Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Storm's Coming

There's a storm coming. You wouldn't believe me if you looked out my windows right now. It's bright and beautiful. There is just the slightest light breeze.  The sky is its own classic shade of blue, and there are white clouds dotting the horizon. Not storm clouds, these are the kind of clouds that make you lay back at a picnic and look for pictures in the sky.

But there is a storm coming.

The fire department has begun making sandbags available to residents.  Local restaurants, recently given permission to resume outdoor dining, are waiting a few days.  The fire damaged areas of Southern California have issued evacuation warnings because of the anticipated flash floods.  Already damaged by wild fires, for them the rain is insult to injury.

And so it is with the storms of life. Things appear perfect until they are not. Today's gentle breeze will blow a tree over tomorrow.

It makes me nervous to write this, almost as if I'm tempting fate, but I know my words will not cause the storms that blow my way.  They will, however, give credit to the God who will meet me in them.  He always has.  He always will.

I am reminded of something that was recently pointed out to me. It's a small detail that I have overlooked in a popular gospel story. The NASB translation says it like this:
Immediately afterward He compelled the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.  But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:22-27)
The language is somewhat outdated in this translation, but it paints a much more vivid picture for my writer's brain. The wind was contrary. The disciples did not have smooth sailing and out of the darkness comes a figure walking towards them.  They were scared.  No, they were terrified.  However, they had forgotten the most important detail. It was Jesus Himself who told the disciples to be where they now found themselves. He urged them.  He forced them.  He compelled the disciples. 

So I must believe that I am in a similar boat as the disciples. I am trying to go where God has told me to go, but it is dark, and the wind is blowing. My journey isn't over; I'm no where near the shore. It is here that Jesus will meet me.  He will call out to me, and I will worship Him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Fix Your Eyes

I've shared before that I struggle from motion sickness.  Really.  Bad.  Motion sickness.  My stomach turns a little even as I write those words. It's always been a problem for me, but it has gotten worse as I get older. I've tried everything to remedy it, but it appears to not be going away.

While I can't make it better, I certainly know how to make it worse.  Coffee, for one, seems to aggravate my stomach.  Whenever I fly or prepare for a long road trip, I try to avoid coffee.  That, of course, is difficult because those seem to be the days I need it the most. Fortunately, there are other sources of caffeine.

I've also learned that I can't look down, especially in the car.  I have about a ten second window that I can look down (if I'm not driving) at phone or GPS device.  After that, forget it!  Reading in the car? No way.  I'd die.

Ok, maybe I wouldn't die, but I'd be miserable.

I've learned to keep my eyes set on what is before me.

The writer of Hebrews uses a similar concept to encourage the early believers in their faith.  He writes:
Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB).
I'm the tall caveman in the back.
Running? I've done some, but I haven't received any formal training.  However, dancing is another story. It surprises a lot of people that I was a dancer in high school.  I knew I was never going to be a professional dancer, but for the most part I was able to do what I was expected to do. I knew what I could and what I could not do.

I always struggled with the pirouette. I could fake it, but I couldn't master it. That whole "pick something to focus on" trick that they teach you, I understood it conceptually but it didn't seem to do much to help me. I'd start with my eyes focused on something, but the spin would make it hard to find it again. I knew what I was supposed to do, but it never got easier.  I do one turn, but never two.

With my faith, too, I am at first easily focused. Then life spins me around and I've lost all sense of direction. Where'd my mark go? Was that one spin or two? Why am I so disoriented? It's not supposed to be this hard, is it?

Friend, yes.  Life is hard. I can't say it enough.  I wish someone had sat down with me when I was younger and explained to me that, though things change, they never get easy.  At least, not the kind of easy we expect.

We need to continue learning to look only at Jesus because life will never stop spinning us around.

Friday, January 22, 2021

FMF: Fix

Are you waiting for God to fix something?  Keep waiting.

I know those aren't the warm and fuzzy words of comfort you might have expected, but it's the answer God has given me for now.  And it's a hard answer because waiting is hard.

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had escaped Egypt with urgency at God's prompting. They left so quickly they couldn't even let their bread rise.  Yet they found themselves at the Red Sea, again at God's prompting, with an army quickly coming upon them.  What was God's answer?

Well, you Bible scholars may have jumped ahead of yourself.  Did you say that God split the Red Sea?  Yes, He did, but look at when He did it:
Then Moses held his hand over the sea. All that night the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind, making the sea become dry ground. The water was split, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry land, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22, NCV)
They waited all night.

The Israelites were exactly where God wanted them to be, but God told them to wait.  Moses held his hands out all night as the waters were prepared for their crossing.  The miracle took some time.

We often expect miracles to happen immediately.

We want that new job today.
We want that long hoped for child today.
We want our friend's illness to be healed today.
We want that addiction to subside today.
We want that miracle today.

Friends, it just doesn't always work that way.

Sometimes we have to wait through the night before we see the miracle.

So, keep waiting.

It is not yet time for the message to come true, but that time is coming soon; the message will come true. It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3, NCV)

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This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes.
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Monday, January 11, 2021


I am easily inspired, at least about little things.

A few months ago I read Corrie Ten Boom's Prison Letters, and for days after I wanted to pour out my heart in letter form to every friend of significance. If you are reading this and wondering why you didn't get a letter - I never wrote any. The inspiration faded quickly.

That same week I discovered a cooking show, Struggle Meals. It's all cheap, simple cooking. A common theme from episode to episode is using free food. The host saves all the condiments he gets from take out orders (I mostly do that), and he believes in using leftovers. I believe in leftovers, but I am not disciplined in using them. I've read that about 40% of food is wasted in America. I don't think I waste that much, but we certainly throw out more than I want to. With this new found inspiration, my kids ate a "what's left" lunch that day: half of a watermelon, hot dogs with no buns, and half a bag of frozen french fries. I should thrown a blanket in the backyard and called it a picnic.

Yes, my passions change quickly.  In high school I called that fickle.  Now I reconize that I am well rounded. Perspective, folks.

I was reminded yesterday by Pastor Sam* that God has created us all differently. Our personalities are a unique expression of God.  We shouldn't want to change anyone; God does that. Change isn't bad, but it must be motivated by proper inspiration. Paul encouraged the church in Rome this way:
Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. Because God has given me a special gift, I have something to say to everyone among you. Do not think you are better than you are. You must decide what you really are by the amount of faith God has given you. Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts. We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us. (Romans 12:2-6a, NCV)
If God has a place for a girl who likes to read and cook with leftovers, who doesn't know when to stop talking, and who almost always regrets her decisions after she makes them, then surely God has a place in the body for everyone.

*You can read another beautiful story about Pastor Sam here: FMF Disappoint.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Psalm 32

SIN!  There, I said it.  Now let's talk about it.  Most simply stated, sin happens when we do something God doesn’t want us to do OR when we don’t do something God does want us to do. The easiest way to understand sin is to compare it to a  parent-child relationship. For example, if a mother told her son not to touch something dangerous, but he touched it anyway, that would not make her happy. Or, if she told her son to pick up his dirty clothes, but he left them on the floor, that would not make her happy either. It’s the same way with God. 

With this broad definition it is much easier to understand that no one is without sin.  In Romans 3:23 the Bible makes it clear that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In the early days, God's will was made known through His law.  However, generation after generation failed to keep it perfectly.  Many did well, but James 2 reminds us that the person who breaks one part of the law is as guilty as the one who breaks every part of it.  This is not an easy concept for those of us who have grown up with the idea that the punishment should fit the crime.  Should a liar receive the same sentence as a murderer?  For that, today, I have no answer.

In Psalm 32 David writes about how his sin made him feel:
When I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me. My strength was gone as in the summer heat. Selah
Then I confessed my sins to you and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,” and you forgave my guilt. Selah
(Psalm 32:3-5, NCV)
David realized that sin made him feel bad. He felt weak like you might feel at the end of a really hot summer day. He moaned and groaned and was miserable.  But then something happened. David stopped trying to hide his sin. He talked to God about his sin. David told God he was sorry, and God forgave David. David felt different after God forgave him:
Happy is the person whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.
(Psalm 32:1-2, NCV)
What does this mean for us? Well, David encouraged everyone to do the same thing that he did. He thought everyone should pray to God to ask for forgiveness. David understood that forgiveness would fill our hearts with joy that he called “songs of salvation.”  How about you? Do you have the song of salvation in your heart?

Monday, January 4, 2021

Psalm 30

When I was a child, my favorite game on the Atari was Pitfall! Apparently I'm not the only one because Pitfall! is one of Atari's most popular games ever. Even though I loved that game, I wasn't very good at it. I was always falling in a pit, being eaten by a crocodile, or struggling to get on or off the swinging vines.  When I got stuck in the game, I'd look for someone to help me, to save me.

It is not too different in the first part of Psalm 30. David thanks God for saving him:
Lord, I will give you honor.
You brought me out of deep trouble.
You didn’t give my enemies the joy of seeing me die.
Lord my God, I called out to you for help.
And you healed me.
Lord, you brought me up from the place of the dead.
You kept me from going down into the pit.
(Psalm 30:1-3, NIRV)
David thanked God because he appreciated what God had done for him. When we ask someone for help, it is polite to tell them thank you. But instead of just being polite, we should work on having a truly thankful spirit. We should really feel thankful, and we should express it. David knew his prayers had been answered by God in two ways. First, when David was in trouble, God helped him. David said that God brought him up from the “place of the dead.” Second, God helped David to stay out of trouble – that’s the pit that David is writing about here. Just like David, we can also be saved from the pits in our lives.

In the second part of Psalm 30, David invites other people to be thankful with him:
Sing the praises of the Lord, you who are faithful to him. Praise him, because his name is holy.
His anger lasts for only a moment. But his favor lasts for a person’s whole life.
Weeping can stay for the night. But joy comes in the morning.
(Psalm 30:4-5, NIRV)
David was so thankful that he wanted other people to celebrate with him. Just like it wouldn’t be much fun to have a party all alone, David wanted people to join him in giving thanks to God. By doing this, he was able to tell others what God had done for him. Then, those people could think about what God had done for them, and they could thank God even more.

In the third part of Psalm 30, David remembers the time before God saved him, when he was still in the pit:
When I felt safe, I said, “I will always be secure.”
Lord, when you gave me your help, you made Mount Zion stand firm.
But when you took away your help, I was terrified.
Lord, I called out to you. I cried to you for mercy.
I said, “What good will come if I become silent in death?
What good will come if I go down into the grave?
Can the dust of my dead body praise you? Can it tell how faithful you are?
Lord, hear me. Have mercy on me. Lord, help me.”
(Psalm 30:6-10, NIRV)
David spent almost half this Psalm remembering what happened when God helped him. It’s important that we also think about the things that God has done for us. When we remember all the good things that God has done to take care of us, it helps us to have faith when we face another hard time. David liked to write Psalms. How can you remember the things that God has done for you?

In the fourth part of Psalm 30, David is back out of the pit and once again he thanks God for saving him:
You turned my loud crying into dancing.
You removed my clothes of sadness and dressed me with joy.
So my heart will sing your praises. I can’t keep silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.
(Psalm 30:11-12, NIRV)
This psalm shows that David loved God very much. In fact, David is called a man after God’s own heart. Even though David made a lot of mistakes, he always asked God to forgive him. David recognized all the good things God had done for him, and he would not stop thanking Him for them.  If things are good for you right, or if you feel like you’re in a pit, God loves you and He is able to help you with whatever you are facing.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

2021: Stories

I read a lot of stories.  Some stories are true, some are not, and some are a unique blend of the two.  In literature, that's usually called historical fiction.  I don't read a lot of this genre because I'm afraid when the story is done I won't be able to remember what was true and what was not.

I find myself questioning stories more and more. Even last night, as my husband and I watched stand up comedy on Netflix, I couldn't help but wonder if the stories being told were totally true, or if they were well crafted tales for the sake of a laugh. Perhaps it doesn't matter when I'm watching a Netflix comedy special - I will readily agree to that - but it certainly matters when your spouse tells you why he is late coming home from work.  Or your children tell you why they got in a fight.  Or your friend explains why they didn't share a piece of information with you.

A friend recently told me a story that was not totally true.  Let me rephrase that.  A friend recently told me a story in such a way that the narrative led me to believe a certain conclusion that I may not have come to if he had told it to me another way.  He added certain details (and omitted others) that made me question his motives in telling the story.  My husband encouraged me to question him on it, but it felt right to just let it go.  It was his story to tell after all. And as long as we are telling stories, I should admit that I have been guilty of doing the same.

Most of our stories never get told.  They float around in our head for hours, weeks, and even lifetimes unless someone corrects them.  In high school, I struggled with expectations.  On one occaision I remember sitting down with my counselor and allowing myself to tell the story I had written about myself.  "I'm lazy," I confided to him.

More than twenty years later I can still see his smiling face correcting me, "You're tired."  I will always be thankful that he rewrote my story.  The stories we tell others are not nearly as powerful as the stories we tell ourselves. 

So it is with great care we must tell stories, to ourselves and to others, to encourage and to correct.  We need to hear stories to know there are other ways, right ways, better ways.  As the psalmist wrote:
We’ve been hearing about this, God, all our lives.
Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them,
How single-handedly you weeded out the godless from the fields and planted us,
How you sent those people packing but gave us a fresh start.
We didn’t fight for this land; we didn’t work for it—it was a gift!
You gave it, smiling as you gave it, delighting as you gave it.
(Psalm 44:1-3, MSG)
The story will not end with me.

I look forward to the new stories I will learn in 2021, the old stories I will revisit, and the stories I will be able to tell.