Thank God! This Time It Was Only a 24-hour Funk

Should’ves & could’ves have threatened my heart world again lately. I know they are the language of regret. I know they are in the background of grief over losses. I know the pictures they present to my mind appear so brilliant because they act on after-the-fact information. But I also know they are dangerous to soul health and can be used by our spiritual enemy to steal away joy, crush hope, and hinder faith.

So I’m rejoicing this morning that regrets and grief have not conquered my heart, and I pause in wonder at the grace of God that’s invaded my heart, surrounded and conquered the thoughts that have threatened to disable me, giving me an inner strength to move forward in this moment, into tomorrow.

The snowfall last night and into this morning left a foot of heavy, wet snow. After an hour of shoveling a walk to our cars, the weakness in my back and legs showed up big time and I had to come in and head for the Ibuprofen bottle. Grief over lost ability to work threatened to undue my snow-cheered attitude and once again I had to put the remembrance of youthful vigor in proper perspective – with God’s help. And now, after coming back in and resting, making breakfast for Julia and me, and doing the dishes, I think I’m ready to return.

But wait! God has sent reinforcements!

My neighbor just showed up with his snow blower. Yeah John!

It really is true! God does answer prayer and he does care about showing up in our weakness to demonstrate his great love for us. To say I should have been able to do that work, and I could have if I hadn’t been afflicted with aging arthritis and calcification of muscles simply does not fit the moment.

My tomorrow with the Lord is testifying to my today that it is far greater than yesterday’s casualties. His gracious mastery of my life is a mastery of my heart’s greatest enemies and at the end of the day, Jesus wins!

There’s a song lyric that says, “Each morning brings you closer to your goal so grab your chance, don’t let it go.”*  What is my chance? It is to fully rely on God to transform my heart and free me from momentary distresses of soul. As my life testifies, nothing beats the power and joy of looking up and finding the God-of-Extravagant-Love looking full in your face.

– David Ewert (November 16, 2018)

*Tomorrow Never Dies is a 1997 British spy film, the eighteenth entry in the James Bond series ….. for the missing score tracks. Pulp’s effort was re-titled as “Tomorrow Never Lies” and appeared as a b-side on their single “Help The Aged”: “Tomorrow never lies, / So live for today. / Don’t be afraid / Of the skeletons / Of yesterday. / Each morning brings you closer to your goal / So grab your chance, / don’t let it go. / The city streets are littered / With the casualties, / The could haves / The should haves / And the would’ve beens. / Don’t let this chance slip by. / Because / Tomorrow never lies. / Tomorrow never lies…” [https://en.wikipedia.org]

It’s In His Nature to be Faithful

How thankful I am that though we may be a broken people, God is faithful.

There’s really only one objection to sin that really matters. There’s only one person who raises an objection to our self-control, our self-righteousness, our self-this or self-that. It’s God.  He is the overwhelmingly big and powerful and almighty OBJECTION to sin in our lives.

And because of God, because He is there none of us can get away from dealing with our sin. God is too big to get around, too big to get under, too bit to get over. He is just too big! He is this huge OBJECTION to our sin and the brokenness of life that comes because of sin.

But as He stands there, objects to life as it tends to go on and on in this sinful world, He is not just standing there like a brick wall. No, God is standing there with His arms open wide to us, saying, “I want to help you through this, I want to redeem you, I want to rescue you. I want to set you apart from all of this. I want to raise you up and some day take you completely out of all that junk. So God as this great OBJECTION to the sin and brokenness of our lives is also the great REFUGE and HOPE. And in His faithfulness we find all that we need in order to be whole people.

God’s people may be broken by the oppression and sorrow that follows their sin. But, He is faithful – faithful to His own pure goodness (holiness), and also faithful to His heart-felt purpose to restore us to a holy fellowship with Himself.

God IS faithful. It’s his nature to be faithful to Himself, to His purposes, and to His people. God ACTS faithfully – always!   “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

As a result of God, we do not throw away our confidence in Him, but declare with the writer of Hebrews: “we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39 NASB)

David Ewert

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Very Best Time of His Life

A few days ago, David and I were talking about our life as it is now, and David commented that this the very best time of his life. I agreed. We have lived very busy lives, David studying for his master’s degree, starting a church, working at pastoring for forty years with all the meetings, counseling, studying for sermons and teaching and me working at a variety of jobs, raising a daughter, maintaining a home that was built around hospitality, and teaching.

Now, we live in one of the smallest homes we’ve ever had, there are few times a week we are required to be out and about, and our life barely resembles what we’ve known for the rest of our lives. But the thing that makes it so very good is that we are together almost 24/7 and we are close to our daughter’s family, so they pop in and out of our days.

You hear stories of couples who, when they retire, can hardly stand each other for they are always in each other’s way. We are so not like that. Our lives have been so busy that we could go days without seeing each other for more than a meal or two a day and then falling exhausted into bed at night. The rest of the time we just tried to squeeze each other into our busyness. We longed for more time together being just “us.” Now we have it and we are loving it!

The other day, David had to be home to let the man fixing our furnace into the house, so I went to pulmonary rehab alone. Afterwards, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from Albany. Although I used the electric wheelchair at the store, by the time I got to the check out I was so exhausted I was almost in tears. The checker was kind and had someone help me out with the groceries, but when I got into the car I just sat for a moment to try to compose myself before driving home. I had to stop and thank God that almost fifty years ago He brought David and I together. We didn’t dream then of life now. We didn’t even think through what the forty-eight years of marriage it took to get here would be like.

But God knew and He planned the very best for us and gave it to us wrapped up in a big bow!

Life is so very different now than anything we’ve known, but it is so very good. It’s like God saved the best for last. I am so grateful for breath, for life, for my daughter and her family, for our church, for friends, and most of all for my wonderful husband.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, for we had great examples of wonderful husbands in our lives. David’s brother-in-law Art took such wonderful care of his sister Pauline throughout all of her illnesses, and my wonderful father lovingly cared for my mother in those hard years after her stroke. David makes my life so much easier by taking so much of the burden of our lives on himself. He makes sure I eat, take naps, and pace myself to conserve my energy. He holds me when I’m weak, and does everything he can to make my life do-able. And for him to say this is the best part of his life is such a blessing to me. I know I’m enjoying time with him, but that he enjoys it too makes it over-the-top wonderful.

Julia Ewert

October 28 at 7:01 AM · 

“Nothing ever changes” …Really?

Driving to Pulmonary rehab today I was reminded of one of the most frequent things said at lunch with other pastors over the years. “Nothing ever seems to change no matter what I say or do.” Its corollary was: “We’re supposed to be catalysts for change, but I don’t know what else to try.”

Just then, as I was reminded of what might be depressing thoughts, we rounded the bend onto a beautiful bank of fall colors…

I I had to chuckle at the moment for it brought a powerful truth to mind that has many times given me courage to try again, to keep imagining the possibilities and not give up on God’s promises:

Spiritual transformations are more often like the subtle change of the seasons than the volcano blowing the top off the mountain.

EVERY season is needed to make the most brilliant colors – the most of what God has given to this life we live. And with those subtle seasonal changes come the diversity of colors that cheer the soul.

Let’s don’t grieve over the passage of time without evidence of major change. Sometimes the changes need to come more slowly to create a deeper and more diverse glory for which only God can be praised.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6 ESV; cf. Isaiah 55:9-11; Mark 4:26-29)

Unbridled Joy

Recently my sometimes self-declared identity as a recovering pessimist is finding new energy – in the recovery process. The help, coming from Relational Wisdom 360 (https://rw360.org/), is providing a wonderful source of new insights into how to live whole, with all the dimensions of my being (spirit, body, and soul [psyche & emotions]) coming into sync with God’s design.

Often a lingering, painful hunger for joy

A pessimist often experiences a deep, painful hunger for joy. In fact, he can convince himself that, except on rare occasions, no such experience is possible this side of heaven. The problem, of course, is related to his understanding of joy and what words might capture its essence.

Recovering pessimists hunger after that happiness with life that propels us out of bed with the elated exclamation, “I can’t wait to get started on what just has to be a good, fun and thrilling day.” Instead of worry and fear over what the next moments might hold, we feel starved for inner calm and hopefulness that assures us of conquest over the darkness.

Toward a new understanding of joy

A new understanding of joy is taking hold of me, thanks to resources from RW 360. On page 15 of Bradberry and Greaves’ book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Julia West’s chart of basic emotions itemizes words related to three levels of intensity in feeling those emotions.

As I analyzed the chart above I noted several things:

  • The “happy” category could be labeled “joy.”
  • The vertical range of intensity in feelings of joy can be expressed in many different feeling words (other than “happy,” or “joyful”); and they can describe a day or multiple days of emotional experiences.
  • Perhaps better than the vertical intensity scale, the horizontal range of feelings can describe what I’ve experienced seasonally throughout life.

What I’m so thankful for today is that my Gracious Master is transforming me from right to left. Yes, I have experienced seasons of shame, fear and anger, but more and more, the movement of my life is toward joy, mixed with, but moving through sadness. Jesus did say that He, the Good Shepherd, had come to give his followers abundant life, not death (John 10:7-10).

When I pray today against whatever thief would steal away my joy, kill off my hope, and destroy my faith, I remember that it’s not only a feeling of exhilaration or passionate, fierce determination the enemy would take from me, but a season of life being filled also with mellowness, tenderness, contentment, glad moments, cheerful smiles, good deeds, relief from stress, and satisfaction in a small job done.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

– Jesus Christ, John 10:10 ESV

 

Have Faith in God

Yesterday I had an afternoon with my beautiful daughter. We went to see the movie Christopher Robin and then we walked a bit in the mall and both of us bought some jewelry. On the way home we talked about Mark 11:22-23:  “And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.'”

Jennifer said she thought as we grow in our faith in God, our thought is not about what mountain we want moved but what mountain God wants moved and that is the thing for which we ask. Our concern becomes less about our own will but more about His.

Then this morning I read this from Oswald Chambers: “What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires. The things that happen do not happen by chance— they happen entirely by the decree of God. God is sovereignly working out His own purposes. . . As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, ‘I wonder why God allowed this or that?’ And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose. A Christian is someone who trusts in the knowledge and the wisdom of God, not in his own abilities. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the calm, relaxed pace which should be characteristic of the children of God.”

My cousin Christine Currie is fighting cancer again and she commented they pray in faith, asking for healing as they surrender to God and His perfect plan and will. That spoke to me about asking God to move mountains. Sometimes it has seemed as if adding “but Your will be done” to the end of a prayer was giving God an out. Yes, He always answers prayer, but sometimes (and too often from our way of thinking) He says “No.” So we look at that prayer and say, “Well, it just wasn’t God’s will.”

Our son-in-law preached on those verses last week and told a story of a man who prayed for something, and when it didn’t happen, he said, “I didn’t expect God to do it.” He pointed out that praying in faith and with faith expects God to act and is surprised if He doesn’t do what we asked.

Putting Jennifer’s thoughts on that verse and Christine’s approach to prayer I have to rethink many of the things I’ve prayed for over the years. Have my prayers been for what I want, pushing aside what God wants, blaming my lack of surrender to God’s purposes on God’s doing His own thing contrary to my will? Have I looked at prayer as a time to instruct God on what He should do rather than as a time of fellowship with the God of power, strength and love, coming to a deeper understanding of who He is and what He is about in my life?

I write out many of my prayers and I can look back over the years and see what I ask God to do and what the complete results were. I am amazed that most of the prayers that went unanswered—from my perspective at the time—were actually things that I was glad in hindsight God had ignored. But as I looked farther, I realized that though God did not do what I asked Him to do, He met the need of my heart. I have come to the conclusion that as I pray, the Holy Spirit in me says, “Father, let Me reword that. The true desire of her heart is this, she just doesn’t know it yet.” Then God grants the desire of my heart, not the surface words I spoke to Him. His answers were deeper, fuller, and better than my original request.

Jesus’ words, “Have faith in God” are so powerful. The more I get to know Him, the more I understand about His great love and holiness, the more I surrender to His perfect plan and will, the deeper my faith grows. The more my faith grows, the more fearlessly I ask for the closer to His desires my desires become. My life begins to be one of simplicity and calm as I get to that relaxed place of seeing God behind everything, and resting in His wisdom and love.

I Can’t Take It Anymore!

YouTubeIn 1996 we suffered a spiritual firestorm at our church that threw us into deep conflict over ministry vision, vicious personal assaults, and lack of confidence in me as the pastor. For three long years those humiliating months stayed lodged in my soul, lacing everything I did and said with caution, and causing me in my relationships to hold many at arm’s length for fear of repeating the hurt. Feeling the slide toward despair over finding freedom in ministry again, I often cried out to God, “I can’t take it anymore! Help me!”

God did send help in the blood of his Son.

At the end of 1999 churches of our community gathered in what we called a Solemn Assembly. Midway through that incredible week of sensing the nearness of Jesus, and drawn to repentance from worshiping so many things other than God, our small groups were deep in united prayer. As we prayed, someone began softly playing the hymn, “Nothing but the Blood.”

Heb 9 22_28The soft piano music brought the small groups back together in singing, except for mine. Our group stayed huddled about me, praying for me, a man deeply shattered by a vision of Jesus’ blood flowing like a river from the foot of his cross.

In that moment, the Lord reminded me of how much he had forgiven me, and then said something like this: “You don’t have to take it anymore – the offense. Let me have the offense of others against you. Simply, cast those offenses into my grace flowing from the cross.” As I knelt there in a bath of tears, I saw myself doing that very thing, and instantly felt freedom from the years of crushing hurt.

When we feel we can’t take it anymore, let’s go to Jesus. We don’t need to take offense, but can give to him and find he is able to deliver us from the burden of carrying it ourselves.

Heb 9 22_28 (2)

————————————————————————

You can listen to the hymn, Nothing But the Blood…

For an upbeat version, capturing how I felt after that time of prayer, listen to it in the middle of this YouTube rendition featuring Charity Gayle from People & Songs. This recording of People & Songs begins with the song Cleansed and is followed by Look at What the Lord Has Done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqnT9JRm8dA

For a traditional rendering go to this video featuring Buddy Greene on harmonica and the good folks at GaitherVEVO singing together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJnD272vmns

For a history of this hymn as used in Methodist hymnals, go to the following article by Dr. C. Michael Hawn (Distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology): https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-nothing-but-the-blood

 

What Will You Choose?

A poster I saw this week has been stewing in my mind for the past few days. It said: Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional. I’ve been playing it against the reality of the week for myself and for a number of my friends and family. Between us we’ve had major invasive surgery, chemotherapy that caused extreme nausea, severe back pain, a beloved grandfather die, minor aches and pains, a marriage painfully end, fleeing for your life because you’ve been put on a hit list because of your faith in God, and those are just the ones I can think of at the moment.

Pain is inevitable. I have no problem with that. It’s the suffering part that puzzles me. The dictionary defines it as “pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc.: physical, mental, or emotional pain.” That sounds pretty inevitable to me as well. I know someone who was hurt so much as a young child that they have the ability to block pain to the point where they seem to step outside of themselves to avoid it, making it appear as if the pain is happening to someone else. That has taken them into some nearly disastrous situations. Pain is given to us as a warning that something is wrong. To ignore it is foolish.

The message the poster was trying to make is that dwelling or wallowing in pain is a choice. It should not become something that defines us.

It reminded me of visit we made to the Wedgewood factory on our second visit to England. As we walked through the section dedicated to showing us how this beautiful pottery is created, we stopped at the place where the intricate white ornamentations are made that decorate their signature blue or grey pieces. A small ball of white clay is placed in a mold and the artisan uses a wooden hammer with a two-and-a-half inch mallet-like head to pound the clay until it fills the mold. Using a pin, the clay is removed so it can be examined. If it conforms perfectly to the mold, it is set aside to dry. If not—if there is a bubble or a place where the clay failed to completely fill the design, it is rolled up into a ball and the whole process is started again.

As we watched the process for several minutes, I found myself praying, “God, as pain comes into my life and I am pounded down, let me come up looking beautiful, not resisting the process so it has to happen all over again before I come out of the mold looking like Jesus.” I was reminded how my grandfather often called pain or trouble God’s hammer of love, something that shaped us into strong, loving people.

I collect tea cups and one of my favorite ones was a gift from my daughter and son-in-law that they brought home after a summer of living in Romania. They stopped at a pottery store on an excursion to Bucharest and after explaining to the owner that they wanted a special cup and saucer for their mother, he invited them into the back of the store. There he served them tea as he brought out his special cups to show them. They selected a cup he had made by kneading the clay, pounding it into shape, molding it just the way he wanted. He then fired it in a kiln, painted it with bright blue flowers, and fired it again.

I treasure that cup and saucer, even though I continued the pain the clay went through by dropping the cup on the floor and breaking it into a dozen pieces. (I think it’s the only time I cried when I broke something I owned.) I lovingly collected the pieces and glued them back together. It will never hold tea again but it looks beautiful on my shelf. It also serves as a reminded to me that brokenness is not fatal. The purpose of that cup has changed, but it has not been made useless.

As I look at my friends and family I see strength growing in them through the struggles they are going through. Sometimes it takes testing to show ourselves that we are stronger than we think we are, that we do have the capacity to move ahead. I am so proud of them for not wallowing in pain nor letting it steal their joy of living. I would change the poster to read, “Pain is inevitable, Suffering happens, But growth and joy are possible. Choose well.”

Transformed by a Rubber Flyswatter

fly swatter shaker style hillbillydaiku_com

hillbillydaiku.com

My mother used to discipline us boys with a homemade fly swatter – as a last resort. It didn’t hurt much, but it made a great swatting sound so it was rather effective at getting our attention.

Once, when I was about five (now 67), my mother who had enough of my shenanigans that day, took me over her knee and gave me a good swat or two with that flyswatter. But those swats are not what really spoke to my heart that day. Her tears did.

 

mother-with boy clipartpanda_com-001

clipartpanda.com

After disciplining me, my mom customarily would hug me to herself to remind me that she spanked me out of love to help me grow up to be a godly man. This time, however it was different. As she hugged me, she remained silent and simply starting crying. After a bit, I asked her why she was crying. She said that it hurt her deeply to have to discipline me – to have to hurt me to get my attention on the right kinds of things.

 

 

I’ll never forget those tears because they filled my heart with tenderness like nothing else had ever done. That was the last time my mom spanked me, and I have to think it was because my love for her had grown so much stronger because of her obvious tender love for me.

What about core weariness?

I can see nowRecently I’ve been learning a new way of thinking about relational wisdom from Ken Sande and his team at rw360.org. I highly recommend his work to anyone who wants to have healthier relationships and get upstream of conflict.

Pastoral counseling has been a huge part of my life one-on-one, in group settings, and in public teaching, but not until now have I seen as clearly the answer to a couple of things. The tools provided by rw360 are wonderful, and I’m beginning to make use of them daily. Management of my emotional responses is getting better in the hope that I reflect the Lord Jesus as He truly is. How to respond to others, when feeling anger or frustration, delight or satisfaction is now much clearer, and therefore the follow through to peace is becoming easier than it has ever been.

Waking up to relationships

The best kind of life is truly one in which relationships are thriving – molded by selflessness, joyful expressions of delight in each other, and cooperative effort to walk together in whatever opportunities or challenges life brings.  That means that the first thoughts I have in the morning do not remain on how I’m feeling or what I’m going to do in the day, but move to how God and those around me are feeling about this day and what I might do to become a helpful part of what can be done together.

30-emotions - nerissa golden-001Emotions are God’s gift

There is built into every one of the core emotions the possibility of enrichment (see table below). I’ve heard that all emotions are a gift from God and meant to be an integral part of a whole, together-kind-of-life.[1] And yet I have especially struggled to accept the negative ones, failing to see why I should embrace them rather than running from them or fighting against them.  When I’ve been depressed, for instance, I’ve done everything in my power to be rid of the depression but not to discover the benefits hidden inside those feelings. I have grown through those times, but usually only with hindsight. Now, however, my mind and heart are changing toward these things that have been so much a part of my living.  I can see now that it is possible to be “emotional,” and be energized in a good way whether the emotions be positive or negative, as long as my spirit is aligned with my Creator (cf. Matthew 26:36-46).

The question remains

fatigue-coffee kecuteh_blogspotWhat about core weariness? How do we deal with the relational difficulties of living with weariness of body or soul? With chronic illness comes chronic weariness.  With persistent struggles to do good toward, and with other people who can be very selfish, deceptive and mean comes weariness of soul. With persistent effort to keep a worldview centered on the Lord and to understand a complex and messy world comes weariness of mind. How can I love the Lord with all my, now very tired, body, soul and mind, and how can I love others as weary as I sometimes am of life?

I’m not sure yet how it all works out, but for me one of the greatest difficulties in responding well emotionally to life’s challenges is how tired or unwell I’m feeling in body or soul. Those times of core weariness add confusion and a sense of helplessness or hopelessness that bring on irritability, impatience, and self-pity – all enemies of the best kind of relating.

Hoping in answers because of what Jesus said

Not everyone today feels soul-weariness, or the crushing weight of past sins, failures, hurts, and rejections. But when you do, the words of Jesus may be your greatest reason to hope. Jesus said…

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)

Because of what Jesus said, I can imagine being at peace in the midst of any storm.  I can dare to imagine being loved and forgiven – when I’ve been at our worst. I can dare to imagine teaming up with the Creator – when I can’t imagine facing another day.

 

emotions-different-faces steemit_com[1] Emotions are a gift of God

“We were given emotions by God, being made in the image of God, not from sin. So why throw away a gift from God? In moments of despair or grief we wish them away. Yet the right response is not to run from them, but to learn to deal with them and use them. We cannot just let our emotions go but we don’t have to pretend they are not there. These emotions of ours are tools God has given us: tools to grow, tools to love, tools to inspire.” (Brandon Fusco, theodysseyonline.com)

“We have wrongly concluded that negative emotions are from Satan. The Scriptures teach that emotions are a gift from God. They motivate us to take constructive action. Anger motivated Jesus to clear the temple of robbers and thieves. Emotions call us to engage the mind and to make wise decisions on what needs to be done. When we make wise decisions, emotions have served their purpose.” (myemail.constantcontact.com)

From solutions-recovery.com…

8 Basic Emotions solutions-recovery_com