The vastness of the ocean is truly astounding, and it's something that has intrigued man since creation. Through the ages we've tried to tame it, and though we've mastered ocean travel and pioneered underwater exploration to quite impressive degrees, the seas will never be tamed. But even...
Showing items for 'Christian Living'
My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even...
I occasionally serve on our church worship team. Part of the process for me includes practicing the selected songs, printing out the lyrics and finding a possible part to sing. On one recent week that I was to serve I went to the website to begin working on the music. I was pleasantly surprised...
Depression. Do you have it? I do. It’s spreading like a virus in our society. It is no respecter of person, or position, title, gender, income, or opinion. It takes hold of a person and darkens their eyes so they can’t see anything but despair. Sometimes it’s circumstantial...
My husband is retiring from the military after 32 years of active duty service. This is a big step for both of us. He hasn’t had to apply for a job since he was in high school. And since we’ve been married, he has always known what he was going to do and when he would get promotions...
After the holidays, I’m finding our home is filled with stuff. There are piles of new things and the boxes they came in. On top of that, we also have a little baby girl arriving soon. There's so much to get and so much to do! This leads to my wife and I planning how we will get rid of the...
Comfort is a great thing. No one wants to sit on an uncomfortable couch, we all want our home to be a comfortable place, and no one wants to wear an itchy sweater. Everyone wants to be comfortable. Comfort means being relaxed, being more yourself, and feeling secure. Comfort is perfectly fine...
As the new year approaches, it’s customary to reflect on your life and look to the future, setting goals about how you want to live the next year. I don’t know about you, but each year setting goals only gets me so far. I have great ideas about what I want to accomplish, but in...
‘The weight of the world on your shoulders’ might seem like a cliché phrase, but if we're honest, we've all felt that weight. Whether you're a business executive with 30 employees under you making decisions every day that could make or break company sales numbers; a mother...
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of living life with this inescapable feeling of being alone. God in the beginning of the Bible recognized that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18 Early on in my life, my mother and father divorced, and my father was my...
The vastness of the ocean is truly astounding, and it's something that has intrigued man since creation. Through the ages we've tried to tame it, and though we've mastered ocean travel and pioneered underwater exploration to quite impressive degrees, the seas will never be tamed.
But even though we haven’t been able to observe every inch of these great waters, just inches below the surface lies a vast array of easily observable phenomenon that take place every day. The oceans contain countless species, from tiny plankton weighing a fraction of an ounce, to gigantic whales weighing multiple tons. There are all manner of unique and amazing creatures that fascinate us. Given this vastness, and the dangers presented therein, it's a wonder how a single fish can survive a normal lifespan. As with all creatures, there are a variety of defense mechanisms that God gave fish in order for them to survive, and there's one in particular that's both impressive, and highly effective - the school.
Why Do Fish Swim in Schools?
It's well known that a group of fish is called a 'school', but not often do we stop and consider what exactly the fish are doing. If you've ever been to a public aquarium, you've probably seen a display or two that houses a lot of the same type of fish. These fish are almost always swimming together in schools, and in most cases, this is quite the spectacle to observe. But, why do they swim that way?
At a basic level, there are several major benefits to fish swimming together in such a way. First off, just like when geese fly in a 'V' to make it easier on them by reducing wind resistance, fish conserve energy by riding on the slipstreams created by other fish. Another important benefit of the school is that it protects the fish from predators. There have been research studies that have investigated how fish swim in such close coordination in schools, and without getting into the technical details of their findings, fish have something in their genetic makeup that allows them to be electronically ‘connected’ in close proximity. Some varieties fish swim in a more closely coordinated fashion than others, but many fish still swim in a school during some portion of their lives.
What We Can Learn from the Fish
So, what's the point of all of this? Well, there's a lot that we can learn from fish. According to a study published by the journal “Current Biology”, there have been questions raised about the possibility of whether the 'schooling' behavior of fish can be linked to the behaviors of humans and how we tend to group together. While the studies seem to be inconclusive in that regard, it’s obvious that we, like many animals, naturally gravitate towards groups. Unlike fish, however, since we are considered the "apex predator" of the world, we don't normally need to group for survival. Maybe we did a long time ago, or today in more remote parts of the world, but generally we can survive alone if we had to.
So, why then do we group? Without getting into the social semantics of it, the basic understanding is that we group because we desire social interaction to function normally and live more comfortably. We can also accomplish a whole lot more when we work together.
But, how does this relate to faith and living as a Christian? If we keep it simple and think about it as we see with fish and schooling, it actually makes a lot of sense.
First off, one of the primary reasons that fish school is to be safer from predators. We know that the Bible addresses this specifically, as Satan, the Great Deceiver, is always working to isolate us so we are more vulnerable. The only time we see in the Bible that Satan physically came himself and tempted Jesus was when Jesus was alone in the desert fasting.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2, ESV)
Not only was Jesus alone, but he was also very hungry. The devil came to him when he was most isolated and most vulnerable. He does the same with us. He knows that when we are alone and cut off, especially from other believers, that we are more easily influenced. Just like predators of the ocean try to do, by splitting the fish up so they can single out some of them, the devil is always circling looking for his opportunity to make us vulnerable and strike. He's always trying to divide us, because he knows we are stronger together. We must take great care to not let that happen...
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
We have to look out for each other and share our burdens. The Bible tells us that we must! The more connected we are, the safer we are, and the more resistant to the enemy's attacks. Anyone who's ever been part of a small group will tell you that through sharing their struggles with close friends, they were better able to weather the storms in their lives. At the Church at Severn Run, we call these Connect Groups. We also have a phrase that goes along with those that says, "Life is Better Connected!" This is something we truly believe because it’s evident that not only are we stronger spiritually, but we can also accomplish a whole lot more together than we ever could on our own.
Working Together to Accomplish More
Which brings us back to the other reason humans group together. Some of the studies show that early people grouped together, not just for protection, but also because they realized that they could accomplish a whole lot more as a group working together towards the same goals. And this is still true today, and in fact one of the pillars of most of our lives. Many of us work for organizations in the pursuit of some sort of overarching business goals.
If we go back to look at the example of fish in schools, we see that same thing play out in the slipstream effect. Fish conserve their energy by swimming together. Naturally, this means that they can swim longer and require less food for energy. And the more energy they conserve, the more likely they are to survive if they get cut off later from the school, such as when predators attack.
I’m sure I don’t need to continue to explain all the correlations between these things and how we as Christians should stick together. The problem with humans is that, even though we often know what we should do, we’re stubborn and like to blaze our own paths. And don’t take this the wrong way, we shouldn’t always just “go with the flow”, but that’s implicating that we’re following all the other ‘fish’ of the world. You have to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people. Fish swim in schools with like fish. If you surround yourself with like people who also want to live following Jesus, then working together and protecting each other in that endeavor will naturally occur. And that is something we definitely NEED to do.
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NLT)
It’s not always going to be easy, and at times you might find yourself alone and cut off from the school. Sometimes we drift off on our own, and sometimes life takes us in different directions. The good thing is, there are always other fish around, and the school you just left is not the only one in the sea. And if all else fails, you may even need to start your own school. But most likely you will be able to find a group, even if it’s small, and jump right in. Others will then be drawn to this group and it will likely grow.
Whether you’re a fish or a Christian, hopefully it’s obvious that there are some major benefits to being connected with like-minded individuals. Betting that you’re the latter, it’s probably safe to say that nature is one reflection of God’s intention in our lives, and fish are just one of many examples of that. There are countless other cases in creation of how working together can provide safety and strength, and we are no different.
Whenever we are alone, we can only rely on our own strengths and weaknesses, which don’t always complement each other, and usually our strength will eventually give out. But together in a group, we can cover each other’s weaknesses and continue to strengthen each other so that we are always better able to face the storms that will inevitably come.
Wherever you are in your journey, and wherever your travels take you, try to always keep connected with other believers, because life really is better connected.
My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even if undeserved or misguided.
When she and my grandfather visited the Christmas after I became a believer, I tried to share my testimony with her and encourage her to put her faith in Jesus, too. She responded very sternly, “I need Jesus? I certainly never talked to my parents the way you do! Maybe you need an extra dose of Him, but I am just fine.” Her words cut deep but gave me pause as a new believer. My actions needed to reflect my new-found faith.
She would go to church with us when she was in town, also attending events at the Christian school we attended. But, she never wanted to discuss religion or politics with us, always changing the subject or leaving the room.
In 1995, when my grandfather’s Parkinson’s had advanced, she allowed our pastor and his wife to come for a visit and pray with them. But, she was very adamant that no one speak to my grandfather about his relationship with Jesus or eternity. It weighed heavily on my mother’s heart as she wanted assurance that my grandfather would be in heaven, so she spoke to my grandmother about it often and my grandmother felt like she was being pestered about it.
One afternoon, my mother took my grandmother shopping and I stayed with my grandfather. My mother asked me to speak to my grandfather. As soon as they were gone, I asked him if anyone had ever shared the plan of salvation with him and he said, “You love me enough to tell me about Jesus and heaven?” Of course, I did!
In talking with him, I learned that as a young man working for a beer distributor in Baltimore, MD, a Methodist preacher introduced him to Jesus, but he had gotten away from having a close relationship with Him. I knew from our conversation that he was a believer and would spend eternity in heaven. He seemed at peace and told my mother and grandmother as soon as they got home. My grandmother was not happy that her request had been ignored. In fact, she did not speak to me about it until after my grandfather passed away 6 months later.
When my grandfather died, our church gathered around to comfort our family, especially my grandmother. They held the wake in the fellowship hall, catering the food and taking care of everything. With just a few visitors left at the gathering, my grandmother came to me and said, “You know that conversation you had with Pop? I would like to know more about Jesus and heaven, too.”
It was such a sweet blessing to see her relationship with Jesus grow. She started to attend church faithfully, joined a Bible study and gave of her resources to building funds and missions. And even though she was afraid of the water since she never learned to swim, she got baptized in the inground swimming pool in my parents’ backyard. She remained outspoken and opinionated and starting defending her faith, engaging in living debates when our pastor and his wife would visit her during weekly visitation. She even brought her cousin to church and was instrumental in her decision to rededicate her life to the Lord.
In the fall of 2006, when the doctors told her that the cancer had spread too much for treatment, she moved in with my parents. She was 82. I was a stay at home mom at the time and was able to care for her as my parents worked. In those last few weeks that I spent time with her she spoke of being able to see my grandfather soon and other relatives gone before her, especially her sisters. But, she was a bit anxious about the ‘between’ part of dying, the part between the last breath and seeing Jesus’ face. She would ask me to sit with her and hand her hand while I read the verses in Psalms that she had highlighted. They spoke of peace and not being afraid. She said she did not fear death but feared the unknown of how and when.
It was a pleasure to stand with my family as she peacefully took her last breath and slipped into eternity with the assurance of seeing Jesus and my grandfather. Jesus had changed her destiny without taking away her tenacious spirit. She was still independent, strong, opinionated and at times stubborn, but now she left a legacy of faith and trust for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is a true example that when you find Jesus is not nearly as important as finding him and letting Him change your life.
I occasionally serve on our church worship team. Part of the process for me includes practicing the selected songs, printing out the lyrics and finding a possible part to sing. On one recent week that I was to serve I went to the website to begin working on the music.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover a song I’d not heard for a very long time had been selected. It’s a beautiful song sung by Jenn Johnson. It’s message is sweet and the words are poetic. Phrases like, “Let me be filled with kindness and compassion for the one, the one for whom you love and gave your Son. For humanity increase my love.”
As I listen to and digested these words, singing them in my car as I drove home or during my lunch break, I thought, that’s it - this will indeed be my prayer for 2019. I was excited. I had been trying to find a theme for the year to focus on. This theme was so fitting for the times we are living in when love is often based on appearances. We judge need and people by how they look, where they live, the words they say, and the job they have or don’t have. I asked God to increase my love for humanity.
When I arrived at rehearsal for worship team later that week, I discovered that the song was no longer on the schedule. I was a little sad as I thought about those stirring lyrics that would not be sung that week. The congregation would not hear, “Help me to love with open arms, like you do. A love that erases all the lines and sees the truth. So that when they look into my eyes, they would see you. Even in just a smile, they would feel the Father’s love.”
Those thought quickly fled and I moved on. I figured a better, or more fitting song for the week had been chosen.
The rehearsal moved forward. A time of devotion and prayer starts us off. This particular week one of our worship leaders shared with the group something with which she had recently been challenged. She wanted to challenge us as well. It was quite simple actually yet it had the potential to be life changing. She simply asked, “If you had no fear, what would you do in 2019?”
She looked around at the faces in the group and repeated the question. I hoped she’d not planned for volunteers to share as my mind was blank. I egotistically thought to myself, “There’s not anything I am not doing because of fear.”
I was so very wrong and God was about to make that very clear to me.
I decided to continue to sing “For the One” even though it was off the schedule. It was going to be my 2019 theme after all and I loved the words, “Oh how he loves us from the homeless, to the famous and in between. You formed us, you made us carefully, ‘cause in the end we are all your children.” That would be how I’d live my life. It didn’t occur to me yet how much I needed to change.
During my lunch break the following day, I was humming these words as I drove to a shopping area near my work. As I approached a major intersection to make a left hand turn, there he was. He stepped off the curb and began walking amongst the cars as they waited for a green light to complete their turn. He held a sign, a sign such as we have all seen—usually made from a tossed piece of cardboard. As I glanced at him, not wanting him to see me looking, I saw the typical words:
- God Bless
An old recording from my past played once again, “Don’t give them money, they just want to buy drugs or alcohol. It’s better not to give them anything if you don’t have food to give.” I had once heard this from a director of a homeless shelter. It had been my mantra every time I saw a panhandler. I kept my eyes focused forward and drove past.
He had a slight limp and was dressed in ill-fitting clothing. I noticed he worn a winter hat and his sign dropped to his side as he walked back toward the intersection to wait for the next group of cars. He appeared to have not been very successful in his collection attempt.
As I drove through the stoplight, making my turn, some of the words I had been humming popped into my head. “Oh how he loves us, from the homeless to the famous and in between. Let me be filled with kindness and compassion for the one, the one...the one for whom you love and gave your son.”
I was stunned. What had I just done? I began to make excuses:
- It is too late now.
- He probably doesn’t even have a baby.
- He might even have a job.
- Maybe his next stop is the liquor store.
How wrong these thoughts were, and that and there was something completely wrong with this picture.
What was wrong was me.
Later that day, as I drove home from work, the image of the man and his sign came back to me and wouldn’t let go. That’s when it all came together. That was my fear and it would keep me from loving humanity like God does. I was so unkind and lacking compassion. How could I love those lyrics, commit to loving like God, and yet do nothing when I saw the man and his sign?
As tears welded up in my eyes, a list of fears poured into my mind. I was afraid of:
- Looking foolish.
- Being taken advantage of.
- What others would say.
- What they use the money for.
All very real and very ridiculous. Was the man today really looking for food or a fix? Did he have a baby? Was he sincere or guilting with “God bless”?
One might think God had finally gotten his point across to me. He was not quite finished.
In the church lobby the following Sunday he brought to my attention all the serving opportunities coming up for Winter Relief. I couldn’t miss the large display of information pamphlets. I took one home. I will be volunteering.
Again God was still not finished with me. On the following Monday, as I did my morning Bible reading, I landed on Matthew 25:45. Here Jesus is speaking in parables to the crowd and explaining what it will be like when we are before the king at the final judgment. Talking about himself he said “...‘ I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”
I had refused to help. I had refused to help Jesus. How does 2019 change starting out like this?
I change by taking action. Feeling my fear and doing it anyway. Seeing Jesus in the eyes of everyone. It changes when I stop judging the worthiness of those in need.
Maybe these are your fears, maybe not. Whatever your situation, I challenge you too - what would you do in 2019 if you had no fear? Maybe you think fears are no problem like I did at that night at worship team rehearsal. Think about it, pray about it and see what God shows you. He just might have a plan to change you in ways you didn’t even realize needed changing.
Depression. Do you have it? I do.
It’s spreading like a virus in our society. It is no respecter of person, or position, title, gender, income, or opinion. It takes hold of a person and darkens their eyes so they can’t see anything but despair. Sometimes it’s circumstantial, and other times it’s biological.
And I haven’t escaped its grip.
It has been a really tough season in my life. And there’s a real possibility that I’ve been dealing with depression for longer than I previously knew. Then with the holidays just passing, life hasn’t been any easier.
For me, depression steals away happiness and joy, replacing it with hopelessness. It’s dark and scary. Others like myself, live with “walking” depression which means that I carry a heavy mental and emotional burden that triggers here and there while I’m at work, driving home, doing homework, and spending time with friends.
Then it strikes. It’s like swimming with weights on your ankles and treading water where you feel like you’re on the edge of drowning, struggling to breathe and survive let alone swim. It doesn’t take much of that to bring me down and make me feel isolated, even if I’m not.
Most of all, it’s exhausting.
When you follow Jesus, depression gets even trickier. It messes with what you thought you have always known, and it makes you doubt what God is able to do.
Here’s what I mean:
- I know that God has a plan for my prosperity (Jeremiah 29:11), but it’s not going to look the way you’d expect.
- I know that God gave us the ultimate gift, but people in my life are going to be selfish and inconsiderate.
- I know God loves me, but these broken relationships aren’t healing.
- I know God won’t let me fall, but that doesn’t protect me from facing some really hard challenges.
Do you see the trend? God gives us so much, and yet depression can rob you of everything good in your life. I don’t have the perfect outlook on everything, but reframing the situation is starting to give me a new mentality. It might help you too, if we can embrace it.
- God has a plan for our prosperity, and today, we are one day closer.
- God gave us the ultimate gift, and today, our gift from God included waking up with breath in my lungs.
- God loves us, and the friends around us right now have been chosen specifically for our benefit.
- God won’t let us fall, and He is with us always, even today.
Personally, I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” solution to depression. Just like there is also no fixed way to serve the Lord. Paul in the Bible talks about different gifts and using them to the glory of the Lord. I’m learning that being a “good” Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that I am working in a church building. Likewise, people living with depression have different levels of depression that shows up in different ways. Fighting the depression also looks different for different people.
The one idea that God has been pouring into my heart is this idea of “today”.
It’s not too hard to look at my life and circumstances to think the worst and instantly become depressed. Then I remember that the situation looks the way it does only today. And what happens tomorrow? Today, I’m depressed. It’s hard to get out of bed. It’s hard to work on projects, schoolwork, chores, and finishing tasks. But tomorrow is a new day, and there is a hope that something will change. If nothing else, I am certainly closer to seeing something change.
This hope for a better day is strengthened by Bible. Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
That’s what realizing this idea of today means to me. It means that I can hang on for tomorrow. I can go on living to see something happen that can change circumstances because God has given us the Holy Spirit.
Depression today? Yeah. Hope for tomorrow? Even more so.
My husband is retiring from the military after 32 years of active duty service. This is a big step for both of us. He hasn’t had to apply for a job since he was in high school. And since we’ve been married, he has always known what he was going to do and when he would get promotions. We haven’t really had to worry about our future. Until now.
As for me, I’m a “recovering” control freak, which is a weird trait for a military spouse. But when things get stressful or uncertain, I default to, “If I can control all the things about this, then everything will be okay.” So, in this journey of my husband transitioning out of the military and into his next position as he continues his career, I have been trying to control freak it. Every day I was trying to gain control of the unknown by asking him if he took this step, or called that person. And I could tell I was stressing him out.
I finally decided that I needed to talk with God about it. I remember the day well. “Lord,” I said, “he is just not doing the things he said he wanted to do. He is stressed out and this is new territory for us. But God…what if he doesn’t get a job after he retires?”
Immediately I felt the Spirit say, “Do you think I can’t take care of you?”
I don’t always get immediate answers from God when I pray. Sometimes I don’t get answers at all. But I have found that when I am earnestly seeking him, or if my thinking needs to be straightened out, sometimes I will feel an answer from him like I did that day.
When I felt that answer, I took a sharp breath in. Yes! I thought. That’s right! God will take care of us now, just like he has taken care of us for all these years.
At that moment, my worry and angst disappeared. I no longer had to ask every day if my husband was taking care of things. Instead, I prayed each day, lifting my husband up in prayer. And instead of pointing out what my husband was or was not doing, I was able to talk about what God was teaching me; that he is still in control and has a good plan for us. We started agreeing that we just needed to look for what God was doing and follow his lead.
We still don’t know what my husband will be doing after his retirement. But we do know that God has been showing us some potential paths. We know that he has a specific plan for us. And we know that God will reveal that plan to us as we follow his lead, pray, and stay in relationship with him.
Now I am constantly reminded to live the truth of Isaiah 30:21, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” I don’t have to know the path forward because I’m listening to the one who is showing me where to walk. He knows the way forward, and I trust him to show me.