Greatly Distressed

Matthew 17

A couple of weeks ago, I began asking people if it were a full moon outside.  It was my sarcastic way of downplaying the distress in my life.  To be distressed, according to google, is to experience anxiety, sorrow or pain.  But, distress is more than that.  In fact, Marriam-Webster (by the way in our world that is all things Google, we lose some richness from our lives – use other sources for information occasionally) adds that distress is a state of danger or desperate need.  Distress, in my life, shows up when the things that I put my hope in, the things that I trust my future with, don’t perform the way that I expect them to.  The disciples experienced this too.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. Matthew 17:22-23

Do you see it?  At this point, the disciples had given up their entire lives for Jesus.  Their careers, family life, money, everything.  The only comfort and security they know is Jesus.  What does he do?  He tells them that he is going away.  Worse than that, he is going to die.    They knew that they found the very best thing to live for and now it is going away.  It could never be replaced.  No relationship, no job, no wealth could give them hope.  The result?  Distress – agony, anguish, tribulation, excruciation, torment and torture.

As I consider the disciples’ lost hope, I see that distress reveals much about our own lives.  Chiefly, distress in our lives exposes the object of our affection. Some of us, put our hope in people, maybe a spouse.  Many choose the organization that we work for.   When these let us down, or they change course, our future looks different than what we originally chose.  We find distress.  Do not, for a second, think that distress is a bad thing.  I think Jesus allowed, even wanted his disciples to experience it.  Why?  Because it caused them to reevaluate.  It caused them to clarify why they were following him and was it worth continuing.

History shows that the disciples continued to choose Jesus, despite their distress and the uncertainty of his future.  In him, they found life, abundantly.  That abundant life continued even after his death.  Today, we get that same benefit.  In fact, he promises that he will be with us “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  Because of that eternal promise, we never have to experience distress.   When we do, our hope is in the wrong place.

 

Two Roads + Two Gates

The Narrow and Wide Gates

 Matthew 7:13-14 and Psalm 87

 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

This scripture is equally perplexing AND frightening! It is really hard for my small brain to comprehend God’s ways sometimes. Why will only few find it? If all will hear, why will just a few enter?

As Jesus wraps up His teaching on the hillside (now called the Mount of Beatitudes), He has covered a lot ground with topics ranging from serving, to judging, to prayer. He addresses our hearts: pointing out areas of law, tradition, and ritual, and replacing them with pure motives, love, and authenticity.

In an environment of Jewish law and order reigning over all, He fulfills those laws by showing what’s at the root of them – going back to the basics/intention of the law, and then maximizing the law to the fullest with love + utmost surrender to the Lord.

Every time I read this passage, two things come to mind. Anyone else watch A Thief In the Night back in the day? I was 7 and that movie FREAKED ME OUT! The razor left in the bathroom sink… the sad sad song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. It was more than my developing brain could process.

The second thing my mind races to is the scripture about the lukewarm being spit out (Rev 3:16). If you’ve read any of Francis Chan’s work, you’ve likely come across some of his thoughts on this scripture.  One cool thing about heaven is we will see + know things as they truly are (1 Cor 13:12) – no more guessing!

When I think about this narrow road of a few, it’s easy for me to start feeling frightened or downtrodden. Many enter the path to destruction, but few enter the path of life. Who am I to be among the few? There are a lot more Christians that are more spiritual than me.  Yikes!

How does this scripture coincide with the popular mantra “Just Believe”? If you pray the sinner’s prayer and confess Jesus as your Lord + Savior, that’s it, right? How do we know for certain? Will we ever know for certain?  Paul’s letter to the Philippians (1:6) sure sounds assuring: Being confident of this very thing, that He that began a good work in you will complete it until the day that Christ returns. How do we get that confidence??

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. What I do know is that God doesn’t want me living in a state of fear, worry, or a mindset of “working my way into heaven”. This is exactly what Jesus preached against.  He wants my heart surrendered and pure. If I am truly believing in His saving grace and can comprehend His love for me, then my life wouldn’t be lukewarm. My passion for Him would be evident in all areas of my life. My desire to glorify Him (not earn salvation) will supersede everything else.

So what about when it’s not? What’s happening then? Am I “saved” when I have seasons of lukewarm living? When I start walking on the wide path toward the big gate…then what?  Is there grace for that? If I had a car accident in that moment and died, can I just use the common line “well, God knows my heart”?  And is that always a comfort or is that just what people say to justify sin and lukewarm living? Because the truth is, God really does know my heart. ALL OF IT. I’m not sure that’s something I want to brag about all the time.  Sure on Sundays when I’ve sang some worship songs and taken good notes from the sermon…or when I just got back from a long run filled with talking to God. But what about when I’m stuck in traffic, see someone that’s really treated me poorly, or my kids won’t listen. Yep, He sees my heart then, too. We can’t pick and choose when and what He sees. I digress…

The bottom line is, in my heart of hearts, I have confidence in the saving grace of God, His love for me, and I choose to surrender all to Him. I can’t wait for heaven!! I believe in Jesus and I believe in heaven! And I believe I will be there.

As I say that, I also have to tell you that I’ve had moments where I couldn’t get a hold of someone… so had to call another Christian (Grandma Rita is a good one) to make sure Jesus didn’t come back and I was left behind. You know, because if anyone’s FOR SURE IN, it’s her. HA HA!

Does anyone else ponder these questions? What have you come up with?

 

 

 

 

You only get married twice, once.

Last weekend I had the honor to officiate a wedding “do over” for a couple who first married each other in 1997, but divorced several years ago. I’ve known this couple (Jamie and Jalynn Schnur) since the moment they met in 1993. 

This week’s post is an edited version of my message from the wedding…

Father God, thank you for bringing us here today. Please bless the words that will be spoken in this ceremony, may they glorify you, may they be used to strengthen marriages, and to get a better glimpse into your character. We ask for a blessing on this marriage and this family. In Jesus name. Amen.

The reconciliation, the restoration, the second chance that has occurred here is fascinating. We are part of something very special and rare. Many people will say that divorce is like a death. In some ways it is because marriage is an entity, and divorce brings an end, a death, to that entity. While weddings symbolize the beginning of something, this wedding also symbolizes the end of something. The end of separation, the end of the divorce. This wedding is unique.

Like Jamie and Jalynn say “you only get married twice, once”.

Jalynn shared with me that while it would have been easier (and less expensive) for them to jet off for a private ceremony, they wanted to share this time, this event, this gesture with friends and family because they wanted all of us to be a part of it. To learn from it.

She wants to do this to “put a bow on it”. They’ve come a long, long way together and they wanted to cross this finish line in the presence of friends and family.

Several years ago I was hanging out with Jamie and Jalynn, and the thought popped into my head to ask them, “how is your marriage?” – but I chickened out. I made excuses.

  • didn’t want to intrude
  • didn’t want to offend
  • I’m sure it is fine
  • none of my business

Except as a friend who had known them as a couple longer than anyone, it was absolutely my business. I knew in my heart there was something wrong but I didn’t do anything intentional to address it. A missed opportunity at best, and I bet I’m not the only one here today who could have been a better friend.

The beautiful thing is that it is all ok. These two have learned how to forgive; there has been a lot of hurt along the way. The hurt piles up, but only in true forgiveness can there be true reconciliation and healing. Jalynn shared with me that toward the end of her father J.C.’s life, he grew more and more into a man who was all about forgiveness; both in words and action. That same theme, forgiveness, is part of the Schnur reconciliation both with each other, and with those who may have been part of their pain in the past.

Who in your life right now needs you to step up, lean in, and offer love, a listening ear, words of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, prayer, wisdom, financial support or forgiveness? Whether it be a marriage on the rocks, a troubled teenager, a lost soul, or someone you know is hurting. Who will step up to intervene?

If something stirs in us to even ponder saying something, then we’ve been called. We were not put on this earth merely to satisfy our own pleasures and desires. We as humans, made in the image of God were put here to live out our lives for His glory, and how we respond to those in need is a reflection of our inward hearts. Jamie and Jalynn were blown away by the response to their wedding and see that as a symbol of how we feel about them. Most of us have no idea how important we are to other people. Let’s all start sharing more with others how important they are to us.

Consider Jesus of Nazareth. His miracles were well documented with his first being the turning of water into wine at a wedding feast. He performed miracles not to glorify himself but to glorify his father in Heaven; he raised people from the dead, walked on water, healed the sick, helped the blind to see, and in the end he offered the ultimate sacrifice as a substitute for the penalty we deserve for our sin; he offered his very life.

Matthew chapter 22 documents Jesus’ response to the question “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

We have the same call with what we’ve been given as far as intellect, strength, and our resources such as time and money. We are called to offer this love to our friends, family, and people we may never even know personally. Don’t miss the opportunity as it will not last. We know people are counting on us. How will we respond today?

A few years ago while talking to Jamie about “joy”, sadly at that time he said “there’s no joy Jon, none”. That broke my heart; there were lots of broken hearts during those times.

But there is hope… JOY HAS RETURNED! 

There is gratitude and gratefulness for the second chance. Few people get this opportunity. Jamie and Jalynn have a new perspective and are doing this for the right reasons. They are both ready; their family is ready. They’ve rebuilt something together that now stands on more solid ground than ever before. They don’t seek to be perfect on their own; they seek to learn from mistakes, let the past be the past, and move on. Life is precious and too short to take any other approach.

Today there’s love, restoration, respect, trust, laughter, forgiveness, passion, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. There is communication. There are tears of joy.

And that’s what we are here today to celebrate; this is a reunion of friends and family, so let’s get on with it and make it official, let’s put a bow on it.

Today’s reading links: Hebrews 7 & Psalm 15

Identity Crisis

I read an article recently about identity crisis.  According to google, an identity crisis is “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.”  As we grow older and mature, it is incredibly common for people to experience them.  In fact, we are about to see the Corinthian church going through an identity crisis too.  Today, as we read through 1 Corinthians 1, I wonder, do we know our spiritual identity? Is our identity in crisis?

If you are a Christian, meaning that you are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (v2), there is a very specific identity attached to you.  Paul explains it very simply for us in verse 2.  He says that we are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”  Easy, right?  Not so fast.  Satan, and the world often conspire against us, creating confusion, even crisis.  The Corinthian church, just like us, was confronted with situations that caused “uncertainty and confusion.”  In short, they experienced an identity crisis.  Thankfully, Paul, was one man with a clear understanding of his identity in Jesus.  He used this clarity  to remind and redirect the Corinthian church, the Christians, to the identity of Jesus.  So, how do we get that same clarity?

Consider first that Paul’s certainty of identity carried a posture of gratitude and thanksgiving.  It is not by accident that he starts the chapter (v4-9) giving thanks.  There is, however, something special about his gratitude.  Maybe you didn’t notice, but in those five verses, Paul references God nine different times!  Clearly, Paul was clearly understood that if not for Jesus, we would all be lost.  Therefore, his posture was one of continuous gratitude to Him, the giver of all good things.  Contrast this with our own thanksgiving which is often based on our circumstances and materialism.  

In addition to gratitude, Paul continually considered his position, relative to Christ.  Re-read verses 10-17 paying attention to how the church is dividing.  Member’s are attempting to elevate the positions of their favorite pastors, causing fights (v11).  As this identity crisis begins to grow, Paul steps in.  He knows positively where true hope and joy found; the cross of Christ Jesus (v17). He reminds the Corinthians that elevating any person above another will, in fact, “empty the cross of its power.”  Jesus Christ, therefore, holds the primary and only position for Christians.  As Christ-followers, we are all equal, under him.

Finally, Paul’s posture and position relative to Christ allow him to full embrace his purpose.  Consider these three purpose statement from Paul, found in his writings:

  • “that they may be saved” 1 Corinthians 10:33
  • “to make the word of God fully known” Colossians 1:25
  • “that we may present everyone mature in Christ” Colossians 1:28

Paul has such an intimate relationship with Christ that he knows, without a doubt, why he is on this earth.  With this kind of certainty, identity crisis is impossible.  In fact, our certainty and clarity becomes a beacon of hope and love to the world, just like Paul’s.

In the end we are either with Christ, or without him.  When we, like Paul, fully embrace Christ, He is our identity.  In him, there is no doubt, there is no circumstance that can cause us confusion.   Crisis averted!

Confused

Today’s Reading: Acts 19

One of the enemy’s best weapons is confusion.  When we are confused, we are unable to see things clearly.  It disrupts our decision-making process, often resulting in choices that are irrational and inconsistent with our core beliefs.  Many times, confusion is produced by the people around us.  We are continuously barraged with differing world views and alternative belief systems.  Want proof?  Take a closer look at today’s reading.  Did you notice in verse 29, “the whole city was in confusion?”

To understand the city’s confusion, we need to look back to verse 23.  Up until that point, Paul was actively spreading the word of God.  Acts 19:20 says that the Lord’s message Paul presented was “spread widely and had a powerful effect.”  Clearly, lives were being changed.  Not everyone, however, was happy about this.  In fact, a man named Demetrius was suddenly worried about the impact that these new beliefs would have on his business.  To combat this, he developed a strategy.  He knew, that it would be easy.  All he had to do was confuse people.

Demetrius starts with the economic conversation, encouraging them to consider the consequences of slowing sales.  It was enough to spark some fear, but not enough to start a rebellion.  To intensify their reaction, he adds confusion by suggesting that the magnificent goddess, Artemis will be robbed of her “great prestige.”  This was all it took.  The people were sufficiently overwhelmed by these significant changes.  The fear it stimulated caused their anger to boil (v18).  It wasn’t long before full on rebellion occurred and “everything was in confusion” (v32).

The sad reality is that we are subject to the same confusion.  J.I. Packer elaborates on this.  He says, “we are so consumed with great thoughts of man that we only have room for small thoughts of God.  Second, we are confused by modern skepticism.”  Is it any wonder that it’s one of Satan’s preferred weapons?  Thankfully, the Spirit who lives in us, is greater than the spirit who lives in this world (1 John 4:4).  When we arm ourselves with His truth, we win.  I have found a very practical way to avoid confusion.  It comes from remembering who God is and who I am.  The following affirmations, despite their simplicity, are powerful statements that bring clarity, hope, courage and refreshment.

I believe that God is who he says he is

I believe that God can do what God says he can do

I believe that I am who God says I am

I believe that I can do what God says I can do

God’s Word is alive and active in me

I believe God

 

Imagine – God’s Promises

Today’s Reading: 2 Chronicles 6:12–42; 1 John 5; Habakkuk 1; Luke 20

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  1 John 5: 13-14

This past weekend so many people were blessed by an amazing day that included spending time together and sharing life stories as they shopped together for Christmas. It wasn’t only the shopping, wrapping, and food baskets provided. It was the opportunity to be in the house of the Lord with so many believers and hear God’s words shared. God moved many hearts this day and in addition, we were blessed by four baptisms. This event called Imagine, hosted by Eastview, truly fills the hearts of all involved. Which are many!

For myself, the opportunity to listen, encourage, share, love on, and talk about God’s promises is priceless. Our stories of pain can often be surrounded by loss, rejection, anger, abuse, lying, insecurity, selfishness, and a feeling of being alone. These were just some shared and some of my own. As I heard these stories I listened and truly felt empathy, not just sympathy, because I could relate based on those same feelings at many points in my personal life.  After some tears, hugs, laughs, moments of silence, and gestures of affirmation between us we were able to talk about God’s eternal promises for us.  That in the midst of all that goes on during our earthly lives God has a plan and He loves us.  That in our pain and moments of feeling alone, He is always with us.  One friend of mine I shared the morning with recalled a time where her mother was in the hospital. While sitting next to her ailing mothers bed she cried out to God because she had the fear of losing her mother. In this moment Darla said she heard a voice saying,  “I’m here”. After hearing this, she had felt a sense of relief as her mom passed away that evening.  We agreed that when and if we listen hard enough and believe, God is saying, “I’m Here” to all of us whenever we call.

A few scriptures that we shared this day and I carry around with me as reminders of this promise are listed below. These verses help me in time of need when I’m struggling with how to handle my past, current challenges, and future worries. Sharing God’s word is hard sometimes, I’m not sure why?  Maybe, I let my own insecurities get in the way? But, when you share His words and promises they are affirming and possibly life changing for those you share it with. They change your own life as well. Here are a few of the verses we shared;

PastI do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Obstacles – Count it all Joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfected and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4

Hope – the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11

FutureFor I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

During this time of the year this is so much Joy in giving, time together, and the remembrance of the birth of Jesus. There can also be so much pain in loss, family struggles, and feeling like you don’t measure up.  In our moments of pain and struggle we can’t allow these earthy worries take us over. We need to call out to God and ask for his strength and love. When you feel like you can’t call anyone else you can always call to God.

imagine

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  John 8:12

 

Desert Places

Crack soil on dry season Global warming / cracked dried mud / Dry cracked earth background / The cracked ground Ground in drought Soil texture and dry mud Dry land.

1 Samuel 1; Romans 1; Jeremiah 39; Psalms 13–14

When was the last time you felt like you just couldn’t win?  Did you face reality head on or did you run from it? For me, the answer to that question can often be found in my activity level. If you catch me running, scattered from task to task, without a minute to spare, it’s likely that I am avoiding some reality of my life. A second indicator that exposes my avoidance of reality shows up when I am reading. I love to read. Reading helps me think and process the events of my life. I can do it in almost any environment. That is, unless, I have something weighing heavy on my heart. In these times, I cannot focus on reading. Sure, I might go through the motions, but I cannot hear the words. Nothing gets through. My general reaction is to go, busying myself with things that do not need thought or thinking. This avoidance leads me right back to the first scenario. I am not unique. I am sure that you have a coping mechanism as well. According to today’s reading, Hannah had one too.

Elkanah’s wife, Hannah, did not have any children. As a result, she was given one portion of meat to worship with as a sacrifice to God at the Temple. Elkanah’s second wife Peninnah, however, had two children and, therefore, received three portions with which to worship and sacrifice.   For Hannah, this time of annual worship and sacrifice served as a cruel reminder that God had not given her any children. To make matters worse, Peninnah made fun of her for it, continuously deepening Hannah’s wound. Her reaction, year after year was to cry.  In fact, she would make herself so upset, that she couldn’t even stand to eat.

We all get to choose how we respond to life’s circumstances. Whether your reaction is more like Hannah’s or mine is irrelevant. In the end, they both lead to the same place. Nowhere good. Hannah finally figured this out. Eventually, she looked to God.   As she offered her sacrifice, she looked to the Lord, and through her deep anguish and bitter weeping, she prayed and with all of her heart and laid her cares upon God. Similarly, David’s heavy heart pours out through prayer in Psalm 14. In these moments, Hannah and David both relinquish their futile attempts to change their own reality and instead, depend on God.

Have you ever prayed like that? Seriously, consider for a moment, right now, what it would feel like to spend a few minutes, a few hours, or a whole day, detaching yourself from the activity and crying so that you can give it to God. Why not? Are you afraid of what you might hear? I am here to tell you that the best time to do this is right now, in the midst of the current gridlock in your calendar and in the middle of your deep anguish. If you are praying to the same God that I am, He promises to give us an answer.

My rumination on Hannah and David pouring out their hearts to the Lord has encouraged me to pray similarly. I’m also praying that God urges you to do so as well. As you do, I will be praying for you, as Eli did, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

Malformed

sweet vanilla heaven

Judges 11:12–40; Acts 15; Jeremiah 24; Mark 10

I was reminded this week of a statement made by A.W. Tozer. He says “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The truth is that I rarely take the time to consider what I believe about God. It’s likely that many my beliefs were formed in childhood. The startling reality is these, often wrong, views of Him affect the way that I read and interpret Scripture, which affects all of my life! Most days, I breeze through our daily reading assignments quickly, so that I can gain the information it contains and get on with my day. As I do, the information that I glean and the nuggets of wisdom that stand out to me are subject to my biases and opinions of who God is, how he acts and what he thinks about me. Thankfully, not every day ends this way. Today is one of those days.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read the parable of the rich young man, found in Mark 10:21-27. If you are like me, your thoughts were shaped the first time you read it and remain unchanged to this day. Gratefully, God revealed something new to me today. It is discovered by changing the emphasis. My focus has always been on what Jesus said and not what Jesus did. Let me show you the difference. Verse 21 tells us what Jesus said. It’s highlighted in red, so it is hard to miss. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Without closer examination, I can easily mistake God as a taker, preventing me from enjoying all the fun things this world has to offer so that he can have all the glory.   NONE of those are true! In fact, the opposite is true, in every case. God is a God of giving, abundance and the creator of all good things. Not only that, he created us, individual and special. When we enjoy the work of his hands and remember that he is responsible for it all, he receives glory. He would never force it!

Today, in my umpteenth time of reading this scripture, I saw the more important part. It’s what Jesus did. Read the first part of verse 21, hidden in front of all the red letters.  It says, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Understand that when I focus on what Jesus said, I am left with what God wants to take away from me.  I, consequently, develop the wrong thoughts about who he is and how he works. However, if I first look at what Jesus did  and think about how Jesus loves me, my interpretation changes drastically. Look at these word descriptions for “love.”

  • wish well
  • to take pleasure in
  • long for
  • denotes the love of reason, esteem.

Now, use love to interpret what Jesus was doing.  Jesus first looked at the man and with all of his heart took pleasure in him, longed to be in a close relationship with him, held him in high esteem and wished him well.  I now have a whole new picture of who God is, how God works and what God thinks of me.   Clearly, Jesus words were not born of condemnation; they were born of his deep desire to see the young man become exactly who he was created to be. Whole and vibrant, living an abundant life. Do you see it? This is what he wants for us too!

My conclusion is that if I think of God as a bully or a taker, I can never experience what he so desperately wants to give me. And that is just it, Jesus does not take, he gives. He gives love, to be exact.  Unfortunately, the young man was not willing to recognize the love in Jesus’ comments. How about you? When you think about God, do you see love?  Do you gain hope and abundance or do you, like the young man, see absence and scantiness that leads to despair? Whichever the case, I pray that God will graciously bring us to a right understanding of who he is, how he works and what he thinks about us so that we can live the full lives he created us to live and receive all glory and honor that are due him.

Is God On Your Side?

FB-purple-royalty-EJoshua 2; Psalms 123–125; Isaiah 62; Matthew 10

In the time of Rahab, Jericho’s news reports were filled with stories of the Israelites conquests. They started with wild tales about seas parting and the people walking across on dry land. As time passed, however, the number of stories raised greater suspicions.   Before long, there were reports of the Israelites destroying people. Not just regular people, they were defeating giants.  Amos describes them as mighty as oaks and as tall as cedars! How could it be?  The Israelites were puny!  Sihon had recently been sacked and the latest reports indicated that Og was utterly destroyed. How was it possible? “God is on their side,” was the only possible explanation. With Og gone, Jericho was the next likely target. Every resident feared the inevitable.

Rahab confirmed the danger as she answered the door.  She knew instantly that trouble was imminent. The men standing outside were not locals, they were Israelites. Clearly, Jericho was next. But, she was trapped. There is no way out. Nobody would save her. As a prostitute, Rahab was despised and scorned. Not even God would help her. He was on their side, not hers.

When the men asked for safe harbor, she contemplated the great risk in protecting them. Treason is punishable by death. Even so, she knew that Jericho was doomed. When the Israelites come, they will quickly and easily devastate the city. Nothing can stop them. God is on their side. Surely, Rahab considered how great it would be to have God on her side.

What is your story of God? Do you see great things that he has done? Is he on your side, or are you still oppressed, like Rahab? Did you notice how she turned it around? Rahab realizes that a better life is possible. One that does not live in fear and oppression, but one that is purposeful and filled with opportunities. She saw this living hope clearly in lives of the Israelites. What she saw was God. She confesses to the men, “the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. “ (Joshua 2:11). It’s that simple.

What happened to Rahab? Was her life changed? Was God on her side? Thankfully, the Bible provides the answer. Matthew 1:5 tells us that she gave birth to a boy named Boaz. Boaz son fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who sired King David. David, of course, is the predecessor to the King of King’s, Jesus.  Obviously, God honored Rahab’s confession.  He changed her from a slave to the world, facing certain death, and replaced oppression with life. Not just any life, but life worthy of a King’s lineage. Royalty. God was on her side!

There is no other force, no other power, no other name that can compare with the power of God.  Is God on your side?

Remembering Our Fathers

My journal today was originally written as a response to the hatred, in the violence, recently experienced in the Orlando Club Massacre. When I realized my post fell on Father’s Day; since I had already goofed up my Mother’s Day post, blogging about driving expensive sports cars in Las Vegas, I needed to focus on Father’s Day! Not only am I a father, but I know a bunch of ’em. Some are better than others, but we all have the privilege of profoundly impacting the lives of their children. What an AMAZING thing this is!

On a very personal note, I have had three Fathers. All of whom are deceased. Because of them, my life is rich with great memories. I deeply miss them all! With each one, I shared a special relationship. With each there was a bond of trust and loyalty. With my biological father, the bond was forged before I knew it; always there and never broken, despite separation, divorce, alcoholism and mental illness. I remember once, when I was eleven, calling him from a pay phone in Canada, at a park ranger station, after having almost drowned in a waterfall. I wanted to come home from camp so badly, yet he encouraged me to tough it out. It’s only another forty five days. You’ll be glad you stayed. And he was right.

The bond of loyalty with my two step fathers was forged in time. With John, my first stepfather, just when our relationship was at its best, he died unexpectedly. He was in his thirties, and I was fourteen, just returning from summer camp in Canada, after winning all the awards he had encouraged me to compete for.

In honor to all the fathers who cannot be with us, I wanted to share part of that story. Partly because he helped define me, and also as a cautionary tale, because, in my grief, instead of turning to God, I turned away. This was the begining of a long journey to restore my faith and trust in God. Something I never should have doubted.

“To say I was stunned to discover that my thirty-eight year old superhero had suffered a major coronary and was in a coma, would be an understatement. This had to be some weird dream that I kept trying to awaken from. I was in shock.

My grandmother took me to her house and told me which room I would be staying in. She asked me if I wanted something to eat.

Can we go to the hospital? I asked.

Not just yet. I can take you later. You should wash up and have something to eat.

I had lost my appetite, so went upstairs to take a shower. As the warm water poured over me I cried out to God in anguish, please God, don’t let him die! I’ll do anything. Take me instead of him! We are all so happy, everything is so perfect. Please, please, please let him be ok. God please let him live!

When I saw him at the Intensive Care Unit, he was on a respirator along with the usual web of tubes and wires for comatose patients. That was the last time I saw him, barely alive, supposedly brain dead, perhaps already beyond this world. His discolored form lay on that hospital bed, pretending to breathe with the help of a machine.

After he passed my mother returned home, weary and broken down. She was thirty six. We finally had time to talk, amidst the planning and the calls. He knew about it you know, all your awards at camp, he knew what you did, she said.

How? I asked, mixed with skepticism and grief, still in utter shock.
I told him. I kneeled down and whispered in his ear and told him how well you did. She reached out and pulled me close. When I told him, he cried. He knew Ricky, he heard me. And as she hugged me, we sobbed together, sharing each other’s pain and grief. I cried because I was grateful, because I was sad, and because I knew this man that had made everyone in my life so happy, if only for a brief chapter, was gone and he wasn’t coming back.

My sadness was shared by many on the day he was buried, at the Pioneer Cemetery. He had been a descendent of the first settlers and his final resting place was the historic Fuller family grave yard, at the end of a road in the middle of Hinsdale. An hour earlier at Grace Episcopal, our old Tudor style Anglican Church, for the first time ever I saw my stoic German grandfather cry like a baby. John’s body, in its casket, was ceremoniously born down the magenta runner, out of the big carved doors, towards its final rest, as we sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic:” My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of The Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on:
Glory, glory hallelujah …..

The cradle of mourners at the wake eventually thinned out, later that day and over the weeks and months. My grief was my own, not understanding how to reconcile the sadness and devastation, that had suddenly broken my world. Nothing that had come before had prepared me for this. If anything, I had felt set up, to be torn down. God was there for me, but in my grief I held Him responsible.”

Looking back now, I finally realized that God was always faithful and present. It was in the struggles of life, in its hardships, that we are offered opportunities to grow spiritually. Having a Heavenly Father that can be trusted is a gift beyond measure, but it is one that must be received. It is the most valuable relationship we will ever have, and it is one that must be pursued if it is to become what it is meant to be, in all its power and blessing.

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. -Psalm 115:14-15

Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 24; Psalms 114–115; Isaiah 51; Revelation 21

May your Father’s Day be filled with grace, and gratitude for your earthly father and awe and reverence for your Father in Heaven. Amen.