Reboot!

I’ve been writing Quiet Waters for almost two years now, and many of you have been following along from the beginning. Thank you! The comments you have left, the conversations we’ve had, and even the popularity of some posts and the unpopularity of others have all taught me so much. I am extremely grateful.

As He often does, the Lord has been focusing my thoughts, my prayers, and my writing over these two years. And He has made it clear that it is time for a slight change in direction and methods, a reboot of sorts.

One thing that has become abundantly clear over these past two years is that many (many!) of us are struggling to find a healthy balance in life. The demands of work, school, family, ministry, and everything else we choose to take on seem to continuously increase. When we are already operating at 100% capacity, we have no space, no margin, for the unexpected: the fridge dies, a job is lost, a spouse leaves.

Jesus told us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

My soul often needs rest, and I’m discovering that many of you feel the same way. That is the purpose of this reboot: to create a digital space where we can encourage one another to get through the day, the week, the month, the year. A place where we can find tools and resources to become the best spouse, parent, sibling, employee, minister, and Christian we can possibly be. A place where we can invite the Father to restore to us the joy of His salvation, the joy that we once knew with fire and passion.

I hope you’ll check out www.ToRiseAbove.org. And if you like what you see, click Subscribe so that you can receive an email every time something new is posted (a couple times a week, maybe).

I appreciate your prayers as we move forward in this new phase of ministry. Your feedback and comments are always welcome. And I hope you will consider sharing the new website with your friends and family.

Thanks again for all your support!

Together in His service,

Dave

P.S. Quiet Waters will not be shutting down, so if you are still reading old posts, it will remain available to you for the foreseeable future.

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Understanding Zika

As a microbiologist, people have been asking me recently about the Zika virus that is receiving so much attention in the news. Sensationalized media coverage has understandably caused some fear and confusion about this latest outbreak. But I think it has been further intensified by our vivid memories of the deadly Ebola crisis in western Africa last year. My goal in this article is to help you understand the Zika virus and the threat, if any, that it poses to you and your loved ones.

What is Zika?

Zika is a virus, a type of germ that is much smaller than your own cells or even bacteria. Consider this: human cells, like the ones making up your skin, might be around 50-100 micrometers in width, or about 0.05-0.1 millimeters. Bacteria, like E. coli, are a tenth this size, in the 5-10 micrometer range. The Zika virus, however, is only about 40 nanometers, equivalent to 0.04 micrometers, or 0.00004 millimeters. Not only are these viruses ridiculously small, they aren’t even alive! To replicate themselves, they have to hijack your cells and turn them into little factories for making more of themselves. And in the process of this hostile takeover, we get sick. The illness caused by the Zika virus is variably called Zika, Zika fever, or Zika virus disease.

Yellow Fever Virus, in the family Flavivirus. (Wikipedia)

Yellow Fever Virus, a close relative of the Zika virus, in the family Flavivirus. (Wikipedia)

What are the symptoms of ZVD?

Zika virus disease, or ZVD, is generally mild with symptoms resolving on their own within a week. Common symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), headache, muscle pain, and joint pain.

Rarely, ZVD may result in an episode of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). GBS is a neurological disorder caused by your own immune system attacking your nerve cells (autoimmunity). The result can be muscle weakness and paralysis that can last up to several months. GBS is rare, and death from GBS is rarer still.

The greatest danger posed by Zika is that of microcephaly in a newborn whose mother had ZVD during pregnancy. Microcephaly results in a smaller than normal head and brain, leading to severe developmental disabilities. The connection between Zika virus disease in a woman and microcephaly in her newborn child is not well understood, but the correlation appears to be strong, especially in Brazil.

This Brazilian infant has microcephaly. His mother was sick with Zika virus at some point in her pregnancy. (BBC)

This Brazilian infant has microcephaly. His mother was sick with Zika virus at some point in her pregnancy. (BBC)

How can someone catch the Zika virus?

Zika is not typically transmitted directly from one person to another. Instead, it requires that a specific type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus) act as a vector, or shuttle, between people. The mosquito bites an infected person, consumes his or her blood along with the Zika viruses in it, and then proceeds to bite another person, accidentally introducing the virus into that person’s blood. It is estimated that only 20% of people infected with Zika virus actually get sick.

As mentioned above, it appears that a pregnant mother can pass Zika viruses to her unborn child during pregnancy, a situation that may lead to a birth defect known as microcephaly.

In Brazil, Zika has reportedly been transmitted via blood transfusions.

There have also been three verified cases of sexually-transmitted Zika.

Where can Zika be found and is it spreading?

Over the past few decades, Zika virus outbreaks have been documented in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. It had not been recognized in the western hemisphere until 2015 and has since exploded across most of Latin America. Brazil has thus far been the hardest hit.

zika_americas_02-23-2016_web

It is expected that Zika virus can, and eventually will, be transmitted anywhere the Aedes mosquito vectors thrive, which includes parts of the southern United States. No local transmission of Zika has been documented in the continental US (in other words, no one has caught the virus from mosquitos on the US mainland), but some US Territories (Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa) have reported local Zika virus transmission via mosquitos (10 cases), and some travellers (91 cases) have brought it back to mainland US from South or Central America.

The most recent 9 cases in the US were pregnant women (not that pregnant women are more susceptible to Zika, but they are being monitored for it more closely). Of these 9, one gave birth to a child with microcephaly, two miscarried, and two had abortions after ultrasounds showed signs of microcephaly. Two others gave birth to healthy babies and the remaining two are still pregnant. Clearly, Zika has brought to light some complicated ethical and moral considerations in addition to the public health concerns.

Treatment

Antibiotics are useless against Zika. Antibiotics target molecules in living cells, which viruses are not. While there are a few antiviral drugs on the market for a limited number of viral infections (e.g., HIV, Hepatitis C), there are none to combat Zika virus disease. Viral infections are often best combatted with vaccines, however no Zika vaccine currently exists. Since symptoms are generally mild (see above), comfort measures such as Tylenol for fever and body aches, rest, and adequate hydration are all that is needed. Precautions include removing mosquito breeding sites, fumigating with pesticides, and personal application of mosquito repellant.

Is Zika a new virus?

While Zika virus has undoubtedly been on Planet Earth for a very long time, mankind only became aware of it in the past century. During a monitoring survey of yellow fever in rhesus monkeys in the Ugandan Zika Forest in the 1940s, scientists discovered a new virus that was causing mild fever in some of the animals. It was identified as a close relative of the yellow fever virus, in the family Flavivirus. The Flaviviruses include yellow fever virus, dengue virus, West Nile virus, and now Zika virus.

A Rhesus Macaque. (Wikipedia)

A Rhesus Macaque. (Wikipedia)

Footnote on Zika in Costa Rica

(I am leading a class trip to Costa Rica in May and added this section for my students and their parents.) The first case presumed to have originated in Costa Rica was a male traveller from the US who had visited the Guanacaste Province in December. The Tico Times and The Costa Rica Star report that 2 Costa Ricans have been infected with Zika virus from local mosquitos, both in the Guanacaste Province. Two more Ticos have tested positive for Zika, but they had travelled to Colombia and Honduras where they likely encountered the virus. Compared to the 72,000 suspected cases in Brazil, resulting in over 4,000 cases of microcephaly, the risks in Costa Rica appear to be negligible.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Zika virus is a rapidly spreading germ that is very common in South America and increasing in frequency in Central America. It is spread primarily by mosquitos. Symptoms are generally mild, although Guillain-Barré syndrome has been reported. Zika poses the greatest threat to pregnant women and their unborn children.

I hope this short article has helped you to understand the risks posed by Zika viruses here in the US and abroad. If you leave your questions and comments below, I’ll do my best to respond quickly.

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Liar, liar

Before I knew the Lord, I used to tell a lot of lies.

Some were harmless. Sometimes I would fake an Australian accent at the restaurant where I worked and make up a story about my life, something more interesting than my actual life.

Some lies, though, were less harmless. With a broken moral compass, I didn’t think twice about bending the truth to get out of a shift at work when there was a party to go to, or to get an extension on an assignment in school that I procrastinated beginning until the day it was due. My word wasn’t worth the breath that gave it voice.

Liar-Liar-liar-liar-30842084-853-480

Today, as a Christ-follower, the idea of telling lies for my own convenience or personal gain seems detestable. And yet, I find that I am still a liar.

But now I’m not lying to other people. I’m lying to myself. I tell myself stories about myself and my circumstances that simply aren’t true.

We all have a personal narrator, a little voice in our head that is constantly chattering, evaluating each situation, reflecting on what just happened, verbalizing options for our next move. From the time we learn to talk as toddlers, our thoughts are dominated by words. It’s an inner monologue.

I tend to believe whatever the narrator says. After all, it’s my voice and my words, right? I wouldn’t lead myself astray, would I?

The scary thing is that my narrator is easily influenced. He is influenced by my emotions and memories. He is influenced by my hopes and dreams. He’s also influenced by the culture around me. And I believe that the enemy can even whisper convincing lies into the narrator’s ear and influence the story that is being told.

Over the past few years, I have dealt with significant anxiety and depression, and my narrator wasn’t on my side. Here are some of the lies I kept telling myself when life was difficult:

Lie #1. You are all alone in this struggle. No one else has ever dealt with the problems you are facing. No one could ever possibly understand.

isolated_shutterstock_122173468

Truth #1: You are not the first person on planet Earth to deal with whatever struggles you are facing today. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon tells us that there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes that you will face no temptation (and, presumably by extension, no sin and no struggle) that is not part of the common human experience (1 Corinthians 10:13). I fully believe that we are each created uniquely in God’s image. But let’s face it – you’re not that unique. There is little more the enemy can do to Christians than to make them feel isolated, from other Christians and from God Himself. Don’t give him a foothold.

Lie #2: I am a victim of circumstances. There’s nothing I can do about the stressors and struggles in my life. Nothing can or ever will change.

Truth #2: While it is true that some trials come our way due to no fault of our own, it is rare that we have no recourse, no protection. If we are honest with ourselves, generally we find that many of the challenges in our lives are things that we actually have some influence over. By playing the victim card, we absolve ourselves of all responsibility (much easier), but at the same time drain ourselves of all power to make things better. If we look our struggles squarely and honestly in the face, on the other hand, we are empowered to make choices that just might change our lives and those of the people around us. Whatever you’re facing today, don’t yield your power to change, the power granted to you by Jesus Himself. Never give up – never surrender!

Lie #3: God isn’t really God. He must not be all-knowing, all-loving, or all-powerful. If He was all-knowing, He’d know what I’m going through and intervene to rescue me. Or maybe He’s not as loving as the Bible says He is. How could a loving God allow                                    (fill in the blank with your struggle)? Or maybe He is all-knowing and all-loving, but His hands are tied. He’d like to help me, but He’s just as much at the mercy of the universe as I am.

Sometimes following God's road map for your life includes going where He leads.

Sometimes following God’s road map for your life includes going where He leads.

Truth #3: God is God regardless of our circumstances or our perception of Him. Just as a red wall reflects light in the wavelength range of 620-750 nanometers, no matter whether our eyes are able to correctly perceive it, God is omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent, no matter our ability to perceive Him as such. God is indeed God.

The Old Testament character Job learned truth #3 the hard way. After his life crashed in all around him – he lost his wealth, his children, and his own health all in a few days’ time – he lashed out at God. When he boldly declared that he’d like the chance to charge God face-to-face with his crimes, God obliged. In a very brief but convincing scolding, Job was reminded that God is God, and man is not. Job quickly humbled Himself before the Creator.

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted… Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you, therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)

No matter who is lying to your life-story narrator, your best defense is to listen to the One who created you, the One who loves you to death, even the death of His own Son. He will always tell you the truth.

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This side of paradise

People ruin everything.

We ruin relationships. We ruin food. We ruin the earth. I think one of the reasons I am so drawn to nature is that there I find less of mankind’s fingerprints and more of God’s. In the city I am surrounded by reminders of man’s imperfect creations. But in nature I am surrounded by God’s beautiful, creative, graceful handiwork.

Cutthroat trout and mentoring on the Lochsa River, Idaho.

I flyfish for native cutthroat trout on Idaho’s Lochsa River partly because I see so much less of man and so much more of God here.

On Tuesdays this semester I “work from home.” I don’t have anything formally scheduled, so instead of making the 25-mile one-way commute to campus, I stay in my neighborhood and try to focus on everything that seems to slip through the cracks during the rest of the week. Of course, I often use Tuesdays to get in a little R & R as well.

Yesterday my friend James and I went for a meandering, somewhat aimless walk along trails in a local park. But this park is not like your typical urban oasis. Instead, it comprises over 7,000 acres of rugged, mountainous open space in the southern California chaparral with 60 miles of multi-use trails to explore. We wandered over four-and-a-half of those 60 miles, culminating with a gorgeous view from a height of close to 1,000 feet above the valley floor below. The February sun was shining and we couldn’t help but feel a little guilty, knowing how many of our fellow Americans were snowbound at that very moment.

We search for perfection in Yosemite and the Pacific Ocean. We hope to find it in our spouse and in our kids. We change jobs every 4.6 years, substituting one set of frustrations and disappointments with different ones. We replace our cars every couple of years and remodel our homes every decade. We even watch TV shows about keeping our houses in fashion as if they were clothes.

But the truth is that we cannot expect to find perfection on this fallen earth. And our insistence that we can only leads to the disappointment of unmet expectations. We would do well to learn the Biblical discipline of contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

I have been writing and preaching about the virtues of contentment for nearly two decades, but it seems to elude me still. When I think of all the sin and struggle in my life that could be alleviated by simply being content in the Lord and His provision, I long for it all the more. But I know that even contentment will never be perfect this side of paradise.

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“Hi, how are you?”

After being introduced, I stepped onto the stage and greeted the audience. “How’s everyone doing tonight?” The auditorium was dark and the spotlights hit me square in the eyes. I knew that the place was about a third full, though at the moment I could only see spots. Maybe six or seven hundred people that I couldn’t see were looking squarely at me, quietly. I asked the question again: “How is everyone tonight?” Oh, he actually wants an answer. This time I got a rousing chorus of hoots and hollers, applause, shouts of “good,” “great,” and “awesome.”

To hear the audio recording of my talk at PLNU, click here. Photo credit: Marcus Emerson.

To hear the audio recording of my talk at PLNU in 2015, click here. (c) Marcus Emerson.

I was speaking to a group of college students at a Christian university and was preparing to tell them the story of when I surrendered my life to Christ. A key piece to that story was the witness of several Christian friends who were completely transparent with me. Instead of trying to have all the answers to my questions about God and the universe, they were vulnerable and completely honest about their fears, doubts, and the questions they simply couldn’t answer. I wanted to make a point with these students about transparency.

“Really?” I asked. “Every single one of you is having the best day of your life?” They looked at me funny. Isn’t that the right answer when someone asks how you’re doing? “No one is stressed about grades or assignments? Not one of you is struggling in your relationships with your parents? Nobody broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend this week and is sad about it?” The room became very quiet. I had their attention.

Admittedly, it’s probably not appropriate for several hundred people to start dishing all their struggles to a guest speaker in an auditorium when he casually asks how they are doing. But the problem is that we do this in everyday life when we are face-to-face with people. We offer a smile and say that “it’s all good” when we’re one-on-one with a co-worker, friend, or even a family member. Society tells us, in so many words, that we mustn’t burden others with our problems. It also tells us that we should be ashamed of our struggles and either sort them out on our own or keep them hidden from sight.

But nothing could be further from the truth, not if we want to live deep, rich, fulfilling lives, lives of mental and emotional health and strength, lives of true joy. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds them of his transparency with them.

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

And later in the same letter he wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Read that last verse again, slowly: When I am weak, then I am strong. One of the great ironies of this life is that we can only be strong when we are willing to set aside our pride and be vulnerable. We must confess our sins, share our struggles, admit our fears and doubts. It is only the alcoholic who admits he has a problem and needs help, only he will fully heal from his addiction. Likewise, only when we share our troubles with others who we trust, others who can encourage us, bear our burdens with us, and pray for us; only then can we find hope and healing.

Only deep relationships produce deep growth and deep, lasting joy. © Marcus Emerson 2014

Only deep relationships produce deep growth and deep, lasting joy. © Marcus Emerson 2014

We can even bring our true selves to the Father. He can handle our questions and doubts. He is more than capable of absorbing our anger and frustration. In fact, it is this sort of raw honesty before God that has the potential to spur on the greatest spiritual growth in our lives. Looking for a sure-fire way to remain just as you are spiritually? Keep telling God that “it’s all good.” Keep coming to Him with only the “right” words, the churchy words.

So the next time someone says to you, “Hi, how are you?” pause for a minute and consider your answer. This may be the Father’s way of coaxing you out. And the next time you pray and hear His Spirit ask you, “How are you?” maybe sit quietly a while before answering. When you allow God and others to truly know you, you may be surprised at the results.

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What really needs to change this New Year?

This past year seems to me to have flown by. It feels like just a few weeks ago that we celebrated Christmas 2014, watched the ball drop in Times Square, and then cheered on the Oregon Ducks as they lost the NCAA college football championship game to The Ohio State Buckeyes (boo). And the older we get, the faster time seems to move.

Fireworks light up Times Square as the Countdown Ball drops as thousands of revelers gather in New York's Times Square to celebrate the ball drop at the annual New Years Eve celebration on December 31, 2013 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Fireworks light up Times Square as the Countdown Ball drops as thousands of revelers gather in New York’s Times Square to celebrate the ball drop at the annual New Years Eve celebration.

When I look at pictures of my beautiful wife and myself in the year 2000, we don’t seem to be too much younger then. And the memories are still fresh, still part of our consciousness, not merely distant memories. But that was 16 years ago. George W. Bush was President of the US. The Twin Towers were still standing. Friends was popular on TV. And the LA Lakers were actually good!

When I feel the passage of time the most is when I look at my kids. My two boys, Ryan and Josh, hadn’t even been born yet in 2000. I was still in graduate school, living in Idaho, and Ann was pregnant with our first child, our daughter Sydney. Today she’s a high school sophomore and about to celebrate her Sweet 16th birthday. Yes, when I think about my kids I feel the passage of time much more acutely.

These two rascals weren't even alive in 2000. Now they have their own car detailing business. Time flies!

These two rascals weren’t even alive in 2000. Now they have their own car detailing business. Time flies!

The New Year always brings about reflection, nostalgia, and an eye to the future. We make our so-called New Year Resolutions, committing to make much needed changes in our lives. We’re going to get the family budget in the black, pay off credit the cards, and start saving for the kids’ college. We’re going to join the gym (again) and start exercising at least three times a week, like the doctors all keep telling us. We’re going to start praying with the kids every night at bedtime and every morning, reading the Bible together as a family every Sunday, and listening to nothing but KLOVE on the radio.

These are all worthy goals, but are they the changes we really need? God told Samuel in no uncertain terms that He is concerned first and foremost with our hearts.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Ever wonder why New Year Resolutions are so difficult to keep? Maybe we’re too focused on the behavior instead of the heart. But what about things like daily devotions and worship and prayer? Why are these seemingly heart-related activities so difficult to keep up? Even spiritual disciplines – maybe even more so than any other behaviors – require a change of heart before the behaviors will truly change.

So as you look forward to 2016 and the promise it holds, consider what changes really need to be made this year. Then pray long and hard about the state of your heart, and ask God to make the changes there. Wherever the heart goes, the behavior will follow.

Remember what God told Samuel: People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Let’s pray in 2016 that we will do the same.

Happy New Year!

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Christmas Perspective

If you’re anything like me, the holidays can be a stressful time: crowded malls, stretched budgets, and lots of family. Don’t get me wrong – I love my family. In fact, I bet most of us would name time with family among the top one or two reasons we love the holidays. But something about Christmas brings out the dark side in our closest relationships.

I’ve learned that the best defense against holiday stress is a solid offense: actively reminding ourselves of the truth. We have to remember as often as possible who we are, who these people driving us nuts are, and who Jesus is.

Here is a little stress- and depression-fighting perspective for Christmas:

  1. If you have children, no matter how batty they might drive you sometimes, they are a gift from God. You are blessed.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalm 127:3-5

Sometimes the holidays can make you want to pull your hair out.

Sometimes the holidays can make you want to pull your hair out.

  1. No matter how challenging things here on earth may get for you, you have an eternity of peace and joy awaiting you.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

 

  1. Christ offers you peace and joy, but you must choose to accept them. We know it is a choice and not merely a result of our circumstances because in multiple places in Scripture we are commanded to be joyful or to have peace. And the Father would not command us to do something that was not in our power to choose to do.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Have a merry and stress-, anxiety-, and depression-free Christmas!

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