“Beating Those Michigan Blues”

Beating Those Michigan Blues

You know it’s going to be a bad day when…you call your answering service and they tell you it’s none of your business.

     You know it’s going to be a bad day when…you sink your teeth into a beautiful, juicy steak and they stay there.

     You know it’s going to be a bad day when…the moving van starts to unload next door and the first four things down the ramp are four motorcycles.

     And you know it’s going to be a bad day when…your dog runs out to meet the skunk that just ripped up your garbage.

           Yep, those sound like bad days don’t they?  But not as bad as the guy who was driving home in a very dense fog.  The fog was so thick he couldn’t see the road.  The only objects he could see clearly were the taillights of the car in front of him, so he decided for safety’s sake to follow those lights.  Wherever they went, that’s where he went.  Suddenly, without warning, the taillights came to a complete stop and the man’s car ran smack dab into the back of this vehicle.  Angry with himself and the other driver he shouted:  “Why didn’t you give some kind of signal that you were going to stop?”  And the other driver shouted back:  “Why should I?  This is my garage!”

           Ever have a bad day like that before?  Ever have a morning when you thought it might be better to just stay in bed and not get up?  Well let me ask you:  How are you doing lately with all of this hunkering down?  As you shelter in place under the governor’s orders, what has been the most difficult thing for you thus far?  And for all of us who live in Michigan, what do you think about this cold snap combined with snow flurries where you can’t even go outside and work in the yard?  I mean this is spring time.  When is it going to hit the 60s and 70s so we can at least go for a leisurely walk, sit on our patios, or barbecue on the grill?

           Or maybe it’s not so much the weather that’s got you down – it’s the economy, because so many in the work force right now have been temporarily laid off.  We have people who want to work but they are not allowed to work because they are considered non-essential.  And when the paychecks stop, the stress level rises as we think about unpaid bills.  Then, on top of that, all we hear are the problems of trying to sign up for unemployment benefits, especially for those connected with non-profits. 

Or maybe it’s the idea of feeling confined and limited to what you are allowed to do right now.  You miss going to a local restaurant and letting someone else do all the cooking.  You miss window shopping and the adventure of traveling or playing a sport or watching sports on TV.  You miss connecting with your friends, hanging out after school, and worshipping with others at church.

And, if any of what I have said so far in this introduction resonates with you at all, even remotely, I wonder if you have been struck by the Michigan Blues.  Now hear me clearly on this.  As a Spartan, Green & White fan, I’m not talking about the Michigan Blues from Ann Arbor.  Oh no.  I’m talking about the kind of Michigan Blues that slip in when you’re not looking.  The kind of Blues that creep in and try to drag you down.  The kind of Blues that plague your mind, depress your spirit, try to convince you to give up, to throw in the towel and acknowledge defeat.  These Michigan Blues I speak of are no respecter of persons.  You don’t have to be a wolverine fan in order to get them.  Their goal is to get you off your game and sideline you to the bench.

           Now some people think the Michigan Blues only come in the winter months when life seems gray and overcast and our vision is impaired by all of the clouds.  But I am here to tell you those Michigan Blues are relentless at all times and in all seasons.  However, the good news is, we can beat the Michigan Blues.  And the better news is, you don’t have to do it alone.  You have an ally with God, through the Holy Spirit, His Holy Word and His promises.  You have an ally with the church, the body of Christ, who will pray for you and lend a hand.  You have an ally with special friends and loved ones who want you to succeed and offer their support.  They are behind you all the way.

           So today, I want to offer some quick ideas on how to Beat Those Michigan Blues, but more importantly, I want to share a good word regarding encouragement, because we still have a way to go when it comes to life with Covid-19 don’t we?  We have to go the distance and persevere.  Even our President has told us about the three phases with gateposts (benchmarks) we have to work through to get the economy up and running again combined with safety.  We have to view life with a long-range game plan, because we’re only in the first quarter, with three more quarters to figure out until we have a vaccine.  And so, I truly think that all of us could use some encouragement in the midst of all that is happening.  We need the reminder that God goes with us, along with the sustaining hope and confidence that we have never been alone and we never will be. 

So, here are some quickie thoughts, some practical and helpful ideas on what you can do to Beat Those Michigan Blues while you feel isolated from others.  For instance, I could ask you: 

How is your daily walk with the Lord?

Do you have a regular pattern and practice of spending time each day in God’s Word followed by a season of prayer?  What about writing your thoughts and feelings down in a prayer journal?

Are you getting enough rest?  How is your sleeping at night?

Do you exercise or ever go for a walk to get a breath of fresh air?

If you are a caregiver for someone else, do you practice any self-care to take care of yourself?  Do you have moments each day when you don’t have to be responsible for anyone but yourself?

 Have you discovered those things that work for you as far as regaining your energy and excitement for life; things like personal hobbies, music, reading, playing a game, movies, projects around the house, completing small, reasonable goals that give you a sense of fulfillment?

Have you figured out a ministry you can do during this time that shifts the focus off of you to someone else?  Quick example, you could have a phone ministry with five people each week.  (A few folks from church dropped off Easter baskets to 50 people.  Drop off some groceries on porch.)

Have you had a chance to laugh lately (medicine for the soul) or connect with any friends or family?

Do you have a routine you follow each day which can give a sense of order?  Would it help you to create a do list each day of things to check off and accomplish identifying what you have completed? 

Are you maintaining a weekly Sabbath that can help to give your life a regular rhythm of spiritual vitality?  

If you have access to the internet, have you found some inspirational speakers to listen to or a daily devotional that ministers to you personally?

           Now, all of these ideas I just mentioned, can be helpful.  They are good thoughts.  They are practical ideas we can all practice.  But what I really see for us today is an opportunity to talk about the subject of encouragement, because all of us need encouragement from time to time.  This is how the Bible addresses the subject.

           In the book of Isaiah we read:  Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.” (35:3)  Has any of this experience thus far with Covid-19 been exhausting to you?  (It has for me.)  If so, maybe you could use some encouragement.  In First Thessalonians, chapter five, the Apostle Paul offered these words:  “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing….admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”  (5:11; 5:14)   It sounds like Paul was telling the Christians in Thessalonica to have an active role in encouraging one another doesn’t it?  Which means not only do we get to receive encouragement for ourselves, but we are to share encouragement with others.

           There is a person in the book of Acts I appreciate very much.  His name is Joseph.  Joseph had the marvelous gift and ability to encourage others so well (people were noticing), the apostles of Jesus changed his name to Barnabas, meaning Son of Encouragement.  I read part of his story from Acts 4:32-37:

           “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them.  And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. (They were taking care of each other.)  And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

           Listen to a second account we read in Acts, chapter 11.  “And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.  And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul;” (22-25)  What’s the big deal with these nine last words?  Let me show you.

           Barnabas was such an encourager to the early church that he was often sent (by the church leaders) on short term mission trips to assist other Christian believers.  He gave financially from his heart where he saw a need and he believed that God could do miracles in any person, transforming their hearts to follow the Lord. 

One such case was with a new convert called Saul that Barnabas saw potential in to do great things for the Lord.  So, Barnabas went looking for Saul to encourage him in the faith.  Many believers were fearful of Saul because he used to persecute the Christian church.  But Barnabas believed Saul was truly converted and God could use him.  And how right Barnabas was, because eventually Saul became Paul the Apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles, who started churches wherever God led him and wrote half of our New Testament letters.

           Let me say this to all of us who are connected to a church family in whatever town or city we may live in.  There will be times when God wants to use each of us as Christian believers to be a Barnabas in someone else’s life, to see the potential in them, or simply to encourage them in the faith when they could use a lift the most.  There are people all around us who need us to believe in them and cheer them on, especially when they are discouraged.  We need the fellowship of the saints to build one another up in the faith.  We need to pray for one another, and care for each other, and call each other and share some laughter and meals.  Speaking of meals during Covid-19, sometimes we have to be creative don’t we?  I had one person tell me they have dinner with another individual by using Skype or Facetime or WhatsApp.  Physically, they can’t be together.  But they can see each other’s face and talk to one another while they eat in their own homes.

           Or let me give you an example of encouragement by using nature, because there are many amazing lessons we can learn and draw upon as we learn more how the world of nature operates. 

Take a beehive for example.  Did you know there are some bees who have a special job around the hive?  Instead of traveling long distances to gather nectar, they remain at the entrance to the hive, fluttering their wings fast and hard.  That’s all they do.  They are known as fanner bees.  But what you may not know is that the survival of the hive depends on them.  Why are they so important?  These particular bees keep the air in the hive circulating.  Without the fanner bees the air would grow foul and deadly to all inside, and the hive would not survive. 

           Well, here’s my question:  Who are the fanner bees at church or in your family or at work?  Who are the ones who keep things alive by their very presence – quiet as they may be?  Who are the ones we can count on to always stand for what is right?  Who are the ones who work well as a team?  Who are the ones that have a can-do spirit and won’t give up?  Who are the ones who do their jobs without complaining and understand how their small role fits in to the bigger picture and makes a difference to the whole group?  You see, every church, every family, every workplace needs fanner bees – for without them, not much would get accomplished.

           The story is told of an out-of-towner who accidentally drove his car into a ditch in a very rural area.  Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong draft horse named Buddy.  He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!”  Buddy didn’t move.  Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull!”  Buddy didn’t respond.  Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Coco, pull!”  Nothing.  Then the farmer finally said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!”  And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch.

           The motorist was most appreciative but also very curious.  He asked the farmer why he called the horse by the wrong name three times.  The farmer said, “Oh, that’s because Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try.”

           I like that story, because sometimes I see life like that.  We can get discouraged thinking we are alone, no one else understands, no one else will chip in to help.  And all we need is the sense of belief that someone is with us, to help share the burden, and together we can go the distance.  Ever try to paint an entire house by yourself?  It can be a pretty overwhelming project.  But then someone shows up to help and it makes all the difference in the world.  That’s the encouragement of teamwork, tackling together the rough spots in life.

           I offer a final story before I close.

           In the early nineteenth century, a young man in London aspired to be a writer.  But everything seemed to be against him.  He had never been able to attend school more than four years.  His father had been thrown in jail because he couldn’t pay his debts, and so this young man often knew the pangs of hunger.  Finally, he got a job pasting labels on bottles in a rat-infested warehouse, and he slept at night in a dismal attic room with two other boys from

the slums of London.  He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he snuck out in the middle of the night to mail his first manuscript so nobody would laugh at him.  Story after story were refused.  Then, finally, the great day came when one of his stories was accepted.  Though he wasn’t paid anything for it, that did not matter.  His reward was the single thought an editor had praised him for his work.  He had finally been recognized.  He was so thrilled that he walked the streets of London with tears rolling down his cheeks.

           Because of the praise and recognition this young man received from getting one story into print – his whole life was changed.  If it hadn’t been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in one rat-infested factory after the other.  You may have heard of this boy from history, for his name was Charles Dickens.

           Church, we have that same kind of power as believers, as the body of Christ, to praise and recognize.  We can become a Barnabas to encourage the next Saul or encourage the next Charles Dickens who needs a lift right now, to let them know we believe in them when no one else will.  [Chief of police in Detroit, James Craig, received encouragement from others as he recovered at home from Covid-19.]  We can operate as a fanner bee doing our small part to let someone else know, you are going to make it because I won’t leave my post.  We can stand alongside a Buddy to let them know they are not alone, we are walking this journey with them. 

Jesus spoke about a particular quality of life that other people would recognize and know that we are His disciples if we had love for one another.  Well, I believe, one way we can demonstrate this love is by the gift of encouragement we can give to others. 

And dear ones, I want you to be encouraged.  I want you to know we are in this thing together with all of life’s challenges.  I want you to know though you may feel isolated at times – you are not alone.  I want you to know when you are going a little stir crazy and want to escape for a little while, I get it, because I feel that way too.  I want you to know people in the church think about you and pray for you, especially when life has lost its zest or the news is disheartening.  I want you to know, we are going to Beat Those Michigan Blues because God is faithful and anything we endure or suffer on this side of heaven, God promises to make up a zillion times more on the other side. 

Be encouraged dear ones, for God isn’t done with us yet.  His sovereign plans involve all of us and He won’t finish without us.  We have a part to play out where God wants to use each of us.  Amen.