The power of silence

I was in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. One morning as I stood outside the ger where I was staying I listened. I didn’t hear a thing. No traffic noise, no people talking, no music playing, no birds chirping, no dogs barking, no insects buzzing, no running water. It was a unique experience.

Silence is unfamiliar to us. We live in such a noisy world. Some people get uncomfortable with silence and turn on the TV or music as soon as they get in the house. Silence in a conversation can feel awkward and lead people to say something to break the silence, even if they have nothing to say.

The terrible trials Job suffered led three of his friends to come to comfort him. “… they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11). Sometimes comfort is shared in silence. At times it is better to share tears rather than words. 

Job’s friends comforted in silence for seven days, but then they could no longer contain themselves. They told Job he must have done something evil that made God angry and that was the cause of all his suffering. Their words brought deep hurt instead of comfort.

It’s tempting to think every incorrect statement requires a rebuttal and every problem needs an explanation. When hard things happen often we don’t have a good answer to the question “why?”, and we cause trouble when we try to give one. Sometimes the best response is silence. “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint … Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:27-28).  

Social media makes it easy to use words in abundance. That ease can be harmful and dangerous. Words are powerful. We need to pray for God to give us wisdom, restraint and discernment in using them. 

In some matters we are to speak and not be silent. We are not to be silent about our sin. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. … Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3, 5). 

We are not to be silent about the great things God has done. “… we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Sometimes it feels like God is silent. We pray and we cry out for help, but no response seems to come, at least not as quick and clear as we would like. We plead like David, “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1). 

We rejoice that God has spoken, in His Word, the Scriptures. He may seem silent about some things, but He is not silent at all about His love and grace and way of salvation. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) who communicates clearly that forgiveness, hope and life eternal is offered by faith in Christ. 

See the light shining in the darkness

Some things you don’t notice till the lights are off. I had that experience once when I was visiting some relatives and they let me stay in the bedroom of one of the kids. When I turned off the lights I discovered a lot of little glow-in-the-dark things were pasted to the ceiling. A moon, some stars and planets were all glowing above me. They were only seen when the room got dark.

In a similar way, in life some good things are only seen when it gets dark. Trials and troubles can be dark and scary times, but they can also be opportunities to see the light of Jesus’ love.

Our country and world has been going through some dark days with the pandemic, protests, unrest, injustice, violence, economic troubles and sharp divisions. Many are also suffering through the darkness of isolation and depression. In spite of all the darkness, however, light can be seen, if we have eyes to see it.

In a loving congregation, when one person is sick, others in the congregation rise up and serve. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Corinthians 12:26). People pray, they call, they send emails, they bring food. I’ve appreciated seeing the light of service in Jesus’ name shining through the darkness of trials.

The challenges we have encountered in meeting together during the pandemic has felt dark at times, but light has been shining through the darkness. It has been good to see the longing many have to be in worship and the sincere desire to be in God’s Word. When the opportunity to worship with others comes again after you haven’t been able to do it for a time, the light shines all the brighter.

Times of isolation from others can be hard. Those times, though, can help us appreciate how good it is that we get to be part of God’s family. After some isolation that might seem a little dark, the joy of being able to be with others shines bright and beautiful.

“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). The light of Jesus’ love and grace shines in this dark world. No matter how dark it gets, nothing can put out the light. Jesus promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Even though there is much darkness around us, we don’t have to walk in darkness. The light of Jesus can shine in our lives. Our home is not the darkness but the light.

It has been said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” It is tempting to spend much time cursing the darkness; talking about how bad things are and how far into darkness the world has fallen. It is better to shine the light of Jesus. Shine His light by showing people grace, serving others in love, and letting people know how good and great is our God.

Ask God to give you eyes to see the good things He is doing in the midst of this dark world. The light of God’s grace and mercy and love is shining all around us. Blessed are the eyes that see.

Let God have the remote

“We need to get control of this virus.” Health officials have said this. Government officials have said it. Measures get implemented to try to take charge over where the virus spreads and how it spreads. Different opinions exist over the effectiveness of the measures, but one thing seems clear: we don’t have control the way we wish we did.

It is not just the virus that we lack control over.  Parents may try to control what type of people their kids turn out to be, but their control is limited. We think we have control of our finances and then a trial comes with unexpected costs. We can exercise and eat right and try to control our body’s health, but we still get sick. Our control of things is far more limited than we want to admit.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Be still, and know that God is in control, and we aren’t. The Lord is the One who is over the waters and the mountains and who “lifts his voice, the earth melts” (v. 6). The Lord is the One who is far exalted over all the nations of the earth. “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth” (v. 9). Be still, and know who is the Almighty. It is not us. The Lord is the One who has all power and authority.

In our pride we want to be in control of our lives and our future. It is humbling to admit we aren’t, and it would be a disaster if we were in control. Be still, and give up trying to control everything. Be still, keep praying, but don’t think you have to tell God what He ought to do. Be still, and trust that God knows what he is doing. God will be exalted. He reigns now and He will reign forever.

Even when the world seems crazy and chaotic and out of control, our soul can be still. We don’t need to live lives dominated by fear and worry. Violence and destruction abounds, yet we can be calm and at peace, because “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v. 11). It would do us well to spend less time thinking about out-of-control riots and spend more time thinking about how God is graciously in control. Remembering that God is powerful and present enables us to declare: “Therefore we will not fear” (v. 2).

If a group of people are together watching TV, the remote control becomes the prized possession. Most everybody wants to be the one who determines what is watched. We get frustrated if we’re watching something and all of a sudden the channel changes. Other times we think what is on is boring and we want it changed to something else.

In a way, we’re called to let God have the remote. Let God determine how the story of your life goes. It’ll probably have some surprising plot twists. But when your faith is in Christ, who died and rose again, you know the ending will be wonderful. Be still, and trust in God’s gracious, loving and wise control.

Different colors can go together

Years ago I was with a neighbor, looking at a hillside full of trees. Many different types of trees were there, with a variety of leaves and needles. All kinds of different shades of green were visible, with some yellow and a little bit of red and orange mixed in. As we enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, Don remarked: “God puts all those different shades of green together and it looks great, but my wife thinks my shirt and pants need to be a matching color when we go out.”

I don’t know that the variety of colors of trees means it is okay to wear mismatching clothes. It does serve, however, as an example of how a diversity of colors can go together and become something beautiful.

God made many different types and colors of trees, and He made many different types and colors of people. If God wanted everybody to have the same skin color, He could have made us that way. Nothing is impossible for God. But the Lord, in His infinite wisdom and grace, chose to show His incredible creative ability. He painted the hillsides of the world with all kinds of different shades and colors of skin.

The variety of colors can be a beautiful thing, but sadly the beauty is not always appreciated. Throughout the centuries people have struggled with the temptation to think their color is the best color. Far too often people have only wanted to be around their color. That is like a forester wanting to only plant one type and shade of tree. What a boring and unhealthy forest that would be.

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). Don’t think people of your color are superior and more honest and hard-working than people of a different color. The outside color doesn’t automatically determine what a person is like on the inside.

God’s church is described in Scripture as a body with many different parts. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. … God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (I Corinthians 12:12, 18, 19). The many parts of the body look different from one another. But God has arranged them and made them that way for a reason. God doesn’t want us to all look the same and be the same and do the same kind of work.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:14, 19). These days, when there is so much division, can be an opportunity for God’s church to show the world that Jesus is our peace. Christ can bring diverse people together into one family and make them into something beautiful.

Spreading peace

In these days of dealing with the coronavirus there has been much discussion about how things like viruses and germs spread. There has also been talk about how a person can spread a virus without realizing they are doing it.

Some things have been spread more widely and quickly than the coronavirus. Fear, anxiety, tension and stress have spread and infected people everywhere. Some people spend much time anxiously contemplating all the different things that might happen. As the fear has spread, sleep has been lost, relationships have been strained and faith has been threatened.

Fear gets spread by spending much time listening to the news, but not much time listening to God’s Word. Stress is spread when your thoughts focus more on what bad things might happen rather than on what God has done. Tension rises when you dwell on what you and other people should be doing, and you don’t spend much time thinking about what the Lord is doing.

It is easy to become a “fear spreader.” Similar to the virus, a person may spread anxiety even if they don’t intend to. One person’s worry and lack of faith can be caught by others around them.

Our world needs “peace spreaders.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The first kind of peace we want to make is between people and God. Jesus is the true peacemaker. “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). We share Jesus with people so that they can enjoy the great gift of peace with God.

We also long to see peace grow in people’s souls. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). He wants to see peace spreading in people’s hearts and minds. He wants to calm fearful, troubled hearts.

When some people enter a room tension and disputing seems to rise. Other people cause the peace level to rise with their presence. They spread a peace that is infectious.

Peacemakers are used by God to make peace between people. Anger and attacks abound in our world. “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace” (Psalm 120:7). We too live among people who relish conflict. We are called, by God’s grace, to stand out in contrast as people of peace who desire and work for peace. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).

One day recently, as I walked along the river the water was very peaceful and calm. As I looked at the scene I thought of how it was a contrast from so many lives. Many souls are like turbulent, storm-tossed seas. It can be different. God wants to help so that even in the midst of stormy days, our souls resemble peaceful, still waters.

Ready and not afraid

“I think this might be my last Sunday, so I wanted to be sure to be in church.” That’s what Virginia Johnson told me a few different Sundays during the last year of her life. She had been part of our congregation for many years. Her husband, Howard, had gone to be with the Lord not long before. Virginia had suffered from Parkinson’s for many years. Her body was weak. It wasn’t easy for her to make it to church, even with help. Her spirit was still strong, however, as was her desire to worship the Lord on her last Sunday on earth.

I’d say hi to Virginia before the service began. Her voice had gotten very soft, so you had to get close to hear her. Then she’d tell me she was glad she was able to be in church because she expected it was going to be her last Sunday. She wasn’t saying it with a sense of fear. Rather, her peace and her faith spoke loudly in her soft words.

Certainly not everybody would be at peace if they thought it was going to be their last week on earth. That has been made clear during this battle with the coronavirus. Many people are filled with fear and panic as they contemplate the possibility they might get a virus that could kill them. Actually a very small percentage of people die from the virus, but 100 percent of us will die from something, unless Jesus returns first. The Bible says we are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

God will most likely give wisdom to medical researchers who will discover a vaccine and treatment for the virus. But there will be other things that will cause our bodies to stop working. Modern medicine can’t stop every virus and it can’t heal every disease. Jesus alone has the answer. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22).

Jesus defeated death and rose to life again. It was her faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus that enabled Virginia to face, without fear, the reality that it might be her last Sunday. Christ took the punishment and judgment for our sins upon Himself when He died on the cross, and now He offers peace. “… the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Knowing we may face the Lord soon doesn’t scare us when we know Him as our Savior. Instead it inspires us to make good use of each day we are given. Virginia wasn’t going to spend her last Sunday on earth trembling in fear. She wanted to spend it worshipping the Lord, declaring His praises, hearing His Word and being with God’s people.

Jesus took the punishment of the cross so that we can be at peace with God and at peace about what is going to happen when we die. The Lord, who has conquered death, will watch over our lives, both now and for all eternity.

Thankful for one who was truly alive

The evangelist Dwight Moody said, “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody … is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I will be more alive than I am now.”

I thought of that quote after hearing that a man who had a big influence on my life, missionary John Abel, had died. For most of his 94 years John was more alive than most anyone I have ever known. It is hard to imagine him being even more alive. But that is the sure hope we have because Jesus has risen from the dead.

I had the privilege of spending much time with John in Brazil, where he was a missionary for many years. The first time I was there I was a 24-year-old seminary intern. I thought I was fairly energetic, but it was all I could do to keep up with John who was in his 60s then. John always had an abundance of plans. There were people he wanted to see and things he wanted to get done. Sometimes we were short on time, but never short on goals and ideas.

One trip we headed out for a weekend to a couple little towns called Iretama and Cidade Poema. We were going from one town to the next, heading down a hill on a dirt road. At the bottom of the hill was a creek with two boards across it. The boards didn’t look like they were much wider than the tires on John’s truck. John maybe sensed what I was thinking because he said, “Those boards aren’t too wide so you have to be sure you hit them just right.” He also seemed to sense the question that was on my mind: “If we have to hit them just right, why are we flying down this hill so fast?” He said, “We have to keep up a good speed so we’ll have enough momentum to make it up the hill on the other side.” We made it across the creek and, while sliding around a little bit, made it up the hill on the other side. Just another enjoyable and memorable adventure with John.

John had the smarts, talent and energy to do all kinds of things with his life. Why did he spend so much of his life going across creeks and up and down dirt roads? Why did he visit homes and accept hospitality and eat and drink things that he knew might make him sick later? Why move to the interior of Brazil back when it was just beginning to be developed? Because people need to hear the good news of Jesus. “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). People of Iretama and Cidade Poema and all the other cities and towns of the world aren’t going to know Jesus and His great gift of salvation unless somebody goes and tells them. It is worth making sacrifices and giving our all in order to let people know what Jesus has done.

During these days of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, congregations are having to figure out other ways to declare God’s Word, doing things like live streaming services and using FM transmitters and being creative. It is the kind of thing I could see John doing, using whatever means he could and doing whatever he could to share with people the good news of Jesus.

Jesus cares for both body and soul

In a TV commercial years ago an actor proclaimed: “When you have your health, you have just about everything.” Many people think like that in our world. It’s understandable. When your body is hurting it affects your attitude and emotions. Some think if they can just protect their body and keep it healthy and pain-free, everything will be fine.

The coronavirus has swept over our world and done a lot of damage to many bodies. For those in our culture who only think of the physical it’s a scary time. Sadly many feel if they don’t have their health, they have nothing. They fear their physical health being taken away because they have nothing else to give them hope and security.

God created us as more than just physical beings. Our hope and meaning for life is not taken away if a virus attacks our body. Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). He follows that by saying the One who is to be feared is the One who determines our eternal destiny. A virus can only harm the body. It can’t kill the soul. Jesus is the Lord over both our body and soul.

We want bodies to be well. We pray for that and we serve one another and do what we can to help bodies to be healthy. We also want souls to be healthy. We care about the whole person as expressed in III John 2: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

Our society devotes vast amounts of time, energy and resources to making bodies well. Sadly, though, many give little attention to the health of their soul and the health of their relationship with God.  Some bodies are hurting these days because of the coronavirus, but even more souls are in great pain and danger. People are being overtaken by fear and panic. Jesus is the One who can bring healing to hurting souls.

This time of year, as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are thankful that He knows better than any of us what it means to have a body that hurts. “Surely he took up our infirmities” (Isaiah 53:4). His body was crucified but risen again. He won the victory over death and lives forever. Because of His resurrection we no longer fear death. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54-55).

When you have faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, then you have everything. Our bodies are temporary, earthly tents that get damaged and perish, but our souls are made alive in Christ. We have the great hope of one day receiving new pain-free bodies. Viruses and diseases come and go, but the love of Christ and the new life He gives remains forever.

Hope has not been canceled

Today is usually one of my favorite days of the year. A new baseball season was suppose to open today, but has been delayed because of the virus. Opening day means the coming of spring. It means more sunshine and warmer temperatures. It means guys playing ball on freshly mown grass. It means sitting with friends, watching a game, eating a hot dog fresh off the grill.

One of my favorite ways to relax is watching a baseball game. I got started early. My mother said when I was about three months old my dad was watching the World Series and had me on his lap, facing the TV. Mom was doubtful I was actually watching the game but Dad insisted I was following the game and enjoying it. Baseball is about memories of watching games with my dad.

In some ways baseball is about hope. We made it through the cold dark days of winter. The opening of baseball season is a hopeful sign that spring with its promise of new growth is on its way.

Unfortunately today isn’t opening day, but that doesn’t mean hope has been delayed or canceled. The hope Jesus gives isn’t postponed by a virus. Nothing in all creation is able to cancel the hope of Christ. “… we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all” (I Timothy 4:10).

Our hope does not rest in government leaders or modern medicine. Our hope is in our Savior, the Lord Jesus, who died and rose again and lives forever. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). Worry and fear has caused many to feel insecure and unsettled. The Lord gives a hope that remains solid and gives peace, no matter what is going on in the world. A virus may infect our body, but we have the sure hope that God is able to protect our body. No virus is too hard or complicated for God to deal with. We have the firm hope that, by faith in Christ, our soul is safe in God’s hands, both now and for all eternity.

Even though today is not baseball’s opening day, and even though there are viruses and dangers around us, today is still a day overflowing with hope. Every day opens with the good news that Jesus loves us and is watching over us. Jesus lives and Jesus is the Lord of all.

Combating the virus of fear

John Dyrnes attended both seminary and medical school before heading to Madagascar as a medical missionary in 1900. He worked at healing bodies from the many diseases found in that tropical climate and healing souls with the good news of Jesus. He served in Madagascar with the Lutheran Free Church mission until his death in 1943. During those 43 years he only had two furloughs when he made return visits to America. In 1906 he married Sarah Johnson, who was an aunt of Ruth Tollefson, the wife of our congregation’s former pastor, Hans Tollefson.

During his first year in Madagascar Dyrnes had the first of seven painful attacks of the often deadly blackwater fever. He recovered but soon after his house burned, taking with it his medical books, instruments and supplies. Eventually friends in the U.S. sent him replacement supplies. Often, however, Dyrnes had to learn to make do, improvise and make some of his own medical instruments.

One of Dyrnes’ blackwater attacks came in 1907. It caused him to lose for a time the ability to speak or move, but his sight and hearing was still fine and his mind was clear. He heard the ones who were caring for him say that it appeared the end was near. Dyrnes kept repeating to himself the words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” A profound sense of happiness and security came over him. He was content and confident that one of two things would happen to him: either he would live and get to continue the work he loved to do, or he would go and be with the Lord, which would be even better.

It is the coronavirus and not blackwater fever that is attacking bodies in our day. We face a different disease but we do so with the same faith and hope that Dr. Dyrnes had. We trust in the same mighty and loving God who is able to take care of His children. The Lord has promised: “He will cover you with his feathers,and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.You will not fear the terror of night,nor the arrow that flies by day,nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,nor the plague that destroys at midday” (Psalm 91:4-6).

Because God is good and gracious and in control, we don’t fear whatever terror or disease comes along. Sadly, we live in a world that is getting swept up in panic about what might happen. When fear takes control of a life all kinds of terrible things can result. People shy away from serving, get suspicious and relationships get damaged. It is so much better and more peaceful to rest in the truth that God is in control. In Isaiah 8:12 the Lord says, “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.”

The world is in great need of hearing the good news that we don’t have to live in fear. We live in grace and we rest in the love and power of God.