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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How can I help?

There is no denying that these are troubling times and many are in distress, including our friends and neighbors. As Christians, we want to reach out and help, but we often feel inadequate in the face of the enormity of the problems we are seeing.

Most of us are familiar with the the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, when Jesus responded to the needs of the thousands, providing them with sustenance when it seemed impossible under the circumstances.

When my pastor recently preached on this event from Matthew 14, I noticed a small detail for the first time.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 

Matthew 14:15-18

In Matthew’s report, we see that Jesus asked the disciples to bring Him what they had. Only after they presented Him with this totally inadequate supply of food did He multiply it to meet the needs of the crowd.

The miracle didn’t depend upon the disciples’ faith in their own ability, it didn’t even depend upon their faith in Christ. All that was necessary was that they gave Him what they had.

Can we do any less?

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Are we in an impossible situation?

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Luke 1:37

It’s almost six months since our world was shaken by the arrival of the Covid-19 virus and the pandemic began.

Many of the world’s nations are beginning to climb out of the chaos and depression. Unfortunately, here in the USA, the situation was seized upon as an opportunity to turn the crisis into a political tool and here we are today, still wondering what’s going on. We don’t know what information to believe and whether we are being protected or manipulated.

Add the rioting and violence in some of our cities to this already frightening situation and most of us feel confused and overwhelmed.

What we can agree upon, though, is that we want this all to go away, but we can’t see how we are ever going to return to the life we knew. Perhaps we never will.

I cling to God’s promises and know that He is in control, even in this. It is possible even now for the Lord to turn the tables on those seeking to destroy us, and instead to bring about great blessings; we may grow stronger and better from this turmoil, individually and as a nation.

While I can’t conceive of how that would happen, I remember what is written:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

How grateful I am that the God of the Universe is not limited to what I can imagine.

The old hymn, Nothing is Impossible with God reminds us that nothing is impossible when we trust in His word.

Luke 1:37 (above) was speaking to Mary, reassuring her that whether a woman was well past childbearing or an untouched virgin, God was in control of all of life. The same thing applies to us today.

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What do you choose to emphasize?

I’m tired. After months of pandemic and riots, my soul is weary.

In 1944, with the world still at war, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the song, Accentuate the Positive. It was exactly what a weary country needed to hear. The song became so popular it was nominated for an Oscar. Arlen and Mercer tapped into the importance of attitude in overcoming stressful situations and in uplifting a weary people.

Their upbeat tune with the words, “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative,” lifts my spirits. While I can do little to change what is happening, I am reminded that I control my attitude.

To accentuate something means to bring it to the fore, to make it prominent. Can you imagine the different response to our current situation if the media emphasized the positive instead of promoting the most dire predictions and the darkest side of events?

“Spread joy up to the maximum. Bring gloom down to the minimum, and have faith, or pandemonium’s liable to walk upon the scene!” is not just a perky ditty, it is wisdom we need today.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.

Psalm 98:4
choose joy
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How firm a foundation is needed today

In 1949, when George Orwell published his dystopian fantasy novel, 1984, about a society where every norm was turned on its head and the very meaning of language was corrupted, no one believed it could possibly be a prophetic work. Yet today we live in a culture where our social foundations are being swept out from under our feet.

Nearly every day I hear someone expressing shock and confusion at the rapidly shifting values being touted.

“Has everyone gone crazy?” is a common lament.

While I continue to trust that God is in control, I need to spend more time in His Word and in prayer to fight my feelings of insecurity.

Two of the Scripture verses I cling to are below:

He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.

Psalm 62:2

… a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.

But the one who hears My words and does not act on them is like a man who built his house on ground without a foundation. The torrent crashed against that house, and immediately it fell–and great was its destruction.”

Luke 6:47-49

When the world no longer makes sense, and I feel the sand shifting beneath my feet, I must cling to the Solid Rock, the Firm Foundation of my faith.

Standing on the promises

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Consider the lilies…

25“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? 26“If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? 27“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 28“But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! 29“And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. 30“For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 31“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

Luke 12:25-32 (NASB)

In these uncertain times, it is easy to become overwhelmed and distressed. Even though we continue to pray without ceasing and rely upon the LORD, even when we tell ourselves, “He’s got this!” worries creep in and sap our strength.

This is a good time to step away from all the noise and dire warnings and try to remember all the beauty and blessings in our lives.

Today is a good day to step outside and drink in the beauties of nature. Whether you are able to visit a park, the countryside, or simply stroll around your neighborhood, there are pockets of glory, if only we seek them out.

Take a camera or use your phone and crop out the distractions and ugliness, centering on the sights which fill you with joy. If we narrow our focus and get close enough, we will be sure to discover treasures.

In moments of stress following your beauty-hunt, you will have your photos to remind you of God’s great love and the blessings in your life.

Whether your soul responds to raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, the world is teeming with often overlooked delights.

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It’s time to get serious. Seriously.

Cover your face!” “Shelter in place!” You must either join the hoards tearing down our heritage and freedoms or cower in order to “stay safe”… resistance is futile.

I grew up singing rousing old hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Soldiers of Christ Arise.” It was great fun to march around the sanctuary in Sunday school, but as a child I never gave a thought to the real spiritual warfare going on around us.

In recent times the conflict in the invisible realm has become more and more overt, spilling into our everyday lives in ways we cannot ignore.

In a spiritual battle there can be no conscientious objectors. We are either striving against the foe or we are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

It is time for each believer to don the armor of God and step into the field of combat.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.…

Ephesians 6:16-17 (Berean Study Bible)

If you are like me, conflict makes you uncomfortable. Christians are a people of peace, loving our neighbors and praying for our enemies. Enlisting in the Army of God doesn’t change that. We are being called to read and study the Bible, pray fervently for God’s perfect will to be done, and to support our brothers and sisters in Christ in every way we can.

We can go boldly into this fray, fearless because we follow a great leader.

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world

1 John 4:4 (New Living Translation)

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:31 (New International Version)

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