Peace and Goodwill

Advent – the Coming. As we await the arrival of Christmas this year, we focus on hope.

Hope has been elusive this year. Our culture is very much about “now”. We’re used to fast food, getting things we want right away. At Costco, in bulk! We get irritated if we have to wait.

And now we see waiting everywhere — the line around the corner at Marshall’s; another at Petco; still another queue of customers waiting to enter the bank. We’re being stretched with the current restrictions on our activities and on how many people can be in a store at one time, whether we’re waiting for groceries, Christmas shopping, or something else.

But Jesus gives us hope. Isaiah 11:1 promises that God still has a plan. A plan that was carried out by Jesus Christ when He came to earth to walk with us, to die a horrible death and return to life three days later. God will not forget us. He will have the last word.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1

We can trust him. He is righteous, wise, just …

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord … with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth …

Isaiah 11:2-4

And a day is coming when He will make all things right.

  • He will end injustice (11:4) and will rule in righteousness, faithfulness, and be incorruptible
  • He will end conflict (11:6-7)
  • He will end pain (11:9), and
  • He will end ‘religion’ – there will be no need to teach others because knowledge will fill the earth (11:9b).

There is an element of hope as I realize that every day I’m one day nearer to that day of righteousness and peace.

I don’t claim to know what God is up to in our nation, our world during this anxiety-laden time. I do know He wants us to turn to Him in repentance and faith, trusting that He is good, that He has a plan that ends in ultimate glory for those who trust in Him.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells” lost his beloved wife in 1861. The American Civil War began that same year. The following year his son joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War without his father’s consent. Shortly before Christmas 1863, Longfellow learned of his son’s war injury. The poet’s pen had been dry as he suffered the agony of loss and the depression accompanying the ongoing Civil War. But friends encouraged him to write a poem.

That Christmas morning in 1863, Longfellow heard church bells and wrote this poem.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

I wish you peace and good will during this Advent season. However you celebrate, whether alone or with others, be safe, be wise, and rejoice that the Savior of the world, born in a manager so many years ago, is alive and well and working in and through us.

Joy to the World!

What are your plans for Christmas? How can you make it a special time even if not with those you usually join for time together?

Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”

In case you missed it, I’m reposting this blog I wrote, and which my author friend Laura Bennet posted on her site when we swapped two weeks ago. May you find blessings in this season of Advent, of waiting for the arrival, the celebration, of the Christ-child, our Savior and Lord.

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 has carried deep meaning for these millennia, and still does today. 

“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

Rooted

What a year 2020 has been! We headed into a rather restricted Thanksgiving week, limiting connections (as we’ve done for some time), meeting outdoors if at all. But I am thankful for YOU, my readers. I pray that my thoughts have shown you hope in some small way. You have certainly encouraged me during some difficult emotional times.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH US … Don rebuilt much of our deck, which had a great deal of dry rot beneath; and built a lovely waterfall along the pathway to our front door. He makes breakfast in the mornings to allow me more time to write, and is a great sounding board for ideas.

I’m still writing, working on my historical novel, and occasionally talking with friends in person outside, by zoom or phone.

We’ve had an apartment vacated (after thirteen years!) and updated it with some significant help from my nephew and his 9-year old son. We’re praying for just the right person or family to move in.

Like many of you, we haven’t seen as much of our family as we would like. But we have gotten together outside with another couple, or several, on rare occasions. Do you find, as I do, that this time of isolation makes our families and friends even more precious, the joy in times or talks together multiplied because of their rarity?

Don and I walked in the sunshine in our neighborhood yesterday morning, enjoying the multi-colored leaves (these are just five I picked up–I think the one with the prominent rust-colored veins is stunning!) and watching Paigey explore and sniff along the way.

We put up our Christmas tree and decorated it after a wonderful drive-in church service this morning, then enjoyed talking with each other while sitting and looking at the beauty of the tree. Paigey goes with us to drive-in church–we call her a “pup who praises.” Don’s put up the outside lights and I’ll decorate the mantle later.

ON THANKSGIVING, we took time to remember our Mom, who passed away in April of this year. While I am still grieving her loss, I am so grateful she is not alone and isolated during this pandemic. Instead, she is enjoying inexpressible delight in the presence of Jesus, our King.

We laughed as we shared different memories. Mom always felt she and Dad were too serious, so it was a joy to see and hear her relax and laugh more in her later years. We delighted in (and enjoyed) some of the baking traditions she passed on to family members; and talked about her gracious, giving spirit and the years she prayed for each of her family members.

We have much for which to be thankful. A vaccine for Covid-19 is on the horizon, we have precious family and friends, we can walk and enjoy the beauty of Creation. And, despite divisions and uncertainty about the future, we can have confidence in the God who is There! I need Him more than ever, and work to focus my mind on Him rather than on the chaos surrounding us.

AND I’M THANKFUL FOR YOU!  You’re important to me.   

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 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 3:16-19

How was your Thanksgiving?

When Hope is Lost

Posted by Carol Nicolet Loewen on 11/22/2020

Laura Bennet is a wonderful author I first met in a writers’ group in Santa Cruz. Since we are both finding hope from opposite ends of the country, we swapped this week. Be encouraged as you read her wonderful post. You can read more of her posts or subscribe to Laura’s blog at www.laurabennet.com. You can also read mine this week at https://laurabennet.com/2020/11/21/blessing-in-an-annus-horribilis/.


WHEN HOPE IS LOST

by Laura Bennet

The past year has devastated our world with natural disasters in abundance. Fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, as well as raging violence leave us reeling with anger, grief, questions and perhaps hopelessness. And now the news media has taken over our nation with election controversies.

One nation under God.

A nation started by those seeking God’s ways and freedom to live in them the way they chose. A nation whose pilgrims initially embraced help with gratitude from those who lived here before them as they all celebrated the unique offerings their differences yielded.

But now that nation is torn apart.

Hatred, racism, politics, disrespect, and tragic disaster reign as each person tries to fix the issues in their realm or in their own heart. Many turn their anguish and heartache toward God with a shaking fist asking,

“Where are you, God?”

I’ve certainly had moments of wondering what God is doing in all of this.

And I believe the answer to the question isn’t that God is absent, but that he’s present in each circumstance and life offering love, hope and something good to come out of all the bad. Maybe the good is a sense of unity. Perhaps it’s reaching out to our neighbors, and asking how we can help each other. Through it all, many are turning to God for comfort. Whatever happens, God will be seen and known for who he is.

God with us.

It’s interesting to me that when good happens we are quick to point to ourselves—how we invented, accomplished, or created something great. But when bad happens we are quick to point at God with an accusing finger. 

It’s our glory and God’s fault, right?

What if we flipped that around? What if all the mess of the world is actually us doing our own thing, going our own way, believing that we have answers and know what’s best, but in reality we’re arrogantly messing things up?

What if God truly has the answers, has a way for our lives to work well, offers us good for the taking?

This side of heaven, nothing is going to fix this world. Oh, we can improve things by loving each other, feeding the poor, and taking care of orphans and widows (as Jesus told us to do). But since man chose to do his own thing from the beginning of creation, God turned the world over the to the father of lies, the one who kills, steals and destroys, the current ruler of earth.

Does that mean God isn’t in control?

No. He’s much greater than his and our enemy. His love far surpasses the evil of the world. But he also doesn’t force anyone to follow him, love him, or obey his ways. He gives us a choice. And much of the crisis in the world has been our choice.

Maybe not yours or mine in a given situation, but certainly ours as a nation.

I love that even if we choose not to follow God, he pursues us, woos us, and stays close to us waiting for us to turn around and embrace him. Like a lover—the lover of our soul desires relationship with us and longs for us. He will even allow something difficult to put up a roadblock so we will turn around and see him there with open arms.

In the end, God is our only hope.

He creates life in the face of death, streams of water in wastelands, rescue from bondage, and offers an eternity in his presence. Each day, when I keep my eyes and heart focused on the One who loves me most and best, I am settled in peace and hope no matter what rages around me.

The same can be true for all of us.

Maybe it already is. But it’s not easy. Keeping our thoughts focused on someone we can’t see isn’t an easy task. That’s where faith comes in. Creation around us, God’s word, and the testimony of others who know and follow Jesus help keep us on track. Listening to and singing worship music helps keep me focused because it focuses on Jesus.

Hope is never really lost.

We may feel hopeless at a point of crisis or loss when we look at the devastation and wonder what we can possibly do to make a difference. But for each simple act, like a prayer, or a few dollars given, or a bottle of water offered, we offer hope and our hope is restored.

After all, God, who is love, is also our hope.

If you are feeling hopeless, I would love to pray for you. You can email me at laura@laurabennet.com, or check out my blog at https://laurabennet.com/.

*Laura Bennet is a multi-published author who blogs and writes books about hope, healing, and redemption emerging from the ashes of crisis and trauma. Originally from Southern California, she currently lives in Fort Myers, Florida where she basks in tropical warmth with her Aussie husband and youngest college-attending son. When she’s not walking on the beach, photographing nature, or sipping her weekly peppermint mocha, she loves to connect with her readers who can find her at www.laurabennet.com.

Paradigm Shifts

What’s the paradigm behind your world view? I’ve been wrestling with this these past months. I wonder if you have been too.

In this time of tensions within and outside our nation, pandemic fears, destruction of life, property, animals, and finances through fire, flood and violence, we see different paradigms at work.

  • The paradigm that we are in control of our lives. (2020 has shattered much of that one, hasn’t it!)
  • That politics, OUR politics, whatever they may be, has the answers we need to right the wrongs in our world.
  • That we are subject to external circumstances that control our lives; or
  • That God is sovereign over our lives, nations, world. His Throne is still occupied! He gives us freedom to choose our behaviors and responses to the world around us. He loves us with an everlasting love, to which we must choose how we will respond.

It seems to me that if we go with either of the first three paradigms (and there are others), we lose hope when a) we lose control over our lives because of illness, election results, loss of loved ones; b) our politics fail to provide the answers we seek; or c) the external circumstances we believe control our lives are unfavorable to us.

Our paradigms, our belief systems, affect our lives. And we can’t change our lives until we change the paradigms. We come to faith through a host of life experiences, education, and belief systems we have learned from our childhoods. These help form the lens through which we see the world.

  • Think of the woman who hates men because her father abandoned the family when she was a little girl, pushing them into poverty and insecurity.
  • Or the one who was abused as a child and doesn’t trust anyone, always fearing the raised hand or voice.

Pastor Rene Schlaepfer spoke last night about the shape of the gospel–a bell curve from weakness to power. Christ’s death looked like an absolute tragedy, a picture of complete weakness. But it was in reality the ultimate in power because of His resurrection from the dead three days later.

A gospel shaped paradigm gives me a pattern for my life when I realize that I can expect both crosses and empty tombs (perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally). If I expect only crosses, I can’t rejoice in the empty tombs. If I expect only graves, I fall into despair.

It changes how I see my future, because my future is in the hands of my loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake me. The apostle Paul said it this way.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

II Corinthians 4:7-11

And, changing my paradigm gives me power for life, because God is strong when I am weak!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

II Corinthians 12:9

Pastor Rene said one way to get this gospel shaped paradigm into our heads is to expose myself to a new idea over and over, for example:

  • “God loves me and has already given me eternal life.”
  • “I know life has its crosses but they lead to resurrection.”
  • “I can trust the God who loved me enough to send His Son to die in my place, who knows my past, present and future. And one day I will worship at His feet, rejoicing in the grace He’s given me.”

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I’m working on my paradigms. How about you?