Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
My mind was blown this past Wednesday morning. 🤯 While eating breakfast, my daughter informed me that in one of the original stories from which Cinderella is based on, there was a bit more bloodshed than I ever knew. Do you remember the humorous animated scene when Prince Charming’s servant is trying to find the perfect match for the glass slipper that was left behind by a mysterious, disappearing princess? Well apparently in the original story, to accommodate a small shoe, and a potential life of royal luxury they simply cut their feet down to fit. You read that right! To fit themselves into the tiny glass slipper, one desperate stepsister cuts off her big toe, the other stepsister, a bit of her heel. Their ill-fated plans are foiled by the blood everywhere—go figure! The handsome prince learns of their trick from two doves who peck out the sisters’ eyes for their trickery. The now disgraced stepsisters then spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars. But Cinderella and her new beau live happily ever after. I had no idea! So much for an innocent family fairytale. For some reason, in 1950, Walt Disney decided to leave that part of the story out. I think he made the right decision.
On my drive to work later that morning, a bit of irony struck me. When we have young children and grandchildren, do we not try our best to spare them from viewing and hearing about gruesome, bloody stories? When the evening or morning news is a bit too riddled with violence and murder, we will change the channel. If a tv show or movie is far too violent and gory, we will tell them to choose something else to watch. If a video game is filled with nothing more than brutality and bloodshed, we’ll send them outside to play or nudge them to find another thing to occupy their time. For the most part, and especially when they are under our watchful care, we try to hide our children from bloody carnage and massacres. Can you even imagine sitting there watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street only to watch them start disfiguring themselves!? This is the very reason we consult the MPA’s film ratings of such entertainment before we take our children into the theater or stream something into our living rooms. They’re far too young and innocent to be exposed to these things.
That is, until they come to church…
This past Tuesday night at our council meeting, our esteemed president shared an acronym that he heard via a YouTube preacher. H.A.L.T. It has stuck with me. I’m not sure what the origins are of this; they are not with the preacher. A quick google search reveals it is also used in counseling settings and chemical dependency treatments centers. It refers to four areas of life which, when lacking or out of balance, can be when we are most vulnerable to relapses based on our physical or emotional well-being—or lack thereof. These relapses can come in the form of unkindness, lashing out, depression, and so on. In spiritual terms, these are the moments when we are easy prey for attack by our archenemy, the devil. The devil perceives a weakness within us and he pounces. We then fall into sin; we hurt others or ourselves. H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Though not an exhaustive list, these are four situations in our lives where we need to be very aware that the enemy is out to use moments of insufficiencies against us.
Fittingly, the actual definition of the word ‘halt’ tells us precisely what to do when our lives are on shaky ground, when we are plagued by these types of despair. “a verb (used with or without object): to stop; cease moving, operating, etc., either permanently or temporarily.” Think about it… God Himself stopped the work of creation on the seventh day to rest—thus prescribing it to each of us in the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day.” He rested because His creative work was complete. He rested because He knew, many years later, harried children like you and me, would be high-stressed and jam-packed with busy schedules, always anxiously bustling from one commitment to the next. This is a divine and ordained summons to find calm and step away from the chaos. This is the Lord’s way of telling us to halt. And even though God made it part of the beginning of creation and made it even more vital as a commandment, it is one of the pieces of our faith we’re most likely to ignore. Stop for a moment. Evaluate. Assess before you get burned out. Consider the acronym. Where is your deficiency? Diagnose it before the demands of life-on-the-go leave you exhausted, unbalanced and agitated.
Jesus has something similar to say about this in Matthew 11:28 (NLT): “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The word translated 'rest' here is a word that literally means 'tranquility in the midst of labor.' Jesus wasn't telling the disciples to take the week off, but to be spiritually still before Him. That is what He wants from us too. Meditating on His word in the midst of screaming kids, spending time talking to Him over a pile of laundry that needs to be folded, surrendering some of your mind’s greatest burdens, and confidently trusting that He will guide the mundane tasks of your day. Jesus invites us to reprioritize and take ample time to rest. Relax. Unplug. Find relief from the stress. Put down your phones. Push away from the computers. Leaving the responsibilities of work at work. Give your body time to refuel. Allowing your mind to be renewed. Let your emotions be refreshed and restored. God invites us to return to the arms of our Savior who provides the care and protection, the grace and peace that we need to ensure the evil one doesn’t destroy us in moments of anger or tiredness. Jesus wants to meet us in times of rest to remember our relationship with Him.
“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25
In our new home’s development, we have many Indian neighbors. Almost all of them are 1st generation Americans. Though they come from different areas of India with different dialects, most are of the Hindu faith. This past Wednesday evening, we were invited to partake with them in one of their Hindu celebrations. Our neighbors were celebrating the Festival of Ganesh. Lord Ganesh is one of the principal gods of the Hindu faith. This formless divinity is characterized as a four-armed, elephant-headed being. (Not sure why.) This is their god of good fortune and prosperity; he brings good energy and removes obstacles. As was explained to me, they invoke this Ganesh celebration often at the start of new journeys or before big decisions. Last night, our neighbors, all adorned in their colorful Indian dress, danced and chanted (though we had no idea what they were saying), burned incenses, offered different fruits and sweets, knelt before an icon of their god, and they covered their faces (and ours) with a symbolic red-colored powder. As we stood on the outskirts of their circle, my wife and I simply took it all in. It was certainly out of our comfort level and outside the norm of our worship experiences. Sensory overload for sure! Yet it was extremely fascinating. After their celebration, we were invited inside for some traditional Indian snacks and tea. They showed us their in-home temple, right in their living room, where they regularly worship. They were very proud of their religious heritage. Our gracious new friends were incredibly hospitable and willing to answer every question I threw at them. Had it not been for our need to rush off to a back-to-school night, I may have sat there all night asking questions.
This is my wife’s favorite season. One of mine also. Although it doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd, it certainly feels like fall. The temperatures have cooled down quite a bit. The scents of autumn are occasionally distinguished in the fresh breeze. People have traded in their swimsuits for sweatshirts. College football has already begun (Go Badgers!) and the start of the NFL season is just hours away. We’ve seen our kids and grandkids go back to school. There’s more traffic on the roads as adults head back into the office. Apple-scented candles have started to burn. On my walks around the neighborhood, I’ve seen many fall-colored mums planted and other fall décor displayed. There is pumpkin spice everything no matter what type of store you go into. Happy Fall Y’all!
I don’t recall where or when I heard it recently, but the phrase “Fall is a Great Time to Return” has stuck with me. Perhaps it was in one of the many emails from my kid’s school district or it was in a commercial tempting people to come back to the gym. Either way, schools and businesses alike are eager to welcome back those who have been otherwise gone during these summer months or prolonged pandemic quarantine. Add our church to that list. Fall is a great time to return to King of Kings. I’m eager to welcome you back. Come for worship; stick around adult Bible study and Sunday School. Our attendance has certainly nosedived a bit over the summer months; this is normal for just about every church. But as we all settle back into the work/school routine, I’m hopeful to see so many of you back again.
Sometimes we may think that when we’re following Jesus, it will be smooth sailing. But many times it is just the opposite. Doors slam in our faces. Obstacles appear in our paths. Storms arise that threaten to drive us off course. This was just as true for Jesus’ initial disciples as it is for us. Do you remember the account of the disciples caught in the storm? Peter and his fellow seasoned fishermen would be accustomed to the rocking rhythm of a boat on rough waters. But this was no ordinary storm. This was bad. Really bad. So bad that the disciples were sacred, literally, to death. “Aren’t you concerned we will die? We’re going to drown!”
Jesus immediately rises and calms the storm. “Where is your faith?” he asks in the sudden silence. What about us? It is easy to have faith when all is well, but what about when the storms come? What about when we are embattled by the waves of turmoil, chaos, and discord? Despite the steady, record-setting rain that came down over the past 24 hours, I'm not talking about the aftermath of storm Ida—though that has left such fear and destruction in so many places down south. Now it has impacted our area with flooding and power outages. The world we live in regularly bares testimony to the brokenness of creation—wild fires, pandemic, hurricanes, flooding, terror and war. Still, I’m talking about things much closer to home, more personal. Often when a hard time hits, when a crisis hits, when a tragedy hits, we want out. When we encounter storms in life—like a serious diagnosis, the death of a friend, or the abandonment of a loved one—it can feel like we’re going to drown. The pain is threatening to take us under and we doubt we’ll survive that rip tide. We ask God for an airlift out of our problems. But perhaps there are lessons to be learned while in the midst of them. Romans 8:35–37 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Notice the phrase, “in all these things.” It isn’t saying we won’t face some of these things. But it says that in them we are more than conquerors. God is with us. If you are seeking to obey the Lord, expect opposition. Expect obstacles. Expect difficulties. But also expect God to see you through. Just as Jesus proved He was in control of the wind and waves that night, He’s in control of your storm, too. The pain won’t last forever and the skies will clear again. God is holding onto you today.
This week's devotional was inspired by other online articles/devotions I have been able to read over the past several days, although I now cannot find them again to give proper reference to. My apologies.
Pastor Steve Vera