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Monday, July 13, 2020

Unrepentant Sin

Apologies, readers, for the inconsistent text fonts, which are the result of this starting out as a response on Facebook, then being copied into Word, and finally transferred here. The "travels" were hard on my little post, but hopefully, you will still find it worth the read.

My friend, James Watkins, posted the following on Facebook the other day. Thank you, Jim, for allowing me to springboard from your post to share what God laid on my heart:

"After years of being taught 'follow your heart,' we have a culture of hearts following racism, sexism, nationalism, and narcissism. What we need is regeneration of hearts filled with God’s unconditional love for all." Then he quoted Jeremiah 17:9.

That post really set me to wondering. I went to sleep pondering the whole matter of unrepentant sin, which drives many of the "-isms" Jim cited. Woke up, did some praying, some thinking, and some research. In the final analysis, I couldn't find any ground to stand on that affirms God has changed His mind on this very vital subject. Couldn't find any basis in Scripture for affirming ourselves or our children in sinful behaviors, be they matters of sexuality, disregard of authority, or any other form of self-destruction.

What I did find was lots of evidence of God using parents and His word to correct and steer the next generation down a healthy, God-fearing road. Here are just a few examples:

“Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

“Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Proverbs 19:18).

“’My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11).

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).

And, perhaps most convicting: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Isaiah punctuated his warning with an exclamation point, something the Bible uses sparingly, suggesting the dire situation one places himself in when he condones that which ought to be lovingly corrected and dismantled. How much more this admonition must apply to parents, to whom Jesus said, “Or, what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

This last verse also carries an exclamation point, suggesting the extreme importance of providing healthy guidance to one’s children – “feeding” them, as it were, on life-giving fare, rather than approving a “diet” that will destroy them.

Indulge me for a few more moments, as I relate an extraordinary occurrence that took place yesterday. I was readying myself for the day and had my medicine cabinet open. It so happens that my particular unit is faced with three mirrored panels which each open out (it sounds fancier than it is). I had the door on the left open almost 90 degrees, which gave me a view into the hallway to my right. The reflected hall appeared different from the actual hall, placing a doorknob on the opposite side, for instance, and making the entire runway present as longer than it actually is. A few minutes later, after thinking I had closed the left panel, I realized it was still slightly ajar. This oversight, when combined with the reflection of the center mirror, produced a new distortion, giving my drop ceiling a kaleidoscoped, “fun house” look, and doubling a painting of a turtle that we added to said ceiling for the kids’ amusement during bath time.

In considering these strange misrepresentations of reality, I see a connection with the subject at hand. Parents may mistake their good intentions for God’s best. What may seem like a loving attitude – tolerance for and even approval of behavior which God deems sin – is, in actuality, deceit, and dangerously misleading. When we go along with and condone a child’s missteps, we are no better than the parent who gives his offspring a tooth-shattering stone instead of wholesome bread. We collude in destroying the very people we were put here to nurture.

So, what ought a parent’s loving response be when faced with a child whose decisions are propelling him towards disaster? I know of one loving couple who offered their erring son the choice of following parental rules or finding another place to live. This young man was desperately involved with drugs and the whole lifestyle it takes to maintain such a habit. The parents – for his sake and the sake of his younger siblings, who were looking on to see how Mom and Dad would respond to their brother’s rebellion – brokenheartedly insisted their son leave when he refused to make efforts to change.

The troubled fellow ended up on the street. From time to time, he contacted his parents, whose hearts he knew remained open, even as the door to their home stayed closed until he changed course. The parents welcomed the opportunity to meet with their son in neutral places like restaurants, where they happily picked up the tab to feed their child, whose body was now ravaged with malnourishment. Each time, they assured him of their ongoing love, while reiterating the boundaries they had established. Tears were shed – lots of them. But these wise parents knew there would be more and bitterer tears if they didn’t hold to the Rock-solid principles the Bible defines as love.

That, folks, is called tough love. It’s not only tough on the target, but achingly tough on the provider of such love. This type of love affirms God’s tried and true plan for success, rather than affirming shifting cultural values. It affirms and elevates the truth of Scripture over an individual’s perceived “truth” for his or her life. In short, it calls for conformity with what God calls right, and requires repentance over what He repudiates. It diminishes “following one’s heart” to its rightful place, replacing that flawed concept with following the Creator’s heart. 

There's no safer place to land than in the camp of the Redeemer.



Monday, June 22, 2020

Rolling Bandages Part 2: 100 Ways I Avoided Doing Housework During the Quarantine

Alright, that's an exaggeration. But I am going to offer up a number of ways I've managed to avoid doing domestic chores during this crazy time. My reader, should he or she choose to accept the mission, is welcome to take up the slack.

Housework Heebie Jeebies



I hate housework. Always have. I'm well aware that many who were home-bound during the COVID-19 quarantine spent bunches of time catching up on home duties. That makes sense, and bless their hearts. There's a part of me that feels I should have done likewise, as I, too, remained mostly at home for weeks on end due to the pandemic.

Don't get me wrong. I love tidy. My sons will tell you, I'll wake them up from a cozy sleep to come downstairs and fold the blanket they left strewn on the chair last night. OK, that may be a stretch, but you get the idea. But, to me, tidy is a way of life, while clean, on the other hand, may just be a way of death. I can't understand folks who find it burdensome to put a glass in the dishwasher or toss a gum wrapper into the trash, but neither can I relate to friends who pencil in spring cleaning on their calendars and - horror of horrors - actually accomplish the task.

I just couldn't wrap my head around the thought that this isolation was imposed on me for the sole purpose of making my floors sparkle and my end tables gleam with lemony luster.

So, instead of fighting the guilt that reared its ugly head every time I viewed a Facebook friend's account of waxing the floor or detailing the car, I owned it (if others can embrace their shortcomings, so can I). I decided if this was how God made me, He must have had other tasks for me to accomplish during this time of national peril.

Successful Laziness

My older sister lives by the motto, "Organization is the key to successful laziness." Her hall closets and refrigerator, in all their orderly splendor, make me want to scream. However, I've given her philosophy a chance during the quarantine, on the slim chance that she might be onto something.

It seemed logical to start by implementing a daily routine, even a loose one, and trying to stick with it. This included an early wake up time (OK, it's gotten later as time has gone on), getting dressed in clothes (as opposed to just changing bathrobes), and trying to build a bit of exercise into each day (I'm pretty lax on this one - walking counts, even from bedroom to bathroom, and so does breathing).

Not wanting to live in total slovenly squalor, I've allowed a few small cleaning jobs and mini house projects to make the list, but room overhauls have been strictly off limits. Progress, not perfection, has been the goal. I've kept in the forefront of my mind that, if self-discipline is a continuum, I was born on the wrong end of it.

Next, my prayer partner, whose walk with God is only a step down from Mother Teresa's, "suggested" it might be wise for me to clear some space in my dwelling. This idea met with reluctance, as clean outs aren't too far a cry from doing housework (which, as I said, isn't in my genetic code). However, one oughtn't to argue with a chip off Mother Teresa's block. Suffice it to say, my garage and basement let out sighs of relief when unneeded stuff found its way to the curb; cobwebs have been swept away and precious floor space reclaimed.

For the record, I'm not finished yet. My friend keeps reminding me that other rooms, drawers and closets await my intervention, like mythical monsters waiting to be fed.

Knowing that some days would be more productive than others has allowed me the freedom to make mistakes without chucking the whole organizational endeavor. Also, having some built-in structure, such as morning and evening prayer times with other believers, has encouraged me to get back on track if it's been a less than stellar day.

The Ever-Present Need for Bandage Rolling

In a previous post I discussed an important way I found to "roll bandages" during the corona lock down. Specifically, I described the vital work of sharing the gospel with folks who may have been more open during a deadly pestilence than they otherwise would be to considering eternity. This work was an outgrowth of one of the first ideas God gave me - to check in on others far and near, to see how they were doing and try to help if I could.

As our nation inched its way towards the Yellow Phase of COVID seclusion, we simultaneously careened into the anguish and ensuing violence of a nation still agonizing - well over two centuries since our country's inception - over race issues that could have been addressed with a few pen strokes by our founding fathers.

Hear my heart. I don't wish to oversimplify an incredibly complex and tragic issue. However, it does seem painfully clear that the institutionalized racism on which our country was literally built continues to plague us to this very day, leaving wounds which are not only unhealed, but still gushing actual blood.

A city not ten miles from my home was ravaged by looters and violence. This proximity caused me to fear for the well-being of many brothers and sisters I worship with - many of whom hail from another continent, and whose racial backgrounds differ from mine. Their homes and/or businesses sit right in the heart of or just around the corner from that sacked city.

For this reason, my calls and notes evolved from inquiring after folks' health to checking on their physical safety, and that of their properties. These small actions, along with countless hours of communal prayer, are for me baby steps towards reunifying a battered America.

Sharpening Skill Sets

Other doors have opened for ministry and learning. I learned to navigate some new online communication platforms, enhancing my skill set along the way. Technology is a wonderful thing, and it has been used to its fullest during this health crisis. Prayer meetings and Bible studies have sprung up over phone lines and computer networks. Many pastors began preaching from virtual pulpits, and continue to do so. I felt compelled to take advantage of these opportunities, to put some "currency" into my own spiritual "bank account," since my future, like everyone else's, remains unsettled.

There's nothing selfish about rolling bandages to stock one's own medicine cabinet.

In addition, I switched the biweekly Bible study I teach to a phone format, and upped its schedule to every week. I felt the accelerated pace would benefit the group, as well as build extra spiritual muscle into the instructor.

No one ever accused me of being altruistic.

I also had the chance to finally finish several books which have been on my back burner longer than the Ty-D-Bol Man's been out of business. No, that's not an allusion to where I did the reading, although it did feel cathartic to check them off the list.

Novel Pursuits

These meaningful activities still left me with time on my hands, so I jumped back on the publishing bandwagon. Compiling a book proposal isn't quite as much fun as getting a root canal, but then again, you don't need dental insurance to query an agent.

Alas, the person to whom I sent my manuscript seems not to comprehend the true worth of the gem she holds in her hands.That's a face-saving way of saying I've heard nothing. Sadly, the distasteful job of tweaking my pitch to send to other agencies now looms over me the way a final exam scoffs at a student with a raging case of senior-itis.

At least I won't die of boredom.

First Things First

Clearly, there's no end to the cornucopia of things one can find to do that don't fall into the "H" category - and I haven't even scratched the surface. Let us not forget face-timing with loved ones, trying out new recipes, praying through church directories, writing letters and articles like this one, keeping up with social media, managing finances, dubbing certain days "retreat days" to simply soak in God's splendor, learning fun, new skills like how to use the weed wacker (it's so simple, a child could do it), finding fun, new skills like how to break the weed wacker (hint: it's only supposed to be used on skinny weeds, not husky wonders like beanstalks), finding ways to repair the weed wacker (I'm still working on that one)...

The one thing I knew going into the imposed isolation was, I couldn't fill that glorious gift of time with nothing but scrubbing and polishing. A little, yes, but for me, that can't be a career. While I admire those who keep house meticulously, I lose interest and heart if that's all I have to do.

So, for me, the quarantine hasn't been boring. Scary, yes. Anxiety, producing - no question. Did I mention the many frightening dreams I had early on, and sometimes still have, as I ponder my employment future and the rough road that lies before our country?

Still, I find the surest way to shake off those fears is to start and end my day with the Lord. Somehow, the rest always falls into place.


"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; 
and all these things shall be added unto you."
~ Matthew 6:33 ~

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Paternalism ... or Protection?

The men in my church take a protective attitude towards women. One way this shows up is in the way we "do" prayer meeting. In sad contrast to the prayer gatherings of other churches I've attended, a large percentage of men from my church can and do come out on a regular basis.

Prayer, if you haven't noticed, is not specified by the Bible as an activity exclusive to women. Yet, to see the way many men avoid this weekly, one hour gathering, you'd think perhaps it was a baby shower rather than a meeting with the God of the universe.

No, wait. Recent baby showers I've attended have included men, and were better populated by Y chromosome bearers than a lot of prayer meetings I've been involved with.

If I sound angry, I am. As a single mom who raised two sons, I resent the failure of some men to step up when it comes to prayer. Now, I know resentment is a character flaw, one cautioned against in the Bible, and yes, I'm working on it. Perhaps this piece is one way for me to exorcise some of the negative feelings I carry surrounding this issue.

Don't misunderstand. I had boku help with raising my boys. Many men of the church I attended at the time (not to mention the males in my family) showed great interest and offered much insight and assistance - I mean, concrete assistance - in the formation of my sons' characters. These were God-fearing fellows who took seriously their responsibility to assist widows and orphans - which we were essentially, if not technically. I, however, had not yet realized the importance of weekly prayer, so couldn't tell you how many of those blessed men showed up when the doors were open on Wednesday nights.

But I'll bet it was more than a few.

Sadly, I personally have more or less begged a number of men - including pastors, on whose watches prayer meetings were regularly taking place, but who could not find time to attend - to bless us and God with their presence. I even played the "L" card, citing how much it would mean to have our leaders actually lead us in this essential activity. Responses ranged from excuses about scheduling conflicts (isn't there something in the Bible about if you're too busy to pray, you're too busy? Oh, and here's a novel concept - how about not scheduling other activities on the same night as prayer meeting), to excuses about not being "gifted" in this area (since when is appealing to the Almighty a gift given only to a select few?), to - I shudder to recall this one - cold stares.

But I digress.

The purpose of this post, which seems to have taken a muddy turn into a scathing rebuke of male refusal to step up in this crucial area, is to commend the church I currently attend for the way men run our prayer meeting.

No church gets it right in every area. That's why Christ had to die for the church in general, and all of us flawed humans in particular. Sure, there are issues on which my church and I differ, but the one matter on which we find full agreement is the necessity of prayer in the life of a congregation.

And I do mean life.

Without prayer, a church can fall prey to languishing at best and descending into deep sin at worst.

And it should not be up to the women of the church to carry this heavy, discipline-demanding ball single-handedly.

That's why God didn't let Adam get away with passing the buck to Eve about gobbling up that forbidden fruit. Oh, he tried, but God hadn't forgotten the order He established, naming Adam the leader and Eve the "help meet."

My church understands this, and that's why a bunch of men show up on a regular basis to run prayer meeting.

I can hear some of my feminist friends screaming that this practice is paternalistic, that women should have as much right to lead church gatherings as men. I'm going to steer clear of this issue, not because I feel the need to dodge it, but because it's secondary to the point I'm trying to make. While Scripture clearly asserts that men are charged with taking the helm in the church setting, many would debate the relevance of this directive to a culture vastly different from that of the first century in which those words were penned. My purpose is not to argue whether this was a cultural admonition that has since lost its validity, or whether it can stand the test of time (as if a time-defining God needed to defend His Word against such things as passage of time or cultural shifts).

Rather, my point is simply to thank the few men who clear their schedules and their throats in order to lead the church they love in the very vital activity of prayer.

When I was married, I used to love enfolding myself in my husband's arms while we slept. There was something about that posture that bespoke protection, or at least a willingness to protect. I'm not sure how much better my spouse would have fared against lethal danger than I would have - he was, after all, only flesh and blood, and battlefields have been strewn since time immemorial with the guts of men whose brave spirits were bested by bodies that gave way to bullets.

But I felt my husband's willingness to care for me and for our children in that simple gesture. Most couples today are chore-sharing, bread-winning partnerships; family life has evolved, and I doubt the structure of this institution will ever return to the pre-feminism patterns of the 50's - and maybe it shouldn't. As so many marriages fell short of the guidelines established in Ephesians for success, it became necessary for women to demand a level playing field in the workplace so they and their children could survive.

But even as women have donned military uniforms and hardhats, I daresay many of us still appreciate strong arms of support from loving men after a hard day on that tough playing field.

So, when the men of my church take the lead role in our weekly prayer gatherings, I, for one, want to thank them. For taking the time. For taking the initiative. And for taking care.

Our society could use more of those things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Rolling Bandages

Click to viewCoronavirus has all of us scrambling for masks and sanitizer to evade an evil we can't even see. But before delving into corona's effects on society, allow me a spiritual rabbit trail.

In a similar, albeit spiritual, sense, the prophet Jeremiah described the futility of our efforts to cleanse ourselves of a far more deadly (and often invisible) pathogen - sin.

To simplify this intense theological subject, let's consider the following scenario, cleverly presented at a church picnic by a guy with whom I used to worship. He used soda in his demonstration, but I'm tweaking his metaphor just a bit.

Break out the finest wine with the best vintage you can find. Uncork it, then spit into the bottle while your guests stand around watching. Will anyone want to drink it?

Of course not. It became defiled and corrupted the minute the first trickle of your saliva entered the bottle (even if you just had your teeth cleaned). This is how God sees us. The first time we sinned, we took ourselves out of the running for heaven.* We may "clean up nice" on the outside, but "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). God says, "'For though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before Me" (Jeremiah 2:22).

Jesus's death on the cross was the only way to get us out of the mess created by our sinfulness. He was the perfect, ultimate sacrificeHis death paid for our sins once and for all - but we must place our faith in Him to have that payment applied to our account.

Let's bring our minds back to COVID-19 now. Herculean efforts of researchers and first responders notwithstanding, we will all die eventually. No one gets to stay permanently on this planet.

If we're relying on the fact that we are "good people," how can we be sure we're "good enough" for God to let us into heaven? How many good works does it take to tip the scales in our favor to be sure we make the cut?

Most of us think of ourselves as being fair. If the Bible is true (and there's lots of geographical, historical and archaeological evidence to prove that it is), we must accept its assertion that the God of the Bible is fair. Part of His fairness involves allowing people to choose their eternal destiny, as opposed to forcing them to accept His gift of salvation.

I would ask my reader, have YOU chosen salvation?

Many may be wondering where all this is going. Scary news - I'm not sure myself! I only know these are some of the truths I recently shared in a phone conversation with a dear friend.

Being housebound due to the pandemic, I feel a certain responsibility to tend the home front, in much the same way our predecessors did while dealing with strange and frightening times. The current situation brings to mind past wars and the Great Depression, when everyone did what they were capable of doing, from wherever they found themselves. With this in mind, I've been contacting lots of folks, checking on their well-being and trying to assist from a distance.

I'm not unique. Many are doing likewise, trying to "roll bandages," as it were, during this unsettling time.

The conversation to which I alluded previously was one vital way God showed me to "roll bandages." I had this person on the phone. A chance presented itself to share the gospel. I had nothing pressing to do, no prior commitments, no work schedule dictating my time. I snatched up the opportunity with both hands, and did what I could with it.

I don't think it's a stretch to characterize battling for souls as the ultimate form of bandage rolling. Medical interventions can and do save lives, but in an important sense, they only delay the inevitable. Spiritual interventions can affect a person's eternal destiny.

One important caveat. No one can roll bandages 24/7. Even the most dedicated professionals have to sleep sometime. All our routines have been disrupted and, as a society, we're still in the process of rolling out new ones to try to impose order on the chaos COVID-19 has brought us. It's necessary to give ourselves breathing room (social distance?) to navigate the new normal.

In short, we need to strike a balance between aiding our beleaguered nation's efforts to stem the results of a devastating virus, while still finding a semblance of normality in everyday life. That said, I would encourage each of us to consider...

"What am I doing to roll bandages at this time?"

*with appreciation to Gabe Forest for this compelling analogy

For more like this, check out: Rolling Bandages

Monday, April 27, 2020

National Day of Prayer 2020

Hello Readers! Below is a lengthy but worthwhile read I was asked to post on my blog. It concerns the 69th Annual National Day of Prayer, which will be occurring via virtual platforms May 7, 2020. The article contains information about how the day will be structured, and discusses ways people can become involved, either as planners or participants. Note: contact info is listed at the end of the article, in case anyone needs to "cut to the chase!"

Dig in, folks!


E-paper/Newspaper/Media Article: National Day of Prayer 2020 – Delaware County
 National Day of Prayer on May 7
A Virtual Celebration

“America: God Wants Our Attention!”
 By NDP Delco Task Force Members   nationaldayofprayerdelco@gmail.com

[Feel free to use the following article – in whole or in part, with or without attribution – for inclusion in print and on-line e-papers and media. All that matters to us is getting the word out.]

For the first time in nearly 70 years, the National Day of Prayer on May 7 will bring Americans together around computer screens and smartphones rather than flagpoles in parks and at courthouses. Delaware County’s annual observance, held in Media’s Rose Tree Park for the past 26 years, instead will be a Virtual Celebration moved to people’s homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
 The upcoming National Day of Prayer (NDP) in Delaware County will transition to digital platforms and other innovative venues where people will have multiple opportunities to partake of the festivities from the comfort of their own homes. There will be a daytime online program consisting of Spirit-filled praise and worship interspersed with powerful prayer. County residents will be able to join with viewers from around the globe as pastors and community leaders seek God’s blessing on our nation and world. This event will premiere on the local NDP website (www.NationalDayofPrayerDelco.com) and Facebook Page (@DelawareCountyNDP). For those without internet access, the NDP team intends to have the audio of the online event available via telephone. Other creative ways to connect people in prayer are in the works such as an interactive Prayer Call and Prayer Caravans where families in their vehicles travel together to different locations to pray. Final details will be posted on NDP’s Delco website and Facebook Page.

The Virtual Celebration will continue on the evening of May 7 as all attention will be directed to the National Observance live-streaming from 8-10 pm ET on the countrywide website (www.NationalDayofPrayer.org) and Facebook Live. The evening event will be broadcast on television (GodTV, Daystar and NLC) as well as radio (Moody Broadcasting and Bott Radio Network). Normally the celebration emanates from the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. but this year speakers and prayer leaders will participate remotely.

The 2020 NDP theme is “Pray God’s Glory Across The Earth” and it is based on the Scripture from Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The annual event is organized by the NDP Task Force, based in Colorado Springs, whose mission is to mobilize unified public and personal prayer for America. NDP President Kathy Branzell offers this prayer in advance of the virtual happening: “Lord, we pray that this unprecedented time in our generation would be used to draw nearer to You and our families. Help us to use this time to rightly reset and prioritize our relationship with You and our family. Let us draw near to You in faith as our Father and our fortress. Deliver us from this disease we pray and let Your glory fill the earth as You respond to our prayers. Amen.”

Gabrielle Bruno of Newtown Square who is co-directing the Delaware County celebration with her mother Patti finds the theme this year intriguing. “When the theme was chosen in the fall of 2019, no one knew what our world would be facing with the coronavirus pandemic. Amazingly, this is the first year that the theme verse happens to include "earth" as opposed to a verse singularly addressing one nation, our nation – America,” said Bruno. She continued, “Again, no one knew when this was chosen what we would be facing. Yet, here we are in April of 2020 having to pray for the world, in its entirety, now more than ever before. Only God could set that up.”

Patti Bruno agrees with her daughter’s assessment of the two-fold uniqueness of the approaching day. “It is virtual and it is to pray for the world, not just our nation!” Patti shared what she describes as a string of “amazing God-incidences” since, as she believes, “there are no coincidences with God.” She had major surgery in December, has been quarantined at home with health issues for months before the world outbreak, and then her daughter returned from California to help with her recovery. And, providentially, to help plan the unexpected cyberspace format of the prayer event. “Becoming virtual and dealing with all of the social media is extremely challenging for me. But praise the Lord! Thank God my daughter Gabrielle was here with me this year. In all honesty, she did it all and she’s the reason that we are even having anything for Delaware County this year.” According to Bruno, there was never any thought that this year’s NDP event would be cancelled due to the pandemic. Now that the Virtual Celebration is developing into a success story, she sees that high-tech challenge has been transformed into high-tech blessing: “I am so excited about what God is doing through social media and technology. We are taking Delaware County’s National Day of Prayer, along with the National Observance, out to anyone who has a love for the Lord and for our country. We are giving everyone an opportunity to pray and to have their prayer heard throughout the world online!!”

Springfield resident Evelyn Wright founded the Delaware County NDP event in 1994 with her late husband Bob. “Evie,” as the Springfield Baptist Church member is known, finds a bit of humor in this year’s altered observance. “We have had the National Day of Prayer Celebration at Rose Tree Park on the first Thursday of May for 26 years. Each year our planning committee would gather and spend an hour on Wednesday walking and praying around the whole area near the large American Flag. We prayed for the “Day” and we prayed for the weather. We never had to cancel the Program because we never had rain for 26 years.” Wright then dryly adds, “This year we won’t have to be concerned about the weather!”

Local gatherings of the NDP in every state are united by praying for seven key areas: family, church, education, media, government, business and military. The Delco Task Force typically adds three themes: prayer for the “Peace of Jerusalem,” for first responders (like police, firefighters and EMTs), and for revival and spiritual awakening in America. David Buffum of Congregation Beth Yeshua in Media explains the extra international focus: “I have been opening the Day of Prayer for the past 15 years by blowing the shofar to call God’s people together for worship and prayer, and sometimes I also pray for the peace of Jerusalem as God commands in Psalm 122. What God reveals, from Genesis to Revelation, is that for Him Israel is the center of the earth, and Jerusalem is the heart of Israel. As goes the peace of Jerusalem, so goes the peace of the world. So we pray for the shalom of the City of Peace.” Patti Bruno says this year first responders will also include medical personnel and essential workers because these frontline stalwarts especially need God’s protection as they confront COVID-19.

The Delco Task Force began meeting in the fall of 2019 to plan the 2020 event. The committee consists of nearly 40 people from 20 different churches of varied denominations. The group planned and prayed together monthly until March when the pandemic forced a restructure of the Day of Prayer as well as weekly conference calls instead of physical gatherings. “I love the heart and spirit of the great team that has formed. There is a strong sense of loving one another as Jesus asked us to do which comes through on our phone calls,” relates Patti Bruno. “Our times are very uplifting, strengthening and unifying. Everyone is loving the prayer time, so we have decided to keep up our prayer calls even after the National Day of Prayer.” Gabrielle Bruno adds that there are about 300 churches in Delaware County and she would love for all of them to join in and be represented. “If any church or person wants to get more involved, they should contact us at nationaldayofprayerdelco@gmail.com.”

Members of the NDP Delaware County Task Force are all volunteers who have participated in the annual celebration as planners, speakers or prayer leaders. Many also volunteered to be interviewed for this article and share their insights about the unprecedented 2020 version of the NDP. Jodean Duarte, a worship leader at Manoa Community Church in Havertown, made the following observation about a revamped approach to the day: “With everything going on right now more and more people are turning to prayer. Whether it is people who already enjoy regular prayer with the Lord or someone who has never prayed before, uniting our hearts to pray and seek God is more important than ever. I feel like this year’s event will be momentous! The virtual platform may actually make it even more accessible for people to participate. I’m excited to see what God will do that day!”

Duarte often joins her friend Lara Silvis on prayer walks throughout their Drexel Hill neighborhood.  Prayerwalking, a practice of many local church members, combines two common human abilities: walking and talking with God. Silvis explains that prayer for her and others is a daily activity, not one reserved for a special day once a year: “We can pray anytime as we walk along. The Lord loves to hear our prayers. He desires a relationship with us and wants to hear from each person. We pray for our community, our friends, our family and if we have faith in God, He will answer our prayers. While we are physically separated, prayer knows no distance and our Father in Heaven hears us no matter from where we pray.”

The mother-daughter duo of Patti and Gabrielle Bruno echo Silvis’ sentiment, pointing out that another purpose of the NDP is to encourage more prayer year-round in America. To achieve this end there are both daily and nightly call-ins for prayer available for everyone nationwide. One person who has been a Delco Task Force member for over seven years recounts a profound personal experience on the national call-in line. E. Trotter, member of the prayer committee at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Thornton, describes her encounter: “I was so overcome by the Holy Spirit’s work when I went on the first time as I prayed with total strangers from across the country. The precious, beautiful unity of His Spirit was beyond words.” Phone and access code numbers for the nationwide daily prayer call-ins are at the www.nationaldayofprayer.org/prayer_calls web address. Times to call for “Prayer for America” on the first Thursday of every month are also listed.

Childhood friends Roseann Gavarone of Havertown and Marilyn Harvey of Drexel Hill have a lot in common besides volunteering to help with the prayer and phone ministries of the 2020 Day of Prayer.  Both grew up as neighbors on the same street in Philadelphia, raised their children there as well, and then retired from careers in health care. They also share optimism about this year’s event despite the virtual format. “I believe that the Lord will be moving more powerfully than He ever has. Because the schools are closed for the remainder of the school year, the youth of the church will be able to join in where they were not able to do so in the past,” notes Gavorone, who worships at Bread of Life Church in Upper Darby. Harvey, a member of St. Dorothy’s Roman Catholic Church in Havertown, says this feeling resonates with her as well: “This different venue might be a blessing in disguise as it has opened a virtual gathering that will provide internet and phone access to a multitude of people allowing them to join in as they wish during the daytime and evening.”

After Gabrielle Bruno graduated from Villanova in 2014, she moved to California to begin work in the entertainment industry. Because her job was bi-coastal, she shuttled between LA and New York and was able to assist her mother Patti with the Day of Prayer for the last five years. During this period she was not only mentored by her mom and Evie Wright but also Mary Campbell, the founder of the NDP tradition in Philadelphia since 1993. Through her training, Gabrielle’s heart caught on fire to help the NDP fulfill its mission to mobilize unified public prayer for America. Bruno is convinced this realization will continue despite the pandemic. “Mobilizing signifies that prayer doesn’t just happen in a church building. Prayer happens everywhere. Now, everyone is really learning this first-hand as they are locked in their homes and kept out of church buildings because of a global crisis,” she says. Bruno thinks the goal of unity will also be met: “The Christian church can stand divided by denominations. But on the first Thursday of May the world sees Christians of all backgrounds coming together to cry out to God,” even if it is a virtual gathering.

There is also the hope, according to Gabrielle, that social distancing will highlight another dimension of “public” that is centered on togetherness of belief and spirit, not only assembly. “We are very blessed in the United States of America to have religious freedom. Being able to celebrate Jesus together and pray to Him in public is important so that others can see and join in. This year's virtual event will still be public. The Internet certainly is public.” For the foreseeable future, however, it appears Bruno will be stepping back from her role here in Delco. She will be starting law school in the fall as a Dean’s Fellow at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

There are inevitable questions that emerge when there is a highly-publicized Day of Prayer and a deadly disease is ravaging the earth. Where is God in all this? Why is He allowing this plague? Answers to such an inquiry are varied and complex. Words seldom suffice and space usually runs out. But participants in the National Day of Prayer are not shy about confronting the questions head on. Rev. Stefan Bomberger of Havertown weighs in: “Natural evil occurs in a fallen world. People can be evil and they have free will. We do not know specifically and with certainty what God allows and what He does not. But we know we need to respond and seek the Lord in times of pestilence and plague.”  The pastor of Manoa Community Church continues: “We cannot trust humanity to fix this; it is beyond our power. Whether our prayers will stop this pandemic, only God knows. That doesn’t stop us from calling out and asking Him to stop it. This coronavirus is outside of our control. That’s what prayer acknowledges. We believe that God does interact with His creation so we pray that He will supernaturally intervene.”

Local pastors and spiritual leaders have theological and philosophical answers to questions about human suffering but they also can approach the coronavirus crisis with an emphasis on the personal.  Evangelist Alex Morton of Firebrand Church in Broomall puts the focus on the micro rather than the macro level in answering the question, Where is God in the midst of this pandemic? “God is right where He's always been, knocking at your heart's door. He's been pursuing you; you need only to let Him inside. God is using this moment in time to bring families together. He's using this season to bring those who don't know Him into relationship with His Son Jesus. He's using this to awaken His Church! He's using this to expose the things we've turned toward for security to prove them useless. God can take what is intended by forces of wickedness to harm and turn it around for good. That’s what Jesus tells us in Scripture: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).”

Whatever people’s religious persuasions, there is evidence from every corner of the United States that increased amounts of citizens are turning to prayer, Bible study and other spiritual exercises since the onset of the global coronavirus crisis.  A recent Pew Research Center poll found that more than half of Americans have prayed for an end to the pandemic. More than one third of Americans who believe in God say they have grown closer to God in recent weeks. Google searches for “prayer” skyrocketed worldwide since the surge in COVID-19 cases. Another example of religious fervor comes from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Twitter mentions are up 2,783% and Facebook followers increased 172% by late March. One annual participant in the Delco NDP shared this anecdote: “I am in an on-line prayer and Bible study group of 18 that has four nurses in it, from Lankenau, CHOP, Bryn Mawr and Dupont. I have been praying with them and for them like crazy for strength, protection and wisdom. We met in person since the fall but had to transition to Google Meet in March and April. Prior to our cyberspace prayer, I only knew one of them was a nurse. Prayer for this thing has increased prayer for everything as well as deepened sharing.”

Last year’s NDP had nearly 60,000 prayer events stretching from the East Coast to Hawaii and attended by millions of people in towns, cities and counties across America. The National Observance broadcast from the United States Capitol had 1.4 million views.  Growth in terms of event numbers, viewership and participation is expected to be exponential due to the nation’s home-bound population and the danger confronting the world.

An Annual National Day of Prayer was established in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress signed by President Truman. In 1988, that law was amended and signed by President Reagan setting the day as the first Thursday in May. This year’s celebration on May 7 marks the 69th annual NDP.

Modern observance of the NDP was preceded by calls for such a Day before the United States was founded. The first Continental Congress invoked a national day of prayer in 1775. Since that time there have been at least 1,526 state and federal calls for national prayer, including 146 by Presidents of the United States. President Lincoln in 1863 gave the following rationale in his Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer: “It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

President Lincoln’s remarks regarding the importance of national prayer and humility resonate deeply with Patti and Gabrielle Bruno and the rest of the NDP Delco Task Force. Gabrielle observes that Lincoln’s proclamation clearly references the Scripture in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send a plague among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” Gabrielle suggests that we should uphold the tradition of our founding fathers by practicing the discipline of prayer as they did with passion, authenticity and dedication, especially during the current plague of COVID-19. Patti enthusiastically concludes, “Prayer is everything! God wants to hear us. He has said in James 4:8 that if we draw closer to Him then He will draw near to us. My real desire is to bring a smile to the Face of God. This is why I do the National Day of Prayer each year. It is my great honor and privilege to serve the Lord by putting this day together. I hope that through this event people will create a relationship with the Lord and change the way they live, and our world will be a better place. My greatest vision is to imagine God looking down and seeing so many of His children gathered together, out in the open, on a Thursday, an otherwise ordinary day in the middle of the week, calling out to Him, repenting of how we behave, and just telling Him that we love Him and want Him here with us. That is my heart and my hope for The National Day of Prayer in Delaware County.”

The National Day of Prayer is founded upon the Constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and can be celebrated by all Americans. In 1988 the NDP Task Force was founded as an independent, religious 501(c)(3) nonprofit to organize and promote the Christian expression of the National Day of Prayer. All sponsored events are nonpolitical and nonpartisan. As the NDP Task Force has chosen to conduct prayer events consistent with its Biblical faith and life, it supports the First Amendment rights of all Americans to observe the Day in manner that reflects their religious perspectives.

Questions may be referred to the following people:

Gabrielle Bruno   Co-Director, NDP Delco Task Force   610.505.4007   gbruno02@villanova.edu
Patti Bruno          Co-Director, NDP Delco Task Force   610.416.8336   pattibruno@aol.com
David Buffum     Planning/PR NDP Delco Task Force   610.207.5534   davidbuffum7@gmail.com
 Local Website:            www.NationalDayofPrayerDelco.com
National Website:       www.NationalDayofPrayer.org

Local Facebook:         www.facebook.com/DelawareCountyNDP

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Faces of Recovery

"Whom you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here."

That's the opening admonition of every 12-step meeting I've ever attended, and I have no intention of violating that vital rule. That said, I am going to relate an incident which greatly encouraged me and I hope will put smiles on many a worrying face.

Last night I dragged myself out of my comfort zone and went to an Al Anon meeting. That's a bit of an overstatement, as I've gratefully attended many a recovery meeting on and off for nearly 40 years. It's OK to out myself, as I have very few secrets where my recovery past is concerned, so for the record, I'm a veteran of several such programs, and have found them to be literally lifesaving in the mental health department. But by "comfort zone" in this instance, I simply mean I was nice and comfy, relaxing in my room after a busy day, but decided at the last minute to un-comfort my cozy self and take care of my head (which tends to take on a life of its own when I'm worried about someone or something, as I was yesterday).

As happens often when I divest myself of "snuggy-ness" and do the right thing, I found myself richly rewarded.

This particular meeting is always well attended, and last night was no exception. Arriving a few minutes late (my usual MO), I found there was nary a chair to be had. Lots of cushion-y furniture is arranged in a circle in the main part of the room, and there are always a few folding chairs set up around the perimeter. Latecomers like me end up in those less desirable seats, but there wasn't even one of those to be found.

 I did, however, notice one chair in the outer circle with a bunch of junk on it - nothing like a coat or purse, which would have indicated someone was sitting there, or of course, I wouldn't have moved it. This meeting, like most 12-step meetings I'm aware of, took place in a room rented from a church. The items I'm referring to were "office-y" things from the church that had somehow ended up on the seat of this chair.

Here's where the miracle started to happen. A young man a few seats down, not realizing I had found a place to sit, stood up and offered me his chair! I quickly indicated that I had solved my dilemma, but thanked him profusely in whispered tones for his kindness.

Then miracle number two kicked in. Another young fellow had snagged himself a primo seat on the couch in the inner circle. I don't even know how he realized what I was struggling with, since theoretically, his eyes would have been on the speaker as opposed to something going on behind him. Nevertheless, he gallantly stood up and insisted I take his seat.

Let me insert here that I've been so conditioned by the supposed equalization of women (which, admittedly, has resulted in a much greater leveling of the playing field vocationally and economically, but has also yielded the unfortunate side effect of many niceties "gentlemen" used to perform for "ladies" going by the wayside) that both these acts of chivalry somewhat threw me. In the first case, the young man didn't need to follow through on his offer, as I had located a chair. In the second instance, I was being offered a more comfortable spot in the inner circle. This meant, because of the way the meeting typically runs, I would get a chance to "share" (i.e., say a few words about how I related to the topic of the meeting) before he would, and if time ran out, he might not have the chance to speak at all. Sharing is an important part of recovery, as it forces attendees out of their comfort zones and hopefully steers them towards healthier thinking.

So, you see, this guy wasn't just giving up a soft seat; he was potentially forfeiting his chance to grow a little bit in his recovery.

I had to make a split-second decision. Would I accept this young man's act of chivalry, or simply indicate that I would be fine in the austere chair I had cleared? I must admit, vanity played a small part in all this mental wrestling. Was he making the offer to a woman, or to an older woman? In other words, was his gallantry due to my sex or my age? The former, I found lovely. The latter, although still chivalrous, might suggest I was over the hill!

Laying those concerns aside, I accepted his gracious offer. I later reciprocated when, as I had predicted, the opportunity arose for me to share. I relinquished the privilege, offering it instead to my Sir Galahad, and publicly acknowledged both young men, who had truly proven themselves gentlemen.

I find this anecdote encouraging on many levels. Apparently, our society isn't as far-gone as many believe. There may be hope for us yet.

But wait. It gets better.

It turns out both the gentlemen to whom I've referred are in recovery for substance abuse. In fact, they were part of a group of recovering addicts who attended the Al Anon meeting for reasons of their own. Without divulging any of their stories, let me just say that all expressed gratitude for the warm welcome they received from a group they knew was formed in response to the antics of addicts.

In a time when so many are losing their lives to the opioid crisis and other forms of behavioral enslavement, it touched my heart deeply to witness such tender concern and humility on the part of those struggling with addiction. In short, it gives me great hope.

It also reinforces my resolve to pray for folks who are fighting a monkey on their backs. Statistically, the guys I saw last night run a high risk of relapsing. It behooves me to intercede for them and their loved ones, just as I appeal to the Almighty for those in my own life for whom this is a mortal battle.

There but for the grace of God go I.

"Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed
 through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." 

~ Hebrews 4:14-16 ~