Mayday!

Today is the first of May. This is also known as May Day or Mayday. In many countries, there are traditional celebrations, including dancing around a May Pole, or leaving a small bouquet of fresh spring flowers on someone’s doorstep. It is meant to be a happy occasion, signaling the arrival of spring flowers after a month of showers and growth– the promise of more growth and greenery after a long winter and cool, wet, spring.

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This year, many people have been looking forward to May 1 as a potential “end” to the lockdown/shelter-in-place orders. They are eager for a chance to return to “life as normal,” including spending time in parks and gardens, and celebrating with friends. They long to chat, mingle, and dance with their friends and loved ones in the sunnier, greener weather. Others are just tired of being “cooped up,” and want to get out into the busy marketplaces and public squares. But many leaders (mayors, governors, ministers, presidents, etc.,) are extending the orders to continue social distancing during this pandemic season.

There is another meaning for the phrase “Mayday!” It is an urgent call for help. It comes from the French phrase m’aidez– help me–and is used mostly in radio transmissions from ships in danger. Many people around the world today are, figuratively or metaphorically, calling out “M’aidez!” They are calling on their political leaders, financial institutions, hospitals, emergency workers, and others for help– healing, testing, equipment, food, answers to impossible questions, guidance, and comfort. For many, it feels like drowning in a sea of uncertainty and danger.

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Even in times of uncertainty and danger, we have a Faithful and Loving God. When we cry out, “Mayday! Help!”, He is ready and able to answer our call:

I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.

Many times in his life, David had called on the Lord, and found him faithful– to protect him, rescue him, bless him, and forgive him. David danced and celebrated God’s provision for Israel, and he also cried out in anguish and bitterness of soul. And in every situation, God heard David’s “Mayday! M’aidez!”

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  • King David’s descendant, King Hezekiah, also cried out to the Lord. He led the entire nation of Israel in celebrating a magnificent Passover feast and a Festival of Unleavened Bread. He also built up and fortified walls that had been allowed to crumble. He strengthened a weakened nation. In spite of his measures, however, the nation was threatened with invasion and destruction by a powerful Assyrian army. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+32&version=ESV But Hezekiah, along with the prophet Isaiah, sent up a “M’aidez!” to God, and He answered in a mighty way: 20 Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. 21 And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. 22 So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side. 23 And many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.
  • The Apostle Peter called out as he was sinking into the waves. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+14%3A22-32&version=NIV His faith, which made him to want to walk out to Jesus on the water, faltered. Peter knew the danger of open water, he faced such dangers in his fishing boat nearly every day. Without a miracle, he would sink below the wind-churned waves and be unable to make it back to the boat or swim all the way to shore. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” “M’aidez!” And Jesus was there to hold his hand and bring him to safety. Later in life, Peter went forth boldly preaching the Resurrection of Jesus, and spreading the Good News that Jesus Saves! Peter knew from first-hand experience that Jesus not only brought physical salvation from storms, but He offered spiritual salvation, renewal, and hope. In fact, it is in one of Peter’s epistles that we find this verse of hope: “..casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
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This May Day, we may call out to God in desperation, or in celebration, or both. But let’s take every opportunity to call on His Holy Name.

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Consider the Lilies..

We just celebrated a most unusual Easter– traditions, like gathering at church for sunrise services or grand cantatas, big family meals, Easter Egg hunts, and parades had to be re-imagined, or cancelled. And one Easter tradition that didn’t get a lot of press attention was the damage done to the Easter flower market. Lilies, hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring flowers–some grown locally, others imported from around the world–were unable to be shipped or sold as people are in quarantine. Churches and restaurants, two of the largest consumers of Easter Lilies, had to cancel their orders for this year. People who normally buy lilies from garden centers or florists were unable to do so, and those who grow them were unable to ship them out or sell them. Literally millions of flowers had to be burned, composted, and destroyed during this season of “new life.” Flowers for funerals, weddings, and birthdays were also lost, and millions more will be lost as we approach Mother’s Day next month. What a waste of beauty and life!

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And yet..

Some will say that it is a waste of time to mourn the loss of flowers when we should be mourning the loss of human life to COVID-19. I don’t think it is an “either/or” kind of mourning. There is a lot to mourn during these days, and we should not be ashamed to mourn–loss of connection, loss of beauty in the form of flowers, loss of jobs and prosperity, loss of opportunities– many of which we take for granted.

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But Easter is not about our loss– in fact, it is not about loss at all. It is about victory and hope and ETERNAL life– not the life of a lily or even a human body– eternal, joyful, victorious life given to us as a gift for all who will receive it! If we are missing a beautiful symbol of that victory this year, we can never be deprived of the reality the Lilies represent!

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I am reminded that Jesus (and others in the Bible) had a lot to say about Lilies..and grass, and other plants, and their relation to human life. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A25-34%2CLuke+12%3A22-32&version=ASV https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+103%3A15-17&version=ESV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+peter+1%3A22-25&version=ESV

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In this season, many of us are feeling very much like the “lilies of the field.” Our lives seem uncertain, our days unproductive, even futile as we wait for this crisis to pass. We miss these symbols of beauty and new life, but we must not place our hope in the symbols. We must not place our hope in what we know or what we do or what we own. Jesus reminds us that we are– our souls, our lives, our hopes, our thoughts, and our longings– worth far more than lilies or sparrows– God knows what we need, and His love for us doesn’t depend on our being “essential”, or healthy, or having all the answers.

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This season reminds us that our lives here are precious, and temporary as the grass. But our existence is both precious and eternal–and thanks to the very God who clothes the lilies of the field, we need not worry or fear what lies ahead. All who turn to Him will be saved. We are not destined to be burned or composted or forgotten. We may face uncertain days ahead, but God has a purpose and a plan for us to bloom– not just for a season, and not just to adorn a building or a home, but to bloom for eternity in His very presence!

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I love living in Southwest Lower Michigan– especially in the spring.  We have blossoms everywhere– apple blossoms, cherry blossoms, dogwood, red buds, tulips and irises, hyacinth and daffodils.  The rich earthy smell of freshly plowed gardens and fields permeates the air, and rides on the breezes coming off Lake Michigan.  Birds, newly returned from their winter wanderings are busily building nests, chirping away, while the sun’s rays chase away the last of the winter chill each morning.  There is color and new life everywhere you turn.

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We have a lot of spring festivals in the area, most of them centered on the blooms and blossoms that fill the countryside.  Gardens, orchards and fields are not just for show around here– they are also important parts of our economy and eco-system.  Without a good spring full of blossoms, buds, and blooms, we may have a disastrous harvest in the fall, and run-off of the soil; bees will die off, wild and domestic animals will have less grass and fewer berries to eat.  A late spring can shorten the growing season and shrink the harvest; an early spring can bring buds out too soon, only to have them lost to a late season frost or to have them mature too early and be burned in a mid-summer drought.

And yet, I have seen crocuses burst through two inches of snow; buds that defy harsh weather and cruel winds.  I have seen daffodils blooming where there once was a house and a yard, but now there are only brambles and foundation stones.  I have seen trees twisted and split by long-ago storms– one side dead and rotting, but with buds and new branches on the other side.

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It is easy to bloom when you are in a lovely flower bed, with tilled earth, fertilizer, gentle rains, just the right amount of sun, and protection from the winds and pests and birds.  But it is more spectacular to bloom in the desert; to defy the odds and stand in stark contrast to brambles, a broken-up sidewalk, or a litter-filled back alley; to bloom in the snow and sleet or weather a flood or a tornado.

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Not always so with prayer.  Sometimes, it is easier to pray when we feel our own needs and shortcomings; when we are driven by our circumstances to call out for help.  When all is well, we may be grateful, but we may also begin to slack off.  We stop asking for wisdom and guidance, coasting in the beauty and ease of a good life, and forgetting that the beauty and the ease– indeed the life itself– is not our right, but a gift.  Amid so many other beautiful prayers, ours seem drab and ordinary, almost unworthy of God’s notice.

But God DOES notice– he has placed each of us where he wants us to bloom and grow– to pray, to fellowship, to walk with other believers and give off the fragrance of His grace as we live our lives in obedience to Him.  Have you been planted in an apartment complex?  Have you been planted as a suddenly single parent of three kids?  Have you been planted on a campus?  In a group of friends that all have Harleys?  Or one block from a rescue mission or homeless shelter?  A classroom full of high-energy first-graders?  A community that has had a lot of crime and blight?

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God has not placed you in circumstances to reward or punish you, but to grow you in the soil that can produce the best harvest.  Is your prayer list filled with needy people who live in turmoil and rebellion?  Bloom where you are planted– you may be the only person praying for your cantankerous neighbor– the only raindrop or fertile soil s/he will ever encounter.  Has God placed you in a family of people who taunt you for your faith?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for strength to stand firm in the beauty of meekness and compassion in the face of their taunts and disdain.  Are you in a greenhouse full of self-righteous orchids making you feel dowdy and wilted by comparison?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for God’s eyes to see the beauty in yourself, as well as those around you, and stop trying to be an orchid where God needs a lily.

Has God planted you in trying circumstances?  Bloom where you are planted– pray for God’s Peace as you face each day:

Matthew 6:25-34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do Not Be Anxious

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. * 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.*

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

*Emphasis added

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