When The Storms Threaten

A friend wrote from coastal North Carolina this morning that they were safe, without power, and dry. Just a few miles from them, along the beaches of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, the houses were filled with water from Hurricane Matthew. I’ve been observing the storm with concern because some friends in Florida live right in the path of the storm. They also survived with minor damage.

In my reading in the past two weeks, the Psalms have been dominate. I’ve especially been intrigued by the Psalmists’ use of the power of nature to describe God.

3The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!    Psalm 93

While listening to the roar of the hurricane, the waters beating against the shore, there is the knowledge that the Lord is mightier than these things.

Will God act? Will he preserve or allow destruction to come? The outcomes are unknown to us in the midst of the storm, but our belief is that the Lord is greater than the most powerful of things around us. Who am I to question his purpose, his will or the outcomes of nature? These things are not in the control of mankind, but that doesn’t change my understanding that God is greater than these things.

In Kansas, we don’t live by coastal waters. But many of us face the power of oppressive forces around us. For some, it might be an ongoing decline in health, for others it is living among deteriorating relationships, and others face the overwhelming struggles with debt and lower income. Oppression can take many forms, sometimes in the person of those we loved or trusted, sometimes vicariously in the lives of those we love who face mounting difficulty.

God is greater than all these things. Now, will God act to alter the circumstances? Perhaps, but perhaps not. In either event, God remains God, all powerful and all knowing.

God’s intervention in this life’s woes has never been universal, except for sending Jesus for all mankind. But biblical accounts of the action of God has never indicated that he raised all the dead, healed all who were sick, or restored all the lepers to wholeness.

One of the principle themes of Scripture is that this world and its woes are temporal. Struggles here, persecution or natural calamities, are only temporary. It may or may not change. The reality is that God is greater than these things, that the next life is the meaningful one, and we are to live for eternity, not for the moment.

So, when the waves crash, be reminded that you serve a God who is greater than the storm.

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Didn’t Do Anything

This was not a special week. In fact, it was a week filled with things to do, but without finishing very much. I worked on sermons for next year, finished up some reading in the Psalms, and met with some folks regarding a spiritual walk with Jesus, but no real “completed project.”

Those weeks can be frustrating for me. I like it when I have a final product in front of me, rather than just “shoving the stack” a bit further down the track. The truth is, life is lived in the “stack shoving”.

We rear our children, not with the “big events” or major life choices, but with steering, correcting, and encouraging the little things. The reminders to “use respect”, to “be kind” or to “remember to say your prayers” are daily, ongoing, and seemingly less than monumental until you realize that you are shaping a life.

We develop our own character in the small life choices made day in and day out. The decision to be honest in a small situation or to take responsibility in a time of frustration pays dividends that are not in the moment. It may be years later or toward the end of a lifetime that such choices reap their rewards.

So, when someone says, “What did you do today?” the answer is never “nothing.” We are all engaged with “something” day after day. Learning to be intentional about it is the key to success.

Jesus is remembered by Peter in describing him to the Gentiles as, “a man who went about doing good.” While many of his wondrous works are recorded in Scripture, miraculous things that shock us on reading them, it was the compassion, kindness and merciful acts that stagger us. Having the time for children, hearing the pleas of the sick, or being moved to confront death at a passing funeral, these tell us his character.

Life, for Jesus and the disciples, is lived “as they were going.” Obviously the end point of the sacrifice, with the crucifixion and resurrection are the focal point, but the time traveling from one location to another, demonstrating God’s love and concern, give us a profound message about the character of God.

So, while you stop by the bank, or when you speak to the clerk at the store, or the manner in which you treat the server in the restaurant may seem like “nothing,” in reality they write the story of who you are.

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A Task Diverted

I was in Wichita Tuesday for the monthly preacher’s meeting. After lunch I wanted to run by a store to have some service work done. In checking the website for the location to plug into my GPS, I noticed the owner had posted some information about his wife’s health. I went by the store and he happened to be open, the first day he was open in 2 weeks.

I asked him about his wife and learned she had been placed on hospice care over the weekend. She had been instructed to call those she wanted to say goodbye to, for she has only a few weeks to live. He was trying to get some things done while her brother sat with her.

My plans changed as I heard his story of the past 8 months of health crisis. I told him I wasn’t interested in his working on my little problem but would very much like to pray for his family. As I prayed for his wife’s ease and comfort as she faced death, and for his strength and comfort as they faced it together, I heard his tears joining my own. After the prayer was completed and we continued to talk, he told me that it felt wrong to have any of the attention shifted from his wife’s illness to him as the caregiver. He didn’t want be selfish with God’s time and attention, as she needed it much more than he did at that time.

I understand his trying to sort through his feelings, about God, healing, dying, strength, and weakness. I understand his concern that his business could fail due to his distraction from it to his wife’s needs. I listened to him speak of spending “a lifetime learning to live with her, but completely unprepared to live without her.” I heard his pain, but other than prayer and listening, there was little I could do to help.

I don’t know my friend well, we’ve spoken perhaps 10 times in the past four years. But I learned much that day. I learned that the opportunities to care about others surround us every day. I was reminded that pain, horrific pain is just behind the curtain of the “front” that many put on to greet the public. I was grateful for the privacy his little shop offered us, to have conversations that would not happen in a big, busy place. I was reminded that God can use any opportunity and turn it to ministry if I will only listen.

You can join me in praying for my friend and his wife in her last few days. Since I don’t have his permission, I won’t mention his name, but God will recognize him in your prayers. Also remember that tens of thousands face equally difficult situations all around us. Be praying for others who are saying their goodbyes. Be praying for those who don’t know how to “live without” their loved one. Also pray for God to open your eyes to the occasions for good that surround you.

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In the Darkness of Crisis

Not everything has gone as I expected it, or prayed for it to go. At times I have been angry over it, other times confused, and still more often simply brought to tears. Some of the conversations with God about such things have been long and involved in the middle of the night. Other times it has been a constant prayer upon my lips, seldom absent from my thoughts. One adage has been, “He may not come when you want him; but He’ll be right on time.” I’ve found that hard to accept, in the heat of crisis, while struggling in prayer.

But, as the Scriptures remind us, there is a “due season”, a time selected and ordained by God. In my prayers, I am often attempting to wrest control from God. Being fully acquainted with my problem, I not only take it to God but also my solution and time table.


Usually, in my own life experience, I can say that God has worked things out in a manner that far exceeded my expectations or my plans. When God does something, as Scripture records from the very beginning, “It is very good”.

My struggle has never been in accepting the solution of God, once it arrives. My struggle is in the wait between recognizing the void and awaiting it being filled. So faith is that thing that helps me manage that middle ground.

There are important lessons to be learned from such observations. Perhaps the most important deals with the concept of the sovereignty of God.

Another, however, is about being patient with yourself. You may find that you struggle, disappoint yourself and others, fall and struggle to regain your footing. That is the ground of faith between crisis and due season. Because God has not intervened at the moment to “fix you up”, doesn’t mean he isn’t coming in your life. It means that he isn’t there yet.

Your growth in faith is a “due season” process, not an instantaneous arrival through some magical event. You don’t gain the bulk of your faith through reading about others. You will gain some faith from reading the stories of Scripture, but far more of it is learned through the nights of confusion, frustration and tears. Our recognition of survival being by the grace of God, honoring him for it and thanking him for sustaining us is where personal faith is built.

So, the days ahead may not look bright and cheerful in your walk with God. Struggle, falling, and crawling back to your feet may lie before you… don’t give up. God isn’t finished with you or the crisis you face. The important thing is to know you do not face it alone. None of us face it alone.

Just an acknowledgement that it was while reading some comments from a friend, Quincy Gardner from Caddo LA, these thoughts came to mind.

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Earthquakes and Other Staggering Events

As you can imagine, the county was abuzz yesterday. Did you feel the earthquake? Water was sloshing in my sink. The pictures on the wall were moving. Things were knocked over on the table. From being able to tell you the exact time to predicting the reason for the event, folks had opinions.

For Janet and I, leisurely lying in bed and planning our day, we wondered if the windquake came up to cause the storm windows to rattle in their frames.

Whatever your response, the fact is when something significant occurs, people talk about it. Just as they have for all of recorded history. We remember the years of no rain, of endless rain, and of terrible wind. We talk about the year of the oil embargo and escalating gas prices. Mad Cow disease, Y2K, eclipses, meteor showers, riots, or elections… there is no shortage of conversation fodder.

We find ways to relate, to establish our own credibility. I had just looked at the clock when I noticed it begin to vibrate on the bedside table. Or perhaps our lack of credibility. I grabbed the edge of the mattress in a death grip as I was tossed back and forth in the violently pitching room, chunks of plaster raining down throughout the room.

Any time there is an event, most folks will have a comment. The same was true in Jesus day. People have always reacted in similar methods. Who do people say that I am?  Some say Elijah, or one of the prophets, others think other things. Herod’s explanation was that Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead which explains why he can do these miraculous things. Everyone had an opinion, from the least to the greatest.

We know that Jesus was often overhearing what his disciples discussed as they travelled with him. They would process together the things that they saw or heard Jesus say. Their explanations would have had the same flavors of rationalizing and inflating as we see today. Jesus would rein them in and discuss what happened.

Sometimes, like after seeing Jesus transfigured, they would keep confusing things to themselves (like resurrection from the dead) and shift the topic to other questions, like Elijah setting things in order before the kingdom.

I enjoy reading Scripture and seeing the behavior of my friends and neighbors, of you, within the lives of those who traveled with Jesus. We are much more alike than different. That is something that gives me hope. We have the same curiosities, the same tendencies, and the same needs. Jesus dealt with it then, and he can deal with it now.

Now, if we would only talk about kingdom things as much as we do earthquakes.

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You Are Not a Lizard

If you were a lizard sunning yourself on a rock and you noted a shadow pass over you might decide to either freeze and hope you aren’t discovered, or break for the nearest crack hoping to escape the danger that flew above you. Such instant reactions serve lizards well, protecting them from danger of flying birds.  However when the shadow is a passing bicyclist on the trail or branch of a tree swaying in the wind, the lizard runs for nothing.

While this is an overly simplified explanation, perhaps this can be a helpful  and inform us about some of our own reactivity. In our brains we have the same center of control to protect us from danger. It isn’t a very refined system, in fact for us… it makes us jump when we see a bit of rope on the ground, thinking “snake”. It can make us react to a spot on the floor, thinking “spider”. We see shapes, rough outlines and react. For lizards, it saves lives. For us, it makes us feel foolish often.running

Unfortunately, it is a powerful “instinct”, and puts us in all kinds of trouble. Once we “react” we shutdown higher responses, like analytical thinking and just have a fear response. I’ve been thinking about how this impacts a number of things in our world.

In our political process there is little higher reasoning, in political debates information is passed in 2 minute sound bites. We hear “a shadow” pass over us and react. Certain phrases are dropped to tease that instinct and we are sprinting to the crack in the rock. We might hear “missing emails” or “gun control” or “abortion” or any number of other phrases and our instincts take over, without listening for finer details or clarification.

We do the same thing religiously. We hear phrases and our brains shutdown and instinct takes over. “Change agents” or “contemporary worship” or “transgendered” or “abortion” all sound bites that cause us to run to the crack in the rock where we think we will be safe. Our reasoning brain never gets the information because the lower brain takes over causing us to run or freeze.

So how do we get passed the instinct where we can reason together? Perhaps some ancient advise would be helpful for us… quick to hear, slow to sleep, slow to anger.  Slowing the process is crucial to the reasoning process. We have to wait out that initial reactivity and continue to listen. Discernment doesn’t take place with a sound bite and understanding is not a process that takes place without a second look at the origins of shadows.

So, be it politics, religion, or relationships between husband and wives… don’t react to the sound bites, the familiar phrases that make your blood boil. Maintain your cool, manage your fears and stay out of the cracks in the rocks. It doesn’t help you learn the finer points that allow you to make more informed decisions. It may not change your position, but at least you have the chance to understand the perspective of the opposing view.

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Pulling Our Heads from the Sand

I met with a friend yesterday. We have known each other for about 5 years. He lives in Pennsylvania and works with a church there. He is also someone who devotes a large portion of his life to addressing the threat of childhood sexual abuse in churches.

Jimmy Hinton and I have consulted with one another many times on the phone, each picking the other’s brain, trying to develop a way of convincing churches of the reality of the threat, describing the presence of sexual abuse in our churches.

Finally, yesterday Jimmy and I met face to face. I had recommended that he speak to the church and community in Hutchinson. After his presentation we fielded questions about the problem and what things can be done, not just to help victims, but also to notice potential perpetrators. It isn’t a topic that is frequently addressed in churches.ostrich

Paul addresses a portion of the problem in describing the descent of individuals into evil. 2 Timothy 3 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. These “imposters” are those who disguise themselves as Christians, but actively work to deceive others while they also deceive themselves. While the verse is not specifically identifying child molesters, it identifies their process.

When you consider that the statistics indicate 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual assault (CDC), the numbers become enormous.

Of those numbers 75% of those assaulted were victimized by someone they knew and trusted. The image of a creepy old man in a trench coat standing on the corner is inaccurate. The largest percentage are people the community trusts, preachers, elders, youth workers, boy scout leaders, teachers, uncles, brothers, aunts, sisters, and neighborhood baby sitters.

We have to be diligent, watchful, and appropriate. We don’t have to be hysterical, but we must arm ourselves with facts and hold each other accountable for good behavior. We have to bring the topic of sexual abuse in churches out of the darkness and into the light.

Teaching children to be aware, to trust their instincts of being uncomfortable and telling a trusted adult about it are the keys to keeping them safe.

Jesus warns that for those who would damage a little child, it would be far better for them that a mill stone be hung around their neck and they be cast into the sea. We need to take it as seriously as he does. May God save us from turning a blind eye to these potentials among us.

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Amazing Folks

I don’t have the patience to sit and watch the Olympics because I get frustrated by the number of commercials. Janet enjoys watching the gymnastics so that is usually what we see.

This year we saw a few Michael Phelps swimming races, Simone Biles win the all-around phelpsgymnastics and Katie Ledecky win the 800m freestyle. When athletes are as dominant as these people, it is breathtaking to watch. It is easy to describe them as naturally talented, and there is a measure of truth to that. However, listening to Simone Biles describe never going to high school football games, school dances, or any extra-curricular activities because she was in the gym practicing, one begins to get the idea of just how focused these “natural athletes” really are.

I don’t recommend such focus on recreation things to anyone, because it eliminates huge portions of important elements of life. Such tunnel vision can make the athlete the world’s greatest swimmer, the greatest gymnast in the world, or the best archery shot in the world… but then what?

If you got to pick, out of all of the things to be, what would it be? Boxer, baker, banjo player? You see, you have to pick. No one is the greatest swimmer that ever lived and the world’s greatest gymnast. Your focus must go in one place to achieve that level of performance. So where would you put your focus?

Jesus cautions us about distraction. What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what would a man give in exchange for his soul?

Becoming the most successful business person, the world’s greatest historian, or the best craftsman in the world, all require hours, days, months and years of dedication. Attempting to be the best, willingness to set everything else aside in the pursuit of the goal, requires us to step back and consider the implications.

Now, before it looks like I am condemning all Olympians to hell, let me pull back a bit. If one has balance in life, a solid spiritual foundation, it is possible to have success in secular areas of life. The danger of extremism is what I am cautioning about.

That an athlete makes a religious comment about thanking God for their win, after a competition does not make them necessarily religious or spiritual. In the same way that thanking mom after a victory doesn’t make an inconsiderate, selfish son a good child. Lifestyle must give support to the claim.

But the question remains, what would you choose to be the best at? Where is your focus? How does your life align with the profession of your lips?

Remember, one day our race will be over. Crowns will be awarded, and decisions reviewed. That day is coming, so how are you competing?


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Stop Gawking and Run

While I haven’t watched any of the events, the world seems to have their eyes on the Olympics in Rio. One of the controversies regarding the games this time around is the safety of the competitors. Not so much from terrorism, but as how inadequate the housing infrastructure is. They are having difficulty providing clean water, electricity, etc. Obviously, it is important to the Olympic Committee that those competing be safe and healthy, as well as to those responsible for sending the competitors to the games. For those who have spent a lifetime preparing for this Olympic event, they just want to compete.

Paul compares those who follow Jesus to those who compete in the games as well. He speaks of the athlete who is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The Hebrew writer tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. You see, it is all about the race.

Sadly, Satan finds success among our people by shifting our focus to the surrounding circumstances rather than the race. Satan loves to distract, to avert your eyes. He is like that bunch behind the basketball goal, waving their arms and screaming while the ball player attempts to shoot a free throw.

We, while walking in the light of God through this world, can easily become distracted by political stability in the world. We worry about economies, terroristic activity, farm markets, gross national products, or the latest doings of the city council. We can become so consumed by the incidentals that we shift our focus from the race before us.

One of my favorite track and field events to watch is the pole vault. Can you imagine the man or woman competing, racing down the approach, pole in hand, while gawking into the stands to see who is watching? We know that is a ridiculous concept, but distractions are the things that result in failures.

If those who are competing in Rio are worried about lumpy mattresses, flat pillows or fresh bedding, they won’t perform well in their chosen event. They have to push the extraneous things from their minds and focus on the event before them.

The Hebrew writer prefaces his earlier statement with exactly that advice. Let us set aside every weight and the sin that so easily encompasses us… then run. We have to keep our focus, no matter the things that happen around us. It is the only way to successfully complete our course.

So, no more distractions with things that are temporal. Don’t let the day to day interfere with the eternal. Have a clearer, more focused vision so that you may have success. Second only to knowing what is right, the issue of focus is the most important element to success.

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Snake Oil is Still Snake Oil

One of the topics that keeps recurring in conversations is about the “state of the world.” snake oilSome are feeling very anxious about the upcoming elections because things are in such a mess. Others would like to hoard food, guns, ammunition and precious metals because “everything could implode any minute.”

I am not saying that the concerns are not valid. In fact, as things go, the economy is strained, hatred is flaunted, and extremist speech is the norm of the day. Does that mean we need to load up our belongings and head for some cave in Colorado?

What is the goal? Is it a utopian society where everyone prospers equally and no discouraging word is ever spoken? If so, I would remind you to reread Scripture.

Bible characters were never plucked from the affairs of this life and transported to a place where everyone played nice. Joseph was in prison and called upon to live faithfully. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the midst of political upheaval when they were carried away along with Daniel into captivity. It was then, in the captivity, that the story of their faithfulness took place. They didn’t live away from the crisis but in the midst of it.

Gideon wasn’t thrashing wheat in a winepress because times were calm and the crisis had abated. But being faithful before God doesn’t rely on good times.

People of faith, throughout history have not looked to political solutions for the answer to evil. Laws don’t erase hatred from individuals or a culture. If racial prejudice is to be remedied, it will not happen because a certain political party takes office. If abuse of power, misuse of the poor, or greed is to be driven out… it happens one heart at a time.

Does this mean that people of God should not stand against evil? By no means. But we don’t stand against evil by holding as a solution man’s remedy. Snake oil is still snake oil… bottled, politicized, and sold with catchy slogans off of soap boxes.

A few words that God also used in Scripture doesn’t make the core values of the messenger the Word of God. . It doesn’t matter if I am identifying the words, some television evangelist or some politician does it.

The solution, look to God for the answers. When you see hatred, express offense with kindness. When you sense injustice, be affronted and speak righteousness. When you see greed, offer kindness and generosity. The words of Jesus for living among the wolves was to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I wonder if they don’t apply to most of us in a world like ours.

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