Why are we fighting with one another?

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I’m sad. I don’t get it. Were we fighting with one another before the pandemic? That seems like a long time ago, but here in Kansas, we didn’t shut down until nearly the end of March, 2020. Not even a whole year ago, but I know the fighting has gotten worse in the past year. We have stopped listening to one another in our quest to be right. We have stopped praying for one another.

I am a Christ-follower and many of my friends, Facebook or otherwise, are as well. I’ve known some of these lovely people since I had my first child over 30 years ago. I’m blessed with a few from my high school years prior to that. They aren’t mean-spirited. Some of us had our children in private school and then home school together. We raised our children together and shared joys, sorrows, and spiritual life. So what happened?

I used to follow politics. My parents loved the Kennedys. I was a child when John, Robert, and Martin were alive and assassinated. My parents didn’t hide the news from us, and we watched the Vietnam War on network television reports. As a high schooler, my boyfriend was an avid follower of politics and, not surprisingly, grew up to be a social studies teacher. We spent hours upon hours discussing politics and the news of the times we were living in.

Once I had my own children and life became busy, I slowly left the news behind. I don’t watch a lot of tv, although I am an avid radio listener. I don’t have anyone with whom to discuss such things, and my interest waned. That all changed with the pandemic. I finished my masters degree in special education last March. While I was busy teaching remotely, I also had more free time than I’ve had in years. I started spending (too much) time on Facebook watching videos and reading reports – coronavirus, teaching tips, politics, protests, conspiracy theories. All of that plus the ability to read people’s comments.

The problem with Facebook is that it’s so anonymous. We spend all of this time “talking” with people we don’t know and don’t know us. I’m a pretty tough cookie. I know who I am in Christ, so I can let it roll off my back. I try to discuss with reason and kindness. I’ve been called all sorts of names, and I’m frankly getting weary of it all.

In my opinion, some of my Christian friends have merged their religious beliefs with their political beliefs. They have taken their admiration for a political figure to the extreme. Those same friends are the most likely to be following people that are espousing all sorts of conspiracy theories. It’s disturbing, almost frightening. It’s just so unexpected. The people on the opposite end of the spectrum are just as scary. Everyone is so sure they know the answer and that their candidate is going to save the world, or at least the United States. Only Christ has the power to save.

Acts 4: 8-14 (CEV) Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and told the nation’s leaders and the elders: You are questioning us today about a kind deed in which a crippled man was healed. 10 But there is something we must tell you and everyone else in Israel. This man is standing here completely well because of the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth. You put Jesus to death on a cross, but God raised him to life. 11 He is the stone that you builders thought was worthless, and now he is the most important stone of all. 12 Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone. 13 The officials were amazed to see how brave Peter and John were, and they knew that these two apostles were only ordinary men and not well educated. The officials were certain that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But they could not deny what had happened. The man who had been healed was standing there with the apostles.

What always strikes me in these verses is that the leaders noted that Peter and John weren’t anyone special. They were “ordinary” and “not well educated”, BUT they had been with Jesus. They had been learning and listening and sitting and walking with the One who saves. The One who knows us before we are born. They were noticed because of Jesus, not because of who they were as ordinary men.

This is who I want to be. I want to be someone who is known because I walk with Jesus. Am I perfect? Oh, so very far from that. I make mistakes. I take my “discussions” too far sometimes. It’s hard putting myself in the “line of fire”, and to be honest, I knowingly do that. I try to ask questions so others will look at a different perspective. I’m not sure we know how to do that anymore as a society. We are so very invested in our own world view.

I’ve set a goal for myself this year to spend more time with Him. One bonus of the pandemic is online church services. I listen to two sermons each week and have a daily evening devotional book. I’ve also gone back to listening to the Daily Audio Bible app on my phone while I get ready for my day. I’m filling my life with God’s Word to drown out the noise of our culture. I’m finding myself spending more time in prayer as well. I just removed the Facebook app from my phone. This fighting hurts our relationships, our souls, and our relationship with the One who saves.

Father, Guide us as we go through this year. Life is still changing and unsettled. Remind us that our relationship with You will enrich our relationships here on earth. We can’t change the world, but we can change how we respond and how we walk through it. Amen

Note: There are many Bible translations to choose from and many audio Bible apps. This is my favorite. I love the community and the prayers shared every day. https://dailyaudiobible.com/

School’s Out

I don’t know how, but my school district managed to keep our elementary schools open for the entire Fall season. Our secondary students have been hybrid learners. I am thankful. Remote learning last Spring was brutal. I did nine IEP meetings the first two weeks of April – online and with constant adjustments of expectations and directives from the leaders of the special education interlocal. I’m not pinning blame on anyone, because this was entirely new territory. Those meetings were in addition to trying to teach small groups using technology of which I’d not even been aware prior to the shutdown.

So I’m feeling thankful – and wary. My school has had times (predictably about one to two weeks after the major holidays) where multiple students were walked out of the building due to exposure to COVID positive people. (Halloween parties during a pandemic anyone?) Overall, we have done our part at school – extra cleaning, social distancing when we can, nine minute small group activities (trying to avoid that magic 10 minute exposure time that would send me home as a close contact), masking up. It seems to be working.

This still leaves me wondering though – were we just lucky? What are we doing that is keeping us in school? Are the adult staff doing a better job outside the school day than others? Multiple districts in our area have gone remote now for K-12. The prevailing storyline is that those districts simply don’t have enough staff to run the buidlings. It makes sense. It’s not just teachers. Schools take many hands to keep them running – buses, cafeterias, custodial services, technology services, office staff, and more.

I’m enjoying my Winter break. I’m missing out on seeing my out-of-state grandchildren in person this year which is the saddest part of the pandemic for me (thankfully). I will continue to take precautions for myself and others and hope others in our school district stay the course as well. I’d feel better about it all if I thought we had some “secret formula” that has kept us in school. That’s the most difficult part of this whole situation for most people. This new virus has left all of us, including scientists, looking for answers in an ever-changing situation.

If you have thoughts on how to stay the course or what your school is doing that is working (or seems to be working), I’d love to hear them. In the meantime…

Stay safe. Be well. Follow the science. Take care of each other.

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Job. Let me Wallow

Job 3:20-26 (ESV)

20 “Why is light given to him who is in misery,
    and life to the bitter in soul,
21 who long for death, but it comes not,
    and dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22 who rejoice exceedingly
    and are glad when they find the grave?
23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
    whom God has hedged in?
24 For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
    and my groanings are poured out like water.
25 For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
    and what I dread befalls me.
26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
    I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Job is now asking why any good thing is being put in front of someone who is not at peace. Job is suffering. Why should God give him encouragement when Job longs for his life to be at an end? I’m wondering if Job just doesn’t want to work through the bad that has come for a season.

Job doesn’t want to see the good. Have you been there? It sounds like Job wants to wallow in his misery. His fears have been realized. Trouble has come. Job doesn’t want to be talked out of his suffering! He doesn’t want anything to distract him from the fact that life has taken a wrong turn.

Our God doesn’t leave us behind though. He sustains us through our adversities. In Isaiah 33:2, God promises that he will be with us. “LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” (NIV) May we focus on Him and His promises through our own struggles.

Heavenly Father, Lead us into faith that sustains us through the dark seasons of life. Those seasons do come, but You are with us in both the light and the dark. I thank you that You are ever near and that Your love never changes. Amen.

Psalm 46:1 (ESV) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Job. Why?

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Job 3:11-19 (NIV)

11“Why did I not perish at birth,
    and die as I came from the womb?
12 Why were there knees to receive me
    and breasts that I might be nursed?
13 For now I would be lying down in peace;
    I would be asleep and at rest
14 with kings and rulers of the earth,
    who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
15 with princes who had gold,
    who filled their houses with silver.
16 Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
    like an infant who never saw the light of day?
17 There the wicked cease from turmoil,
    and there the weary are at rest.
18 Captives also enjoy their ease;
    they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
19 The small and the great are there,
    and the slaves are freed from their owners.

Now Job begins with the age old question of “Why?. Why was he even born? Why is he not in the peace of death? Job says that those who stored up wealth on earth and had power during their lives are now at peace. He goes on to say that the wicked and the slaves are also at peace. It doesn’t matter who you are in Job’s litany, in his mind, at this moment, death brings peace from suffering.

It can be easy to fall into this “Why?” trap. When life is good, we might feel like we deserve these riches – wealth, family, friends, good fortune, intelligence, or opportunities at the right moment. When life is challenging? We tend to wonder why or how we ended up in a mess (or a pandemic). The human condition is not a smooth road. God tells us that trouble is a part of life. He also tells us that He is always near. There is always hope.

Psalm 91:11-12 (ESV) For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

Lord, We thank you that You keep watch over us every moment. You know our every need and every joy. Thank you for loving us so much that You sent Your son, Jesus, to atone for our sins. Amen.

John 16:33 (ESV) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jesus of Nazareth)

Job. The Tipping Point

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Job 3:1-10 (NLT) At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“Let the day of my birth be erased,
    and the night I was conceived.
Let that day be turned to darkness.
    Let it be lost even to God on high,
    and let no light shine on it.
Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own.
    Let a black cloud overshadow it,
    and let the darkness terrify it.
Let that night be blotted off the calendar,
    never again to be counted among the days of the year,
    never again to appear among the months.
Let that night be childless.
    Let it have no joy.
Let those who are experts at cursing—
    whose cursing could rouse Leviathan[a]
    curse that day.
Let its morning stars remain dark.
    Let it hope for light, but in vain;
    may it never see the morning light.
10 Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb,
    for letting me be born to see all this trouble.

Well, Job has had enough. I don’t blame him. He’s suffered through more in a short time period than many suffer in a lifetime. The physical pain he’s now suffering is something that most of us find difficult to endure without medical relief. I can relate. Last week, I was in physical pain and without sleep for most of the night. I told God I felt I wasn’t a strong person. I was pretty confident that all I needed was an antibiotic, and I would be on my way to good health. (I was correct.) However, in that moment, I was trying to imagine being in that much pain not knowing when it might end. Many people suffer from long-term or terminal illness. I know people who move through those times with such faith and encourage those of us who surround them. It’s hard to imagine. So when Job, this man of faith and steadfastness suddenly bursts forth with this litany of curses for his very birth, it takes you aback. It’s a reminder that he is human and has human failings, just like us.

Heavenly Father, Thank you for using people like me to tell us about Your Love. Your Word is filled with the stories of humans with great faith with great failings. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need You. Thank you for Your healing power and Your patience with us when our faith stumbles. Amen.

Psalm 6:2 (ESV) Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.

Job. His Friends.

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Job 2:11-13 (ESV) Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.  And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Friends. We all need a few close friends. Job has three friends who come to him and are shocked to see his condition. What I notice is there is no judgment. They mourn his suffering and simply sit with him. They know there is not a thing they can do to change his suffering or cure his disease. Job’s friends do what they can do – they offer him comfort.

Do you have a few close friends, even one, to whom you can turn in times of need? Maybe they can only offer you a listening ear, an affirmation of your need, or a prayer. Sometimes that is exactly what we need. If not, I encourage you to allow yourself to have that one person. Job didn’t need an entourage. He has his three close friends who join him and are his support in his time of need.

1Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT) “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

Heavenly Father, I pray for those reading this offering of encouragement. If they don’t have an encourager in their lives, please send one. Sometimes we find it difficult to let others in to the most private and intimate places in our lives. I pray that we search for and find that person(s) whom we can trust and that we offer that same encouragement to others. Amen.

Job. Enter his wife.

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Job 2:6-10  And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

God has now allowed Job to afflict Job physically. We find Job with sores covering his body and sitting in ashes. The ashes are a symbol of mourning. Enter his wife. His wife obviously recognizes her husband’s strength of integrity. She does not understand how or why Job is still able to praise God in this state of ill health. I’m not sure Job’s wife understands how Job is able and willing to withstand this suffering. I can’t blame her for offering Job a way out of his misery, but Job is not having it. He knows that there is both evil and good in the world. We don’t get to choose which is occurring in our lives, but we do get to choose our response to it. Job chooses to be faithful to God and endure with his integrity intact.

Lord, I pray that when faced with adversity that I maintain faith and integrity like Job. Help me to keep my eyes focused on You during both the good and the bad and remember that You are always near. Amen.

Proverbs 15:3 (ESV) The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Job. Another challenge.

Job 2:1-5 (NLT) One day the members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them.  “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.” Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.” Satan replied to the Lord, “Skin for skin! A man will give up everything he has to save his life. But reach out and take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

The scene is set with Satan again conversing with God about none other than Job. God already knows what Satan has been up to, and it’s not good. Now comes God -almost taunting Satan – “Hey, remember Job? I know you thought you could break Job, but he’s still down there on earth praising Me.”

I wonder what Job would think if he knew he was a part of this conversation. I mean, Job has already suffered plenty of loss and now this? “Hey, God, maybe You have someone else in mind for your little experiment?”

So the next challenge laid out by Satan is not Job’s worldly goods, but his health. That seems like a fitting challenge to consider as we live in this time of pandemic. Of course, there are many health challenges people face every day. Unlike other diseases and conditions, this current health threat is universal. Most likely, the majority of us will be exposed, unlike something like cancer or diabetes, that may or may not affect our personal health. If you’ve ever had a serious or long-term health condition (or are just facing the realities of aging), you understand how important health is to your quality of life. Satan is not stupid. He understands that loss of health could very well be the thing that pushes Job over the proverbial edge.

James 5:13 (ESV) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 

Lord, Help us remember to pray and to praise You as we make our way through our daily lives – whether it be a good day or a not-so-good day. You are with us no matter what and You are worthy of our praise – no matter what. Thank you for loving us and walking by our side – no matter what. Amen.

Job. Responding to Loss

Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (ESV)

We come to the end of the first chapter of Job. Job went from being the wealthiest man in his part of the world to the poorest. It took one day. In four separate catastrophies, Job has lost his worldly goods, means of production and transportation, and his children. I don’t know about you, but that would send me to my bed with my covers over my head. The NLT tranlation of verse 21 quotes Job, “Praise the name of the Lord!”. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t say that in a moment of despair I was praising God. This is the point where we say “Why me?”. Why is this happening to me (my child, my friend, my spouse, my family member)? Maybe it’s the surprise of it all. Tragedy is not expected. I like to believe most of us are more optimistic about life. We’re not expecting a poor diagnosis, an accident, or a child with a disability. It wasn’t in our plan.

So here’s Job. The Bible says Job didn’t sin or blame God in this moment of tragedy. That’s a miracle in itself. Job is a man of faith. He is trusting God in the midst of unbearable pain and loss. In contrast, am I alone in thinking I might not handle this so well? But God. God is our help in less than ideal circumstances, and there is hope for those of us who might find ourselves asking God why.

Romans 3:21-24 (NLT) “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”

God tells us there is hope for us through His Son. God knows we are sinners, every one of us. He knows us, He loves us, and He has provided a way for us to have a right relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus.

Lord, thank you for Your daily grace and mercy. I pray that when faced with tragedy and loss that we turn to You, our comforter and redeemer. Forgive us as we make our way imperfectly through life. Thank you for Your gift of salvation. Thank you for loving us, even though we don’t deserve it, nor can we earn it. You give Your love freely and without strings attached. Amen.

Note: I encourage you as you study to read multiple translations of the Bible. I am gaining so much personally as I write by reading several translations of the same verse. For instance, writing today’s entry, I discovered that Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are very similar (almost word for word in the beginning verses). I also discovered The Complete Jewish Bible for another perspective of the verses in Romans. I frequently use biblegateway.com as it is an easy way to move among verses and chapters as well as multiple translations.

Job loses it all.

Job 1:13-19 (ESV) 13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

If we look back at Job 1:1-3, we find a listing of the wealth of Job. In today’s passage, God allows Satan to come and take all of that wealth away. In one day, Job gets the news from a single survivor of four separate tragedies. Job’s livestock, means of making a living, transportation, and finally, his children are wiped from the earth. Maybe one of the reasons I’ve read this book more than once is the enormity of Job’s suffering. My own suffering pales in comparison. Not that our suffering is not worthy of compassion, empathy, and understanding, but it is a reminder that my troubles on earth are not unique.

Lord, When I or a loved one find themselves in dire straits, please remind us that You are there with us. Let us pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 71: 1-3 (NIV) “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” Amen and Amen.

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