Social Distancing and Loving Your Neighbor

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.  -Colossians  3:12-14 (Phillips)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the new Christians at Colossae a town in what is now Turkey. He urged them to live out their beliefs as they interacted with those around them.

I taught a class on the Sociology of Religion this past summer. We read about one of the reasons why Christianity spread so effectively through the ancient world. These early believers lived out their faith. They helped others who were in difficulty. They cared for the sick, dying and aged. They loved their enemies.

Remember, the ancient world didn’t have a faceless state to take care of it’s citizens. No Social Security Administration, Obamacare or Medicaid. If the plague came to your house, tough luck.

The plague has now come to our world. It’s an opportunity, in the midst of fear and panic, for people of faith to put their money where their mouth is. Is your Christian faith a hobby or a way of living?

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho

To remain healthy and keep this plague from spreading one thing we must do is keep our distance from others, especially in large numbers.

To keep others feeling safe and secure, loved and accepted, heard and connected, we must find ways to shorten the distance between us. Replace all the idle fear chatter with some concrete ways to reach out and draw near to those who need it most.

Now is a time to be thankful for all this technology at our fingertips. Talk on the phone more, text often, send an email to as many people as you can think of. Especially be conscious of older people you know, people who are feeling marginalized.

“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.” ― Golda Meir

Help people who are suffering in all sorts of ways to bear it:

  • Pray for peace, a good night’s sleep and protection
  • Make more frequent contacts
  • Share some extra toilet paper??
  • Send a card in the mail
  • Send some groceries to an older person

You’ve probably already thought of dozens of better ideas. Do something right now to help make someone else’s world a better place. Tie that golden chain around someone else.

“When there is a crisis, let your heart pray, but let your hands work.” ― John Kramer

 

Learning to Fly

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up (Learning to fly)
Must come down

I’m learning to fly (Learning to fly)
But I ain’t got wings

– Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  – Romans 12:2 (The Voice)

I get to keep my grandson this weekend. It’s one of those rare treats that don’t come along often enough. He just turned two. Every time I see him he seems to have changed. He’s literally growing up right before my eyes.

Every now and then I see a former student of mine. It seems like I’m stuck in time, they always look so grown up. These college graduates have launched themselves into careers, families and difficult but bright futures.

My peers at my church Bible Study all have grown up children. I’ve gotten to watch them move through school, off to college and now entering into the world of work. What’s always remarkable to me is the tremendous change that always takes place in the lives of these young people. They each become their own marvelous version of an adult right before our eyes.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

I must confess, when I do run across former students or people from the past, I’m not sure there’s always much change in my own life that’s evident. I look back over years of journals I keep and, sad to say, there’s not much progress. I’m too often writing the same lyric over and over. You know what that’s like, being stuck in the car for a too long road trip with only one tune on the radio?

But, keeping track of myself by writing it all down, does help tremendously. I am able to see patterns that all too often lead to ruts in the road. There are also breakthroughs that demonstrate, little by little I really am making forward progress in the process of transformation.

“Either your purpose is running your show or your process is.” ― Jim Lawless

What about you? What transformation is taking place in your life? Is it intentional? My grandson is really working on learning words because he wants to be more specific with his important constant stream of requests.

When all of us get to a certain age, we tend to sit back and just let things happen. Until an emergency knocks us off our groove. But you don’t have to wait for a crash to start moving out of the lane you’re in right now.

“If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself – would you have any friends left?” ― Jim Lawless

  • Keep a journal each day and reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going
  • Easier to do if you get in the habit of self-talk, while you’re alone in the car, waiting in line, sitting by yourself for a few minutes
  • Self-talk is much more constructive if you turn it into prayer

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ongoing internal conversation can help to raise your awareness of both external and internal reality. This practice builds your connection between who you are and how you are transforming. Regularly let someone in to listen so that you can remain grounded in social reality as well. Transformation isn’t a solitary experience.

Becoming more self-aware is usually the first step in transformation.  The next step is to start making some realistic goals. Find some more ways to love, that’s always going to be the right move.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo Coelho

Someone Out There Needs You

There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.   – G. K. Chesterton

This is a photo of an event that took place in 1989 that became known as The Baltic Way. Two million people, across three countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), joined hands to protest their subjugation to the Soviet Union.

It’s always amazing when we see people come together en masse to accomplish something great. I think it’s also incredible when we as individuals come alongside others every single day and keep someone’s head above the waves.  There is someone near you right now who needs you. Maybe it’s something as simple as a smile.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t you already know the people in your life who need you? A child, a spouse, a dear friend, a partner-in-crime?

There may be people out there who need you every now and then (and then they really do!).

What about people in your life who don’t realize (yet) their need for you (or anyone else)? You’re not one of these kind of people are you?

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

Of course you old folks out there are familiar with Barbara Streisand’s version of People Who Need People -but Shirley Bassey had a version too. Remember Bassey? The only singer to to three James Bond theme songs. Can you name all three?

The apostle Peter wrote to the emerging Christian church these words:

Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults.  (1 Peter 4:8, The Voice)

Do you see the important instructions here?

  1. He has shared a lot of wise counsel, but tells them, “most of all” to love each other. Can you think of anything better to do when you are living, working and sharing with others?
  2. Don’t love just on Valentine’s Day, do it steadily, because doing it that way keeps our relationships moving more securely and in staying in balance. Be someone who is a constant and consistent presence to others.
  3. Don’t look for anything in return – be unselfish in your giving of love, which means the giving of yourself, which means time, attention, resources. If you don’t take people seriously they can tell, they then get the message that you don’t really love them (only in word not in deed, 1 John 3:18)
  4. You’re going to make all kinds of mistakes if you live with people. I know I do, every single day! But if I just demonstrate love it tends to cover over all the failure. If you’ve ever baked a cake and part of it sticks to the pan, you know you can overcome those holes by using extra icing.

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” ― M. Scott Peck

What’s your advice about helping others? Post a reply. It will help me!

Another Day To Be In Love

“We don’t need love to be eternal, only to be in our lives here and now.” ― Marty Rubin

One more day to lay in that bed and suffer in silence

One more day to watch from the fog as your world passes by

One more day to see the long train of visitors pass by, unable to express your heart

One more day to sleep alone in a different place, in a new darkness, while your mind slips out the door a little more each night

One more day to be tossed and turned by strangers, no more humiliation left to bear

One more day to see history pass by, a photo at a time and try to remember when you were once so happy

One more day to hear and see from a distance in the shadows

But one more day to be loved by so many

One more day to be the center of the universe

One more day to draw attention away from so much pettiness toward the things that really do matter when all is said and done

One more day to make sacrifice the only option and only tribute

One more day to remind each one of us of what we know in our hearts that all our hope longs for – that eternal home on the other shore

One more day to come awake and in so doing awaken in each one of us one more chance to live transformed

One more day to see what the Kingdom really looks like here and now

 

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  – 1 John 4:12

Ready to Listen

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. (John 16:12)

Jesus said this to His disciples as He was preparing them for the end. His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection were coming next. Events they were completely unprepared for.

When I read this short sentence this past week I stopped in my tracks.

When I am reading my Bible, especially the words of Jesus (in red), I am looking for a message, something I need to hear right now. I always want to be careful and not end up talking to myself, hearing what I want to hear. I want to learn more and more to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me as I read, be still, and listen (John 16:13).

So, when I read this sentence I stopped and had to think and pray about what it meant. I had read this larger story many, many times before. This time, the sentence jumped out for several reasons.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.

  1. What if this is still true about the way God relates to his followers today? Does He still want to communicate and tell me things? Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice…” (John 10:27). He is like a shepherd guiding, guarding and caring for his flock (us).
  2. What if God’s message to me is waiting for me to get caught up? What if I’m not ready? What if He’s waiting on me, not the other way around? “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
  3. What if God is preparing me in so many ways as I follow Him (stumbling and bumbling), to be able to hear even more from Him? What if He has a message like this one Jesus gave to His disciples for me? What if my Heavenly Father has much more that He wants to tell me? “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God isn’t holding back his love, grace and knowledge from me, he’s caring for me and telling me exactly what I’m ready to hear.

What I learned this week from this single sentence is that God has heavenly things to share with me but that his revelation is always measured by his care for me.

So many wonderful things to hear and learn as I walk every day in friendship with Jesus. That relationship is the source of revelation for me and all of us.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ― Henri Nouwen

I Am Willing

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.   (Mark 1:40-42 NLT)

Is that the way you imagine God responding to your pleas for help? Has that been your experience so far? Reaching out to God and hearing Him say to you,

“I am willing”

What about becoming a child of that same God and responding to the pleas that you surely hear all around you in this same way?

What if instead of saying…

…I’m not sure I have time

…I can’t solve that particular problem

…I shouldn’t get into your business like that

…I don’t really know you that well

What if instead of saying what comes to mind first, what makes sense, what is safest, we let God’s Spirit within us speak. What if we listened first to that still, small voice. What if the Spirit desired to say through you to someone else, “I am willing”?

Who knows where the time, resources or emotional courage will come from, but I’m going to follow the Spirit here – and have faith that whatever is needed, He will supply.

In this story of Jesus healing a leper (the type of social outcast who probably suffered more than any other) He not only declares His willingness to change the man’s life forever, he demonstrated to everyone looking how willing He really was. Jesus reached out and touched the leper. This was illegal and would make Jesus unclean as well. But Jesus was willing…to break the rules.

Jesus touches the man first. Who knows when this outcast had ever been touched before. Now, in front of everyone who normally looked away, Jesus reached out and touched him. What do you imagine he must have felt? What must the gathered crowd have thought? Jesus was willing…to demonstrate how deeply God loved His children. 

There were several works of healing that took place that day. The leper was made physically well. His place in society was restored (Jesus commanded him to follow the rules about being declared healed). As important as anything else, he was healed as a person – his worth was acknowledge by the Son of God in front of everyone. Jesus was willing…to reach out and heal the inner wounds that mattered as much. 

These days I keep going back to that command from Paul to the church in Galatia…

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2)

Over the past several years, I’ve had so many people demonstrate “I am willing” as they’ve helped me carry burdens right and left. For me, all these loved one’s have demonstrated the law of Christ – they have loved God and loved me, not with words but with their actions. Not an idea, but a certainty.

That kind of love makes it easy to say over and over again, “I am willing.”

In All Circumstances

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
– I Thessalonians 5:18

No matter what happens to you, God’s desire is for you to search for the truth, for everything and anything that deserves thanks. When we belong to Christ, we live a different kind of life. We live a redeemed life that can see beyond the horizon and into a future of hope and promise. This shapes our perspective. It enables us to see much more than immediate threats and lonely burdens. When we belong to Christ we know that we are never alone and that the here and now lasts but a moment.

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”
― John Henry Jowett

It’s easy to say thanks for all the obvious blessings. Now, spend a season of time finding a way to give thanks for the trials, deserts and mean people that have come into your life. Don’t do what comes natural. Do what comes because you are living a supernatural life!

“…love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

The message of Paul to the Thessalonians isn’t to look for the good things in your life and say thanks. That’s easy. Even pagans can pull that off. Paul is teaching that there is a blessing to be found in every page of your story. Search for the work of God throughout your life. The lesson here is to begin and never stop the practice of speaking thanksgiving every single day.

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

Be Inspired

image

Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors. – Proverbs 8:34

 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. – 1 John 3:1

 

Till men have faith in Christ, their best services are but glorious sins. – Thomas Brooks

 

…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries… – Daniel 2:28

 

Since He hath looked upon me my heart is not my own. He hath run away to heaven with it. – Samuel Rutherford

 

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how your remember it. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

 

You will be dead as long as you refuse to die. – George MacDonald

 

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the [a]Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. – Matthew 27:27-31

 

 

The Everlasting Arms

child-walking-with-father

 

I think Christianity has little value in the here and now if people cannot see a high degree of interdependence among believers. Our faith, put into practice, is a story of strangers made into blood family holding on to one another, experiencing dear life. This is one of the important ways that we come to experience the everlasting arms of God.

“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” – Deuteronomy 33:27

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

What a fellowship, what a joy devine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlastings arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

In these days as you look around, it is the frail and the sick who seem to do most of the leaning. They bend over walkers and shuffle along, uncertain about each step. A steady arm is necessary and urgent. Unfortunately, needing to lean is often defined as a sign of weakness. It reminds us that we are fading.

Being strong, independent and full of life means we aren’t supposed to be leaning. Right?

And yet…just a few steps into this world and we soon come to realize that we are alone, there is always a storm coming and the dark night is all around. Leaning can be a very important survival skill. We do it all the time. Mostly without realizing it, from asking strangers for directions to depending upon our parents to teach us about life.

To be human is to lean.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

THE LAW OF CHRIST: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

All of us need to lean on other people. This is not a sign of weakness or of failure. Learning to lean upon others is a way of putting our faith into practice. It allows us to see firsthand how dependent we really are and to be reminded of God’s constant care for us. As we make ourselves more available to others when they need someone to lean upon, we are putting the essential command of our faith into practice. If we cannot lean, cannot find anyone to lean upon nor make ourselves unavailable to be leaned upon then what does Christianity mean to a watching world?

The everlasting arms of God sometimes appear so unexpectedly. A miracle to our veiled sight. A stranger’s offer of help, a decision that was supposed to go the other way, or a chain of events that fell right into place despite all of your worry. While we are to do the work of God here on earth, becoming his hands and feet, don’t stop believing in the mysteries of his divine moving in the dark shadows of your life. He is “…always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

Who do you have to lean upon?

Who needs to lean on you?

 

Where Else To Go?

alone

Sometimes, there aren’t any answers. Other times, the way forward seems covered in mist and shadow. I don’t think you ever get too old to feel lost and afraid. There are always quick fixes, easy answers, rational calculations… and then, one day, the ultimate solution is staring you in the face…

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”   – John 6:66-69

Jesus starts some heavy lessons. He’s not a carnival sideshow. He’s not going to raise up an army and deliver from the Romans. He’s talking about death, blood and sacrifice. It’s just too much, too deep, not what most wanted to hear. They turned and looked for an easier road, one that better fit their expectations. As the crowds of followers started to thin out, Jesus turns to his own trusty men and asks, now that you’ve started to hear more of the truth, are you ready to jump ship too?

One day you have to get to the end.
One day you have to see for the first time.
One day you have to speak the truth, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Fear and suffering drive you into the dark or face to face with your faith.

Peter replies to Jesus, where else are we going to go? What you have been telling us is the eternal truth. Everywhere else is only shadows. And surely in those shadow we will only find more fear and suffering.

Here is where Peter makes his great confession: The reason that your words are eternal is because You are the Savior.

There is a great confession that you and I must make as well. One that we must make to ourselves again and again…

  1. There isn’t any where else that I can go to find peace, truth and love.
  2. The words that the Savior spoke are true, the promises that he made are sure, the love that he demonstrated and is even now demonstrating is eternal.
  3. These two points are absolute and more certain than the next sunrise because he is the Son of God.

When you determine to believe this confession, the path before you is lit with hope, your suffering becomes light and you know that you are not alone – you never were.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” (Lemmel)

His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature… – 2 Peter 1:3