Trusting While Fear-filled

He tells them to get into the boat. To go on ahead. Go to the other side and He would dismiss the crowd.

He knows what he’s doing.

The crowd, little by little, disperses. Some continue to hang around and chat. Ponder collectively over what they have just heard. Words that have spoken to their heart. Changed their lives.

While some remain, pondering His words, He hikes up the side of the mountain alone. He is going to pray. The air begins to cool. The sun begins to set. And there He is. Sitting. Kneeling on that mountainside. Alone. He is praying to his Father.

In the meantime, the boat, now a good distance away from the shore, begins to rock back and forth. Those inside the vessel begin to grow fearful.

Meanwhile, up on the mountainside, He continues to pray as the cool breezes began to blow past Him.

He knows. He is God and, He knows.

He knows who is in that boat which is swaying more fervently with each sharp gust of wind. Wind that is biting at their flesh.

They are doused with ice cold water that washes over them, drenching their hopes for a safe return. It threatens to fill the hull that holds them in what little refuge they have. It mocks them. Its intent is to sink and drown them. To bury their hopes. Their faith. Their trust. Their belief for a better way. If it has its way, the storm’s crushing waves and chaotic winds will leave them for dead.

And He knows this.

It is the fourth watch of the night. Almost sunrise. They have battled through the night with a ship destined for destruction in the wake of disaster.

He has battled all night in prayer. Were His prayers for their faith to increase and their fears to subside?

There are boats by the shore. He could probably get a ride. But instead, He walks. Right onto the water. And the waves lap high around His ankles.

He walks.

On the water.

How many times have we read or heard stories from the Bible that they’ve seemed to become commonplace and bring nothing into our humdrum lives? Our response?

“Oh yes. I’ve read that one – Jesus brought a little girl back to life. Pretty cool.”

Cool? COOL? It’s miraculous! It’s incredible. Incredibly miraculous. And if I think about it for any length of time, at any depth, I realize – it isn’t cool, it’s unfathomable.

And so He walks. And fear rocks each disciple as the waves rock the boat. Then they spot Him. When that fear has clawed its razor sharp talons into the depths of their beings – they see Him. But through fear-tinted glasses they don’t really see Him.

They see a man.

They see a figure.

They see…

“Peter! It’s. a. ghost.!!!”

But He is not a ghost. He is the One who will save them. Now. At this moment. And three years later. And every day after that.

Immediately He calls out. “Guys – it’s okay. Don’t be afraid. It’s me – Jesus.”

Peter gathers his thoughts.

“Lord, if it’s really you then…”

Should he risk it? Should he sound and look foolish should the far-off man really be a ghost? Will his request make him look brave so that when he appears foolish in three years on that day of denial, his companions may overlook his shame?

He risks it.

“Lord, if it is you, then tell me to come out there to you on the water.”

Does Peter, at this point in time, have an inkling as to who Jesus really is?

There is no bravery here. There is no foolishness. But, there is relief. Relief that Help has come. But still the winds toss the boat about. And in the tossing and the rocking and the swaying, Jesus says, “Come.”

At this point, Peter may have wished it was a ghost he had seen for now he had to show by works what his faith meant to him. Could he walk over to Jesus, who had been coming to them but now waited for Peter to come to Him?

I don’t think Peter jumped. I think it was more like he wanted to jump ship as he slowly, cautiously, put one leg over the boat and then the next and then with both hands anchored tightly to the rim on the side the boat, with eyes closed, he lets loose. And he is standing.
I can imagine his surprise. He really is standing!

He probably smiles a sheepish grin to no one in particular and turns around and begins walking toward Jesus. You couldn’t wipe that grin off his face. You couldn’t squelch the pride coursing through his very being.

His shoulders are broad and he could have moved a mountain. If only the waves at his feet would settle. If only the wind would calm. As he looks at the waves and feels their sting against his legs, he looks to the horizon, watching the clouds rush toward him, while his faith flees and fear fills him once again and… he begins to sink.

Because that’s what fear does. It pulls you down and makes you feel like you’re sinking. The storms in life pound down so hard upon you that you will drown and no one can save you.

But Jesus knew. He knew what was going on in that boat while he was in prayer up on that mountain. He knew what they were thinking while he was intervening. He knew their battle with fear while he was battling for souls. And He knew what Peter would do.

“Lord, save me,” Peter cried out as he began to sink.

Jesus knew.

He knew the very second Peter quit looking at Him, is the very second Peter would begin to sink.

Peter didn’t sink immediately, but instead, “when he saw the wind”, we’re told he began sinking and cried out for Jesus to save him. And what did Jesus do?

Immediately He reached out and caught him. Not down, not under the water, but out. It shows Jesus was ready for that moment. Because He knew – before he even sent those boys across the lake, before he spent the entire night in prayer – He knew what was going to happen. Peter didn’t have time to sink because Jesus was in the process of saving him before Peter knew he needed saving. Before he cried out, “Lord, save me,” Jesus was in the process of reaching out before Peter had time to go under.

And Jesus meets Peters fears and faltering faith with tenderness.

With an arm around Peter’s shoulder and steadying his weak knees, Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

What do you say to that?

What could Peter say? What could he do? He said nothing.

The story goes on…

‘When they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.’

The wind died. In the mere presence of Jesus, the wind died. Not a word was spoken.

And, as the wind died, the disciples were saved. As the wind died, their faith grew. As the wind died, they began to live. Really live. And in their living, they worshipped Him. Why? Because they realized who they were hanging around with. They knew this Jesus – their Jesus – wasn’t some mystical, magical being that appeared as a ghost upon stormy seas. They knew this was the Son of God. The One that had the power to change hearts and minds. To change lives. To turn fear into faith and worry into worship.

There are a hundred and one things I could list that could cause me to worry. And fear. And many things on my list I have granted permission to cause fear and worry. Health issues. Financial issues. Family issues. Failures. On and on.

But God doesn’t want us to live there. We can’t live there for Jesus showed us that to live in fear is to sink in the storm. And His way is much safer: keep my eyes on Him, reach for His hand, and trust Him.

Above all, trust Him.

Job and His So-Called Friends

IMG_6930.JPGI began to read in my Bible, the book of Job, chapter 42. When I came to verse 10, I decided to read the whole book of Job again. Once again, I was amazed at the insensitivity of Job’s friends.

Here is a man who is down and out and yet, his friends have nothing but bitter, condemning words to offer him in his time of need. Their so called ‘friend’. Reading through this book, it made me look into my own heart and examine my relationships, past and present, where I have felt confused and hurt by words or actions of others, and it also made me examine how I could have been a better friend in some of those relationships.

When we get hurt in a relationship, we often end up feeling that it was the other person’s fault. It often takes tears, soul-searching, and honesty on our part to realize that we had something (even if perhaps it was just a small part) to do with the break down of that relationship. It could be anything from not being sensitive enough to the others needs, to saying something out of line. It is in times like these that to do anything less than searching our hearts, would be to fall into the trap where Job found himself. Only – Job didn’t realize he was there.

In chapter 32, a new voice is heard after the reprimand Job’s friends bring to him. Job, throughout the book up to this point, always comes back to stating that he has done nothing wrong. That his life is blameless. He is convinced that his plight is due to the fact that God has left him, is angry with him, has turned away and forgotten him. He wonders what he has done to deserve his state of condition..

Elihu, this ‘new voice’ that is heard towards the end of the book, begins telling his opinion of the plight that has befallen Job.

“…My words come from an upright heart… my hand should not be heavy upon you. But (speaking to Job) you have said… ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy…’

By this time I imagine Job was feeling rather picked upon. Elihu, however, brings to light a different perspective of Job’s lament.

He begins, in chapter 34, to remind Job of the words that had come out of his very mouth. In verse 5 Elihu says to those listening, “Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.’ Elihu goes on to say, “what an is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men. For he says, ‘It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.’

You must remember the Lord never slumbers nor sleeps. And so, He is listening to this conversation. I wonder if finally, in verse 38, God finally says, “Okay, that’s enough. Time to get involved.” He comes ‘out of the storm’ (verse 1). If He came out of the storm to speak to Job, does that mean that all the while, He was actually in the storm with him? Was He in there, being tossed and turned with each cry of despair? Does it mean that He never did forsake Job and that there was a purpose in Job’s suffering that the human heart could not perceive?

I wondered that as God began to speak to Job. I also thought, if it was me in Job’s place, I’d be shaking in my shoes, at the very least. God begins by saying, “Brace yourself like a man.” I can just picture being blown away at that point and all areas of me were exposed for what they were. For three chapters, God reminds Job that He is speaking, and in no uncertain terms, just who He is. In chapter 40, God gets even more serious. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” I can just picture Job at this point, wanting so bad to say something, then thinking better ofit. Following that reply is the Lord’s answer and again it is, “Brace yourself like a man…”

After listening to God for what probably seemed like an eternity, Job replies to the Lord. I have to admire the courage of this man. He was not afraid to be candidly honest with the Lord. He knew the Lord had heard his every word, good and bad and there was no sense in hiding from him now. There was nothing to hide. All had been exposed.

“I know that you can do all things… Surely I spoke of things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Confession and repentance. Job began his trial as righteous and blameless. Through his trial, his pride got the best of him and God called him to the carpet. He recognized his sin and confessed it with a repentant heart. God was pleased and restored him. However, the story didn’t end there.

God turned to Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends” and said that he was angry with him and the other two hooligans because of what they had said about Him was not right. The way out? Job was going to have to pray for his friends. And, he did.

I wondered, how many times have I been hurt and scorned by friends and the last thing I felt like doing was to pray for them? I do remember though, at an early age, the importance of that lesson by a high school teacher. I was confiding with him how I was having a difficult time with a peer in one of my classes. He told me to start praying for her and having no reason to doubt his advice, I did. After many weeks, I am not sure that God changed her heart or that He changed mine, but we ended up becoming really good friends.

“After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” That is the verse I started at before I went back and started again at the beginning. It was the part of how Job had prayed for the friends that had given up on him. The ones that only added to his pain and suffering. The ones that were ready to walk out on his life and give him up for dead. Instead of casting off their friendship after all was said and done, he obeyed as God commanded and prayed for his friends. It is only after that act of obedience that God blessed him. Was it because he obeyed? Was it because there was total forgiveness toward Job and his friends, brought on by Job interceding on his friends’ behalf? It is rather difficult to pray for someone whom you have a grudge against.

Friends don’t condemn and berate. They support each other and pray for one another. And when they do that, they are friends forever.

The Seasons of Life

Sometimes I think it would be easier to approach life as our lives were made up of seasons and yet, it is, isn’t it? The seasons of life.

 

In nature,  we experience Fall. It is the season of harvest. The season when things begin to die back (or die completely). There is a chill in the air and the wind blows mightily as it whips though the trees. The skies seem darker, the days shorter. In the fall, we finish up our preparations for winter. Canning, wood chopping, gathering bales of hay and storing them in barns. We cut some things back, we cover some things up and we close some things down. We know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And so it comes. Winter. 
It can be harsh. Deadly even, if the storm is weighty enough. The hail and the rains and the unending days of heavy snowfalls. Ice so slick that you slip and you slide and sometimes you fall. You don’t want to go outside. You want to hide in the comfort of your own home where you have built a nest of protection, warmth, and safety. After what can seem like forever, you awaken one morning to a glowing sunrise that states Spring has arrived. 
You pull back the curtains and open the windows to the crisp, fresh air that still has a bite to it. But, oh! The hope and joy of a new season has finally come. You daily watch for flowers to emerge from the soil where snow once lay and threatened to hold captive that which lay underneath, crying out to be set free. And as these – now just seedlings – begin to grow, the days grow warmer and longer. The air is quiet with gentle sprinklings of rain that you welcome with a smile. And then comes summer.

 The sun beats down warm and you are even convinced that as it warms your body, healing is taking place within.  Where spring brought new life, this is the season where you’re actually experiencing the growing, the full blooming of it all. Your energy has been renewed. You delight to let your toes touch the water of the vast ocean or lake that is spread before you. This is the season where you, without hesitation or thought of troubles, lift your hands in unabandoned praise to God. Life cannot be better.

But looking back, you can now see how each season had its purpose. And each season gave you the opportunity to prepare for the next. Experience has told us that in the course of nature there will undoubtedly be good with the bad, life will not all be sunshine and roses, and that the storms and the sunshine will come in different degrees, sometimes with nary a warning.

That is the course of nature. Of life itself.  Many flowers cannot bloom unless they endure a harsh frost from winter’s bitter cold. Many will not thrive without the water the storms of winter brought upon them. Many flowers  cannot grow unless they die first, scattering seeds in fall. Some must be pruned, cut back, in order for the healthy growth of spring. I’m sure if flowers could talk, roses would express their deep disapproval over being pruned. Over and over and over again. 

 Our spiritual lives are so much like the cycles of nature. We endure the longer days of summer and early fall, move into winter with reluctance (and often kick and scream while there), but spring always comes with the welcome reprieve of summer. Each has their purpose. Each has their pain. Each has their reward.

God prunes where at times we feel we have felt completely uprooted. We feel we’ve been closed up from the rest of the world, shut down from life and covered in muck. There is a deep darkness but little do we feel, and often we forget, that we are being prepared for something more. All the while, we are being called to come and lean into Him. To come into His shelter, experience His warmth, hide in His arms.
It is throught the Falls and the Winters in life that we are actually being strengthened and refined. When the time if right, He gently dries the tears of winter, lifts our chin and gently says, “Look and see.”
Green is now emerging where snow once lay smothering the ground underneath. New life. The sun is breaking though the clouds. We are stronger. Our hope has been restored. We are no longer resisting that which comes, but are walking hand in hand with the Master Gardener, cultivating new life. We’re pulling weeds of sin, making room for new roots to go deeper and deeper into HIm. We no longer feel the need to run to a better climate to escape the torrents of winter, but look ahead with anticipation at what God is going to bring forth. Summer is coming. The harvest will be plentiful. We have learned that Springs and Summers are only made possible by going through Falls and Winters. 

  Instead of longing for a better climate, a place where winters are mild and summer days are plentiful, why not embrace the call of God to come and rest in Him during the hard times and sit with Him on the patio on the warm, healing days of Summer. Either season is an opportunity of lfting our hands in praise and thankfulness to God for what He has brought us through and where He is taking us now

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
sherri

What Do Birds Know?

It is raining and I hear an unusual sound as the water streams down from the sky. The clouds above threaten more rain, but the sound around me continues as if unaware. The air grows colder, the clouds gather closer, turning their shades of gray to one of almost black and still the sound continues. I look out my window to see if this can really be happening and there, at my bird feeder, sits three goldfinches and one above in the limb of the fir tree is singing.  He is singing with all  his being. In the middle of a springtime storm. And I think to myself… amazing. Simply amazing.


I know birds cannot read. I know birds cannot understand when I speak to them. I just don’t have the capabilities of which Dr. Doolittle seemed to be gifted. But, somehow they are aware of a great truth that I have trouble with. The truth of Matthew 6:26, which states, “Look at the birds of the air;they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” 

Those were Jesus’ words. That truth came directly from the very lips of the King of Kings. Is it really true that if God says it, we believe it, and that settles it? 

Sometimes, huh? And sometimes it’s hard because you’re in the midst of the storm and it just doesn’t feel as if it’s ever going to let up.

But the birds still sing. They believe and they go on. They may get stuck in the storm falling around them but they don’t let it get inside of them. Why? Because they have learned that their heavenly Father has always taken care of them and he always will. They have learned that they are valuable and all the worry in the world has never and will never help. 

It is raining again. The sound of the goldfinch can still be heard and it makes me smile because they have gotten it – the truth. They believe it and it’s settled: they are cared for greatly. And that, dear friends, means they are loved by the One who loves them most.