celebrate Resurrection Sunday, falls on or near April 1. On those years we sometimes hear snarky comments of the day being a great April Fools joke on believers.

Having studied the Scriptures, especially those already supported by archeology, and experienced for myself the blessings of His sacrificial death, I feel confident saying to the mockers and scoffers, “The jokes on you.”

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”

Silhouettes of Three Crosses

 -Psalm 53 (NIV)
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Feeling helpless? Good.

When chaos, injustice, or tragedy abound, either in the wide world or in my own life, I feel helplessness which can lead to frustration. Frustration can lead to paralyzing depression and despair or to anger and rage. Neither reaction is a particularly healthy response to a situation that is beyond my control.

So how can feeling helpless be a good thing?

The answer became apparent to me this week when listening to a Lenten devotional from on the YouVersion Bible app. I was reminded of the many Biblical examples of God using the seemingly weak and helpless to achieve great things for His glory.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

God promises, over and over again to strengthen His people. But the caveat seems to be that we must first recognize the source of that strength.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9

We must recognize and admit our own weakness and move out of His way in order for God to move through us.

This is an appropriate reminder as we approach Holy Week. Imagine how helpless and frustrated Christ’s followers felt on Good Friday. They were weak with grief and fearful of the future, while all the time God was preparing the glorious Resurrection that would change everything. Soon these powerless, helpless men would become conduits of God’s mighty power as they stepped forth to be used to fulfill His plan.

Are you feeling helpless today? Good. Admit your weakness to God, set aside your pride and your desire for control, and prepare to be used in a might way.

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What’s so great about normal?

When the pandemic hit, our lives were disrupted in a major way. After a few months we began to ask when everything would get back to normal. Eventually, we began to hear references to a “new normal” that we would need to get used to.

Just what is normal, anyway? The dictionary tells us it is ordinary, typical, or routine. So basically, whatever we have become accustomed to is normal.

During this past year, many of us have, however reluctantly, become accustomed to this new normal.

One only has to look at history to realize that people are incredibly adaptable; we can get used to some pretty terrible ideas and situations. Ideas and practices considered decidedly abnormal less than a hundred years ago are now taken for granted as ordinary, typical, and normal.

From the beginning, God has called His people to remain outside normal society. In Old Testament times, child sacrifice to idols and temple prostitutes were routine. The Jews were called to separate themselves from such abhorrent practices. They were given rules and regulations intended to specifically identify themselves as different from the normal culture. While Jesus de-emphasized many of the physical symbols of this separation, He charged His followers with an even more challenging task, as the Apostle Paul expressed it:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Even Christ-followers feel the strong tug of conformity toward whatever our world sees as normal. It is especially hard to resist when it happens gradually. Perhaps the sudden upheaval of the recent pandemic was God’s way of waking His people up. If a Christian feels comfortable with what the world considers normal, it may be that he or she has taken their eyes off Jesus and veered onto the wrong path.

To get back on track, we mustn’t yearn back toward the old normal. We must strive forward to a new normal which honors God and conforms to His word.

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.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

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Fear and confusion abound

In this past year, fear and confusion have dominated. We have been subjected to panic-inducing news coverage and predictions of doom from our government leaders. In public we encounter unrecognizable people in masks who scurry away with downcast eyes. Encouraging smiles and hugs are few and far between, just when we need them the most.

Fear and confusion test our faith and our confidence in both God and our fellow man. It is important to do what we can to resist the paralysis of these debilitating emotions.

The Bible is filled with words of comfort and courage for times such as this, but we must seek them out. When we do, we are reassured that no matter how things appear, God has a plan and He is in control.

When we realize that God deals both with individuals and with nations as a whole, current circumstances become less confusing. He may chastise a nation while at the same time comforting and blessing His children within that nation.

This month, the Turning Points devotional magazine from Dr. David Jeremiah has been focused on the Bible’s texts about coping with fear. I have found this resource, and others like it, to be a tremendous comfort in my search for peace in these turbulent times.

We Christians believe God is ever present and available to us. However, during times of testing it may be necessary to actively pursue Him. Many times we need the clarification and edification of other believers in order grow closer to Him and to understand His message.

If you find yourself sinking under waves of fear and confusion, reach out for the lifelines that are plentifully available to us.

A man of understanding is of a calm spirit.

Proverbs 17:27

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I surrender

“Onward Christian Soldiers” “Soldiers of Christ Arise” and other hymns of the faith dealing with spiritual warfare made a strong impression on me, inspiring my commitment to joining the battle. This seemed ever more important in light of the increasing moral decay in our culture.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Ephesians 6:10 (NIV)

I’m no quitter. I take my responsibilities very seriously, but I have given up.

I have given up striving in my own strength. While endeavoring to take my stand against the devil’s schemes, I have payed too little attention to the preceding words in the text, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” I had shifted my focus from the unseen spiritual realm and God’s power onto my physical world and its rulers. I was hoping to change material events to suit my own will with the power of my prayers.

Leaning upon our own understanding is almost always guaranteed to lead to discouragement. While in the depths of despair at my failures, wondering what I could do, I turned again to Ephesians 6 and read on to verses five through eight and my eyes fell upon this phrase, “doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”

In my efforts to serve God, I was attempting to usurp his authority and second-guessing his judgments. Scripture tells us that it is God who establishes rulers and governments for his purposes. My responsibility is to trust and obey.

… obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

Ephesians 6:5-8 (NIV)

The spiritual battle is real. I haven’t gone AWOL. I will continue to study the Bible, serve him wherever he leads, pray for his will to be done, and surrender my all to his wisdom and power.

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How spoiled are we?

This past year (yes, it has been a whole year since the pandemic hit) has been a test of faith for just about everyone, no matter where they placed their faith. It seemed that formerly reliable norms no longer applied in this new pandemic-panic world.

Perhaps the Christian community has been tested more than any other group as we saw our prayers seemingly go unheeded while we lost family and friends to illness and were prevented from gathering together for worship and the support we so desperately sought.

It’s much easier to trust in our Holy Father’s perfect love for us when all is well and the answer to our prayers is a resounding, “Yes!” How much harder it is to accept, “No,” or even, “Not yet.”

Like children begging for treats, we may recognize that not all of our wants would be good for us, but when the things we ask for seem to our minds to be so obviously beneficial and right, it is hard not to resent God for withholding them.

When speaking to Christian groups, I would often make the bold claim that I was God’s favorite child. That usually caused a few raised eyebrows until I explained that each one of us is also His favorite. Incredibly, miraculously, God loves each of us as though there were only one of us.

I believe that is true, even during my darkest days, but especially when I’m in the midst of blessings. I have been so blessed in my life that I might be just a bit spoiled by the abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and love. Like an overindulged child, I’ve come to expect…and feel I DESERVE… only good things, only the benevolent, “Yes,” in response to my prayers. And like that spoiled child, when my pleas are denied I can become confused, angry, and frightened. Can I still trust that God loves me? Am I still His favorite when He says no?

Confusion, anger and fear have held sway this past year in too many hearts and minds. It is time to exercise trust in our Creator who has only our best interests at heart. Perhaps if I was an all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal God, I would understand everything He allows into my life. As it is, I can only trust Him. Trust is the antidote to confusion and fear.

While policy makers and the media chant, “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” our loving Father whispers, “Fear not.”

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

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Perfectly imperfect

After feeling I’d conquered the step aerobics on my basic Wii Fit system, I decided to add the balance board riser attachment to get a better workout. 

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I hadn’t taken into account that the Wii Fit program is calibrated to work with the balance board alone and the riser’s extra height would change my timing. I, also, hadn’t realized just how much I was relying on the feedback from the game system. When my timing is just right, I am rewarded with PERFECT flashing on the screen and a higher score for each step. If I’m slightly off, I get a disappointing OK. If my rhythm is completely off, I get nothing.

After adding the higher step to my routine, I struggled to achieve all those perfect marks and it frustrated me.  I was discouraged until it dawned on me that I was getting the same aerobic exercise whether I got any score, at all. I laughed to think of all the pressure I had been putting on myself just to see the word perfect. My goal was to get exercise for my health and I was achieving that, whether I was perfect or not. I had gotten caught up in the need to be perfect and lost sight of my goal. I needed to remember that perfection is not a realistic standard.

Every one of the millions of people on earth is unique, each one is a miracle, and not one is perfect.

When we set unreasonable demands on ourselves, they tend to carry over onto our demands of others. It makes us less compassionate, less forgiving, less loving.

We should all strive to make the most of our gifts, talents, and opportunities; to do the best we can without the fear of failing to reach perfection.  When we abandon the quest for perfect, we become free to find joy in our best efforts.

Perfection exits only in God’s love, freely given.   Let go of perfect in your own life and trust in God’s perfect love. 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

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Be a deer

As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

This familiar verse has been the inspiration for some of my favorite hymns and praise songs, but only recently did I pause to think about how desperately a deer needs to find those streams. The Holy Land is largely arid, rather like California in many respects. Finding flowing water can be difficult, especially after a long, dry summer.

I picture the deer, frantic for a drink, its sides heaving as in pants in the heat of the day, and its relief at finding a bubbling brook to slake its thirst.

Most of us have never known this kind of thirst. When we want a drink, our biggest challenge is deciding whether to settle for tap water or opt for a more refreshing beverage. We don’t pant for water.

Near my home in Northern California fruit and nut trees are in many neighborhood yards. It is common to see over-ripe apples, citrus fruits, and even pomegranates clinging to the branches or rotting beneath the trees. Sidewalks beneath overhanging limbs are sometimes covered with the shells and meats of ripe walnuts, pecans, or almonds which have been crushed underfoot.

The same people who pay high prices for these fruits and nuts in the grocery stores cannot be bothered to gather them. We take our bounty for granted.

It occurs to me that while I’m totally dependent upon the grace of God and yearn for a closer relationship with Him, I can’t honestly claim that “my soul pants for…my God,” not in the way the deer gasps for life-giving water.

How odd, when I consider that the deer is merely concerned with daily survival while my relationship with God determines my eternity.

I’m afraid I’ve been taking God’s abundant love and grace for granted, expecting it to be on tap whenever I need Him.

In my childhood when my grandmother wanted a favor she would preface her request with, “Be a dear.” As in, “Jonna, be a dear and bring me my sweater.”

I always tried to please her, of course, but now I think it may be time for me to be a deer, instead, as I recognize how desperately I need God’s presence every day.

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