So, Just “Who is My Neighbor?

We live in a divided nation. I’m from the United States, and realize I also live in a world where various nations are at odds with each other. But one thing we should agree on is that even one critical illness or death from a world pandemic is a tragedy. Maybe not to us, but to someone.

The schoolteacher from a small town in France, the accountant for a big city law firm, the coach for your college’s football team, or the writer at Hallmark Greetings who created the message in that birthday card you sent to your friend. They all love the people close to them as much as we love the people close to us.

What if the death from COVID-19 is your family member; the person who sits in the next cubicle at work; your hair stylist or barber; your friend of 20 years; the person who always sits in the seat next to you at church; the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Deaths from this pandemic will be personal and a cause of grief to us. Deaths from this pandemic will also be personal to someone you’ll never meet.

So why even discuss ‘inflated numbers?’ Why criticize and alienate people using an argument you found on social media? (This one included.) Why fall into the trap of making it all about politics? A human being isn’t defined as a number, or explained away with an argument, or solely identified by a political party.

We’re defined by our humanity.

These are weird and challenging times for us. Even if we haven’t lost our jobs. Even if we got tested and the test was negative for the virus. Even if before all this madness we stayed home most of the time anyway. And they’re weird times whether we’re old or young, male or female, religious or not religious, employed or not employed, sick or well, prominent in our community or only counted because we took a census.

I have opinions and I’ve stupidly—and regrettably—expressed some of them. However, now it’s time for me to keep in mind a few things I believe are true: Patience is better than ‘tolerance.’ Silence is (sometimes) better than speaking. Being kind is better than being right.

With that in mind, I hope I can, as I always say, “be a blessing to someone today.”

Father in heaven, we thank you for your grace to us no matter how we see our current circumstances and how we respond. Help us to see that people all over the world are affected by the same things we go through. Remind us every day that you love them too. Most importantly, keep us safe and secure in the knowledge that you are in control. Amen.

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

16 Questions to Ask a Friend

The Bible teaches us that friendship is almost like lifeblood.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

When we have close friends around us, our burdens are lighter because they have our back. They support us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sometimes we find it difficult to make friends because we’ve been hurt. But we can rely on some simple tips to make friends and stay somewhat safe. We start slowly. Even small talk can help. While some of us eschew it, finding out the ways that people relate in those initial conversations helps us to move on to more intimacy.

The graphic here has some fun questions to ask to get acquainted. Naturally, we don’t want to use it as a template as if we’re interviewing someone for the job of friend. But the questions can spark fun conversations with unexpected ventures into your own desires. When you ask questions like these, you find out how you and the other person ticks.

Not every person we come in contact with becomes a close friend. Some will remain simple acquaintances. That’s okay. A friend of mine referred to a few of the people at church as “Hello Friends.” She had the type of relationship with them that, while not intimate, was pleasant to have nonetheless.

A goal of mine this year is to make a new friend with at least three women at my church who have been only “Hello Friends.” They’re people I’d like to get to know better. Kathy and I have talked about trying out a restaurant we’ve never been to so we can get better acquainted. She seems like a fun person, someone who can help me understand more about God. Or at least challenge my thinking.

She may or may not become a close friend, but I have the feeling she’s the type of person, along with her husband, Larry, who would have my back if I needed that. Besides, I’d sort of like to know what kind of dinosaur she’d choose to be.

Maggie and I have become Movie Buddies and we usually like the same type of movie. She also is keen to watch the credits with me. Not many people are that patient to indulge me, but since we watched several of the Marvel superhero movies together, it always paid off.

Friendships within the Body of Christ will be some of the ones we treasure most.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Have a fun time with a new acquaintance or a longtime friend. See what happens. While you’re at it, spur that person on, encouraging them like you would your children. Meet together often and don’t let your relationships drift.

You know what? God also enjoys the conversations with him that we set into our busy day. He’s the best Friend you could ever have. He always has your back.

Father, guide us to people who, like you, can teach us more about ourselves. Help us to understand the value of friendship. Holy Spirit, we welcome you as the link between us and God. We ask you to link us to the people God wants us to connect with in our walk here on Earth. Thank you for being everything you are and for being the best Friend we have. Amen.

Worshiping in the Time of a Pandemic

“And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come up against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles 20:21-22 ESV).

King Jehoshaphat believed God when he said, “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Like him, when we see a battle before us, praise and worship come before action.

During these times of uncertainty and isolation, I like to remember the attributes and character of God. He is

  • Sovereign
  • Mighty
  • Faithful
  • Eternal
  • Active in the world
  • Loving
  • All-knowing

God isn’t surprised at what’s happening. He didn’t create the situation, but he’s allowing it. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t punishment for sin; it’s another indication that all creation “waits with eager longing” for the fulfillment of his promises (Romans 8: 18-23).

Our responses should be with the wisdom expressed by C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory.” (Where you see the word ‘war’ read ‘pandemic.’)

“I think it is important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.” (Learning in Wartime)

Or, as the late Paul Harvey continually reminded us, “In times like these, it is always helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.”

People are saying, “We’re in this together.” Because of our trust in a faithful God, we know for certain that he is with us as well. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Each of us will find ways to get through the confusion, aggravation, and unsettled feelings as the result of self isolation, an uncertain economy, and death. But God expects us to enter the battlefield and face the trouble. He goes before us and protects us. Let your weapons be songs of praise.

God and Father, you are our refuge and our shield. Give us wisdom to do your will. Help us to not be afraid or be reduced by anxiety. Our eyes are on you. Amen.

It Really IS All About Love

But Jesus says to us…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends.” ~ from the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:43-47

Jesus was teaching in this sermon not just how to treat others. I believe He was trying to get the message across that we are all loved by God, who created us all in His image. He recognizes evil. Nevertheless, He provides for us all.

I like to look a little further than what seems obvious because of what I’ve read in a Bible study or heard preached from a pulpit. The Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised, will teach us all things and remind us of what He has said.

How do you often see a little deeper than the obvious? In your experience, what passages of scripture lend themselves to this? Do you “read the white part?”

Be a blessing to someone today.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

What Do We Have To Sing About?

Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.

We worship him for who he is and praise him for what he does.

Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.

Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.

Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.

Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.

Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.

Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.

The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.

Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.

Love We sing about God’s love for us and we sing about our love for him. The former is praise, the latter is worship.

Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.

We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.

So lift it up in worship. Bless His holy name.

“Fruit Flies in Our Faith” a Review

Fruit Flies in Our Faith by Annie Paden; Angel Faith Publishing; copyright 2018; 188 pp.

 Through a look at the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, Annie Paden teaches how to both nurture and share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Her premise is simple: we all need a close relationship with God to let the Spirit work in us to develop the fruit. We, however, will resist the teaching or experience trouble, which distracts us.

Through personal stories and opportunities to reflect on our lives, the author shows us how we can better see what God has in store for us as we grow in grace. The persistent and pesky “fruit flies” will submit to pest control when we submit to the leadings of the Spirit.

Each chapter describes the various aspects of one fruit, helping us to understand how God will use it and refine it in us. She starts with an anecdote related to, for instance, kindness. She leads us into “Nurturing Fruit,” with examples of ways to grow by applying what God is saying to us.

In the “Sharing Fruit” section of each chapter, Annie’s ideas for working with others describe ways to put feet on our faith. They’re simple ideas that anyone can carry out. In each section, she supports her ideas with scripture.

Finally, each chapter includes questions for reflection and study.

Fruit Flies in Our Faith is targeted to women and both new believers and mature believers can find support and maybe even new ideas for growth. I think she does a good job of encouraging women in a way that’s relatable. Used as a study guide, it could provide an opportunity for a group of women to honestly share the challenges, struggles, and joys of producing fruit.

4 of 5 stars

This review was requested by the author in exchange for a contributor copy.

Doxology = Praise

Praise God

from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him,

all creatures here below.

Praise Him,

all you heavenly hosts.

Praise Father,

Son,

and Holy Ghost.

Amen

The word “doxology” has roots in the Greek language. Doxo, meaning opinion or glory and logia, meaning oral or written communication. It follows that anything calling itself a doxology would mean praise.

Growing up in church, I sang this ‘song’ with everyone, usually prior to the sermon. I had no idea what praise to God meant. I do now. The song isn’t sung at the church I now attend, but I don’t hold ill feelings about that or expect my church to implement the practice. Gratitude to God is encouraged through other means.

I wrote out the lyrics to this particular doxology not only because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I chose to write them in that fashion because seeing then this way forces me look at the phrasing more carefully. As with many songs with which we become familiar, the meaning can get lost in that familiarity.

To me, prayer itself is a form or worship. Beginning a prayer glorifying God and with expressions of praise is how I most enjoy hearing prayer. I may start conversations with God by asking questions or expressing frustration, but eventually, I get to the part where I recognize his wonder and thank him for how he works in my life.

Sometimes, I even sing the words.

Father, I’m grateful for a God who is who he is and, surely, “I AM” is how you define yourself. When I know “who” you are, I’m more likely to give praise to you. Help me to always, in addition to my questions, requests, and emotional expressions based on difficult circumstances, be aware enough to show the gratitude you’ve taught me is necessary for a fruitful life. Amen

16 Questions to Ask a Friend

The Bible teaches us that friendship is almost like lifeblood.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

When we have close friends around us, our burdens are lighter because they have our back. They support us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sometimes we find it difficult to make friends because we’ve been hurt. But we can rely on some simple tips to make friends and stay somewhat safe. We start slowly. Even small talk can help. While some of us eschew it, finding out the ways that people relate in those initial conversations helps us to move on to more intimacy.

The graphic here has some fun questions to ask to get acquainted. Naturally, we don’t want to use it as a template as if we’re interviewing someone for the job of friend. But the questions can spark fun conversations with unexpected ventures into your own desires. When you ask questions like these, you find out how you and the other person “ticks.”

Not every person we come in contact with becomes a close friend. Some will remain simple acquaintances. That’s okay. A friend of mine referred to a few of the people at church as “Hello Friends.” She had the type of relationship with them that, while not intimate, was pleasant to have nonetheless.

A goal of mine this year is to make a new friend with at least three women at my church who have been only “Hello Friends.” They’re people I’d like to get to know better. Kathy and I are planning to have lunch next month so we can get better acquainted. She seems like a fun person, someone who can help me understand more about God, and help me when I have questions about faithfulness in marriage.

She may or may not become a close friend, but I have the feeling she’s the type of person, along with her husband, Larry, who would have my back if I needed that. Besides, I’d sort of like to know what kind of dinosaur she’d choose to be.

Friendships within the Body of Christ will be some of the ones we treasure most.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Have a fun time with a new acquaintance or a longtime friend. See what happens. While you’re at it, spur that person on, encouraging them like you would your children. Meet together often and don’t let your relationships drift.

You know what? God also enjoys the conversations with him that we set into our busy day. He’s the best Friend you could ever have. He always has your back.

Father, guide us to people who, like you, can teach us more about ourselves. Help us to understand the value of friendship. Holy Spirit, we welcome you as the link between us and God. We ask you to link us to the people God wants us to connect with in our walk here on Earth. Thank you for being everything you are and for being the best Friend we have. Amen.