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Monday, February 22, 2021

The Road to Heaven

One of the best purchases I made as a young man in my early 20s, was a home video camera.  In the spring of 1998, Kelly and I were expecting our first child and I wanted to be able to document is all in pictures videos.  In today’s world, anyone can capture pictures and videos right on the phone, which they almost always have with them.  But that was not the case back in 1998.  So, we bought a camcorder and began capturing video footage of our life together in our early twenties and all the way up to the present day. 

Recently, we went back and had all the old camcorder tapes converted to DVDs—somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 hours of footage.  We’ve been watching it in our spare time.  So far, there’s a lot of really bad, shaky camera work (this all unedited, amateur video footage).  It’s also hilarious, touching, nostalgic, and fascinating (at least to us) because it captures some of our dearest memories. 

So much has changed in my lifetime.  (I can’t imagine what’s been like for those who are even older than me!)  And I know there is yet a lot more change to come.  America is growing more and more diverse.  But one thing that doesn’t change is God and His love.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen?  The world and it’s ideas and values are always changing, but God never changes.

Jon Lin’s Idea
When I was 20, I worked in a testing lab for a textile chemical company.  One of my co-workers was an intern from Taiwan named Jon Lin.  Now, obviously, Jon grew up in a culture very different from my own and I was fascinated to learn from Jon.  Jon was gracious and liked to share about his culture.  He invited me to a couple parties with his Asian friends and even took Kelly and I out to eat at a few authentic Asian restaurants.  He taught me a lot about his culture.  

Jon also said something that reflects a growing sentiment in our world—and especially America.  In speaking about religion, Jon said, “Chris, I believe all religions lead us to heaven.  So maybe you believe in Jesus and so that is the road that leads you to heaven.  But, I have a different religion that leads me to heaven by a different road.  Ultimately, we all end up in heaven together, we just get there by different roads.” 

My friend, Jon, was expressing an idea that a great number of people believe today:  All the major world religions have the same goals and ultimately lead people to heaven—just by different methods.  IE, all roads lead to heaven.  Many people, like my friend Jon, believe the Christian gets to heaven through faith in Jesus.  The Buddhist gets to heaven through Buddha.  The Muslim through Muhammad.  The Jew through the Torah.  The Hindu through their own pantheon of gods. 

Since this “All Roads Lead to Heaven” belief says everyone ultimately is going to the same Heaven, we can just live and let live.  There’s no need to try and convert anyone else to our religion.  In fact, to do so would be disrespectful.  And because we all need to get along in an incredibly diverse society with many differing religious beliefs, we need to just keep our religious beliefs private and let everyone else do the same. 

Well, the “All Roads Lead to Heaven” concept may make it easier for people of varying religious beliefs to live together in harmony, but is it true? 

What did Jesus say?
In this series, we compare what the world says to what Jesus says.  So what did Jesus say?

John 14:6 – Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 

No one can come to the Father (that’s God in heaven) except through Jesus.  So Jesus believed and taught that there was only one way, one road, and Jesus is that road. (The early Christians didn't call themselves Christians; they were members of "the way"--Jesus' way.) 

One time, my friend Jon asked me what I believed about religion—did I believe that all roads led to Heaven?  It was a very hard thing to say, but I didn’t know what else I could say.  I told Jon, “My belief is what Jesus said.  Jesus said there is only one way to the Father in heaven and that’s through Jesus.”  Jon said, “Oh Chris.  I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”  Thankfully, we did remain friends.  I don’t know if it’s a credit to Jon’s patience or if he respected that I didn’t withhold the truth from him, even if it was a hard and difficult truth.  At any rate, we stayed friends until Jon moved back to Taiwan and we lost touch with one another.  (I guess it is still possible to love and respect people who believe differently than you even if you admit you believe differently.) 

Who is Really Right?
But is Jesus really right? Is Jesus the only way to Heaven or can you get to heaven through one of the other major world religions (or you own personal ideas about God)?  Well, ultimately, I don’t know if there’s a definitive way to prove one religion right and another wrong.  (If there is, I’m not skilled enough to do it in this short blog.)  However, there is one thing I can say and that I will share. 

All the major world religions can’t lead to the same place because they don’t even teach the same thing about God or the destination of a faithful life. Christianity teaches there is only One God and to worship any god but the one true God is a grave sin.  Hinduism teaches there are many, many gods and Hindus have thousands of shrines to all their various gods and they worship them all.  Some would argue that Hindu's are expressing the infinite nature of God by and infinite number of deities, each representing a different aspect of God's nature.  That is a good thought, but that is not what the Hindu religion teaches.  They actually believe each deity is a separate god and these separate gods are not in union and don't even all get along.  The two different beliefs about God represented by Christianity and Hinduism are in absolute contradiction to each other.  They can’t both be right any more than 2+2 can equal 10. 

Another world religion, Buddhism, teaches there is no personal god at all.  The Christian idea of praying to God and knowing that He hears and answers makes absolutely no sense in the Buddhist religion, because they don't believe God exist as a person who could hear you.  Furthermore, Buddhists “don’t believe in heaven or hell as most people typically understand them.”[i]  Jesus taught those who repent and put their faith in Him are forgiven made perfect and spend eternity with God their creator in a place where there is no more suffering or sickness or death.  Jesus also taught that some who do not repent would be punished for eternity in hell.  Jesus and Buddha can’t both be right. 

The Muslim concept of Heaven, what they call Paradise, is different from Heaven as described in biblical Christian faith.  Muslims believe they earn the right to go to Paradise by living a righteous life, whereas Christianity explicitly teaches “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done…” (Ephesian 2:9).  Jesus and Muhammed can’t both be right. 

Christians believe you live one life on earth and then pass into eternity, either in heaven or hell based on whether you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Buddhists and Hindus believe in re-incarnation—the idea that you are reborn as either a higher or lower life form based on the way you lived in this life.  So if you are a good person, you will earn the right to be reborn into a higher class in your next life.  If you were a bad person, you might be reborn as a rat in the next life.  The hope is that you will eventually work your way up the spiritual ladder until you reach enlightenment.  Incarnation is in absolutely conflict with the Christian teaching of justification by faith alone.  Both cannot be true at the same time. 

Which Will You Choose?
So, as appealing as it might be to believe “all roads lead to heaven, just by different means”, it just can’t logically be true.  The only way to accept this teaching is to change the various world religions themselves until they are not authentic at all.  It is to water them down to nothing more than fairy tales.  I believe it actual insults the religions themselves.  It rejects the devout religious beliefs billions of people have held for thousands of years in the various world religions simply to make living together more polite for people today without any regard for what might actually be true.

Many in our world—who do not believe in God or religion—are ok with turning religions into fairy tales (or just throwing them out altogether).  There are many who would just assume get rid of God.  Let life be only about what makes human beings happy (humanism).  Many would encourage all these different religious people to view their religions as optional, as something fun and nice and maybe interesting; part of their heritage and culture, but not something that they should take too seriously.  

Satan would like nothing better than for people to go down that road.  The Enemy loves when people think life is all about them and their happiness and that God is only a fun fantasy.   

As for me, I take my faith in Jesus very seriously.  I believe it is the most important thing in life.  We were created by God to be in an eternal relationship with Him.  And we either will, or we won’t.  If we are, that is the definition of Heaven.  And if we are eternally not in a relationship with God, that is the definition of Hell itself.

And So, God, in His infinite love and mercy, came and lived among us as Jesus.  He show us the way to live and invited us to repent of our sin and turn back to God and receive His mercy and salvation.  And then Jesus paid the price for our sin by dying on the cross.  He rose on the third day in victory of sin and death.  And all who choose to follow Christ, who put their faith in His forgiveness and healing power, will spend eternity with Him in everlasting life.  

Which will you choose?  A real relationship with God or something else?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Follow Your Heart?

I hope you had a happy Valentines day.  I think I am the luckiest guy in the world to be blessed with my wife, Kelly, as my sweet valentine.  We started dating when I was 18 and she was 16, but I first noticed Kelly when I was only 13 or 14 years old.  I okayed in a rock and roll band with her dad.  We used to rehearse at his house and I would see Kelly's picture on the wall.  I though, "Man, she's pretty!"  Sometimes, she would come in through the front door and walk through the house passed where the band rehearsed and I would think, "Man, she sure is pretty!"  She never seemed to notice me.

I had my very first girlfriend when I was  in pre-K.  How does a kid have a girlfriend in Pre-K?  I don't know.  All I know is my parents and older siblings used to tease me because, apparently, I had befriended a girl in my pre-K class and they thought it was cute.  I don't even remember her; all I knew was that the important people in my life were thrilled I had a "girlfriend".  Their interest in my "love life" was re-enforced throughout my childhood as they would often ask, "So, who's your girlfriend?"  When we would take trips to see my grandparents or aunts and uncles, they also would ask, "Got any girlfriends?"  

Now, these older people loved me and probably just thought it was a nice thing to ask and it was cute to think of a young boy with a girlfriend.  What was impressed upon my young mind from a very early age was that having a girlfriend was very important, maybe the most important thing.  It came to be one of the most important goals in my life.  Every new school year, the exciting question in my mind was, "What girls will be in my class?  Will one of them be my girlfriend?"  

Be careful how you talk to kids about girlfriends/boyfriends.  You may just think it's cute and harmless.  But what message are you subconsciously sending  with your interest?

Well, when I was 17, I did find a girlfriend and we got pretty serious.  We spent so much time together, I neglected my other friendships.  Then, when our relationship ended in a breakup--as most high school romances end--I was lonely with a broken heart and fewer friends.  Thankfully, God used that time in my life to help me re-prioritize my life and start seeking the Lord.

After I turned 18, I was no longer that interested in romance.  I knew I was about to graduate high school and go away to college.  Why start a relationship only to have to break it off when I left town to pursue an education?  But my sister was interested in Diego, one of my friends.  We had a rule that we didn't date each other's friends.  My sister came to me and said, "How about we set that rule aside so I can date Diego and I have a friend you can date?"  

She told me her friend was Kelly Hendrick.  She was the girl I used to see while our band rehearsed (and I remembered how pretty she was!)  I wasn't really interested in a serious relationship right before I graduated, but I thought it might be fun to have someone to hang out with for a few months (and did I mention, she was really pretty?).

Well, it's funny how God works.  When I finally stopped worrying so much about finding "the one", God sent "the one" for me.  Kelly and I hit it off well and soon fell deeply in love.  We dated for 2 and a half years and then we married when she finished high school.  We've been together ever since and we're very happy.

The world has its way of doing things.  The world constantly bombards us with its “wisdom” through TV, music, movies, commercials.  One of the messages the world impresses on us is the paramount importance of finding true love.  Whether it is through music, television, or movies (or even the well-meaning people in your life), the idea is passed on that one of the ultimate goals in life is to find a mate.  We usually accept this and many other worldly ideas without much thought.  It seems like everyone believes these things and so we do too--that is, until Jesus comes along and challenges our way of thinking.

“Follow Your Heart”
For instance: The world says: “Follow your heart.”  The call to “follow your heart” is a warning not to overthink your decision.  The idea is that your heart (or your emotions or your inner voice) knows what you really need to do.  And so, many people believe you should “just follow your heart and it will lead you the right way.”  Many have made this their life motto and even tattooed on their body. 

Is "just follow your heart" really advice?  Is it really a bad thing to use your brain to intelligently weigh your decisions and your path in life?  Should you really “just let your heart lead you?”  

Well, if we pause for just a moment to think about it, it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize, “just follow your heart” is really bad advice—even though so much of the world believes this maxim.  (I suppose, though, if we “just follow our heart” our heart might tell us to “just follow our heart”, but can we really trust our heart when it says this?) 

As a pastor, people often come to me looking for help with all kinds of problems--relationship problems, marital problems, financial and spiritual problems.  What I have observed through many years of pastoral experience in actual real life situations is that when people “follow their heart” it usually leads them into a big ole mess! I've lost count of how many people I've known who married the wrong person because they were “following their heart…”  How many have gotten divorced because they followed their heart?  Hw many have cheated on their spouse, chosen the wrong career, parented their kids badly, made a bad financial investment, or wasted their money on a bad purchase simply because they were "following their heart"?

The evidence I have seen through many years of observation is that “follow your heart” is very bad advice.

What did Jesus Say?
If we want some truly trustworthy advice, we should turn to Jesus.  He was with God when God created the world, and Jesus is God (see John 1).  Jesus created us, and he knows the inner workings of our heart and our whole being.  What advice does Jesus give about “following your heart?” 

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

And Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?” 

That's pretty strong language!  Is the heart really all that bad? Yes, I believe it is. I believe it is because Jesus said it.  But I also believe it because I have a heart and I've seen how dark my own heart can be at times.  Don't get me wrong. I have a good heart.  It's compassionate. It cares about people.  It's generous. I have a giving heart. I have a good heart—that is, until it's not a good heart.  And then you better watch out! I also realize, my heart is a tricky heart. When it wants something, my heart is very persuasive. It can figure out how to make almost anything seem right. 

And it's not just my heart. It's your heart too. You may think you have a good heart.  Maybe you do, that is, until it's not a good heart.  Then you have a wicked heart, just like the Word of God says.  And if you don't think so, it's probably because you're still under your deceptive heart's spell. You better watch out! You better to listen to Jesus! You better listen to the Word of God!  “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?”  “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

The heart is not an organ that can be trusted to lead you to make good and right decisions. 

That’s why God said in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

God knows how deceitful is the human heart.  That’s why Jesus came and died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Not only did Christ’s sacrifice pay for our sins, it also makes it possible for God to give us a new heart.  When we trust in Jesus, God begins healing our broken, deceitful hearts.  And as we wait for our new and perfect heart to be fully restored (a process that will take the rest o four life on earth), God sends His Holy Spirit to live inside us and guide us.  However, we have to listen to the Holy Spirit (and not our old broken hearts). 

How Do You Listen to the Spirit?
We have to learn how to follow the Holy Spirit and not our heart.  It can be confusing, because both require us to use a similar, intangible intuition that is a lot like "feeing our way through".  Many people, thinking they are following the Holy Spirit, are really just following their hearts (or their emotions).  So how do you tell the difference?  Let me give you a little guidance that will help. 

Look to the Bible.  The clearest instruction from God comes to us in His Holy Word, the Bible.  The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the foundation for everything we believe and do as Christians.  If you think the Holy Spirit is telling you to do something that goes against  what the Bible clearly says, you better check yourself.  It’s probably not the Holy Spirit.  More likely, it’s your heart trying to deceive you.  Why would God’s Holy Spirit lead you to disobey what He already said in His Holy Word in the Bible? 

Ask the Church.  The Christian faith is not a private matter and a private fait is not really faith in Jesus at all.  Look, even Jesus’ religion when he walked this earth was not lived privately.  He called together 12 disciples to live out his religion with him in community.  And Jesus always meant for his way of living to be lived with other people.  The Church is the gathering of Jesus’ people.  And we are called to help each other and depend on each other.  We need each other.  And when we are trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying—especially if it is a very important decision—we need to check in with the community of faith.  You need a few trustworthy Christian friends you can talk with about your decisions.  As you listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you listen with Your Christian brothers and sisters.  Your heart may try to deceive you, but a good Christian friend will tell you the truth.  They will help you tell the difference between your emotions and the true leading of God’s Holy Spirit.  You are called to do this for your Christian friends as well.

Develop a Life of Prayer. Last, but certainly not least, develop a life of prayer.  Don't just pray; develop a life a prayer.  Most people pray every now and then--especially when they are faced with a big problem and they need God's help.  However, if you want to develop your ability to sense how the Holy Spirit is guiding you, you need to pray constantly.  Develop the habit of praying every day.  Pray every hour.  In fact, pray throughout the day.  It doesn't have to be long, drawn out prayers.  Simply talk to God throughout your day.  His Holy Spirit is walking beside you anyway; don't give Him the silent treatment.  Talk to Him.  Include Him in everything you are doing throughout your day.  As you do this, you will become more sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is trying to lead you.  Now, follow.

I want to invite you today to receive a new heart from the Lord.  You’re old one is broken.  It doesn’t really care about you.  It just wants to satisfy itself and it doesn’t really care if you get hurt along the way.  But God loves your deeply and unconditionally.  He really does want what’s best for you.  He will always look after your best interests, even if it means withholding something you think you really want if it’s not really good for you.  Ultimately, God wants to spend eternity wit you.  Won’t you surrender your heart to Him today so He can give you a new and better one--a heart that will last for all eternity? 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

6 Tips For A Safe Spiritual Fast


Fasting is a spiritual discipline where people abstain from eating food for a period of time in order to help them focus on spiritual growth.  Fasting is an ancient practice found throughout the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah all fasted in the Old Testament (among many others).  In the New Testament, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for his public ministry (see Matthew 4:2).  

In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, "And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get."  Jesus assumed his followers would fast and wanted them to do it the right way.  Proper fasting is neither a test of our nor a way for us to prove our spiritual fortitude.  Fasting should be a private matter between you and God.  And rather than being a reason to boast about your deep devotion, fasting should reveal your deep spiritual need.

When done properly and with the right attitude, fasting can help you grow closer to God.  It can teach you to endure suffering with joy.  It reminds you to be thankful for blessing you take for granted.  It helps you rely more on God's providence.  It can provide spiritual clarity.  Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.

For centuries, fasting was a common practice among Christians throughout the world.  Unfortunately, few Christians in 21st century America fast as a spiritual discipline.  Many people today have forgotten how to fast safely as a means of spiritual growth.  Here’s are 6 tips for a safe spiritually fast.

6 Tips For A Safe Spiritual Fast

1.   If you are sick or have a health condition like diabetes, it may be unsafe to fast from food.  Talk to your physician.  It may be better for you to choose something else for your fast, like abstaining from TV or the use of social media or from drinking coffee.  There are many are great alternatives that can be just as effective as fasting from food.

2.   If you fast from food, please drink plenty of water.  It is dangerous to go without drinking water for more than a few hours.  You could choose to drink juice while you fast. (called a “juice fast”).  A juice fast is milder than going completely without food.  You still feel hungry, but it’s not as overwhelming and you may have more energy. 

3.   Don’t fast for too long.  If you are new to fasting from food, you could start out by just skipping one meal you usually eat or fast from sunrise to sunset.  Don’t overdo it with your fast if you are new to fasting.

4.   Pray as much as you can while you fast.  Fasting reminds us how weak we are and how much we need God’s help.  Our weakness and desires while we fast remind us to pray and seek God’s help.

5.   Fasting is something between you and God.  Jesus makes it clear we should never use fasting to impress people with how spiritual we are.  The whole point of fasting is to recognize our helplessness without God.  So, don’t brag about it.  Just do it and keep your focus on God.

6.   End your fast gently.  If you’ve gone without food, you will be hungry and may be tempted to gorge yourself.  Don’t.  Your stomach may be sensitive and eating too much can make you sick.  It is better to eat a small amount of light food for your first meal after your fast.  A modest bowl of mild soup is a good choice.

Never abstain from drinking water or other fluids for long periods, unless instructed by a medical doctor.  It is crucial that you continue to drink plenty of water.  For especially long fasts, I recommend you also drink fruit juice.  You will still feel hungry, but your body will stay hydrated and receive enough calories from the juice to sustain your energy.

Take care when you stand up while fasting.  Do not stand up too quickly as you may experience dizziness.  This is only temporary.  If you feel light-headed, simply sit down and wait for it to pass, which usually happens in just a few moments.  Move more slowly next time.  Understand that you may have less energy while fasting.  The more experience you have, the more you will understand how your body reacts to fasting.  If your fast makes you truly ill or becomes unbearable, go ahead and end it with a light meal.  Don’t gorge yourself; it may make you sick.

Do not make your fast into a survival contest. If you want to see how far you can push your body before it gives out, you have lost the spiritual focus that needs to be first and foremost on your mind when you practice spiritual fasting.

Make sure you spend a lot of time in prayer while you fast.  It is also helpful to read your Bible and devotions, and to meditate on God’s Word.

When you are ready to end your fast, do it slowly and carefully.  It may be tempting to gorge yourself, but don’t because it could make you sick.  Start with something light like broth or a soup.  Then, slowly work yourself back up to regular food.  You may be surprised to find you are full after eating only a small amount of food.  Thank God that He has filled you and you needed less food.

Do not fast again until your body has a chance to rest and recover.

 Ash Wednesday Fast

I invite you to pray and fast with me on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

What do I do?

Sign up to pray for 30 minutes during our 24-hour prayer vigil and pray at your chosen time.  To fast, eat dinner on Tuesday night, February 16th.  Then, skip breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, February 17th.  Also refrain from any other solid foods during your fast, but please do drink plenty of water.  (You may also drink coffee or fruit juices during the fast if you choose.)  Then, eat dinner after the sun goes down.


If you are not sure if you can go that long without food (or if it is not healthy for you), consider an alternative.  You could only skip one meal you normally eat.  Another idea is to give up coffee (or something else), or to fast from a non-food item like social media, using your cell phone, or watching TV. 

Is Fasting Safe?

Fasting for short periods is safe for healthy individuals when done properly.  It is not recommended for those who are ill or have certain conditions like diabetes.  Please ask your medical doctor if you are unsure whether fasting is safe for you.  Please be sure to drink plenty of water (or juice) while fasting. 

But Won’t I Be Hungry?

Yes.  You will probably be hungry while you fast.  This is normal.  Let your discomfort remind you to pray.  Every time you feel hungry, focus on God and pray.  Ask God to reveal anything you need to change about your attitude and character.  Ask God to fulfill you in ways that food never can. 

What If It Makes Me Sick?

It is normal to feel hungry and uncomfortable and have less energy while you fast.  However, if you feel ill or unable to continue for any reason, please be safe and end your fast.  God will still honor your spiritual work.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"The Door to the Sun" by Abigail Mullis

The Door to The Sun
The following short story was written by my 14-year-old daughter.  
I thought it was quite creative and so I want to share it with you.  Enjoy!

Violet stared up at the ceiling fan and listened to Grandma’s endless snoring. She tossed and turned, but nothing seemed to help her fall asleep. She tried to go downstairs to get a snack, but the steps made an awful creaking noise that sent her right back up. She searched old shelves for a picture book she could look at to pass the time. But alas, Grandma only read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, which had no pictures. Violet passed the old hound dog in the hallway. He looked at her with tired eyes and seemed to say that he was sleepy too. Finally, she went back into her room and looked out her window at the starry sky and the skinny moon. The street was empty and everyone was asleep. Even the hound had finally settled down and dosed off. Violet rested her chin on her hand. 

Nothing fun happened at night. No one played checkers,  jumped rope, or ate popsicles in the heat while playing in the sprinklers. Night was for sleeping, and sleeping was no fun. Violet loved the moon, but she wished she could tell him to go away because wandering around without sleep was exhausting, but the moon wasn’t a person she could talk to…or maybe he was. Her mother was always talking about a “man in the moon”, and mothers know what they’re talking about. 

She decided to give it a try. “Mr. Moon, will you take me to the door of the sun?” she asked. She didn't know where the sun went when the moon was out, so she thought that it must be behind a door. After all, that seemed to be where everyone was when she couldn’t see them. When her mother and father had to talk about something very important, they always closed the door. When her older sister was angry, she closed the door too, or rather slammed it. When her father had to go off to work he shut the car door and sped off. When just about anyone was where Violet couldn’t see them, they were always behind a door. She bounced in her seat while she waited for Mr. Moon to come, but after sitting there for what seemed like ages, she gave up hope. She scratched at the peeling paint with her fingernail and imagined what it would be like to fly through the sky with the man in the moon.

A shadow passed by. She whirled around watching it flutter across her room. Fingers appeared on the window seal. They turned white as they pulled up a person who went straight through the glass.

        “Hello!” said the stranger in a cheery voice. 

        Violet gasped. Was this Mr. Moon? He certainly didn’t look old enough to be a mister. You could tell by his baby cheeks and short stature that he was at most only twelve. His clothes were scrappy and covered in soot. Violet thought that perhaps he was a chimney sweep, like in Mary Poppins. That would explain the soot, but there was more to him. His skin was faintly gray and silvery, like a ghost, and that was like no chimney sweep Violet knew of. 

        “Who are you?” she asked.

        “I’m Mr. Moon. Don’t you remember calling for me?” the boy said with a mischievous smile.

        “You aren’t a mister,” she protested.

        “Well, whatever I am, I’m the person you called for. I’m here to take you to the door of the sun.”

        Violet’s face lit up. “I’m ready!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have to change out of my pajamas, do I?”

        “No. It’s best that you wear pajamas. They’re more aerodynamic than clothes, but only during the night.”

        Violet didn’t know what aerodynamic meant, but she thought it must’ve meant something good.             Mr. Moon grabbed her hand and stepped onto the window seal. He looked back at her with his mischievous smile before sliding through the glass and taking her with him. They flew through the night sky. Violet’s two long braids followed behind. They sailed passed tall apartment buildings, and short yellow houses with sleeping families inside, passed clothing shops that Violet’s mother took her in to try on dreadful frilly dresses, and diners that had the most delicious milkshakes that were her and her grandmother’s “little secrets”, passed the school, post office, grocery store and everywhere else she would go with her mother to run errands. Mr. Moon changed his direction to upwards, and they shot passed twinkling stars and landed on a floating cloud. The cloud was fluffy and like everything Violet had ever imagined floating on a cloud to be like (she thought about it often).

        “This cloud will take us to the door,” Mr. Moon said.

        Violet nodded and rubbed her hands against the silky cloud. She had so many questions she wanted to ask Mr. Moon. They were important to her, even though her mother always said that they were silly and nonsensical. Of course her questions weren’t though, and Violet didn’t mind what her mother said about them much, because she didn’t know what nonsensical meant anyway.

        “Do you know the seasons?” she asked. 

        “Of course,” he said. 

        “Well then, can you ask Winter why he doesn’t just take off his coat and join Spring?”

        “I guess I could. But have you ever thought that it might just be because the Snow is too childish to not be watched over by Winter and too beautiful to be completely given up on?” he answered.

        “I guess that's true.” She looked down. They had floated far. They were already drifting over the ocean. 

        “Ocean!” Mr. Moon yelled down. A wave crashed against the shore as if it was answering back. “What's your favorite snack?” A whale rose to the surface, and shot shimmering foam from its blowhole up onto the cloud. Violet studied the bubbling substance.

        “Sea foam,” Mr. Moon said. He laughed. “Interesting choice,” he called down.

        Another wave crashed, and the whale disappeared into the water. Violet dipped her finger in the sea foam and stuck it in her mouth. It was subtly salty, like the saltwater taffy she would have on vacation. It deflated in her mouth, and coated her tongue. “I can tell why he likes it. It’s a perfect balance between sweet and salty,” she said. She fell over onto her back and watched the passing world. “Mr. Moon, why do grown ups serve tiny foods at parties? Why not just serve the big kind?” 

        “Now that's a good question. My best guess would be that tiny foods are cuter. Wouldn't you agree? But who knows why grown ups do anything?”

        Violet nodded. She looked down at the ground and all the miniature buildings. Her eyes started to grow heavy. 

        “We’re here!” Mr. Moon exclaimed, startling Violet. He hopped off the cloud and helped her down. The ground was rocky and gray. They were on the moon. “Home sweet home!” Mr. Moon bellowed. 

        “How are we supposed to get to the door from here?” Violet asked.

        Mr. Moon pointed straight ahead. There was a long, skinny bridge connecting the moon to a platform, where a yellow door stood. “There it is,” he said. “The door to the sun.”

        Violet's face glowed. She ran off in front of Mr. Moon and onto the bridge. She stepped one foot in front of the other and stuck her arms out to balance herself. 

        “Wait for me!” Mr. Moon called. He glided over to Violet and scooped her up, taking her with him to the platform. There were two guards on either side of the door with the same silvery complexion as Mr. Moon. One guard had glowing blue eyes and sleek white hair. The other had auburn locks that were hung in two pigtails, and amber eyes that danced in the moonlight. They wore identical glittering dresses.

        “Oh! Hello, Mr. Moon,” the blue eyed guard greeted. 

        “Hello, Vega. And how are you, Betelgeuse?” Mr. Moon said, looking over at the guard with the pigtails. 

        “I’m very good, sir. Is it morning already?” Betelgeuse asked. 

        “No, not yet. But my friend Violet asked me to take her to the door of the sun.”

        Betelgeuse and Vega looked down at Violet. She was a cheery girl, with long braids, and curious green eyes. She was short, and her nightgown was so big on her that it touched the ground. “And why did you want to come to this door?” Vega asked.

        “I want the sun to wake up,” Violet answered.

        The guards nodded and signaled for Violet to come up. “Go ahead,” Betelgeuse said.

        Violet tip-toed to the door. She raised her little fist and tapped the door two times. It flew open. Out stepped a tall woman with golden ringlets and tan skin. She let out a long yawn. This was the Sun. The Sun looked down at Violet, and then glared up at Mr. Moon. She furrowed her brow.

        “You’re always doing this! Don’t you know I like my beauty rest! If you bring one more child to wake me, you’ll regret it!” she barked.

        “I’m sorry! It’s just…” Mr. Moon started.

        “It’s just that the night is so boring!” Violet interrupted. 

        The Sun looked away and shook her head. She pinched the bridge of her nose in silent frustration. Violet had seen this expression far too many times. Her mother did it often as a way of saying, ‘I’m disappointed that my daughter is just a silly little girl with her head in the clouds.’  Violet balled her fists. She was not just a silly little girl. 

        “I have to get ready,” the Sun grunted. She turned her back to them and slammed the door shut.

        Mr. Moon took Violet’s hand and flew her back to the cloud. They drifted away, but Violet kept her eye on the door until she couldn’t see it any longer. She had never thought that the Sun would be so rude. They floated back over the murky ocean who waved at them with seaweed in his hand. The cloud stopped over the city.

        “Why was the sun so rude?” Violet asked.

        “Because nobody likes to be woken up,” Mr. Moon answered.

        He took Violet’s hand and jumped off the cloud. Together they sailed passed twinkling stars, apartment buildings, little yellow houses, shops, diners, and everywhere Violet and her mother would run errands. They flew through the window and Mr. Moon let go of her. Violet looked out the window at the dusty yellow sky of the rising sun.

        “I have one last question,” she said. “Why does no one play checkers, or jump rope, or eat popsicles in the heat while playing in the sprinklers at night.”

        Mr. Moon itched his forehead. “Because dreaming is far more interesting. In dreams your imagination has no bounds. In the real world, not everything is possible.”

        Violet nodded. “Goodbye, Mr. Moon.”

        “Farewell, Violet. Call me next time you have insomnia.” He stepped onto the window sill and slid through the glass. Violet drowsily crawled into her bed and nestled into the covers. She didn’t know what insomnia meant, but she thought it must’ve meant something good, because this was the most fun night she had ever had.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Singing to God

I get it.  I know how you feel.  Worship online is just not the same as being in a congregation full of people singing praises to God with all their hearts.  Yet, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's what many need to do in order to be safe and to keep others safe as well.  So, we sit on our couches and look at the computer screens and we watch church.

One of the hardest parts of online worship is the singing.  When you are at church with a group of people, the singing just feels more natural. Your voice blends with the chorus of everyone else.  Together, you are a congregation praising God and it doesn't matter so much how your individual voice sounds.  Unfortunately, when you are staring at a computer screen in your home for online worship, it just feels flat and awkward to sing.  You feel alone and exposed singing all by yourself--even if your family is in the room with you.  That's not easy for most people.

It's ok to feel a little awkward, but I encourage you to sing anyway.

Here's the thing.  You aren't singing alone.  Even if you are not physically present with other people, you are still worshipping with them.  Whether the other people are on the stage at your church leading worship or in the sanctuary congregation singing or even sitting on their own couch in their own home, you are still singing with them.  The act of worship binds our spirits together--even if we aren't in the same location.  This might seem awkward at first, but mainly because we aren't used to it.  

One of the sweetest memories from my early childhood was listening to my Grandma sing and hum church hymns as she cleaned or cooked in the kitchen.  Her voice wasn't exceptional and she wasn't singing for anyone else.  The hymns simply brought joy to her heart as she worked.  She didn't mind singing all by herself.  Why should I?

Many people enjoy singing in the shower or in their car while they are alone.  It's a great stress reliever.  However, when we sing as we worship God, we are not alone.  We are singing along with our brothers and sisters in Christ wherever they are.

The idea that our spirits are united through worship--even if we are not physically present together--has always been the belief of the Christian Church.  For example, when we recite the Apostles' Creed, we affirm, "I believe in... the communion of saints..."  The communion of saints is the fellowship of all Christian believers--both those who are still living in this world and those who have gone on to live with Christ in eternity.  

Hebrews 12:1 famously says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles."  That "great cloud of witnesses" is the gathered saints who have gone before us.  As we worship, they are gathered with us.  

I get it.  It still feels awkward to be in your living room by yourself singing to a computer screen in online worship.  But if we try, perhaps we can use our imagination to recognize a great spiritual truth.  You are not singing alone.  You are singing along with everyone else who is worshipping Jesus--regardless of where they are.  Furthermore, you are also singing with the saints in glory standing around the throne of God, lifting up their voices with the angels to the One who made us all.  

You are not singing to an image on a screen or even a minister on a stage.  You are singing to the One who died on a cross and rose from the grave to save you.  Your voice--yes even your voice--makes Him smile.  He loves the beautiful sound of your voice as you worship Him from a sincere heart in song!

So don't hold back.  Don't be ashamed.  Sing like no one is watching.  Sing with all your heart!  If you can sing in the shower or in your car, you can sing your heart out for the One who gave you a voice.  Sing (and even dance) like David as he unashamedly brought the Ark into Jerusalem, for you are singing to the only One who is worthy of our worship and praise.