Bloomin’ Thought for the Day: Love One Another

John 12: 34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

When I was planning my new rose garden, I chose 5 roses, each with a different color. I’m not a vanilla kind of gal; I need a variety of flavors in my life. I think that’s why I worked in Emergency Rooms for the majority of my nursing career. We never knew what was coming in, so we had to be on high alert through the whole shift. I enjoyed the challenges each new day presented, and the knowledge I acquired from them. There was always something new to learn.

I’m feeling a bit frustrated right now, though, because the challenges that are smacking me in the head are those that we are all facing, not just nurses and doctors. We are all trying to discern ways to deal with COVID 19. This is something that none of us have ever experienced, and one that seemingly has no end.

There is a larger problem, however, that also seems unlikely to end any time soon. The racial tensions in America are at the highest levels I think anyone has ever seen, and I can’t help but think we are making matters worse instead of better. Hate is spilling over the top from both sides, racial and political, and the chasm between them seems to be growing deeper.  As a child, I never felt any fear or animosity against anyone unless they hurt me, and even then, by the next day the transgression was forgotten. I still give people who hurt me multiple chances at reconciliation.

Now, though, I struggle to understand, or make sense out of, the violence that is poisoning our lives. I’m angry seeing innocent people being harmed or killed or businesses destroyed. So many people have tried to explain that this is in response to many years of persecution that African Americans have endured. As much as I do understand that, no one can convince me that violence is the answer, especially since I believe that the residual riots have little to nothing to do with the initial trigger. Changes need to be made for sure, but it will take time, and we have to be patient. I must believe that peace will come. I don’t know when or how, and the resolution may be painful, but I can’t imagine we can sustain ourselves as a nation with all this hate and anger.

As I was enjoying my rose garden today, I was struck by the fact that, of the seven rose bushes I planted, all are either already beautiful, or showing healthy growth, but one: my Peace Rose. Granted, I planted it later than the rest, but it’s not even showing even tiny signs of growth yet.  I placed it right in the middle of the multicolored roses. As I contemplated the question of whether my Peace Rose will grow or not it, I became sad. Isn’t it a bit like the turmoil of today? Different colors on both sides of the virtual battlefields, and peace hasn’t yet begun to grow.

Just as African Americans are trying to achieve recognition and reparations in the world, God is also at work trying to do the same thing. I believe He is pleading with us to turn our attention to Him and to His sovereign words, the most important of which is love. If we would all do that, “red and yellow, black and white”, and remember that we are all “precious in His sight”, this world might stand a chance at survival. “Jesus loves the little children of the world”, and adults, too, and He charges us to do the same.

Life Review

I think I’ll beat Facebook to the punch. It always reminds me that “your followers haven’t heard from you for awhile”, so I need to write something. That’s about all it will be: something. I don’t know why, but I’m blanking on content right now. My book is essentially done, COVID 19 masks have been made and delivered, existing gardens are weeded and looking good, and the house is “kind of “clean. Well, that might be pushing it a tad, but I’m working on it! I feel like my brain has nothing left to compose. Maybe it’s the old depression popping up because of all this nonsense going on in the world or maybe it’s COVID 19-inspired cabin fever that’s blocking out my creative thought processes. There was also a fire in my neighborhood last night that left me with a deep sadness for the owners. I can’t imagine having to start all over again like that. They lost everything. At least everyone was safe.

My husband and I just watched something on TV that my son, David, had told us about called “The Afterlife” by John Burke, who is an agnostic-turned-Christian minister after having a near death experience. He interviews four other people who have had these, one of them being an avowed atheist professor who turned to Jesus after he died, went to Heaven, and came back. It’s a fascinating watch, and I am a staunch believer, as many of you know, but one part disturbed me. They all reported that they were faced with their life story at Heaven’s gate, the whole thing. Can’t we just go in without having to relive the pain of our mistakes? I mean, He knows our hearts, and it’s all recorded on that Heavenly scroll of His, so why do we have to be reminded? I’d prefer not to do that. But, I guess it’s a small price to pay for what Jesus had to endure for us.

These current events of ours have stimulated speculation about the end times once again. Throughout history, apocolyptic believers have surfaced when things like this have happened. I won’t reiterate, but if anyone is interested, listen to David’s sermon on it. I’ve embedded it below on the Facebook link. I know he is my son, but he really pulled everything into a collective perspective about it and I was so proud of him. He’s not an ordained minister but was subbing one Sunday when his pastor was gone.

The whole thing in a nutshell is that, whether these are the beginning of the end times or not, Matthew 24:36 says it all. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of Heaven nor the Son, but the Father only”. We have to be ready every day of our lives for Jesus’s return and live according to His word, but not just for the end times. No one knows what we will confront minute by minute in life that might cause us to come face to face with an action video of our lives.

Will the good things I’ve done in my life outweigh the pain I’ve caused others? I guess my life review will tell me, whether I want to hear it or not. I only hope I am deemed worthy to enter the holy gates when it’s my time. We must always be ready.

Below is a link to the show we watched, The Afterlife.

What is This Lent Thing That’s Coming Up?

Already? It feels like I just finished putting Christmas things away. Well, that’s probably because I just kind of did. Lent is only a week away and once again time to think about what I will be “giving up”. Unlike the advent season, which, for Christians, is a joyous and preparatory time for the birth of the Christ Child, Lent is a somber time because these days lead up to a day of memoriam for the crucifixion of the adult Christ. It represents Jesus’ 40 days of fasting, praying, and contemplating his fate in the wilderness prior to his murder at the hands of those who feared him. Although He was the holy son of God, He was also the son of humans and shared the same fears of pain and suffering as we do. He knew what was about to happen and he was sad and frightened, but willing to fulfill God’s plan, which had long-before been prophesied.

Lent is a time for reflecting on our lives and our faith. We believe that God gave us the ultimate sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins, His son, Jesus Christ; and Jesus, in turn, suffered and died so that we may live; not that we may live on this earth, since we all have that opportunity as soon as we take our first breath, but that we may have the promise of everlasting life in Heaven with God upon our physical deaths. So, if we are all promised life after death because of God’s sacrifice, the forgiveness of all our sins through Jesus, then why do we even have to bother being good? Because God is our Father and He said so, and because we should honor His sacrifice every day of our lives by living according to the instructions that He gave us through his son, Jesus Christ, and His disciples, in scripture.

Why is giving something up for Lent so important? It’s not a ticket to Heaven if you do, or the fast train to Hell if you don’t, but Lent gives us an opportunity to contemplate Christ’s sacrifice and, in so doing, determine how we can speak to that sacrifice in our own lives. By giving up something important to us in honor and in memory of Him, we are acknowledging the significant place His gift holds in our hearts and our minds. We are feeling, in some unimaginably minuscule fashion, the discomfort Jesus felt hanging on that cross. Although it would be utterly impossible to even begin to fathom His pain and suffering, our own small “sacrifices” can at least make us aware of the unselfishness shown in our names and of His omnipotent presence in our lives. It can remind us that we, ourselves, need to be unselfish and give out of love, just as He did. If you think you can’t be that “good”, just remember that you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens you”. (Philippians 4:13).

What will you give up? Sweets? For most of us, this is the time-honored sacrifice of Lent. When I do this, though, I always feel like there is a part of me that has something to gain, or shall I say lose, which is a gain for me, from this choice. This year I’m going to give up something that deprives me of pleasure but whose withdrawal doesn’t benefit me in some way. I may do the sweets thing, too, though, because at least it makes me think about Jesus’ sacrifice.  

What will your sacrifice be? Whatever it is, put yourself in our Savior’s place and consider what your feelings might be, knowing that in 40 days you would be scorned, whipped, denied by a trusted and beloved friend, betrayed by another for 30 pieces of silver, and made to carry the heavy wooden cross that would be the vehicle of your death on your shoulders. You would carry this cross on a long road and up the hill that would be the place of your suffering and death. You would be secured to this cross by nails hammered harshly through your hands and feet. You would be hung between two criminals, a crown of thorns piercing your head, and given vinegar to drink instead of water. All this would be in the presence of hateful revelers, mocking you until you breathed your last. Choose your sacrifice but remember His.

Good Bones Will Last

“Daddy, I had a weird dream last night”, a son said to his father one morning.

“What did you dream about?”, asked his dad.

“I dreamed that I looked out the front door and all I could see was fog, nothing else at all. It just looked like a gray wall. I went to find you to show you and when we looked outside, it was clear. Then we look in the sky. The sky was dark but there was patch of really bright color in the sky that looked like a flat rainbow. As we watched, the rainbow made itself into the shape of a fish. There was even a black circle in it for an eye. It stayed there for a while and then started turning around. As it turned around it gradually turned itself into the skeleton of the fish but still had the black eye. What does that mean? It was really weird.”

“Well, son, dreams are hard to explain. They usually represent something and it’s tricky to figure out sometimes”, said the dad, “but this is what I think. The rainbow represents God’s promise to us never to destroy the earth by water again. The fish symbol was used by early Christians to identify themselves to each other. Some people in Jesus’s time were afraid of Him because they didn’t want to lose their power if he was truly the Son of God, the King of Israel, the expected Messiah. They didn’t want to be taken over. The people that truly believed in Him were in danger of harm from the ones that hated him, so in order for them to be able to continue spreading the Good News of Jesus without being killed, they used a fish as their identification. They would draw a fish in the sand to let other Christians know they were there. The fish became a universal symbol of Christianity, something like the cross, only not quite as important”.

“Is that why I see those metal fish on cars and that symbol on religious things?”, said the boy.

“Yes”, said his dad. “When the people who were afraid of him crucified Jesus on the cross, he died, and his followers took his body and buried it in a cave. When they came back to see him three days later, he was gone”.

“Right, because he arose from the dead”, said the son.

“Exactly”, said his dad, “but his physical death did not not keep his disciples from passing on to other people all the things He taught them about, like God’s love, salvation, right and wrong, good and evil, sin, and how to have eternal life in Heaven with God. They wrote letters to different cities with all of Jesus teachings and asked the people to make sure they passed it on to others”.

“The Bible”, said the son.

“Yes, his father acknowledged. “I believe your fish bones represent the Bible. You can remove the flesh from a fish but if you don’t destroy the bones by picking them apart and cutting them up, they will stay good bones. The Bible is ‘good bones’ for Christians to study and live by. It is the Word of God for the people of God and we must live by what it teaches us. If we try to pick it apart and make it different than what it is just so it suits us, it’s no longer the bones of our faith, it’s whatever structure people want to make it. We can’t let that happen. The Bible is God’s law, son, and we must obey his law. The world will try to fog our view of God’s promise and His word, so when we think we can’t see His way for awhile, like through the fog in your dream, we have to take a step back and then look at it again. God will be there because He never leaves us, just like the eye never disappeared whether it was on the rainbow fish or the skeleton. He is always watching over us. We have to spread His Word and become fishers of people, just as He asked of us. Good dream, son”.

Yes, this was my real dream last night. I had to share it with you.

What to Believe, What to Believe?

Faith goes through stages of growth and maturity along with our bodies, if it is born and nurtured within our homes. My earliest recollection of faith is of my Nana, before her stroke, rocking me and singing songs of faith. One of my favorites was “Bringing in the Sheeps”. My older readers may smile, knowing that the song is actually “Bringing in the Sheaves”, but to a 4 year old, “sheeps” was as close a word as one could get from a toddler word bank. A few years later I remember loving her Bible, and her mustard seed necklace. (Matthew 17:20). I used to lie next to her in her home hospital bed while she read her small Bible and I would flip through its dog-eared pages. My aunt told me that she would buy me one of my own if I left Nana’s alone. I’m sure she worried that my small, less-than-dexterous fingers would rip the old, delicate pages. I have that King James Bible she gave me to this day. I just wish I knew where my Nana’s is.

My mom didn’t go to church, or anywhere else, because she was my invalid Nana’s primary caregiver, and we didn’t have a car. Well, that “it takes a village” thing started long before Hillary made it a household word. The Junior Choir director at church called my house and invited me to join, my aunt or uncle would drive me to practice on Wednesdays, another church member who lived a block away picked me up for Sunday School and church, a friend’s parents introduced me to the Moravian Christmas Eve Vesper Service, which I loved, and my next door neighbor took me to Vacation Bible School at her church. As I got older, I walked to church by myself. I had my own village long before it was cool.

It all seemed so simple, then, to believe in God, to believe that He gave His only son to save us from our sins, to believe in a place of eternal suffering if we do not accept these basic teachings, and to believe that the Bible was the only true source for the Word of God. Remember “It stands alone on the Word of God. The B-I-B-L-E”? It’s not so simple, anymore. I understand that the Bible was written by men and, therefore, only consists of words from men, not God, himself. But weren’t these men chosen by, and taught by, Jesus, himself, who was God incarnate? How much closer can we get to His Word? And yet, the Bible is constantly being revised, either in the form of one of its multiple translations, or one of the various doctrinal statements of individual denominations. Why are there so many opinions on God’s Word?

I’m not uneducated. I’m aware that there are no simple answers to these questions, but it seems that our opinions align with the societal norms du jour. There are clear differences between the Old and the New Testaments, with Jesus being the New Covenant of God, the loving counterpart to the wrath of God of the Old Testament. It’s like God said “OK, I’m tired of all you people not believing and not listening to me, and even more tired of yelling at you and being angry all the time. I am giving you proof of my existence and His name is Jesus. He will teach you about love and sacrifice.” Therefore, love is the predominant message of the New Testament, which gives voice to love, acceptance, inclusion, and understanding, all good stuff.

My question is, do the teachings of the New Testament negate the teachings of the Old Testament when they conflict? How about the directives that are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments? Why are we allowed to just assign our own interpretations to things that are clearly stated in God’s book? And why are there so many of them? If there is such a tendency to change the Gospel to the way society wants it to be according to the date and time, then why do we even need the Bible today? Maybe there should be Amendments. Or maybe every person should write his or her own Book of Discipline based on how he or she wishes to live life.

I don’t even know if my own denomination believes in Hell.  Apparently, some religious people don’t, and I do know that it is rarely, if ever, mentioned at my church, at least at services it isn’t. As a Lutheran growing up, the Apostles Creed said that Jesus “was crucified and descended into Hell. The third day He arose and ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Then at some point it was changed to “descended to the dead”, and now, the Methodists say that “He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he arose, according to the scriptures, and ascended into Heaven”. So now he didn’t descend anywhere, and what? A disclaimer: “According to the scriptures”? As though there is some other authority on the subject? Why should we be given the trophy of eternal life just for participating in the game of earthly life? And what will be next? Will we delete “and he will come again to judge the living and the dead”? Don’t mess with the Second Coming, please. Some Christian churches even refuse to administer communion, the body and blood of Christ, to those not in their particular denomination. How is that in unity with Christ?

I want to go back to the days when people believed in biblical morality, when the Word of God really was for “the People of God” and not the Word of the People for the People of the People. That’s the Constitution. Different genre. I long for the time when everyone knew what a sin was.

Of course, all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. All of us. The trick is to recognize our sin, repent, ask for forgiveness, and then “go and sin no more.” John 8:11. It isn’t always easy if that sin fulfills a need in our lives that isn’t getting fulfilled elsewhere, but that doesn’t make it less of a sin; it just makes it a more difficult temptation to overcome. Forgiveness is promised to us through the blood of Christ, but only if we can recognize sin when we see and not do it. Asking for forgiveness and then deliberately repeating our sin, knowing we will be forgiven, doesn’t cut it.

I just don’t know what we, as Christians, are supposed to believe, anymore, in this modern time of ours, but I do know what I believe in my heart and mind. Maybe “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) wasn’t only meant for the people at the cross.