White as Snow

This morning, as most mornings, one of our student phone chaplains stopped by my office to say hello as he left his shift. I was just coming to work, and he had already been working several hours, talking with, and praying for callers. He’s from Papua New Guinea where he has pastored for many years before coming to Michigan to attend the seminary.

I asked how long he has been here, and how he was getting used to winter. He told me he had arrived on December 25, 2020, and that was the first time he had seen snow in his life. With a big grin across his face, he talked about how cold it was, and how he enjoyed the sauna at the wellness center to get warm like home.

Then he paused and said “You know, for many years we sang ‘Whiter than snow’ at church, but I never really understood what the meant till I saw snow, and how white it makes everything, covering the dirt and ugly.”

Mark Twain wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I have seen many places, met many people, lived in many different locales, and I completely agree with Twain. But I also think that travel helps you to see the Bible in a more clear way. Standing at the foot of the great pyramids, seeing the hills of Jordan where the Israelites walked leaving Egypt, watching the Jordan River flow into the Dead Sea… all these things are now etched in my mind when I read the Bible, and it makes the stories come alive.

Yes, you can read, believe, and understand the Bible anywhere. And you don’t have to see anything to understand God. But like touching the snow helps you see how cold it is, when you watch the sun reflecting on the fresh fallen snow, you can see what King David was talking about when he said “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7.

I Want to Move

On another cool spring morning, I slipped out the back door and into the darkness. For the past 12 months, these early morning walks have been part of my morning routine. 

As I started down the street, my mind began to wander to the news, the craziness all around us, what the future held, and how EVERYTHING had changed so quickly. In a few short weeks, life has gone from predictable to uncertain.

In times of stress, I find myself focusing on the worst. How could everything go so wrong? Why do WE have to be affected? Can’t this just hurry up and be done? 

Walking, my head down, focused on the few feet in front of me as my mind dug a depressing hole to focus on. But as I reached the corner, I was forced to look up to make sure there were no cars on the empty road, and my eye caught a glimpse of something bright. There, cresting the horizon, was the most amazing sunrise. The orange and yellow were burning through the clouds, refracting across the horizon, forcing the dark back. I stopped as I watched the amazing miracle of a new day. 

I noticed how fresh the air felt, and I heard the birds singing all around me. There wasn’t a single car on the street, and nature’s sounds had taken the place of machines. I remembered the day before seeing families walking together in our neighborhood where cars normally speed past. I thought about the kids I’ve seen these last few weeks racing their bikes around the block, about the friendly, but physically distant “hello’s” we have exchanged with our neighbors, some that we didn’t know existed before everyone was forced to stay at home. And we somehow feel a deeper connection than before, some camaraderie, with those neighbors as we live through this time in history together. 

Yes, there is life in this neighborhood.

As I continued walking, my mental list went from tracking my woes, to count my blessings: 

can walk outside, and even enjoy a nearby park with a small creek beside the trail.

We have food in the pantry.

Yes, I am quarantined, but I can’t think of another 4 people that I would want on my “quaranteam” with me!

Internet! I can’t imagine what life would be like to have to quarantine before broadband.

Zoom, FaceTime, and any other video chat. While it’s not a good as face time, having video calling is so much better than if this had happened 10 years ago. 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Walking past a bunny nibbling on the dew-coated grass, I thought about how grateful I am for our church’s media ministry. At first, it was an extension of the church, in the past 6 weeks, it has become the only way we have to worship together.

Then there are the Sabbath School classes, giving my three kids something to look forward to each Sabbath. Each one, including my 3-year-old, looks forward to their own Zoom class.

While I may not be on the frontlines, I’m thankful for each essential worker, from the doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers who are seeing patients each day, to the grocery workers, trash collectors, and truck drivers who make sure we have basic needs cared for.

Watching the sunrise reset my day to focus on the positive helped me see where God was already working around me. It opened my eyes to help me see that while there is plenty of darkness around, the light of the SON will shine through.

Yes, these last 6 weeks have been crazy, but it has helped us to focus on what’s important. This “great pause” in time, with plans canceled, work postponed, values reset, has brought so many things back in focus. 

On another recent walk with my 15-year-old son, I pushed Malia, my 3-year-old, in her stroller. 

It was a sunny early afternoon, and out of nowhere, Malia said, “I want to move.” 

“What did you say?” I inquired, wondering what her statement meant.

“I want to move!” she empathically replied. 

“Where do you want to move to?”

“I want to move to Heaven, so we can see Jesus.” 

Yes, so do I, honey. So. do. I.

Reaching for Less

“… pre-diabetic, pre-hypertension, obese…” the words faded away as the “lifestyle counselor” reviewed the numbers scribbled on the page in front of her. She probably said more, but by that time, I had tuned her out.

The conversation was taking place at my work’s annual employee wellness screening. It’s something I’ve done countless times before. But this time, something was different.

Her words kept coming back to mind as I stewed, mad that yet again, I was struggling with my weight. I knew she was correct. My pants were fitting tighter and tighter. And I never stood on the scales when I had a choice, after all, the numbers mocked me when they shone back up at me.

Ten years ago I lost nearly 40 lbs over the course of a summer, but as I reached within 10 lbs of my goal, life got in the way, and I fizzled out. In the last 10 years, the weight on the scales has kept climbing.

As I continued to think about the words of the “lifestyle counselor”, I realized that it was in my hands to make a change. I was tired of cloths not fitting, feeling out of breath as I climbed the stairs, and concerned about my overall health.

That was 15 lbs ago.

A month or so back, I visited my cardiologist and found that not only has my resting heart rate dropped, but my blood pressure is now notably lower.

And today, I finished a 5k. My time didn’t make any records, but I couldn’t be happier to see the progress.

I’m still “in-progress”, my belts are getting loser, but I’m headed down and I can’t wait!

Never Once

Twice this week I woke up to messages saying “I’m ok”. Friends where checking in, first from Beirut, and today from Paris. But I’m reminded that these acts, these cities are yet another line to add to the list. Before them have been other events in other cities, London, New York, Washingon DC.

While it’s easy to become absorbed with fear from what is happening, we must remember this planet we are living on is in the middle of a cosmic battlefield, and these acts are but skirmishes in a greater war that has been played out across this earth for that last 6000+ years.

As I considered these recent events today, the pastor, speaking on trust, read Habakkuk 1:2-4

“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”

Doesn’t that ring true? So much senseless violence that leads to fear, distrust, and in many cases, more violence. And we are called to something greater, to hope. In fact, we are reminded that God has “plans to give [us] hope and a future.”

When Christ came to this earth, he fought, and won, the war. And then he promised to be with us and not forsake us. Yet still 2000 years have past. And still skirmishes are being fought. And casualties happen. Each. And. Every. Day. Last night, the words of Matt Redman’s “Never Once” came to mind. The song is about looking back and seeing where God has led and the chorus says:

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Yes, God is faithful. He will never once leave us.

#prayforBeirut #prayforParis #prayforPeople