This morning, I was at the YMCA working out on the elliptical machine. I am not a person who can use the little television attached to the machine so as I was listening to music, my eyes caught a verse of scripture on the wall:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. ~Psalm:46:1 (NRSV)
The scripture is the source of the title of this post but as I thought about it and reflected, a few thoughts came to my mind. The first, and probably most obvious, is that God is our source. God is, as the title implies, refuge, strength, and help. For regular readers of my blog, you know that I have been on a journey for some time. You will also know that I was in anguish from time to time out of worry and dread and doubt. It was in those moments, that I felt God’s refuge and strength the most. I certainly did not have the strength or will to make it without God.
The second part of this is that God is very present. I will admit that there are times when I am not consciously aware of God’s presence. I am so wrapped up in myself or focused on something that I am not sensing God. However, in hind sight, when I pause and reflect, I am aware that God is there and has been there the entire time even when I didn’t realize it or focus on God.
It’s funny how you reflect on things. Today, I was simply working out and had the time to reflect on God and God’s presence in my life. I am blessed not only to have God but to have the time to reflect.
I am your servant
And I am listening;
Speak to me Lord, speak to me.
I need your wisdom
And truth and comfort;
Speak to me Lord, speak to me.Speak to me,
Speak to me,
Through your word,
Through your Spirit,
Speak your words of life.
Speak to me,
Speak to me,
I am listening,
I am waiting,
Speak to me.
I am your servant
And I am listening;
Speak to me Lord, speak to me.
My heart is silent,
My soul is longing,
Speak to me Lord, speak to me.
There’s a problem with the unknown. Not everything is wrong with the unknown because sometimes knowing all the answers is one of the biggest traps of pride. But there’s still a problem. The problem with the unknown is that we try to fill in the blank.
I have heard people talk about the “fill in the blank” syndrome and how we tend to fill in the blank with the worst possible scenario. It’s the same thinking that makes our heart race 100 mph when anything goes “bump” in the night. It’s probably just a coat falling down in the closet… or maybe it’s a burglar!
I bring this up today because I am one of those people who fill in the worst possible case scenario. I don’t get an email right away and I assume something is wrong. I fall between the cracks and I assume they don’t want me anymore. I assume and try to fill in the blank.
There is one thing I can assume correctly – God loves me and as long as I trust in God, it’s going to be okay. As I ponder this idea, Psalm 91 has popped into my head. It is commonly called the Soldier’s Psalm and I think it fits right here with the idea of a fill in the blank syndrome.
Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade, I say to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God—the one I trust!” God will save you from the hunter’s trap and from deadly sickness. God will protect you with his pinions; you’ll find refuge under his wings. His faithfulness is a protective shield. Don’t be afraid of terrors at night, arrows that fly in daylight, or sickness that prowls in the dark, destruction that ravages at noontime. -Psalm 91:1-6 (CEB)
You and I have a choice to make when it comes to filling in the blank: is it the worst possible scenario or a reasonable explanation? Is it an answer filled with fear or with faith? Is it under our control or God’s? Filling in the blank should be about being confident in what you and I do know and trusting God for what you and I don’t know.
Standing outside on a cold, Saturday morning in the rain on a muddy ground is not always fun. In fact, I think most people would avoid it except for a dedicated group of people: fathers. There is something about loving your child that draws you to do things you would otherwise rather avoid.
So there I was standing with the other fathers watching my 5 year old play soccer and having the best time. I experienced sheer joy and a deep love for my daughter as she laughed and had a great time. The reward was her joy of the moment and the fun she was having as she played soccer.
It is a not a far stretch to see God in this moment. The love I feel for my daughter is just a glimmer, a hint of God’s love for us. There is nothing Sophia has to do to earn my love and there is nothing I have to do to earn God’s love either. I just have to be me – I think there are even times when I don’t even have to love God back to get his love.
Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. -Ephesians 5:2 (CEB)
Of course, I do love God back and I strive to love all those around me as well. Today reminded me of Easter and Easter love. God gives us glimmer of that love in our daily lives. I have heard people say they never feel or notice the presence of God but I do on a regular basis. It may not be a burning bush or a loud voice in the night but it is watching your child play soccer and seeing the joy on her face. It is when she holds your hand and smiles at you. It is when she gives you that look that only daughters can give their fathers.
It is in those moments, that Easter love can be felt and experienced.
There are very few things in this life that can make a guy well up in emotion than his daughter. I feel this nearly every day as I watch my little girl grow up and become an independent person. I strive to teach her but in the end she teaches me as well. It is a joy to be her father and I look forward to the years to come. It is a humbling experience to be a father but there is also joy.
Today for example during the children’s message at Church, my daughter knew all of the answers. In fact, she took over the children’s message to the frustration of the person leading it. I was proud (not that she took over) that she could answer questions and share what she knew about Jesus. She has that childlike faith that Jesus calls us all to have. She can sweetly share what she knows and she doesn’t worry about what other people may think of her. It is one of those many lessons she shares with me.
My daughter is also content with what she gets (can we all say the same thing?). Today at church, she shared that she was looking forward to an Easter egg hunt at home. Well, my wife and I didn’t plan to have one but we managed to use plastic eggs and some of her Easter candy to pull one off while she was napping. She was so excited as she ran through the yard to find eggs that it just melted my heart. She was happy and content and filled with joy. Why can’t we all do the same with what we have? Why do we always want something else or something more?
I am grateful, as always, that God has given me the privilege to be Sophia’s father. I learn from her as I hope she learns from me. More importantly, she reminds me what unconditional love really is and how God loves me the same as I love her.
Jesus, I await you.
Be risen anew in my heart
as the light of Easter
A reading from 2 Samuel (CEB):
The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.” After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.
I have struggled with this scripture. This passage is about forgiveness, something that is impossible without God’s help.
The biblical story is about King David arranging Bathsheba’s husband’s death so that David could have Bathsheba all to himself. When confronted with his misdeeds, David knew he deserved to die. God nevertheless was able to forgive David because of his unending love for David.
This past fall, I had to learn about chaplains who won the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star, and other honors because of their service. One of the chaplains was Father Emil Kapaun and his actions as a chaplain during the Korean War. Soldiers who were in captivity with him spoke about CH Kapaun’s ability to forgive his captors for their inhumane treatment. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work through Father Kapaun.
There are still people I hold a grudge against and I need to let it go. If CH Kapaun can do it given his inhumane treatment, then I can do it for far less offenses. We are reminded that God so loved us that he sent Jesus into the world to die for the sins of all of us. God is willing to forgive our sins because he loves us so very much. With God’s help, may we be able to forgive those who sin and do harm against us. As we prepare to remember and honor the events of Holy Week as we turn towards the final week before Easter, let’s work on forgiveness. Let’s work on forgiving others so we are not held down by grudges but have the freedom to praise God unencumbered.
Lord, may we be changed by your love so that we can forgive others. Amen.
A reading from Genesis 12 (CEB):
The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.” Abram left just as the LORD told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.
I feel sure that most of you have had to move at one time or another. Sometimes we move because we choose to. Sometimes we move because we are forced to. We move across town, or maybe even across the country. Moving can be a real hassle – all the sorting, the packing and lifting and then finding a place to put everything in our new home.
In this text, God commands Abram to leave his home and go to the land of Canaan. God selected Abram to be the father of a nation – to be the leader of his chosen people. Amazingly, Abram did not seem to question. The Bible says that he took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot and all of his possessions and moved to the new land. Abram was 75 years old, but he didn’t hesitate to set out to make a new life for himself and his family.
As we read on, we find that Abram was not perfect. He had many faults and weaknesses, just as you and I do. But just like God chose Abram, God chooses us and commands us to be the best that we can be. He doesn’t necessarily ask us to move to a new land. Rather, he asks us to put our faith into motion to make life better for those less fortunate, to witness God’s love, to spread the good news, to make the world a better place.
Gracious God, thank you for your love and your patience. Help us do as you have commanded to love one another and to lift a helping hand to those in need. Amen.
Here is my sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21:
A few years ago, Mr. Rogers was invited to give the invocation for the graduation at Boston College. As the Presbyterian minister stepped to the podium, the deans and professors were not prepared for what happened next. The 5,400 graduates leaped to their feet, threw their hats in the air, and began to chant “Mr. Rogers!” Standing behind the podium, Mr. Rogers wondered how he would get the excited kids to quiet down so he could pray. In his tiny voice, he said into the microphone, “Will you sing with me?” The graduates linked arms and swayed together as they sang songs about neighbors and neighborhoods.
The collective memory of the graduates went back to the happy songs, simple puppetry, and grandfatherly conversation. He used these tools to share his message with children everywhere. What was that message? That you are special. That you are loved. That you are worthwhile. It does not matter what is on the outside but what matters most is what is on the inside.
If we look at the familiar lines of John 3:15, we can see that Mr. Rogers’ simple message echoes God’s message to the world. You are loved. You are special. You are worthwhile. You are so loved, worthwhile, and special that God gave all of heaven just for you.
Let’s take a look at this one verse line by line.
- For God so loved the world
- Our view of God
- Santa Claus: we get whatever we ask for with no strings attached
- A Las Vegas slot machine: put your good deed coin in the slot and hope for a jackpot
- Ebenezer Scrooge: someone who drains all the fun and joy out of life by following a bunch of rules
- The Bible gives a clear picture of God
- A better image would be a loving parent
- Lived in fellowship with humanity in the Garden of Eden
- Slow to anger but quick to forgive
- Walking daily in the garden
- Seeking humanity out
- Adam and Eve began to doubt that love
- We’ve all been there
- Listened to Satan (or do we listen to friends)
- Sin penetrated the human heart
- What does sin do to us?
- David Roever’s story in Vietnam (include white phosphorus)
- Unlike David’s case, sin will continue to burn unless it is doused with blood and it is always fatal
- What’s a loving God to do?
- Our view of God
- That He gave his only begotten Son
- God’s secret plan
- Developed knowing humanity would doubt his love
- Jesus would come to earth to pay the penalty for our sin
- Only the one who knew the full height and depth of God’s love could show it on earth
- In a mystery that defies our understanding
- The king of glory became the babe of Bethlehem
- The creator of the universe became a creator of furniture
- He gathered children in his arms, healed the sick, raised the dead, and shared the kingdom of God in a humorous wit
- He did not flinch in the face of oppression
- Even when he was opposing the religious leaders of his day, he had tears in eyes because of his love for them
- Ultimately, he died on the cross for us
- Treated as we deserved so we might be treated as he deserves
- He was suffered the death that was ours so we might receive the life that was his
- God’s secret plan
- That whosever should believe him should not perish but have eternal life
- The future is bright for those who embrace love
- Jesus who lived, died, rose again, and ascended to heaven promised to come again one day
- When he does there will be
- No more death
- No more war
- No more earthquakes or tsunamis
- No more gangs or violence
- No more illness
- He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:4 (CEB)
- So what does it take to get all of that?
- Jesus gave us the answer
- Whoever believes in him will have everlasting life
- We can’t do it on our own
- We need outside help (it would be like trying to do surgery on yourself)
- We need Jesus
- The way we connect to Jesus is through faith
- By trusting Jesus, we admit that we can’t do it alone
- The bleeding woman (Mark 5:24-34)
- Was not just a casual touch to see what would happen
- A deep, need to connect and be healed
- Casual contact and deep faith
- To believe that Jesus lived like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln is not enough
- To believe intellectually is not enough
- The future is bright for those who embrace love
On day, Brian Campbell traveled to Pittsburgh to visit the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood set. He was awkward as he had William’s syndrome which causes mild mental retardation and heart defects. As he walked through the studio, he spotted his hero.
“You’re the real Mr. Rogers!”
Mr. Rogers bent down to shake his hand and said, “And you are the real you. You’re brave to shake my hand.”
“I’m special, aren’t I, Mr. Rogers?”
“Yes, you are.”
“You know what, Mr. Rogers? You are my friend!”
And with that, Brian began to sing some of the neighborhood songs. As the last words were sung, Brian’s eyes got big and he said, “Mr. Rogers, can I give you a big hug?”
Down on his knees, Fred Rogers opened his arms as Brian fell into that warm embrace.
Right now, God is bending down to take you into his arms. I wonder if you will fall into that embrace? Will you say, I love you Jesus? Do you want to spend eternity basking in the wonder of his love? Embrace the love. For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only son that all who believe in him will not die but have eternal life. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Whether it is in the woods, on the beach, in the desert, down by the swamps, in the mountains, or on your front steps, there is comfort that comes from being in the presence of the cumulative intelligences of different species that are much older and wiser than we are. The Bible urges us to learn from nature. It is possible that Jesus advised us to “consider the lilies of the field,” he meant don’t worry about earthly details, but he also literally meant what he said: “consider the lilies.”
Thee are voiceless insights to be gleaned from the species that surround us, if only we would stop to be with them. There are practices to profit from in God’s manifest expression in a creek. There are practices to release the stresses of our ungodly world in a blade of grass. Part and parcel of forming and fading away, there is a flawless balance between creation and destruction in nature. Here are the lessons that can help us lighten our losses. Only if we take the time to become a quieter vessel can the always available grace of God course into us.
Receive this holy fire.
Make your lives like this fire.
A holy life that is seen.
A life of God that is seen.
A life that has no end.
A life that darkness does not overcome.
May this light of God in you grow.
Light a fire that is worthy of your heads.
Light a fire that is worthy of your children.
Light a fire that is worthy of your fathers.
Light a fare that is worthy of your mothers.
Light a fire that is worthy of God.
Now go in peace.
May the Almighty protect you today and all days.
–Anonymous Masai Prayer
As many of you have been aware, I have been troubled the past week or so – down in a funk so to speak (if you have no idea what I am talking about, read my blog post) – and it has been difficult to shake. As much as I try, I just seem to keep sinking back into this funk a bit. I am truly my own worst enemy when it comes to things like this.
After thinking on this over the past few days and some conversations with some folks, I am beginning to see that the only way out of this is to simply persevere and keep my focus as it has been. If I lose focus or allow the funk to completely consume me, I will simply give up and what will that accomplish? I know this sounds strange but that is how I am beginning to see it. I simply need to keep going or I won’t go anywhere at all.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. –2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
It may be a simplistic way to look at it but keeping the faith is what has allowed me to keep running. I have a goal in mind and my eyes are focused on that goal. There were days when I wanted to give up on running but if I did, I would not accomplish my goal. There were days when I felt like I couldn’t go any farther but I pushed on and kept going and I am closer to my goal.
I realize my experience with my funk is the same way. I need to keep going and fight the good fight, so to speak, and work towards finishing the race. I have the faith in God to see me through this and I know God will strengthen me for whatever faces me – I just need to keep the faith. I believe that is the root of my funk – a bit of a faith crisis. Yes, even ministers and seminary students experience them from time to time – we are human after all.
So what does all this mean? It means I see the way out of this funk. I see the answers that I am seeking and I know God is firmly in control. All I can do is keep the faith and keeping running – both the race of life and my running training. It will all work out in the end.
Simplistic maybe? Realistic, yes.
I was watching a special on the History Channel about angels (it was part of a greater show on the supernatural). As is the case, I couldn’t help but begin to think and ponder.
What accounts for all the anger and horror in the world around us? Where are the angels? Can they come if we refuse to believe in them? What accounts for the darkness in human hearts as the world becomes more and more secular? Why are people turning to drugs for comfort rather than to the Light of Love? I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that wherever the light is, the darkness tries to snuff it out.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. –John 1:5 (NRSV)
Perhaps all the terrible things that are happening are, indeed, a sign that the Light is about, that more and more uf us are turning to this forebearing and yet ferocious power who pushes us into what we don’t think we can do, and who gives us courage we never dreamed we had.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. –John 1:9 (NRSV)
I take the devil and his machinations seriously indeed. One thing which we can count on the devil to do is to take the original good which God created, and try to make something ugly out of it. Sometimes he succeeds – though that does not make the orginal good any less good. There are people today who play with the powers of love, who take them trivially, who seek easy answers.
There are no easy answers, but I think we need to be aware that if we deny the world beyond the world of technology and provable fact, we do so to our peril. There is something greater than all we see around us. Where are all the angels, indeed?