When You’re Surrounded

surrounded

Psalm 18:3-6

I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.  The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.  The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.  In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

One cannot help but see how fear has taken a grip on most of the country.  We are facing an unknown and unseen enemy.  When one see’s the projections of the number of deaths we are facing.  It can’t help but create anxiety among us… whether one wants it or not!  Maybe you at this moment may feel as David did:  “the cords of death encompass me… the cords of Sheol surround me.”  Fear can make you feel like you are drowning… surrounded by the enemy… desperate for air.  That is understandable.

But I love the words of Katherine Paterson:  “To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

Consider the strategy of USMC officer Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller.  When the Marines were cut off behind enemy lines and the Army had written the 1st Marine Division off as being lost (as they were surrounded by 22 enemy divisions each with 16,550 men).  He reportedly said:  “They are in front of us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1.  They can’t get away from us now!”

The Marines made it out inflicting the highest casualty ration on an enemy in history and destroying 7 entire enemy divisions in the process.

Knowing the enemy is surrounding you is helpful.  Attacking it with everything you have is even more helpful.  How are you waging war against anxiety right now?  Are you doing everything you can to maintain a thriving relationship with the Lord through this forced time indoors?  Are you doing what you need to do to promote good “self care” right now?  Walking?  Reading hopeful books?  Talking with friends that are hopeful?  Serving others… albeit from a distance?

This will be a long war.  We need to prepare our hearts for extended time in the trenches.  Have you discussed strategy with the Lord?

A couple more verses and then one thought to comprehend:

Deuteronomy 31:8 – “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Psalm 139:5 – “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand on me.”

Psalm 16:8 – “I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Psalm 34:7 – “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.”

So if God is before us, behind us… on our right and all around us… what does that make us?  Surrounded.  Surrounded by His goodness and surrounded by His love.  Think on that… and be hopeful.

Psalm 34_7

 

Why We’re Feeling Weird Right Now

TOPSHOT-US-EARTHQUAKE

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

Dr. Henry Cloud has a recent podcast titled:  “Being psychologically healthy during times of crisis.”  In it he says… “If you’re feeling a little weird right now… that’s okay.  It’s normal.  You have made all these maps about how life works.  Ritual and patterns were pretty much set and all of a sudden… boom!  You wake up and everything is different.  Like none of those patterns exist anymore.  When life changes… it registers in the brain as an error.  It causes your whole body to “amp up” looking for “what is going to change next.”  This can leave you feeling a little weird.

That is not his exact words.  You can listen to them here: Henry Cloud

But the point is… change disrupts us in so many ways.  It can feel like the aftermath of an earthquake… we are shaky and disoriented.  The paths we frequently travel have fissures … blocking our customary paths.  There is an anxiousness that wells up within us because we can’t reach for our usual fixes.  Coffee with a friend.  A movie.  A night out.  Its weird.  We feel weird.

It is okay to feel that way in a time of crisis.  Psalm 46 describes an earthquake.  As you read the passage you can almost feel the earth moving beneath your feet.  It is a particularly cataclysmic one… as “mountains are slipping into the heart of the sea.”  This is “tidal wave producing” change the Psalmist is talking about!  In life one can usually trust at least the ground they are walking on… not so in an earthquake.  But the Psalmist reminds us in verse 1:  “God is our refuge.  A very present help in trouble.”  There is a place to run which will not collapse in ground rupturing times of change.

If you are looking for solid ground right now and you aren’t finding it in your daily rituals and support groups (not because you don’t want to but because you can’t)… ground yourself in your faith.  Turn over your fears and anxieties to God.  (1 Peter 5:7)

Break open that devotional book your neglected since January… and catch up.  Many Christian publishers are offering free or 99 cent books right now.  David C. Cook

eerdman’s

Do you have a book that is bringing you comfort right now?  Could you share it with the community below?

At the end of Psalm 46 is a familiar verse.  It is perhaps a crucial verse for us during this time of “weirdness.”

Be Still and Know

Be wise.  Stay Safe.  And remember to love one another.

Pastor Wayne

Quarantined… with Children

Psalm 127:3-5a

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

family devotions

This afternoon’s encouragement is for those self-quarantining with kids.  It has been awhile for Janine and I… but I remember those days.  I had to laugh at Drew Dyck’s email yesterday called “Life in Lockdown.”

Life on Lockdown

I live in Washington state. On Sunday, our Governor ordered all restaurants to close and banned gatherings of more than 50 people. So basically, like an increasing number of Americans, I’m stuck at home.

Initially, this sounded fine to me. We’re stocked up on groceries, so I was looking forward to getting a little break from the outside world. Grace and I could have romantic dinners, curl up in front of the fire and read. Maybe watch movie before bed. Ah, sweet quarantine! But then I realized I’d overlooked one very important fact. Actually, three: our children. Our bouncing-off-the-walls, only occasionally obedient, young kids. A chill ran down my spine as I realized we were quarantined … with them.

But we’re finding ways of coping. On Sunday, since church was cancelled, I sat the kids down in the living room, opened my Bible and delivered a powerful message. Well, I thought it was powerful. They squirmed and laughed talked through my message. “Be quiet! If you don’t settle down there are going to be serious consequences. This passage is about God’s love!”

I’m working from home, which is nothing new (I’ve worked from home for the past 5 years). What is new is having kids at home with me. And it’s pretty irritating. They steal the pens off my desk and plead with me to come outside. “Dad, you’re so boring! Why do you look at that screen ALL day?”

Fortunately, I’ve come up with a solution for these unwelcome intrusions—and it comes straight from Scripture. Henceforth, I have decreed that no child shall approach me unless I have raised my royal scepter (ala the king in the book of Esther).

Unfortunately, Amazon is fresh out of royal scepters. I guess a royal broom will have to do.

From talking with my church members with children these past few days I sense there is a scramble to keep children occupied for what appears to be an unknown period of time.

I’m sure some of you out there have had some great ideas that you might want to share with everyone.  In the comments below let us know what is working for you.  Some of you who don’t have children in the home right now… but remember ideas that are still tried and true… write and share those.

Here are a couple of things I’ve seen this week around the web…

#1 –  David C. Cook is offering “13 Very Awesome Promises and How God Always Keeps Them” by Mikal Keefer for free e-book download today.  It is a lesson book to teach lessons of faith to children.  They are also offering several others books in their series of “13” books for 99 cents each.  If you have trouble finding it on Amazon.com, email me (pastorpresnell@yahoo.com) and I will email you back a link.

#2 – This might be a good time to watch (or re-watch) the Disney film “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis.  The context of the film is kids on lockdown… sent to a country home for their safety during WW2.  The movie has several themes such as forgiveness, sacrifice and salvation that would spur some great family conversation. It is also a beautiful picture of what Jesus has done for us… in the character of Aslan, the lion.  You could watch this together on Disney+  or you could get a copy-if you’re local I’ll loan you one- and you could read it to them.

#3 – tasteofhome.com has a collection of easy recipes to bake with your kids.  Just paste https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/easy-baking-recipes-for-kids/ into your browser.

How about it?  Anyone else have any ideas.

Till tomorrow.  Be wise.  Stay safe.  And remember to love one another.

Pastor Wayne

Singing From the Balconies

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

italy.singing

This week I’ve been calling through the church directory and checking on members and frequent attenders.  (If you haven’t gotten a call yet, hang on, I still have some to make.)  I’ve been asking them if they had any needs we as a church could help meet and if there were anything we could be praying about.  One word I heard frequently was “isolation.”  “Pray for those that will be isolated from people.”  “Pray for our family stuck in isolation together for this extended period.”  One parent put it kindly:  “Pray for ‘general kindness’ in our home.” : )

We all hope for time… time when we aren’t so busy… time to spend reading or working on our hobbies.  So what do we do with such time when we have it thrust on us?  And what happens when, after a period of “isolation,” all we desire is human contact?  The people of Italy are in full lock down right now due to the current pandemic.  But they have found an interesting way to encourage one another: singing from their balconies!  Could that be something we as a community could do here at Lucas Grace Bible?

In the book of Colossians, Paul called upon the body of Christ to “let the peace of Christ rule” in their hearts.  The reason for this was that they were called to “one body.”  The first example he gives of that bond we share as believers is singing.  There is something about voices being lifted together that melts away division and shoos away fears.  We need that kind of unity right now.

So I’m opening up my blog (which I haven’t touched since 2016) and will write daily (hopefully) through this period of “self quarantine” to provide a forum where we as a church can encourage one another.  I am going to put up encouraging stores, humor, inspirational verses, etc.  And I’m asking you to please comment below with anything similar.  This will give us as the body of Christ a chance to “sing from our balconies” and encourage one another in Jesus.

Please be encouraging and hopeful!  We need hope right now!  I ask that you plan on coming back daily to share.  This is open to anyone, whether you attend Grace Bible or not.  I’ll be awaiting your responses.

Until then… Be wise.  Stay safe.  And remember to love one another.

Pastor Wayne

Self Quarantine Cat

 

Cornerstone

cornerstoneMatthew 21:42-46

42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Whether you are trying to build a church, or a family, or a life… you are going to need something solid to build on… a sure foundation… but you are also going to need a faithful cornerstone.

For those of you who aren’t masons… a cornerstone (or foundation stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a foundation, It is vitally important because all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

What is the cornerstone of your life?  This is not meant to be a slow softball pitch… one that you can knock out of the park with the correct answer:  Jesus.  It is meant to be a soul searching question.  An opportunity to inspect the basement of your heart.  If there are cracks in your character, if your life is not what you should be representing to the world… you were building a doughnut shop but it looks more like a chicken coop… you might want to flip on the basement light switch and enter the crawl space of your heart and determine what truly is your foundation stone.

Only then can you confidently declare:  Jesus IS my cornerstone.

Every child wondering what you are going to be when you grow up… every young adult still trying to carve out identity and discover their life’s purpose… every older adult finding themselves, after all these years, back at square one having to start over building a new life:  There is good news.  It is never too late to build.  God will always grant you a building permit.  So build away.  But first let’s get about securing a proper cornerstone.

42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Get out your flashlight… sneak down the back stairs of your heart… make your way through the crawl space… you have arrived at the cornerstone of your life… the reason you serve…  the person or thing that directs your steps and determines your daily decisions.

Is it Christ?

A Shot at Redemption

redeemed2Genesis 42

Not sure what he is singing about but Paul Simon’s lyrics in Call Me Al declare:  “I want a photo-opportunity.  I want a shot at redemption.  Don’t want to wind up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.”  Can’t tell you when someone will take your picture or how to avoid the fate of a dead ‘toon, but a “shot at redemption?”  That is more than possible.

In Joseph’s story so far, we see a man that has had his ups and downs… who is now on a roll.  He has always been a source of blessing to those around him, and now he is a blessing to the whole world.  He is in charge of a massive food bank with the desperate from all the surrounding nations at his door.

A few years ago I was leading a Bible study on Joseph and we came to this morning’s passage. One of the Bible study participants asked an interesting question: After Joseph became Second in Command of Egypt… why didn’t he go seek out his family in the land of Canaan. Why indeed? I didn’t have an adequate answer… I had never thought about it I guess. One would expect that Joseph would have at least paid a call on them… to promote reconciliation or to enact revenge. And yet at least 7 or 8 years pass without even a postcard sent back to the family… why?

After looking into it, I think we are provided a clue to the answer during the years of Joseph’s prosperity.

Genesis 41:50-52 –  Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. [51] Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” [52] The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Two sons were born to Joseph and as he called them to supper it reminded him of two things: Forget the Past…. Focus on the Prosperous Present.   Excellent Strategy… only one problem… it was doomed to failure.

  1. Avoiding the Past Doesn’t Keep It From Knocking On Your Door.

Jacob hears that there is grain in Egypt and sends his sons to buy some… “before [they] all starve to death.”  And so they went.  Now that morning Joseph got up to get ready for work and as he headed out he might have caught sight of his first born and said: “Good Morning my son that reminds me to forget my past and the treacherous brothers I grew up with. Have a great day at school. Love ya, bye.”

Was he ever in for a surprise at the Job site.   There are his brothers, that he has spent years trying to forget… kneeling before him.   Verse six says: “They bowed low before him, with their faces to the ground.”

Now Joseph recognized them instantly, but pretends to be a stranger.  This day was the day that God had appointed to Joseph to begin to deal with his past.

I’m not sure when that day will come for some of you. It has to be God’s timing. But usually the past eventually comes knocking. How you deal with it could change your life.

  1. Avoiding the Past Can Keep You From the Blessings of Confession and Guilt.

Genesis 42:21-24 –    They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”  [22] Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” [23] They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.  [24] He turned away from them and began to weep, …

Two groups both need the blessings that dealing with the past can bring.

For the brothers the occasion spawns a confession of their sins of almost a decade ago. Notice how fresh the event was in their minds: Their ears still ring with the sounds of Joseph’s bleeding.  Reuben says: I told you not to SIN against the boy.

Rueben calls it what it is… not a misunderstanding… or a business opportunity they couldn’t pass up… or a punishment that Joseph had coming… it was a sin against him.  Joseph tells his brothers that he thinks they are spies.  He tells them to bring back their younger brother to prove they were who they said they were.  He keeps Simeon in prison for insurance that they will do just that.  Joseph is testing his brothers repentance here in a very hard way.

But while Joseph’s brothers needed to confess, Joseph, himself, needed to grieve. Did you catch that? As the brothers bring up that dark day… that day that had filled Joseph’s nights with terror… Joseph’s eyes began to fill up with tears. He’s reliving the moment… And he’s coming to grips with his loss.

3.  Another reason to resist avoiding the past is that it can keep you at odds with God.

Genesis 42:27-28 –  At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. [28] “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”  Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

This is an unusual thing.

Say you just paid someone for cleaning your gutters with your last $50. An hour later you look in your wallet and your $50 is back. Now you KNOW you paid the worker. You mentally can see the $50 leaving your hand and entering his. So how would you interpret this new $50. “Hallelujah! It’s a miracle. Get the kids we’re going to Long Horn’s.”

That should have been the reaction of the brothers, but it wasn’t. Why?

Quick: Draw a mental picture of God.

What do you see in your mind’s eye? A Mean Overbearing Ogre or a Happy Loving Father? Now I’m not asking you what your theology teaches you He is… or even what you believe Him to be… what does your heart feel about Him?  Guilt has twisted the brother’s view of their God.

Papa Jacob isn’t much better.  When the brothers return home and tell him what has happened he declares:  “Everything is against me!”

What is your heart’s cry today?   Guess what?  With God you have a shot at redemption.  “If God is for us, who could be against us!” (Romans 8:31)  God could be bringing up your past today so that he can take those ugly things… that happened to you or that you have done to another… and turn them into a glorious future!

What do you do when the past comes calling?  Know that you have a shot at redeeming that past.  If you are in the place of Joseph’s brothers… you own up to it and repent of it.  If you are in the position of Joseph… you face the pain and forgive.

God longs to heal your deepest wounds.  Would that today be when your healing process begins.

Do you have a hurt from the past that God seems to be bring up again and again in your life?  Isn’t it time to face it with Him?

Blessings!

 

 

Elevator Etiquette

going up3Genesis 41

In chapter 41 Joseph goes from slopping swill for the inmates in prison to crowds parting to make way for his chariot.  Was there ever such a sudden elevation in all of history?

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’  Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” (Genesis 41:41-42)

What do you do when you are suddenly on top after being on the bottom for so long?  Here is some Elevator Etiquette from the Life of Joseph:

1.   Maintain Humility

I once took a ride on a coaster called The Volcano.  It was a VERY quick assent.  During that Volcano ride – it was hard to maintain my perspective… Am I up? Am I down? Rapid promotion can do that to you… you become disoriented.   Imagine how Joseph must have felt!

 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.  ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph relied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer He desires.'”  (Genesis 41:15-16)

Joseph exuded confidence that the God who was with him in prison would also be with him on this “all important job interview!”  He didn’t need to wring his hands in worry… or fear that he would say the wrong thing… He could be confident… because his confidence wasn’t in himself

2.  Tell the Bad With the Good.

There was an old radio commercial I remember where a CEO shouted:  “I don’t want any YES MEN in my organization.”  To which his staff responded:  “YES SIR!”   Most organizations are actually FULL of “yes men”… parroting back what their bosses desire to hear.   If you begin to reach the top you will get this feeling that you don’t want to leave your perch.  Maybe you’ll just down play the bad news and feast on the good for a while! Not so with Joseph. Look at his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream:

The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. [27] The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.  (Genesis 41:26-27)

Do shortcut your integrity… even if what you have to say might not be pleasant to some ears.  As author Dr. Henry Cloud is fond of saying:  “Reality is your friend.”

3.  Be a Good Steward

It is helpful to remember this on your elevator ride to the top: Wealth isn’t yours to squander; and you may need some of that wealth tomorrow.  Joseph lived by these principles.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.  During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.  Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.  Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  (Genesis 41:46-49)

Joseph’s plan to store up in the prosperous years so that they might survive the lean ones… is still a good one. Now matter how golden we imagine our futures… we can only see so far. Being prepared is a Biblically sound idea!

4.  Share the Wealth

 With all the perks that came with Joseph’s new job, he never forgot that first and foremost in his job description was to be a blessing to the world.

“When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt.  And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”  (Genesis 41:56-57)

We can either treat our homes as a treasure chest… or a store house. When we treat them as a treasure chest… we invest time and energy protecting our stuff… and life can become a hassle. When we treat them as a store house… we realize that God can bless others through the “stuff” we are temporarily holding for him… and life becomes a blessing.

I was so moved when I heard the following story in  Skip Heitzig’s book,  Jesus Up Close.  He told the story about a man named Josh who was sailing down a Chicago neighborhood street in his two-month-old, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE when  a brick sailed through the air and struck its shiny, black passenger door. Brakes slammed, gears ground into reverse, and tires spun the Jaguar back to the spot from which the missile had been launched. The young executive jumped out, grabbed the kid, and pushed him against a fender. “That’s my new Jag,” he shouted. “That brick you threw is gonna cost you lots of money!” “I’m sorry, mister! No one would stop! I didn’t know what else to do,” the youngster sobbed, pointing. “It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb, fell out of his wheelchair, and is hurt. He’s too heavy for me. Please, help me lift him back.” Josh’s head of steam evaporated. Straining, he lifted the boy’s brother into the wheelchair, wiped the scrapes and cuts with his handkerchief, and checked to see that there was no serious injury. He then watched the younger brother push the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home. Josh never did fix his door. He kept the dent to remind himself not to go through life so fast that someone would have to throw a brick to get his attention.”  (Skip Heitzig)

Okay… so the elevator doors are opening.  Let me hold the door for you.  “Going Up?” I ask.  Somewhat embarrassed you respond:  “Yes…” Great!  But just remember… don’t let your success destroy your humble confidence… or let it tear at your desire to speak up for the truth… or let it stop your from displaying good money management skills… or… above all this… I say this to you as you enter the threshold… don’t let it keep you from blessing others!

Rise up and bless the world. That is your calling!

Blessings!