All posts by Andra M.

Forcing Gratitude

Interesting title, don’t you think? Is it even possible? Can gratitude really be forced?

For someone to attempt to force others to be grateful, the answer is no. One can act grateful for fear of certain consequences, but in their heart and mind, I’ll wager they’d be far from grateful. I’d even bet they’d be angry and resentful.

I’ll admit I’m of the latter. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, while no one is forcing me to be grateful (as such), I am having a difficult time convincing myself I should be. That’s the whole reason behind the holiday: to express our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all our blessings.

And I should. Intellectually, I know that. My heart, however, is stubborn. It prefers to mope. To be resentful and keep count of all my losses, frustrations, and failures.

Even pointing out how many have lost more than me isn’t enough to pull my heart out of its malaise.

I know I’m not alone. No one is enjoying (except for politicians, bureaucrats, and tech companies) the current upheaval, the loss of liberties, and the general isolation from friends and family. The latter is especially difficult to accept right now considering Thanksgiving has always been about gathering and sharing in the year’s blessings.

We can’t celebrate that one cornerstone of the holiday this year, whether by a number of family members choosing not to, or by government edict. What, then, is the purpose of celebrating it now when it’s largely stripped of its meaning?

I know what some of you are thinking: I can still celebrate with my immediate family. I can still celebrate with others online. I can still count my many other blessings–for which I am self-aware and honest enough to know they’re innumerable.

Yet ignoring what my heart is telling me is not a solution. It’s pulling the wool over my own eyes.

Unless someone can show me different, no scripture exists that states we must ignore our griefs. And that’s what I’m feeling: grief over losing my country; grief over losing my God-given liberties; grief over my forced isolation; and grief with the certainty it’ll only get worse.

So while God doesn’t demand we never grieve or ignore it, he expects us not to wallow in them and provides ways to rise above them. I’ll admit when I searched for relevant scriptures, I was inundated with so many possibilities, how could I possibly narrow it down?

So I concentrated on Psalms, because David so often wrote about his own doubts, struggles, and grief:

Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

In short, no matter how much we grieve, God is there to lift us up. We just need to take a moment, be still, listen, and healing will come. As long as we believe he will. While gratitude can’t be forced, doing so is certainly in our best interest. Otherwise all we have to hope for is despair.

100!

I just received a notification that my humble blog has reached 100 followers. In today’s online world, that number may seem anemic, perhaps even something to avoid bragging about.

Considering I write more than market this blog, 100 followers is more than I expected.

So now I have to find a way to thank each one of you… perhaps share one of my short stories? A series of devotionals I wrote for my church? Reader’s choice?

I’ll let you decide.

Bowing to Nebuchadnezzar

I ran into a friend this morning and we got to chatting. At one point she mentioned the book of Daniel, and it reminded me of something I wrote back in 2015. After reading through it again, it seems even more applicable today and worth a repeat:

Yesterday a friend and I talked on Facebook about all the horrible things going on in the world. She commented, “Seriously I do wonder if we’re now living in the end times. The world is in a dreadful state and it is just getting worse.”

To which I responded, “I used to think that, but—at least from what I read—globally before and during WWII things were a lot worse.

“Some days I wonder why God is still waiting and wish he’d just end it already. Other days I’m grateful he’s not, because it gives everyone more opportunities to both spread and understand the truth.

“I feel selfish by wanting it to end, because it’s coming from a place of fear in that I don’t want to see my nation fall, or for my good life to end.

“I have to constantly remind myself that God is still in control. Even if there are hardships I can’t even imagine to come, I know eternity with God awaits me.

“I just hope I continue to have the wherewithal to show God’s love to others, but I sometimes (often) wonder why I bother since so many hearts are hardened against him.

“At least that’s how it seems. I could easily be wrong about that. I’ll never know when my words or deeds will influence someone the right way. Jesus didn’t give up; God hasn’t given up. Nor should I, because then I am no good to him or those who need him.”

I’ve heard a few people express concern that Christians are about to enter an era of persecution in Western countries including the United States.

I often wonder the same thing, especially recently, but then I thought, are trials and persecutions a bad thing—at least as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned?

In all instances when people or government tried to eliminate Christians and Christianity, they have instead resulted in explosive growth. Today, the highest percentage of Christian expansion is occurring in China and other oppressive regimes where it’s supposed to be illegal. Our country is also experiencing revival in spite of state and local governments shutting down or restraining churches.

It’s easy to stand with the faithless when they’re standing. Not so much when they all sit down. That’s when the faithful are noticed. It’s frightening to be singled out and take the risk of being vilified at best–killed at worst.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit down. It’s during the times when the faithless sit down that we must stand up taller. If we don’t, we show the world that we have fallen prey to our own fears; we prove our own faithlessness and even distrust of God’s promises.

After Nebuchadnezzar built his 90-foot-tall golden statue in the book of Daniel, all people from every nation were required to bow down to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. They stood up when everyone else bowed. The king noticed and demanded they be thrown into a fiery furnace. Because of their faithfulness, the fires didn’t touch them, and the King and all his men bowed down to worship God.

Sure, their faith led them into the furnace, but it also led them right back out again.

I like to say God loves paradox. He uses our weaknesses to show his strength. He uses the darkest moments in our lives to reveal his grace, his love, and his promises.

He uses the world’s attempt to kill Christianity in order to further his Kingdom.

We must be part of that, otherwise our own faith is meaningless.

Therefore, do not be afraid of today’s or future trials and tribulations. Don’t fret about governments’ attempts at restraining or destroying the Church or our faith. Welcome them, because it’s at those times people will see Jesus most clearly. Our mortal lives and daily comforts should be the smallest price we have to pay to help accomplish it.

The Liberty to Walk Away

I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.

One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”

Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.

The entire statement is absurd.

Nor is it scriptural.

How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.

The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.

Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.

One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.

The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.

Liberty is defined as:

• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views

• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved

• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]

• the power or scope to act as one pleases

But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?

The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.

So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.

Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)

The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.

Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.

We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.

So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Welcome to My Home

First a disclaimer: The above picture is not of my home. Mine’s far messier, and nor does it have a working fireplace.

Everyone has their house rules, both for those who live in it, and their guests.

One thing I always do when entering someone’s home is take off my shoes and treat their property as well as or better than I treat my own. Because that’s how I respect them and their kindness for allowing me into their home.

One thing I would never do is barge in, criticize them, their home, or their family and other guests. That would be rude, and would likely earn me a well-deserved kick out the door.

I treat other people’s social media pages the same way. That’s their home, and as such deserve to be treated with similar kindness and respect.

That’s why when I see someone post something I find objectionable, I scroll on by. It’s not my place to figuratively scream at them in their home uninvited. The only time I might step in is if they post something factually incorrect, but I will always be kind, and show them the facts via links or other means. That is still showing them respect, and most–if not all–have expressed their appreciation.

Now for my own social media house rules:

If you don’t like, or happen to disagree with anything I post, you don’t have to scroll on by. Come on in and let’s debate! All I ask is to refrain from personal attacks against me or my other guests.

The only other thing I will warn you of is that my social media house is rarely clean, and you may want to bring your own snacks. Coffee and tea will always be available, though.

When God Sings

Here in the States, we’re spoiled by many things. That includes not having to wait long for election results. As such, we’ve forgotten how to exercise patience.

For what appears to be exactly on par with the rest of 2020, we are forced to wait to find out who wins, and not only nationally. Some local elections can’t be called, yet, either. Part of it could be they’re as yet too close to call, or many ballots have yet to be counted (and some have yet to be delivered by the post office I’ll bet).

Many believe this is one of the most important national elections of our lifetime, so I can see why people are nervous and anxious. The number of people who voted alone proves that.

I am no exception. I, too, wanted results when I awoke this morning, but I’m also not surprised nothing was made official. Because that’s 2020 for you.

But I’m also not one to wallow in that anxiety (much), because it doesn’t change anything.

Yet God knows me better than I know myself, because I woke up to the lyrics of a song by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be Ok).” The lyrics parading through my mind were: “I hear the Father singing over me, ‘It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.’”

I will take that with me, not only during this nail-biting wait, but whenever I’m feeling lost or anxious.

I hope you, too, can sing to yourself, “It’s gonna be okay.”

You can find the entire song on YouTube here.

A Preference to be Force-Fed

Part of the problem of today’s society is we expect to be force-fed all our information. We don’t take the time to search for answers even though so much of it is literally at our fingertips, and would only take a few seconds to find.

For instance, I saw an event that looked interesting, so I clicked on it and perused the comments. Over 10% of them asked where it was. Yep, multiple people asked even after others had answered the first person who asked. Plus, all they had to do was click on the details of the event to find the exact location.

Once a few years ago, someone posted a flyer of an event where the location and time was emblazoned in the center with big, bold red letters. The first comment was: “When is it?”

Along the same thread, a local news source posted an outdoor Halloween Haunted House where all the proceeds go to a local children’s hospital. The rub: masks requested but not required. Note: this post is not about masks, so you can breathe easier.

That said, many of the comments were critical of their decision.
For example, one person wrote: “… yes it is a good cause which should make it a mandatory mask , their [sic] are ppl who would love to give but won’t go due to the covid [sic] if others are not wearing a mask . Make it mandatory.”

I responded thusly: “Ever hear of mailing a check? They might even have a way for you to contribute online if contributing to them is so important to you.”

It’s all part of the same idea of being force-fed everything (a bit ironic, though, since so many prefer to be force-fed). Too many seem to think there’s only one way to accomplish something–such as finding an address or contributing to a good cause.

God gave us brains for a reason. Or to quote Galileo Galilei: “I cannot believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

We need to quit being so [censored] lazy and start thinking for ourselves, and doing our own research instead of depending on everyone else to do it for us.

Choosing Fear

Is fear a choice? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself of late.

When my son was a bit younger, I allowed him to do things that could have hurt him: climbing trees, crawling up steep river banks, yes even using knives and matches after I showed him how to properly and safely use both. Nor did I ever leave his side when he did.

Some have asked me why, and the answer is simple: if he scrapes a knee, cuts or burns himself, he’ll quickly learn not to do it again. Because pain is the best teacher out there. More so than his mom constantly screaming, “Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!”

Almost all parents learn early on that children don’t always listen to motherly warnings, and eventually push against her natural desire to protect them from harm.

It’s a fine line between teaching children prudence and thoughtfulness when it comes to taking risks, or teaching them to be afraid of taking risks.

Because, like pain is a powerful teacher, fear is a powerful motivator. Healthy fear can prevent us from taking too big of a risk resulting in injury or death, or at least make us pause before we leap. Again, it’s a fine line, and everyone’s line is different. You’ll never see me parachute out of an airplane, but invite me on a fighter jet, I’m there!

Fear is necessary for our survival in many ways. It can quickly jump in when a dangerous situation arises. It releases adrenaline, which increases a body’s reaction-time, strength, and heightens awareness.

Another fear is the one that makes us pause, such as standing at the top of a hill and looking down the other side to gauge its steepness, and determine if we can climb down without risking serious injury or death.

Then there’s another, unrelenting fear that sticks with us day after day. All one has to do is look around to know we are drowning in it: fear of who’ll be elected; fear of losing our liberties (and in some instances, being allowed to keep them); fear of deadly disease; fear of natural (and unnatural) disasters. The list is endless.

Sometimes that fear can motivate us to work against any of the above such as voting, running for office, or campaigning for those of like mind; living healthy to strengthen the body; and preparing for natural and unnatural disasters (such as making sure our homes are secure against storms and our persons against tyranny). Again the list is endless. Being proactive is key in eliminating those fears.

So while fear can be a good thing, it can also hinder and cause us real damage. Unhealthy fear tends to overwhelm, not motivate. When it grabs hold, we isolate ourselves, lose trust in the people and world around us, and in the end quit living. When we quit living, we die soon after, because that fear too often leads to loneliness and despair.

As usual, I must turn to scripture. What does God say about being afraid, and is it really a choice?

And as usual, because fear is universal and effects us in so many negative ways, the Bible is filled with verses about it. Since this entry is getting a bit long, I will share only three. You should see a common thread in all of them:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“For God have us a spirit not of fear but of power love and self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (all verses in ESV)

In all three (and every other verse on fear I searched for) stressed the importance of depending on God–that only he can give us the strength and means to rise above our fears.

By wallowing in fear, we are in effect saying that God cannot be trusted or depended upon to protect us. The last verse in particular shows us what we can do.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Far from it. It takes constant, intentional effort. Sometimes daily, if not a minute-by-minute effort through constant, thankful prayer and supplication.

Yet it’s never without reward, that being God’s peace, and protection of our heart and mind. When we fill our heart and mind with God and his promises, there’s no room left for fear.

Spiritual Blockage

Last week I once again signed up to write a few devotions for my church during Advent. While normally greedy by picking between four and six, I chose two (mostly because we were asked to pick only one or two).

As I read through the suggested passages of the first day I chose, I noticed what I can only describe as a spiritual blockage. I couldn’t care about the passages, had no desire to prayerfully seek out wisdom and discernment, and allow God to use his voice through me.

It was a bit startling, and… sad. I honestly had no idea how much I’ve been struggling of late until that moment. I’ve kept it quiet, putting on a brave face—for myself as much as for everyone else.

I could attempt to convince myself that pretending to be strong and “together” was for the benefit of those around me, because they need me to be strong. That may be partially true, but I must also be honest if I am to learn and grow.

Pride is once again my main motivation.

Anyone who’s read my blog for a while knows I don’t enjoy admitting I’m weak. In fact, I hate it.

Yet it must be done. If I continue to allow pride determine my thoughts and actions, it becomes an idol and leaves no more room for God.

My apathy toward the passages mentioned above was God’s way of slamming a door in my face and saying, “You’re neither prepared nor equipped to uplift others until you let me uplift you.”

I like to think God uses the words I write to speak to others, but (again, I must be honest) most often the words that spill from my fingers end up speaking to me. That last statement above in quotes is one of them. I had to stop typing for a few minutes, because I could no longer see through the sudden tears. Just thinking about them now makes me want to cry all over again.

Because that’s who God is. Always aware, always standing by, ready to give us whatever we need—as long as we remain open to receive and accept what he offers with gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving.

And humility.

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless… But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-29, 31 (NLT)

Banish the Dark

I’ve always said our life is built in the moments. We are to live in those moments. We need to avoid dwelling on or live in the past, because it can’t be changed. Nor should we worry about the future, because we can’t control or predict it.

We should also avoid getting so caught up in the moment we’re not doing what we need to do to make that moment better.

For instance, it’s easy to wake up to a dark and cloudy morning and not look for or see the sun peek through a break in those clouds.

I took the above picture this morning as I walked into a coffee shop. If not for the bright orange ball reflected off the store window, I would have missed it by the time I bought my coffee and headed back to my car.

One of the first lessons I learned on my faith journey is that darkness can never banish the light.

I too often wallow in my daily frustrations—this morning being no exception. Yet watching that beautiful sun inevitably rise reminded me that it still rises to banish the dark—in spite of the clouds—-and God is still sovereign.