Tuesday, March 31, 2020

4 Changeless truths for these changing times

On Sunday night, one of the American Idol contestants sang Bob Dylan’s, “The times they are a changin.” When the show was recorded in January, the contestant couldn’t have possibly known how prophetic that title would be when the show aired.

I would normally be practicing with our symphony chorus right now for the pops concert in early May. Instead, the practices and spring concerts have been canceled for the first time in forty-two years. The grand hall at the convention center where our concerts are held has been converted into a factory producing devices that spray disinfectant to fight the virus.
In New York’s Central Park where I often strolled with co-workers back in the day, emergency field hospitals have been erected. Those deserving of combat medals do not wear military fatigues, they wear white coats and scrubs, and are sometimes going into battle without even the most basic equipment like masks. Because of that, high-end designers will not debut their recent designs on the runways in Paris and Milan this season but are converting their factories to produce hospital gowns and masks.
Our grandson and others like him will lose the last part of his senior year and we hold out hope the graduation ceremony will still take place some time in the future.
And who knew only weeks ago that words like social distancing, coronavirus, and disinfectant would be so prevalent in our conversations.  Nearly a quarter of the world is in lockdown.

“The times they are a changin.”

I’ve been thinking of a story which may be familiar to you about a King who faced changing times and his surprising response.

A dire report emerged of an enormous invading army rising against him, edging ever closer, only around sixty miles away.

What would the king do?

Issue a call to arms? Rally the troops?

He did neither. The first thing he did was pray and call for a nationwide fast.

People came from far and wide and when they had gathered, the king stood. After beginning with praise, he prayed, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears you name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us” (2 Chronicles 20:9).

He ended with, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what do, but our eyes are upon you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Then from somewhere in the assembly a voice arose in response from a worship leader’s descendent, “This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s . . .”(2 Chronicles 20:15).

On hearing this prophetic word, the king bowed with his face to the ground and the people also fell in worship.

Then worship leaders stood and began to raise their voices in praise to God.

When the King set out to meet the army, he reminded everyone to have faith and then he put the singers out front who sang, “Give thanks to the Lord for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, God set ambushes and the invading army was soundly defeated.

When the spoils had been gathered, the King and his people returned home with rejoicing, thanksgiving, and praise. The first thing they did was go to house of God.

What lessons are in this for us in our changing times?

Like the King, our first response should be to pray. It is not an action of last resort, but our first hope. Yes, of course, we rise to do all the things that are required and needful but we must pray and maintain our relationship with God and seek him first.

Next, we recognize our powerlessness and set our eyes on God. We do not rely on our own strength. Our trust and our eyes must be on Him, not in our efforts.

Then, we do not let fear hold the reins in our hearts. Instead of focusing on the vast army against us, we remember that God is fighting the battle for us.

And last, worship and thanksgiving should be practiced often so that they are a way of life.

These lessons from 3000 years ago in the life of King Jehoshaphat when confronted by a huge army wing through the ages as true today as they were then as we face a global pandemic: Pray, Rely on God, Fear Not, Worship.

They come to us as changeless truths for these changing times.

Dear friends, praying God’s protection for you and that you would experience his presence and peace in a greater measure than ever before.

Related: May 5

Here for A Plan for Everything


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

In the time of Corona, it's time to be like Betty

I once heard a pastor who was being used mightily by God say something like “We may not know the name of the most important Christian on earth because it’s probably not a high profile personsomeone we would expect. It is most likely an unknown older woman who is faithfully on her knees before God changing the course of history through her prayers.”

This week we unexpectedly lost a very dear woman in our church. Her name is Betty. If there was ever a person who changed the course of history, she did. I’ve never known anyone who exemplified a more Godly life. No, you probably have never heard of her, but she may have prayed for you.

Having experienced one of the most crushing blows one can suffer in this life when she lost a precious son a few years ago, she rose from the ashes of grief to a place of beauty and strength.

Here in this time of great uncertainty, losing her is devastating. We needed her constancy and her encouragement. We can’t imagine life without her. But the legacy she leaves us is a strong one.

Here is what I believe Betty left us that will help us especially in these days.

First, she was a woman who was often on her knees. If you asked her to pray, you didn’t have to wonder if she would. The next time you saw her, she would ask about your request. She has prayed our family through many difficult trials and made a huge investment in our lives through those prayers. If we ever needed folks to be faithful in prayer, it is today as we face this COVID-19 pandemic. The days are long past to say we will pray and move on to some seemingly more exciting endeavor. It is time to be faithful in prayer as Betty was.

Second, Betty was present with you. I recently watched the movie, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It was said of Mr. Rogers that he was fully present for every person with whom he spoke. That was Betty. She was never distracted when speaking with you. After a conversation with her, you knew you were heard. Today, people are hurting and one of the most important things we can do for them is to be fully engaged, listen, and not distracted by our own agenda. People need to talk about their fears and anxieties. Even with social distancing, we can be present on the phone or at a safe distance.

Third, Betty was selfless and kind to her husband, children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers, anyone who knew her and many who didn’t know her. I once commented on how much I loved a little costume jewelry pin of a bird that she wore. Later that day, she placed something in my hand. It was the pin. “I can’t take this,” I said in shock. “Yes, you must. I want to give it to you,” she said. It’s one of the most treasured things I own, not because of its monetary value, but it’s heart value. Her kindness was exemplified in so many ways from making sure my husband received a couple of her famous pecan squares to take home with him after a covered dish dinner to waiting at a church door every Sunday for a lady with a handicap so that Betty could help her safely into the building.

These are the days to give for others. So sad for those who are hoarding resources desperately needed by the medical community. But thank God for those who are trying to meet a million mask challenge to make medical masks for our doctors and nurses. If you don’t know about this. HERE is more info. Thank God for those who are giving selflessly.

Fourth, Betty was faithful in small things. She once told me as she was straightening up the church that her mother had taught her it’s a great privilege to serve in that waythat it was an honor to clean the house of God. Betty and her husband Reece were often the first to the church and the last to leave. Betty prepared communion, served as a greeter, and many other jobs. She brought a joy and reverence to each task. I have the last bulletin she gave me hanging in my office from just before the virus hit. It will remind me that these are the days to be faithful in small things, which often aren’t so small and to thank God for being able to serve Him in any capacity.

Fifth, Betty was a student of the Word. Her observations in small groups always gave us something to think about and you could know that those thoughts came from a lifelong study of the Bible. Today more than ever, we need to lean into God’s word and let it be a “lamp unto our feet.”

When Betty’s life was drifting between life and death, Jerry and I sat in a hospital parking lot praying, unable to enter the hospital because of COVID-19. On the ledge in front of me, a cardinal drank from a splash of water on the ledge. It was a female without the bright plumage of the male, and after it drank, it bathed. There didn’t seem enough water to do that, but somehow the bird seemed delighted in itsuch a lovely thing to behold. Like the female cardinal, Betty was not flashy by the world’s standards, but she was incredibly beautiful, and also like it, she took delight in the smallest things. She was thankful in each and every blessing.

So, instead of complaining about our challenges, let’s be grateful for the blessings we have.

To say I’m going to miss Betty is a great understatement. She was often the first face I saw when entering our church.

But as she did, we must rise out of our grief and be faithful to our own callings. Especially in these days.

The challenge is before us. Let’s all be like Betty who aimed to be like Jesus.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” Psalm 119:15.

Here for A Plan for Everything

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A message of encouragement

Because of the unfolding corona virus event, we are reaching out to our One Ringing Bell readers with additional messages of encouragement.

In this video initiated for our church family, my husband, Rev. Jerry Varnado and worship leader Caleb Moore lead in worship. Please click HERE. Social distancing was observed. Please forgive the video quality, we are working with what we have at this point.

If you missed other messages from Jerry, they are HERE.

Dear, dear friends, you are ever a blessing to me. I pray God's protection and covering during this time. May He be the lifter of your head and the healer of your body.

I have a chipped mug I am using almost every day.

Dwell in hope. Psalm 16:9

On the inside it looks like this.

Psalm 16:9
Dwell in hope, friends. Much love coming your way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Creatives for such a time as this

For those of you who receive this post by email, there was a glitch and the YouTube guest post yesterday by my husband did not attach. Here is the link to the post.

It’s an old , old story.

A powerful king named Xerxes gave a lavish banquet where he displayed all the magnificence of his kingdom. He invited his beautiful queen Vashti to come, but she refused, which angered the king. He sought his advisors who recommended she be banished from his presence. And so it was done.

Later, the king sought a new queen. Of all the beautiful women from whom the King could have chosen the one he found most compelling was Esther, an orphan who had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a descendent of exiles. The king did not know of her heritage.

After Esther was crowned queen, her cousin Mordecai uncovered a plot to kill the king and reported it to Esther who then informed Xerxes. The plot was investigated, the villains executed, and the event recorded in the king’s records.

Later, King Xerxes honored one of his nobles, Haman. All the officials in the kingdom bowed down to Haman. All but oneMordecai. He only bowed to God. This greatly angered Haman and he concocted a plan to kill not only Mordecai but also all the Jews.

Upon learning of this, Mordecai along with the other Jews began fasting and weeping. Mordecai sent a message to Esther urging her to go to the King to "beg for mercy and plead with him for her people."

Esther responded to Mordecai that she was afraid to go into the King’s presence without being summoned for she might be killed. Mordecai sent back this answer, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

So, Esther approached the King and invited him and Haman to a banquet. At the banquet, instead of telling the King what she wanted, she invited the king and Haman to another banquet. Meanwhile, Haman went out and had a gallows built for Mordecai.

That night the King called for his records to be brought, and while reading them, he realized he had never honored Mordecai for saving his life. The King asked Haman how he could honor a man. Mordecai thinking it was for himself, made a list of lavish royal gifts, and suggested a parade. So Haman was instructed to retrieve the gifts and lead Mordecai through the streets in parade. Haman returned to his home in grief.

When the King and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared, Esther told the King of her heritage and the plot to kill the Jews, of which one was Mordecai, the man who had saved his life. The king became enraged. It turned out Haman was destroyed on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

The orphan Esther was plucked from obscurity to save her people.

Many of you will find this story from the book of Esther familiar. It seems especially applicable for this time. For such a time as this . . . we may have been gifted and called. This is the time for the artists, the musicians, the writers, all of us called by God to use our artistry  to push to the limit of our abilities. Some of you have a talent for humor. This is the time to use it all for Jesus. Through the gifts God has given us, we have the ability to bring cheer, hope, and encouragement to a world weighed down with worry.

When I first moved to this town, I didn’t know many outside of my work, so when I wasn’t there, I spent a good bit of time alone. I can see now that it was in those years in quiet, ( I didn’t watch television at all for about eight years) that God set the course of my life.

Who knows what mighty thing God could be setting our course for in this time, though worship, prayer, study, and the creative expressions he would give us.

Who knows how  for those of us in isolation because of a virus, these days might be used by God for something great. Let us all be about our Father’s business and seeking his presence.

“…for such a time as this.”

Take some time to read through the short book of Esther. My synopsis was abbreviated, and you will discover many jewels in the text.

Here for A Plan for Everything


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Guest post by Jerry Varnado on overcoming fear

I'm posting today on this National Day of Prayer with a video from my husband Jerry who offers a message of encouragement to help overcome fear in these days. God bless you all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

If you're looking for a door of hope

From the archives, a few words that seem appropriate for today . . .

In Hosea 2, the heading in my Bible reads, “Israel Punished and Restored.” There’s a lengthy exposition of Israel’s disobedience followed by some of the most compassionate verses in the Bible: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”

The first time I read these verses, I checked the footnote, which gave the definition of Achor as meaning trouble. I loved that God was saying of the depths of trouble, He would make a door of hope.
But, I had only begun to understand these verses.

In Joshua, we read the story of the fall of Jericho. Joshua instructed Israel, “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord" (Joshua 6:17). This meant all plunder from Jericho after its fall was to be put into the Lord’s treasury. 

However, Achan  disobeyed this command with tragic consequences and took for himself gold, a Babylonian robe, as well as silver shekels, and hid them under his tent. When it was discovered he had done this, he and all that belonged to him were destroyed. Afterward, the place where this destruction occurred was called the Valley of Achor.

The Valley of Achor is not just the place of trouble; it’s the scene of our worst nightmare, the place of utter desolation, the location of absolute failure.

It's of that place, God says, He will make a door of hope.

After the death of Jesus on the cross, when His friends had gone, His disciples had scattered, and all seemed lost, God raised Jesus from the dead to become our door of hope for all eternity.

When the horror of world events shakes, or tragedy strikes close and hard, or failure and sin overwhelm, what God says about the Valley of Achor helps us cling to the hope God offers in Jesus.

No matter how terrible the situation, He can bring hope, redemption, and mercy if we turn to Him.

If you are standing in your own Valley of Achor, He is your refuge and strength.  

There are no hopeless situations, for with God, tragedy becomes the building material for a door of hope.

Here for A Plan for Everything

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The virus, the fear, and relief from the riverbank

I picked up the local paper a few days ago. Not one article on the front page that didn’t have to do with this ugly virus making the rounds. I clicked on my smart phone and the top news stories were also about the bug. And of course, that word that always brings cheer to our hearts is frequently bantered aroundpandemic.

Now the virus has arrived in my state, the very county where my kids live.

A lot of depressing news.

But, I pick up Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough’s latest book, The Pioneers, and my perspective changes. Once you imagine yourself in 1787 on the western frontier of America, which happened to be Ohio at the time, the situation now does not look so threatening.

For settlers on the banks of the Ohio River during their first winter, food was short, the river frozen, and no provisions could get through. By the grace of God, they survived.
The second winter, an early frost killed all the corn and then there was a measles outbreak. Many children died. They called that year the “starving year.” It was a hard time in the east as well, but the pioneers felt the deprivation more acutely. There were many reasons for this including volcanic eruptions elsewhere on the planet that threw so much debris into the upper atmosphere, sunlight was reduced for the growing of crops.

Then came smallpox.

Even after reading McCullough’s thorough account, I still can’t fathom how they dealt with it all.

McCullough's words have great merit for today especially in light of one giant online retailer removing tens of thousands of items because of price gouging on products related to the virus like hand sanitizer and face masks.

“What saved the settlement was generosity,” he writes and quotes an early settler Joseph Barker, “Where poverty, improvidence, and scarcity meet, charity and benevolence only could give relief.”

One of the area’s earliest historians, Samuel P. Hildreth wrote, “In this great scarcity it was wonderful how little there was of selfishness, and how generally kindness and good feeling abounded. Those who had more resources, lent or gave, to those who had less.”

Words to remember“What saved the settlement was generosity.”

It’s one thing to be prepared, it’s quite another to be so focused on ourselves we forget others or worse yet exploit them. That’s what happens when we let fear be our motivation. Then we see things like price gouging, born of believing fear and perceived scarcity will motivate customers to pay a higher price.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look back on these days of global anxiety over this virus as ones that brought out the best in us, not the worst? Don’t we want to be remembered in the same way as those pioneers who dealt with terrible diseases, no health care, little food, the most primitive living conditions, and in the midst of their own suffering were kind and generous to others?

All of us deal with some level of apprehension when we face the unknown, but let’s take a page from the book of these early pioneers who found charity and benevolence could be their ONLY relief in the face of hard times. The apostle Paul knew something about deprivation but passed on these words of Jesus in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Let’s pray that God would give us the grace as He did our ancestors to focus, not on our fear, but on how we can help. Right now, let’s begin by praying for those affected by the corona virus and for a speedy resolve to the spread. 

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