Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Haven't I Heard From You

Some of you recognized it immediately. It's an old Reba song, not a lament as to why you haven't called or written. Actually people seem to be working to keep in touch now better than before. If you haven't heard the song in a while (or ever, however horrific that might be) could I suggest you give it a watch on this world class video link? https://youtu.be/-d7vAbKTmus

I could humor myself for a moment and pretend that everyone took time to listen and watch the Queen of Country Music. Instead I will simply continue .... Deep Sigh ....

Our world has entered a new era. A time of reprioritizing and refocusing. More people are taking walks. More people are looking for creative things to do at home with people who live in the same home, but are rarely together. We can look at our current situation through many lenses. One lens I have been considering this morning brings clarity to what I have longed for in our family. Time to really be together and to learn how to interact in ways that bond us rather than break us. Activity and assignments often give us a false sense of togetherness while at the same time blocking the deeper intimacy that we are created to experience.

Social distancing has forced us into our homes and has created chaos for many. What if we looked at the situation differently? What if, instead of being forced into our homes, we see this opportunity as a gift to connect with those we say are most important to us? Granted, some in our society are fearful of being home because of abuse and other poor living conditions. I pray for safety for the battered spouse, the abused child, the neglected parent. We have to find a way to intervene in those situations, as well. For a majority of us, though, our biggest challenge surfaces when we realize that we have connected physically through hugs, roughhousing, and sitting on the couch watching a movie as much as we possibly can stand. We have connected emotionally through tears and/or outbursts of anger. What do we have left? What we are faced with is moving into the part of our being activity and assignment allow us to ignore in our daily walking around with each other.

Each of us has an inner spirit that longs to be known. At some point in our younger lives our spirits get wounded, and when that happens the rest of our being finds ways to adjust and to adapt. Our physical reactions and emotional responses build walls around our spiritual core that keep everything safe. What will happen if we don't find a way to live in these small group family units at a deeper level once we have exhausted the routine relational rodeo of our previous daily existence? Some will self destruct. Others will separate into deeper shells. Many will surrender to depression and anxiety. Who among us will accept the challenge to go deeper with one another? What if our inner spirits are crying out "why haven't I heard from you"? The journey won't be an easy one. We will need each other to make it through. Community and support will look different, but connections are still possible.

I'm hoping that this week our family can embrace the now and swim in deeper water. I pray that we can answer the question that our spirits ask of us as individuals and of each other. "Why haven't I heard from you?" This deeper spiritual place is the place of peace that makes up our core being. Why leave that space in our lives untapped when we are living in a world that has made it acceptable to be still?

I hope you will join me tomorrow at this same place. I was reading this morning and found some other insights that were helpful to me about other spiritual connections. What if April showers (the time of our continued social distancing) could really bring May flowers (the result of our inner efforts during these next thirty days).

Saturday, March 28, 2020


In my home office, I have a painting of the Hundred Acre Wood. For Christopher Robin and friends, the Hundred Acre Wood provided a safe place for adventure and relationship. A new world opened for Christopher Robin as he left the cruel, lonely, grown up world and entered into a relational calm filled with life, love, and laughter.

As a child I would sometimes build tents in my home with blankets over tables and chairs. This tent served as my version of your treehouse, or your clubhouse, or your bedroom. A shelter to think in, to dream in, to live in, even if just for a few brief moments in time. Because the tent was not a permanent structure and had to be put away a few hours after construction, I learned to find another shelter to shield me from the world around me. At an early age, I built a shelter in my own mental and emotional world where I could experience a life that made sense to me when the life around me seemed to be spiraling out of control. This inner shelter soon became an outer shield where I lived much of my life in two worlds. Behaving and talking and performing in the physical world became common place for me as I lived and breathed another existence under the hard shell I crafted to keep my true self from exposure.

The new era of COVID-19 has forced many into their own shells. Six foot distancing, stay at home orders, lack of medical supplies, suspicion over a neighbor's cough. All of these have created communities that are behaving, talking, and performing in the physical world, yet living and breathing another existence trying to adjust to a new normal. We fill our shelters with physical supplies that will far outlast the crisis. We find ways to connect with one another via chat rooms and online communities. We use screens to hide ourselves from family members that we are now forced to spend time with in close quarters. Shelter pulls at us while reminding us that having a place of protection from the outside world remains a basic human need.

Psalm 91:1 says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." The reference leads us to a spiritual shelter where we find hope, peace, comfort, love, and security. We struggle to find the shelter because the journey of our lives has taken us other places far from our spiritual anchor. We each possess a spiritual place where we can be one with our Creator. Physical and emotional experiences steal the keys that lock the spiritual self away to keep us from getting into the depths that God has provided for us as a safe shelter. Physical trauma and emotional trauma come in many forms. I would encourage you to research where trauma comes from and broaden your mind to the ways the enemy twists our lives to prevent us from knowing solitude and peace.

This week has been a week of adjustment for our family, and I am sure that the week has been one of adjustment for you. Everyone is home now, and we are figuring it out. We could choose to retreat into our worlds or we could choose to let our worlds collide into new adventures and journeys that will keep us connected for years to come. Even as we find ways to interact and know one another, we still must find our shelter, our safe place, our version of the Hundred Acre Wood. We can go for a moment and relax, laugh, live, but we can't stay there. Somehow these worlds have to collide, too. Somehow we have to find a way to break through the physical and emotional mess that is keeping our spiritual selves locked away. Meditation can help. Music can help. Reading can help. Resting can help. Recreation can help. All of these tools are useful, and for me these tools, guided by the power of God's Spirit, can help me find the security I need to bring all of my worlds - as messy as they may be - into focus. Will you join me on the journey? Let's make these next few days and maybe weeks the most significant weeks of our lives. Don't let a small virus destroy your inner being. Society may struggle and possibly crumble. Who knows? I do know this for sure from my own experience with working through personal trauma. "... Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5, ESV).


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

When the Led Becomes the Leader

For many folks, these last few weeks have become a whirlwind of emotion and stress. Not too long ago, we were planning for events and experiences that would propel us into new stages of our lives. Weddings, graduations, careers, tournaments, competitions, and other parts of our culture that have become commonplace. Today we live in a different world, at least for a time. We live in a world of waiting and wonder. The latest news update from the president or the governor bursts forth from our schedule as we listen intently to see how wide the virus has spread and what new limitations force us to get to know the people who are closest to us in ways that we might never have considered before.

Businesses are scrambling to know how best to support employees during this time. Churches are searching for new ways to keep a community of people together when physical distancing is becoming more normal. Therapists are scheduling more patients even doing so remotely because the fear grips at the very core of our being. Through this new medical war we are learning a lot about who we are as people and about what motivates us to do what we do.

This past Sunday morning I woke up at 3 am hoping that the worship service we had planned for our church was completely posted to the internet. People were anxious about not gathering together and wanted some gathering point even if the gathering point was online. It took about forty five seconds for me to walk down the hall to learn that my hope was not reality. The worship service had not posted. The file was too large. Now these are not issues I am used to or equipped to handle. Stress set in quickly. Failure screamed in my head. Disappointment criticized me by telling me that yet again I was letting everyone down. Control stabbed me and forced me to find a way to fix it all in just a few short hours. No matter how hard I tried, I failed at every attempt. I turned to the Lord and prayed that He would demonstrate His power over technology by making things work. He didn't choose to respond according to my desire.

By 11:00 am the avalanche of all my past was crashing around me internally. I desperately tried to hide it. Frustration mounted around me so the only thing I knew to do was to pretend that everything was okay. I had posted a link on our website to Gateway Baptist Church in Irmo, South Carolina. A close friend of mine leads worship at Gateway, and I knew that if friends and family would find that link, his pastor's heart would pour out through music to minister to them and bring them to the throne of God. What I discounted was how the Lord would use Jeremy's heart for leading God's people to remind me of a simple truth.

As we watched and listened to the music part of the worship, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.
Not audibly, yet clearly. The earth that had fallen around me began to settle, and rescue headed my way. The voices of defeat from my past continued to scream, yet the Holy Spirit's sweet whisper overcame the voices. Jeremy had been in a small group I was part of when Karen and I first started youth ministry. His family and our family became close and have remained so. The Lord allowed me the privilege to make some investment in his life, all of which the enemy continued trying to keep me from seeing. This time was not the first time the enemy threw blinders on me. This time, though, the Spirit's still voice was coming through. Jeremy stopped singing, and he picked up his Bible. He read from Psalm 46. I wonder if you might take a moment and read that Psalm with me? (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+46&version=ESV)

As Jeremy read from God's word about the earth giving way and the waters roaring I began to feel the Spirit lifting me to the "holy habitation of the Most High." In spite of my messed up life - yes in spite of me - the Spirit of God had taken this young man from a Godly family and was using him today to reach masses who were struggling to find some stability in uncertain times. Not until later when I stepped outside of the house did I fully grasp what the Lord taught me during that time of worship. He doesn't need me to do His work. He wants to use me, and He will use me, but He doesn't need me. He can do just fine on His own. My frantic efforts to do the right thing by everyone else are nothing compared to the "Lord of hosts," literally the Lord of armies.

The verse came back to me that he read so confidently. The very verse I have shared on multiple occasions. "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10, ESV. The Lord will be exalted whether or not I can make things come together. The Lord will be exalted whether or not everyone thinks I am working hard enough. The Lord will be exalted whether or not the earth shakes and trembles. He is God, and being in His presence brings peace. His desire for me is to be still and know Him. He used a young teenage boy who has become a compassionate young man with a gift for music and a heart for God's people to remind me to be still. I long for the stillness and acceptance I saw in Jeremy Sunday. That longing is only filled by Christ. What a blessing to be still and consider what God does when the one who was led becomes the leader.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Social Distancing

The view from the front porch has changed over the last couple of years. We live in a different world than we did back then. You've changed, and I've changed, too. I'm older now. Dumber than ever. More realistic perhaps. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just more transparent with my reality now. I'm heavier than I used to be. Can't see as well and can't hear as well. I'm older now.

The circumstances of COVID-19 (isn't it amazing how some phrases can so quickly become household phrases?) cause many to take a moment to reflect and cause some to take several moments to react. Reflection or reaction. Two responses to life that lead us down very different paths. Which path are you on? Do you ever feel like you've got one leg on one path and one on the other? Visualize that humorous picture for a moment. Here we go walking down diverging paths with our legs spread wide trying to walk down both paths. Eventually, we will end up doing the splits and falling flat on our faces (or perhaps the other direction - don't visualize that one too much please). As human beings, one would think, at least from my front porch, that we have to choose. Are we going to be reflectors or reactors?

Psalm 27 paints a portrait for us from a king who made a decision to be a reflector. You might consider joining me briefly in reading the Psalm. It's not a long one.

David gives us insight into his quiet time on numerous occasions, and Psalm 27 is one of them. He openly talks about fear and loneliness. He references anxiety and the unknown. Reading David's journal takes me to the enemies I fight daily. Physical, emotional, and spiritual enemies struggle within me to steal my peace and joy. Fear and desperation fill the space of the fight. I can't make it on my own. As I consider all those in our community who are fighting similar battles, I wonder how many are trying to make it on their own.

The idea of social distancing makes it difficult to join others in the fight. One of my wife's coworkers pointed out that we are social people creating to need each other. She coined a new phrase - "physical distancing yet socially connecting." The new phrase requires creativity and energy, but isn't the value of community worth the creativity and energy required? Do we need crafted environments to care for another, to enjoy one another, to hear one another? Limiting groups of 10 or more don't stop us from living. Here are some ideas.

1. Walk outside and try to find a neighbor you've never met. Smile, wave, and consider initiating a conversation. You don't have to be in someone's face to hear his story.

2. Call a senior adult you know and see if she needs you to run to the grocery store for her or pick up her medicine. She is afraid. You are not. Do something.

3. Trim your bushes that desperately need trimming. You'll feel better. Your neighbors will appreciate you. You might actually get some blooms that have been kept back. Clean your driveway. It's amazing what clean concrete will do for the senses.

4. Spend some time on your porch or just sitting down in the grass in your yard. Soak in the sun (with sunscreen please) and breathe deeply. Thank God for the ability to breathe.

5. Read a new book or start a new Bible study.

6. Write cards and encouraging notes for someone.

7. Take some games to a foster family trying to figure out what to do with their new time together.

8. Prepare a meal for someone who can't get to the store and who can't do takeout. Or even better, support a small business by buying a meal for takeout and delivering it to someone with a smile. You can leave it at their door and give them a smile through a window.

9. Talk to the people in your house about their own fears and dreams and hopes for the future.

10. Play your favorite music loudly and dance around the house. Who cares if someone is looking? Use physical distancing to your advantage.

11. Play worship music and mediate on the faithfulness of God. Use your time to enter into His presence and to know Him more fully than you've known Him before.

12. Record yourself reading some books and share them with your children and grandchildren. Post them online so children in a children's hospital perhaps can log into them and hear them. Maybe sing some songs, make some crafts, and connect online with folks at a Ronald McDonald House, in a cancer ward, or at a senior living facility. In addition to the diseases these people are fighting, now their social interaction has been take as well.

David celebrates in Psalm 27:6. "And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord." Let not your head be low. Let our Father lift our heads by the power of His Spirit. Don't let the physical, emotional, and spiritual enemies defeat you. Offer sacrifices of joy to the world around you. Sing. Sing loudly and make melody to the Lord!!! The world needs to see Hope that comes from Christ alone. I choose today to be a Reflector. Will you choose with me?