Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”


An author friend of mine from California writes great blog posts about hope. I swapped with her this week since we both share our findings of hope in our world from opposite places in the nation. I pray you’re blessed by her wonderful post this week. You can read more of her posts, and see mine this week on her site at www.carolshope.com.

Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”

By Carol Nicolet Loewen

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her succession, Queen Elizabeth II referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis,” a horrible year. Many of us would say the same of 2020.

Our country is in the midst of an ever-expanding pandemic as we wait and pray for an effective vaccine. We have isolated, masked, attended church, family, and business meetings on Zoom. We are hitting new highs for COVID-19 hospitalizations and are cautioned against being together with family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa holidays. Fires and floods have taken lives, homes, animals, property. And our election results are still in question, with the media quick to step in with their interpretation before waiting for the final electoral vote in December.

We need hope. And out of that hope we need love that goes beyond our differences.

I heard a statistic recently that more than 80% of Americans–whether Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, church-goer or non-church goer–say they have no friends who see the world differently than they see it, politically and theologically. We prefer to stay in our own comfort zones rather than deliberately choosing to know and learn to love someone who is “unlike” us. And nothing divides us like fear. Fear of loss … of control, safety, rights, freedom, health, power, economic stability, and on and on.

We look for affirmation, security, and love in a variety of ways, many of which are not only unproductive, but potentially dangerous.

  • The sexually abused daughter who grows up to become promiscuous, believing physical intimacy is the way to gain security through the approval of men.
  • The son who has never been able to please his father, continues to push himself, trying ever harder to get an “atta boy”. He becomes a workaholic who is almost an absentee parent.
  • The tycoon who thinks his business success will buy him security. 
  • The perfectionist who continually beats herself up because she could have “done it better,” never satisfied despite awards and recognition.
  • The rioters and looters who attack and destroy businesses of those they claim to defend.

What we’re looking for is a blessing. “Blessing” is defined as God’s favor and protection; a special favor, mercy or benefit. Three thousand years ago, God gave Moses a blessing for the people of Israel, which my lovely mother sang at my wedding. It still carries deep meaning. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26

Only in the blessing of God do we find unconditional love which remains constant, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who HE is.

“Thy love is uncaused and undeserved. Thou art Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 97)

God has chosen to delight in me. What an amazing, life-altering fact! I don’t have to earn His love. I can’t. I simply need to receive it, bask in it, find my security in it. And when I am secure in His love, I am able to love others and fear begins to evaporate.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18

So then how can I GIVE a blessing to others? In a video, an impatient man is given a pair of “all-seeing” glasses. People who before were irritants or interruptions are seen through a new lens—recognizing one needs a hug, a woman just lost a dear friend, a man lost his job. Seeing their pain, the man responds very differently than before.

I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, so I can bless those around me … with a warm smile, a listening heart, a “thank you” to store clerks, health care professionals, and others. I want to intentionally affirm those I love and those who need encouragement.

I have needed a blessing these past weeks. Have you?

What choices will you make this week to receive and give the blessing? I’d love to interact with you at carolshope.com.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17b-19

Carol Nicolet Loewen writes of hope from the depths of her own loss. She resides in San Jose, California with her lovely second husband and their dog, Paige. Marrying a wonderful man at age 36 and losing him twenty years later taught her to value every moment, that we can survive loss, move ahead and even love again. It also allowed Carol to experience God’s faithfulness during the hardest time of her life. She is working on her first book, a historical novel of hope set in Bolshevik Russia, and loves to connect with her readers at carolshope.com.

Out of Control?


Photo by Sindre Stru00f8m on Pexels.com

A number of years ago, I lived in Nevada where snow fell for the better part of the year. Many days, the roads were still covered in ice and snow, even with plows clearing them on a regular basis.

On days like that, I rarely went out. But on this one particular day, I had no choice so I piled my four kids in our old Bronco, set my four-wheel drive, and ventured out despite my longing to avoid the trip into town.

We lived outside Reno, in a little valley at the foot of the Sierras so whenever it snowed, the storm would swirl around in our valley as if it were trapped by the surrounding mountains and hills.

Getting out was hard enough, but going down the slippery hill, onto the highway, and into town proved challenging at best. Especially when the snow blew in blizzard, white-out conditions.

As it did on this particular day. (Did I mention I would have rather been at home with a cup of tea and a good book?)

Whenever we made the twenty to thirty minute journey into town (depending on what part of Reno we needed to arrive at), it seemed like a longish drive. But on snowy days, the are-we-there-yet question played every few minutes in what felt like a never-ending trek of epic proportions.

We made it down the hill, onto the highway, and the road was remarkably clear of traffic. (Those smart other people!) But it was not clear of snow and ice.

I drove clutching the steering wheel while reassuring my youngsters that all was good. “You all have your seat belts on, right? Mommy’s just double-checking.”

That’s when I glimpsed a flash of red up ahead of me through the blinding snow. The brake lights of a slowing, or stopped(?) car. I tapped my brakes lightly, but in an instant, the car spun out of control.

Kind of in slow motion.

But within a few seconds we were headed the wrong way on the highway.

I’m thrilled to say that we didn’t crash. Simply landed with a bump and poof of snow in the center divider. While we were shaken up, I was able to carefully navigate us into the right direction and off the highway. Thank you, Jesus! (I say that a lot.) I decided to take the longer, street route the remainder of the way into town. Yeah.

Here’s the thing.

For those few minutes, the scariest part was feeling like I was completely out of control. My car was turning and sliding and no amount of driving-in-snow protocol helped.

I was helpless, powerless, and sensed danger all around.

I think that’s how most of the world feels these days. Between the virus, job losses, the election, violence in our streets, and even friends and family turning against us on social media, we can spin out of control and land facing the wrong direction.

Isn’t that what we fear most? Being out of control?

Don’t we want to know what’s happening all the time and have a handle on it? Our family, our job, our finances, our spouse, kids, friends, and the outcome of this election?

But what if we don’t? What do we do then? How do we handle life when we feel like we’ve lost control?

It’s been a slow road, but I’m learning to trust the God that IS in control. He sees all, has already been where we’re going, and knows what’s up ahead. I may not know, but if he does and I trust him then no matter what happens, I can be at rest.

Even when I’m out of control.

What if God knows everything about this virus, the election, the violence, and what my spouse, kids or friends feel and think? What if he’s using every single good and bad thing to bring something good, or better for us or someone else? What if we trusted that what we can see is only part of the bigger picture and plan?

I could tell a multitude of stories of all the times I questioned what was happening from injury, sickness, death to job loss, financial struggles and misunderstandings with family or friends. I have plenty of material.

I know this from my sixty years of life. God is good. He is faithful. I can trust him with everything and when I do, my heart is at peace even in the midst of messy spin-outs. It took practice to learn, and I’m still in process, but I know my God, and he loves us.

Getting to know him is the first step. Getting to know him intimately (nothing weird, just up close and personal), is the next. First we try talking to him and trusting him with something, and then we can trust him with the next thing and the next. Anyone who would give their child so that we could be close to him must love us an awfully lot.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” I John 4:9

“We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:19

Hawaii

Today, when you feel out of control, maybe try talking to the God who loves you and is in control. You may find a new sense of peace to give up your control and leave everything in his very capable hands.

I have. I hope you can too.

Guard the Fortress


There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and storms have broken out all at once. Not to mention sudden, crazy weather patterns of intense heat followed by September snow.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Jesus told us that all this would happen.

“Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am the Christ’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nations will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:4-8

As the world becomes more desperate, I pray we will turn to Jesus. While the enemy attempts to destroy us and our belief in a good God who loves us, Jesus longs for us to run to him in our pain, fear, hopelessness. He will comfort and strengthen us and give us peace.

His word also gives instruction to help us in this time of crisis.

Recently, I read some encouraging instruction in the book of Nahum. In the second chapter, and the first two verses, this prophet warns the people to be alert when their enemy is advancing on them. While those words were meant for that time in a practical war sense, all of God’s word is relevant to us in some way even today. This is what I took from the passage that I believe can be helpful today.

  1. “Guard the fortress.” As believers in Jesus, our bodies are God’s “temple” where the Holy Spirit resides. I believe that God would have us guard our bodies and hearts against unhealthy living and the lies of the enemy. Fear is a spirit that is stirring up the world. Let’s guard ourselves against it, rather than letting it penetrate our bodies and minds.
  2. “Watch the road.” Our mind is what lets in thoughts and images like a road into our fortress. If we’re not careful about what we expose ourselves to, we may find that what we let in is infiltrating us in a destructive, poisonous way.
  3. “Brace yourself.” God’s word is the most powerful weapon we have. It is the “sword of the spirit” which is truth. The Bible is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Heb. 4:12) When we declare it, pray it, and speak it, we are bracing ourselves for battle.
  4. “Marshall all your strength.” Our only true strength comes from the Lord. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” In order to gain that strength, I must be in God’s presence. Worship, talking to him, and asking for his wisdom in every area will make me strong. It’s Jesus who strengthens us. (Phil. 4:13)

Battles aren’t without injuries or destruction, but the Lord will restore to us anything that is lost in battle. He makes us beautiful and splendid no matter what might be destroyed. Even in this era of the world going crazy, let us look to the Lord, God Almighty who is our only true refuge in times of trouble.

Praying for you as you consider where your help comes from. My help comes from the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-3)

Full or Empty Cup?


close up of coffee cup on table
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

An empty cup can be filled, but a full cup can’t hold what God wants to pour into us.

What are we full of?

Fear, hurt, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, anxiety, dread, depression, anger?

OR

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faith, hope?

Do we fill our cup each day with “what if’s” that breed fear?

OR

Are we filled with excitement, dreams, possibilities and “God will”?

Jesus said that for all of us who are heavily burdened to come to him and trade whatever is weighing us down for his life of love, joy, peace, and hope. Laying everything down at his feet, we can let him handle our concerns and let him lead us by still waters.

Sometimes we find it hard to empty ourselves.

Pride, fear, shame, and disappointment can cause us to not trust God. We feel the need to control. But every step of faith that gives God more control yields relief and a lesser weight on us. Then we are free to let God determine our journey.

And his ways are far better than what we think we need or want.

He blows my mind with the healing, blessings, fulfilling ways my life expands and gets to touch others. His word says he gives us the desires of our hearts. I testify to the truth of that!

So today, are you empty or full? What is your cup full of?

Confused?


DSC_0059With so many contradicting messages blasting through our world right now, it’s easy to be confused about what to think. Who’s sharing truth and who’s manipulating people’s emotions?

As someone who loves Jesus, the saddest aspect to me is when I see or hear about proclaimed followers of Jesus arguing about politics, doctrine, and their own opinions. Are we adding to the confusion or showing a hurting and broken world faith, hope, and most importantly, love?

Accusing various believers or specific organizations of not being righteous or godly because they worship differently, pray silently or openly, baptize in various ways, support a political party, or wear masks (or not) divides us and drives us into confusion rather than the unity that Jesus desires for us.

The first and most important issue is whether we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we receive his gracious gift of laying his life down for our sinfulness, we are part of a family. That’s good news no matter how we receive it—whether in a church service, at a beach worship time, or in our bedroom, car, or shower. We might be homeless in an alley or looking at a sunset when we realize the love of God for us and choose to follow him.

After that, Jesus gave us some pretty clear and simple instructions for the rest of life.

  • Love him. He loved us first. He gave his life and longs for us to respond to his love.
  • Love ourselves. We are created and loved by God. He has a great plan for us. Treat ourselves kindly.
  • Love others. We’re all created and loved by God. When we realize we’re loved, we can extend that love.
  • Seek God first. Everything else falls into place when we do.
  • Live humbly. While we have our own thoughts and opinions, so do others. God is God. We’re not.
  • Speak the truth in love. Be honest with ourselves and others always.
  • Mercy over judgement. God forgave us. Forgive others, and let God be the only judge.
  • Grace, not deeds. God’s showed us grace when we were a mess not because we did something right. Be gracious to others in the same way.

I’ve been guilty of seeking my way, thinking my way is the only way, judging others, and not wanting to show grace or forgive.

We all have.

But when we get caught up in whether others are doing it our way, or sharing our opinions, or applying God’s word differently than we think it should be interpreted, we divide rather than unite.

God says a house divided can’t stand. So naturally that’s the enemy’s plan. If he can use us in the church to divide the church, then it’s a win, win for him.

And a loss for us and for those who don’t know Jesus yet and are turned off by our portrayal of him.

We have to let go of ourselves. Our agendas. The way we think things should be done.

Die to self is what Jesus calls it.

Not because he doesn’t want us to be the thinking, creating, unique individuals that he designed us to be, but because he wants us to be free to live fully in those ways. And his plans give us so much more than we can secure for ourselves.

When he increases in our lives, and our broken, self-focused, my-way-is-best decreases, we can walk in love. Loving him, loving us, loving others. Loving life.

And the world will know that Jesus is Lord, and he SO loves them.

Are You Afraid?


dsc_0096There’s a lot of fear pushing us around lately.

It’s the enemy’s way of controlling us. Keeping our focus off God and his greatness. Making us believe that God doesn’t mean what he says when he tells us he loves us and has good plans for our future. God doesn’t intend to harm us.

I believe that.

But what about people meaning harm? Vigilantes ravage cities stoking the fires of fear. News media headlines scream that this virus is out of control and coming for us next unless we stop singing in church and wear oxygen depriving masks everywhere while they neglect news about the decreasing death count. And everyone has opinions. A lot of them are political.

But that’s not what this post is about.

This is about unity. Forgiveness. Love one another.

You see, recently someone asked if people are afraid to talk about race. And that made me think.

Am I?

I’m not afraid of Covid or the brain sucking amoeba in Florida’s warm waters. (Sorry if you haven’t heard and now that’s given you one more thing to worry about–don’t worry. They say it’s not really a threat. At least not the same threat as the not-yet-a-threat of the new swine flu in China.)

But I AM afraid of not loving one another.

I’m afraid of talking about race because maybe I’ll offend without meaning to.

I’m afraid I’ll be unknowingly insensitive because I don’t have the same experiences.

I’m afraid that because I grew up in a wealthy, “white” neighborhood (I don’t even get why we call neighborhoods “white” or “black”), I’ll be seen as racist even though that is not my heart.

I honestly want to know what my black friends have experienced and how they feel about it, but I’m afraid to ask because I don’t know if they will feel like I”m prying or overstepping into a sacred world of their pain.

I see us all as people loved by God, so if I ask about race am I not now making a point of someone being black or some other ethnicity or culture rather than a person with uniquely good or painful experiences?

I want us all to live in unity, listening, understanding, having compassion for each other’s hurts without discriminating or judging.

And while I believe that through Jesus, that is possible, I’m afraid people are more interested in being offended or proving their point than they are about loving their neighbor.

God says that perfect love casts out fear. His love is the only love that’s perfect. I don’t fear him. I’m grateful for his love. If I let him love me, can I love others enough to make them not afraid? Can I stop being afraid and instead be quick to listen and slow to share my opinion? Can I speak truth in love with grace and patience, willing to put myself in someone else’s shoes so I can show compassion?

Can we look for the why behind someone’s opinions, thoughts, feelings, and fears?

Maybe we can stop being afraid long enough to love one another.

Peace Be With You


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This week I was reading in John 21, and God spoke to me about peace. He asked me to share what he said, but first let me set the scene.

The followers of Jesus are cowering together in a room together with the doors locked.

Why?

Because their leader, who they thought was going to bring about political freedom, has been murdered. Tortured, mocked, and nailed on a tree to die for “no reason” according to the man who released him to be crucified. And even though some of them have seen him alive after he’s risen from the dead, they are hiding because people are hunting them to kill anyone who has followed Jesus.

Chaos, riots, turmoil in the streets. Fear permeating through the locked doors. Sound familiar?

And then Jesus shows up in the midst of their fear and says “Peace be with you.”

Today I heard him speak through his word and the whispers in my spirit. This is what he said:

No matter what is happening in the world right now, when I am with you, you will have peace. Do not get caught up in the drama of the times. Sit with me. Abide with me, and I will bring peace. I will cover you with peace. Not the peace the world claims void of racism and pandemics and turmoil and killing and riots, but peace outside of that, beyond it, in spite of it. Peace is not the absence of turmoil, it is my presence that is perfectly right and transcends what you can see. If you seek me, you will find me. If you trust me, you will rest in me. If you align yourself with me, it doesn’t matter what is happening in the world, you will be in peace, surrounded with peace, covered with peace. I AM WITH YOU. Peace be with you. Let me breathe on you. Live in forgiveness. Stop doubting. Stop looking for something in the world to bring you peace, just believe the I AM, and I AM with you. Peace be with you.”

May you find peace in Jesus today.

What Do You See?


020 What do you see when you look at the picture on the left? Animal? Zombie? Evil monster? Seems a little scary, right?

 

Below is the actual picture. The bigger picture. The reality.

bunny pic copy

When we look at something so close that everything around it fades out, all we see is a distorted view of reality. The truth here is that the evil looking monster in the first picture was simply a close up view of a cute little bunny eating in a garden with red-eye from my camera.

The world view of current events is like looking at the first picture instead of the second one.

Not to say that there is no danger at all.

That bunny could have bitten me if I’d been able to get too close. It might have had rabies or fleas. I’m careful when taking pictures of wildlife. Whether rabbits or alligators, it’s wise to use common sense.

But I also don’t run from the bunny because it might pose a distant threat.

I think you get the picture. (Pun intended.)

Our perspective breeds fear if we get too tunnel-visioned. Fear breeds more fear. Like yeast making dough rise, every few hours the dough has doubled. Unless we punch it down, it will take over.

It’s amazing how uplifting it is to simply turn off the news and take a walk outside with a little fresh air and sunshine. (Even in snow for some.)

God promises good for us. He does not want to harm us, only draw us closer to him. (Jeremiah 29:11) But the world is filled with evil so we will have trouble. (John 16:33) The good news is that Jesus is our hope, gives us peace and makes a way for us to live well in turbulent times. When we understand God’s incredible love for us, fear is cast far away. (I John 4:18) We can believe that God’s got our back. He’s our refuge if we run to him and don’t choose to focus on the blow up of the small picture. (Psalm 62:8) All we have to do is acknowledge him as God and our Savior. (Philippians 2:11)

Let’s be wise. Be safe. But not let fear make us fretful or frantic.

Where Is Your Thinking Taking You?


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“If you change your thoughts, you will change your existence.”

I’m not sure who said this, but I saw this quote recently and it made me think.

The Bible says that “as a man thinketh, so is he.” I’ve never fully embraced that idea. I guess I didn’t really understand the meaning behind it. Or maybe I grasped the concept with a “Yeah, I get that” but didn’t actually internalize it. Then. But now?

What I think is what I become.

So what am I becoming? Where are my thoughts taking me?

When it’s been a season of great challenge in mental toughness, how do we handle life? I understand this from the viewpoint of an athlete. I was one once. But how do we apply this to everyday life? When bills pile up, the car breaks down, illness sets in and our relationship seems stuck or the business or job isn’t panning out the way we expected?

And then we get that call…you know the one that sucks the air out of you with it’s unexpected, tragic message.

How do I think about all that? Where do my thoughts take me?

Down a path of fear, regret, doubt or anger? Do I allow self-pity, bitterness or resentment to set in? Are conversations or situations replaying in my mind in the middle of the night keeping me awake in anxiety?

What are my thoughts doing to my existence?

There’s a reason God says we need to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. God knows how easily our thoughts can lead us astray into an existence of hopelessness, despair, depression or even destruction.

But how do we take a thought captive?

  1. Recognize that we have a choice about what to think. Often, we feel as if our thoughts happen to us, when the truth is that we can choose them.
  2. Feelings – our emotions are God given, but we don’t have to let them control our thoughts. How I feel in a given moment, may not accurately reflect the truth of a situation. I may experience anger, but I can choose how to think and act about it.
  3. When I have a thought, ask if it is bringing me into a positive, life-giving place or leading me into a small, negative space. There is always another perspective.
  4. What does God say in his word about me, my life, his plans for me? Are my thoughts lining up with that?
  5. Speak the truth instead of the doubts.
  6. Remember that God loves me and wants good for me. He says I lack nothing because he’s my shepherd. If my life shows a lack, but God says I lack nothing, what is another way I can think about my situation according to God’s truth?

It isn’t easy, but with practice, I’m learning to change my thinking. God says that he transforms us by the renewing of our minds. Changing our thoughts, changes our existence.

I believe this is only truly possible with allowing Jesus to take our thoughts captive and making them line up with his thinking. Maybe our very first step would be choosing a relationship with him. He’s always waiting for us with open arms to come to him and receive what he did for us on the cross.

Do you like the existence you currently have? Where are your thoughts taking you?

Letting Go


3rd Anniversary Brendan Zip lining Mt Hermon, CA“God does not want to punish us for clinging to our past—He wants to love us into our future.” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

Sometimes we hold onto our past as if by letting it go we will lose something, when in fact, we lose more by clinging with a tight fist.

Moving forward means we have to look ahead.

When I was about seven, I attended a school with a set of rings on the playground. You know the metal ones that hang from chains? I’d grab the first ring and stand paralyzed for a few seconds while the kids in line would yell “Hurry up!”

“Come on.”

“Just go already.”

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t swing to the second ring. The problem was that in order to keep going across, I had to let go of the ring behind me. That’s where the fear gripped me. When doubts set in.

What if I wasn’t strong enough? What if I couldn’t reach it? What if I missed and fell?

I love how patient God is. He isn’t the kids yelling at us from behind. He’s standing at the future, reaching out to us, calling our name, giving us courage and pushing the next ring toward us so we’re sure to reach it and get a good grip.

Even if we stand there a little longer than necessary, he never punishes us for it. He coaxes us ahead.

What are you waiting for?