Tears in a Bottle

tears 2Genesis 40

If there is something I have learned from my time on this earth is that sorrow can be a lonely time.  No matter how supportive others can be… one can still feel all alone.  Forgotten.  Like a leaf in a stream at flood stage.  You have lost connection from the tree and are now swirling out of control… will you ever be found?

I wonder what state Joseph was in when he entered jail for a crime he did not commit?  Well Joseph did what he always did… made the best of the situation and was soon a trusted helper for the warden.  But as the story continues we learn that God is not through with Joseph.

Some time later, the cup bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. [2] Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cup bearer and the chief baker, [3] and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. [4] The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. (1-4a)

One day Joseph saw these two men and they were both disturbed. “Why are your faces so sad today?”   They explained that they had both had dreams and didn’t know what to make of them. I love Joseph’s optimism. “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

The two recount their dreams which are quite similar. The chief cup bearer tells his dream: “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, [10] and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. [11] Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.” (9-11)

Joseph tells him that the three branches meant three days… and that within three days he would be restored to his position and would again place a chalice of wine into the Pharaoh’s hand. Joseph bids that the cup bearer remember him to Pharaoh when he is restored to office.

The chief baker likes what he has heard and offers his dream up to Joseph:  “On my head were three baskets of bread. [17] In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” (16-17)

Joseph, looking a bit more somber this time, states truthfully: In three days, Pharaoh will have you executed.  And so it goes:

“Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: [21] He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, [22] but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.”  (20-22)

Now after the cupbearer is restored a travesty occurs. He NEGLECTED TO DO ANYTHING ALL ABOUT JOSEPH’S PLIGHT!

Genesis 40:23 reads:  “The chief cup bearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”   I wondered how many nights Joseph lay awake wondering when his friend would come to his rescue.   41:1 tells the sad truth:  “…two full years…”

Joseph was forgotten for two more years. It was one thing to have no hope, but to see hope rise and fall had to have ripped at his heart.  He was at the rock bottom of his faith.  The chief question at rock bottom is this: Has God Forsaken Me?

Have you ever been searching for a road out in the country that even Google Maps can’t help you with? Eventually you throw up you hands and say: “Where is this God Forsaken place?”  Well that is not a Biblical statement at all!  There is no place on this earth that is “GOD FORSAKEN!”

Isaiah 40:27-29 reads:   “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?  [28] Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  [29] He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

The Bible teaches us that there is no place we can go or be sent that escapes his notice.

Matthew 10:29, 31  says:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. [31] So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Just as he sees every bird that falls from the sky. He can see where you have landed. And you are still worth everything to Him.  He knows your situation. He feels the pain in your heart. And he sees every tear you’ve cried.

Psalm 56:8 (The Living Bible) reads:  “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.”

Pastor Bill Hybels remarked on this verse:  “In Middle Eastern culture when every a soldier would go off to war he would buy a “tear vial” – a little tear bottle—he would give it to his wife or his mother.  She would promise, “Your absence will make me so sad, I will cry every night. And when I do, I’ll collect those tears in this bottle. When you come back, you’ll see my tears and you’ll know how precious you are to me.”

Psalm 56:8 says that God will one day be able to show us our “tear vials.” For he has witnesses each one of them. He will say to us: “Didn’t miss a one. Not a single one.”

Joseph might have thought near the end of that second year that his story was over.  But it was actually just ready to begin.

Feeling forgotten?  Know that God sees every single tear… and that your story isn’t over until HE says its over.  Hang on for one day more.

 

Dare to Dream God’s Dreams for You!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenesis 37

Peter Marshall… chaplain to the US Senate in the 40’s once preached about the faithfulness of God and made the following statement:

 No one yet has ever set out to test God’s promises fairly, thoroughly, and humbly, and had to report that God’s promises don’t work. On the contrary, given a fair opportunity, God always surprises and overwhelms those who truly seek, with His bounty and His power.

Marshall’s words cannot be illustrated with a clearer example than the biography in which we are about recount.   The story of Joseph is a story for the ages. Whether remembered as a child on a flannel graph board in Sunday School… or as an adult while enjoying the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat. His story touches and fascinates us. He is a man that was tested to the absolute max… and exercising faithfulness he caught a glimpse of the absolute faithfulness of God.

Now Joseph’s story is often described as a “rags to riches” story… it is actually a “riches to rags to riches” story. Although things go south for him rather quickly in this chapter… his story begins with him in a relatively good place. He was a son of a prosperous man… and also had the good fortune of the father’s favorite.  In fact father Jacob gives Joseph a special coat. The NIV calls it a “richly ornamented robe…” The NASB calls it “a varicolored tunic.” We remember its as being called the “coat of many colors.”  What we might not know is that this coat meant that Joseph was in a privileged class. The fact that it had long sleeves would make him exempt from participating in menial farming tasks.  This did not sit well with his brothers.

Beyond that, he appears to have the favor of his heavenly Father. God spoke to him in dreams. And in those dreams images of grain sheaves and dazzling stars bowing in honor to him, made it clear to Joseph that his life would matter. Even his father and brothers would one day honor him.

As we look at Joseph’s life over these next few weeks I challenge you to look at what God has caused you to dream about. What is in your heart and head that is to wonderful to tell? What has God called you to?

Let me give you a warning, however.  There are forces at work that would prefer you stop your dreaming and take your place in the throngs of faithless humanity. Joseph’s brothers jeered: “Bow down to you, you little pipsqueak? Not in this lifetime!” “Let’s get rid of this dreamer and see what becomes of his dreams!”  By the end of this chapter they at first desire to kill him… and then seek to prophet from his demise by selling him instead.

If YOU dare to dream you will not often be met with enthusiasm. More often you will face condescension, laughter, a dose of cold water or even animosity.

And yet, God calls you to dream His dreams…in full technicolor. And He wants to paint with your life a portrait of His love and His faithfulness.   But how does a disciple cooperate with the dream giver? How does one learn to dream God-sized dreams?

Joseph in the next few weeks will learn some important lessons that will move him towards his dreams:

He will learn the lessons that only comes through hardship.

He will learn to trust when all evidence of hope is gone.

He will learn to forgive when he would rather forget.

He will learn to lead men and yet stay humble to his roots.

But these lessons will take time. And it is his attitude along the way that make all the difference and help him reach his goal.  Perseverance will not be something optional for his path to his dream.

James S. Hewett shared the following story in his book Illustrations Unlimited:  “Years ago a young black child was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later described as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day a famous athlete, Charlie Paddock, came to his school to speak to the students. At the time Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive.” He told the children, “Listen! What do you want to be? You name it and then believe that God will help you be it.” That little boy decided that he too wanted to be the fastest human being on earth. The boy went to his track coach and told him of his new dream. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to our dreams. The first rung is determination! And the second rung is dedication. The third rung is discipline! And the fourth rung is attitude!

The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic and World records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name? Jesse Owens.  (Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 26-27.)

Dream the dreams that God has for you!  Others may try to silence them… but He who has called you will not disappoint.

Blessings!

Passing Faith’s Greatest Test

A+ paperGenesis 22

This is a difficult story for me.

God does something here that is hard for me to even imagine.  He demands that Abraham take the son he loved and offer him up on an altar as a burnt offering.  We learn later that God didn’t REALLY want Isaac to die and that His purpose was to see if Abraham would give up the thing that was dearest to him.

How could God even ask Abraham to commit such an act?  He’s asking Abraham:

  1. First of all: To aid in nullifying the promise He Himself had made to Abraham.
  2. And, secondly to engage in child sacrifice… a horrific act indicative of the pagan worship in the cities all around Abraham.

Why Isaac? The Son Abraham loved so much.  And why test Abraham at all?  If the intent was to see if Abraham had faith, would an all-knowing God be able to see the outcome without having Abraham run out the simulation?

Why Isaac?  Well, it was Isaac because the son of the promise was the only thing that could tempt Abraham’s heart away from God.  If God was going to construct a true test of Abraham’s heart… it was Isaac or nothing. Why test him at all? Well, God knew Abraham’s heart. He knew what Abraham would do.   But, hear this: ABRAHAM didn’t know what Abraham would do.

Charles Swindoll once said:  “The wonderful thing about God’s schoolroom … is that we get to grade our own papers.  You see, He doesn’t test us so He can learn how well we’re doing. He tests us so we can discover how well we’re doing.”  (God’s Provision in Time of Need)

There is no substitute for experience in the Christian life. We can learn all we can about the subject of God and score an “A” on every seminary level course, but that is not the same thing as living what you believe on the work table called life.  Will you pass this test?  If you were called to let go of that which you love the most… would you obey?  Or would you say:  “I don’t believe anymore.”

Theologian John Calvin was so bold as to say: “All true knowledge of God is born out of obedience. ”
The late Bob Benson in his book He Speaks Softly told the story of a banker friend of his in Nashville. Mr. Lewis Farrell took care of the Benson family’s business affairs and had the reputation of being a “tough old bird.”

One day he learned that his old friend had been in the hospital for surgery.  By the time he found out he was already back at home recuperating.  He writes: One afternoon I stopped by his house to see how he was getting along. He was sitting out in the back yard enjoying the sunshine as I joined him.         After awhile he said to me, “Bob, I don’t want to bore you or keep you too long, but I do want to tell you something that happened to me during this illness.”  I could sense that he was getting ready to tell me something that had touched him deeply.

“Down across the years,” he began, “I have taught a men’s Bible class at the church. My favorite book to teach has always been the Gospel of John.  One of the things that I always seemed to see so clearly was John’s teaching about eternal life.  [Eternal Life] was not a life that comes to us when this one is over.  It is in us and we are in it now.

When I learned I was going to have surgery I was not really afraid.  I had to wait a week for our family surgeon to return from vacation and I went through the whole process—waiting, preparation, surgery, recovery room, recuperation—and all without ever being even the least bit apprehensive.  I was gripped by a deep sense of serenity and peace.  I found that I really believed what I had been teaching all these years.  I was already living eternal life, and where I lived it was not really all that important.”

Benson continued: “There was peace in his eyes and satisfaction in his voice.  He knew that what he had said he believed was true, really was true.  And his faith belonged to him.”

Is your faith academic?  Or has it passed the Faith’s greatest test?

Blessings!

The Power of an Honest Prayer

altar-prayerGenesis 18

As this begins Abraham is sitting in his tent in the heat of the day.  Like a hot 100+ day in Tennessee where I grew up, this was a scorcher.  Perhaps Abraham desired nothing more than a cold, fresh brewed glass of sweet iced tea. (I did in Tennessee.)

He’s staring into the blazing sun for just a moment,when suddenly he notices three men standing near him.  He springs to his feet and does what any one would have naturally done in that day… assume the role of gracious host.

Look at the Hospitality of Abraham:

He runs to them.  Bows to the ground.  He encourages them to enter into his tent and offers them something to drink and eat.  Maybe Abraham suspects there is more to these men than meets the eye… or perhaps not.  The text doesn’t tell us.  It does reveal an age old mistake that husbands are prone to making.  Inviting guests in and then telling his wife about it.  “Come in,” Abraham tells the three strangers, we’ll get you a bite to eat. … ‘Sarah, hurry, three men are staying for dinner.’”

The men begin to eat and suddenly one says, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He not only knows the name of his wife, but the covenant name… Sarah.

Right then and there the stranger reveals what Abraham already knew.  This time next year, Sarah will have a son.

Behold the Unbelief of Sarah.

Now Sarah nearly chokes trying to hold back her laughter.  Ha!  She says secretly to herself.  Me?  Have a child?  “You did laugh” the men say when she denies her mirth.

It appears that one of the missions of the three mystery men was to strengthen the faith of Sarah.  They weren’t there for Abraham.  They were there for her.  It is important for a couple to be on the same page spiritually.

But the men discuss among themselves if there might be a second purpose for their visit: to inform Abraham of God’s coming judgment on Sodom.

Genesis 18:16-21

   Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. [17] The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, [18] since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? [19] “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” [20] And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. [21] “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

This is an invitation for Abraham to pray.  Do you recognize those moments in your own life?  It may come disguised as hopeless news segment on the nightly news… a challenging prayer request in your email inbox… a few words spoken to you by your grandchild which sadly reminds you of the world he or she will have to live in.  These are invitations to pray.

One man stays behind.  It is actually the Angel of the Lord.  No one has seen God at anytime, the Bible says.  But often in the OT, men and women saw the Angel of the Lord, and they respond by saying, “I have seen the Lord.”

Abraham stays and intercedes for Sodom with God’s ambassador.  Intercession is a difficult but powerful endeavor.  One might think otherwise.  Brigid E. Herman (1875-1923) once said:  “Wheras in former times intercession was looked upon as hard toil for strong men, it has come to be regarded by the majority of people as a nice, quiet occupation especially suitable for delicate persons and invalids.  Comparatively few look upon it as a part of a Christian’s vocation.  [Intercession] means making Christ’s interests our own. It means to learn to think with God, to have the mind of Christ, to see the world through His eyes, to share His passion to save and redeem. And that heart is formed in us by prayer. (Pray Magazine)

Abraham speaks with humility.   “I venture to speak with the Lord.” (v. 27, 31)  “I am but dust and ashes.” (v. 27)  He knows the Lord favors him.  He is aware of the Lord’s love, but he is also aware of his place before Him.

Dean Merrill in his article Whatever Happened to Kneeling? writes:  “Who can deny that over the past 25 years we have been kneeling less and less?  When I get down on my knees to pray, the quality of my interaction with God is somehow changed. And I don’t think it’s just the nostalgic memory of boyhood days when, as a preacher’s kid in the Midwest, I knelt on a plank floor with the rest of the congregation at our Wednesday night prayer meetings. I benefit from the practice now.

        The biggest benefit is that kneeling reminds us who’s in the dialogue. Prayer is not a couple of fellows chatting about the Dallas Cowboys. It is a human being coming face to face with his or her Supreme Authority, the ineffable God who is approachable but still the One in charge.

        Thus kneeling is a way of saying, “I fully understand who’s Boss here. Far be it from me to try to manipulate you or play games with you. I’m well aware of my status in this relationship, and I deeply appreciate your taking time to interact with me.

But although Abraham was humble, he still exhibits a boldness.  Where does one got to take their problems they have with the Cosmos?  To the management, of course.  God actually welcomes us and invites us to take it up with Him.

Genesis 18:23-25

   Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

Very humble, very bold.  But there is one problem with Abraham’s prayer:  He never says what is actually on his mind and in his heart.  There is one name Abraham is thinking about,… but not saying… his nephew LOT!  Lot and his family, who had moved there not too long ago, is surely behind his passionate bargaining with God.  Why doesn’t he just say that?  It might have saved him a lot of maneuvering.

Got someone on YOUR heart?  Go bold!  Be Honest with God!  He already knows what is on your heart anyway…so approach him with boldness and ask for your request (Hebrews 4:6).  In Ephesians, Paul ends one of his prayers with:  “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”  Remember your prayers are powerful not because of the words you utter, but because of a powerful God that hears them… and acts on your behalf.

Blessings!

Pushing Past the Limitations of Your Faith

dive2Genesis 17

It was Vietnam, 1968 and for the past two weeks, the Ghostrider division had been shuttling troops and supplies for a big push in the central highlands at Plie Merong.  On September 21, 1968, Dr. Kenneth Swan was surgeon of the day at the Army’s 71st Evacuation Hospital.  This 33 year old doctor had only been in Vietnam for a month.  One of the soldier with the Ghostriders came in that morning, Private Ken McGarity.

X-rays revealed what the surgeon already knew: The soldier’s legs would have to come of.  As Swan worked on the amputations—both legs above the knee—he coordinated the activities of the team of doctors he had called in.  The orthopedist treated the shrapnel wounds in McGarity’s arms.  The ophthalmologist removed the man’s left eye and cleaned the wounds to his right eye, hoping to save it.

When the orthopedist had done all he could on McGarity’s arms, Swan amputated the ragged stump of the soldier’s right pinkie finger.  Then, in a final delicate and involved surgery, the neurologist performed a craniotomy, cutting though the top of the soldier’s forehead and lifting away the skull so that he could extract the shrapnel from the brain’s frontal lobes—damage that might have a lobotomizing effect.  Or worse.

For eight hours, the surgeons stood in their muddy boots on the concrete floor and did the best the could to repair Ken McGarity.  The next morning, Dr. Swan was not prepared for the grilling he would receive from his commanding officer.  “Why did you decide to treat the recent casualty so aggressively?”

His commanding officer continued:  “The next time you make a call, ask yourself what kind of life you’re condemning someone to.”

20 years later in 1989, Peter McPherson, a young freelance journalist, called Dr. Kenneth Swan, then a professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  During his interview with Swan, he asked: “What was the toughest case of your career?”

After telling McPherson about McGarity, he said, “He made it back to the States, that’s all I know.”  He still felt the words of his commanding officer and felt guilt for what he had probably put this young man through.

After the article by the reporter appeared, readers wanted to know what happened to the soldier.  So McPherson and Swan set out to find out.  Two years later, in July of 1991, Dr. Swan finally learned about his former patient, Kenneth McGarity. He now lived in Columbus, Georgia.  He had a wife and two daughters, had completed his high school education, attended Auburn University and had learned to scuba dive.

I’m left with a question:  How did Kenneth McGarity manage to put a life together against such great odds?  How was he able to push past obvious barriers in order to do so?  These people inspire us when we feel limited by our own set of circumstances.

I think of a friend in Ohio who has a vibrant faith but also has an alcoholic son that is killing himself.  During one of our visits to her home we saw his her son’s car parked outside their home and could see where he had driven it through a mailbox coming home drunk the night before. She still maintained her joy in Christ.

I think of an older gentleman in a former church who never let age or anything keep him from the Food Pantry when it was our month to serve.  He mowed his elderly neighbor’s yards each week and kept most of the our church steeped in tomatoes and green beans during the summer.

I think of a young lady Janine and I met when we were on vacation at a friend’s church.  She had Lou Gering’s disease.  For the father’s day service that Sunday, she stood and sang “You Raised Me Up!”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

How did these individuals push past their barriers and on toward faith?  In Genesis 17, Abraham faces 3 common barriers to faith and overcomes with God’s help.

Barrier #1 – Age

The text begins:  When Abraham was ninety-nine.  Abram’s Golden Years were changed to his Prime of Life  at the call of an all powerful God.   When God says, ”I will establish My covenant with you.”  Our excuses sound thin.  It isn’t about your age. It is about El Shaddai – “I am God Almighty.”  This is the first appearance in the Bible of this name for God.

Barrier #2 – Full Commitment

“Walk before me and be blameless…” God instructs Abram.   Many of us struggle with how much of our hearts to give the Lord. Does it mean going to church every Sunday?  Does it mean giving every thing I own to feed the poor?  We fear surrender because we don’t know what it will cost us.  But God’s command here is more than just more religious duty tacked on to your already busy life.

True commitment to God permeates one’s existence.   “Do I have to go every Sunday?”  That question doesn’t enter the mind of one wholly committed to God.  It’s like putting the garbage out the night before trash day.  You don’t have to, but things are bound to start smelling.   “Do I have to give everything I have to feed the poor?”  That question causes us to give nothing.  True committment asks:  “How much can I give?”   That’s a question that comes from a heart permeated with God’s love and message.

Barrier #3 – The Impossible

The impossible is a stumbling block for most of us.  Charles F. Kettering was said: “When I was research head of General Motors and wanted a problem solved, I’d place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: Leave slide rules here. If I didn’t do that, I’d find someone reaching for his slide rule. Then he’d be on his feet saying, “Boss, you can’t do it.”

But some of us dare to tell God what he can and cannot do.  We give up on an unbelieving relative.  We set limits on our abilities.  We accept unjust laws because, “you can’t fight city hall” or “that’s just the way things are.”

Abraham does the same:

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”  But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:17-21)

To push past this barrier we need to say:  However God says it will be, I will believe!  It was at this point that Abraham balked.   He said:  Though it is my heart’s desire to have a son by Sarah… I make it easy for you, God, to fulfill this.  Just use my son, Ishmael.  God tells him, NO!  You stand back and see what I can do.  And Abraham’s cynical chuckling was turned to joyful laughter when the promises of a faithful God were fulfilled just one year later.

There is a new song by Casting Crowns that has been running through my head lately.  Perhaps you could use its encouragement. The song is called Dream For You and the bridge and chorus say:

I’m stronger than you think I am
I’ll take you farther than you think you can
You sing and call me Great I Am
So take your stand
My child, if you only knew
All the plans that I have for you
Just trust me, I will follow through
You can follow Me.

So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you.

See what God has dreamed for you.  Push past the limits of YOUR faith.

Blessings!

Faith at Low Tide

low tideGenesis 15

Low tide, caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity upon the earth, is as predictable as the sunrise.  It isn’t as pretty a sight as high tide is.  A lot of blight that had been hidden beneath ocean waves is now exposed.  The poles holding the dock can now be seen.  They aren’t as varnished and clean below as they are above.  Sea weed is every where.  Old bottles (no messages) and drift wood are stranded on the beach.

Predators have been waiting for low tide.  Hungry birds are scarfing up the sea life that didn’t quite make it out with the tide.  Crabs that burrow in the sand now find their ocean roof removed… they are vulnerable to curious children and tourist looking for an interesting pet.

Another thing that happens is that the waters that were once so easy to pass become treacherous.  A former co-worker in Maryland once went out on a boat off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  As the tide became low they hit a sand bar and became stuck.  After frantically trying to loosen themselves, they eventually had to spend the night in the boat and wait for the ocean tide to come back and release them.  It can be embarrassing at low tide.

Well there are low tides in life as well as on the coast.  Moments where you kind of loose your footing… as hopes, dreams and resources seems to rush away from you as the waves from the beach.  A lot of blight becomes exposed in your life.  Predators wait to tempt you at this hour of vulnerability.  Areas of your life that were once clear sailing, you now find impossible to pass. You are at ebb tide.  You’re left like Otis Redding: “…sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.” And with it goes your vitality, your joy, and your peace of mind.  Faith could sure comes in handy at Low Tide.

God comes to Abram at the beginning of Genesis 15 and addresses him with: “Do Not Fear, Abram.”   What could Abram be fearing?  Reprisals from the enemy he has just defeated?  Maybe some of the other tribes in the area might be taking notice of him?  Perhaps he’s feeling a little weak now…  A little more vulnerable?

Sometimes after a victory we are the most vulnerable.  Evil in this world will not sit still after you have won a victory.  Sometimes events can happen shortly after that make you question your small victory all together.

Genesis 27 continues with Abram complaining to God: “You said that I would become a great nation.  But Eliezer of Damascus is going to get everything I have when I die.  Was that the plan?  I come out here in the middle of nowhere only to die childless, and my wealth goes to someone that doesn’t even know you?

Now remember Abram has, not once, not twice… but three times received a solid promise from the Lord.  But those precious promises that once brought him joy seem to mean precious little at low tide.  His heart is tired of waiting for the promise.   Joy has rushed from him like the waves from the shoreline.

“What are you up to God?”

Do you ever get discouraged?

You’re trying to train up your child and they seem to be choosing the path of the prodigal.

You’re trying to remain honest in your business, but the cut throat competition is eating you alive.

You’re trying to faithfully give to the church, but the car has broken down, the kids needs braces and there is this scary rumor of layoffs at work.

“What are you up to God?”

See what God does for Abram:

1.  God speaks to Abram’s fear. 

God says: Do Not Be Afraid… I will be your protection and provision.  This is the first instance of “Do Not Be Afraid” in the Bible.

2.  God speaks to Abram’s discouragement.

God says:  You WILL have a son.  You WILL have numerous descendants.  God then takes Abram to do a little star gazing.  Here the Sovereign Lord, who created each celestial body, tells Abram that if He can do that, one child is a piece of cake for Him!

Jeremiah 32:17 reminds us:  “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

I love the word of the Rich Mullins song “Sometimes by Step”:  “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land. And I no less than he. And on this road to righteousness, Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter when I step, but never beyond your reach.”

How did Abram respond to the pep talk from the Lord?  Verse 6 says it all:  “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Nothing changed around him… same barren countryside… same barren Sarai.  But Abram’s heart changed right there at ebb tide… and God looked at his faith and called it righteousness.

So… in the midst of your low tide.  Do not give up.  Do not give in to fear.  Instead… go look at the stars.  (God lit one of them up in the night sky for Abram that had YOUR name on it.)  Display a little righteousness by… against all odds… simply believing!

Blessings!

What Every Rainbow Says to Us

Genesis 9:1-17double rainbow

Three moms that lived through the pain of watching their sons drift away from God, wrote a book in 2002 called: Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them. One of the moms, named Heather Kopp, wrote about her wayward son, Noah.  Her son had to submit to weekly drug testing to keep off of drugs. He didn’t seem to know who he was or where he was going… particularly in the spiritual realm. Heather wrote: “Once your baby—no matter how old he is—is lost, so are you.”

She then tells a story of an event that gave her some hope in the midst of the lost state she found herself:   “One recent night I asked Noah how it went the night before.  He said it was okay. Except for the part where everybody else got high before the movie and then again after the movie while he waited outside the car.  I told him I was sorry. And I was proud of him.  “But God spoke to me,” he announced.

“Really?” (This was not typical.)

“Yeah,” he said. “While I was standing around outside waiting for those guys to get high, I saw a double rainbow.”

He wasn’t really able to articulate what God seemed to be saying through the double rainbow, but I wasn’t going to push. I reached up to ruffle his hair, and, surprisingly, he let me. Then he trotted off to the shower, a little boy inside a man-size body.  I kept thinking about that double rainbow all day. Maybe it was God’s way of saying to my Noah, “Hey, you. Look at this cool rainbow. There’s beauty in life I don’t want you to miss. And no amount of dope will make it more beautiful.”
And maybe Noah’s telling me about it was God’s way of saying to me, “Remember my promises. No matter how far he wanders away from you, he’s never out of my sight.”  (Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them, p. 5.)

How ironic that God spoke to a twentieth century Noah through a rainbow.  And that it indirectly spoke to his mom as well… granting her a message of hope.

In chapter 9 of Genesis, God makes a promise to the Biblical Noah in regard to His judgment of mankind.  “I will establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” (9:11)  Often when God makes a promise to us (one He wants us to be sure to remember) He creates a physical sign to memorialize it.  The sign of this Noahic covenant is the rainbow… a multicolored reminder of many attributes of God.  The next time you see it raining… and can see that the sun is shining as well… run outside to see the spectacle of God’s bow hung in the sky… and then remember a few things.

1)  Remember God’s Restraint.

The Hebrew term in verse 13 is the same term used when referring to a bow in archery. God is telling Noah, that in regards to judgment with flood, I’m hanging up my bow.  “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  (9:16)  When we see evil continue to run rampant on this earth, it is tempting to think that God might be powerless to stop it.  What it should tell us is: God is extremely powerful in His restraint!  Praise God for the cease-fire!

2)  Remember God’s faithfulness

“When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (9:16)  God’s bow reminds us of God’s faithfulness because He has kept his word to us.  Despite the sinfulness of man, He has not caused the world to be flooded again.  Every rainbow HE looks upon today remind Him to be faithful to His promise (though He hardly needs a reminder).  Every rainbow WE look upon today should remind us that HE is indeed a faithful God.  (We do need the reminder.)

3)  Remember God’s patience.

Our twentieth century Noah (in the above story) didn’t quite know what God was saying through the rainbow, but he knew God was saying something.  Perhaps the rainbow was a symbol to Him of His patience toward him.  For although the sign of the rainbow states that God has withheld further judgment on the earth by flood, there is coming a judgment by fire.  “…the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  (1 Peter 3:6,7 & 10.)  The rainbow reminds us that God isn’t winking at sin, but being patient with sinners.  There will be a day when the justice of God will have to be satisfied.

4)  Remember His Majesty

Remember when you saw your first rainbow?  Remember that feeling of awe?  Then you have a sense of the wonder that Noah must have felt.  It came at the end of a rough 40 days and 40 nights.  The rainbow was have been overwhelming to his senses!  And although it was a sign of the covenant to him, it also represented God’s majesty to him.  That element of the rainbow’s symbolism is found not only here in Genesis, but also in the book of Revelation (4:3) and Ezekiel.  Ezekiel describes his vision of Divine Glory in this manner:  “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.  Such was the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 1:28)  Stand in awe of His majesty!

Where do the storms of life find you today?  Are you kind of like the mom of our 21st Century Noah?  Trying to maintain your faith as the flood waters continue to rise in your life?  There is hope beyond the disaster that has flooded your world.  Remember God is a God of restraint, faithfulness, patience and majesty.  And every rainy day or so… He likes to remind us.

Desperate for God

desertPsalm 63:1

A psalm of David, When he was in the desert of Judah.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

It is 2 a.m. and you are awakened by your cellphone, dancing and playing its merry little tune on your nightstand.  Sleepy eyed you reach over.  It is not like you were sleeping well anyway.

Answering it you hear the frantic plea of a dear friend:  “Get up and get out immediately!  Your son is on the way and he’s bringing his gang banger friends with him.  He’s going to kill you!  That kid of yours has murder in his eyes!”

His words startle you awake.  You jump up and grab your car keys.  You tear out of your drive way in your Lexus with just the clothes on your back.  2 hours later you pull into a freeway rest stop… and attempt to collect yourself.  At a lonely picnic table, you ask yourself:  “How did it all come to this?”

You knew your son was capable… he had already murdered his half-brother.  He killed him to avenge the rape of his sister.  It was such a difficult and twisted time.  You haven’t spoken to that blood thirsty kid since.  But your silence has done nothing but fuel your son’s animosity.  Now he is after your head!

“How did things come to this?”  you utter again holding your head in your hands… and then… you remember… it was you.  It was you that started this whole drama in your family… when you had that affair 2 years ago.  You began a slide in morality that is now an avalanche of sorrow.  Where do you go from here?  Where can you turn for help and relief?

(this intro is based on an introduction from A. T. Stewart in his sermon, “Finding God in Your Devastation” on sermoncentral.com)

What I just shared with you is not an episode of “Without a Trace” or “Law and Order,”  but is a day in the life of King David which is the background of Psalm 63.   This Psalm has a title:  A Psalm of David when he was in the Desert of Judah.

The son in question is Absalom, who had killed his half-brother, and then wooed the hearts of the nation of Israel before taking David’s throne in a coup.  Now he was seeking David’s head on a platter.  This is why David in the wilderness.

It is from this desert setting that David cries out:

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water.

This reminds me of a hiking trip I took with the men of our church at Lake Sonoma.  It was the first overnight journey I had ever under taken and I wasn’t prepared for how hungry and thirsty I would be.  I was so thirsty.  I never had to rely so much on a water bottle before.  And I couldn’t even imagine hiking like that in the summer heat without streams to keep my bottle filled.  The amount of water you would have to carry for such a journey without the possibility of refilling would have been far too heavy a burden.

Well David didn’t get to choose his hike.  He was forced out into the wilderness.  A stream for him would have been a life saving find.

So he says:  In a dry and weary land where there is no water, I thirst for….  GOD(?)  One would think that David would say… well, water!  But during a time of trial, the thing we think we need the most… a healing, a check in the mail, a restored relationship… often takes a back seat… to a swelling need within our hearts… for God Himself.

David longs for God just as his flesh longs for water.

Often we wonder why we don’t find more satisfaction in our religious activities.  Howard Hendricks once wrote:  “Much of our religious activity today is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life!”

We aren’t satisfied because often we are terrified of the desert.  And the desert is where we feel our need for God the most.

When things come our way that we don’t understand we have more than a curiosity about God.  We have more than a desire to go to church to see our friends.  Bible reading becomes more than just a duty… it becomes a life line.

WE WANT GOD!   Nothing else will quench our thirst.

Hear the words of C. S. Lewis:   “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Mere Christianity)

Are you in the desert?  Through your own doing or the perhaps the sin of another?  Seek God as you would seek water!  He alone can sustain you there.

[more on Psalm 63 in blogs to follow]

An Intelligence Test

Acts 17:16-18Test

On the Tonight Show, host, Jay Leno, has a frequent segment called “Jay Walking.”  He goes out into the area surrounding their studio… talks to real people (only to about 15 people and then about 9 make it on the show) and after about an hour of shooting they are ready to go.  Here is a sample of what Jay finds:

A Man who thought the first president was Benjamin Franklin.

A Woman who when asked how many stars were on the American Flag atop a nearby flag pole answered:  “I can’t tell, the wind is moving it too fast.”

My favorite:  A graduate from college still in cap and gown was asked what the Gettysburg Address was.  After hemming and hawing, Jay asked her: “Have you heard of it?”  She responded:  “Yes, I’ve heard of it.  I don’t know the actual address though.”

When asked what separates the inner ear and outer ear, one bright person said:  Your brain?

Another was asked:  Who lives in Vatican city?  Their answer:  Vaticans.  Jay responded:  “No, but he has a tall hat.   Answer:  “Abraham Lincoln?”

Shows like that make me feel smart.  I love shows like that.  Jeopardy, not so much.  Those contestants seem to know everything.  “What is the weight of a ball bearing off a Boeing 747, Alex?”  “Correct!”  They are smart, but that is only Jeopardy smart.

Then there is “Brilliant” smart… it is an intelligence that goes beyond remembering facts… these people have the capacity to understand things at an ultra complicated level.  They can be intimidating.  Particularly if they come to conclusions you don’t agree with.  The atheist with his book about why God doesn’t exist has a lot of degrees after his name.  You know he is wrong, but how do you reason with someone so intelligent?

Often when met with “brilliant” smart, we just stay silent.  Obviously we have nothing to say.

Paul is about to step into the world of the culturally elite.  He had to feel a bit intimidated as he entered Athens.  But he knew he was defending the truth and to stand up for the truth is always the intelligent thing to do.

Heard the story recently of Courtney Ellis, a former graduate student at Princeton:  “When I attended graduate school for English, there were many occasions when my fellow students openly ridiculed the name of Christ. To my great detriment, I stayed silent. I was quite vocal about my belief in Christ at church and with my friends, but I was terrified of what might happen to my reputation if the people at my school found out I believed in Jesus. … Most of them were just ignorant about who Jesus is. Several of them had never even met a Christian before and assumed that all Christians were the uneducated, judgmental stereotypes we sometimes see in the media. Yet, I was still afraid.

As the program went on, I began to feel guiltier for these silences. If I couldn’t be obedient to Christ in such a central thing, how would I be able to serve him in other ways? God was faithful in my rocky road to obedience—opportunities to speak up for Christ continued to come my way.

One day a fellow student asked me flat out—right before class, when many other people were around—if I was a Christian. I was at a crossroads. … I had a clear decision to make.

I took a deep breath, and, with God’s help, I said a soft, shaky, “Yes.” The student looked at me for a second, skeptically.

“Interesting,” she said. “I always thought that Christians were like circus freaks…but you’re actually kind of smart!”

It was a small step, but even the smallest step made in obedience is progress. God tells us not to fear for our reputations, because the truth will always win out.”

[More to Come]

Set Your Sail!

sailboatPick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

Part 4 of 5

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Acts 17:10-12

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Now what did Paul and Silas do next?  They set their sails and when to Macedonia.  This will determine whether or not you will ever discover the will of God for your life.  God more often calls the willing.  If He knows that in calling you to Macedonia you will spend forever reading travel brochures and learn native customs and read articles about how Macedonians think… and never get around to booking passage to the country… He would rather call someone else.

Amazama Ministries

Amazama Ministries

I concur with Katie Davis, the 20 something missionary in Uganda in her book, Kisses from Katie:

“I don’t always know where this life is going I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part.  Courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.”

Kathy Lang heard such a calling.

“A veteran surgical nurse for over 25 years, Kathy was looking for a new job. An agency that staffs nurses offered her a position at a prison. Without hesitation, Kathy replied emphatically, “No!”

A few days later in the car, she was listening to a Keith Green CD when her ears were startled by the lyrics: “I was in prison, and I rotted there; I’d prayed that you’d come.”

Over the next ten days she was bombarded with prison references everywhere she turned. On the TV and the radio—prison news. Her devotion book had references to prison. Kathy finally relinquished: “Okay, God, I get it!”

When she arrived home, she called the agency, but the job had been filled. Undaunted, she visited a local youth detention facility to inquire if they needed a nurse, only to learn there was a hiring freeze. For the next four months she kept calling agencies to inquire. And she prayed.  One night, Kathy and her daughter Jessica were driving home from the store. As they passed the prison at exactly 9:00 p.m., she and Jessica prayed, asking the Lord to open the door if it was truly his will for Kathy to work there. She promised to never stop praying for those girls.  Exactly 12 hours later, at precisely 9:00 the next morning, the agency called to offer her that job. …

[As Kathy worked in the clinic,] she had the idea to give every girl a Bible. Through a small grant, Kathy was able to get a few hundred of them for the cost of shipping. …  At the end of each appointment [Kathy had with a female prisoner], she offered the girl a Bible, briefly explaining how to use it. Their responses were mixed between joy and refusal.  Kathy’s heart ached for these girls, most of whom were from difficult backgrounds with little hope for change.

After [Kathy] gave out the first batch of Bibles, her vision was expanded to do more. She contacted various prison chaplains and was able to place more than 6,000 Bibles in four years. …  Kathy’s goal is to see a Bible in the hand of every prisoner. And she has kept her promise to God—she never stops praying for them.  Kathy’s guiding verse for her mission with these troubled youth comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Cindy Huff, “Taking Jesus to Jail,” Today’s Christian, July/August 2008.)

Have you heard a calling from God and then sat on it?  Earlier I said God more frequently calls those that are willing.  But he also calls a few Jonahs.  Maybe you are one of those.  I know where I am suppose to go… but I am unwilling to.

Get those sails up!  Take that first step.  Make that call.  Start praying.  You will be able to do more than you could ever imagine.