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 on God it seems sometimes that the darkness closes in. In the 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 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 tightly in your loving arms and that nothing, not even my questions can separate me from Your love 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 about 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 from 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.

Strenth to hope… to still believe

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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.

An abundant God

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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.

Be my vision

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This is the confidence that we have through Christ in the presence of God. It isn’t that we ourselves are qualified to claim that anything came from us. No, our qualification is from God. He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not based on what is written but on the Spirit, because what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life. ~2 Cor 3:4-6(CEB)

It is not enough that we behave better; we must come to see reality differently. We must learn to see the depths of things, not just reality at a superficial level. This especially means we need to see the nonseparateness of the world from God and the oneness of all reality in God: the Hidden Ground of Love in all that is. Prayer is a kind of corrective lens that does away with the distorted view of reality that, for some mysterious reason, seems to be my normal vision, and enables me to see what is as it really is. ~From Silence on Fire by William H. Shannon

Heavenly Father, be my lens as I look into the world. Provide a true view of reality, so that I may be clear in my vision. Be with me in all I say and do this day. May the world see You in me. Amen.

Open hearts, open doors

But, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the Law; if you brag about your relationship to God; if you know the will of God; if you are taught by the Law so that you can figure out the things that really matter; if you have persuaded yourself that you are: a guide for the blind; a light to those who are in darkness; an educator of the foolish; a teacher of infants (since you have the full content of knowledge and truth in the Law); then why don’t you who are teaching others teach yourself? If you preach, “No stealing,” do you steal? If you say, “No adultery,” do you commit adultery? If you hate idols, do you rob temples? If you brag about the Law, do you shame God by breaking the Law? As it is written: The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you. Circumcision is an advantage if you do what the Law says. But if you are a person who breaks the Law, your status of being circumcised has changed into not being circumcised. So if the person who isn’t circumcised keeps the Law, won’t his status of not being circumcised be counted as if he were circumcised? The one who isn’t physically circumcised but keeps the Law will judge you. You became a lawbreaker after you had the written Law and circumcision.  It isn’t the Jew who maintains outward appearances who will receive praise from God, and it isn’t people who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God. ~Rom 2:17-29 (CEB)

Often when we read verses like these it is easy to skim over them feeling that they do not apply to me since it is written to the Jews in the 1st century Rome. But, if I imagine Paul here today would he say the same things to us Christians?

You may know little Christian/Jewish history so you may not know that the Jews pretty much felt that all Gentiles were only good to fuel the fires of Hell. Also you may not realize that the Gentiles had no respect for the Jews. During New Testament times observing the Sabbath was viewed as pure laziness. Also the Jews received extraordinary privileges from the Roman government because they were Jew. Jews were also accused of atheism because Jews believed that God alone was God. Not only did they not worship the gods of the Gentiles but reverence also was not paid to kings, or honor to the Caesars (Which was a national religion for Roman territories). What really moved the Gentiles to such dislike of the Jews was the fact that Jews had great contempt toward all other religions. Finally, the last straw, was that Jews were accused of hatred of their neighbors and complete unsociability. It was said that if a Jew were asked directions to a place, he would refuse to give any information except to another Jew.

It is simply true that the Jews did bring disgrace to God’s name by shutting themselves into a rigid community from which all others were shut out and because they showed such an attitude of contempt towards the Gentiles and a lack of charity for their needs. But what of Christianity? Are we ever accused of rigid views, strange practices, eliteness?

Real religion involves having an open heart and an open door.

Heavenly Father, may my heart be open to others who are different to me. May actions of love point them to You. Help me to remember this day that the only Jesus some people may see is through me. Help me to be Your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

Even in the valley

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The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff— they protect me. You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over! Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD’s house as long as I live. ~Psalm 23 (CEB)

“For a long, time, I prayed the words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose. Near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirit’. I prayed these words in the morning for half an hour sitting quietly on my chair trying only to keep my mind focused on what I was saying. I prayed them during the many moments of the day when I was going here or there, and I even prayed them during my routine activities. The words stand in stark contrast to the reality of my life. I want many things; I see mostly busy roads and ugly shopping malls; and if there are any waters to walk along they are mostly polluted. But as I keep saying; “The Lord is my shepherd…’ and allow God’s shepherding love to enter more fully into my heart, I become more fully aware that the busy roads, the ugly malls and the polluted waterways are not telling the true story of who I am. I do not belong to the power and principles that rule the world but to the Good Shepherd who know his own and is known by his own. In the presence of my Lord and Shepherd there truly is nothing I shall want. He will, indeed, give me the rest my heart desires and pull me out of the dark pits of my depression.” ~From Here and Now by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Heavenly Father, on this Black Friday, I pray that I remember all that I was giving thanks for yesterday. Amen.

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