What is God’s will?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

I don’t presume to know the answer to this question in regard to the earthquake in Haiti as some people have claimed.

“Jesus never prayed to know if God were willing that a man should live” are words written by Mary Baker Eddy, which I heard read during this past Sunday’s Lesson Sermon. Every time disaster strikes, there will be those that conclude God’s will is at work. I can’t explain why tragedy falls prey to some and not others, but I could never believe that God’s will for His children is pain and suffering.

When multitudes gathered before Jesus, he didn’t know the history or plight of all who gathered. There was no discussion with his disciples about who was worthy or not worthy of being saved. He prayed for everyone. He loved everyone. And he healed everyone who came to him for healing.

Surely this was true because Jesus knew our Father-Mother God loves and cares for everyone impartially and unconditionally.

When sadly hearing the news about the horrific earthquake in Haiti, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a survivor’s story who experienced the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Her story is one I often think about and have shared with others many times. The question of whether or not it was God’s will that she be faced with a tsunami is not what came to her mind.

She was in Sri Lanka for the wedding of her niece, along with other family members and friends. They were having breakfast in their beach hotel when the monstrous wall-high waves hit. She spoke of not knowing how to swim and being crushed by furniture and other debris as she reached out for something to save her.

But the first thought that came to her as she tumbled in the water was the Psalmist’s words “I shall not die, but live.” (Psalms 118:17)

More thoughts came to her, some giving her direction such as “Cycle … paddle … use your legs.” She thought of Jesus calming a storm on the sea with those powerful three words, “Peace, be still.” (Mark 4:39) And also the words, “Know that God is here.” And again that declaration, “I shall not die, but live.”

I was comforted that in her extreme peril, she received what she described as “angel thoughts.” Mary Baker Eddy’s words, “These angels deliver us from the depths” suddenly seemed poignantly true.

Hearing about this survivor’s story taught me that perhaps it’s not necessary to try to explain why bad things happen, where evil comes from or whether or not it is God’s will. I thought if she could survive a tsunami of that proportion, what could I not survive, endure or overcome? So perhaps even against all odds, any of us could be victorious, saved or healed.

This tsunami survivor example has given me encouragement to meet disaster or catastrophe in life. Maybe you, too, will be encouraged to find answers for overcoming your own catastrophes.

Clearly, this dear woman believed she could turn to God to help in her time of crisis. She must have known God not as a destroyer but as Creator — as a protector and preserver of humanity and as a God of love. The book of I Kings says God is not in the wind, earthquake or fire. God is the “still small voice” that is present no matter how dire the situation. (I Kings 19:11-12)

Perhaps such knowledge and faith could help any of us when faced with a crisis. You and I may never encounter a tsunami or experience an earthquake, but how do we contend with whatever we may be facing — extreme debt, divorce, unemployment, injury, illness?

Do we give up? Do we believe there is no hope? Do we resolve to a life of chance, vulnerability and uncertainty? The inspiration I gained from one woman’s victory over a formidable foe has strengthened my confidence and trust in the mightiest power of all — the Divine.

While we all may face struggles and hardships that at times bring us to our knees, we can be assured that the “still small voice” will be with us, will lift us up and guide us onward and upward to a new day — to solutions, freedom, peace, comfort, healing.

May we too have the strength and faith to look at adversities and proclaim, “I shall not die, but live.” Surely this is God’s will for His beloved children!

What’s faith got to do with it?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

“Where is your faith?” Jesus once asked. (Luke 8:25) He proclaimed that faith as a grain of mustard seed was powerful. (Matthew 17:20) Many times he told people who had been healed, “Thy faith made thee whole.” (Matthew 9:22, Mark 10:52) Faith definitely carried a lot of weight with Jesus!

Perhaps this is why he reprimanded his doubting disciple Thomas and said, “Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

How many times when making a resolution, taking an action or when thinking about something you’re striving or hoping for, are you apprehensive, doubtful, leery, skeptical, unbelieving, wary or uptight about the desired results?

I found it compelling that this list of adjectives was among synonyms for those “without faith” in light of another saying of Jesus: “…according to your faith be it unto you.” (Matthew 9:29)

Could it be that our tentative and timid faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?

This reminds me of when Moses led the Children of Israel through the wilderness for forty years in search of the Promised Land. I can’t help but wonder that perhaps they would have reached their desired destination quicker if they had not lost their faith so many times.

So what is it about faith that is so very powerful?

If our list of adjectives above gives us an indication of what it means to live without faith, perhaps we need to better understand what having faith entails.

The innocence of youth is often equated with blind belief, as if blind belief was somehow defining the meaning of faith. Hardly, my friends!

It seems to me that there’s nothing blind about the faith of children. Yes, children trust without question. They believe with conviction. Their confidence is unwavering. And their expectancy is definite. There is nothing provisional or hesitant about the faith of a child.

Children have faith because they know in their hearts what is true. Their faith rests entirely upon the certainty of their knowledge. So, of course, children are confident. Of course, they have no fear. Of course, they have no reason to doubt.

Oh to have child-like faith! Now that’s what I call having faith!

I’ve had times in my life when my faith was shaky. And it’s been in those times when I learned that my answer was found in “an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, — a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love,” as Mary Baker Eddy writes.

Understanding God as Love, good and all is pretty powerful when you consider what these spiritual facts must then mean for you and your life as a child of God.

God’s love for His children surely means He is “a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1) God’s goodness must certainly mean He only wants good for His children. And the allness of God undoubtedly leaves no room for “evil” to have a permanent place or be a destructive force in our lives.

I’ve been learning that as I assert my God-given dominion and freedom, my faith brings deliverance and blessings and leads to divine heights.

Your knowledge of God and His promises can transform your world. What’s faith got to do with it? Jesus would say everything!

When faith falters

by Annette Bridges. ©2008.  All rights reserved.

I thought I had faith. I thought I could trust with confidence and certainty. But our trip to a remote area of Colorado proved to be a telling experience for me. At first I relished in the bliss of no phone calls from the dozens of advertisers that daily disturb the peace of my days back home. But it became disconcerting to be cut off from communication with our family. So my husband and I drove to the closest “village” where we could check emails and had cell phone service.

The peace and quiet in our mountain cabin was even quieter than our country house in Texas. And although we didn’t have the broad horizon we enjoy at home, we were awed by majestic mountain peaks that encompassed us with their strength and protection.

It was the night before we were to head back when our miniature dachshund, Lady, was stung by something unbeknownst to us and had a severe allergic reaction. We finally learned there was a veterinarian about an hour away but his office was closed until the next morning and he could not be reached.

I found myself grappling with what I believed about God, life, death and evil. And I began asking questions.

Am I without any recourse and help? Do I believe that God would create something that can harm or destroy his beloved creation? Do I believe that God is the only power, Creator and that God is good? Or do I believe that evil is another power that threatens the existence of God’s creation? Do I believe that God’s love and care is present with me no matter where I am? Do I believe when Jesus said “I am with you alway” (Matthew 28:20) that he meant the healing power of Christ would be with me today, healing and saving, just as Christ healed the multitudes centuries ago?

When Lady began to get worse, we drove into the village and called a friend to pray. She prayed with us throughout what would be a sleepless night.

I wrestled with many questions that long night — perhaps something like Jacob when he was overwhelmed with the fear of confronting his brother. (Genesis, Chapter 32) But at the conclusion of his struggle with fear — and probably also with guilt and self-condemnation — he found his peace and said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

I pondered the stormy night the disciples and Jesus encountered while on a ship. Although they were in turbulent waters and high winds, Jesus slept peacefully on his pillow. But the disciples woke him franticly exclaiming, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Jesus got up and “rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still.” Then the Bible tells us “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)

I thought about the demeanor Jesus maintained in the midst of a storm — composed, unmoved, unagitated, cool-headed. Inspired and encouraged, I affirmed what I believed to be the eternal and spiritual truth about God and all of His creation and considered how Jesus would answer my questions: “No, no, yes, no, yes, yes!”

And like a lawyer defending my innocent client, I argued “Be still” to each fear and the physical evidence before my eyes and I contended that peace was a law of God that was powerful and permanent and could not be taken away from any of God’s creation.

By morning’s light Lady was definitely better and calmer but still suffering with some uneasiness and bothersome symptoms. So we took her to the veterinarian’s office when he opened. He confirmed she was beyond the “crisis point” as he called it and was on the mend. He said he could give her something that would ease her remaining discomfort and help her relax for the long trip.

Since returning home I’ve been continuing to reflect on this challenge to my faith. I am certain that our dachshund’s survival that night was the result of prayer and spiritual reasoning. And although I’m sure I have much more to learn on my journey ahead, I am determined to never avow that “evil” — in whatever form — is some invincible or inevitable power. Evil is not only defeated by God’s truth and law, it is proven powerless and diminished to the “nothingness” that it is or ever was as far as God is concerned.

My faith has been strengthened.

Life lessons from ‘American Idol’

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

It often ranks as the most watched show on television, with millions, perhaps billions, of loyal fans tuning in each week. A television reality series, a talent show, it has exploded into a full-fledged pop culture phenomenon. I suspect you’ve guessed by now I’m referring to “American Idol.”

If you’re one of the few who has never watched “American Idol,” I’ll clue you in. It’s a singing competition that had its debut in 2002. Part of the “Idol” franchise, it originated from the UK reality program “Pop Idol.” The goal? To discover the best young singer in the country.

The program begins with a series of nationwide auditions before three judges. The latter stages of the competition are wholly determined by public voting. At that point, the show is not just a singing competition but also a voting contest. In other words, each week Americans elect their favorite singers, and each week the contestant with the fewest votes goes home.

By the time Americans vote, the stage has been set by the judges, who select the best of the best. While all the singers are talented in their own style and genre, Americans literally vote their preference. And clearly, we pick our “Idol” based on a variety of reasons — not just on talent. But then again, who is the most talented is really dependent on the listeners’ subjective tastes. Undoubtedly, not all will agree on who is the most talented or who should win the competition.

But in my opinion, winning “American Idol” is not what the program is all about. Yes, I’m a fan. And yes, I spend two hours each week dialing and redialing with my votes. I love supporting young people who are going for their dreams. And I love the idea of giving any young person in the country the opportunity to shine. And shine they do on “American Idol.”

For the past three years, “American Idol” has landed the No. 1 spot for kids aged 6 to 17. For me, this is also reason to celebrate and support this program. I would much prefer our country’s youth to be inspired by watching other young people strive to fulfill their dream than watching crude humor or violent programming. So, even if my personal favorite doesn’t win the competition, I will always remain a fan of the show.

Take note, graduates of the Class of 2007! There are lessons to be learned from “American Idol” contestants — not only from watching them during the show but also from seeing what many accomplish after the show concludes.

The “American Idol” contestants are daring to believe that anything is possible. It’s inspiring to watch their faith put into action week after week, in spite of ridicule and criticism. I’ve been even more inspired to watch contestants after the show. Many who were not the “winners” have continued to pursue and achieve their dreams, some with even greater success than those who actually won the competition. “American Idol” is more about an opportunity than anything else. And in this life of ours, we will have many opportunities and many possible doors to walk through to get where we want to go.

To the young graduate, the future may seem so big and vast that it may be daunting to know where to begin or which door to open first. I’m always encouraged by the example of the young shepherd boy David as he took on and, in fact, conquered the giant soldier Goliath in battle. David wasn’t tentative as he approached his fierce competitor. He ran to meet him! (1 Samuel 17:48) And that is my point.

How did young David have the confidence and fortitude to run to meet his formidable foe? No doubt, his faith was based upon his knowledge that God was directing and empowering his every step. He understood that his aims and ambitions were impelled by a divine purpose. And while, throughout the course of David’s life, that purpose took him down many different paths, he remained receptive, willing and ready for whatever God provided and wherever God guided him.

We must never stop running to reach our goals, regardless of failures, setbacks or even our age. Nor should we allow fear of failure to slow us down. Goals are not reached if we don’t keep moving toward them. Faith and willingness to go where God leads us increase our ability to see the many opportunities before us. There is no one last chance to accomplish a dream — unless we make it so. If one opportunity doesn’t pan out the way we think we want it to, like “Idol” contestants who didn’t win, we can move on to the next opportunity and achieve success through other doors.

So, to graduates and “American Idol” contestants, I say opportunities are infinite. Never give up. Keep your faith strong. Don’t let anything or any one opinion lessen your faith. Keep running toward your dreams and goals. God only wants good for His children, so stay open for an adventure you never imagined. God’s plan for you is bigger and grander than your own!

A climate in crisis…so they say

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I wrote about surviving the worst North Texas drought in 50 years. No rain, no hay was last year’s story. This year we have plenty of grass, all right, but we can’t cut and bale it because of the continuing downpour of rain. And who would have thought it would be the middle of July and my husband would not have his usual farmer’s tan!

Some call it a climate in crisis and spout dire and inescapable predictions and speak of irreversible conditions. The extreme changes in climate go well beyond the Texas border — from century-mark temperatures in U.S. regions known for their mild and pleasant summers to Buenos Aires, Argentina, having its first snow this winter in 90 years. But Texas having weekly, often daily, excessive rains in the summer is an extreme and costly change for many Texas farmers and ranchers.

While climate refers to the meteorological conditions that characteristically prevail in a particular region and season, climate also speaks to the prevailing set of attitudes and behaviors in human affairs. Crisis is a turning point in a crucial situation that demands resolution. Any climate crisis brings the demand to change and adapt our attitudes and behaviors. Change is something most of us try to avoid until we reach a crossroad or impasse where a decision must be reached before growth and progress can move us forward.

The one definite conclusion one can reach from analyzing weather patterns is that these patterns change and are often difficult, if not impossible, to predict. If we can’t change the weather, we can change how we respond to it. Certainly, we can stop allowing weather to be a controlling influence on our success and happiness.

Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he gave the analogy of the wise and foolish man. He said the wise man builds his house upon a rock and the foolish man builds his house upon the sand. When the rain, floods and winds came upon the house built on the sand, the house fell. But the rain, floods and winds could not even shake the house built upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-27).

In pondering this analogy, I believe the house represents my convictions, my moral compass, my faith. Surely the rock must exemplify divine truth, God, making the sand depict human opinion, the mortal viewpoint. I’ve decided the lesson to be learned is that as I keep my faith in the certainty of God’s power and control of the universe, climate becomes harmless.

It was the Fourth of July. And although we encountered only brief rain that day, widespread flooding of marinas canceled fireworks celebrations. The usual festivities had to be changed. Still, we grilled our hamburgers and hot dogs, albeit under the covered patio while it rained. Instead of watching fireworks, we watched baseball, played cards and watched the movie “Independence Day.” Disappointments were set aside, and a grand ol’ time was had by all. Rain showers and floods weren’t able to shake our joy and destroy our fun that day.

Last year a new job opportunity helped lessen the impact of the drought and loss of hay income. We learned to quiet our doubts and fears by strengthening our faith and trust in God. Peace and harmony as well as infinite resources and possibilities come from divine Love. God satisfies human needs in good, beneficial, sometimes unexpected, ways.

Jesus apparently never doubted God’s control, regardless of weather conditions surrounding him. If he did, he could not have slept during the storm at sea. After his disciples woke him up and he calmed the winds, he asked them: “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40).

Maybe each year brings new challenges to meet and conquer. Maybe we feel we’re reaching the limits of human endurance. But maybe the solution is simpler than it first seems.

So what if we encounter storms in our path? Perhaps we make changes in our course to our desired destination. There is always a different course to take. Perhaps it will be one we’ve not traveled before or one very far from what we had planned or expected to travel.

We must let no clouds of concern, fear, frustration or uncertainty shut out the light of God, Truth, which will always show us the solution we seek, the new idea we need, the direction to take. Even as the storms outside roar around us, we can feel divine Love, ever present, comforting and reassuring us that all will be well. The sun will shine again. That we can be sure of.