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.)

Wednesday’s Word: BRAVERY!

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I have spent most of my life in the shadow of the Cowardly Lion of “Wizard of Oz” fame. He was afraid of everything. He spent most of the movie working himself into a state of anxiety over all the things that could go wrong.

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I get him. This is my “me too.”

Yesterday, I got a call that a family wanted me to come to the hospital to pray. The hospital is in Cleveland—somewhere I’d never been before—and the sky was threatening to dump a deluge of hurricane proportions. In my heart I was ready to run out the door, but in my mind I was seeing all the things that could go wrong.

I asked a few trusted friends to pray for me, keyed the location into my phone, and with fear and trembling walked out the door.

I don’t consider myself brave. I have to draw on other resources: God, the prayers of friends, the encouragement of my husband to do the things I would otherwise shrink back from.

Courage is not the absence of fear. According to Dorothy Bernard: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

Many times in the movie, when the Lion wanted to run, his friends would lock arms and walk beside him into the fearfulness of the moment. God promises to never leave us or forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5ff). So there’s One who is always on our side, and at our side.

But don’t discount the friends who either by their presence or encouraging words will go with us as well.

When the situation calls for bravery you cannot muster on your own, who will you call on to help get you through?

And by the way, the hospital visit was great! There were only occasional droplets of rain. I found the hospital with no problem (parking was a little trickier, but accomplished). The family was a joy to be with. And I came home blessed and encouraged.

 

Sermon Seeds: Praying Submissively

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Submitting. Not a popular word or concept. It draws pictures in the mind of quitting and weakness, failure and loss. To modern sensibilities, submission is archaic and dangerous. Many couples have responded so strongly against the concept, they remove it from their marriage vows.

Not only did Jesus include the concept in his paradigm of prayer (Lead us not into temptation), but when he looked out with compassion on the oppressed crowd, he invited them to take on his yoke and learn from him. His call to the disciples was an invitation to follow him. And then he told them that to follow him meant being willing to take up their cross daily and walk his way.

Submitting to a higher authority, following as he leads, learning his way, is woven into everything it means to carry his name, to be his.

So it should not be surprising to us that submission is linked inheritantly to submission. After all, we are asking someone else for something. In that action we are admitting we don’t have all the answers, direction, resources needed and are dependent upon another.

God has lead his people from the beginning: in the garden he walked with Adam and Eve; in the wilderness he led the nation to the Promise Land—using a cloud and a pillar of fire; and Jesus was always pointing his followers to a new way of living and believing.

The old hymn puts it well: Lord, I would place my hand in Thine, nor ever murmur nor repine; content, whatever lot I see, since ‘tis my God that leadeth me (Joseph Gilmore, “He Leadeth Me).

Hopefully Devoted: How much love?

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The trial of a serial killer has captured the attention of most of the people in my little town. Finding an impartial jury has not been easy. Opinions are expressed in the morning coffee gatherings, in the papers, and on the regional news.

I met recently with a group who were close to one of the victims. Very early into our meetng, one of people spoke up: “I have a question. Do I have to pray for that guy?”

Easy answer: no.

But I’m not into easy answers.

I helped my questioning friend to tease out what she was really wanting to ask. She was somewhat resistant—seeking to hide the truth she was trying to avoid. But we finally got there. “Do I have to forgive him?”

What followed was an honest discussion about forgiveness. No one was comfortable…needing to forgive can do that.

As we were wrapping up our meeting, a new question surfaced: Do I have to like him?

Even easier answer: no!

Scripture says nothing about liking someone. I don’t think we’re wired to like everyone.

But we have to care about them. We have to love them.

Loving someone…caring for them…praying for them doesn’t mean we have to like them—and we certainly don’t have to like or condone what they did.

Perhaps the only thing we can pray for them is that they will find the strength to face the consequences of their actions.

If I did something horribly wrong I would hope someone prayed that much for me.

Message Meme: Praying Together

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Last week we considered Jesus’ instruction to pray privately. He was concerned with the potential people possess to try to impress others with with their praying prowess, or maybe even their fear to pray in front of others for fear of judgement.

While many take that instruction and use it to denounce corporate prayer, a cursory read of the Bible would prove something quite different.

Jesus, when asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, gives them what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. And the prayer is an instruction to them in the plural: when all y’all pray, pray this way…Our Father.

The prayer is not a self-centered crowd cry of, “Mine, mine, mine, mine.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, when the ragtag group of believers was stuck together in the Upper Room, they filled their time with prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us they “joined together constantly in prayer.”

Praying alone solidifies our relationship with God. Praying together strengthens and grows us for our mission and ministry to the world.

We’re in this…together.

Hopefully Devoted: Praying Specifics

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Do you ever wonder if God gets bored with our prayers?

I know I do.

A confession like that from a pastor might sound odd. But it’s true.

If my prayers are all fluff and stuff, lacking substance or direction: what’s the point?

They begin to sound as meaningful as Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah wah wah wah.”

Jesus had an encounter with a blind man. He looked at the blind man and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51ff)

The man didn’t hem and haw. He didn’t talk around the issue. He didn’t try to butter Jesus up to get him to do “whatever.”

To Jesus’ direct question, the man replied directly, “I want to see.” And that’s just what he got.

God doesn’t want us to hem and haw, dance around the issue, or butter him up.

God speaks us to directly because he loves us.

Why would we do any less?

Do No Harm

First, do no harm.

Quick! Where’s that from?

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Hippocratic Oath? That’s what I thought.

Nope. After doing a little online reading, I found it’s not in the original Greek version. There’s a phrase in the Latin that might come close. It is believed the phrase came into acceptance somewhere in the 17th century.

Why does this matter? What drove me to even look?

I’m glad you asked.

Yesterday, on my drive to visit some folks who are completing a drug rehab program, I had a heart to heart with God.

At first I was trying to anticipate conversations and how I would respond. Okay, I confess I think these kinds of thing through for all kinds of encounters. I’m an old Girl Scout: I tried to always be prepared.

But the rehearsals in my mind were going nowhere.

So I stopped—talking not driving.

And I confessed how foolish I felt and I asked God what I needed to do.

Yes, I’m a trained pastor (two different Masters degrees for that) and a trained counselor (Masters degree and all kinds of continuing education), but we’re facing a giant of an enemy in this heroin epidemic.

This must be how David felt when he faced Goliath. (Okay, go ahead think current Pepsi commercials. See video below if you’re unfamiliar.)

God, I don’t know what to say. I want to offer your kind of lasting, life-changing, life-giving help. How do I do that?

 I know, not a very eloquent prayer—didn’t even say Amen at the end.

But God heard. And God spoke: Do No Harm.

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This is a huge request for an ESFP with ADD. I am not like my introverted friends who think and then overthink and maybe think some more before they open their mouths to speak. I think out loud. Words tumble out of my mouth faster than I can check them.

How do I do that?

Here’s what I did:

I listened. A challenging thing for an ESFP with ADD.

Listening requires intentional focus. Trust me: this requires more energy than a 30 minute workout at CURVES.

But I did it.

And I shared what I knew to be true.

This included some of my own struggle, but also a couple of my foundation scripture promises and fundamental counseling truths.

I’m not sure if we slayed the giant…but we did some serious damage. I left those appointments whoopin’ and hollerin’ for Jesus.

These were divine appointments and I was just along for the ride.

Check back for the next post where I’ll share one of those fundamental counseling truths.  (How’s that for a teaser?!)

 

**ESFP is a Myers-Brigs Trait Inventory designation (MBTI). When I take the inventory I identify as an Extrovert who takes in my surroundings through my Senses, makes judgments through my Feelings, and organizes Perceptively (which is kind of like no organization at all—think scattered).

If you want to check out the test just google it. You can take it online and receive your information.

**ADD is a psychiatric identification, Attention Deficit Disorder. My brain typically runs in scatter mode. I act before thinking. I get overwhelmed by too many instructions. I am highly distracted…squirrel!

 

 

Teach Us To Pray

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Tomorrow morning I will be starting a series of messages on the Lord’s Prayer. When you pray “our Father” what are you saying, believing, doing?

The first thing I notice is the corporate nature of the prayer. We aren’t in this world alone.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he could have given them a theological dissertation based on familiar principles. But he didn’t. Instead he gave them the essential components of prayer.

And he starts with our Father—not simply Father. There are definitely times to get alone with God, but when the group came to Jesus, and the group asked to be taught how to pray, Jesus addressed their corporate need to pray.

I encountered a situation recently that drove this point home for me.

How many times when a friend or acquaintance shares a need, have you told them you would pray for them? You are sincere in your intention to pray, but life gets in the way and that opportunity for intercession is lost.

I don’t get many people coming to my door these days. So I was a bit surprised when the dogs began barking in their “oh boy, there’s someone at the door” way. With the reluctance that comes from dreading the annoyance of one more salesman, I went to the door.

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The woman at my door was quick to assure me she was not there to sell me anything. She gave me her name, told me she was from the women’s abuse shelter. She added that their group had the permission of the Sheriff and Chief of Police to be going door to door.

I apologized for not inviting her in, but my dogs are big and overly friendly. She seemed okay having the door between us. I introduced myself as the pastor of a local church that makes a point of regularly supporting the shelter.

We chatted and she was about to leave my door. This would be that moment when we say those words that roll off our tongues almost without thought: I’ll be praying for you.

But I couldn’t say them. Because I knew, with a knowing that comes from the Spirit, I needed to say, “Can I pray with you now?”

So I did. And her eyes got big. She put her hand on the screen and I put mine up to hers and we had a wonderfully blessed moment of connected prayer.

And then she was gone. But she will stay with me. Her name and face come to mind often and I pray, like Paul, as often as I remember her.

Now, I’m not telling you that story because I’m anything special. I’m telling you to encourage you to not miss those kinds of moments, those kinds of blessings—that kind of power.

The question that needs our response seems to be: how will we be open to the opportunities of corporate and connected prayer?

How can I pray with you today?

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Rebuilding with Nehemiah, Chapter 6, Day 5

Friday:

Text: 9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”
But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” (Nehemiah 6:9, NIV)

Teach: “If they’re wringing their hands in fear, they’ll be too weak (and distracted) to work.” That was the thinking of Nehemiah’s enemies. Nehemiah’s solution: prayer. Hopefully by now we’re learning that prayer is Nehemiah’s answer to every problem or situation. This time he asked God to strengthen his hands.

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Take: Peter encourages the believers of his day to “cast all your anxiety (care) on him (God) because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). This wasn’t a new thought for the Psalmist had penned the same message centuries before: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (Psalm 55:22, NIV)

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Task: Wringing your hands in fear is wasted energy. Instead, cast all your care on God, because he cares for you. He will give you the strength for whatever task you face.

Nehemiah Devotions Chapter 4, Day 3

Wednesday: Enthusiastic Workers
Text: 6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm. (Nehemiah 4:6, NLT)

Nehemiah prayed and the people worked and the wall was progressing.

What was it that changed?

It certainly wasn’t Sanballat and his cronies.

And it wasn’t God.

I remember learning early on in my faith journey that prayer changes the one who prays.

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So what did Nehemiah’s prayer accomplish?

The people who were being beaten down by Sanballat’s ridicule and mocking found the courage to get the task done. They learned that God was still in control, that he had a plan, and summoned up the enthusiasm and energy needed to finish the wall.

Feeling a little short on enthusiasm, courage, and energy? Take God at his word and you’ll find what you need to accomplish what he needs you to do.

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