Like many in the midst of this pandemic, I am looking for places of hope. Pastor Rene Schlaepfer, at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California encourages us with the following thoughts from the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8.
In the midst of the WHAT is making us anxious, there is a WHO saying “Look at Me.” When our focus moves from the storm itself to the One who is with us on this journey, when our faith in someone surpasses our fear of the something, then we can be at peace. We will face storms–they will come into our lives unpredictably, unexpectedly, inevitably, and impartially.
Jesus is close. In the middle of the storm, Jesus was right there in the boat with the disciples. And in this pandemic, He is here with us. Isaiah 43:1-2: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
Jesus cares. The disciples said, “Jesus, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” He does. As hard as this is for some of us, we are to relax in His care. I Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.”
Jesus is in control. In our Western culture we like to think we are in control. A pandemic like this shows us how little control we actually have. But we can rely on the One who is in control. Mark 4: “Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!'”
I rely on these truths for myself and for those family and friends who are ill, have lost jobs, are going through marital struggles, and are just feeling anxious.
I will leave you with a wonderful song by musicians from 25 churches in Hawaii, from six islands. Skip the ad and go to The Hawaii Blessing, hosted by Hawaiian Island Ministries (HIM).
May God bless you and keep you and give you His peace.
How do you hold a memorial service during a pandemic? This is a relevant question for many whose loved ones are dying either from or despite COVID-19.
My brothers and I brainstormed ideas of how we could grieve together as a family and honor our mother during this time of Shelter in Place. And we took a page from the playbooks of many churches. Through Zoom, we held a virtual memorial service for immediate family yesterday and hope to have a broader service or burial at some future date.
While we couldn’t hug, be in the same room, meet together as a family for a light meal before the service, or share stories with extended family and friends afterward, we did have a meaningful time.
I was just one part of the service, which we recorded. But here’s what I said about my beloved Mother.
After Mom’s death I found an index card in her room on which Mom had written some of her favorite verses. The scriptures I share here were among those favorites.
Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. 4 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.
Mom lived her faith. I think of that aria we just heard her sing (“I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”) as her signature song. While she had questions and doubts at times, she loved Jesus with all her heart. She spent a lot of time reading His love letter to her, and talking with him in prayer. She beamed when she spoke about her Lord. And often when I shared a concern with her, she said, “Let’s pray about it.”
Mom encouraged others. Many of the cards she received over the years talk about her thoughtful notes, phone calls, visits. She prayed faithfully for each of her family members. And she and Dad were hospitable from as far back as I can remember. When we were still in Winnipeg they hosted parties for nurses and grad students. My little girl eyes loved to peek out of my room to see the pretty young women, all dressed up, and their handsome boyfriends.
Because Mom treasured her relationship with Jesus, she wanted others to know Him too. She and Dad worked in Bible clubs, street meetings (Mom sang and played the accordion and Dad preached), and Sunday school. The longevity of her impact is reflected by her decades-long relationship with Sylvia Sigurdson, who was a child in Winnipegosis, Canada when Mom led her to Christ. Sylvia has kept in touch with Mom these 70-odd years.
And when as a teen I doubted my salvation, Mom listened to my fears and gave me John 6:37: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” I began to rely on Jesus’ work and Word rather than on my feelings for my assurance of salvation.
Isaiah 41:10 was another favorite:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Five years ago, Mom wrote this:
“Before God revealed himself to me I was … a young girl (7 or 8). I did not have conviction of sin. Now I am … a mature, 93-year old woman who has been a Christian for 85 years. As I study God’s Word, it becomes dearer to me! I love the verses in Isaiah 41 and others that state that God chose me even before I was born! He loves me – so precious to me!”
Zephaniah 3:17 concludes:
“The Lord your God … will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Music was a vital part of Mom’s life. Hymns were a significant way God spoke to her. When I broke off an engagement eons ago, she and Dad worried about me. She wakened one morning with a song that reminded her to trust God that all would be well, and her heart was at peace.
Mom sang to us a lot as children: not only hymns, but classical songs and “Auf dem Baum ein Kuckuke sass” (the cuckoo song) which Mel, and perhaps Arnold, have sung to their children and grandchildren.
On October 25, 2012 Mom wrote:
“Today it’s 10 years since John left this earth. I have shed tears this morning and I hurt. I have the assurance of Jesus holding me fast, assurance of reunion, that John is in heaven, happy. Am so thankful for that! For over 90 years Jesus has kept, protected, loved, guided, forgiven me! He will keep doing that and I’m grateful for all his promises!”
After Dad died, and again after Jerry died, Mom and I took several out of town overnighters –to Napa, Sonoma, Winnipeg – even the Ukraine where Dad was born. Whenever we had relaxed, extended times together, whether for several hours or a couple of days, we had wonderful, deep conversations about life, love, faith, family. Oh how she loved her family!
And when Don and I started dating, and Mom had a good male friend, we double dated several times. Now that was both fun and interesting!
Mom always felt she was too serious. She wished she laughed more easily, was more fun. In these last months and years life became more difficult, communication more challenging because of her hearing and memory. But on occasion her chuckle reached her eyes so they twinkled. It was at those moments that I thought “There’s my Mom.”
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
Mom longed to go home to Jesus, and to see Dad again. She was not only ready, but eager to go. And on April 4th, her prayer was answered.
I love you and miss you Mom. See you soon!
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!
Should you wish to access the one hour memorial service online at your own convenience, please let me know and I will share the link with you.
In an interview with YAHOO MONEY, Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and professor emerita at Golden Gate University said “The antidote to anxiety really is control, and what people can control right now is buying things.”
We feel we’ve lost control, and so we turn to those things we can control … and toilet paper appears to be the ‘poster child’ for panic buying. And yet, no matter how hard we try, there are things over which we have no control.
The car that runs a red light and hits and kills the cautious driver.
The school and children’s care center closures which require parents to find alternative ways to care for their children.
Illness, like the coronavirus, which can be hosted in someone’s system for five days before the person knows he is sick.
But can we also find benefits in this time? I can think of three.
In last week’s sermon, Rene Schlaepfer told us that in 1870 people slept an average of 11 hours a night. Today the average is less than seven hours. People work on average four weeks more in 2020 than they did in 1979.
We can re-focus during this time on those things that are most important. Don and I cancelled all non-essential appointments this week (that was all of them) and are enjoying a slower pace, more time at home and with each other. We’re listening to messages online, enjoying some quality TV shows (like the “Man from Snowy River” series on Hallmark Movies Now). We’re emailing and phoning and texting and writing notes, finding different ways of communicating with those we love.
We’ve experienced Church and our small group meeting online, which may continue for awhile. In this time of social distancing, Don and I enjoyed seeing the faces of some with whom we regularly worship on a video feed service. Although we miss being face to face, we are thankful for the blessing of technology that allows us some visibility to each other. Many in countries hostile to the Christian faith, or lacking the access to technology which we enjoy, cannot experience this benefit.
Jesus went out alone to pray. We can walk in nature and talk to God and each other.
Our over-55 community is usually quiet. However, it’s more still than usual. Few cars are on the streets. People are walking and talking to each other, but from a distance. The quiet is lovely, renewing, especially if I sit, relaxed and quiet, focusing on God and allowing Him to renew my spirit.
As Rene said, “stop checking for coronavirus updates all the time … that makes you more vulnerable to getting the virus … don’t go for updates on the virus but check for upgrades on your intake.” What is my intake? Where is my focus?
The apostle Paul was imprisoned under a death sentence and Christians were being persecuted by Nero when Paul wrote these words to remind us to be intentional about how we direct our thoughts.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 NIV
Instead of our ‘control’ being in how many rolls of toilet paper we can buy, let’s focus on the good things of God–our intake–and trust Him to hold the key to our days. Bless you, wash your hands, be well.
*Note: my computer tells me this was not posted as scheduled last week. If it is a repeat, I apologize; but I am scheduling it again in case it never posted as planned. Thank you.
You know how sometimes you feel God’s presence? And other times you just feel like there’s a wall between the two of you?
I’ve always been taught that feelings follow faith. That my relationship with God is not dependent on how I feel on a particular day, but on the truth of what Jesus did for me at the Cross. That’s a great thing, because my feelings can be like a roller coaster from day to day, depending on how I slept, what I ate, whether I’m feeling overwhelmed by demands on my time and energy.
Our church had a special worship night Wednesday. Don and I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes early, to find the lot almost full. We walked into the church to find the seating rearranged to give an “in the round” feeling. There was a spirit of anticipation, of eagerness to meet God, in the house.
The music was great, with mic’d vocalists scattered among the congregants. Bill Hayden, Pastor of the Villages Chapel, shared an anointed message of God’s power and grace. For the past 15 years he has lived with pacemakers. Recently, a parasitic infection from a well known restaurant led to a crisis because of which Pastor Bill required an immediate heart transplant.
Amazingly, God provided that transplant. Pastor Bill reported that the doctors were all amazed at how quickly everything moved.
God is always at work. One of our worship song says “even when I don’t feel it He’s working. Even when I don’t see it He’s working.” We are told to walk by faith. We don’t always feel God’s presence but he is always present and at work.
And what a joy when we do feel it, see it. I felt it Wednesday night–the power, the faithfulness, the goodness of God. Bless his holy name!
Don and I went out of town for two days this weekend, and I had arranged for a local woman to dog-sit here at the house. However, I had left several phone messages in the past three days and hadn’t received a call back. It was noon on the day before we were to leave.
I needed to find an alternative. I called another woman who did a great job taking care of Paige for a day recently. Thankfully, she was available and delighted to have our little girl overnight. I’m thankful my alternate was available and willing!
But when Jesus came to earth, the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, God provided one way to know Him. He didn’t say, “My Son gave his life for you. Grace is freely available, along with all the blessings of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life — but if you want to find me in another way — by being as good as you can, acting loving to those around you, being philanthropic, or following some other religious teacher, that’s ok. Alternatives are good.”
Instead, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). He is the only way to the Father, God, and a relationship with Him is freely available to all who receive it. While I might try my best to live a righteous life, I’ll never meet God’s standard of holiness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to take the punishment I deserve for sin– whether that’s murder or lying or cheating or holding onto selfishness or thinking I’m better than others –on Himself and in its place, give me His righteousness, His substitutionary atonement for my sin.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17, ESV
So this Christmas, think about whether you are trying to know God by an alternate route, or by the means He provided through His Son, Jesus.
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”