Category Archive: Faith

Perspective and Promise

Did you notice more grey hairs during the past six months of shelter in place? I did. Not that I had more, but that without going to the salon they were coming out of hiding!

I’m thrilled that nail and hair salons in our area have reopened and I can deal with those grey hairs.

But I’m even more encouraged by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:3-4

What a promise! The God of creation upheld me since conception, carried me since birth, and will sustain me to my old age. There’s another wonderful promise in Psalm 92.

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Psalm 92:12-15

Oh, we will have difficulties and trials in this life. Jesus promised that.

Sometimes I feel I’ve had my share of challenges, between the losses of a husband, both parents and parents-in-law, and some dear friends; challenges of illnesses; Covid-19 restrictions; and leaving/healing from a legalistic ministry.

But then I think of those in countries where people are being held captive for years, separated from family who may not even know whether or not they are alive, because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Others are giving their lives rather than renounce their Lord. He said if they hated me, they will hate you. And I pray for God’s sustenance for those dear brothers and sisters. And I ask how I can help.

These are righteous, and they will be honored by God in His kingdom. And I’m humbled because I have not experienced what they have. And yet all who have trusted in Christ’s work on the cross are counted righteous–not because of what we have done, but because of his grace! (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Perspective and promise. Perspective that comes from recognizing God’s loving hand throughout my life (and trusting him for my future) and from seeing others remain faithful through extremely difficult trials.

God’s promises, which are true because he cannot lie. It would be against his character. And he has promised “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) to all who trust in him. We may not see that hope in its fullness until we’re on the other side; but his promise is true.

How are you doing through this time of shelter in place and division in our country? I pray you will be encouraged by these two focus areas, perspective and promise.

I’d love to hear from you.

Never Forget!

Nineteen years ago on September 11th, I walked into my office building. The security guard looked flustered. “They flew into the Twin Towers.”

I hadn’t heard any news en route to work that morning, so asked what she was talking about. I rushed to my desk to turn on my computer and saw the horrors of 9-11 on my screen: planes crashing into towers, towers crumbling from the impact, people jumping out of windows to their deaths.

Then we began hearing about the heroes of that horrific day.

  • Firefighters who risked their lives to rescue people stranded on upper floors of the Twin Towers.
  • Jason Thomas (right), who was dropping his daughter off at his mother’s in Long Island when he heard what had transpired. A former Marine sergeant who had been out of the Corps for a year, he changed into the Marine Corps uniform still sitting in his trunk, and sped toward Manhattan, where he and others worked tirelessly for the next two and a half weeks to rescue survivors.
  • Policemen who searched the rubble for survivors and kept others away from the devastated area.
  • A cousin of my sister-in-law’s, who would have been on the 81st floor of one of those Towers except for running a bit late that morning. He and others loved and supported their employees through the tragedy, also sharing the comfort only Christ can give.
  • Todd Beamer who led passengers on Flight 93 to fight back when they realized the plane had been hijacked to attack the Pentagon. They, and all 44 passengers aboard the plane, gave their lives when the plane crash landed on a Pennsylvania field rather than into the Pentagon.
  • Husbands, wives, parents, children who posted pictures of their loved ones in hopes of finding them – in a hospital, with amnesia, even in a morgue; and many others.

We watched the New York Port Authority, the Police, Firefighters, Marines, and every day civilians work together to rescue survivors and recover bodies.

On 9-11 we promised never to forget!

And once again today, when our country is deeply divided and experiencing rioting, a pandemic, looting, fires, floods, murders and anti-freedom activists, we have heroes, many unsung. Let’s remember to pray for, and to thank those who are sacrificing for the good of our nation–firefighters, police, the military, medical personnel, pastors, and many other heroes who are working to bring relief where they can.

The words of Martin Luther’s old hymn still speak truth and hope, hope that goes beyond this life to the next.

1 O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.

3 Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.

4 O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Be thou our guide while life shall last, And our eternal home.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise–in God I trust and am not afraid.

Psalm 56:3-4a

Fires, Fear, Faith

California fire season is usually in September and October. But 2020’s fires started early, with about 400 wildfires and 5700 “incidents” (https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/) in the past week. Don and I have kept in close touch with our neighbors here, sharing updates with each other as we receive them.

We are right on the line of an evacuation area (we’re in the SCU Lightning Complex), but haven’t been told to leave as of yet. Should you need it, there’s a good evacuation map at https://nifc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=69fca73a82df4fefa7c0e48b66d0899d&extent=-123.2395,36.6849,-119.5618,38.1032

I’ve felt anxious, always watching for the next bit of news. Wednesday night I had a hard time falling asleep. Tears have been near the surface, and sometimes have fallen. Thursday I couldn’t concentrate, but kept watching for news, and registered for notification in the event we are ordered to evacuate.

We heard Thursday that Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, where I’ve spent a good bit of time at retreats and then at writers’ conferences, had been evacuated and was in danger. Some of our family have been evacuated from that area as well, and are safe.

Meanwhile, food, meals, writing–it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else while we wait; yet life doesn’t stop. We have our “go bags” pretty ready; and my computer bag is next to my desk so I can pack my laptop quickly in the event the fire moves toward us.

According to San Jose Fire Chief, as of Sunday morning they expect winds, light rain, and possibly more dry lightning strikes–something we sure don’t need right now! Praying God will light up the world over the ocean rather than in the forests!

I am calmer now, but seem to go in cycles of fear and then release, recognizing there’s nothing we can do except be prepared and pay attention. So far, the fire seems to be moving a bit farther from us. My brother and sister-in-law have offered us a haven if we need to leave.

And we’re certainly not alone. Floods are pounding the South and East of the United States. Hurricane Marco threatens the Gulf Coast, closely followed by Tropical Storm Laura, which has already impacted Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and is expected to slam Cuba on Monday.

I hurt for the many who have lost family members, homes or structures. It’s good to grieve, to weep with friends, to sit and listen to their pain. Even Jesus, who was perfect and knew He would reverse Lazarus’ death, wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved the loss of their brother. But after He listened and wept, He called Lazarus forth out of that grave!

We are so grateful for the many who are praying for us, and for California.

  • Grateful for yesterday’s report that Mount Hermon is okay at this time. All staff are safe.
  • Twin Lakes Church’s Camp Hammer is partially burned. Some of the cabins are still there and the forest is evidently still lush and green, and all staff are safe. May God bring beauty from the ashes!
  • Grateful for loving family and friends.
  • Deeply grateful for our firefighters, as well as those coming in from other states and even other countries to help fight these massive fires; for the sheriffs and police who are helping people evacuate, working long hard hours. Thank you to each of you. We are praying for you.

Earlier this week a dear friend recommended we read Psalm 36. Yesterday I read it aloud for our morning devotions, tears coming to my eyes. What a precious scripture!

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies… How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings …

Psalm 36:5,7

I have been through several major challenges in my life and, while it’s taken time to work through those issues with God, He has never failed me. And He will not. Tim Keller said Jesus didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t suffer. He suffered for us so when we suffer — and all will! — He can REDEEM it!

Crises such as these do remind us of what’s most important–our relationship with God, family and friends. An old friend used to say the two things that last are God’s Word and people! If you’re not sure of your relationship with God, I encourage you to read John 3:16-18 and Romans 10. I welcome any questions you may have.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-18

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I John 5:12

California and our nation, you continue to be in our prayers.

What’s your Family History?

In researching Mennonite history for a novel I’m writing, I found the story of a whole village that escaped Russia through Siberia and over the Amur River to China, from where they went to Canada, the United States, and South America.

This was 1929, when the anti-God Communist government was imposing collectivization. They took property from individuals, leaving them barely able to provide for their families. They arrested and executed or sent to labor camps those who owned a horse or cow, machinery—or taught Sunday school or wrote letters to family in North America or Europe.

My grandfather was a minister/farmer; his family, including my father, was in the last group to receive exit visas from Moscow in 1929.

My grandfather, 3rd from left, back row, before he was married. Photo taken about 1900 in the Ukraine.

Others were desperate enough to escape illegally. One such route was over the Amur River in Siberia into China, and from there to the Americas.

Border guards were constantly on the lookout as the Amur was only about a mile wide at the point they planned to cross to China. Escape attempts were fraught with tension. Leaders tried to time their escapes in mid-day when they thought no sane person would cross the river; later in the afternoon when the guards were less well staffed; in the brilliance of the setting sun which they hoped would blind the guards temporarily; or at shift change between 11 and 12 pm.

The entire village of Shumanovsk (Siberia) planned to leave together–a very risky business with 60 sleighs and 217 people. They had to cross the Amur when it was frozen over. Villagers had been hiding sleighs and goods in their barns in preparation. The leaders knew there were several in the village they couldn’t trust to keep the plans to themselves. So they waited until late one night, then went door to door, knocking softly. “We leave in one hour.”

They approached the two homes of those they didn’t fully trust. “We leave in one hour. You come with us, or not, but we are going.” No time to warn the border guards.

There were some tragedies on the journey–several sleighs broke down and had to be repaired or their occupants shifted to other sleighs while crossing the river; and at least one baby was smothered as his mother tried to keep him from crying out. But the group reached China, across the river, as a whole.

In stories from two sources I read that the group learned later that the two border guards who were supposed to be watching for nighttime crossings were arrested. They were asked why they didn’t stop the group or call for help.

The men’s response was that they saw a large group of armed men around the group and supposed they could not overpower them, so they left them alone. The refugees thanked God for the guardian angels protecting them.

I think in these days we need to hear stories like this. I need them! While many have suffered and still do suffer for their faith, we need to be reminded of stories of God’s deliverance as well. And we need to remember that whatever comes, He will be with us–whether that’s by guardian angels surrounding us or by taking us Home to heaven.

Our pastor reminded us this morning that GOD IS GOOD. His character is good, and He does not change. So whether it’s Coronavirus, divisive politics, or anything else stressing us, we can rely on His goodness, knowing He uses even bad things for His own purposes.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:5

My Times are in Your Hands

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once talked about two kinds of faith, the “if” faith and the “though” faith. The “if” faith says “If God blesses me, I’m prosperous and healthy and happy, then I’ll trust God.”

“Though” faith is different:

Though things go wrong, though evil is temporarily triumphant, though sickness comes and the Cross looms, nevertheless I’m going to believe anyway and I’m going to have faith anyway.. Though the waters doth roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In the Old Testament, Job looked around and saw that everything had been stripped away from him. He couldn’t see the big picture. He just saw the losses stack up. Even his wife advised him to “Curse God and die.” Job’s response was “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15a).

So what kind of faith do you and I have? Can we say we have a “though” faith?

  • Though hate and violence rear their ugly heads in my country
  • Though all collapses around me
  • Though I get lonely and desperately want face to face people connections
  • Though people I love are experiencing grave difficulties
  • Though I lose loved ones to COVID-19
  • Though I fear for much of what is happening in our country.

Oh, we will grieve. We may be lonely. We may be fearful or depressed. But we still have a choice. Will we choose to trust God despite those circumstances, and as we work our way through them? Or will our faith collapse under the weight of the pressure?

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day commemorating the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ earliest followers. The Holy Spirit is referred to as Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Counselor. He is still with us. Let us trust him to help in our times of need, to give us strength to hold on, to share His love with those around us, and to trust that God is holding us when we feel we have no strength left with which to hold onto him.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 

Jesus, in John 16:7 KJV

We still have His power working in us today to help us through these various challenges.

Psalm 31:14-15 tell us “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands...”

I have struggled with depression; I am grieved and angered by much of what occurs in our society; I don’t know what to expect next–do any of us? But I will choose to trust the One who holds my times in His faithful hands.