Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ocean



When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. Isaiah 43:2a
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Psalm 8:1


Last week I was blessed to have a five day vacation at the beach with my husband, my daughter and granddaughters. I love the beach! If you are now picturing me jumping into the surf, choosing the biggest, highest wave, stop right there and let me tell you, I. Can't. Swim.

That's right, I can't swim and beyond that, I have an outsized fear of the water. Still, I love the ocean and the pool in my backyard. Love them!

Over the last year I've been blessed to be at the beach several times. Each experience has been different. Last September I was at the beach with my husband and pretty much o one else. In the early mornings we would head to the beach and while my hubby did his metal detecting I would walk the beach, stopping every now and then to just listen to God. It was amazing! I had read where Dan Rather asked Mother Teresa what she said in prayer. Her response, “I listen.” He then asked what God said to her. She responded, “He listens.” On that quiet and lovely beach in September I experienced the truth of that. I listened and He listened.

Last week was entirely different. There were many, many people at the beach and of course, little ones right there with me. There was no time to just listen. Instead this time I saw.

I saw the gentle lapping of the water at the very edge. I saw huge waves building to higher heights and growing in power. I saw the strength of the sea, to propel my girls toward me on their boards but also to over power them and my husband. Standing there, watching the tide ebb and flow, feeling the current pulling at my feet I sensed the incredible power of God.

We are taught to fear God and many people balk at that suggestion. We need to fear God. Not in the way that I fear the water, a fear that suggests a desire to harm. No, we are to have a reverent fear of God and I believe that the ocean can give us a snapshot of that. God is loving, nurturing, merciful but He is also able to defeat and destroy. If He weren't then the enemy would win and we know that isn't the case.

The ocean is teeming with fish, sea creatures and power that I don't pretend to understand. God is all powerful. He created that ocean, the fish therein and He controls the tides and the waves. Watching those waves I was so grateful to belong to the Power behind them. So very thankful that He is for me and not against me.

I don't imagine for a minute that I have a total understanding of God, how He works, why He does what He does and allows what He allows. I don't know why I receive so many blessings, so much mercy and favor. I do know this. God's power is there for me. It's there for you. We only need to recognize, reach out for it and put ourselves into His might outstretched hand. Then the waves of life can build and crash against our shores and while we might get a little wet, we might even be drenched a time or two, we will remain safe in that mighty hand.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Conversation


 

Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a


Yesterday on my way to church I was thinking about prayer, about the way that people pray, when we pray and why. Oddly enough, that was the message of our pastor's sermon, prayer, the when, why and how of it. He took a wider view than what I'd been thinking but still affirmed some of my thoughts.

Driving along I thought of my children. I raised the four of them together, same expectations, same boundaries, differing approaches, based on their personalities but with the same standards. Each one of them addresses me differently, approaches me differently and each relationship is unique.

Sadly at this point in time I don't hear from all of them but when I did the greetings were all so different. The phone rings and I see the name. “Hello” will be spoken in a semi-formal way and not followed up by any remark until I respond and initiate a conversation. Next ring, we'll call this one, enter talking, “Hi, so I was thinking......” or “guess what?” The third call, “Hi Mama!” And the fourth, “I need a favor.”

Simply from seeing the name I could guess the tone of the call. My formal caller calls only to make plans, or check in. While we have a great relationship and can chat comfortably in person, this one is not good on the phone. It's the device not the relationship that is the problem. Enter talking, is great on the phone, a text, email and in person. There are no hidden agendas here. “Mama” calls to chat. This one is open and easy going, not hindered by the phone. This one just wants the connection, to talk and to listen. “Favor” calls only when absolutely necessary and the calls are decidedly one sided. If I have something to say, well, there's really no time to say it.

Thinking of them I realized that I pray in all of those ways. Sometimes I feel so formal. “Dear Lord.....” Other times I feel just like spilling everything, with no regard to how it sounds, not even pausing for a greeting sometimes. Then there are the days when I just want to chat with my Abba, my Daddy. “Hi Abba!” It's the simple delight of being connected. And the other times, the ones I like least and often feel badly about later. “Help!” A request made with no room for an answer to be given and some resentment if it doesn't immediately go my way.

What I saw in all of that and what my pastor confirmed, is that prayer is a conversation. It's about relationship and love. While God does provide and absolutely hears my cries, mostly it's about connection.

It breaks my heart to say that the “Hi Mama” calls no longer come. That relationship is broken. The joy of seeing that name on the phone is gone. The call that came simply because there was love and care between us doesn't happen anymore. For me, seeing that just makes me want to spend way more time simply saying, “Hi Abba!” To never lose that connection and to honor the love given to me by returning it as best I can.

I know my Father has plans for me, cares about everything I think and do, and will answer my prayer request in the way He knows is best for me. What I need most is to keep talking and keep listening.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reliance


 

I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Apart from me you can do nothing.” Do you read the news? I don't but even at that, the news is inescapable. There are horrors and tragedies everywhere and sadly that's all we want to talk about. Surely there are triumphs, victories, kindnesses but if they make the news it's the small print on the back page.

In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” I think that may be the biggest problem in the world today. We have, as my Gram would say, gotten too big for our britches. Look at all “we've” accomplished! We, as my friend Bella says, is too many. A few brilliant or clever people have advanced technologies and medical sciences to a point where too many of us feel as if we can take care of ourselves. We cannot.

When we fall into the trap of thinking that we can handle a challenge, situation or task in our lives all on our own, we're wrong. “I've got this.” Really? Then “I” is not enough and “we” would be better but truly “He” would be the perfect way to see things. I can do nothing. Not one thing, on my own. I breathe because God allows me to breathe. I walk, talk, think, create, and on and on, because God allows and enables me to do those things. Apart from Him I can do nothing.

Pride goes before a fall. (Proverbs 16:8) In our current times we have become terribly prideful. Look at our accomplishments! That is spoken on a large scale about inventions, advancements, etcetera but we do it on a personal level as well. “I just didn't think I could do that but look, it's done!” Aren't I fabulous? Hmmm... did you do that on your own? Really?

I truly believe this verse, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28a If you look at my life you might see some accomplishments but I'm here to tell you I did not do any of it on my own. When I take things into my own hands, no prayer, no seeking God first, they either flop, which isn't too awful or blow up in my face. That latter would be the pride before the fall truth.

As a nation, as God's creation, we need to humble ourselves, seek Him and pray because truly apart from Him we can do nothing. The more we ignore Him the more heinous and dark our world becomes. Recognize God's hand in your life and share that. Talk about it. Shine your light. Otherwise, as Gram also used to say, “we're going to hell in a hand basket.” But hey, at least we'll be able to say we made the basket “all by ourselves.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

He Walks In


 

Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me. Revelation 3:2

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Mark 12:30-31a


I am a long time Neil Diamond fan. Frankly I'm fonder of his peppy, upbeat songs and one is my absolute favorite. That is “Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.” When I first listened to it, many years ago, I had no concept of revivals or tent services. I just loved the song. Even without any experience in that area, I could picture the scene because the lyrics are just that strong. Listen to it. You can see it, smell it, feel it happening.

Recently I heard it again for the first time in years. The first line that got to me was, “And when you'd almost bet you could hear yourself sweat, he walks in.” Suddenly it wasn't an old favorite song but a glimpse of God. At the eleventh hour, when all is dark and truly there seems to be no hope whatsoever, He walks in. Just like in the song, that pretty much grabs everyone's attention.

Have you experienced those moments? You look around and there just doesn't seem to be any hope. Despair is overwhelming and defeat is imminent. Then He walks in, He speaks, He moves something and every little thing changes. Life is liveable, hope is restored.

Later in the song, in what the printed lyrics refer to as “sermon” it says, “Brothers, you've got two good hands. And when your brother is troubled, you've gotta' reach out your hand for him, 'cause that's what it's there for. And when your heart is troubled you've gotta' reach out to the Man up there, 'cause that's what He's there for.”

Now you tell me, isn't that the gospel of grace in a nutshell? God will show up in your life and change everything. From there, we all need to love each other and help each other out. When we are lost and alone we reach out to God and His love will never fail, “ 'cause that's what He's there for.”

The song is simplistic but it's also very true. It says that “everyone goes.” Everyone. Yes, because God's love is for everyone, old or young, short or tall, male, female, employed and not so much, shirt and tie successful or t-shirt scraping by, everyone is invited to receive God's love.

We make it harder, much harder than it has to be. Your Father is waiting, reach out your hand, 'cause that's what it's there for.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Just Love Them


 

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14


Years ago I heard a pastor say, “if you see a 'therefore' in Scripture, find out what it's there for.” I believe that is very true of the verses above and would advise that you also read verses 1-11. For now, let me just say, we're all guilty of the behaviors listed in those verses. We're not all guilty of all of them but we are all guilty of some of them. The point being, that before we judge and accuse our brothers and sisters we want to take a long look in a clear mirror.

There is so much hate in the world now and here in the good old USA we are so very guilty of promoting it. Name a group of people, a lifestyle, a belief system and stand back and watch the sparks fly. I personally avoid the news because it's all bad and inflammatory but avoiding it does not mean that I can escape it. The words, “did you see the headline about...” strike misery to my body because I know that the next several minutes of my life are going to be filled with the sound of dissension.

We joke about the old cliché, “can't we all just get along?” But, can't we? We who call ourselves Christian are called to love. We are called, tasked, to bring others to Christ. It is not my imagination or my idea. Jesus said it in Matthew 28:19 as clearly as he possibly could. There is no wiggle room. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He did not say, “go and make disciples out of the people who seem pretty much ready to agree with you anyway.”

When we go and take the gospel into the world we are most certainly going to meet resistance. When we read or listen to the news we are most certainly going to encounter people and behaviors that we find abhorrent. It isn't easy. It wasn't supposed to be easy. It is, however what Jesus, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, told us to do.

All of my life I've heard, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” That sometimes feels impossible. Sometimes it's easy. I do love the person, regardless but more often it is very hard. The other day in a message about grace, love, drawing people to Christ, our pastor said, “Don't worry about their sin. Just love them.” My first thought was, “Right, because I have enough sin of my own to repent. I don't need to take on someone else's sin.”

Then, I really heard what he was saying. “Don't worry about their sin. Just love them.” Just love them. The sin is their issue with God. The love is my response to God's love for me. To sit back and judge, to point fingers, call names, assign labels, will only make me bitter, angry, and sometimes, ill. It will most certainly distance me from the pure love of my Father.

It sounds simple but it is so very hard, choose love. Choose grace. Don't let another person's sin become your sin. Hate the sin, pray for the sinners and just love them.