Questions in the dark

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“Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted  that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” ~Luke 1:68-79 (CEB)

In waiting it seems sometimes that the darkness closes in. In waiting, the questions sometimes scream out. To deny my questions is to give them more power than they actually have. In the stillness, that waiting involves I can forget that God’s promises are even for me too.

Zechariah prayed and waited for a son. He prayed for so long and the answer was silence for so long that he forgot to watch. But when God’s answer was realized, “At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.” (Luke 1:64)

Rueben P. Job says this about Zechariah:

“Zechariah was a deeply religious man, a man full of years and full of experience. He was a leader in the religious life of his community and was filled with a question that would not go away. Even an angelic visit did not calm his fears or answer his question. “How can I know that God’s promise is true for me?”

It is easy for us to make light of Zechariah’s struggle, thinking it would be different for us. If an angel visited us, we would believe. If we had received such a direct promise from God, we would trust and rejoice. But the truth is we have received a much greater and more direct promise. We have the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus to confirm the promise of God’s love and provision. We have the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to assure us the companionship of God and the power of God in everyday life. We have two thousand years of experience to remind us and assure us that God can be trusted and that God will provide. But the questions are not easily put to rest. What if I am wrong and give my life to the focus of my wishful thinking and not to the living God? What if I am listening to my own desire and not the voice of God as I seek direction for my life? What if God leads me astray and into a life that is too much for me?

Zechariah is not the only one who hears the nagging questions. We hear them too. How will I know God is guiding me? How will I know God will provide for me? How will I know that God will forgive me? How will I know God loves me as an individual? How will I know? How will I know God? These are the nagging questions that lurk in many of our lives, and to deny them is to give them power they do not have. To face the questions honestly and directly is to see them for what they are- a response of fear to our lack of faith. So what shall we do? Continue our life as Zechariah sis- praying, serving, listening. And as we continue our disciplined listening for the voice of God, we will be called to remember that God does care for us and provide for us in wonderful ways, even when we are unaware of that provision.

After living with the questions, the apostle Paul said, ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels…, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:38-39). The assurance that we are enfolded in the loving arms of God can still the nagging questions and grant us the grace, peace, and serenity to live all of life fully and faithfully every day.” ~Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, grant me this blessed assurance today and always. Give me the strength to face my questions, faith when the questions want to give way to fear. I claim the assurance that I am wrapped tight in your loving arms and that nothing, not even my questions can separate me from Your love Amen.

Ordinary everyday

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During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense.  All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. ~Luke 1:5-13 (CEB)

“The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story. And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feelings it gives us that if there is meaning in any life – in [Zechariah’s], in Mary’s, in Christ’s- then there is meaning in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and makes us listen to the story teller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is.” ~From The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner

In this season of waiting, it is a good reminder for me to read the stories of others. It is good to see in retrospect their lives and how they fit into God’s bigger story. Even my story may have value if seen through God’s eyes. In the stories of others I find hope and I am strengthened for the journey that is mine. In the once everyday ordinary turned extraordinary of others I begin to believe that my ordinariness can have value too. And if my ordinariness can be valued by God… yours can be too…

Heavenly Father, in the ordinariness of everyday life help me to shine for You. May I never see life as too mundane to use it for Your glory. Give me strength in the times where waiting is what is required give me the strength to wait with the expectancy of great things to come. Amen.

When God comes seeking

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Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” ~Luke 1:39-45 (CEB)

“God tells Zechariah through an angel’s visit that he and his wife will know the joy of having a child, but Elizabeth comes to that knowledge without an angel or a dream or any special sign to help her believe. She knows the incredible joy of having her disgrace wiped away, but she also experiences the added joy of recognizing that God is about to do something even more wonderful, and not just for her and Zechariah personally but for the whole world. She realizes that God comes to us individually. And that reality is remarkable. God could herd us all together like flocks of sheep and redeem us in groups. God could sap whole congregations and speed up the process of saving the world. But God wants relationships with each of us and chooses to come to us one by one…

Elizabeth is overwhelmed when she realizes that the mother of the Messiah has come to her personally. A righteous and blameless person, she finds that fact of being sought by God difficult to grasp and impossible to explain. We ordinary folks who intimately know ourselves to be less than righteous and less than blameless find it even more difficult to understand that God seeks us out and wants relationship with us! Because relationships are built one person at a time, God invests time and energy in each one of us, knowing each one of us is unique and infinitely valuable.” ~From While We Wait by Mary Lou Redding.

While we wait we sometimes forget that we can be found. The Christmas story has many windows of God entering personally into the lives of His people. The Advent season is a time of waiting, but in that waiting we find hope. We are reminded that God never leaves us alone in our darkness. Although we cannot always “see” Him, the darkness is as light to Him. (Psalm 139:12) We may be “blind” to Him but we are never lost to Him.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Jesus into the world to find the lost, the sick, the blind. I thank You Jesus for loving us so much that you were willing to physically come down here to be with us, not just to tell us of the Father’s love but to show us that love. I thank you Jesus for being willing to be that candle in the dark for us, guiding us to the true Light. May I feel that Love this Advent season through relationships that You have given me. Amen.

A light for the darkness

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We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience. In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. ~Rom 8:24-26 (CEB)

“Religious energy is in the dark questions, seldom in the answers. Answers are the way out. Answers are not what we are here for. When we look for answers, we’re looking to change the pattern. When we look at the questions, we look for the opening to transformation.” ~From Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr.

It is in the questioning that we learn and grow. Sometimes we forget that it is okay to ask our questions. Sometimes we can be afraid to acknowledge the questions we have.  We can fear that questions show that we lack faith. It is ignoring the questions that can become stumbling blocks in our faith. But if time is taken to flush out the questions we have, we can realize a beginning of a much deeper faith than we had before.

Heavenly Father, help me to not be afraid to question. Send Your Holy Spirit to walk with me through the questions, guiding me to a stronger understand of Who You are and how You want me to live for You. Amen.

To truly trust

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I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. ~Jer 29:11-12

I have a dark secret. I worry about my children. Sometimes it is that deep dark crippling kind of worry where I find that the air has stopped flowing through my lungs. God has recently confronted me about these fears I have for my children.

I have embraced God’s promises and I know that He will take care of me and provide for me. I know deep in my heart that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love and that He will take care of me. But do I have enough faith in God to think the same things for my children? Apparently not. I so worry about the hurts my children have sustained. I worry over the choices that they make. I can see the long term effects cut deep into them and how it could follow them through life.

God asked me one day. Do you not think that my promises are for your children too? Do you not think that I can use all of these things, their hurts and choices for their future? Do you not believe that I can use all these things for their good?

Despite the choices that my children make, despite the hurts they incur, God is holding them in His hands just like he has me in His hands. God has used all my pain and suffering and turned it into glory for Him. He will do the same for my children. That doesn’t absolve me of training them in the way they are to go but it does release me of the control and give control to God.

Heavenly Father, again I turn my children over to you. Protect their hearts, lead them in the way they are to go. I know that You will use all things to their ultimate good. I know that it will all be for Your glory. I trust that You love my children even more than I do. Amen.

God alone remains

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I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The LORD is your protector; the LORD is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The LORD will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now. ~Psalm 121:1-8 (CEB)

There is no need to multiply examples of what is so patently and essential condition of the Christian walk. We are saved through faith – an unflagging, unwavering attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.

What is the depth and quality of your faith commitment? In the last analysis, faith is not a way of speaking or even of thinking; it is a way of living. Maurice Blondel said, ‘If you want to know what a person really believes. Don’t listen to what he says but watch what he does.’ Only the practice of faith can verify what we believe. Does faith permeate the whole of your life? Does it influence the way you read the newspaper? DO you have a divine sense of humor that sees through people and events into the unfolding plan of God? When things are turbulent on the surface of your life, do you retain a quiet calm, firmly fixed in ultimate reality? As Therese of Lisieux said, ‘Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.’ Does faith shape your Advent season this year?” ~From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

Heavenly Father, as I wait, I pay attention, keeping my focus on You. Help me to see You in the little things so I can be bolstered for the big. Help me be ever watchful as I wait for Your plans to unfold. Hold my hand in the dark moments as I look to the light of this season. Amen.

Give me strength to expect …to hope

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One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” ~Luke 1:8-20 CEB)

Have you ever thought that it was a little harsh that Zachariah was told he would not be allowed to speak for the next 9-10 months? What great sin did he commit to receive such a punishment? It struck me today when discussing these verses with a group that Zachariah forgot, in all his obedience, to continue to expect a miracle. He had prayed for years for a child and over time came to accept that it was not meant to be and had begun to believe it was not going to happen. Maybe Zachariah continued to pray for a child but he had somewhere in his waiting he stopped believing that it could happen.

In times of waiting, we have to be careful to still be watching… to still believe in miracles. I have to admit it is difficult for me to accept my circumstance and yet still believe in a miracle. After 20 years of diligently praying I have come to accept my circumstances. I have been aware of this and struggle with how to come to terms with it. I have assumed that the long silence on this matter has meant that God’s answer to me is a “no”… and I have adjusted my life in such a way that I have moved on.

Is this what Zachariah is guilty of? Accepting his circumstances and going through the motions of obedience? Did he stop looking for the miracle? In his waiting did he forget to watch… to continue to hope?

My questions are how do I live expectantly while waiting and patiently obeying? How do I believe in the possibility of a miracle, still hope for it and yet go about my daily life? In trying to live above despair I have stopped looking for the miracle. I am sometimes afraid to still hope when each day starts again with disappointment.

Lord, help me to live expectantly and yet still have that “peace that passes all understanding.” Help me claim that Hope and that Peace while I still wait for a miracle. I am looking Lord. I am watching. I am expecting mighty things. Help me in my unbelief. Give me the strength to face each day… knowing that even though today wasn’t the day, there is always tomorrow. Amen.

Expectantly

“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know. ~Matthew 25:36-44 (CEB)

“Because we see such deception in our world, it is not unusual that we guard ourselves against the truth of the gospel story. We are afraid that it is indeed too good to be true. What if we believed that it is indeed too good to be true? What if we believed and then found out it was only myth and hype? Better to keep our distance. We listen to the gospel story, let it creep into the edges of our lives, but never can bring ourselves to embrace it fully. What if it is just another cheap commercial trick that has nothing to do with our need or destiny and everything to do with the storyteller’s need and fortune? Since it is better to be wise than to be a fool, we stand near the edge of the Advent story and keep all of our options open.

So often I stand on the edge of the light, afraid to believe, afraid to act, afraid that this story is too good to be true. But the in my better moments, when I listen closely to the story, move closer to the light, my fears seem to evaporate like an early morning mist, and I can believe again. I can believe that God who makes all that is became clothed in God. I can believe that God claims me as a beloved child. I can believe that all my days are in God’s strong and tender hands. I can believe that not only my days but all days are in God’s good and able hands. I can believe, rejoice, and wait trustingly and expectantly for the unfolding of God’s promise given so many ways and most clearly in the Advent story. Thanks be to God!

We are not unlike Zechariah in the presence of God’s messengers. Our questions are like his. How can this be? The angel speaks to us as to him, ‘Do not be afraid… for your prayer has been heard’ (Luke 1:13). God gives the promise and God keeps the promise. So even though it does sound too good to be true, it is true! Thanks be to God it is true! Two thousand years of Christian experience and testimony declare that the preposterous promise is true. Today believe that your prayer is heard and the light and presence of God will lead you through all your days.” ~ From A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Ruben P. Job

Heavenly Father, Help me move further into Your light, boldly believing in the Advent Story. Although it may seem too good to be true help my fears evaporate with the rising sun of this day. May I move ever forward with the confidence of a child of God. May I listen closely during this seasonal time of waiting to the story again, rejoicing ,trusting and expecting to see the unfolding of Your Promises for me. Amen

An abundant God

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one mind so that they may worship me all the days of their lives, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to stop treating them graciously. I will put into their hearts a sense of awe for me so that they won’t turn away from me. I will rejoice in treating them graciously, and I will plant them in this land faithfully and with all my heart and being. ~Jer. 32:38-41 (CEB)

“God’s apparent lack of restraint when it comes to creating things is but a symptom of a deeper” problem”: God lacks restraint when it comes to loving, too. In fact, God is most unrestrained when it comes to loving. Put another way, God cannot love except abundantly.

We see this abundance of God’s love demonstrated throughout [Hebrew Scriptures]. The Chosen People turn away from God again and again. What does God do? Does God throw up his divine hands in disgust and cry, ‘Enough already!’ and zap those Israelites into kingdom come? No, God continues to love them, taking them back again and again and again. There seems to be no end to God’s love. There is no end to God’s love.” ~From Abundant Treasures by Melannie Svoboda

From beginning to end, God has only wanted one thing from us, a relationship. This theme runs throughout the Bible from the beginning to the end. God is a God of relationships. That is why He sent His son into the world to physically show us how to have a relationship with Him. During Advent I always marvel how He chose to come into the world: as a defenseless tiny infant, completely dependent on the humans around Him.

Heavenly Father, you are a God of relationships. You came into the world to model how we are to have a relationship with You and Your children. Help me today to remember those around me, help me foster relationships with them so that Your Kingdom can be realized here and now. Amen.

 

Our reason for being alive

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All of God’s promises have their yes in him. That is why we say Amen through him to the glory of God. ~2 Cor. 1:20 (CEB)

It is so easy to get swept up in thoughts of “Why am I even here on earth?” “Why do I even exist?” Especially during difficult times I can wonder if I even have a purpose. These are self-centered thoughts, a clue that I do not have my focus on God. When my eyes are turned to Him I am reminded that I am here to be His hands and feet to the world. Through Him, I do have a purpose.

“When Luther wrote, ‘Faith is the yes of the heart, a confidence on which one stakes one’s life,’ he was saying faith is a response of the whole self to God. It is not just our words: the creeds we confess, the prayers we pray, the way we argue our faith, or what we say in teaching our children. It is not just our works and deeds; our faithful attendance at church, our participation on committees, or our acts of love toward others.

This yes is an inner assent of the will. It is a willingness to receive the grace and the guidance of God. It can be so deep and far-reaching as to cause a real conversion of life, a real repentance, a turning around to go in a completely new direction. It always involves, says Luther, the daily death of the person we have been in order to fulfill our reason for being alive; to accomplish God’s will in our time and place.” ~From Faith, the Yes of the Heart by Grace Adolphsen Brame

Heavenly Father, in the season of waiting, help me to remember that I am here to be your hands and feet. Propel me forward this day, turn my eyes from self so that I may see Your will for me this day. Help me show Your compassion to those I meet this day. Amen.

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