A Better Normal

“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know. I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

We all have our breaking point. It might be different for you than me, but if we’re being honest, we all have a time when we just fall down. There’s a weight that overcomes us in that particular moment. It’s part of being human, and being humble. We are not completely invincible, and we were never meant to be. That is part of what makes life so precious, but the secret to it all is not to stay there too long.

I found my breaking point on Easter evening. Twenty-two tornados were swirling over the state of Georgia and around my home in the span of a couple of hours. I could handle Covid-19. I could handle the stock-market crash and the loss of my near-retirement savings. I could even handle the possibility of job losses. But now I was hunkered down in a corner of my home while a freight-train sounding wind just outside the walls threated my family and my home. At 2 AM. On the evening following Easter. I began to shake, and I began to cry. And I sure prayed too.

Gratefully and thankfully, there was no damage to our home and my family was all safe under one roof. It came close though, with one of the twenty-two tornados touching down about twenty miles north of us. Living in the South, we’ve had our share of tornado scares before, but this one was my breaking point. I was shaken, and there was a tiredness that stayed with me for days. I laid around the house without much motivation. And just a week later on the same Sunday evening, we had another threat for more storms and tornados. I froze. I had a PTSD-like feeling. I couldn’t sleep, and I was useless all day until the threat had passed. I finally understood how people with anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder must feel all the time. This feeling went on for a couple of weeks, until I realized this was no way to live. I had to get back up.

“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

I began talking with God in my prayers and telling Him how I felt. “Lord, I’m tired”, I would say. God likes us to be honest in our prayers to Him. He can work with that. After a few days of me telling God how I felt, I noticed something when I went down to the kitchen in the morning for my usual cup of coffee. As I opened the pantry and reached for the coffee, I saw shelves stocked full of food. I had stocked up at the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to go out as often during this pandemic. My refrigerator and freezer were full too. Suddenly I was thankful we had enough food to eat during this crisis without worry. I looked around my house. I was thankful for my comfortable home that held so many precious lifetime memories, and for my family that was healthy and safe still sleeping upstairs. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but today, right now, was good. And every morning since, I’ve begun my day with honest and thankful prayers to God. In the quiet of the evenings after everyone else has retired upstairs, I do one last check around the house and then step outside on the back deck to look up at the heavenly stars and give one more “thank you” for the day and for peace during the night.

These are certainly trying times for all. Everyone in the entire world is affected. But what may become our biggest tragedy of all, is if we as a community and as a world, waste this crisis and go back to our normal lives when all of this is over. Sure, we all want some normalcy back in our lives, and I do miss those nostalgic carefree days we had only a few months ago. But I also remember other things: I remember people complaining about how crazy-busy they were and stressed out over things that don’t really matter; cutting each other off in traffic just to save a few seconds; being glued to our phones instead of enjoying each other’s company; and complaining. Yes, I mentioned that last one twice. And for those of us who are people of faith, we prayed for revival at Christmas time and New Year’s. Did we mean it? Most revivals and great changes in society come from some sacrifice or tragedy. Rarely do we change our behavior when things are going great. When we are comfortable, we often forget gratitude. We forget how to be creative and innovative. We forget the simple joys, and what is truly important in life.

So when we hear of the “new normal”, I hope we will strive for a “better normal” instead. It will surely be different, but how? We have a new start and a new chance with the reopening. Let’s not go back to the way we were or we will not have learned anything from our mistakes. Those who died will have died for nothing, the sacrifices will mean nothing, and our faith that has been put to the test will show we failed when it counted the most. We have a chance to do better, be better, show our true faith in times of trial! There is a hurting world out there, far more than just the virus. Let’s come out of this tragedy more compassionate, more observant, more kind, and not take the good things for granted. Let’s create again, let’s collaborate and put our brightest minds together to invent a vaccine, and let’s show the people who will be reading our history books that we as a people rose above this and made a better world for them. And through it all, may they also read about how we turned to God during this time for our hope, and He delivered us.

Pray for Our World: United States of America

USA is the world’s third-largest nation in area and population. It is the only industrialized nation with large projected population increases, largely due to immigration. There is an estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants and 1 million legally naturalized annually.  It is a nation of immigrants, a place of refuge and a place of freedom.  It has the greatest ethnic-origin diversity of any nation in history.  58% are caucasian, 15% latin-caribbean, 12% african-american, 6% eurasian, 1.8% jewish, 1.6% east asian, 1.4% arab, and less than 1% each are Filipino, South Asian and North American Indigenous.

USA holds 25% of the world’s GDP and 50% of the world’s military spending. It is the world’s most entrepreneurial economy and society.  Freedom of religion, which is written in the constitution, is principled on the separation of church and state, and intended to protect both. There is no doubt that a strong Christian history shaped the new country over 200 years ago. The country’s principals are the epitome of Christianity – freedom, charity, love, grace and equality.  Today, about 77% claim to be Christian and about 17% non-religious. Protestant and Catholic make up the majority of Christian denominations.

21st century America is changing, the world is changing, and the world’s perception of America is changing. History has shown us this before as we cycle through eras and empires. Yet I hope America has not missed its opportunity and greater purpose. We have an opportunity to show the world, many who cross our borders every day, of who Christ is. To show a world, many who have only known of hate and war, what is love and charity, the very reason people come here to begin with. Our freedoms are for all and should remain that way, but we should also be a nation for God.

History shows us this very well. The Israelites in the Old Testament stood out among all of their neighboring pagan nations. They were they only people who worshiped the one true God, and did not sacrifice their children to the gods and perform many other terrible pagan practices. They were set apart to be different, and to carry the story of God to the rest of the world. Foreigners were allowed to live among them, and were treated remarkably well, but they also had to respect the Israelite’s laws and rituals. They did not allow pagan religions within their nation, as it would diminish the meaning of God for future generations to come.  When the Israelites obeyed God’s commands, they were blessed beyond measure. No enemy could infiltrate them. King Solomon built a glorious temple of gold like none other. But when they strayed and started worshiping the other gods, the people were reduced to poverty and exiled from their land. The evidence and statistics of a nation that follows God is very strong. I pray that the United States does not repeat this history.

For the Lord gives wisdom,
from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He stores up success for the upright,
He is a shield for those who live with integrity
so that He may guard the paths of justice.
Proverbs 2:6-8

Pray for Our World: Oman

The Sultanate of Oman is on the southeast coast of Arabia and the strategic tip of the peninsula that dominates the entrance to the Arabian/Persian Gulf.  The majority are Arabs but approximately 25% are expatriates.  Oil production is the primary source of revenue.  There is a high degree of personal freedom and political stability for the region.  The majority of Christians in the country come from expatriate workers, and it is illegal to try to evangelize the Muslim community.  The internet and mobile phones are the best tools to help reach the people about Christ.  There are Christian radio broadcasts in the area, as well as many people who study abroad in other countries who may hear about Christ.  Pray that you can be a witness to Christ wherever you go and whoever you may meet.  You never know how that message may travel.

Pray for Our World: Mongolia

Mongolia is a country squeezed in the middle, with China to the south and Russia to the north.  It is subject to extreme climates.  Mongolia was unified as a nation in 1206 under Genghis Khan, and became the greatest land empire ever known.  It was foreign dominated from 1368 to 1911, then Russia installed a Marxist government in 1921.  After the fall of USSR, Mongolia has struggled with poverty and finding employment, and many have moved abroad.

While it seems sad to see the changes governments have imposed over hundreds and thousands of years, God seems to be working quietly behind the scenes in many of these countries at this time.  Many changes have taken place over the last 50-100 years around the world that we have not been seen before.  In 1989, there were only four Mongolian Christians.  Today, there are over 40,000 believers in hundreds of churches and groups, meeting in most parts of the country.  The greatest challenge for the churches and missionaries to this part of the world is that they must shed their foreign-ness and become truly Mongolian and yet still remain Biblically centered.  Jesus came for all people, and His message is for all people, and we must not try to westernize Christianity and force others to fit that mold.  Jesus’ message of belief and repentance is not culture-specific.  It is only our rituals that are culture-specific.

Pray for Our World: Micronesia

Micronesia is a UN Trust Territory that is overseen by the United States.  It is a sub-region of Oceania (Australian continent) composed of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean.  There are four main states: Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, Palau, and Moldova.

These are isolated islands where their only source of income is tourism and agriculture, and therefore they rely heavily on US aid.  Most of the people are Protestant and Evangelical, but there are strong ties to magic from their ancestral culture.  Transportation is a problem, along with unemployment and alcohol abuse.  This causes many to seek work abroad, but this comes with risk of exploitation.  Moldova has the largest numbers of young women lured abroad into human trafficking.

The Salvation Army (a US based ministry to the poor) is very involved there with assisting the people.  Organizations like The Salvation Army and The Gideons quietly do so much good around the world.  Christianity often gets bad press, especially here in the US, but most people are unaware of all the charity and good work that has been done and continues to be done in the name of Christ all over the world.  Evil is still strong in the world, but I shudder to think of what the world would be like without Christ.