PERPETUAL

I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. [John 5:24 (NLT)]

monarch - caterpillar - butterflyDeath is the consequence of sin—of living in a fallen world—but Jesus promised that all believers have eternal life. In the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our belief in this “life everlasting.” Eternal life, life in perpetuity, life forever and ever: how can that be? For centuries thousands of inventors have attempted to make a perpetual motion machine that will run indefinitely with no input of energy and have failed every time. Apparently perpetual motion violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics. If perpetual motion is an impossibility, perpetual life seems improbable, as well. It seems to violate all sorts of natural laws let alone human logic. God, however, isn’t limited by thermodynamics, any other law of nature, or human understanding; after all, He’s the author of them all!

The Greek word translated as “eternal” is aiónios which means eternal, forever, everlasting or perpetual. When combined with the Greek zoe (meaning life), it focuses not just on quantity of time but also on the quality of that time! The eternal life promised in the gospel isn’t just about the number of years; it is about the fullness of that unending life. Independent of time as we know it, eternal life is not something for which we need to hope. Jesus didn’t promise eternal life at some point in the future. Using the present tense, He said that “anyone who believes has eternal life” [John 6:47] For Christians, eternal life starts when we first believe in Christ. It has begun!

When our heart stops beating, our brain ceases functioning, and life has ebbed out of our body, we won’t stop existing. We will, however, change form. The caterpillar that wriggles along leaves and branches with its sixteen legs looks nothing like the butterfly whose beautiful wings enable it to flit from flower to flower. Nevertheless, they are the same creature with the same DNA. It will be much like that for us when we leave this dimension and enter into the next. While our bodies as we knew them will cease to exist in this world, our spirit or soul will continue into the next and (unlike a butterfly) last forever!

As a believer who is closer to the end of her years than the beginning, I find comfort in knowing that Jesus has already made good on His promise of eternal life. It’s mine already! When the time comes for my last breath, it simply will be like going to sleep as a caterpillar and awakening as a perpetual butterfly.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. [1 Peter 1:23 (NLT)]

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A TERRIBLE TEMPTATION

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? [Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)]

The BadlandsWhile some of us may have become couch-potatoes during his time of sheltering in place, that’s not truly the sin of sloth. Thought of as one of the seven “deadly sins,” sloth originally was two sins: acedia (meaning absence of care) and trisitia (meaning sorrow). A 4th century monk, Evagrius of Ponticus, listed them (along with gluttony, lust, greed, anger, vainglory, and pride) as the “terrible temptations” of life. Acedia and sadness were seen as particularly dangerous threats to the ascetic life of a monk living in the Egyptian desert, as was Evagrius. The monks easily could grow despondent, lonely, weary or discontented as they prayed, fasted, and labored in their harsh and isolated setting.

While not in a desert monastery, the new normal of COVID-19 can seem as desolate as one and tempt us with sloth’s spiritual lethargy. With the pandemic’s disruption of routine—the unstructured time, depressing news, monotony, isolation, financial challenges, uncertainty, and loss of purpose and community—acedia and tristia can set in as it did for those ancient monks. We may experience worry or fear, dullness to our prayers, emptiness in our hearts, unproductive study, an inability to give thanks in all things, and even apathy toward God’s word. Joy can seem but a distant memory.

Unlike wrath, lust or greed, sloth is subtle and difficult to spot until it has taken hold. During a dark time several years ago I struggled with sloth. Calling it compassion fatigue, I was emotionally spent and felt hopeless, discouraged, and despondent. I imagine I’m not the only person facing this “terrible temptation” again today.

Jesus told us the most important commandment was to love God but sloth keeps us from doing that. It makes us focus on ourselves and our emptiness rather than God and His abundance. When discussing this sin, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God.” Sloth’s rejection of God’s gift is like a slap in His face—it’s no wonder Evagrius called it a “terrible temptation.”

David’s psalms indicate that he frequently experienced spiritual emptiness. In Psalm 13, we find him asking God, “How long?” not once, but four times in a row! Having lost the sense that God was there, life felt like an endless struggle; troubled and discouraged, he’d begun to doubt God’s plan. Yet, after asking God to “restore the sparkle to my eyes,” [13:4] he finished the psalm with words of trust and even joy.

In times like these, the enemy tries to steal our zeal, keep us from experiencing the joy of the Lord, and sabotage our sense of purpose with spiritual lethargy and inner emptiness. Whether or not sloth will be allowed to linger, however, is our choice. Like David, let us trust in God (even when it seems He isn’t there) and persevere in praying for relief from our emptiness and despair. He will restore the sparkle to our eyes!

But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me. [Psalm 13:5-6 (NLT)]

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. [Psalm 28:7 (NLT)]

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FAVORITE COLORS – MOTHER’S DAY 2020

tropical water lilies
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

“Who has been the most influential woman in your life? Who encouraged you to be the best version of you?” was the question asked in a Mother’s Day devotion I read. Typically, one would reply his or her mother. My mother, however, died when I was fifteen. She certainly got me started in the right direction but, in the nearly sixty years since her passing, many women added to what she left undone.

I remember the camp counselor who gave me some tough (and much needed) words of correction; the widowed aunt who demonstrated that a woman alone can do anything; the acquaintance who shared her story of molestation when she recognized the signs of mine; the college roommate who proved one could be both godly, virtuous and popular; my husband’s aunt who embraced her difficult circumstances without complaint and lived her life with joy; my mother-in-law who taught me what it means to be a wife; my mother-in-law’s caregiver who defined compassion and patience; and my daughter who has shown true grace under pressure. I remember the many women who generously and patiently taught me new skills, those who challenged me to reach far beyond where I thought I could, and those who encouraged me when I thought I could go no further. I’ve been made better by women who remained calm in chaos and whose faith endured in overwhelming storms. I’ve been deepened by women who stumbled and got back up, who cried and smiled again, who gave when they had little to give, who loved the unlovable, forgave the unforgiveable and laughed in the face of tragedy. Out of all the women who have touched my life in such positive ways, who would I pick?

The women who influenced me are a bit like a fabulous collection of crayons. I can’t select a favorite from among the 120 colors Crayola offers, so how could I pick just one woman among the many who have made me who I am? Each woman colored the canvas of my life in her own unique way. While my canvas may have a preponderance of colors like Mountain Meadow, Turquoise Blue and Cornflower (with a touch of my mother’s Granny Smith Apple and sister’s Bittersweet), I have been enhanced by the Razzmatazz, Shocking Pink, Unmellow Yellow, Vivid Tangerine, Cotton Candy, Wild Strawberry, Razzle Dazzle Rose and Outrageous Orange that were added by other women who blessed my life. I’m nowhere near complete and colors keep being added that will make me a better version of myself.

While all of the women who’ve helped color me are unique, like crayons that share the same box, they have something in common; they all were women of faith—women who believed in the power of Jesus Christ. They saw His light and knew the truth of His words. There is, however, a huge difference between those who just see the light and those who become His light. Those who merely see the light may know the truth but don’t leave their mark; those who become His light, live the truth, color the world with their beauty, and cause us to be better versions of ourselves.

Thank you, God, for the women (and men) who shed your light on us and color us with their love, concern, wisdom, faith, and good examples. They help make us all that You mean for us to be.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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YES!

You see, my dear family, we don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia. The load we had to carry was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself. Yes: deep inside ourselves we received the death sentence. This was to stop us relying on ourselves, and to make us rely on the God who raises the dead. He rescued us from such a great and deadly peril, and he’ll do it again; we have placed our hope in him, that he’ll do it again! [2 Corinthians 1:8-11 (NTE)]

blue flag irisI know I’m not invulnerable but I never thought of myself as particularly vulnerable until now. Since I am well over 65, I am officially vulnerable to COVID-19, as is my husband; that knowledge, along with the terrible toll being taken by this pandemic, has put me on edge. Knowing that it is just a matter of time before someone I love is taken down by this virus has unnerved me. That my prayer list is lengthening by the day doesn’t make it any easier. Before this, I rarely had been apprehensive about my health or that of my family, uneasy about our finances, or concerned about the family business. I’ve endured my share of trials, sorrow, illness, and uncertainty but this combination of circumstances is the “perfect storm” that has shaken me to my core.

As I prayed reassuring Bible verses this morning, I realized how much easier it is to talk the talk than actually walk the walk. I wondered if the Apostle Paul ever was shaken by circumstances. Throughout his ministry, he suffered trials and persecution. He was stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, betrayed, and abandoned and yet it seems as if God’s abundant grace sustained him throughout his life. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells of a time he felt unbearably crushed by circumstances, so much so that he thought he’d die. As he came to realize his powerlessness, however, he stopped relying on himself and came to trust and depend on God. Delivered by God from whatever the trial was, Paul boldly stated that God would deliver him again.

Jumping ahead another ten years, however, we find Paul in a Roman prison. A few years earlier, he’d been released from his first Roman imprisonment (a house arrest) but now he was sitting in Rome’s Mamertine dungeon. Although he’d escaped a death sentence at his preliminary hearing, he fully expected to be found guilty at his final trial. Knowing his execution was imminent, there was no bold statement that God would deliver him. Nevertheless, in 2 Timothy, we don’t read the words of a man who is afraid or anxious; they are the words of a man who trusts God and lives by faith rather than sight. They are the words of a man who is calmly facing his future, whatever that may be, with confidence that God will bring him safely into His kingdom.

Rather than saying, “No!” to God, we see Paul saying an enthusiastic “Yes!” to all that will happen, whatever that may be. Like Paul, we must learn to rely solely on God and release our fears and anxiety to Him. To really do that, however, we also have to release our future – our hopes and dreams – to Him, as well. Let us trust in God: that He will give us the strength to endure whatever the future holds and that, in the end, He will bring us safely into His kingdom!

How to get through this? My prayer will be the words of former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld: “For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.”

For I am already being poured out as a drink-offering; my departure time has arrived. I have fought the good fight; I have completed the course; I have kept the faith. What do I still have to look for? The crown of righteousness! The Lord, the righteous judge, will give it to me as my reward on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. … The Lord will snatch me clear from every wicked deed and will save me for his heavenly kingdom. Glory to him for the ages of ages, Amen! [2 Timothy 4:6-8,18 (NTE)]

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THE SONG OF HOPE

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. [Romans 12:12 (NLT)]

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. [Psalm 62:5-6 (NLT)]

northern mockingbirdA family of mockingbirds has moved into a nearby bush and they frequently serenade us from their vast repertoire of songs. Hearing their exuberant and joyful warbles is a perfect antidote to the sameness of life during this pandemic. While being charmed by their avian concerts, I thought of Emily Dickenson’s poem “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.”

What exactly is hope? In the world’s view, hope is like wishful thinking: an “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I hope it will be something good!” attitude. We hope for a cure, a job, a raise, or a phone call without knowing if we’ll receive them. Worldly hope can fail us—the cure isn’t found, the job falls through, the raise doesn’t materialize, or the phone doesn’t ring. We live in a fallen world where we will be disappointed and our hopes often are dashed.

Biblical hope, however, never disappoints because it is based on God’s promises; it is confident that something will come to pass because God has promised it! We may hope our circumstances will improve while knowing they might not but that uncertainty about our circumstances or how God will answer our prayers doesn’t mean we don’t have hope. Ours is a living hope; while it looks to the future, it is grounded in the present. We put our trust in God because His promises became a reality in Jesus. We don’t have to dream of a better life tomorrow because Jesus had given us a better life today. Our Christian hope is a confident expectation that God will work “for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” [Romans 8:28] It tells us that eventually God will deliver us and that our salvation is secure.

Although raised in a Christian family, Emily Dickenson never made a public profession of faith in Jesus, explaining, “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die.” She was, perhaps, more honest than many of us. Nevertheless, several of her poems reveal her Christian roots. I think she understood a Christian’s hope in her metaphor of hope as a bird. Just as a bird perches on a branch, hope rests in our soul. Like a bird, Christian hope sings its pleasing song endlessly and, undeterred by hardship, hope’s song sounds sweetest in a storm. The bird’s song can be heard from the coldest land to the strangest sea and Christian hope can be found from the bleakest of conditions to the most inexplicable of situations. Even in the harshest circumstances, the bird never asked anything of Dickenson and our hope, the hope offered by Christ, asks nothing of us. We can’t earn it or buy it; it is there for the asking if only we believe!

For many right now, this is a time of darkness and fear and it seems like hope has taken flight. It hasn’t! God doesn’t change—He’s still there—the promises He made yesterday hold true today. God promises to be with us—both on the hilltop and in the valleys. Promising provision, His grace is sufficient for us. Promising to empower us, He tells us that, when we are weak, He is strong. As I listen to the mockingbirds’ songs, it seems as if they know God’s eyes are upon them and that He will take care of them. [Matthew 6:26,10:29] They remind me to live with hope perched in my soul.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
[Emily Dickenson]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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DAY IS DONE

sunsetGod makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. [Psalm 19:4-6 (MSG)]

Being an early riser, I’m often out walking as the sun rises. Each new day brings amazing new opportunities and, while the mocking birds loudly sing their praises and the mourning doves coo their peaceful song, I thank God for yet another day on this side of the grass. While the morning’s soft pastels are beautiful, it’s the sunsets in our part of the world that are spectacular.

Our Florida lanai faces west and every evening, shortly before sunset, we try to stop whatever we are doing to admire the western sky. We breathe in deeply of God’s glory and majesty as He paints the heavens. We considered turning sunsets into something like an Olympic event and awarding points to God for each day’s sunset. The vibrant red ones that make the sky look as if it’s on fire might get nine or even ten points while a gray one having just a bare hint of pink might get only a two. After discussing it, however, we realized that sunsets, regardless of their colors, are truly magnificent and a cause for thanksgiving. Every sunset, no matter how colorful or dull, is a gift from God deserving of a perfect score and a reason for rejoicing. Sunsets mean we’ve made it safely through yet another day. They bring closure; we know that the day and whatever came with it, both good and bad, is over and done. But they also bring the promise of tomorrow and the wonderful possibilities that will come with a new day. Even our very last sunset will bring the assurance of dawn on the other side: it will be a time when we’ll truly see the Son.

Looking at the sun setting in the west, I recall my years at summer camp when I’d hear the solemn call of the trumpet at sunset and I silently sing the words to “Taps.” Indeed, all is well and I can safely rest because God is near. Tonight, at sunset, wherever you happen to be, pause, if only for a moment, and thank God for the privilege of one more blessed day.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Thanks and praise for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
[Horace Lorenzo Trim]

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop, they’ll stare in awe, in wonder. Dawn and dusk take turns calling, “Come and worship.” [Psalm 65:8 (MSG)]

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