Unmasked

Unmasked

Finally we are breathing a sigh of relief and taking off our masks. A year and a half of living in cautious isolation, distance and covering up to provide a measure of protection for ourselves and loved ones has been very difficult. Humans were created to be interactive using all of our senses. It really is nice to see my friends’ faces in person and not on a screen or half hidden.

A mask is simply a covering for all or part of the face and they have been used for tens of thousands of years for many different purposes. There are many types : Camouflage (to conceal) – Ceremonial (funeral, worship, war) – Cosmetic -Disguise (pretend, theatre)-Natural animal color patterns and Protective (from dust, pollutants and infection). This list represents masks that are changeable, tangible and visible.

But don’t we all wear masks on our hearts from time to time? We try to hide our fears, feelings, faults and failures. But we really need friends and places where we can be ourselves, free to share and feel safe. Unfortunately The Church has not always been that safe place for wounded people to come as they are. The world sees a bunch of hypocrites. False expectations of performance or presentation get in the way of true transformation and growth. We need to remember that The Church is not about a building but it is a bunch of broken and imperfect people who are gathered to worship a big and perfect God. When Adam and Eve sinned they covered themselves, ran and hid. God went looking for them calling, “Where are you?’

The group Casting Crowns wrote a song called “Stained Glass Masquerade” that spells out the feelings of not belonging while everyone else pretends they have it all together.

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles that hide our pain
But the invitations open
To every heart that’s been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

God knows we wear masks of pride, offense, perfection and strength to hide our fear of exposure, inadequacy and failures. These masks prevent us from finding grace and healing. They hide the real us but also keep other people from seeing Jesus. Masks obscure our vision from seeing the needs of people near us and the purpose He has for our lives.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. Psalms 139:1-3 (NLT)

The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7 (NLT)

23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body Eph 4:23-25 (NLT)

Jesus is our living example. He never wore any kind of mask. He had no use for pretenders and called them out. He was exposed, vulnerable and judged. It might be scary to take off a mask you have been wearing for awhile. Find a friend to pray with you for courage and the strength to be real. Encourage one another to let the light of Jesus shine through your imperfection ……. and live mask free.

Free to Be Me by Franseca Battistelli

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
On my own I’m so clumsy
But on your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me
And you’re free to be you

Open Your Eyes to Wonder

Open Your Eyes to Wonder

We live in such a fast-paced world so preoccupied by the next thing on our to-do list that we are actually missing out. When was the last time you were awe-struck by something beautiful and amazing? Maybe the birth of a baby? An especially beautiful array of color at sunset? Experiencing wonder can have a positive impact on our health and quality of life. Too many people have their noses buried in their screens and miss what is right in front of them. We don’t need Google to answer all of our questions or Disney to fill our imaginations. And we don’t need to go on a grand vacation (although it is nice). On the contrary, we just need to open our eyes and minds to the marvels around us every day.

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good a dead, his eyes are closed. – Albert Einstein

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the County fair children and adults love watching the miracle of life unfold before their eyes at the chick hatchery. We silently cheer for the baby chick as it wobbles around in its new environment. Talk to a beekeeper and learn how we get honey from an insect. It’s an amazing feat of nature. My father once took a small piece of grass and placed it over the ant hill and told us to watch. Within seconds the ant patrol came up and removed the object blocking their path. How do they know what to do?

A Lesson from the Ant: 6 You lazy fool, look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two. 7 Nobody has to tell it what to do. 8 All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions Prov 6:6-8 (MSG)

Living in New England, I’ve been to the ocean many times in my life but if I let my eyes gaze to the end of the horizon, it allows me to see past my present place , to imagine what lies past the edges and what creatures live beneath the sea. Rest, relax and imagine. It sounds silly but people actually go to the seashore during storms. They are drawn by the immense power of the winds and waves and want to experience something bigger than themselves.

In the the Sayings of Agur we read: 18 Three things amaze me, no, four things I’ll never understand— 19 how an eagle flies so high in the sky, how a snake glides over a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, why adolescents act the way they do. Prov 30:18-19 (MSG)

We can all look up at the moon and stars but there is such a limited view in the city and suburbs. Instead, go to the country side, away from the lights and noise, where the sky is filled with countless stars, vast and unending . Stand still and be amazed at the beautiful expanse of the heavens.

O, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder. Consider all the works Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power thru-out the universe displayed. Then sings my soul….. from How Great Thou Art

The Pandemic crisis caused many of us to shut down and focus inward. We have been bombarded by negative media and statistics as well as many real losses. As we regain a sense of normality put down your tablets and lists, look up and around. This is an act of soul care that is FREE – to stop, deep breathe and count blessings instead of losses. Do not lose the joy of wonder.

Other verses to read: Job 38, Psalm 104, Psalm 139,

Build Resilience in 2021

Build Resilience in 2021

There isn’t one civilized person on this planet that isn’t glad to see the end of 2020. From political unrest, natural disasters and a world wide pandemic, life is not going to be back to “normal” anytime soon enough. Although we have great hope in beating this virus with vaccines, we are still struggling. So how should we respond in 2021? We need to build resilience.

Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to use challenges to forge strength and prosperity. Having resilience does not mean that you don’t struggle, make mistakes, or need to ask for help. Resilient people keep plugging along even when the situation becomes ugly or exhausting.

There are many characters in the Bible who developed resilience through tough challenges. A favorite of mine is Joseph found in Genesis 37-47. If you have never read the whole story – please do ! Joseph was the youngest and favorite son of Jacob the Patriarch of Israel. From a young age God spoke to him in dreams which made his brothers even more jealous. The angry brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their Dad he was dead. Joseph was bought as a household slave in Egypt and did well until the Masters’ wife lied about an assault putting him into prison. Joseph kept the faith and his dreams got him out of jail and placed him serving the Pharaoh himself. A life of extreme ups and downs yet Joseph never stopped believing and trusting in God because he understood that God has a purpose even in our suffering.

God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor over Egypt. Gen 45:7-8 (NLT)

“A helpful way to exercise spiritual resilience is by cultivating gratitude and counting your blessings. Be thankful for what you do have rather than focusing on what you are missing. Build optimism and be positive. Accept the past and focus on the future.” American Psychological Assoc.

How we respond to our circumstances or developing good coping skills will help us maintain balance. We need to take care of our bodies and avoid negative outlets. Masking our pain with alcohol, drugs and even food is tempting but it’s like putting a bandaid on a deep wound. Find resources to manage stress, not avoid it. Don’t dwell on the news and Facebook but instead find uplifting music, scripture and supportive friends. We can be proactive in finding purpose by making goals, problem solving and helping others. We need to keep things in perspective and be realistic about change. Not all change is bad. Finally, resilience should give us a hopeful outlook because we have learned from our past. Resilient people have a survivor mentality.

Our situations may vary widely but the answer is the same – call on God, the Almighty Creator, Our Sustainer, Redeemer, Healer and Friend.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 20 He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. 21  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! Psalms 107:19-22 (ESV)

 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Gal 6:9-10 (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (resilience) 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Comfort From the Psalms

Comfort From the Psalms

King David is probably the most famous of all of Israel’s ancient kings. The youngest of his family he began life as a shepherd – a lowly occupation. David was a very talented musician, poet, leader and warrior. He was dependable, a loyal friend, kept his promises and was very zealous for God but in his personal life blew it big time.

The Psalms contain a collection of 150 poems and songs of which 75 are attributed to David. They are not compiled in chronological order but put together by themes. Davids’ poems are rich with emotion whether begging for protection and mercy or in praise to God. We can learn a lot from studying the life of David in these hard days and we can take great comfort reading about God’s faithfulness to him. David’s feelings are not sugar coated but sometimes raw and that is why we can identify with this “man after God’s own heart”.

Needing Assurance and Comfort – Psalm 23 – written by a former shepherd, David shares that God is the Good Shepherd who cares for, leads, heals and provides for His people in all circumstances. A favorite psalm in times of trouble or grief.

Dysfunctional Family – Psalm 2 was written when Absalom, one of his sons, amassed an army to kill him and take over the kingdom. David had 8 wives and 7 sons listed in 2 Samuel which was against God’s command and a pure recipe for jealousy and conflict. He showed favoritism, failed to discipline his children and did not show love or justice toward them.

When Life Isn’t Fair – Psalm 37 encourages us to stop looking at “the other guy” and comparing what seems unfair but tells us to keep doing the right thing. God sees our hearts and actions .

Praising God for Protection and Victory – God is our Rock of refuge in the most difficult circumstances – written after Saul dies and David secures the throne (see also Ps 27 – Our Confidence is in God)

Guilty as Charged A Prayer of Repentance – Psalm 51 – David really blew it! He was where he shouldn’t be, lusted after Bathsheba, committed adultery, got her pregnant and then had the faithful warrior husband killed in battle. How low could he go? His sin greatly affected others. He pours out his heart asking forgiveness and restoration – and God granted his request but there were still consequences – the child died. Psalm 103 is praise for Forgiveness.

Feeling Alone – God’s Omnipresence – Psalm 139 – We cannot run from God or hide from Him. God is our Creator Who knew us before we were born. God cares about us and will bring comfort to our hearts.

These are only a few of the many passages that speak to our very own experience. The Bible is not a dead book but is living and powerful. No matter what circumstances you are facing today there is a message from God, a life lesson or a promise for you within the pages of His Book. Take a look for yourselves and see !