In the Midst of the Storm

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I came out to the patio to write. I swept the patio. I fussed around the table. I decided to work on worship music for tomorrow’s online service.

I was doing everything but writing.

I pulled up the song, “Fear No More by building 429.” I found something to write about. I love this song. It fits my current situation. The lyrics of the song contain an image of Jesus holding us in a storm not of our own choosing. “This isn’t what I planned…” Chaos is all around but Jesus is with us in the storm.

As I listened my mind drifted to the passage where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat and a strong storm happens. Mark records Peter’s recollection: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-40, NIV)

Jesus is not holding the disciples when the storm crashes in on them, and they are terrified they are going to die.

Jesus is there. He’s been there all along. He has the power to still the storm around them…and within them. Their fear brought them to Jesus, but not for an answer. They came accusing him of not caring. They are angry because while they’re consumed with and by their fear Jesus is curled up, cozy on a cushion. They are infuriated at his selfishness: this is no time to sleep, man! Do something for us. NOW!

In Mark’s account, Jesus rebuked the storm. What an object lesson. Storm, be at peace. Be still. Jesus may have addressed the storm, but his message was for the disciples. And it’s for us also.

Do you feel like there’s a storm all around you? Are the walls closing in? Do you fear for your life…or your way of living?

Here’s my confession: I’ve been really mad at God. Life was going pretty sweetly for me. I was achieving goals. I was about to start my D.Min (or finish it). Nelson was finally getting some of his medical issues addressed. We were happy. It was sort of like a Sunday boat ride on the lake on a wonderful summer day. Weather perfect. Floating along. Cozy. Relaxed. Happy.

Then bam. And nothing was comfortable. I couldn’t find happy anywhere on my radar. Ripped from the familiar. Life as I knew it…as I wanted it…was gone.

And this isn’t the first time in my life. I don’t want to re-rehearse the litany of what I saw as injustices perpetrated by God upon me. Why give it to me just to yank it away?

Selah. (Period of reflective silence.)

Job: shall we take the good and not the bad?

Paul: I have learned whatever situation I am in to find contentment.

Jesus: I’m right here. Be at peace. Be still.

Paul again: God puts us right where he wants us. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Me: okay. I will trust that you are with me—even in the storm. I may not be in school for my D.Min, but I have a lot to learn. Right here. Right now. (That’s my prayer, so Amen.)

God’s Just Too Hard To Understand

“Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than heaven— what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol— what can you know?”
Job 11:7-8

“I just don’t get God.”

I looked at the guy. I understood his struggle. But I also knew he was never going to understand until he gave up trying to figure it out.

None of us will.

One of the prophets stated the reason clearly: we don’t think like God.

And yet, the Apostle Paul tells us, in more than one of his letters, we have the mind of Christ.

Long ago I claimed Colossians 2:2 as my guiding verse: My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.

I think the key is tucked in the middle of that verse: the mystery of God.

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

I have learned there are two kinds of people when it comes to mysteries: ones who try to figure out the “who done it” as quickly as they can; and those (like me) who focus on the story and let it unfold without having to figure it out.

Living in the unfolding takes trust. And I understand how difficult it can be to trust.

At some point in my spiritual journey I heard a quote and I wrote it down in the back of my Bible. I liked it so much that I moved it to the front–it was too good to be buried in the back:

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Here’s something that might help you hang in there when life is confusing and God’s way of doing things is hard to grasp: I’ve read the end of the book–and we win. Hold on!

The old gospel song says it best: we’ll understand it better, by and by.

PRAYER: God of mystery thank you for not being a God of confusion. Thank you for teaching us that even though we don’t understand what you’re doing, you’re still active, interested, and working in our lives. Keep the life of Jesus and the mind of Jesus before us so we can see you better and trust you more. Amen.

Blinded by the Light

Yesterday we considered God appearing as a gentle nudge, how he arrives gently and naturally on the scene. This appearance is comforting to me.

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Sometimes, however, he has to explode onto the scene to get my attention. This is what he did with Paul:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9, ESV)

Do you find it interesting that Paul knew immediately who was speaking to him? He knew who was showing up in that blinding light. It was the Lord. Instant recognition and obedience. Paul’s companions were there as witnesses–a good thing to have when you’re going through a major life changing experience.

God burst into Paul’s life. Was that the only way he could have gotten Paul’s attention? Would Paul have ignored the gentle nudges? Can you relate? Have there been times when you stubbornly ignored God’s more gentler attempts to get your attention? Did it take a more earth shaking, life changing, event to break through your reluctance, your arrogance?

I know what it’s like…perhaps that why I prefer the nudges.

But either way, it’s good to know God knows how to get our attention.

PRAYER: God, thank you for breaking into my life, my awareness, my mess just the way you need to in order to get my attention. Nudge me or blind me, but don’t let me get away from what I need to hear today. My ears, my eyes, and my heart is open. Amen.

Tough to Swallow

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. When lunch is over he identifies himself as the Bread of Life. Then in a way that shocked the crowd, he goes on to tell them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Their response: Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” (John 6:60, The Message)

Too tough to swallow.

What do you find tough to swallow?

Has life handed you some bitter pills?

I always had a terrible time swallowing pills when I was a kid. All the way up through college, I would ask for a shot rather than have to swallow pills.

Penicillin was the worst. I couldn’t make those pills slide down no matter how much I drank. Nothing tasted worse. I would cry, beg, to not have to take the pills. My mom wasn’t very sympathetic. I know now she was “hard-nosed” about the whole thing because her ultimate concern wasn’t my immediate comfort but my eventual health.

Have you begged and cried out for God to remove some difficulty, an illness, financial challenges, physical limitations, or loss? But he lets it remain.

And that’s just pretty tough to swallow.

Doesn’t God care that you are suffering? Doesn’t he want you to be happy? Doesn’t he hear your pleas for relief?

Yes. But just like my mom, he loves you too much to leave you in your sin-sick condition.

There are so many stories in the Bible that are just heart-breaking. Widows who lose their only children. Poor Naomi and Ruth. And who can forget Job? But let’s consider Paul for just a moment.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (See 2 Corinthians 12) he writes about his “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, the apostle prayed on three occasions for God to remove it. And God said no.

He also said: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”

As a result Paul declared: “I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (1 Corinthians 12:10).”

Talk about a bitter pill. Paul endured much that we would find tough to swallow. But he also knew a strength and grace that enabled him to come through all the difficulty and in a way that brought honor and glory to the One who provided the strength and grace in the first place.

On the day when some of Jesus’ disciples found his message to be a bitter pill many left. Jesus turned to those who remained and asked if they were thinking of bailing, too. Peter spoke up for the remaining twelve: Where else can we go? You alone have the words of life.

Peter didn’t try to sugar coat it. Sometimes bitter pills lead to life.

Job, that persecuted and often misunderstood man from the Old Testament, grasped this one thing like nothing else in his ordeal. He summed up his ability to hang onto God in the midst of all his suffering this way: shall we take the good and not the bad? (See Job 2:10)

Paul went a step further and told the Roman believers that no matter how bitter the pill God was able to cause all the bad, the negative, the difficult to work for good. He never says that the bad is good, just that God can take all the negative and difficult and make them work for our good and his glory (See Romans 8:28).

Tough to swallow…perhaps. But remember, God knows what is absolutely best for you. You can trust him. It may be tough, but don’t walk away now. In him there is fullness of life, your life and mine, now and forever.