angel sculpture

Angels in Our Lives…Literally | Spiritual Meditations

Do angels exist?  I’m not talking about your grandmother or the person that let you cut in line at the grocery.  I’m talking about the messengers of God, the beings who give guidance, protection, care and comfort to us lowly humans.  I’m talking about God’s army or angels.

I’ve never encountered an angel…at least not to my knowledge.  Have you?  The Bible is loaded with them, but I’ve never given much thought as to how they relate to my life.  But this week they are becoming a little more real to me.

My friend, Becky, was hesitant, but I encouraged her to tell us about her beach angel experience.  Here’s is what she shared.

Childlike Acceptance

I grew up in a coastal town with a beautiful harbor and a mountain which graced it’s entrance. On the outer side of the harbor, the mountain connected to a 20 mile long surf beach.

I was brought up in the church and, at the age of eight, I gave my heart to the Lord at a large evangelical meeting. I didn’t totally understand what I had done and didn’t follow up on it much.

Witnessing the Spirit at Work…I Want It !

As I grew into a teenager I became rebellious, but I found God again through my older brother. He had accepted Christ into his life and I could see the love of the Holy Spirit shining through and into his life. I desperately wanted this change in my life also.

I started attending the Baptist church that my brother was attending and, at age 18, I decided to be baptized. In the Baptist church, baptism is by full emersion and it was the most incredible feeling. As I came up out of the water, I felt the Holy Spirit fill me. My old life was washed away; I was born again; and I felt God’s power running through me.

But I Have Questions !

My close girlfriend (who was baptized the same day), my brother and I were enthusiastic to learn more about and serve the Lord. But as the months passed, we became disillusioned with our church. We were not getting the growth and mentoring that we needed to deepen and mature our faith.  Our questions were not being answered.

We had to rely on each other and frequently prayed together believing that “where two or three are gathered, there I am also”. And Jesus was there, leading us through some wonderful spiritual experiences, including the gift of tongues.

Ascending the Mountain

One sunny, winter afternoon, the 3 of us, climbed part way up the harbor mountain to a grassy hill overlooking the ocean and the beach. We desperately asked God what we should do about our unsatisfying church experience. We had stopped going and felt that perhaps the Spirit could lead us through life. But were we doing the right thing? beach where angel appeared

An Angel at the Beach

After about an hour, we descended on a path that took us to the beginning of the beach and led into a rocky area close to the base of the mountain. There was a beautiful long white beach in the other direction.

My brother and my girlfriend walked to the local shops and I went down onto the beach near the rocks. I walked towards the water, still silently praying that God would give me some direction.  Should I continue to attend church or should I leave the church that was not fulfilling my needs and be guided solely by the Holy Spirit without any Christian fellowship?

Due to the cooler weather, the beach was deserted. Or so I thought. But as I walked towards the water I noticed a man standing not far from me. He was possibly in his late 40’s or 50’s, with light brown hair slightly balding. He was of average height and build and smiled as I approached him.

I had always been a shy girl and never would normally have started a conversation with a stranger, but somehow when this man spoke to me I felt only calm and comfortable speaking with him. I do not remember the whole conversation but I know that we began speaking about the Lord almost immediately.

I explained to him that my friends and I had been praying on the side of the mountain; that we were dissatisfied with our church; and that we had asked the Lord if we were right to leave our church and be led solely by the Holy Spirit. Right away he answered me, looking deep into my eyes and said; “You are doing the right thing”. I felt like God was speaking to me…it was so profound and touched my very soul. After this we said goodbye and I turned to walk away.

After only a few steps I turned to glance at him, as it had been such a special encounter. I expected to see him still there, or to see his back as he started  to walk in the opposite direction. But there was no one there. The rocks were too far away for him to have reached them in such a short time but I walked to the nearest, largest rock and looked behind it. There was no one anywhere.

I knew than that God had sent an angel to answer my fervent prayers and give me unquestionable direction. I was to live my life, following only the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This was a great faith building experience; knowing that God was listening to me, heard my cries and cared about my path. Ever since then I have trusted that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing in this life, even though it was not a typical Christian life. In hindsight, I look back and know that God was shaping me and molding me for his purpose.

This was a life-altering experience for Becky.  God had sent her a messenger in response to her heart-felt fervent prayer.  The kind of prayer that God responded to for Pastor Tim and his sister, and for me.

A Follow Up Note From Becky:

I did eventually find a close relationship with the Lord and a wonderful church, however, it was many years later. Living life guided only by the Holy Spirit is not right for everyone, but this is how God spoke to me and he did keep me close and was molding and shaping me, unbeknownst to me at the time.

Dad’s After Death Message

Becky’s story stimulated my mind on the subject of angels, which reminded me to take a look at my journal of spiritual experiences and growth.  (I recommend you start one if you haven’t already.)  I found this.

My dad died in 2010.  Although he had always gone to church and read the Bible, especially during his final years on earth, I didn’t know for sure that he had accepted Christ into his life.  Maybe he was a Christian by habit.  It isn’t something we talked about and it is nearly impossible to really know another persons heart.  But 2 weeks after dad died, I was walking down the hall in my home, when I heard tinkling bells and my mind was struck with a line from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life  ‘Every time a bell rings, and angel gets his wings’.  I could find no physical source of bells, inside or outside.  I knew this was my father.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Part of the story in It’s a Wonderful Life was of an Angel 2nd Class who wanted to earn his wings.  To do so he had to prevent the main character, George, from committing suicide, which he was able to thwart.    At the end of the movie, a bell on a Christmas tree rang and George’s small daughter, Zuzu, tells everyone that ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings’.  The implication was that the life-saving angel had been rewarded.

What I found out this week was that the angel in the movie had the same name as my dad…Clarence.  In 2010, I was aware that my father sent me a message addressing my concern about his presence in God’s Kingdom.  But when I realized the connection between his name and the movie angel’s name, I was amazed by how specific he had been about being an angel.

My dad always liked to joke around.  It’s just like him to give me a message based on one of his favorite movies and then wait for me to figure it all out. Thus, I have to believe that we keep at least some of our personality in the next life.

So do I believe in angels?   Between what Becky has shared and what my father has conveyed from heaven, I have to.

How about you?  Have you had an angel experience?  Please leave a comment.

Relevant Scripture

For the angels are only spirit-messengers of God sent out to help and care for those who are to receive His salvation.  Hebrews 1:14

 

 

Generations of Women Endure Abuse But There is Help | Spiritual Meditations

She has been tending he sick husband for months. His decline had been slow in spite of having no medications to ease the pain and extend his life. He died of AIDS. She dragged herself through the customary death rites and funeral, while taking care of her 5 children and 2 grandchildren. Her daughter and son-in-law died of AIDS the previous year. Now she’s waits to see if her husband’s family will take everything in her house, as is their right by custom, but not by law.

Custom says the possessions are theirs to use to take care of her and her children, but as poor as they are, she isn’t expecting any care to come her way. Although there is a law against property grabbing, she has no money to hire a lawyer. Even if she did, her case would have little chance of being adjudicated quickly by the undersized court system.

She will be lucky if her family has a roof over their heads. She will have nothing…except hungry mouths to feed. The children will work the fields with her, but it won’t be enough. Before her husband became sick, the younger children went to school, but the funds are no longer available to make that possible…they will work the fields as well.

She will fall into extreme poverty and will be challenged to meet very basic needs like food, firewood and shelter.

This is MaMalawi on globelawi

This is a common life in Malawi, a land locked SE African country about the size of Pennsylvania. The population is 18.6 million and it is one of the poorest countries on earth…bottom 10. Depending on the source, some say up to 74% of the people live below the poverty line of about $2 a day with an average per capita income of $310 per year in 2016. The average life expectancy is 47.

A People Ravaged by Disease

About 11.9 percent of Malawians have contracted AIDS…fewer in rural areas and more in the cities. TB and malaria are also prevalent. In a society where men are the bread winners and women tend to the home and children, an ill husband results in a shortage of funds at the same time that medical bills become due. To provide the necessities, belongings are sold, food is cutback and school payments are withdrawn.

The AIDS epidemic has left millions of orphans and widows in its wake. Many widows adding to their own burdens by taking in orphans.  The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 17% of children do not have living parents due to HIV/AIDS.

A People Ravaged by Hunger

Farming is a major source of income in Malawi. Whenever there is drought, crop production drops or may fail altogether. The following years may also result in lower production. Farmers cannot produce enough to sustain their communities and their income plunges.

Between 1990 and 2006, in Malawi there were 33 weather-related disasters (drought and flood), a rise from the 7 that occurred between 1970 and 1989, according to ActionAid.

During the peak of the food crisis, from April to May 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a health assessment in Malawi. It found that between October 2001 and March 2002, there was an average of 1.9 deaths per 10,000 every day. There was a cholera epidemic with 33,150 detected cases and 981 deaths; a fatality rate of 3%.

Yet, the number of people seeking aid at health facilities decreased by 25% in that same period. The study suggested that the health facilities were crippled by shortages of staff and drugs, as well as poor communication and transportation systems. As people began to prioritize food security over all else, health and seeking treatment at poorly maintained facilities fell to the wayside.

Starving people began to eat unsafe roots, maize cobs, sawdust, and boiled fruits and many contracted food poisoning and other stomach illnesses

In 2016, droughts, driven by El Niño, devastated the entire southern region and badly affected other parts of the country. As a result, an alarming 6.5 million people out of a population of 17 million were in need of food assistance. This means more than one in three people faced having little to no food for months on end.window kids rice house

In 2018 there are still 3.3 million people struggling to get food.  Under advisement from countries providing foreign aid and the UN, the Malawi government has developed a National Nutrition Policy aimed at coordinating food security programs and USAID training is increasing the productivity of farmers and has increased access to high-quality health care.

Violence and Exploitation of Women and Children

malawi childrenFor many reasons, including accepted customs, women and children are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, poverty and disease. Two in five females (!) and one in five males aged 18 to 24 believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she goes out without telling him, if she neglects the children, if she argues with him, if she refuses to have sex with him, or if she burns the food.

Throughout the last several decades, Malawi has consistently had some of the poorest development indicators, including poverty, food insecurity, and HIV prevalence, in sub-Saharan Africa, circumstances which have the potential to increase the vulnerability of all children and young women.

In addition, there is a large population of children who are orphans, work in agricultural or domestic settings, and/or do not attend school, which constitute an unusually large proportion of children who might be particularly vulnerable to violence.

Although there have been no nationally representative data on violence against children in Malawi to date, available studies have uncovered high rates of physical and sexual violence experienced in childhood, particularly among girls and very young children.

The findings from the survey indicate that violence against children is a serious problem in Malawi:

One out of five females and one out of seven males in Malawi have experienced at least one incident of sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 years.

In addition, almost half of all females and two-thirds of males experienced physical violence prior to 18 years, and approximately one-fourth to one-fifth experienced emotional violence.

Nearly one-fourth of all children experienced multiple forms of violence.

The results of this survey have significant implications for the design and implementation of Malawian- specific prevention and response programs and policies to address abuse and violence against children.

Ending violence against children and young people is especially important because violence against children affects the entire society.

If sexual violence against girls is not addressed, there is very little hope of stamping out the spread of HIV.

If children are not safe from violence in schools, the goals of providing quality education for all will never be attained.

If the violation of Malawian children is allowed, there is little prospect of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence.

The UNICEF report

Governmental Regulation Alone Will Not Be Enough

Reacting to the UNCEF findings regarding abuse and exploitation, principal secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Esmie Kainja, said in an interview that it is not government’s responsibility alone to stop violence against children and adolescents.

She said: “It is everyone’s responsibility. Parents and caretakers at home, teachers at school, religious and traditional leaders and care givers in different child related institutions; we are all responsible for ending violence against children.” This is the only way this deeply ingrained societal issue can be derailed.

Unicef supports government’s efforts to improve services for children affected by various forms of violence besides developing policies and legislation that protect children through practical programs like community victim support units (CVSUs) and Police victim support units (VSUs), among others.

The Nation – Christopher Nhlane

The Role of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)

There are dozens of worthy NGOs working in Malawi addressing various national needs, but I’m only going to mention 2 because of their impact on the overwhelming amount of violence and exploitation of widows and children…the poorest of the poor.

Ujamaa / UNICEF

As one way of reducing sexual abuse in Malawi, UNICEF, in partnership with Ujamaa, a Kenyan charity, has started a program that teaches schoolgirls self-defense tactics.
malawi schoolgirls

According to reports, the lessons include physical skills such as punches and jabs, running for safety as well practical skills that would distract their assailants.

Over 25,000 schoolgirls have been trained in the program over the past few years. The schoolgirls learn the self-defense lessons for two hours every week over a period of six-weeks.  Currently, the lessons are being conducted in seven districts across the country.

Ujamaa rape incidents dropped by half among schoolgirls in Kenyan schools after the training. With the self-defense training, Ujamaa trainers expect sexual assault incidents to be reduced in Malawi as well.

“In the past, girls were not reporting it but now they are indeed empowered to report abuses. Some are reporting the incidents to us teachers and others to their parents for action,” said a teacher involved in the training program. Their awareness, as well as fear of HIV and availability of services may also be contributing to the increased reporting.

Healthcare workers can provide an effective HIV post-exposure prophylaxis for immediately reported cases.

Ujamaa training also targets boys, teaching them how to intervene if they witness cases of assault.

Women of Grace Widows Organization / PantiPlus

Because the training against violence takes place in the schools, it is essential that the girls attend. A hidden deterrent to attendance is the lack of feminine hygiene products which requires the girls to stay home every month during their menstrual cycle, missing up to 20% of the school year. Even if washable pads are available, underwear is a luxury.

malawi widow sewing

The Women of Grace Widows Organization provides sewing machines and teaches widows in the Mzuzu area (the largest city in Northern Malawi) how to sew PantiPlus kits. Each kit contains 6 washable pads, 2 panties and a purse to carry them to school in. The purse also includes soap, a wash cloth and a plastic bag to hold soiled items.

The widows earn money for each PantiPlus item they make, and the finished products are donated to schoolgirls in rural villages. Each widow can earn as much as $45 USD in a year, which is a large sum for a widow. This steady income is not affected by weather or drought and allows the widow to purchase essential food and medicine, and pay school fees for her children.  With remaining funds, the widows purchase locally sourced materials and make skirts and dresses  for additional income.

malawi girls with pantiplus purses

This well-thought-out project addresses several areas of need. It provides the widows and their children with an income. It allows schoolgirls to stay in school, which, not only improves their education, but allows them to attend self-defense training against sexual abuse. The lower incidence of sexual abuse reduces the cases of HIV/AIDS. With the reduction in HIV/AIDS there are more people working, poverty is reduced and food production goes up.

If you would like to learn more about this project, click on PantiPlus Project to see a slide show and several videos taken in Malawi, which were assembled by Margot McGorman.  Margot has been involved in the Mzuzu sewing project and has traveled to the region multiple times with supplies and guidance.  If you would like to connect with Margot, please leave your contact information in the comments for this article and I will forward it to her.  Your contact information will not be made visible on this website.

How You Can Help

If you would like to contribute any amount for sewing machines and start-up sewing materials, donations can be made through PayPal at www.pantiplus.com. There is a donate button at the bottom of the home page.  Just put Mzuzu Sewing Team in the ‘Add a Note’ box, and it will get to this project specifically.

Relevant Scripture

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?    Isaiah 10:1-3

O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. (Quran, in surah 4, verse 19)

“Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves” (Quran 2:240).

miracle spiritual intervention man at cross praying

A Miraculous Intervention by Accident | Spiritual Meditations

We’ve all been there.  Our situation is so desperate, we are in such pain, our heart is breaking, or all of these at once.  We may not believe there is a God, but when we are at the very bottom, we plead with God, just in case He’s there.

The following is just such a story related by Rev. Dr. Tim Ehrlich.

My Sister’s Car Accident

I was my first solo trip into the world.  My junior year of High school had just ended, I had just turned 17, and to celebrate I hitchhiked up to Burlington Vermont from Long Island to visit my twin cousins Kim and Kerry who were attending the University of Vermont. I woke up happy on the morning of the fifth day of my visit. I had breakfast and was laying on the couch in the living room, singing along to the Beatles’ I am the Walrus when the phone began ringing somewhere in the house.

My cousin Kim came rushing to get me.  It was my mom calling for me.  Mom asked me to sit down because she had some terrible news: “Your sister has been in a terrible car accident; she has 14 skull fractures. The doctors say it is a miracle she is still alive but they say she is going to die in the next 2-4 hours. Would you like to try to see her before she dies or wait for the funeral?”

My sister Lisa was my only sibling; she was 13 months younger than I am.

She had been traveling up from Long Island to central Massachusetts with three teenage friends, to join a group of people who were helping the choir director of our church build a summer home.

They were speeding and as they came up over a rise in the road a highway department grass cutting tractor was crossing in front of them blocking both lanes. They swerved to avoid it and the car rolled over several times. The other three passengers had their seat belts on and received only cuts and bruises and one had a broken arm. My sister was not wearing a seat belt. She was thrown out of the car and her head smashed against rocks on the side of the road. Her face and her entire head was shattered.

I am told that when the troopers found her they thought at first she was dead so they tended to the others first. They transported her to a local hospital and notified my parents and my mom called me.

The Worst Crisis of My Life

In an instant my mom’s words took me away from feeling blissful to being consumed by the worst crisis of my life. When you grow up in a dysfunctional home like ours, (my dad was an alcoholic), your siblings become co-survivors and that is a special bond. That was the case for us and the result was that Lisa was to me—my sister, my friend and my co-survivor in a crazy household.

After I hung up with my mom, I told my cousins what happened, and I went outside and sat in the sunshine on the side of the small hill next to the house to absorb this news. I sat and I thought about my sister. My memories of her starting from our earliest childhood, ran through my mind.  As I thought about loosing her forever, I realized that it would truly be very difficult for me to live without her. So I sat on the little hill, with my head down and the sun beating down on my back, and I began to pray. The air was cool and I still remember how wonderful the hot June sun felt on my back.

I am certain now that it was God’s timing because two days before, I had been on the green of the university when a group of students erupted out of a building onto the green. I asked my cousin’s friend who they were, and she told me they were the campus Christian group. As I looked at their obvious joy and unfeigned friendliness towards each other, I said to myself, “whatever they have, I want it!”

Nevertheless, if you had asked me an hour earlier if I believed in God I probably would have said no, or that I did not know what to believe about God. But now that my sister’s only hope was God, suddenly, all my intellectual arguments were gone, all the doubts and questions I held for years were silent, and instinctively I just prayed. I prayed as only a person with a truly broken heart can do. I prayed earnestly, truly, intently and with every bit of my heart.

The Essence of Prayer

As I prayed, I told God how I would feel without my sister, what her loss would mean to me, that it would damage me irreparably, that I wasn’t sure I could live without her. Finally, I begged God to accept my life in service to him in exchange for letting my sister live. I know this sounds like desperation and bargaining, but just because we are desperate and bargaining doesn’t mean we are not earnest or that God won’t respond to us. I was earnest about giving my life to God, and God did respond to me.

At that moment I was at the very bottom emotionally…completely brokenhearted.   I have since come to realize from scripture (“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalms. 34:18 ESV) and from experience, that only desperation can produce in us the level of seeking that is required to produce the breakthrough to actually finding God as referred to by Jeremiah: “You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

All of your heart is a tremendous amount when you consider all we keep in our heart. To truly have an encounter with God we must put everything else in our heart to the rear and God to the front.

God’s Answer to My Desperate Proposal

So as I prayed that day, God gave me three great gifts: first, he miraculously saved my sister; second, he baptized me with the Holy Spirit; and third, he allowed me to join his service, fallen as I was.

As I humbled myself before God with my head bowed, suddenly a comforting warm sensation began sweeping down over me, outside and inside. I lifted my head and it continued to pour out on me and through me. It felt like water but lighter than water, like a large bucket of warm water slowly, gently being poured down on my head.  It was approximately body temperature, as it felt warm on my skin but neutral inside me. It continued to pour down on me for several seconds washing me completely inside and out. This must be why it is called a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit.

I now realize that God’s plan was to cleanse me first before accepting me into his service by pouring the Holy Spirit over me and through me; but at that moment I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was. All I knew was that God was pouring something on me that felt warm and comforting inside and out, and I knew that it meant God had accepted my offer and my sister was going to live. Relief flooded my heart and I felt deep joy and peace and calm assurance.

God has also given me the proof of his reality, a question that had tormented me for so long. How good God is to take me all the way from being filled with horror and desperation and anguish to complete peace and joy and assurance in an instant! To this day I know I have gotten the best out of the agreement I made with God that day. God saved my sister and saved me too, He saved me from a wasted life, a life without knowing the greatest Being to exist!

When I stood up from prayer I had such profound peace. I knew with complete certainty that as surely as God had just poured something wonderful all over and through me, that my sister would live.

My cousins in Vermont and everyone around me at the hospital were still fearful and horrified, but I was calm. They were all certain she was going to die but I knew my sister was going to live! And of course, miraculously, she did.

As one doctor indelicately described it, her head was “shattered like a hard-boiled egg.” We would soon find out she had not 13 but 22 fractures, and there is no way she should have lived! Her forehead was bashed in, the bones around her right eye were pulverized and there were fractures in the top, sides and back of her head.

When I got to the hospital I was allowed to her bedside in the intensive care unit. Lisa always had the coloration of Snow White: the whitest skin, jet-black hair, and beautiful blue eyes. Now she was unrecognizable, her head was swollen and round almost like a basketball; her skin was entirely black with tinges of purple and blue, her face was so swollen that the only recognizable feature was the end of her nose that was just sticking up above the swelling.

Amazingly she was conscious, she heard me and said, “who is that?” I said “Its me, Timmy.” She said “What are you doing here?” I said, “You have been in a bad car accident so I came to see you.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I love you!” she said “Oh.” I was so happy as I stood at her bedside because I knew God was saving her life.  At that point she went into a coma which she remained in for most of the next month.

Lisa’s Recovery

After about a month, she was conscious and talking and they discovered that she was nearly blind and could only see out of the bottom half of her left eye. After about a month she was flown by helicopter from Massachusetts to the hospital at Port Jefferson on Long Island. Lisa spent a total of four months in the hospital. She remains legally blind, but fortunately she can read and can navigate independently, although, she can still see only out of the bottom half of her left eye.

After spending several years learning to deal with her new handicaps she got a GED then a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree and is now a social worker in the Veterans Administration, where she helps veterans ever day.  I thank God every day for accepting the offer of my life in service in exchange for hers.  I am so blessed and so lucky that God agreed to my offer. It is the best thing that ever happened to either of us.

Miracles Can Happen to Skeptics

If I look at what happened as an unbiased, detached theologian, the first thing that jumps out at me is how unworthy I was to have received such a miracle, much less to have been accepted into God’s service. I was an agnostic, or a skeptical inquirer, certainly not a believer. Theologically, it is significant that a person should have a profound, miraculous experience under those circumstances.

The stereotype and the expectation most people have is that miracles and spiritual experiences come to saints or at least to the devout and not to agnostics and skeptics living in sin.

I now know that none of us are ever worthy to receive a miracle from God, that his miracles are always given in grace. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter seven about his struggles with sin. He said: “ I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (7:15 GNTD). The greatest apostle in history struggled with sin and yet was a part of many miracles.

So I conclude from all this is that God loves and responds to the love and desire for Him that we have in our hearts.  God also knows that, in the world, love and our higher instincts are often overpowered by physical and psychological desires.

For me personally, I was skeptical about the reality of God from an early age. Like doubting Thomas, I was resolved to believe in nothing I could not see or touch or that could not be proven to me. Even though I attended church and Sunday school regularly in all the years between age five and my sister’s car accident, I still didn’t know God, nor had I seen any proof of his existence.

The Seeds of Faith

When Lisa was miraculously saved I discovered that seeds of faith had been planted inside me by all the years of Church and Sunday school. Watered by the prayers of my deepest need in the darkest time for my soul, the seeds of faith burst forth suddenly with amazing life. I have come to realize that unlike physical seeds, which can take weeks to germinate and sprout, spiritual seeds can and do spring to instant growth when watered with the sincere and urgent prayers of a person facing catastrophe such as I was then.

I have also come to realize that this is an illustration of the reality of the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (29:13 NRSV).

 

Relevant Scripture

You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah. 29:13)

I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15 GNTD)

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalms. 34:18 ESV)

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NRSV)

John 20:24-29 New International Version (NIV)
Doubting Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

talking to God hand uplifted to heaven

Talking to God | Spiritual Meditations

Who wouldn’t want to talk to someone with credentials that include: Creator, Helper, Strength of His people, Everlasting  Light, God of Peace, Loving and Forgiving God, Comforter, Faithful and True?

In my last post, I encouraged you to talk to God.  It occurred to me that maybe we should delve into this a little further.  There are a number of ways we can talk to God.  I’m going to share my experience with you and I hope you will share yours with me.

Childhood Prayers

When I was a child my family sat around the dinner table and my dad said  a standard prayer each night.  “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food”.  Short and appreciative, but we were recognizing God’s participation in our lives.

The bedtime prayer I was taught was, “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”.  This was then followed by a list of everyone I wanted God to bless, which was much the same every night, but did allowed for some childish variation and was the beginning of really talking to God.  This night time ritual was overseen by one of my parents.   I was brought up to believe there is a God,  a God worth learning about, and a God who knew me.  From my perspective, it was a one-way conversation, but God heard.  The “die before I wake”, part didn’t really bother me, but I have to say, I remember at that age, being concerned about somebody or something coming in my 2nd story bedroom window or hiding under my bed.

What childhood prayers do you remember?  I’d like to hear them.  Please enter them in the comments.

Group Prayers

Today, in churches and gatherings all over the world, Christians recite the Lord’s prayer, in spite of the fact that Jesus specifically told us to pray in solitude.  But in defense of this practice, it IS the only prayer that Jesus spelled out and he said “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”  He also quoted from Isaiah 56:7 “My house will be called a house of prayer”  (Luke 19:46).  So saying a group prayer that he gave us, in his presence, must be OK.

Matthew 6:5-15 New International Version (NIV)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Just Me and God Talking

The other notable part of this scripture, is “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”.  So why ask Him for anything?!  My experience indicates that God wants us to communicate with Him, but there is no need to repeat the same request over and over.  What I have found to be more important is being sincere and speaking to God from my very core, from my heart, in honesty and vulnerability…laying it all out there…getting personal.  I have to believe that it is more beneficial for me to recognize the need, the reliance on God, than it is for me to explain to God what I need…since He already knows. Make the request and then trust that He will address it as He sees fit.    When I have heard back from God, it has been in response to this kind of heart-felt plea or expression.

This, of course, is where the ability to recognize God’s response becomes important, which may not be evident if we haven’t trained ourselves to listen.  This is where the work comes in…the study of spiritual truths and meditation.

In 2004 the city where I live was expected to have a direct hurricane hit and my house was in a low area.  I prepared the best I could and then went, with my family, to the home of a friend who lived on higher ground and in a house with all the latest hurricane  protection features.  I had pleaded with God to protect us from the storm.  I remember exactly where I was when He answered me.   As we got out of the car and approached the friend’s front door, I felt suddenly calm.  God told me we would be fine.  It turned out to be a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky.  After a morning visit with our friends, we went home.

Talking All the Time

There’s one more aspect of talking to God that I want to mention.  What does it mean to “pray without ceasing”?  I don’t think God necessarily wants us to excuse ourselves from the world and join a monastery so that we can pray all day.  I think the apostle Paul was telling us  to make God a part of our daily life, like a friend that we talk to every day, wherever we are. Our constant companion and counselor.   No need to text.  Some people talk out loud to God, but He hears your thoughts just as well.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

 Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Any Final Thoughts?

Billions of people talk to God and we don’t all do it the same way.  And, certainly, God communicates with us in many ways.   I would like to hear about the ways you converse with God.  I’d also like to hear about how He talks to you.  What examples stand out in your mind?  Please enter them in the comments.  Thanks.

 

 

overworked people in business meeting

The Murderous Workplace | Spiritual Meditations

How many work hours do you put in every week? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American works 44 hours per week. A Gallop poll puts the average at 47 to 50 hours per week and a Bloomberg Businessweek report indicates that some factory workers put in 12 hours a day for 6 to 7 days a week. After a work schedule like that who’s going to make a healthy meal or work out?  And that kind of life isn’t necessary if you are One with God.

Overworking Your System

John Ross, MD, FIDSA in the Harvard Health Publishing reports that

In most developed countries, overwork is not seen as a public health problem. However, death from overwork is common enough in Japan that there is a word for it: karōshi. Japanese corporate workers, or salarymen, have a tradition of lifelong job security. Unfortunately, for them, the tradeoff is that they are expected to log long hours of unpaid overtime… In China, death from overwork, known there as guolaosi, is also said to be widespread.

Researchers from University College London compiled data on the relationship between working hours and heart attack risk in over 600,000 workers, as well as similar data on stroke risk in over 500,000 workers. … They found that those who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13% greater risk of a heart attack, and were 33% more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.

Overwork also can result in sleep deprivation, which can result in a host of problems: obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It also inhibits our ability to think and remember. If you think you can function with minimal shut-eye, The Wall Street Journal reports that for every 100 people who think they are a member of the “sleepless elite,” only 5 really are. Only 1–3% of people can actually function on five or six hours of sleep a night without their performance suffering.

In her blog, Lindsay Kolowich relates that,

In 2015, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health published the largest ever study of the correlation between working patterns and alcohol consumption. In the study, a group of researchers put together a dataset of over 330,000 workers across 14 different countries. They found that …when people worked more than 48 hours per week, they were more likely to engage in “increased risky alcohol use.” Risky alcohol use was defined as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men.

Who’s Killing You?

Some employers require long hours from their salaried employees; however, in some organizations the culture promotes a philosophy that extra hours facilitate promotion. The culture says that those who are always connected (via email, text or phone) impress their superiors. Those who take a company laptop with them on vacation prioritize the company above all else and make themselves indispensable. Sound familiar?

It takes an emotionally strong individual to walk out the door at 5:00, but that individual is or will be the more physically and mentally strong by doing so.

Can you identify with any of the above or does it sound like anyone you know? How do we escape from a life overrun with work and the accompanying illness? If you are in this situation, and know how to escape from it, I’m going to assume that you are already taking steps to resolve it. If you have not made the great escape, I’m going to suggest that your ability to do so, or your ability to at least reduce the pain, correlates to where you are on your faith journey.

Meditation is a Weapon

Solitude, meditation and prayer are going to give you stress relief to the extent that you use them.

Andrew Newberg, an expert in neurotheology states on Tonic that:

Despite a dose of healthy skepticism, it’s hard to ignore the growing body of research dedicated to the neural correlates and potential benefits of these practices [prayer], including non-Christian ones, like mindfulness and meditation. Dozens of studies have found changes before and after prayer or meditative activities in the autonomic nervous system, which controls relaxation and arousal, [and] in parasympathetic activity, which can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, metabolism, or respiration.

You may be exhausted, but fit in some meditation wherever you can; lunch breaks, after work, when the kids are asleep or early in the morning. Once you become proficient at blocking out the surrounding noise, you may even be able to meditate while on the train or bus. Talking to God can be done anywhere at any time. Make God a part of your everyday life and you will gradually recognize that He is active in your everyday life.

Lessons From the Truly Connected

For the truly God-connected individuals, (who know, trust and love God) big decisions are often urged by God, and He helps smooth the pathway. Just listen for His Spirit; your Inner Being.

Here is how Dr Wayne W Dyer explained his work transition.

When I left the work that no longer inspired me, every single detail that I’d worried about was almost magically taken care of for me. I’d spent several months working for a large corporation where I was offered a salary three times higher than I’d been paid as a teacher, but I wasn’t in spirit. That prodding inner knowing said, What are you here to do, and teaching/counseling became my manifested daily purpose…I suggest that there is no risk at all if you pay attention to that light…Combine your strong knowing with the faith the Spirit.

In the book Experiencing God, the authors relate the story of a doctor they met.

As a college student, he had felt God calling him to be a medical missionary. He attended medical school…[and] became an expert in the study of immune diseases and was invited to join the staff of a prestigious hospital. For several years he worked at the hospital…but during the conference at which he and I met, God convicted him that he had neglected to obey his call to missions. Now, well established in his career, and supporting a family, he wondered if it was too late….I advised the doctor to spend time with God and ask Him to clarify exactly what He wanted him to do at this stage in his life. Later I heard that the physician had resigned his prestigious position and had become a missionary in Africa in an area ravaged by AIDS.

Seek First the Kingdom

Besides prayer and meditation, how do we develop the kind of connection with God that makes us comfortable with taking the first step in making major life changes? The answer that we find in scripture is ‘seek first the kingdom,’ and all else, including material needs, will be met.  This is the Kingdom within you, developed through regular meditation on spiritual phrases followed by being in a attitude of listening to the Spirit.  Not thinking.

What we should be seeking is not increased dollars or improved health, as desirable as these are, but rebirth, an entrance into a state of consciousness, which is God’s kingdom, and not of this world.

From our earliest years, the desirability of being a go-getter, having a strong personality, being dynamic, knowing what we want and going after it, and the importance of getting, achieving, and accomplishing have been impressed upon us… Whenever, we have pushed or elbowed someone aside mentally or physically, or reached out for that which is rightfully someone else’s, in that degree we have also violated spiritual law.

Even that for which we have legally and legitimately struggled, was sometimes the very thing that destroys us because in as much as we are infinite, and according to the teachings of the Master [Jesus], have within us, all that the Father has, any attempt to add to that infinity is in itself a violation of the law of God…Instead of starting out in life with the idea of gaining, getting or achieving we would reverse that and our attitude would be one of serving, giving, bestowing, sharing and co-operating…In such a state of consciousness, our good [prosperity] on the human plane would be the reflex action of our giving and sharing. [italics mine]

Every time we believe that there is something or somebody to be gained or won–some name, some fame, some fortune–we are at that very moment in violation of the spiritual principle of life which is givingness.   from The Thunder of Silence by Joel S Goldsmith

Conclusion

If you find yourself, or someone you know, struggling to keep life on track, as a result of too many work hours, take a close look at the cause. Who is making the decision to put in all those hours? Are you succumbing to the culture of your work environment? Is it your boss or are you motivated by material things? God is always there to listen, no matter where you are. Can you whittle out a few moments to meditate, decompress and open yourself to hearing the still small voice of God, your Inner Being, guiding you? If you can, your future will be more peaceful and satisfying for it. Give it a try and contact me with the results. I would love to hear about your experience.

Relevant Scripture

Psalm 127:2
It is senseless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, fearing you will starve to death; for God wants his loved ones to get their proper rest.

Proverbs 10:22
The Lord’s blessing is our greatest wealth. All our work adds nothing to it!

Psalms 37:4
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Matthew 6:25-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. 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 can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

brown and white buffalo face each other metaphor for ethnic groups, avoid prejudice, love neighbors

Who are Your Neighbors? | Spiritual Meditations

I’m sure you are aware of the relationship between lack of experience and fear.   How many times have you said to someone “I would never do that” after they have described an experience you felt was risky? But with more knowledge, encouragement or courage, you find yourself doing the very thing you previously feared.

Let’s Talk

If you haven’t tried anything new lately, I encourage you to think of something you’ve always wanted to do and go do it.  We grow as a result of new experiences and meeting new people, especially people who are different from us.  Some of my most memorable and gratifying experiences have been with people whose first language was not English.  When I was a teenager, I remember thinking that people speaking a ‘foreign’ language within my hearing were rude or saying something derogatory about me or somebody I was with, when actually they were probably talking about what they were going to make for dinner.  Wow, was I the center of my universe or what?

It’s fun to talk to strangers… certainly not scary.  Some would even say it’s healthy and improves the quality of life of those involved.  I listened to a TED talk with Kio Stark this week.  She talks about how much she loves to talk to strangers and the expression of humanity it provides to herself and those she speaks to.  I gave it a try 3 times this week and enjoyed each experience.  It was a win.Her “Why You Should Talk to Strangers”  video is only 12 minutes and watching it will lift your spirits.   (Take a look at my first blog post God’s Faithfulness Slam Dunked My Life to learn how God encouraged me to talk to strangers and how He used that conversation to change my life.)

In a Huffington Post article written by Emma Brancatisano, Jasmine Sliger, a cross-cultural counselling and organizational psychologist, said we should all be talking more.

“We don’t usually allow ourselves to be outside of our comfort zone. And [talking to a stranger] can be challenging, because we don’t know what is on the other side,” Sliger said. “It depends on your personality. Some have more of a natural sense of social engagement than others.”

“If you have a close friend who is more extroverted than you, go out with them and observe how they interact,” Sliger said. “Then, start by carrying out some social experiments. Begin talking to people or acknowledging them.”

“The best place to start is to show appreciation to those who are in your service. You’re acknowledging that they’re a human being and that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Start there. Whether that be the guy who makes your soy latte in the morning or the friendly woman at your local deli, start simply. By doing this, you’re acknowledging that they’re a human being and that you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Start there,” Sliger said.

“I think we live in a world today where there is so much fear — whether that be of refugees or the person next to us…It even borders on paranoia. We are getting hampered more and more by messages of fear and this leads to people creating stereotypical fears. You can’t walk alone, you can’t let your children out of your sight and you need to talk to them about stranger danger. Whilst I believe you need to do these things, the message can be overplayed. And that is detrimental to the growth of a person.”

Fear – Nature and Nurture

Fear is a primal instinct.  Our very early ancestors learned that if you are approached by a stranger, it is safer to consider them an enemy and be ready to fight or flight, rather than consider them a friend and be wrong…a potentially fatal mistake.

Layered on top of the primal instinct, a person may lack confidence  They may have had a  traumatic childhood experiences.  They are likely to be influence by parents, teachers, family and friends, whose perspectives and ideas may not be helpful in developing a mentally healthy individual.  This is how prejudice gets passed from generation to generation. And this concoction of fear and prejudice is stirred and agitated by exaggerated negative TV news.

You Decide What Your Fears Are

But being afraid of strangers does not have to be a life-long condition.  Jack Schafer PhD explains “that the first step is understanding when and how the fear appeared.  The second step is to acknowledge strangers” who have helped humanity, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.  “The third, to face the fear and start interacting with strangers.”  The more experience you have with different people, the less fearful you will be of their ‘stereotype’.  And there are big differences between people within what you may consider a group or type of people.  We use the most obvious characteristic to create our stereotypical groups, while the people we put in those groups are really so different.  How similar are you to the people you know and would consider to be in your group?  You will see differences in personality and values among them.  And there are just as many personalities among every stereotypical group you can think of.

The Potential for Hate and Hate Crimes

Not all stereotypical fear of strangers (prejudice) is going to elevate to hate crimes, but we need to be aware of the potential.  How many times have families ignored or rationalized a family member’s association with haters and people using violent rhetoric?

In Psychology Today, Dr. Schafer explains “Hate masks personal insecurities.  Not all insecure people are haters, but all haters are insecure people.  Hate elevates the hater above the hated.  Haters cannot stop hating without exposing their personal insecurities.  Haters can only stop hating when they face their insecurities”.  So let’s do our best to accept and extend agape love to everyone.  I, for one, do not want to be a contributing factor in the development of  people becoming fuel for hate crime combustion.

According to the analysts with The Conversation in their June 2018 article

Hate crime totals for the 10 largest cities [in the US] rose for four straight years to the highest level in a decade.

Nationally, levels in 2014 were the lowest since national reporting began in 1992, according to the FBI. Since then, hate crimes have steadily increased. In 2016, the last year with FBI totals available, hate crimes were up 11.7 percent compared to 2014.

We see three factors behind the moderate overall increases in 2016. First, there was a precipitous spike around the election. Second, on top of sustained levels of hate crimes against African-Americans, and a small increase against Jews, were larger percentage increases against other groups. Third, hate crimes increased by double-digit percentages in several large states, including New York, California, Florida and Illinois.

Are We Good Neighbors?

God doesn’t get into the psychology and statistics of it, but His wisdom tells us to be kind to strangers:

Exodus 22:21     Do not mistreat a stranger or oppress a foreigner for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34    But the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.

Hebrews 13:2    Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.

Luke 10:25-37    The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So who are your neighbors?  Jesus is saying everyone is your neighbor, love your neighbor as yourself, do to others as you would want others to do to you.

Our Inner Being is God and God is Love, so we can’t help but love our fellow man / strangers / brothers.  Their Inner Being also is God.  John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says ‘What you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me”.  Joel S.Goldsmith, in his book Practicing the Presence, adds a karmic interpretation to these words.  We are all One spirit of God.  “God is the Selfhood of every individual…and the injustice that I am doing to another, I am doing to myself.  The lack of thoughtfulness that I show to another, I am showing to myself.”

Forgiveness

Unfortunately, not everyone has tapped into the their Inner Being of love.  So we must learn to pray “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”.  and pray that their eyes will be opened to the Truth.

If there are individuals with whom we are not on harmonious terms, we find, as we turn within [pray, meditate, listen to God] and pray that brotherly love and harmony be established between us, that instead of enemies, we come into a relationship of spiritual brotherhood with them.  Our relationship with everyone then takes on a harmony and a heretofore unknown joy.

This is not possible as long as we feel antagonism toward anyone.  If we are harboring within us personal animosity, or if we are indulging in national or religious hatred, prejudice or bigotry, our prayers are worthless.  We must go to God with clean hand in order to pray, and to approach God with clean hands we must relinquish our animosities.  Within ourselves we must first pray the prayer of forgiveness for those that have offended us, since ‘they know that what they do’.

It is not only inconsistent, but hypocritical to talk about the Christ and our great love of God in one breath and in the next breath, speak disparagingly of a neighbor who is of a different race, creed, nationality, political affiliation, or economic status. One cannot be the child of God as long as he persecutes or hates anyone or anything, but only as he lives in a consciousness of no judgement or condemnation.

Joel S Goldsmith, excerpt from Practicing the Presence

Conclusion

Many of our fears are irrational.  But we can overcome our natural tendencies to fear strangers.  When it comes to people, the more contact we have with a diverse population, the fewer fears and prejudice we will have. Our lives will also be much richer and interesting for the experience.  Let’s appreciate the differences.  You may be as different to them as they are to you.  And your interaction could lead to greater acceptance and compassion for all parties involved.  Each person is God’s unique creation and we don’t need to assigned to them some made-up group.  Strike up a conversation with 3 strangers this week and let me know how it goes.  I’d love to hear about it.

Although He doesn’t always give us explanations, God’s direction, as written in scripture and as written on your heart, will lead you to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.  God is clear?  Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  Love your neighbor as yourself.



cross crown sky clouds metaphor for Soul Ascend

God’s Touch and A Soul Ascended | Spiritual Meditations

It seems that when someone we care about dies, we often regret something we said, or didn’t say, something we did or didn’t do.  We think we could have done more to make their life, or their end-of-life, better.  Guilt can sometimes be overwhelming.  How fortunate, that the greater our connection with God, the greater is His support of us during those times.  My friend, Tim, is going to tell you about an experience he had, as a young chaplain, that involves healing, the presence of God and his afterlife connection with a cancer patient.

The following was written by Rev. Dr. Tim Ehrlich

Context

As a first semester seminarian at Duke I was hired as Student Associate Pastor of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church. I loved working at Trinity Avenue for my boss Rev. Doctor Bennett, but after two years at Trinity I quit to take care of my newborn baby son Shaun and to enroll in the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program at Duke Medical Center. CPE required 35 hours a week and counted as two elective classes towards graduation from the Divinity School. My acceptance into the program made me a chaplain intern at Duke Hospital. As such I was assigned to an area that required a lot of pastoral care: the burn and amputation unit. I also rotated as Chaplain on call once every 10 days, which required me to stay at the hospital for 24 hours during my rotation.

The burn & amputation unit was a regional burn unit so it was busy with patients from all over the state. My job was to do pastoral visits with those who requested pastoral visits and with those whom the nursing staff had identified as most in need. Usually I visited everyone about to have an amputation and everyone who was having complications following their amputation. I also visited those who had been burned badly enough to require hospitalization.

I saw some very sad cases, people who had to have multiple amputations, or repeated amputations on the same limb, industrial accidents, and terrible burn cases. I visited with and tried to bring hope and light to people in the darkest depths of depression, and I visited with others facing similar circumstances, who were so filled with the joy and love of the Lord that they ministered to me instead of the other way around.

A Special Cancer Patient

As the Chaplain On Call for the thousand bed hospital I was given a pager and had to respond to every code blue (person is dying) situation, to provide immediate pastoral support to the family, if any. I also had to respond to pastoral assignment given by any staff doctor. One day when I was on call, I was paged by a doctor to visit with a young man who was very sick with cancer and had just been told he had a very short time to live – a month or so at most. His name was Patrick, I really liked him and felt so sorry for him because he was a really nice guy, a Christian, happily married and had an 8 year old daughter, and he was about to leave them without a husband and daddy.

Healing Hands

Having had the experience of seeing people I had prayed for miraculously healed, I asked him if I could hold my hands over him and pray for his healing and he said ‘yes’. This became a daily thing: at some point during my daily time at work I would stop by his room and do this laying on of hands and pray. There was no huge miraculous response, but each time I prayed he seemed a little better: he seemed a little stronger and certainly it lifted his spirits. His month stretched out into two months. I truly felt like I was in a battle with his cancer, my prayers would lift him up during the week, but I was gone over the weekends, and cancer would tear him down such that by Mondays he was back to where he was at the beginning of the week. So it was an even battle, neither side was winning, but that felt like a victory to me because he was getting some extra time with his family.

But then we had Thanksgiving break, and I was off for 10 days. I was busy with family and didn’t get into the hospital. I was pretty sure that without a daily prayer with me he would likely die. Sure enough at the end of break I got word that Patrick had died. I was feeling confused and sad: why had my prayers for healing other young people been so effective, but my prayers for this man could not defeat the cancer, just slow it down for a few weeks? Why did God let a simple soul like Patrick die, when he had so much to live for? With questions like this shaking my faith, how could I survive the emotional toll of being a pastor and working with good people who were dying?

God’s Touch

So I did what I do in situations like that, I prayed. “God,” I said, “Father, I am really in pain right now. I am confused, I am doubting my calling. I need you to give me a touch. I am asking you to give me a touch. I going to hold out my hand, and would you please touch my hand and let me know you are there?” I really don’t know where that request came from. Gideon put out a fleece: I put out my palm. I had never asked anything like that of God before. It was just the cry of a broken heart, reacting with emotion and not intellect. So I lay face down on my bed with my right hand held open; and as I lay there I felt a firm touch on my palm. It was such a strong physical sensation of someone pressing a finger into my palm that I opened my eyes somewhat startled and looked around. I thought my wife might have come into the room and touched my hand, but I was alone.

That touch did two things to me: first it lifted me up emotionally – because I had been in such agony of the soul over Patrick’s passing. Secondly, my questions and doubts about why God let a good man like Patrick die were gone. That touch was like a spiritual defibrillator, it jolted me back to faith: I had just asked God to touch my palm, and he did! What do you do with something like that? How do you categorize it? There is a certain amount of shock that sets in; its good, a good thing happened, but it was surprising.

A Soul Ascending

A few hours later, I again walked into my room and lay face down on the bed to pray. Despite the experience of being touched I was still feeling deeply sorry for his widow and daughter. I was not in agony of the soul any more but I was also feeling a bit guilty because I had not been there daily to pray and to keep him going during the holiday. So I prayed for his family and for my guilt. While I was praying, I suddenly heard his voice, as if coming from above me. He said, “Timmy, its me Patrick.” There was a moment of silence, I responded “Hi Patrick, what is up with you?” He replied, “I don’t know where I am; do you know where I am?” I rolled over onto my back, I said, “I don’t know where you are but I know where you are going, and you need to go there now!” That was it; I heard nothing more from him ever again.

Conclusion

That experience caused me to understand that sometimes souls are so attached to this world that they are not ready to cross over and they can linger for a time. This and other similar incidents I’ve experienced also speak to me of the reality of the soul as an intelligent entity that survives the death of the physical body.

If you would like to share your spiritual experience, I would like to hear it.  Please use the ‘Contact Me’ form.

Relevant scripture verses:

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

4 Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. 6 There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his. 7 The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church.

8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. 9 He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. 10 He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. 11 It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have.

John 1:49-51 New International Version (NIV)

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Methaphor for the many who have entered the afterlife

Afraid of Death? Get to Know Your Unknown |Spiritual Meditations

 

Every religion in history has suggested a concept of what comes after death.  We humans find most of these concepts to be comforting as they relieve our anxiety about the unknown.  Some of us have had experiences that confirm our beliefs.  Others profess the beliefs of their religious traditions, but still have some uncertainties.  There are folks who think there is nothing after death and it’s just lights out and no consciousness.  Other than the group that has had an afterlife affirming experience, there are going to be many who are truly afraid of the unknown existence (or lack there of) after they die.

I’m going to attempt to relieve some of your fears.

The Scientific Model Applied to Near Death Experience

Radiology Oncologist, Dr. Jeff Long, develop an exhaustive survey which can be seen on his website.  (Be sure to click on ‘New Experiences’ to read many accounts of Near-Death Experiences.)  For several year, people who have had Near-Death Experiences (NDE) have voluntarily completed his survey sharing their experience.  The surveys consistently show up to 9 lines of evidence which have been categorized by Dr. Long and used by the community of researchers who study NDE.  Dr. Long presents his findings based on 613 surveys in his book Evidence of the Afterlife,

In this fascinating interview, Dr Long talks about his findings as well as some individual cases.  See  ‘A Glimpse Through the Thin Curtain between Life and Afterlife for a couple of examples of what Dr Long describes as common shared experiences between the dying/dead and the living.

The 9 lines of evidence are:

1. Crystal-Clear Consciousness

The level of consciousness and alertness during near-death experiences (NDEs) is usually even greater than that experienced in everyday life even though NDEs generally occur when a person is unconscious or clinically dead. This high level of consciousness while physically unconscious is medically inexplicable. Additionally, the elements in NDEs generally follow the same consistent and logical order in all age groups and around the world, which refutes the possibility that NDEs have any relation to dreams or hallucinations.

2. Realistic Out-of-Body Experiences

Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are one of the most common elements of NDEs. What NDErs see and hear of earthly events in the out-of-body state is almost always realistic. When the NDEr or others later seek to verify what was observed or heard during the NDE, the OBE observations are almost always confirmed as completely accurate. Even if the OBE observations during the NDE included events far from the physical body, and far from any possible sensory awareness of the NDEr, the OBE observations are still almost always confirmed as completely accurate. This fact alone rules out the possibility that near-death experiences are related to any known brain functioning or sensory awareness. This also refutes the possibility that NDEs are unrealistic fragments of memory from the brain.

3. Heightened Senses

Not only are heightened senses reported by most who have experienced NDEs, normal or supernormal vision has occurred in those with significantly impaired vision, and even legal blindness. Several people who have been totally blind since birth have reported highly visual near-death experiences. This is medically inexplicable.

4. Consciousness During Anesthesia

Many NDEs occur while under general anesthesia – at a time when any conscious experience should be impossible. While some skeptics claim that these NDEs may be the result of too little anesthesia, this ignores the fact that some NDEs result from anesthesia overdose. Additionally, the description of an NDE differs greatly from that of one who experiences “anesthetic awareness.” The content of NDEs that occur under general anesthesia is essentially indistinguishable from NDEs that did not occur under general anesthesia. This is further strong evidence that NDEs are occurring completely independently from the functioning of the physical brain.

5. Perfect Playback

Life reviews in near-death experiences include real events that previously took place in the lives of those having the experience, even if the events were forgotten or happened before they were old enough to remember.

6. Family Reunions

During an NDE, the people encountered are virtually always deceased, and are usually relatives of the person having the experience – sometimes they are even relatives who died before the NDEr was born. Were the NDE only a product of memory fragments, they would almost certainly include far more living people, including those with whom they had more recently interacted.

7. Children’s Experiences

The near-death experiences of children, including very young children who are too young to have developed concepts of death, religion, or near-death experiences, are essentially identical to those of older children and adults. This refutes the possibility that the content of NDEs is produced by preexisting beliefs or cultural conditioning.

8. Worldwide Consistency

Near-death experiences appear remarkably consistent around the world, and across many different religions and cultures. NDEs from non-Western countries are incredibly similar to those that occur in people in Western countries.

9. Aftereffects

It is common for people to experience major life changes after having near-death experiences. These aftereffects are often powerful, lasting, life-enhancing, and the changes generally follow a consistent pattern. As the NDErs themselves almost always believe – near-death experiences are, in a word, real.

Some people experience reviews of their lives during a NDE after which they make changes to their lives when returning to earthy consciousness. They say the reviews are done in a loving manner and show them the error of their ways.   In this video, NDErs talk about their experiences.

In a conference presentation Dr. Long mentions that only 1 of the 16 atheists who took the survey remained an atheist after their NDE. Even those who do not have reviews make a sustained effort to improve their contribution to the world, their families, and/or society. Obviously, the impact of these experiences is huge. You know how hard it is to make changes in your personality, attitudes and your life in general.

All NDEs used in his study included at least 7 out of the 9 lines of evidence.  This commonality points to the conclusion that NDE is a real experience of profound significance and meaning, and also provides evidence of life after death.

Dr. Long’s study is one of many.  There are studies with slightly different conclusions, using different sample types and sizes.  And there are studies that reached no conclusion whatsoever.  You can take a look at addition videos made at conferences of the International Association for Near Death Studies.  Many additional resources are on the site for the curious and for those who have had a NDE.

Now that we’ve seen what modern technology and the scientific method tell us about the afterlife, or at least the beginning of it, let’s see what additional information scripture has been telling us for centuries.

What More does Scripture Tells Us about the Afterlife

Your Soul, your Inner Being, is a piece of God and is your true identity.  Are you aware of that center of your being that is love?  Your deep down connection with God that nobody sees, but can be evidenced by your interactions with the world.

(If you have trouble sensing this in yourself, I hope that you will select a phrase from my suggestions or another scripture or phrase from an inspirational source and meditate on it for as many sessions as it takes to own it. The second part of your session, clearing your mind, is just as important as this enhances your ability to hear ‘the still small voice’ when God communicates with you.)

Paul, who met Jesus after Jesus’s resurrection, and a pretty inspired guy, wrote “We are the children of God: And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).  This is enormous!  Among the many implications of this, it says that just as Christ went to Heaven, so shall we.  You are heir to all the heavenly riches.

In Luke 15,  Jesus tells the story of two sons, one who took his inheritance and left home and the other who stayed at home to work the land.  He compares the father in the story to God the Father who tells his disgruntled loyal son   ‘you are always with me and all that I have is yours’.  Jesus is telling us that God will provide for all our needs, including an afterlife.

All the great religious figures of the past, despite their earthly contributions, have left their bodies behind and are continuing their spiritual ministry on a different plane.  The same plane that you and I will experience.  God tells us ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you…I am with you always, even until the end of the world’.

When you are sick, God will be there with you.  When you come to your last moments, God will be there.  When you pass into the afterlife, God will be there to help you through.  Then you will see how little there was to fear.

Do not fear this human sense of life or the loss of it. The human sense of life is not your real life. Your real life is the life you are living in your Soul. That is your life, your real being….Just as you outgrew infancy and childhood, just as adulthood merged into the middle years, so will you outgrow the entire human experience and, unless you fight to cling to this present experience, that transition should be a progressive step. Begin as soon as you can to look on the experience of passing, not with horror and not as if it were the end of something beautiful. It is not the end: it is the beginning. It is but the end of one phase of experience and the beginning of another.

What is man’s state of being when he passes from this world? One thing is certain, and that is that those who are not on the spiritual path will not be placed on that path just by the act of dying. It is safe to assume that they will be in the very same state of consciousness when they awaken as they were when they left here. But, and this I know not from assumption, but from experience; those who are on the spiritual path, regardless of how little progress they seem to have made, are instantly, by the act of passing, lifted into a higher atmosphere than they experienced here on earth. Joel S Goldsmith

Your body is only your mechanism for walking around in the world and hopefully learning something from the experience. So find your Inner Being.

Relevant Scripture Verses

Gen 25:8     Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years, and he was gathered to his people

John 5:24     Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Romans 8:10     But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 13     Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

Our genetics select the needy. You are born to help.

Why do You Think Low-Income Families Deserve Your Help? | Spiritual Meditations

Genetics Select the Needy

You and I not only have different physical attributes, but we also have different mental attributes.  You may be a risk-taker who is great with numbers and, therefore, make a great financier. Or you may have mountains of compassion and, therefore, make a great nurse.  I may have an inquisitive mind and, therefore, should be doing research.

On the other hand, you may have an inborn negative attitude and find it difficult to be motivated by anything.  And I may have trouble noticing detail and tracking so written directions are a problem.

There are hundreds of mental and personality traits that we are born with.  And their combination make individuals who they are.  Upbringing can modify these traits for better or for worse.   And we can learn to hide, to some extent, the traits that we believe hinder us.  That is, unless we don’t have the introspective personality trait and the ability to act (a skill that requires imagination and empathy).

Child development psychologists tell us that deep and lasting shaping of neural pathways happens in the first hours, days, months, and years of life. Basic dispositions are formed that can last a lifetime. Whether you are held, spoken to, fed, made to feel safe and cared for — you have no choice in any of it, but it more or less forms your emotional skeleton. It determines how sensitive you are to threat, how open you are to new experience, your capacity to exercise empathy.

Children aren’t responsible for how they spend their formative years and the permanent imprint it makes upon them. But they’re stuck with it…..

So, then, here you are. You turn 18. You are no longer a child; you are an adult, a moral agent, responsible for who you are and what you do.

By that time, your inheritance is enormous. You’ve not only been granted a genetic makeup, an ethnicity and appearance, by accidents of nature and parentage. You’ve also had your latent genetic traits “activated” in a very specific way through a specific upbringing, in a specific environment, with a specific set of experiences.

Your basic mental and emotional wiring is in place; you have certain instincts, predilections, fears, and cravings. You have a certain amount of money, certain social connections and opportunities, a certain family lineage. You’ve had a certain amount and quality of education. You’re a certain kind of person.  The radical moral implications of luck in human life: Acknowledging the role of luck is the secular equivalent of religious awakening. By David Roberts)

So I think it is fair to say that genetics select the needy.  At least, within an otherwise prosperous society.  Do we have a moral obligation to share our talents, our skills, the fruits of our inherited personality traits with those of individuals who inherited traits that aren’t as conducive to making money?

We choose out mates, not only because of common interests, but also become they have complimentary personality traits.  “You complete me”.  They may be good at something that we are not and vice versa.  Shall we be any less cooperative with other people in society?  (Try to keep your mind out of the gutter on this one.)

Corporate and Government Treatment of Low Income Individuals

I don’t mean to totally downplay nurturing but it is obvious that the individuals that are living on the streets or changing low-paying jobs on a regular bases, have not had nurturing enough to overcome their inherited traits.  And some corporations, thinking only of the bottom line, either don’t realize or don’t care how their actions effect low income families.

It has never been easy to be poor in America, but decisions made in company boardrooms about seemingly modest financial matters — about fees, fines, interest rates, minimum balances — make life far harder than it has to be for low-income families. This week, Bank of America announced its free, no-minimum-balance checking account, popular with many low-income customers, will require a $1,500 minimum daily balance or $250 in direct monthly deposit (totaling $3,000 per year). If customers fall below that threshold, they will be forced to pay a monthly fee.    (Why it Cost so much to be Poor in America – Karen Weese)

Government funding for social programs is always threatened by the chopping block.  Medicaid is making it harder for low-income and disabled individuals to get funding for basic needs.  We’re required to pay taxes to the government anyway, so why not petition for a more compassionate distribution of funds.

You were Born to be Helpful

You might argue “I didn’t get the generous or charitable trait”.  OK, that may be true, so hopefully you live with people who did.  Some psychologists would say there is one other trait you may not have gotten.  See if you agree.  The Link between humility and helpfulness.

But most of us are born with an instinct to help others.  “Some biologists believe that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.” The theory is that is was developed during prehistoric society where cooperation was needed for survival.  There have been many studies regarding this. Once such study was reported in the New York Times by Nicholas Wade.

So there is the logical reason that (for everyone who can) there is a moral obligation to help those in need.  Fortunately, it also comes naturally to most.

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can. (John Wesley)

Writings related to this article that are worth meditating on are found here under Helping the Needy and Being Humble

Sunset over mountains and trees

A Glimpse Through the Thin Curtain between Life and Afterlife | Spiritual Meditations

When a Loved One Dies

There have to be many many people who have experienced something unusual at the time a loved one dies.  But how often do we hear about it?   Almost never.  Because “people will think we’re imagining things”.  But I’m going to tell you about a couple of times when the curtain between my world and the afterlife became pretty thin and then a friend is going to tell you about an astounding experiences just before her mother died.

Listening to the Still Small Voice

My grandmother was a saint on earth, so I’m sure she is doing great things in Heaven.  On the day she died I had visited her at the nursing home for the last time.  We told each other how we loved each other and said our good-byes.  She died a few hours later.  Because we were traveling, that night my husband and I were in a hotel room where I was talking to God about “granny’s” passage when I felt a presence so strong I turned to see who was there.  But there was no one visible.  If you’ve ever felt like there was somebody behind you without seeing them,..it was like that.  I knew this was granny whispering through the life/afterlife curtain something like “I’m still around, I’m doing good, I love you and I just wanted to let you know”.  She was always so considerate.

My dear mother’s health had been declining for over a year.  During that time she had had at least 3 of her 4 noticeable mini strokes, as well as surgery for colon cancer.  She tried to remain cheerful and I tried to do whatever was needed to make her happy, but it was hard to keep up with her changing needs and whims.  A few days before she left this earth, she told me ‘I heard my mother’s voice’.  Of course, I wanted to know what words her mother spoke, but she couldn’t tell me.   A day and a half after her earthly death, I received a beautiful bouquet from colleagues.   You know how when you are grieving and somebody does something nice, you just breakdown?  Well that’s what happened.  I was deeply grieving when I felt a ripple of happiness.  I thought it was rather odd, but didn’t realize until the next day that it was mom telling me, through the curtain, that she was now happy.  Such a comfort.

A Spiritual Experience That Can’t Be Missed

These are examples of the little messages that God sends us, that we could easily miss if we aren’t  listening, but sometimes we have spiritual experiences that can’t be missed.  This was true for my friend Lynda.  At the end of her life, Lynda’s mother was bed-ridden in Lynda’s living room.  Days before her passing, the Hospice pastor visited Lynda’s mother.  As he was standing next to her bed, with wonderment, he said to her ‘I can feel God in this room….Do you feel it?’  Her response was ‘Yes, He came in with you’.  Lynda looked out the open door and saw what looked like the sun so bright that it filled the universe.  The pastor, who had been with many people during their last days on earth, was speechless with awe and so was my friend.

I’m going to let Lynda tell you the rest of her spiritual experience:

The experience that I would like to share is one that will always stay close to my heart.  We have those right?  Those experiences that you absolutely know as truth because you were there, perhaps not as a participant but as an observer.

I never met any of my mother’s family members.  There were not many of them and they passed away before I was born.  They lived in my mind through stories my mom told me as I grew up.  I know them as strong, kind, spiritual and fiercely protective.

My mom was nearing the end of her life.  She was under the care of my brother, myself, my sister-in-law and hospice caregivers.  Her bed was in the living room and I slept on the couch in the same room next to her, in case she needed me during the night.  Most nights were quiet and we slept well.

However, during her last night, I was awakened, hearing much rustling and hushed conversation.  All around my mother’s bed were shadowy, graceful figures fussing and smoothing the bedding, making my mother comfortable, murmuring to each other, and working together as though they knew exactly what their purpose was to be there.  I simply watched and took in the awesome event taking place with my mom.  Somehow I knew their purpose and felt strangely calm.  They were those loving spiritual family members coming to check on my mom and get her ready for her journey home.

The next morning my sweet mother joined her mother, father, grandmother and aunt.  They had prepared her well, welcoming her to her heavenly home.

Remember John 14:2:  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

What  a wonderful experience…to witness part of the journey we will all eventually take…a  rather large opening in the curtain between life and afterlife.

The Torn Temple Curtain – at the Time of Another Transition

At the time of Christ’s death the temple curtain was torn.  Matthew 27:51

It is not a slight rent through which we may see a little; but it is rent from the top to the bottom. There is an entrance made for the greatest sinners. If there had only been a small hole cut through it, the lesser offenders might have crept through; but what an act of abounding mercy is this, that the veil is rent in the midst, and rent from top to bottom, so that the chief of sinners may find ample passage!” (Spurgeon)  

The tearing of the temple veil signified at least two things. First, now man has free access to the throne of grace by the cross. Second, no one should ever think again that God dwells in temples made with hands.  (David Guzik)

Please contact me if you have a spiritual experience that you would like to share.  I’d love to hear it.