Now I lay me down to sleep….
I don’t know about you, but laying down has not been the challenge lately.
Shutting my mind off so that I can actually fall asleep is a different story.
Increasing reports on the spread of the coronavirus, stay in place orders, businesses and schools closing.
So many what ifs ….
Worst case scenarios dart around my mind like children running on a playground.
Everyday the news around the country seems to get worse.
But everyday I have a decision to make.
Which news do I turn my attention to: the local news or the Good News?
In a time when everything feels uncertain, we must grasp onto God’s truth.
Our God is unchanging, even when the world around us is in constant flux.
Let’s go to the book of Psalms.
When we cry out to our Heavenly Father, He will sustain us.
“But, You, O Lord, are a shield for me.
My glory and the One who lifts up my head,
I cried out to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.” Psalm 3 :3-5
Notice the word Selah at the end of the first verse.
There are several meanings listed for this word.
One means “to praise.”
Another defines Selah as a pause or break, a time to reflect.
How timely this is right now, as we have a break in our normally busy routines to reflect on God’s presence..
Finally, my favorite interpretation of the word Selah means “forever.”
Our circumstances will pass, but our God is forever.
God is good and our safety is found in Him.
“There are many who say,
“Who will show us any good?”
Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart.
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased,
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep.
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4 :6-8
Friends, as we start each day, let us direct our concerns to Him.
“Give ear to my words, O Lord.
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God.
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord.
In the morning, I will direct it to You.
And I will look up.” Psalm 5 :1-3
Begin each day looking up.
Take time to reflect on a God who is good forever.
May He sustain you throughout the day and before you lie down in the safety of His arms at night.
Peace, love and good health to you all.
Connections are important, even if they are at a distance.
At 1:00 am this morning, I was texting with a few friends, discussing what is happening in our world.
We are all awake.
Sleep eludes us.
Everything feels like it is changing.
And to be honest, it feels a little scary.
Almost overnight, our country seems unrecognizable.
The impact of the coronavirus, or COVID 19, seems to worsen with each passing day.
Our normal routines have been interrupted.
Some have come to a screeching halt.
Schools and colleges have dismissed students for the remainder of the semester to go to online learning.
Restaurants have been reduced to take out only.
Non-essential businesses have shut their doors..
The stock market has plummeted to new lows.
Grocery stores and markets shelves lie empty.
Sports have suspended playtime and major events, like March Madness and the Masters.
Visitation has been restricted to nursing homes and senior living apartments to keep our most vulnerable population safe.
Even places of worship have moved to online services to prevent the spread of disease.
It is a time and place that feels unfamiliar and unsettling.
Social distancing has now become a part of our everyday vocabulary.
According to Merriam Webster, the first known use of this term was in 2003 and is defined as:
“the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.”
Even though the terminology is different, the act of separation from others due to illness goes back to Biblical times,
Quarantine and isolation are found in Leviticus, for example.
“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “If anyone has a swelling or a rash or discolored skin that might develop into a serious skin disease, that person must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons. The priest will examine the affected area of the skin. If the hair in the affected area has turned white and the problem appears to be more than skin-deep, it is a serious skin disease, and the priest who examines it must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean.
“But if the affected area of the skin is only a white discoloration and does not appear to be more than skin-deep, and if the hair on the spot has not turned white, the priest will quarantine the person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest will make another examination. If he finds the affected area has not changed and the problem has not spread on the skin, the priest will quarantine the person for seven more days.” Leviticus 13: 1-5 NLT
Can you imagine being unable to touch those you love or meet with them?
Though the terms and diseases are different than today, the feelings are the same.
When we are told we cannot gather, we feel more alone than ever.
Isolation is a strategy the enemy uses to make us question our faith.
But our Heavenly Father wants us to come to Him with our questions, fears and worries.
He does not want us to face this day alone.
Nothing can separate us from His love.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38 NLT
That is what I am holding onto during this time of chaos.
Friends, so many of us are feeling anxious and afraid in this time of uncertainty.
But even though we are asked to adhere to social distancing, we are never asked to stay distant from God.
Distance from God is what makes us feel unsure, not the circumstances going on around us.
And when our anxiety increases, tune out the news and tune into Him.
Start your morning with praise and worship at the feet of the One who is a constant in ever changing times.
That is not to say we should not stay informed.
We need to keep updated on what is happening around us.
But we need daily time in His presence.
And as a community of believers, we also need to stay connected to each other.
How grateful I am we live in a time when technology allows us to watch an online sermon or Facetime with a friend.
As the hands and feet of Jesus, we can reach out in other ways, like shopping for someone who is at risk and cannot leave home, sending cards and letters to nursing homes and mental health facilities that cannot receive visitors, or supporting local businesses by ordering take out.
Brothers and sisters, this is a time that the world can see that we are Christians by our love for each other.
Connections are important, even if they are at a distance.
“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13 : 35 MSG
He jumped off the bus and saw him in the distance by our mailbox.
My Dad was waiting for my youngest to get home from school.
As soon as Dan got a glimpse of Pappy, he took off like a shot.
Gratefully, my phone was handy and I was able to capture the moment he ran into his arms.
It was a treasured moment.
I don’t know if something happened in school that day or if it was just the excitement of someone waiting for him.
But whatever the circumstance, my son knew that he had a safe place to land in my father’s arms.
Do you ever feel that sense of wanting just to land safely in the arms of someone who loves you?
Maybe you have had a bad day.
Maybe there has been pain and heartbreak in your life.
Maybe it is just the comfort of knowing there is someone out there waiting for you who cares.
We have a heavenly Father who cares so deeply for His children.
God waits for us to reach out to Him.
He wants to comfort us on our sad days.
He wants to rejoice with us on our good days.
Our heavenly Father simply wants to be in our presence to let us know how much He cares.
“The LORD waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them” Isaiah 30:18
With all of the changes swirling around us today, I am in desperate need of knowing that I can run into the arms of someone who cares.
Run into His arms today, friends.
He is waiting for you.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
He is my God, and I trust Him.
For He will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with His feathers.
He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.” Psalm 91 :1-6 NLT
“That’s the boy I met at school today!” exclaimed my son.
Just entering kindergarten, I was excited to see another child Dan could connect with in our neighborhood.
Without thinking, I began yelling and sprinting across the lawn to catch up with this boy and his mother.
And then it happened.
I was suddenly airborne, landing on the hard ground and spraining my ankle.
I had tripped over a metal drainage pipe that I had not seen.
But I was seen….
By the boys kindergarten teacher who just happened to be walking her dog up the street at the same time, bearing witness to my gracefulness.
Acting without thinking resulted in a badly sprained ankle this time.
If only I had not acted on impulse.
This is also true when I am not staying close to God.
It is easier to trip and fall.
When my focus is not on Him, I can be thrown off the path of walking in His will.
“In Scripture it says,
“Look! I am placing a stone in Zion.
It is a chosen and very valuable stone.
It is the most important stone in the building.
The one who trusts in Him
will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16)
This stone is very valuable to you who believe. But to people who do not believe,
“The stone the builders did not accept
has become the most important stone of all.” (Psalm 118:22)
“It is a stone that causes people to trip.
It is a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)
They trip and fall because they do not obey the message. That is also what God planned for them.
“But God chose you to be his people. You are royal priests. You are a holy nation. You are God’s special treasure. You are all these things so that you can give Him praise. God brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people. But now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy. But now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2: 6-10 NIRV
God gives us His commandments and direction to keep us safe.
When we are outside of His will, it is easier to stumble and fall.
We often react based on our emotions before thinking through to the consequences.
But we are God’s people.
He chose us and desires to be in relationship with us.
And on those days we trip and fall, He is always willing to give us grace until we get on our feet again.
But just like my sprained ankle, there may be some discomfort as we try to get back on the right path.
Friends, take the time to pause, ponder and pray before you step into your day.
It will help you stay focused on His path for your life.
And when you lose your footing, remember His mercies are new everyday.
What are you giving up for Lent?
Leading into Easter, this was the question that was asked every year.
Growing up, my list always included potato chips, chocolate and soda.
No small sacrifice for a teenager.
The temptation of junk food seemed to be everywhere.
A friend even hid chocolate under my pillow one year to tempt me.
With a sense of pride having put down these things for 40 days, I would celebrate Easter morning with a bag of Middleswarth BBQ, a sleeve of frozen Thin Mints and a Diet Coke.
The sacrifice had been worth it.
My understanding of this time leading up to Easter has expanded as I matured in both years and in my faith walk.
The temptation of junk food is still everywhere.
It is no longer just in the form of sugar or carbohydrates.
Many things will tempt us with the promise of filling us up.
Stacked schedules, unhealthy habits, social media.
And when we are hungry, physically, emotionally or spiritually, it is tempting to reach for what fills us quickly.
But just like a sugar rush, the feeling of satisfaction is short lived.
We need a steady diet of time in His word and in His presence.
The world is saturated with temptations that will distract us from spending time with our Heavenly Father.
Jesus understood temptation.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.
For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
During that time the devil came and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But Jesus told him,
“No! The Scriptures say,
‘People do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.”
Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”
“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.
“For the Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only Him.”
Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.“ Matthew 4: 1-11 NLT
Jesus was not focused on the temporary.
His eyes were fixed on the eternal.
The forty days He spent in the desert were nothing compared to the sacrifice He made on the cross.
But He knew that sacrifice would be worth it.
Nothing we will ever give up here on earth can compare to that.
But we can use the time during Lent to reflect on His sacrifice.
A sacrifice that was born from our Father’s great love for you and for me.
“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.” 1 John 4:9 NLT
What will you put down to spend time in His presence today?
Whatever you give up, I promise it will be worth it.
And the celebration on Easter morning will be filled with more than potato chips and Girl Scout cookies.
It will be filled with the hope and promise of a life with Him in the heavenly realms.
What will you give up for Lent?
I do not know who she is.
Maybe she is the young mom waiting in the parent pick up line.
Maybe she is the woman folding clothes at the laundromat.
Maybe she is the woman who appears confident on the outside, but is broken deep within.
Maybe she is you.
I know that she has been, and still is, me.
A woman in need of encouragement and hope.
A woman who worries about those she loves.
A woman who is weary and in need of rest.
A woman who is unsure if she truly has anything to offer this world.
Sisters, we all need a safe place to share our hearts.
A place to let go of our worries and rest our heads for a while.
A place where we are reminded that we were uniquely created to add something to this world that only we can give.
That place is found in the presence of the Savior.
The One who left the comfort and perfection of heaven to walk among us so that He might fully understand our experiences and challenges.
In His Word, He invites us to come to Him with the things that lay heavy on our hearts.
“ Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done.” Phillippians 4:6
In His Word, He reminds us that there is hope and that we can rest securely in Him.
“And your life will be brighter than the noonday;
its darkness will be like the morning.
And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your rest in security.
You will lie down, and none will make you afraid;
many will court your favor.” Job 11: 17-19
In His Word, He reminds us that we are all given gifts to offer this world. Gifts that He gives each of us to use wholeheartedly and without fear.
“ In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” Romans 12: 6-8
Sisters, I do not know what you are in need of today.
Anything and everything that you need, our God can provide.
He is our safe place and our refuge.
Still, there are so many who do not know the great love our Father has for us.
Friends, we are part of His provision.
Remember that we may be the only expression of God’s love that someone sees.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.” 1 John 4:11-12
Share His love today.
It is too great not to share.
An uneasiness shifted through my mind, body and spirit.
My stomach was in knots.
I could not focus.
Everytime I tried, my thoughts would jump back to the dialogue that took place.
Sleep and peace eluded me.
It was as if I could jump out of my skin at any given moment.
The ground beneath me no longer felt solid.
The details of the situation are not important, because there have been many details and many situations over the years.
But the feelings are always the same.
Have you ever agonized over a situation out of your control?
The kind that you replay in your mind over and over again?
Maybe you have felt this mind swirling, jump out of your skin feeling surging through your body.
Maybe the ground beneath you no longer feels solid.
We all long for a sense of security, one that would allow us to soar without fear of failing or falling.
I have always been in awe of how birds build their nests high above the ground,
on the most delicate of branches.
Flying in and out of their homes, these creatures appear light and carefree.
But true security comes from building our lives on the solid foundation of Christ.
“Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who builds his house on the rock, and the rain descended, and the floods came, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matthew 7: 24-25
Even if we fail, He will never let us fall.
So often we stay fixated on our circumstances, instead of fixing our eyes on Him.
We all want to feel the ground beneath us for security, but it is in the letting go Christ takes us to new and unimaginable heights.
Sometimes that means letting go of the tape we replay over and over in our heads.
Sometimes that means letting go of past hurts that hold us back from experiencing present and future joys.
Sometimes that means letting go of people who are pulling us down instead of lifting us up.
Always it means shifting our focus on the One who is our Rock, our foundation.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.
Because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever.
For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.” Isaiah 26: 3-4
Friends, let HIm be your security and your strength.
Let go….He will take you to new and unimaginable heights.
I have always loved taking pictures.
From my parent’s Polaroid to my first Kodak Disc Camera (totally dating myself here),
I loved capturing life’s moments.
Back then you had to wait for your pictures to be developed at CVS.
Impatient, I would usually get the “hour” service.
And always double prints, in case I wanted to share with a friend.
Today, we take pictures on our phones and share with 100 people immediately.
If we don’t like the angle of the picture, we delete it and try again.
We crop out “unsightly” areas that we don’t want others to see.
And while Snapchat filters and edits can be fun, these images are far away from what we started with … unedited versions of ourselves.
We don’t just do this in pictures.
We edit many things in our day to day life.
We are careful about what we allow others to see.
My house may appear one way if you come to visit.
But if you open the door to my bedroom, you will likely find all of the things that I had piled on the counter that I did not have time to put away.
Why do we edit our lives so much?
Fear of rejection? Judgement ? Shame?
Sometimes, we believe we have to edit ourselves before we come to God.
Like getting a visitor at our home, we try to hide the things we don’t want Him to see.
But there is nothing about us that surprises our Creator.
Not our emotions.
Not our bad habits.
Not our appearance.
He sees all of life’s moments.
We cannot hide anything from Him.
“ Lord, you have examined me
and know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know my thoughts before I think about them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
You know everything I do.
Lord, even before I say a word,
you already know it.
You are all around me—in front and in back—
and have put your hand on me.
Your knowledge is amazing to me;
It is more than I can understand.
Where can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I run from you?” Psalm 139 : 1 -7
Friends, He knows everything about us.
Amazingly, He still loves us.
The unfiltered, unscripted, unedited version of us.
But our heavenly Father sees His children through the filter of His love.
His perfect love.
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love puts fear out of our hearts. People have fear when they are afraid of being punished. The man who is afraid does not have perfect love.”
1 John 4: 18 NLV
I am grateful that I do not need to edit myself before I come to our God.
He sees all of me and through His grace loves me anyway.
Friends, do you want God to be a visitor in your home or to take up residence there?
There is no need to hide what we don’t want Him to see.
There is no need to edit yourself.
There is nothing to fear.
Because His love for us is perfect.
The weight of grief has been heavy in our area over the past few weeks.
Two greatly respected and loved individuals left this earth too soon.
The ripple effect could be felt by people across all generations and backgrounds, as both women were deeply engaged in the community.
And even though I did not have a personal relationship with either, the sense of loss around me has been profound.
Although no words can soothe the pain, many heartfelt gestures have served as reminders that others were not alone in their grief.
The weight of grief got even heavier on Sunday.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s death stunned the world.
A greatly respected and loved individual, along with his daughter and 7 others, left this earth too soon.
The ripple effect could be felt by people across all generations and backgrounds around the country, as Kobe was deeply engaged in the global community.
And even though I did not have a personal relationship with this famous basketball player, the sense of loss around me has been profound.
Kobe Bryant was an individual who was woven into the fabric of many lives.
Although no words can soothe the pain, many heartfelt gestures from people all over the world serve as reminders that others were not alone in their grief.
Kobe was not just engaged in the community, he was with his community when his helicopter crashed.
He was with people he did life with.
There is something tragic and comforting about this fact all at the same time.
These untimely deaths leave many, myself included, with one looming question: why?
There is no explanation that will ever really satisfy those who bear the weight of unspeakable grief.
So I go to the One I do have a personal relationship with – Jesus.
And I am reminded that even in our grief, we are never alone.
I cling to the promise in His word that it will not always be this way.
One day there will be no more suffering or pain.
One day there will be no more goodbyes.
One day God Himself will be engaged with His community by walking among His people once again.
“ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away. There was no more sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. It was coming down out of heaven from God. It was made ready like a bride is made ready for her husband. I heard a loud voice coming from heaven. It said, “See! God’s home is with men. He will live with them. They will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will be their God. God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All the old things have passed away.” Then the One sitting on the throne said, “See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Then He said to me, “These things have happened! I am the First and the Last. I am the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty, I will give the water of life. It is a free gift.” Revelation 21: 1-7 NLV
Friends, may we cling to the promise of this day like an anchor in a storm when the heaviness of grief is too great to bear.