Last night a storm came through our town, it continued through most of today bringing strong winds and blowing snow. My husband was sick, so he slept upstairs in our bed and I crashed on the couch, only I couldn't really crash. I just laid there for hours listening to the sound of the wind rushing around our house and through the trees. I heard the creaking of the front porch swing. I felt the strangeness of "perfectly still air" indoors knowing that just on the other side of the window, the door, the exterior walls, the air was anything but still. It was violent, powerful, unstoppable.
I immediately formed a mental picture of the protection of God while the storms of life rage all around yet inner peace is maintained supernaturally. I thought I'd spend some time today writing about that beautiful stillness in the storm. But when I sat down to write, I knew there was more to the story, or at least a different angle. Some winds we are not supposed to be sheltered from. There is a wind we are supposed to be right in the middle of, enveloped by, changed by.
The winds of this world, Jesus can still. He proved that on more than one occasion with his disciples on the sea. Sometimes he demonstrated this power by his words, rebuking the wind and the waves, and other times by his mere presence (Matthew 4 & 6). It strikes me, that when Jesus instructed His disciples that He would have to leave them to return to the Father, but that a helper would come - that the helper was ushered in by a violent, rushing wind (Acts 2). Wind leaves little doubt as to power. Unseen power. Every power on earth was created by God and is less powerful than God, a pale glimpse of what He is capable of. The sun in our solar system is unbelievably bright, so bright we cannot gaze directly at it for very long without fear of damaging our eyes, but we are told that when we are in God's presence in heaven there will be no need for a sun to provide light and warmth. God will BE our light. Unfathomable!
It is only fitting then that He should demonstrate a greater wind as well. A wind that brings life and not destruction. A wind that can distinguish between that which should remain and that which should be blown away within the soul to make room for that which should reside there. I am feeling that now in my own life. Feeling the aches and pains of old soul scars acting up, as a fresh wind prepares to blow through and bring about some needed changes in my life. As Christians, we are not able to live comfortably, happily, unscathed while holding on to things that do not belong in our souls - sinful attitudes, actions, desires. They eat at us and the pressure mounts, reminding us that these lesser gods have no place in our lives. And yet, if we insist on them for long enough, God will allow us to batten down the hatches of our hearts, boarding up the open places - and effectively QUENCH the wind of His Spirit. We haven't beaten Him or overpowered Him if we do this... we have rejected His life-giving work.
This song, by Keith Green expresses a desire to remain wide open for the wind of God's Spirit to blow through our lives and do the work it was created to do. I used to sing it in college and it comes to mind frequently. May I ever be grateful for and open to His Mighty Rushing Wind.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me:
I've been born again.
Holy Spirit, I surrender; take me where you want to go.
Plant me by your living water,
Plant me deep so I can grow.
Jesus, you’re the one who sets my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Separate me from this world, Lord;
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.
Ev'ry day you're drawing closer;
Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done, Lord,
You know it's been worth the wait.
Jesus, you’re the one who set my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me,
For I've been born again.
I've lost nothing, personally. Not a family member or friend. Not even a community member or a friend of a friend. Yet, my stomach churns and the tears flow.
I find myself asking... Do I get it now? Do I recognize the frailty of life? Is this what it takes to wake up a 30-something wife and mother to the reality that she will eventually lose every relationship and every earthly thing - either when they pass on to eternity or when she does?
Everything on this earth can and will be shaken. Do I really understand that now? If I do, how then shall I live?
Is this a wake-up call to YOLO living? You do only live once, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to pursue a cause? Gun control? Anti-gun control? Better care and more options for those with mental illnesses? Surely some action should be taken, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to love my family more fully? Do I need to become more involved in my son's school? Devote more time to family activities? Visit relatives more frequently? Family is important, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to be more observant? Do I need to pay closer attention to the people around me who may show signs of being unstable? Should I think back on every person I've known through the years and see who might fit a profile? After all, If I don't notice, who will?
Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be encouraged to do all of these things by a variety of people we have likely never met nor will we ever meet - newscasters, political figures, heads of movements - and we may even be challenged to examine some of these things by our own family and friends. We are awake now, and when you are awake it is time to get up and do something.
So what shall we do? How shall we live in a world where horrible things happen without a single warning? Here are some suggestions the Bible offers for living "fully awake:"
1. Know God. At the end of the day, everything in this world can be shaken and taken. Make it a point to know the only One who cannot. There is no excuse for not getting to know Him. Romans 1:20 NIV: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." The unshakable, unchangeable God of the universe invites you to know Him: James 4:8-10 NIV - "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
2. Be Kind, Forgiving and Joyful. Pray and Give Thanks to God. Once you know God and you are steadily learning more about Him more, you inevitably want to know what He wants from your life. What is his will? 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 - "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
3. Spread His Hope, Lovingly. Don't keep His light to yourself. The world is a dark place. Don't just be glad for the Holy Spirit's unquenchable flame in your life; share it with others. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV - "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
We can do these things, and by God's grace, though outwardly we may be wasting away as the world turns on, inwardly we can be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
It will take people who are being inwardly renewed day by day to keep up the good fight - to live life knowing we only have so many days on earth, to respectfully and passionately pursue causes worth pursuing, to love our families selflessly, and to be truly observant and mindful of those around us.
"For this reason it says, 'Awake, Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." - Ephesians 5:14
When hard times come and the future is uncertain, it is easier to put 100% of our hope in God... frankly, because nothing on Earth is holding out much promise of hope during those lowest-of-low points, so what do we have to lose by crying out to God to save us? Help us? Give us a hope and a future?
But then, something appears on the horizon - the prospect of a longed for relationship, a needed job possibility, a remedy or diagnosis for our physical pain, something that appears to be an answer to our problems. It may or may not be from God, it is too soon to tell, but it provides a tangible alternative for our hope, and how easy it is to stop trusting in God and start holding out for hope in that which is visible.
This fight is harder than we want to admit. This inward battle of the soul and mind. We know that God is where our hope resides, yet we don't know what He has in store for us, and if we see the slightest glimmer of something concrete that might improve our situation, we loosen the lasso of our hope from our Creator and hitch it to the closest shooting star to see how far it will take us. We don't reject God completely, of course, we just put him on a shelf and "use Him" for other, lesser forms of comfort; planning subconsciously, if not consciously, to get back to fully trusting Him just as soon as this latest glimmer plays itself out.
It is exciting, chasing a glimmer. Except when it isn't. Except when we find that the thing/person/position/answer we thought was concrete was actually an illusion. Either it didn't make itself available to us, or it did but then disappointed us - jumping off the other side of our see-saw while we were still high in the air, sending us crashing back to reality. That is when we come grovelling back (if we are wise). Admitting once again that the world only has false hope to offer, that the only One who can thrill and sustain for the long haul is God.
It reminds me of Lucy holding that blasted football for Charlie Brown. Imploring him to come kick it. He KNOWS she will disappoint him, humiliate him, HURT him by pulling it away at the last minute; but he can't resist. It is right there in front of him and he can see it... unlike his dignity, unlike his sense of worth, which can be illusive.
I've come to the conclusion that this is just how it is. Just how it is going to be until the day we die. A FIGHT. A daily fight to pry our own grip from things and people - even good things and people - that consume our thoughts with the potential hope that they hold out. We must daily walk the tightrope of exploring the glimmers of hope that appear without allowing them to consume us. God will not be "used." He is not "an" answer, He is THE answer.
So here's to fighting the good fight! Here's to being grateful for the glimmers but indebted to the True Source of Light.
Psalm 25:4-5 NIV, "Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long."
I laugh easily. Sometimes, I laugh a tad bit too loudly. I have learned not to be self conscious about my laughter because laughter is one of God's precious gifts.
A couple of days ago I wrote a post about some brain research that I have been doing, and I mentioned how when the brain senses a threat to our physical or social well-being the amygdala releases electro-chemicals that produce an instantaneous sense of dread and a readiness to act and defend/protect ourselves. This is a good thing... except when it isn't. We've all been there. Something bad ALMOST happens, then it doesn't yet we can't shake that heavy feeling of foreboding for a long time afterward even though the threat is gone. We want to! Logically we know there is nothing wrong, but it takes awhile for those electro-chemicals to dissipate. For me this happens whenever there is a close call on the road. When an accident ALMOST happens, but doesn't. It seems to take ages before I can feel light-hearted and relaxed again.
Guess what brain research has shown us? Laughter is the thing that can restore balance in the brain faster than anything else! Its almost like your brain hears you laughing and goes, "Hmmm, I guess this isn't the end of the world. If she can laugh about it, or during it, there must be hope! Guess I'll settle down."
The Bible alluded to this long before any MRI or CT Scan or EKG of brain activity appeared on the scene. Check it out:
Proverbs 17:22 ESV "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
In Pastor Rick Warren's article, "Learn to Laugh" in the Christian Post he says this: "Humor is an amazing thing. It’s a tension dissolver. It’s an antidote to anxiety. It’s just like a tranquilizer, but without any troublesome side effects. And it’s free! You don’t even need a prescription. Laughter is life’s shock absorber. If you want to have less stress in your life, learn to laugh at your circumstances. Somehow, you must find the fun in the frustrating." So true! The other day a friend texted me a picture of a bottle of RID and the bad news that lice had made an appearance in her family. Ugh. By God's grace, after commiserating with her misfortune, I immediately texted back something like this: "You can do this! Secret prize is in store for whoever in your family comes up with the funniest lice or nit joke. Go!" Our families, separated by more than half the country, spent the next several minutes texting made up jokes back and forth and giggling. My favorite was, "Why did the lice cross the road? To get to the hairier side." Hardee-har-har.
What a gift we have in laughter, let's not neglect to open up and use that gift often and well, avoiding finding humor in the crude or crass, yet fully appreciating the whimsical, silly, ironic, delightful things that God brings to mind and helping others to do the same.
Need a little help getting the giggles started, try these:
What in the world goes on inside our brains any way? Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened. Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.
1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness. If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself. Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others.
The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone. We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3)
2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security (increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty, plan, plan, plan.
The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health.
The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health. The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17)
4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.
The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return. Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16)
5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.
The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world. We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves. We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)
At the end of the day, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are. Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
A Psalm of Life
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!