In the Midst of the Storm

65BA60F2-D2D3-4C94-B38F-4DF6C62A7307

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.)

Strength For Shaky Times

F8225533-0EDE-4847-B8E1-9DE72BF71251

Psalm 121 1-2 I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
    your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
    Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5-6 God’s your Guardian,
    right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
    sheltering you from moonstroke.

7-8 God guards you from every evil,
    he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
    he guards you now, he guards you always. (The Message)

Negative news. Fake news. No news. Too much information. Confusing and conflicting words coming from sources that should encourage us, solidify us, comfort us…direct us. Who do we believe? Who can we believe? What do we want to believe?

If my peace, my strength, only comes from external and world-based sources, I will always be tossed about, unsettled, and lost.

My strength, my peace comes from a source that is consistent, unshakeable, and always right on time.

The One who is my strength will not allow me to stumble, not from weakness nor in the dark. None of the confusion swirling around me occurs without the awareness of the One who created everything and promises to make all things new.

This One, this creator, is also the shield providing relief and protection. The promise rings true: God is not going anywhere—whether we are close or running, struggling or resting. This One who knows us best and loves us most guards us now and always.

Find your peace there. Find your strength there.

00A6A86B-973B-4F67-9AAB-A0CE1E4443D4

Pursue Peace

IMG_0044

(This was written right after the tragic events in August in Charlottesville. I thought I posted it–perhaps it needed to percolate a little longer and be posted on International Peace Day. Perhaps.)

I will confess, I wrestled with God yesterday morning as I woke early and headed to my computer to make the revisions I received as He roused me from my comfortable slumber.

Before I climbed into bed I had been watching and reading all the news coming out of Charlottesville. My heart and mind were troubled…confused. I don’t understand hate–especially not the kind I was seeing and reading about.

I made it through the service…prayerfully and not without tears. Heavy-hearted, but less afraid. God is still in control–even if I don’t know how that will play out–and I choose to trust.

IMG_0045

Earlier in the week, when the focus was on the crisis with Korea, a phrase from an old hymn came to mind: “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

The song came back to me this morning. I know it’s a “Christmas” song, but the words (feelings) are powerful and poignant.

 

Bottom line: God is not dead nor does he sleep. The awareness and presence of God is what is truly supreme.

I’m holding onto that and looking for places where I can plant seeds of peace, of healing. I want my life to be one of those ringing bells the song speaks of–waking and alerting others to the God of peace.

Lenten Thoughts: Home

home.jpg

Several years ago, my husband and I were in the market for a new place to live. We had only owned one home and we lost it when the restaurants my husband co-owned closed. It was a hard loss. We rented the house we lived in when we started that round of house shopping because both our daughters and all our grandchildren were living with us. They moved out on their own and we were lost in this very huge, and expensive house.

So, we found a really good realtor. She figured out our needs and likes. One day she took us to seven houses. I fell in love with one house and liked its location. Then I fell in love with one location and sort of liked the house. While we’re still struggling a bit with some things with the “loved” house, we sent her an email and told her that we thought it was the one.

As we pulled out of the driveway, I began thinking of colors for the rooms and where I’d put furniture. Nelson began research on propane. We imagined ourselves living in our new home. Was it a place where we could see ourselves growing old? The price was right, but how was the fit?

When we bought our first house (the one we lost), we bought it mostly because it was available with land contract, and it was only a block away from where we were living (an easy move), and two blocks from where I was working. We learned to live with the rest of it. It was a house, but never really became a home. We came and went so much from that place, it was more like a stopover than a dwelling place. This became very clear to me when I lost my jobs and was “stuck” being there for months before we eventually moved.

home1.jpg

I remember a devotion I read by John Henry Jowett many years ago where he spoke of our need to find our dwelling place, where we could be “at home.” He referenced 2 Corinthians 5 and compared birds that just flit in and out with those that nest and dwell.

A search of “dwelling place” led me to many references made to God’s dwelling place. Isaiah paints a difference image in chapter 32: “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest (Isaiah 32:18, NIV).”

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, and getting more so every day, but I want to find a place where I feel like I land and rest. The house we were considering had a “lake” in the back yard, and Amish farms across the road in the front. I don’t know if it gets more peaceful than that.

The important thing, though, is not the address. The house could be in the middle of nowhere and not be a place of undisturbed rest. If a house is to truly be a dwelling place, I will have to be at rest in my heart and spirit. I will need to be at peace with my creator.

So my prayer became, if this was where he wanted us that he will lead us beside the still waters and make us lie down there.

home2.jpg

Advent Begins

hide and seek.jpg

Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

ready or not Jesus.jpg

Sermon Seeds: Pursue the Things that Make for Peace

SP ephesians 4-3

Did you have a role in your family?

I was the peacemaker.

I’ve never outgrown it.

In an effort to “keep the peace” I have downplayed, ignored, and avoided. I believed the mantra, “Peace at any price.”

The problem is, that’s not peace.

And it’s way to high a price.

Sometimes it takes “wrestling” with the issue to find the blessing. Jacob learned that lesson (you’ll find the story in Genesis 32:22-32).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not finding much peace or unity these days.

I see a lot of taking sides.

There seems to be a greater desire to be right than to be related

Perhaps we would do well to make this our prayer:

SP bind us prayer

Book Review: 365 Moments of Peace for a Woman’s Heart

365 Moments of Peace for a Woman’s Heart
Reflections On God’s Gifts of Love, Hope, and Comfort

Readings extracted from previously published volumes Moments of Peace for the Morning, Moments of Peace for the Evening, Quiet Moments Alone With God, Moments of Peace from the Psalms, Moments of Peace for a Woman’s Heart, Psalms to Soothe a Woman’s Heart, Moments of Peace in the Presence of God for Couples, Moments of Peace in the Wisdom of God.

From the moment I opened the package I knew I was holding something very special. This book begs to be held. That may sound odd to some, but for me, there is a definite feeling I get touching a book. This book has a quality and texture that exudes quality.

When I consider purchasing a devotional, I read certain days. I always go to my birthday and read the devotion God placed there for me. Then I let it open randomly and read what I find. The words on those days in this devotional were as rich as the physical qualities of the book itself.

I guess when publishers can draw the best from the best of their devotionals it would be safe to expect depth and wealth. I was not disappointed. The texts were not always familiar and the insights not predictable. The writing mined deeper truths, not seeming to be concerned for making the reader feel good, but more peace-filled and connected.

I am very happy to own this devotional and would not hesitate to give it as a gift to friend or family.

I was given a copy of this devotional by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Advent 17: Peace on Earth

Part of what set me up to make the poorest decisions in my life was buying into the lie of “peace at any price.” I learned, and quite painfully, that there is no such thing because it really is not peace and we pay way too high a price.

And yet I still believe in and crave peace. I avoid conflict whenever I can. But I am not a pacifist. I am a peacemaker.

When the angel chorus delivered their message to the shepherds, they sang of peace on earth. And the crowd heard a very different message than what God intended. They took it to mean an end to strife and hardship and oppressive rule.

God had something very different in mind. Paul tried to clear up the confusion in his letter to the church at Ephesus. He wrote: “For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, broke down the barrier of the dividing wall…that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” (Ephesians 2:14, NASB.)

There were so many divisions between the people. The mission of Christmas is to heal those separations. God wanted peace not pieces. God wanted to bring his people back together and back to him.

Will you take some time to examine what divides your heart, what separates you from others, what keeps you from God.

His gift for you is peace: wholeness in life, not pieces formed by divisions.

Today I want to close with my favorite Christmas song and a prayer that God will heal the brokenness that divides so you will know peace.

Simple Gifts

Okay. Raise your hand if you have a cell phone? Keep them up…I’m still counting.

Last week I finally went in to talk to the people at my Verizon store. I would rather visit the dentist.

There are very few, if any, workers there who know what life was like before cell phones. I feel like I’m immediately a “marked” woman: easy prey; unknowing victim; big sale! Ugh.

So I after I am accosted at the door, I am sent to the counter to talk to a young man. Very chipper and quite excited to get the geezer (not), he asks what he can do for me. I tell him, “Fix my phone.”

I go on to explain that my battery won’t hold a charge. He removes the battery and spins it on the counter. “Yep, that battery is really bad.” (Thanks captain obvious, that’s why I came in). He explains that the spinning demonstrates that the battery is warped and that’s why it’s not charging.

He proceeds to look up my account–our account, since we are bundled with younger daughter. He correctly informs me that my contract isn’t up until March. A fact that I knew and that doesn’t make me happy. I ask what I can do about this.

He walks me over to the magic wall of wonder. I guess I’m supposed to be all “Ooh” and “Ah”, but all I see are gizmos and gadgets I can’t afford and don’t need. He proceeds to explain my two options–both of which cost way too much and don’t fix my phone. No, I need a new phone. Upgrade is the solution. I leave the store with his card and my bum phone.

Later in the day I tell my husband about my adventure. He asks how much a new battery costs. I tell him that was not an option that was given to me. He sighs and gets on Ebay. He orders me an $8 battery that will be here in three days. If that works–great! If not, we’ll consider another option. A new phone is not in the picture. And I’m way okay with that.

That battery came as promised. And works wonderfully. My phone should last until my contract is up.


Now where, you ask, is the daily grace in all of that?

Replacing the battery seemed like such an obvious and logical solution. I’m certainly no techo-genius, but even I came up with that one. And the whole thing dying shortly before my contract was complete was a fact that seemed quite suspicious to me as well.

As I drove home from the store, my phone making all sorts of odd beeps and chimes as I try to charge it, a phrase ran through my mind: not as the world gives.

Here’s the context of those words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

We typically hear these words at funerals. They are spoken there with intent of bringing comfort.

But all I could hear was: I do not give to you as the world gives.

The world wanted me to spend beyond my means. The world left me feeling badly about myself. The world avoided the simple solution.

Jesus does none of the above. Jesus invites me to be a wise steward. Jesus loved me so much he died for me. Through Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and example, we see over and over the value of individuals that society shunned or devalued (the ill, children, widows, women, and tax collectors). Jesus focused on the obvious, even though their eyes were blind and their ears shut to his message.

As you make your way into the minefield of holiday shopping and gift giving, I would invite you to carry this verse with you: I do not give as the world gives. The world wants you to spend. The world seeks to convince children that they don’t have enough, or good enough. Adults aren’t immune from this ploy of the deceiver either.

The message of the world is that things, more things, better things, improved things, new things will make us happy. But it’s a lie. Sorry. Here’s how I know it: this is not how God gives. Jesus neither. God gave the greatest gift in the form of a helpless baby, born in a stable or cave. There was a fanfare of sorts (cue the angelic choir), but the message was given to dirty, smelly, low-life shepherds.

NOW HEAR THIS: I’m not saying you have to change everything you do. I’m just asking you to consider…and invite God into your process. This isn’t simply an invitation to ask and apply the WWJD formula…but there is something to thinking about how Jesus would give and what he would give.

As I thought about this verse an old Quaker song came to mind:


Now those are some gifts I would like to find around my tree: freedom, the ability to bow and bend, and know I’m where I ought to be. Those are the gifts Jesus gives. I hope you find those this holiday and holy season.

Wondering and Wandering to Christmas: Shhhhhh…

I will probably never be accused of being quiet. It was one of the things that really bothered my dad. He was always telling me to turn down my volume. He made a point to remind me to be quieter whenever I went out or to someone’s home. I laugh loud. I talk loud. I am just loud. So it was really hard for me to grasp what Paul was saying to the Thessalonians: 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life (4:11, NLT). In terms of Myers-Briggs, I’m an ESFP. I have ADD. So I’m an extrovert, who thinks out loud, and acts impulsively. How am I supposed to live a quiet life?

Just as shalom, peace, is not merely the absence of conflict, quiet is more than just the absence of noise. In a small but insightful book, “Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart”, Dr. Wayne Oates points out that the noise of daily life can keep one from listening to, and attending to, the whispers which are truly important. Ken Gire picks up on the same theme in his book on the reflective life: “The reflective life is a life that is attentive, receptive, and responsive to what God is doing in us and around us (p. 11, The Reflective Life).”

Keeping those thoughts in mind, I can begin to believe that a quiet life is achievable for even me. It also reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the Christmas story. Having just delivered the baby Jesus, laying in a stable surrounded by shepherds, being serenaded by angels, Mary held it all as treasure and pondered them in her heart. Mary demonstrated the reflective and quiet life. Will we be attentive and reflective or busy and noisy? The quiet life awaits.