Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Read Matthew 6:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36, NRSV)

Don't Worry, Be HappyIf one were to sit back and describe what it was like to be alive during 2012, one would have to state that it was a tense, tense time.  Millions of people are without jobs, many of whom have simply given up looking for work and have dropped out of the work force. To make matters worse, this is not just an American problem, but a global problem. All one has to do is turn on any of the news channels to hear about the economic woes in America and beyond.

To add to that, the situation in the Middle East seems to be coming to a boiling point as we watch the chaos that ensues in the streets of cities from Cairo to Benghazi. All of the major news organizations are reporting day and night on the precarious situations that are stirring, speculating on what is to become of our American country and the world.

We so often find ourselves in a place of unnecessary worry and panic as a result of the things happening around us. Will I lose my job? Will my family be able to survive our financial problems? Will we make it through these times in one piece? Will there be World War 3?  Will the future be safe for my kids and their children? These and so many more questions are constantly flooding our heads.  The stress is enough to paralyze even the strongest of people.

It is in times such as these where Jesus words in Matthew 6:25-34 are both poignant and timely. After all, what will worrying about such things do for us in the end. Can worrying and stressing over financial situations help you to work through them and move beyond them? Can stressing over the chaos of the world help change the world we live in? In fact, wouldn’t it be safe to say that a majority of the world’s problems are a result of people stressing over stuff, from the small stuff to things of import.  Adding stress on top of stress is never going to solve any of the problems in our lives.

Rather, Jesus calls us to put God first.  We are called to let go of our lives, we are called to hand our lives over to God and to put our trust in God. We are called to stop paralyzing ourselves in stress-manufactured fear, and to start walking in the direction God is calling us in. We are to walk in faith, serving others as God is calling us to.  Everything else will follow.

If we do have faith in God, if we do believe God is almighty and is ever-present, if we do believe God will never leave us nor forsake us, then what do we have to worry about?  Rather than worrying, trust that God will get you through whatever situations you find yourself in and move forward in the direction God is calling you to move.  Free yourself from the bonds of fear inducing stress and place all of your hope and trust in the Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER

Lord, help me to let go of my fear and trust wholly in you. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Daniel 3:16-18, Luke 18:1-8, Philippians 4:6-7, Hebrews 10:19-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4:2)

The Power of PrayerThere once was this 3-year-old boy who was in the hospital with a viral infection in the blood stream. He was lying in his hospital bed with IV’s and other needles probing into him. The doctors were at a loss about what they could do to bring this little boy back from the brink of death. They had tried everything and the boy seemed to not be responding well to any of the treatments they were giving him. His parents were so distraught fearing the inevitable that their son would probably not make it through.

Being a people of faith, the boy’s parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents had asked their churches to keep their son in their prayers. Prayer was all that they had left, it was the only thing they, or anyone else (including the doctors), could do at this point. Either the boy was going to pull out of this fine or he was going to die at the age of 3. What a horrible thing for any parent to have to go through.

Finally, on a Sunday morning, the church of the little boy (and no doubt the other churches as well) were gathering to meet for their Sunday morning worship. And during that worship service they stood, circled around the sanctuary, and gathered hands to pray that this boy be healed. Within the very hour that they met for worship and prayed, the little boy sat up in his hospital bed and said to his parents and to the other people in the room, “Jesus healed me. Jesus healed me.” Indeed, he had been healed and when the doctors came in upon hearing the news, they too said that they had witnessed a miracle.

The above story I know to be a true one, because the little boy in that story was me. I know the power of prayer, because I have witnessed it throughout my life. From the time I was afflicted with a viral infection in my bloodstream to the times as a teenager and young adult that I was lost in depression and anxiety, I have felt the presence and power of prayer in my life. I would not be where I am today, if I would be at all, if it were not for prayer. I am not just talking about other people praying for me, but my own personal prayer life as well.

Now, I am not one to say that prayer always “works” out in our favor, and that if you do not get what you want you must not be “praying right” or “praying hard enough.” The power of prayer is not that it is the greatest magic trick in the universe, calling into being whatever the prayerful person wishes. There are plenty of stories that counter my own, where people pray for someone to be healed and the healing never comes. Those people are no less faithful than my parents and family are and it would be theologically and morally irresponsible to say otherwise. Even Jesus prayed for the cup of his suffering to be taken from him, only to find out it had NOT been taken away. (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42)

Rather, the power of prayer lies within the core of our soul. It’s power lies in its ability to give us hope, even in the face of despair. Prayer helps us connect with the hope that lies with in us, namely the love and presence of God, even when we feel like we are alone in the valley of the shadow of death. Prayer anchors us in the rock of faith. It prepares us for the worst but never lets us lose hope for the best. It enables us to see the best out of the worst situations. Prayer pushes us to action rather than to the stagnation of complacency.

If there is one thing we should never cease doing as Christians, let it be that we never cease praying. Know that there is healing power in prayer regardless of the outcome. Even when people do not recover from illnesses, or wars do not cease to exist, or injustices do not go away, there is miraculous healing in the act of prayer. The miracle is not in the outcome, but in the act of prayer itself. Pray and experience its healing power.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Pray, pray, pray! We’ve got to pray just to make it today.” —M.C. Hammer

PRAYER

Lord, let the prayers of my heart reflect your will. Use me to bring hope, healing and wholeness, through prayer and action, in my life and in the lives of others. Amen.

Anybody Got Some Change?

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Psalm 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Both day and night belong to You; You made the starlight and the sun. You set the boundaries of the earth, and You made both summer and winter.” (Psalms 74:16-17)

SeasonsWell, summer vacation is totally over and the season of summer is coming to an end. The leaves are already beginning to change and some of them have already fallen.  Any one who knows me knows that I LOVE the fall. The smell of wood burning emanating from people’s homes, the smell of the leaves, the fall breeze that chills the air, the smell of apples, cinnamon, and pumpkin. My goodness, and who can forget pumpkin spice coffee?  (I would mention Mallomars, but alas…I am vegan).

All of this is enough to make a fall-crazed person, such as myself, extremely happy; however, the fall also leaves me feeling sad and anxious as I await the uncertain season of winter, already starting to leave finger marks on the ground with its bitter cold, icy hand. The fact is that, just as the seasons are ever-changing, so too is our life. Change is inevitable. It cannot be avoided. Whether we embrace it or not, we WILL change. From the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb, our lives have been a series of changes.  The only thing that is for certain, the only thing that NEVER changes, is the fact that each moment of our lives is filled with change.

Like the seasons of the year, we often go from times of certainty, warmth, and security to times of uncertainty, isolation and insecurity. Our lives are ever revolving in a circle just like the seasons. We are ever marching onward through life experiencing all the ups and downs that come with it.  And each of the ups and downs we experience forever change us.  But, believe it or not, it is in the change that lies the hope.

Can you imagine a world where it was always summer? A world where the earth never got a break from the summer sun? Can you imagine a world where everything stayed the same. A place where water did not exist to cut through and change the landscape? A place where the leaves on the trees never died to be reborn again?  Even if it is not impossible to imagine such a world, it would be impossible to imagine such a world sustaining life.

Though we are not always happy about the changes that occur in our lives, though we are not always happy with the circumstances that befall us, there is hope.  There is hope that though the sun may seem more distant and cold, it will rise to bring warmth into our lives again. THere is hope that, though days are shorter and the darkness lingers with us longer, a new and warmer season will spring forth to remind us that God has been with us all along.

There is one hope we have, as witnessed to throughout Scripture: God will never leave us nor forsake us.  All we have to do is trust in that promise, no matter how bleak things get, and let the seasons come as they will.  There is no doubt that we will change in the process; however, the kind of change we experience depends on our reaction to the seasons we’re in. God is calling us to a life-giving, spirit growing kind of change, a kind of change that reciprocates itself in the lives of others. This kind of change will spark a rebirth in us and in others just as the ever-present sun sparks the budding and growing of leaves on to the trees.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Know that God is with you as you continue to journey onward through the seasons in his grace!

PRAYER

Gracious and loving God, you are always present with me. In the good times and in the bad times, through all seasons, you are here with me. You will never leave me nor forsake me. Be present through me in the lives of others. Amen.

A Costly Affair

Read Luke 14:25-35

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NRSV)

I remember in the town I grew up in there was a business person who was going to build a mall.  He bought up the land, tore down trees and removed the unwanted rocks.  All was in the clear and ready to go.  But there was just one problem, he didn’t count the cost and ended up running short of funds.  His entire business went bankrupt and he, obviously, had to cease construction on the land he had built.

I can remember the huge disappointment I experienced as a kid.  I mean, what kid wouldn’t want a mall in his or her own town, and this mall was going to include a movie theater too! How rockin’ would that have been? But now, there wasn’t going to be any such mall.  I would have to continue on lingering on in the realm of “what could’ve been” all because this guy did not count the cost and lost everything in the process.

While I would not be excited to have a mall built in my town today (after all I can drive now), I think this story bears relevance for us all.  How often do we enter into things without really counting the cost?  This happens no more than in our faith journey. We all want to feel accepted, we all want to feel loved, we all want to be forgiven, we all want to be a part of a community-but we all definitely love the price of FREE.

The problem is that nothing comes without a cost.  While God’s grace is certainly free for the taking, there is a cost for taking it.  If we truly accept the grace of God we will change from who we were to who God wants us to be. We will become disciples; we will become a people in motion, a people who hold the love of neighbor in the same regard as the love of self, a people who endure—in service to other—until the end.

It goes without saying that there is also a cost for not accepting God’s grace.  Just take a look at the world around you.  Look at the wars, the famine, the disease, the hopelessness that can be found ad infinitum on any self-respecting 24 hour news channel.  People are rejecting God’s grace everyday and, in turn, they are going about their lives looking out for numero uno.

Life in general is a costly affair, and every choice we make in life bears a heavy cost. The question is not whether you will end up paying a cost, but which cost are you willing to pay? You will pay one regardless. Will the cost you pay be one that is self-motivated and self-centered? Or will you pay the cost of being a bearer of God’s grace? If you choose the latter, know that it will cost you your time, your talents, your tithes and, most of all, YOUR PRESENCE. But do not be deceived that the “easier” way is any less costly. Count the cost.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

What appears to be easy often turns out worse than what we considered to be hard.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to count the cost of following you and weigh it against the cost of being your disciple.  Use me as a bearer of your Grace and guide me ever toward your will. Amen.

Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing

Read Matthew 7:15-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2, New Living Translation)

Sheep in Wolves' ClothingFor anyone who has known me for a while, it wouldn’t be breaking any headlines if I confessed that I am a heavy metal fan. Really I am a music lover altogether, but heavy metal is definitely one genre I can’t get enough of.  One of my favorite modern metal bands is called “Demon Hunter” and they also happen to be Christian. Yes, you heard me right. There is a Christian heavy metal band named Demon Hunter.

Ryan Clark, who is the frontman of Demon Hunter, was once interviewed about a song he wrote called, “Follow the Wolves.” The interviewer was asking how that song came about as it seems so contradicting to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15. For instance, the song states, “Dismantle the ground they stand on, give power a name. You’ve traveled the path of slander, now bury the shame. Shed rejection; learn to follow the wolves.”

Ryan proceeded to tell a story about a person who was facing rejection within the church for the type of music he was listening to (namely Demon Hunter) and how he had corresponded with this person and found inspiration in the story.  He was reflecting on the judgment going on in that church and many other churches like it.  Ryan was reflecting on how we often judge based off of appearance without really looking deeper than what we see on the surface.

While Demon Hunter may sound like a disgruntled legion of demons screaming out in the darkness to many Christians who are not familiar with metal and take no liking of that genre, that does not mean they are, in fact, demonic and “antichrist”.  In fact, it is Demon Hunter’s ferocious sound and image that attracts so many to come and listen to what they have to say.  And behind the façade of a rough and tough metal band there is a message of hope, healing and wholeness—one that resonates with many people who are experiencing hopelessness in their lives.

Ryan concluded his interview with the following reflection, which I will paraphrase. He told the interviewer that Demon Hunter were actually sheep in wolves clothing. They looked like wolves with their piercings and tattoos. They sound like wolves with their shredded guitars and guttural growls. Yet, if you look past the surface you will see that, in fact, Demon Hunter are sheep, leading people to the Good Shepherd.

Who are we to judge? It is very common for Christians to throw the “wolves” accusation around at Christians who don’t seem to be matching up to our vision of Christianity; however, it is not our vision of Christianity we should be following. In fact, we should not be following Christianity at all; we should be following Christ!  While Christ did warn us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, he also told us we would know who’s who by the fruit they bore. Which bears better fruit: the tree of judgment or the tree of hope, healing and wholeness? Anyone leading people to the latter is certainly doing God’s work.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The value of a person lies far beyond the scope of our human sensibilities.

PRAYER

Lord, open our hearts and minds to those who look, live and lead differently and help us to celebrate the work they are doing for your Kingdom. Teach us to be a people of discernment, but not of judgment. Amen.

What’s the Deal God?

Read Romans 8:26-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But you are a chosen [people], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"One of my favorite plays is Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, which is about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and is also a parallel for the McCarthy era in American history. I remember the first time I read the play in high school and how captivated by it I was. I mean, here were Christians being accused of witchcraft by other Christians. These poor, innocent people were being put to death for not confessing to be something they weren’t. Can you imagine being accused of a crime you didn’t commit? Can you imagine being given the choice of confessing your guilt and losing everything you have (including your good name and reputation) or being put to death for the very crime you didn’t commit? What kind of choice is that? Where is God in that?

I remember asking those very questions as I read through the play. As a Christian, I had grown up in the church believing that God would not let anything bad happen to me. I was led to believe that God would make good things happen for those who believed in him. Yet, here in this play and in my own personal experiences, good things were not happening to people who totally believed in God. In fact, they believed in God so much that they were willing to die rather than confess to something they did not do. And die they did.

For most of my life, I have been a Christian who truly believed in God and who tried to live life according to God’s will. I have not been perfect at it; however, I have tried nonetheless. Yet, when I look over the course of my life, I can distinctly remember bad things happening. In fact, I am willing to wager that most, if not all, professing Christians can look back at their lives and find times that were not what they would label as “good”. Yet, doesn’t scripture state that God makes good things happen for those who believe in God? What’s the deal God?

The problem is not that God is failing to make good on promises, but that we aren’t reading or interpreting the Scriptures accurately. Upon a closer reading of Romans 8:28, one will notice that it reads, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In other words, ALL THINGS, good or bad, work together FOR GOOD for those who love God and…here’s the kicker…WHO ARE CALLED ACCORDING TO GOD’S PURPOSE.

What is important to remember is that we live in a world filled with people who are all trying to make life good for themselves. If we are honest, we too have been numbered among such people. Thus, in such a world, “bad” things are bound to happen to each and every one of us…as what is good for us is bad for others and vice versa. This is just a fact of life.

Our hope, as Christians, does not lie in God magically preventing our mistakes, and the mistakes of those around us, from reaping their unintended consequences; rather, our hope lies in God’s presence with us despite the bad things happening around us. Even as bad things are happening, God is working in us, through us, and in spite of us in a way that will bring good out of our experiences. Would I claim that my experiencing depression as a teenager was “good”? Absolutely not! However, the fact that I can relate to and have reached many teens who experienced the same things that I did, testifies to the kind of good that can rise out of the ashes of what was “bad”.

But let us not forget the most important part of Romans 8:28. Those who are called according to God’s purpose are the ones who bring God’s plan into fruition. They are the ones through whom God brings the good out of bad situations. It is not that they are setting out to make bad things look good—that would be an impossible task—but that they are, according to God’s will, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). Each Christian is called to fulfill this purpose: to be the hands and feet of Christ. If we do that, then despite the fact that bad things will happen…we will, by the grace of God, rise above them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Be the good you wish to see in the world. God is calling you to do no less than that.

PRAYER

Lord, while bad things will happen, help me to be the good that arises from those bad things and use me to help others. Amen.

Proving God?

Read Romans 8:20-25; Hebrews 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Those who trust in their own wits are fools; but those who walk in wisdom come through safely.” (Proverbs 28:26)

Michelangelo's "God Touching Adam" segment of the Sistine Chapel CeilingI once read a book by a prominent atheist named Richard Dawkins.  The book was entitled, “The God Delusion” and it put forth the proposition that anyone who believes in God is delusional and ignorant because they choose to believe in God despite what Dawkins believes to be overwhelming evidence that points to a reality in which God does not exist. In it, Dawkins writes, “If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution” (The God Delusion, 19).

It should suffice to say that Dawkins, while a brilliant Evolutionary Biologist and scientist, definitely overstepped his brilliance when he entered into the world of philosophy and, especially, theology.  Dawkins pretty much falls into the trap of logical fallacies as he builds religion (namely Judaism and Christianity) into a straw man that he can easily knock down, presuming that Judeo-Christian beliefs are, in reality, exactly as he sets them up to be. Some Christian theologians, such as Alister McGrath, countered Dawkins by pointing out the weaknesses of his arguments, his lack of theological understanding, and his misrepresentation of religion in general.

Unfortunately, though, many Christians fall into Dawkins’ trap by entering into the world of “evidence” with him.  In fact, Christians have tried to “prove” the existence of God long before Dawkins was ever born. People like Anselm and Aquinas tried to come up with logical proofs that God exists. The debate over evidence of God’s existence has carried into our modern times as well. In front of me I have sitting the “Evidence Bible”, published by Bridge-Logos, that claims to give “irrefutable evidence for the thinking mind” and claims to “prove God’s existence.”

Not only is trying to “prove God’s existence” a losing venture, it is a senseless one too. Ironically, the very Bible which supposedly gives “evidence” of God’s existence teaches us not to be worried about such things.  Paul writes in Romans 8:24 that we are saved by hope (aka Faith). Paul says, “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” And, honestly, that is a very poignant question.  If we empirically KNOW something exists, if we have physical evidence proving the existence of God, what do we need faith for?

Physical evidence does not prove or disprove anything beyond what is in the physical/material world. As believers, we “KNOW” God exists in our hearts (not our heads) because we have experienced God in our lives. Rather than getting caught up in futile attempts to engage people in an intellectual match of wits on the “evidence” of the existence of God, why don’t we show people the hope that we have experienced ourselves by loving others the way God has loved us.  That will have more far-reaching effects than both Dawkins’ book and the “Evidence Bible” combined.

God is not calling us to prove something that can be experienced all around us (Romans 1:20); rather God is calling us to be agents of hope, healing and wholeness in the world. If we don’t get distracted by fruitless arguments and debates, if we don’t get pulled away from our task, we can be a witness of the true presence of God in the lives of those around us. There is certainly nothing delusional about being love in the lives who need it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Faith is not something that goes against the evidence, it goes beyond it.” ― Alister E. McGrath

PRAYER

Lord, you have not called me to prove you exist, but to bear witness to your presence in me through my love in action. Guide me to be a blessing in the lives of others without getting distracted by trivial pursuits. Amen.

Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

Read John 13:34-35; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 John 4:7-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

The Big WigAh, it is a Presidential election year and all one has to do is to turn on the TV to see both sides of the aisle jabbing at each other in hopes to secure the White House for their candidate. Often politicians (regardless of their political persuasion), will maneuver themselves in a way that appeals to Christians who are like-minded with them. This has been effective in past elections (for Republicans and Democrats alike) because Christians often define themselves, and their faith, by the very hot topic “moral” issues of their day.

While this is certainly not a new thing in America, as it has gone on since the very outset of our country, it seems that we Christians, regardless of our political bent, miss the boat when it comes to really understanding what our identity as Christians is, and how that identity plays out in our lives. The following is a parable by Søren Kierkegaard who was a Danish philosopher and theologian:

“It is said to have chanced in England that a man was attacked on the highway by a robber who had made himself unrecognizable by wearing a big wig.  He falls upon the traveler, seizes him by the throat and shouts, ‘Your purse!’  He gets the purse and keeps it, but the wig he throws away. A poor man comes along the same road, puts it on and arrives at the next town where the traveler had already denounced the crime, he is arrested, is recognized by the traveler, who takes his oath that he is the man. By chance, the robber is present in the court-room, sees the misunderstanding, turns to the judge and says, “It seems to me that the traveler has regard rather to the wig than to the man,’ and he asks permission to make a trial. He puts on the wig, seizes the traveler by the throat, crying, ‘Your purse!’—and the traveler recognizes the robber and offers to swear it—the only trouble is that already he has taken an oath. So it is, in one way or another, with every man who has a ‘what’ and is not attentive to the ‘how’: he swears, he takes his oath, he runs errands, he ventures life and blood, he is executed—all on account of the wig” (Kierkegaard, Søren. A Kierkegaard Anthology. Edited by Robert Bretall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946.).

Just as the victim of the robbery mistakenly swore that the poor person was the one who robbed him because he saw the wig, it is true that we mistakenly believe that we are Christian because of where we find ourselves in sociopolitical, “moral”, and other issues. If we are truly Christian, our identity does not rest on what side of the divide we find ourselves on; rather, our identity is found in Christ our Savior.

Rather than judging other Christians who disagree with us, rather than judging others as “unsaved” for not sharing our opinion, let us love one another as Christ first loved us (John 13:34). We need not ignore our differences to be united in our true identity: CHRIST.  We just need to be humble enough to see Christ in others, even when they disagree with us. Let us not be like the foolish victim in the parable above by mistaking the wig as the man. Let us not mistake Christ for sociopolitical and economic issues. Let us not mistake Christ for modern-day Christianity or for any other institution.

Also, let us not get stuck on the “what” without ever evaluating the “how”. If we are to truly bear witness to Christ in us, then we will judge not and reflect the love, compassion and understanding that Christ had for all of his disciples, from Matthew the tax collector to Simon the zealot who hated tax collectors.  Even though not one of the disciples was fully in line with Jesus’ mission and message, Jesus still took the time to include them in what he was doing. He still took the time to love them unconditionally. Let us hear each other out; let us love each other even when we don’t see eye to eye. Christ demanded no less of us!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We do not belong to Christianity, we belong to Christ.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to see others through your eyes. Though we will not always agree, help us to stand up for what we believe in without compromising the love we are called to reflect. Amen.

Where’s God?

 

Read Exodus 3:1-16; Esther 4:1-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20, NRSV)

Where's God?Let’s start with a story. There once was a man, let’s call him Joe, who seemed to have an unwavering faith in God and the power of miracles.  One day, a major storm hit that dumped a ton of rain onto the region that Joe lived in.  The rain just kept pouring down and pouring down, but Joe knew he would be alright. “God will deliver me from this storm,” he thought to himself.

Across the TV splashed all sorts of warnings about the severity of the storm and that the residents should evacuate and get to higher ground.  Joe wasn’t going anywhere because he knew, “God will deliver me from this storm.”  The power went out, the rain kept pouring and the water levels kept rising. Joe walked out on his porch and saw an emergency truck heading his way. It was large enough to make it through the rapidly rising water.  They stopped and told Joe, “Get in, your life is in danger!” Joe refused and said, “God will deliver me from this storm.”

The water kept rising and then Joe ended up having to get up to the upper level of his house.  He opened his bedroom window and he saw a boat coming his way. The people in the boat said, “Give us a second and we’ll row over there and rescue you.” But Joe refused, saying, “God will deliver me from this storm.”  The rain kept pouring and Joe ended up out on his roof.  A helicopter was hovering above and one of the people in the chopper was going to lower a ladder down to Joe; however, Joe refused the ladder saying, “God will deliver me from this storm.”

To make a long story short, Joe drowned and went to heaven. Upon seeing God, Joe asked, “Lord, why did you allow me to drown. I had such an unwaivering faith that you would deliver me; yet, you failed to come and deliver me from the storm.” God looked at Joe and said to him, “Son, I sent you TV warnings, an emergency truck, a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want me to do?”

This is not a new story and it is quite possible you have heard it before.  What is awesome about it is that it points us to really question what we consider to be miracles, and what we consider to be the presence of God. We are often too busy looking for people walking on water, changing the water into wine, and raising the dead to notice the truly miraculous things in our lives. Using the story above, which would be the greater miracle: God snapping his fingers and Joe teleporting to dry land, or the fact that 3 different people saw his need and attempted to help him?

And that brings up another point: what are we looking for when we ask to be in God’s presence? What are we expecting? When we look in the Bible, when we look past the grandiose stories of burning bushes, and earthquakes and water walking, we will actually see God’s presence in other people. In the story of Exodus, God did not rescue the Israelites by showing up as a fierce warrior floating in the sky with fiery eyes and a bolt of lightning in his hands.  Rather, God showed up in a stuttering shepherd named Moses who, after much reluctance, found the courage enough to demand of Pharoah that he let God’s people go. God did not rescue his people from the Persians by hurling fire and brimstone down, but through an insecure harem slave-girl named Esther who dared to enter the court of the Persian King, uninvited, and demand that justice be done.

The presence of God is in each of us and it is up to us to be the presence of God in the lives of others.  And no doubt, God has been present in our lives through others as well.  Rather than looking for grandiose “miracles” that may or may not come, let us recognize the miracles that have come, especially the miracle of presence. God was present to his people through other people. In fact, isn’t that what we celebrate in the birth of Christ: God’s presence among us…in another human being? And if the risen Christ lives in us, through us and in spite of us, then truly we are called to be the presence of God, through Jesus Christ, in the lives of others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Praise God for those who have been present in your life. Be present in the lives of others.

PRAYER

Lord, what is it you would like me to do today? Who is it that you would like me to be present with? Be present through me in the lives of others. Amen.

Nothing is Impossible

Read John 4:1-30; Acts 11:1-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

Jarena LeeThere once was an African-American woman, named Jarena Lee (b. 1783), who felt the call by God to preach the Gospel. The only problem with that was the fact that women were not permitted to preach anything during that time period; only men were permitted to preach. What’s more, she was not just a woman, but an African-American woman.

“Go and preach the Gospel,” she heard God tell her. “But no one will believe me,” she replied. And one can understand why she was afraid to approach anyone about her call to preach. But God persisted in calling her through her dreams until she finally decided to approach the Rev. Richard Allen about it. Initially he put her off, telling her that there was no room in the Discipline for a woman preacher. At first, she was thankful, as she thought Allen’s answer would put the calling to rest. But it did not.

Eight years later, during a sermon in which a minister lost the spirit to preach in a sermon on Jonah, Jarena jumped up and began to preach in his place. She proclaimed that she was like Jonah, running away from the call that God placed on her, and preached on the importance of answering the call of God.

Following her exhortation, Rev. Richard Allen, who as the Bishop of the African Episcopal Church at this time, confirmed that she indeed did come to him eight years earlier and that he had put her off. He confessed that he was mistaken and that she was as called to preach as anyone he had ever ordained as a minister. Later writing of this event, Jarena Lee wrote: “For as unseemly as it may appear nowadays for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God.” Indeed, God had done the impossible in the life of Jarena Lee!

Often times, we stand in the way of God with our rules and regulations and man-made doctrines and traditions. We determine who is worthy of being called by God, who is worthy of God’s presence, and who is worthy of God’s grace. On top of judging others, we often deem ourselves as unworthy too. Yet, who are we to decide such things? Jesus broke the man-made barriers and engaged in religious dialogue with a Samaritan woman at a well in Samaria in a day and age where women were property and Samaritans were considered less than worthy of God. And Peter saw the Holy Spirit filling Gentiles, breaking his prejudice against their worthiness.

Time and time again, Scripture shows us that nothing is impossible with God, and no one is unworthy enough to be called by God. Abraham was a polytheist and a fraud, Joseph was a prisoner and slave, Moses was a murderer and stutterer, Rahab was a prostitute, and David was an adulterer and a murderer. All of these people and many more were called to serve God in vital and important ways. Which one of us can be the judge against God working in another’s life? Which one of us can be the judge against God working in our own lives? Which one of us can be a judge against God?

Remember, God loves us all and calls us all to serve him. Each calling is unique; however, each calling is equally important and special. No rules or regulations can stop God from calling you or others. No rules or regulations should stop you or others from answering that call. Do not judge yourself or others; just answer God’s call and let God do the rest!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Oh how careful ought we to be, lest through our bylaws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the world of life.” — Jarena Lee

PRAYER

Lord God, help me discern your call and refrain from judging, whether I be judging myself or others. We are all worthy. Amen.

A biweekly devotional