Archive for the ‘isolation’ Category

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

These trying times

King David stretches out his hands in prayerKing David stretches out his hands in prayer,  Hungarian Gradual 1500-20

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  American patriot, poet, philosopher, and political activist Thomas Paine penned these words in December 1776, referring to the difficulties associated with America’s Revolutionary War.  Paine’s words couldn’t ring truer today. These are tough times. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused rapid, fundamental changes in the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world. The pandemic effects are cascading and could affect us for a generation.

Christians have special responsibilities during times like these.  My recommendations for all who profess Christ as their Savior are as follows:

Trust in God: Viruses are a natural part of this world. Remaining informed, preparing and not panicking are vital when facing contagion, just like we plan for natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards. No matter how dire the situation might appear, the Lord remains our refuge and strength, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). When Christians put their trust in God, it bears witness to the power of Jesus Christ to all those around us.

Pray Without Ceasing: Be aware of God’s presence and have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Pray for the sick, those who are frightened, and those who are alone. Pray for public health officials, for doctors and nurses, researchers, caregivers, emergency management personnel and police. Pray for our elected leaders, especially those who will be making important decisions that will impact many lives. Pray for those who have lost their jobs and whose continued employment is at risk.  Pray for those who have lost their child care.  Pray for those who have had their school year disrupted.

A Prayer for Protection

Since you, O God, are with us,
nothing that has happened, nothing still to come,
can rob us of our hope in Christ.
Sustain us, we beg you,
during this time of uncertainty.
Bless all the emergency and medical personnel
who are caring for the sick and working to contain the outbreak.
Grant swift recovery to those who are affected
and comfort to their families and loved ones.
Encourage those who are afraid.
Bind us now, more than ever,
to you and to each other,
so that we may triumph
by the power of him who loves us,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Social Distancing, not Social Disconnection: Caring for the sick and dying is a fundamental calling of Christians. Early Christians were noted for caring for the sick and dying, sometime risking their lives. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Even if a pandemic prevents Christians from gathering as congregations to worship, they can still support one another in caregiving. This can be in the form of prayer, verbal encouragement in person or by phone, and coming alongside others to provide help. Each individual’s personal situation will dictate the level of risk he or she is willing to accept.

Be Informed, not Misinformed: Today we live in the Information Age.  Unlike previous times, where people may have suffered from a paucity of information, today people are bombarded by information from thousands of sources on a 24/7 basis. Many of these sources are not accurate or reliable. It is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources.  Here are some good sources.   

 

Crises come and crises go.

When they’ll happen you never know!

But rest assured that God is there,

to keep you in his loving care.

This will pass!

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? –Matthew 6:25–27

 

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline - Boot Camp summer 1975Army Boot Camp, July 1975

It was sunny and warm in Louisville, Ky. on June 28, 1975. That’s the day I boarded a bright yellow school bus at an Army recruiting station for a short journey to Fort Knox, where I was scheduled to undergo Army basic training or boot camp as it’s commonly called. Only a few weeks earlier I’d been a bright eyed college student receiving his associate degree in Munich, Germany.  My mother Phyllis and stepfather Ray were still in Germany—Ray was an Army officer and second in command of a tank brigade in Friedberg, about an hour north of Frankfurt.

I had departed Germany in early June to visit family in my home state Kentucky before attending boot camp.  The last stop was Louisville, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, Sarah and Carl.  At the end of that wonderful visit, it was Aunt Sarah who drove me to the induction station and hugged me goodbye as I began a nervous, one hour journey to Fort Knox.

After what seemed like hours, the bus turned into the main gate of Fort Knox. Entering the post felt very familiar, as I’d lived there during my freshman and sophomore years of high school while Ray was assigned to the Armor School. The familiarity helped quell my sense of dread that had been increasing steadily since we departed Louisville. The post was sprawling, hilly and hot. The eclectic mix of architecture ranged from a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital to drab three-story concrete barracks to the low slung, pale yellow wooden buildings dating back to World War II.

About ten minutes after entering the post, the bus turned down a side street and then swung into the parking lot of Delta Company, 13th Training Battalion, 4th Training Brigade, home of the ‘Delta Demons’. Peering out the window I could see two tough looking fellows wearing olive drab fatigues and the iconic Smoke Bear hats that identified them as drill sergeants. Their fatigues were starched stiff with creases that looked sharp enough to slice an apple. They fit like gloves. Their boots were polished to a mirror finish. Not a hair was out of place. All you needed was one look at these impressive gentlemen to know that they were pure badass!

The driver opened the bus door and we were greeted by a booming voice.  ‘Off the bus and line up.  Move it ladies’.  After a clumsy exit fumbling with our bags and bumping into each other, we managed to get into something resembling a line. The empty bus quickly pulled away, leaving us feeling isolated and helpless.  It was then that we were introduced to the two gentlemen who would fill the roles of father, mother, confessor and mentor for all of us in the coming weeks.

Staff Sergeant Hunter, the platoon sergeant, stood about five feet ten inches tall.  He was built like an NFL linebacker. Drill Sergeant Hunter was just tall enough that he could press the stiff brim of his Smoky Bear into the bridge of my nose as I stood at attention while receiving his instructions.  The assistant platoon sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, stood about five feet seven inches.  He was lean, wiry and just mean looking. They immediately commanded our attention.

These fine men, as I would learn they both were, taught us so much: military customs and courtesies; how to wear the uniform and properly groom ourselves; how to spit shine a boot; how to polish brass; how to make a bunk; how to roll our socks and underwear and store them in our lockers; how to make a barracks GI clean; how to get physically fit; how to do close order drill; how to march and sing ‘jodies’, those sometimes naughty songs marching troops sing to help them stay in step; how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle; how to fire M-60 and 50 caliber machineguns; how to fire a recoilless rifle; how to throw hand grenades; how to do fire and maneuver without shooting your buddy; how to take out a pillbox; how to use a field telephone and radio; how to give first aid; and how to doctor blisters on our feet.

But most of all, they taught us about how to be soldiers—about responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for country, Army, unit, comrades, family and ourselves.  At first we listened to them out of fear of punishment. One small misstep could lead to running laps around the compound holding your rifle above your head with two arms while yelling ‘I’m a s#!thead’ or the dreaded ‘Drop and give me fifty’, meaning pushups. Even worse, you could end up pulling ‘KP’ in the mess hall, peeling potatoes, dicing onions and mopping floors.   But there came a point in time when we listened out of a sense of respect for our drill sergeants and our fellow soldiers in the platoon.  In the end, a soldier’s sense of responsibility, respect and self-discipline becomes a normal way of life.

It’s easy to learn military discipline in Boot Camp, where you’re isolated, restrained, focused and under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant.  Sadly, developing discipline in one’s spiritual life isn’t so easy.  I often wonder why this is so.  I was the picture of discipline during my military career, yet my Christian discipline suffers. ‘Disciple’ is the root word of discipline.  A disciple is a student or follower who is trained by a teacher and subsequently spreads the teacher’s beliefs.  I had a lot of training and learning as a Christian, but have I ever really been a disciple?  I think not and I believe I’ve finally figured out why. 

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, the late Christian scholar Dr. Dallas Willard explains that self-transformation stems, in large part, from the practice of spiritual disciplines.  He cites many disciplines, which he divides into two broad categories of ‘abstinence’ and ‘engagement’.

Under abstinence Willard includes chastity, fasting, frugality, sacrifice, secrecy, silence and solitude. These deal with our physical bodies.  Engagement includes celebration, confession, fellowship, prayer, service, study, submission and worship. These deal with our spiritual lives.  The disciplines are the means to an end; just as we practice to learn a sport, we practice the disciplines to become more Christ-like.  Willard provides many scriptural references to the disciplines in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The abstinence disciplines focus inward and help build self-discipline and restraint; they are about habits.  The engagement disciplines look outward, helping us become servants of Christ and others; they are about building Christian character.  

Using Willard’s criteria, a quick self-analysis reveals that while I’m strong in the engagement disciplines, I have a long way to go in the abstinence disciplines before I can become a true disciple of Christ.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m going for it.  How do you measure up? Consider leaving a reply.

 

 

 

Unemployed? Seek the Lord in Your Day of Trouble.

Prayer

In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord

Today millions of Americans are facing the challenges of unemployment or under employment. These can lead to fear, frustration, depression and even physical illness. However, they also present opportunities for growth.

When you’ve lost your job or find yourself in a job that is not self-sustaining, a whole-person approach is needed as you strive to improve your situation. I like to use the “Wheel of Life” to help illustrate this. The circles on the outside of the wheel represent six areas of one’s life that contribute to the whole we refer to as “self.” Neglecting any of these puts the entire wheel out of balance, leaving one struggling and feeling out of sorts.

Wheel of Life

 Wheel of Life

Family and Social Life.  A period of unemployment or underemployment opens the door to opportunities in each the six areas on the wheel of life. It is a good time to spend extra time with family, renew old connections with friends and build your social network (which will improve your chances of finding self-sustaining employment).  Don’t forget to have some fun!

Physical Conditioning. It also provides an opportunity to improve your physical condition through proper exercise, sleep and nutrition. It is a wonderful chance to shed a few pounds and look your best for your next interview..

Career and Financial.  Dedicate some of your extra time towards education. You don’t necessarily need to pick up another degree or certification. Focus on learning something that will help make you more employable. Perhaps you can focus on improving your Microsoft Office software skills. There are free training courses galore on the Internet. If you need to improve your speaking skills, you could join the local Toastmasters chapter. The possibilities are endless.

Finances.  Being unemployed or underemployed is also the perfect time to work on improving your finances. Perhaps you’ve been talking about downsizing your household.  Start by selling off things you don’t really need.  Put together a new budget, trying to reduce frivolous spending. Try keeping close track of where your money actually goes. You might be surprised at how most of it gets spent.

Mental.  Take time to relax and stretch your mind.  Put down your phone, turn off the computer and TV, and pick up a challenging book that you’ve always wanted to read.  Spend some time with people who challenge your way of thinking. Visit an art gallery or museum that would not normally be of interest to you.

(Read Psalm 77: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2077&version=ESV)

Spiritual.  Lastly, Psalm 77 provides a simple, yet perfect framework for approaching the spiritual realm when you’re unemployed or under employed. When things aren’t going your way, it’s comforting to be reminded God has not and will not abandon you. The Psalmist finds comfort in reflecting on how God helped his people in the past. We should follow his example.

Pray fervently—then pray again. The Psalmist prayed throughout the entire night. He felt abandoned by God. He spoke what was on his mind. We can be totally honest and open with God, telling him about our feelings, our fears, our doubts and our desires. We can ask him any question. Because Jesus suffered every temptation we have faced and felt every emotion that we have felt, we are free to discuss our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Through Jesus’ experiences, God the Father has firsthand experience with everything we might face in our lives (v.9-10)

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ― Oswald Chambers                                              

Recall how God has blessed you in the past. The Psalmist did not simply spill his heart out to God. He thought about everything the scriptures say regarding what God has done for his people in the past. God blesses those who have faith in him (v. 11).  Too often we dwell on what God hasn’t done for us rather than being thankful for the multitude of blessings he has provided.

Focus on the future. Think positively about your situation, hopes and desires. What is God teaching you? What is His will for your life? Make a list of Biblical promises you can identify about your future? (v. 13)

Reconsider your present circumstances. Ask God to strengthen your faith as you strive to cope with unemployment. Remind yourself that you can always trust  His promises (v. 14). Share your experience with others.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ―Hebrews 4:16

 

Out of Control

Out of Control

Read Psalm 42

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.   —John 14:27 (NIV)

Watching the evening news these days can be depressing.  In fact, it’s getting so bad that some people try to hide themselves from what is going on around them.  Recently I’ve heard several people say they no longer watch the news because they just can’t stand hearing about all of the problems in this world. Just look at what’s happening today!

  • NASA recently reported its scientists have determined that a massive solar storm in 2012, which narrowly missed making contact with Earth’s atmosphere, had the potential to radically alter life on our planet. A direct hit would have disabled nearly every satellite in orbit and crippled the global electric power grid.  According to NASA, we would still be “picking up the pieces” some two years later.  The National Academy of Sciences estimated, “the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.”
  • Things are heating up in the Ring of Fire region around the Pacific Rim. New volcanic activity and earthquakes are making headlines weekly. With every undersea earthquake comes a tsunami panic.  Doomsday prophets warn of a gigantic volcanic eruption that could fill the planet’s entire atmosphere with ash and darken the skies, causing an ice age.  Others warn of global warming and climate change, while still others are raising an alarm about global cooling.  What is one to make of it all?
  • Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of an all out war that could threaten stability throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. A Malaysian airliner was recently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all onboard.  Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the mishap.  Meanwhile, there is talk of a second Cold War between Russia and NATO.
  • The so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which some dreamers believed would bring a new era of peace and freedom to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, has backfired. Egypt, Libya and Syria are on the verge of implosion and total chaos. Terrorist activity in Syria is spilling across the border with Turkey, a NATO member, threatening to drag all of NATO into the fray.
  • In Iraq, a hitherto little known group of Sunni Muslim militants called ISIS is conducting a rebellion that has captured large swaths of the country and threatens to collapse the government, reversing all of the gains paid for with American blood and treasure for over a decade. Christians there are increasingly being persecuted by ISIS.  The growing abuse of Christians is not unique to Iraq, however. Believers are under fire in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China just to name a few places.  Some would even argue there is an anti-Christian movement afoot here in the United States, where it sometimes seems that Christians are the only unprotected group in our society.
  • The Israeli military has moved in force into its semi-autonomous Gaza Strip territory in response to months of rockets fired by Palestinians at Israeli cities. As always, security problems in Israel have the potential to rapidly blossom into larger problems extending beyond her borders.
  • China and Japan are rattling their sabers over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and have significant natural gas deposits.  The current dispute reaches back to World War II.  China, Japan and the United States have all controlled the Senkaku Islands at various times in history.  The United States, which is heavily in debt to China and bound by treaty to assist in the defense of Japan, finds itself between a rock and a hard place in this argument.
  • Speaking of debt, the U.S. economy is in horrible condition as a result of decades of uncontrolled borrowing and spending by federal legislators. Jobless rates across the nation are staggering. People desperately seeking work find themselves frustrated and disillusioned.  With a rapidly shrinking middle class, America is quickly becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.  There is growing talk of a total economic collapse that could make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.

News like this has the potential to make anyone depressed. It sometimes appears as if the world is increasingly growing out of control—but it isn’t.  It only seems out of control to those suffering from the delusion they can control it.  Many politicians and businessmen are constantly planning and scheming, trying to make things go their way. Sometimes it seems as if they’re succeeding, but their victories are only illusions.

In fact, God has been in control all along.  He is in control now and always will be. As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us, He is the same “yesterday, today and forever.”  The Bible is filled with examples where God snatches victory from what appears to be certain defeat.

  • Moses, the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter, was chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.
  • As a youth, David the shepherd boy overcame the fearsome Philistine giant Goliath in direct combat, thereby saving the children of Israel from certain defeat.
  • While captives in Babylon, the children of Israel were freed and allowed to return to their land by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, after his armies conquered Babylon.
  • Saul, the greatest persecutor of the Jews in Jesus’ time, was described to Ananias by Jesus as God’s “chosen vessel” (Acts 9). Saul the great persecutor of Christians became history’s greatest evangelist.
  • From the ashes of the Holocaust the modern Jewish nation of Israel arose.
  • And most significantly, Jesus overcame a brutal death on the cross to rise from the dead as the Savior of all mankind.

Christians needn’t worry when they hear bad news.  God has promised, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13).  When standing in the midst of chaos, remember that He is in control.

My assurance is to be built upon God’s assurance to me. God says, “I will never leave you,” so that then I may boldly say, ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV). In other words, I will not be obsessed with apprehension. This does not mean that I will not be tempted to fear, but I will remember God’s words of assurance. I will be full of courage, like a child who strives to reach the standard his father has set for him.   The faith of many people begins to falter when apprehensions enter their thinking, and they forget the meaning of God’s assurance— they forget to take a deep spiritual breath. The only way to remove the fear from our lives is to listen to God’s assurance to us.  —Oswald Chambers

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  —2 Thessalonians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Twila Paris – God is in Control  (Click to listen)

In the Company of Others

Creation of Eve in Gen_02-22 by Michelangelo

  The Creation of  Eve by Michaelangelo

Several children’s lives remain in peril in the wake of a stabbing spree in a suburban Pittsburgh high school.  On April 9, a 16 year old male student, for reasons still unknown, randomly stabbed a school guard and 21 fellow students as he quickly moved through the school’s hallways wielding a steak knife in each hand. Miraculously, no one has died from his wounds.

The incident is yet another chapter in a string of senseless acts of  violence in American schools that includes mass killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co.; Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. (2007); and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Ct. (2012).  Unfortunately, there are several others I have not listed here.  In almost every case there is a common thread—the perpetrator was a loner. Whether this was the case in the attacks in Pittsburgh has yet to be determined.

Medical studies abound indicating that loneliness and isolation are health risks.  Social interaction, on the other hand, can improve health.  It has been scientifically shown to decrease the likelihood of premature death, improve the immune system’s response to infection and decreases inflammation in the body.

Regardless of the task at hand, be it raking the lawn, preparing a meal, searching for a new job, or simply going to see a movie or museum, it is usually a better experience when done with another.

There is also plenty of Biblical evidence indicating isolation is not good.   In Genesis chapter 2, God declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  He then creates Eve to be Adam’s mate, companion and friend.

In Exodus chapter 18, Moses is extremely weary because he tries to govern the Jewish people by himself.  His father-in-law Jethro advises Moses to appoint judges to help him with his tasks.  Moses wisely takes the advice, relieving him of the heavy burden of trying to go it alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV), tells us, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  There truly is strength in numbers.

Isolation is particularly risky for Christians.  Pastor Paul David Tripp discusses the perils of isolation for the clergy in his book titled, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. According to Tripp’s research, many pastors feel lonely and isolated.  A study by the Schaffer Institute showed that over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of believe their pastoral work has negatively affected their families.  However, feelings of loneliness and isolation are not limited to members of the clergy.

Christians are all members of God’s church on Earth.  1 Corinthians:12 describes how individual Christians, each blessed with different gifts from God, are necessary for the proper functioning of the church. Each body part serves the others.  Christians were designed by God to function best when working with and in the presence of other Christians.

Acts 17:1-2 says it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Luke 4:16 tells us it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.   When Paul won new converts to the faith, he gathered them into small churches, which usually met in private homes.

With so many examples before us, how can Christians do otherwise?  Yet many choose not to attend church, insisting they can worship God on their own. Many have turned sour towards the church because of some sort of hurt they experienced there.

On the night when he was betrayed by Judas, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-34, ESV)  Obeying this commandment requires reaching out to other people.  It cannot be done living in isolation.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 (ESV) tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

If you’re a Christian, attending church isn’t simply that you need the church; the church needs you as well!  Fellow believers can be blessed by your participation in ways you’ll never know. Likewise, you will be blessed by just “hanging out” with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  A church is not a building; it is a collection of people who gather together to seek God.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It will lead to loneliness and isolation.  Choose to participate!

“Despite the slowness, the infidelity, the errors and sins it committed and might still commit against its members, the Church, trust me, has no other meaning and goal but to live and witness Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                     —Pope Francis