What Is Hope?

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Vaclav Havel

God is sovereign, even if we don’t understand what He is doing and fear the results. For more thoughts on hope in a time of pandemic and protest, click here.

Happy Birthday, John the Baptist

Jesus had a lot of respect for his cousin, John the Baptist, saying, “Among those born of woman, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” His mother probably told him about her participation in the birth.

I’ve always thought that God was gracious to Mary to guide her to visit her elderly relative, Elizabeth, and her unborn baby. The unborn John the Baptist told his mom via the Holy Spirit that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah.

That allowed the two women who were experiencing miraculous pregnancies to talk about the implications for three months. I’m sure it helped prepare Mary to go face Joseph and the rest of Nazareth as an unmarried pregnant girl.

John the Baptist lived out in nature. Perhaps that was the only way he could commune so deeply with God.

Once he started his ministry, he also started looking for someone. Which one was the Messiah? Did his mother already tell him it was his relative Jesus? Did Jesus and John have a friendship as children? On this, the Bible is silent.

There are so many things that I’d love to know, and I’m happy to believe that all my questions will eventually be answered. Just as all the questions of John the Baptist were.

Forgiveness in Tough Times

Christian mindfulness enjoins you to police your own thoughts, behaviors, spending habits and other actions with an eye to observing God’s law, while trusting in God’s mercy to shower forth love and forgiveness — even on those who have hurt you, or who oppose you politically, or whose moral values are at odds with your own.

If Jesus could ask God to forgive those who crucified Him, even though we have no reason to believe that they asked for God’s forgiveness, shouldn’t you ask God’s forgiveness for all those whose behavior doesn’t meet with your approval?

Carl McColman, “The Big Book of Christian Mysticism”

Mindful Detox from Upsetting Words

Social distancing can result in upsetting conversations over Zoom and via social media. This is particularly true when we reach out to others who are upset, one way or the other, over systemic racism and/or the pandemic and/or everything.

Working with the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, we can detox from these conversations to return to deep inner peace. It involves, first, identifying how we are feeling. Angry? Disgusted? Sad?

Rather than running away or ignoring the feeling, accept it. Lift it up to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Gently listen to your own thoughts in Christian mindfulness, returning to deep breathing and the Jesus prayer when needed.

Next, calm your feelings. Ask Jesus to be with you as you take care of yourself like you would take care of an upset child. Be fully mindful of your own state. Remember: God is here. God is now. He is with you in your pain and sorrow.

As you calm down, release the emotion to God. As you release, listen. Do you hear a message about something you should do or not do? Did this upset come from a sin area or a false way that you see yourself or the world?

Just keep calming and releasing the problem to God, being willing to do His will. If you are listening in humility, God will be there in a transformational way.

Do We Need Inner Peace for Outer Peace?

Walking in Christian mindfulness through ongoing pandemic and racial injustice requires faith that abiding in Jesus will bring us peace. In reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace Is Every Step,” I found that Buddhists believe achieving inner peace is necessary to achieving a peaceful world.

In the introduction, the Dalai Lama writes: “Although attempting to bring about world peace through internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way. Wherever I go, I express this, and I am encouraged that people from many different walks of life receive it well. Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace.”

As a Christian, I think we achieve true inner peace by abiding in Jesus. For me, His graces are necessary to overcoming my anxious nature. All the Christian mindfulness exercises I do … and the Buddhist exercises that I adapt … are ways to practice opening the door to God.

An explanation of the differences between Buddhist mindfulness and Christian mindfulness is here.

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is within us. I do agree that prayer, study and Christian mindfulness practices help us all to walk left-foot, right-foot with God in love, compassion and altruism.

To expect that we cannot achieve peace until everyone is on that path is sad. But I do agree with the Buddhists that inner transformation makes outer peace easier. To be like Jesus … willing to meet people where they are in love … is the path forward.

How to Live in a Fallen World

Living in a fallen world has been especially tough this year. Anger, fear, anxiety … it’s all fallout from a time of protest and pandemic. Brokenness is all around us as well as within us.

I was feeling worried and weary recently. Then Jesus reminded me of a great truth: He wants me to be at peace and without fear. The only way I can do that in a fallen world is to keep my focus on Him.

Focusing on the presence of Jesus gives us strength to do what we need to do. Jesus wants us to live without fear, and He gives us the ability to do that. But we have to focus on Him.

That doesn’t mean that we ignore the pandemic or the issues that are causing the protests. We seek Jesus first, and He gives us all the strength, courage and wisdom we need to do what is right. And he gives us joy and peace as we abide in Him.

“The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” — Zephaniah 3:17

Celebrate National Get Outdoors Day

Today is National Get Outdoors Day for 2020. It’s a good time to think back: Do you remember the endless summers of your childhood? I loved mine.

Is there something from those days that you can bring back into your routine? Swimming pools? Old movies on hot afternoons? Reading in a homemade tent in the back yard? Making real lemonade?

The summer ahead is going to be a little odd. Our neighborhood swimming pool is closed, and many of the regular adventures are curtailed. But we can buy a blow-up pool for the back porch to cool our feet in!

We can also take devotionals and prayer books to the woods or to a metro garden to spend time worshipping God within His creation.

Make a plan to do something outdoors to bring back those wonderful summers. After all, we don’t know how many summers we each have left.

Weep With Those Who Weep

Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

Romans 12-9-15

Unity is a gift from God, one that Jesus zealously prayed for at the Last Supper. I am blessed to belong to a racially diverse church, and we are diverse politically as well. For some in this large congregation, this is a time of testing. We are being encouraged to divorce our political affiliations and follow Jesus in a deeper manner. For the whites of our church, this means repenting of our nation’s racism against African-Americans and other people of color.

How do we encourage each other to make this move? I believe the first step is to strengthen our confidence in God. That allows us to move empathetically toward those who have had the wind knocked out of them.

Of course, this includes all people who were shocked by George Floyd’s murder. And all the people who know that this is just the latest in hundreds of years of violence (by law enforcement and regular citizens) against African-Americans in our country. But also … all the white evangelicals who thought God sent Trump to end abortion.

Let us be humble enough to understand that we all have a lot to learn. Let us weep with those who weep. Let us speak our truth with respect to those who struggle to understand. Let us listen without defensiveness.

Jesus wants unity, and he is well aware of His followers’ sins and frailties. He wants unity anyway. Let’s start with a prayer of repentance. Here’s mine:

Father, I am before you, a descendant of slave owners. I have always known that racism is wrong, and I have worked all my career to help those impacted by racism and systemic poverty. Working in Mississippi, I came in conflict with the Ku Klux Klan. I was called names, put on a “death list” and followed. I was scared. Yet I was so proud of myself. I was so sure that people like me would put everything right in a few years. I was wrong.

I confess to you, Lord, that I never think about my privilege as a white person, unless someone directly points it out. As the mother of a son with schizophrenia, I never worried that police would just shoot my son if he had an episode. I never had a talk with my kids about what to do when police pull you over. While I have experienced first-hand the discrimination against women in the workplace, I thought much of the prejudice against African-Americans was handled by laws and affirmation action. I was wrong.

I never thought, Lord, about how African-Americans were arrested on bogus charges to become the prison labor that rebuilt the South after the Civil War. I never realized our laws have lead to mass incarceration, leading to one in 3 African-American man experiencing incarceration. I knew from my own experience covering law enforcement about racist cops and bad judges. But I thought that was changing fast. I was wrong.

Those wrongs are sins.

I repent Lord for myself and my country. I want to change. I want to love people more and fight for the right. Show me how to be humble in conversation, how to listen without defensiveness, how to love as Jesus did. Your Holy Spirit will be with me to make the change I need and take the steps you want me to take. Thank you for that. Amen.

Invite God to Invade Your Life

Christian mindfulness is becoming aware of the presence of God as you focus on your daily life moment by moment. But what are we thinking about God as we wash the dishes, sit on a Zoom call or make shrimp salad?

I’m taking a class called Life Without Lack that challenges me to think about how magnificent God is. We are practicing doing ordinary things with an awareness of God’s creativity, His love for us and His immense being that none of us have any chance of fully understanding.

The teacher, Jan Johnson, worked closely with the late Dallas Willard, a famed man of God who taught philosophy. The goal is to find the serene balance that Jesus advocated of turning away from worry and fear. Of approaching God with the trust of a little child. Of letting the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

One of the things that Jan has suggested is praying for God to invade your life. She suggests starting by thinking of three things you are going to do in the next 24 hours and agreeing that God will invade them. He will be with you as you pull weeds, cook squash and attend on-line church. And you can ponder about how magnificant He is.

Breathe Deeply When Your Phone Goes Off

Buzzes, bells and song fragments go off on our phones on a constant basis. Before COVID-19, I made a conscious effort to reduce my notifications, read my email once a day, and turn off the sound on my phone while otherwise engaged.

The pandemic and the demonstrations in support of racial justice have changed that for me. I look at my email when I get up. I turned on many notifications, and the sound on my phone is usually on. I also check social media more frequently. I want to know what’s going on.

The average American consumes more than 10 hours of media a day, a figure that has probably gone up in the pandemic. This level of outside noise and frequent interruption does rattle us. Eventually I plan to work to reduce my phone’s dominance in my life.

Until then, I am going to focus on training myself to take three deep breaths when a notification goes off. I will pray “Lord Jesus, I know you are present.” Then I will look at the notification or even take the call. That will reestablish the presence of Jesus around me as I learn about the latest developments.

Training to respond mindfully to a sound is also a good step in building the habit of taking a deep breath and centering ourselves when any interruption happens. (Bell or no bell.). I know this will keep me in the spirit of Christian mindfulness even more over time.