A Pandemic Invitation

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, "You are my God,"
My times are in Your hand...
Psalm 31:14-15a

How is everyone holding up through this COVID-19 pandemic?

We are doing well here in my corner of the world. Huddled at home but not in fear, enjoying one another and leaning in to God.

This same God, by the way, has faithfully met our needs thus far. Not all of our wants – we are all being required to let go of those these days, huh? But we do not lack anything we need. We have food, water, clothing, and yes, even toilet paper.

He has also supplied joy, peace, and patience as we are compelled to be together almost constantly under one roof, living a different life in April than we could have guessed at in our wildest imaginings at the beginning of March.

Yes, life is uncertain these days; yes, there are shortages; yes, there is a great deal of misinformation and disinformation circulating; and yes, there is a staggering amount we do not know about what will happen.

But allow me to ask a question: How is this different than any other day? Only in our awareness of it. We feel out of control, reeling with uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring.

The truth its, all that’s really been lost is the illusion of control.

Just because a new virus stalks the world does not change this fact, though it has enhanced it. You and I, we never had control over our lives. We simply were surrounded by so much routine, so much accessibility, and so many things obtainable that we weren’t aware of it.

Yet even a month ago when we could pick up toilet paper any day on our way home from work or school, we had no guarantees of arriving home. On any given day, a vehicle accident could rob us of life. Or our hearts could cease to function. Or we could break our necks tripping over stairs as we bring the toilet paper into the house. Or one of dozens of other “what ifs” could happen.

Over sixteen years ago, my life was altered by a virus. Not COVID-19 but viral meningitis landed me in the hospital and triggered a chronic headache condition accompanied by chronic fatigue. And yet, I still do not fear this new threat.

Why? Because I trust in the One who holds my times in His hands. The illusion of control had already been stripped from me only to be replaced by an experience of חֶסֶד (chesed); of the steadfast and unwavering love of the Lord God.

For over sixteen years, He has continually been showing me how good He is, how He can provide, how He does wonders even in the midst of unrelenting pain, how His strength is truly perfect in my overwhelming mental, physical, and emotional weakness.

I not only believe these things to be true, I have lived their truth. I know them like I know my way around my house.

Friend, if you are anxious or afraid, if you feel trapped in uncertainty or by addiction or sin, you don’t have to be. I invite you today to turn it all over to the One who holds our times in His powerful and unchanging hands.

He isn’t asking you to give up control but telling you He is the one who has control, not you.

He isn’t asking you to give up fun but ready to show you true joy and fun are not found in the sin which promises so much and yet produces only temporary pleasure at best, a permanent prison at worst.

He is here in this pandemic, waiting for You to accept the gift of salvation in the mighty Name of Jesus Christ who died to set you free from sin’s clutches.

In Him alone can you find freedom from fear, joy in His presence, pleasure forevermore.

You are invited, friend, but you have to decide: Cling to your illusions? Or trust in the One who made all things and in Whom all things hold together?

Walking With the Lord

How are you doing during this COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine?

I won’t lie – I’m enjoying it. We have all our teens here under one roof, I’m starting to finally catch up on a decades-long sleep deficit, and we are blessed with a large neighborhood to walk in full of all that is blooming and green.

But I know this isn’t easy for everyone. Not all of you are introverts or ambiverts content to have alone time. Not everyone enjoys their family. And many are stuck in apartments and flats far away from anything naturally green.

So let me know how you’re doing. Seriously.

As for me, I’m enjoying another chronological trip through the Word. I’ve been in 1 Samuel the last couple of days. Today what grabbed me was Samuel’s apparent integrity.

At the very beginning of his call to speak for the Lord, God called out to the boy in the quiet of the night and Samuel answered Him.

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

1 Samuel 3:10

It’s interesting to note in ancient Hebrew, the word translated “hears” could also be translated “one who hears,” making his reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is one who hears.”

The root of this Hebrew word is the same root in the beginning of the Shema where it is translated, “Hear!”

In both the Shema command for Israel to hear and Samuel’s reply that he hears, the word does not merely refer to the physical action of soundwaves starting a chain vibration through the eardrum, malleus, incus, and stapes into the cochlea and then to the vestibulocochlear nerve.

In both cases, there is an implication of hearing with an attitude of readiness for action to what was heard. So when Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears,” he meant something like, “I hear and obey.”

It’s my prayer that if God calls out to us during the relative quiet of quarantine, we will answer Him with ears to hear as well.

Fast forward to the time Samuel appointed Saul king over Israel.

“Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.”

1 Samuel 12:3-4

In this passage, Samuel is virtually handing off the government of the people to the newly appointed king. By her own request Israel is making the transition from theocracy to monarchy, and Samuel’s role is changing, too. Until this point, he had spoken for God directly to the people. He will now speak for God mostly to the king.

Wouldn’t it be something to be able to stand before a nation and ask them Samuel’s question only to have them answer with a testament to your faithfulness?

Again, I pray that the Lord will make us faithful in our integrity to others as Samuel was in his integrity before the people of Israel in the days before the first king.

Now if only the people of God kept a familiarity with the Scriptures, they would’ve known the standard their new king should be held to (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Hmm… seems there may be a lesson and a prayer for us in there, too…

Foreign Gods

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him.

Judges 10:6

As I read through Joshua and now Judges, I can’t ignore the similarities between ancient Israel and the Christian church of today. Despite repeated promises and emotional swearing of fealty prompted by displays of glory or power, the Nation also repeatedly forgot the Lord.

In Numbers and Deuteronomy, God commanded Israel to drive out all the people in the Land He would give them. However, He also let them know they would fail to do it and that the gods of those nations would become a snare to them.

Then in Joshua, we read here and there of groups of people Israel didn’t quite dislodge. The idea behind today’s verse from Judges 10 is repeated multiple times throughout this book. Basically, the people turned from serving the Lord to serving the gods of the people they had failed to drive out of their land.

Of course, we don’t serve those gods today. We’re far more advanced.

Today, we serve the gods of career and of Netflix, the gods of entertainment and of comfort, and the gods of the people around us – the gods of culturally-defined morality and worldly sexual ethics which have nothing to do with the Lord. Today, we serve the bloated and demanding god of self most of all.

Even the church, though she bears the name of Christ in her Christianity, serves these gods. As Christians, we fail to drive the world out of our sacred places and so we let the world’s gods take over.

We’re afraid to stand out, so we don’t. We don’t really believe that a focus on Scripture alone is enough, so we add entertainment. I have to wonder if those ancient Caananite gods were more entertaining than the scrolls of Moses…

Israel was proud of being a free people, set free from bondage to Egypt. Yet they quickly bound themselves up in sin, ignoring the One who set them free for the pop-culture statues and rituals around them.

We say we believe in Jesus and are thankful for what He did for us, dying to save us from sin. Yet we do not behave like thankful people who have been set free. We continue to act like slaves to sin; saying one thing but doing another.

Oh people, we are no different than our ancient fathers.

Lord, forgive us! Lord save us from our weak wills and from our compromises with sin! Turn our hearts fully to You today. May we be repulsed by the very sins we now embrace, ashamed of the things we once did as we choose to obey, to read Your Word and know You more. Help us to walk in Your ways and enjoy the joy of Your presence now and forevermore, amen.

Rest

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

Did you know the Sabbath is mentioned in 36 different verses in the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) alone?

Besides those, 20 additional verses do not expressly use the term Sabbath but speak of a seventh day of rest, making an average of 11 mentions per book. In a written tradition using repetition for emphasis, this commandment is underscored with greater intensity than the one prohibiting murder.

Let that sink in a moment.

On this year’s trip through the Bible, I’ve been drawn to the numerable mentions of Sabbath and have been prayerfully meditating on why. By God’s grace, I think I’m beginning to see glimpses of a few reasons.

There’s too much for a blog post, really, but I wanted to look at one facet: Have you ever wondered why God would command us to rest when rest is not only something we all need, but also a wonderful gift?

I think in part, this is so we would see the rebelliousness of our own stubborn hearts.

Sabbath – one day in every 7 to rest – is really an enormous benefit to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But of course, we humans have an incorrigible contrariness about us when it comes to God and His commands. We tend to want to do things our way, decide we know what’s best – even decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

And we’ve decided Sabbath isn’t all that important. Especially today in our 24/7, fast-paced world, rest is something we would much rather complain we can’t find. A glance at the mental health statistics in my country suggests how well this is working for us.

Maybe that’s what is going on now with COVID-19. Maybe, just maybe, this is a kind of Sabbath thrust upon a people who refused it otherwise.

In America, we often talk about how busy we are, how we never have time to stop. Some of us even claim we find it a struggle to read our Bibles every day.

Well now we have time. What are we going to do with it?

Isaiah advises:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 58:13-14

What if we rested? Physically, yes, but also embracing the full idea of Sabbath as God meant it to be. Keeping it holy. Dedicating it to Him. Taking delight in Him, in His Word, in worship of Him.

What if we took this time – these next few days or weeks or whatever it turns out to be – and really dove in deep to Bible study, to prayer, to searching our hearts, and repenting of sin?

What if we really pondered the Word of God and spent time talking through it with its Author?

What if we pressed into obedience and taking every thought captive to obey Christ and honestly loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds?

What if we did this openly with our families, praying together, reading together, talking about the greatness of God together?

What kind of peace and joy might that bring?

This time of quarantine and social distancing could be lonely, frightening, and difficult. Or it could be the greatest blessing we’ve ever received.

So? What are you going to do with it?

Semi-Quarantine Musings

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:8-9

This was among the first passages of Scripture I memorized with my kids back in our homeschooling days.

Today after an incredibly appropriate virtual church service, I watched the kids belonging to a friend and her worship team. While I had this captive, non-teenage audience, I had a little Q and A time with them concerning Moses and Joshua. I briefly told them about when Joshua began to lead Israel following Moses’s death, and I tried to quote this memory verse.

It seems Ms. Heather needs to get back into practicing her memory work. The old memory just doesn’t work so well these days.

Anyway, I’m sure the words were comforting to Joshua when the Lord spoke them to him. They can be equally comforting to us today.

Who knows what the future holds? Some schools are closed, some are not. The grocery store shelves are barren of toilet paper and other random items. Major league sports teams have called off upcoming games. People are scared.

But you know what? God saw this coming. As a matter of fact, there’s a bit of ironic proof it you want to go back and click on the link above to hear the message my family listened to this morning!

If we belong to the Lord, there is nothing to fear. This could be a good time – a very good time – for us to lay down all our frantic distractions and listen to Him.

I can’t help but note that when He assured Joshua of His presence before he went in to take the Promised Land, He also reminded the man to continually meditate on the Book of the Law and be careful to do it.

We have that Book of the Law and so much more; we have the full counsel of the Word of God within arm’s reach in paper or in digital form. We even have a luxury Joshua would have lacked – our choice of translation.

Folks, we don’t have to learn ancient Hebrew to read it (although there’s a much greater depth to it in Hebrew than English can fully capture). We don’t even have to read it at all. We can open the Bible app and have a stranger read it to us. We have no real excuses!

Let’s take this time as a gift – an enforced Sabbath for all the decades and decades of Sabbaths we’ve ignored – and spend more time in the Word.

I know this gal is going to spend a bit more time meditating on it than I have in recent years. The shocking failure of my memory today served to bring that neglected area to the forefront of my attention.

I can’t wait to see what else God brings to mind in the days and weeks to come. I’m sure He’ll reveal other areas where I need to be more faithful or where I need to repent and obey.

I don’t think it will be easy. But I know God and whatever He does, I know it will be good.

And I know there’s no reason to be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go – even if I go nowhere.

If you don’t have that assurance, get into His word and do business with Him today. Why wait? With no sports to distract you and fewer excuses than ever before, take this gift of time and get serious about eternal matters.

I’ll look forward to hearing your stories of how God used the coronavirus pandemic for His glory, whether you choose to share them here or we talk them over in eternity. But don’t delay. Let’s get serious about God and see how seriously good the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really is.

While you’re meditating on His Word, get outside and explore the world He’s created. You may find some of His fingerprints along the way.

PS – The photo is not a virus, nor is it an alien seed like I told the kids, but it is a fungus. I found it today while walking around my back yard with a one-year-old watching his older friends running and playing. Curious about it? Check out Detective Gluck’s blog post to learn more!

When God Speaks

Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

Numbers 17:11

One complaint I’ve heard among unbelievers – including yours truly in the years before God got through to my stubborn heart -is that prayer doesn’t “work.”

I confess I only have my own pre-Christ experience to draw from when I’m breaking that phrase apart. However, what I meant at the time (and what I think most unbelievers mean today) is that their prayers do not achieve the results they want.

Of course, if every prayer whispered or shouted resulted in a concrete and predictable outcome, prayer would merely be the coinage for the vending machine on high. But that’s a rant for another day, perhaps.

My prayer habits after nearly two decades of following Christ are markedly different then the demands I haughtily tossed at the Most High back in my arrogant youth. During those days, I evidently thought that I, the creation, had some inalienable right to order my Creator around. Talk about role reversal!

It can be argued that Moses made his share of bold and unseemly comments and requests. Especially for a person who had witnessed several mind-boggling displays of power, the guy had a bit of steel in him when it came to talking with the Lord of Hosts.

If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.

Numbers 11:15

Read Exodus and Numbers. There are plenty more. The intriguing thing is, despite Moses’s alarming audacity, God grants a great many of his petitions!

For me on this, my anybody’s-guessth time through the Bible, a refrain of sorts has captured my attention. It always begins with, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” and often ends with a variation on, “…Moses did as the Lord commanded him.”

Another way of putting it is the book is full of God’s instruction and Moses’ obedience.

When I think about it in these terms, what I called “prayer” in my unbelieving days – those imperious attempts at imposing my will upon God’s – were highly ignorable. Not because they were bold or demanding, but because there wasn’t a single atom of obedience tied up in them.

Though his start may have been a trifle reluctant, Moses did spend a good portion of his life obeying God. Even then, his disobedience was addressed and dealt with by God. Sin is always serious even if it is seldom.

So when the Lord speaks to us, do we listen and obey? Or are we more apt to filter the words of God, discarding the uncomfortable bits and keeping only the attractive and cozy ones?

If as the Lord commanded does not often appear in the refrain of our lives, why would we expect any of our requests to be granted? And if we aren’t hearing from the Lord at all, we might want to check our obedience and cooperation levels as well.

He is, after all, God. King.Creator. Above all things, He is to be reverenced and obeyed.

Secretarial Duties, Leviticus, NYC, and Sabbath

You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD… Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
(Leviticus 19:30, 20:7-8)

Hi. It’s been a bit since I’ve written, I know. My plan was to pour all my writing effort into a book I need to finish, and so I signed off around the middle of January while in the middle of a blog writing respite.

But of course, my plans and God’s plans differ from time to time. When they do, experience has taught me it’s wiser, safer, and saner to leave my plans where they fall and follow His way.

So the last few weeks, I’ve been filling in for the lady who works the front desk at my girls’ school while she recovered from surgery. This made the first full-time job (outside the home, anyway) since the birth of our now-19-year-old son.

It was terrific fun. I love the kids at the school; loved getting to know them better, loved working with the staff, loved being there.

Still, I’ll be glad to get down to business in March and finish the book. I hope to write some short posts here, too – one a week or so. But today is just a quick check-in; a hello, still alive, before I head up to NYC with the 10th grade class.

I’d like to take this little check-in moment to fill you in on my year so far. Our church is reading through the Bible chronologically this year, and I am loving it. Many days, I’ve both read and listened to the day’s selections – an exercise which seems to press the Word into my conciousness a little more deeply.

While this is not my first time through the Word chronologically, it may as well be. That’s what I love about the Bible. I can read it over and over and over again, and there’s always some new nuance or some truth I’d previously overlooked before to greet me. It has a quality of being at once both comfortably familiar and startlingly novel that I adore.

In the last week or so, two things have been impressed on my mind.

Well, let’s be honest. There have been so many more, but to keep this brief-ish, I’m choosing to focus on two…

Foremost is Sabbath. I hope to write more about this soon, but for now let’s just say I have been astonished at how much coverage Sabbath gets in the first 3 books of the Bible.

By the time you reach the point I’m at now – Numbers 6 – you’ll have read a reference to the Sabbath or the seventh day 79 times. Sabbath is also the only one of the Ten Commandments predating the Mosaic covenant.

Hmm. Maybe it’s important.

The other is a fun fact I learned just this morning. Out of curiosity, I counted and discovered the phrase, “I am the Lord,” is repeated in Leviticus 52 times.

I firmly believe the refrain exists because we need a continual reminder that GOD is God and we are not.

What are the implications of these two small truths? Profound. Enough to prayerfully consider for the next few days.

Lord, change us and teach us that You alone are God. Show us how to live like it each and every day, amen.