Put Your Hand in the Hand of the One Who Quiets The Storm

Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River in Minnesota USA

One of my favorite routes to travel is Hwy 61 south of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River. The beauty of God’s creation is always on display, from bluffs, to waters, forests and eagles flying overhead.  One windy day I stopped at Lake Pepin in Lake City where the river widens. Usually Lake Pepin  is  filled with sailboats, but  on that warm spring morning, not many ventured out. Those who did were tested by the waters and the wind.

I thought of the gospel writer who records the disciples saying of Jesus, “Even the winds and the waves obey him.” The setting was the Sea of Galilee after a sudden storm arose while they were trying to get across to the other side. Jesus’s disciples were frightened, terrified in fact. As people of the sea, they had a healthy respect for storms which arose, seemingly out of nowhere. It was no small thing to be tossed by the waves and blown off course by the winds. Disoriented, with neither sun nor stars to guide them, fear grew.

When we find ourselves in the middle of one of life’s storms we can quickly become disoriented. Winds and waves of a storm can throw us off course. What we thought we knew to be true may “no longer fit” the reality of our lives. It is at these times we most need the one who calms the seas and quiets the winds. When the disciples cried out “Lord save Us” both wind and sea quieted.

Song writer Gene MacLellan composed the words of a song that come back to me when I’m troubled, reminding me to trust the one who calms and quiets us:  He wrote:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee

The calm that Jesus brings is one that quiets our spirits, calms our troubled hearts and reassures our broken emotions, allowing us to reset our lives and build on more trustworthy and firmer ground. Storms are inevitable, but as certain as storms will come, is the knowledge there is one who is with us in the midst of each of them. One who still grants us a quiet center, even and especially in the most  turbulent of times.

Easter is God’s Message of Hope

My confidence in the arrival of Spring wanes in years of bitter winter nights and sluggish March days.   Yet, even when I doubt, God’s provision for Spring is already on its way. Today, I see slivers of hope. Leaves are thinking about pushing their way into our Minnesota landscape. Driving down my street,  I spotted a lone magnolia tree sporting some blooms.   Our lives follow a similar pattern. There are winter times, when life is hard. We go through days of struggling and working through our current trial. We wonder when the pain will end. We wonder if it ever will.

The day Jesus was crucified, his friends and family were devastated. All the events which transpired were outside of the control of his followers. Jesus on a cross brought little hope for any kind of a future, yet the record of history and God’s actions in the city of Jerusalem, tell us of a different reality. There is no keeping Jesus in the grave. Two thousand years bear record to that great truth.  Easter is God’s message  telling us not to  lose hope. God is working in our lives, even though it may not look like it at the moment.

Our hearts may break. We may despair. The power of Easter is that because Christ lives, we can live also. We can face tomorrow. We can do so without fear.  This Easter you may be troubled of spirit and soul.   There may be difficulties and trials. The bitter taste of rejection and injustice may linger.  Your heart may be buried in grief.  I have no easy answers. But, while much of God remains a mystery to us, of one thing I am sure. God is a God of resurrection power. Witnesses continue to proclaim this truth. In God’s providence, Easter will follow Good Friday. Life stirs into being after death. Spring inevitably arrives in spite of winter’s hold. New life is God’s gift to each of us.

Charles Wesley’s Easter Hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” includes this verse:

“Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!”

May this Easter bring you hope. Where life has been hard, may you see glimmers of how  God is working in your life.  Where there has been the loss of one held dear, may you find hope in the mystery of Easter and God’s love for you and your lost loved ones.   May you be reassured that God holds tomorrow and is working, even now,  to make all things new.

I Believe in Easter

Desert Botanical Garden

I believe in Easter.    No one can prove for you the resurrection of Jesus.  My belief in Easter is set in life experiences and years of pastoral ministry. I believe in Easter, in part, because of the other resurrections in my life. We stumble and fall. We mess up our lives. We make huge mistakes that hurt others and ourselves. We fail more often than we want to admit to ourselves, and definitely not to others.  Our lives take painful turns.  We encounter losses and heartache.  Our world crashes around us.  We almost give in to despair.   Were it not, for God’s steadfast love and presence, we would give up.

 

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus because it simply doesn’t make sense to me that for two thousand years people have been fooled by a story that had no fact, no truth, no reality behind it. Or that this story would endure through all these years and be passed on from one generation to another.  It makes no sense to me that those cowardly disciples of Jesus would suddenly develop courage or that they would face dangers and hardship. Why would they be willing to give up their lives for a fraud? Someone else might have, but not that set of disciples who seemed more interested in getting to the top of the heap than serving God. It makes no sense that this skeptical group of disciples would have proclaimed Jesus as risen, unless they had personally experienced Jesus’ presence in some tangible  way. Not this set of disciples  – who doubted entirely Jesus’ resurrection, when the good news was brought to them.  Not these disciples who said, to themselves and each other,  this is “only an idle tale.”

 

For two thousand years one person has shared stories of encountering a living and resurrected Christ with  another.  People told of their lives changed for the better.  Thieves gave up on stealing. People struggling with addictions found strength for recovery. The angry bitter person started to love. All done through this Jesus. Hospitals were founded and the hungry fed in the name of Jesus. For two thousand years, people who had given up on life have found hope in the presence of Christ. In that encounter they have found meaning and purpose.   Those who felt themselves without love have discovered a God who loves unconditionally. Some, who  encountered the living Christ in a moment of crisis or defeat, found strength and a power outside themselves.  I believe in Easter – because the world is created in such a way that life always follows death – spring always follows winter.  I believe because there have been people in my life representing  God to me, who for no conceivable reason I could see, reached out to me in times I desperately needed someone to care.  I can only attribute that care and love to answered prayers – God’s people responding to need.

 

An empty tomb without a risen Christ would mean little. A risen savior who left no words behind or  wisdom to draw from, would be of little help. William Sloane Coffin say’s of Jesus “Miracles do not a messiah make, . . . But a messiah can do miracles. . . . I can also report that in home after home I have seen Jesus change beer into furniture, sinners into saints, hate-filled relations into loving ones, cowardice into courage, the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. In instance after instance, life after life, I have seen Christ be ‘God’s power unto salvation,’ and that’s miracle enough for me.”

 

I believe in Easter. I am confident that God can turn a life around, that death and sin can be overcome. I believe that God who loves us and came in Jesus Christ will have the last world.    There are really no proofs to the resurrection, only witnesses. Just witnesses transformed into one of God’s new creations.   Through  these last two thousand years,  people in all walks of life  have testified to the presence of the living Lord in their lives. They have found a grace which truly was sufficient for every need. Through that grace, they have lived difficult lives courageously, vibrantly and victoriously – for they knew they were never alone. However many times they were knocked down, they lived in the confidence God would be there to raise them above the place they fell.   Christ continues to offer that same gift today, to come as a friend, whenever a heart is prepared to receive the gift. Sometimes, it’s as simple of asking Jesus into your heart – or as scary as turning your life over to Christ and trusting that God means only good.  Today is a good day to let Easter,  and its promise,  into your heart.

 

Prayer – God, open my heart to receive you. I give you my fears,  my doubts, my cynicism  and  my skepticism. I offer my heart, my mind and spirit to you, trusting your love is wider than my fears, your compassion greater than my mistakes and your goodness large enough to receive me as I am. Amen

By God’s Grace, Light Will Shine

IMG_8060The last weeks have been difficult ones for some in my family.  A long and unexpected hospital stay, including surgery, left part of my family struggling through the Christmas season.   I once  heard Henri Nouwen  say, “Jesus didn’t come to take our pain away, but to be with us in it.”   While I would like God to fix everything that is amiss in my life and the lives of those I love,  that was never God’s promise.   The promise wasn’t to fix,  but to be with us in  the difficulty and complexity of  life’s challenges.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins”  mentions a man who was reflecting on the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” (John 1:1-5) As the man thought about the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

Brennan Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.”

We do not know what this new year  holds for us. For some of us there will be great trials.  We may  face enormous challenges or confront heartache and sorrow.  High mountains  may be conquered . . . where we will revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, it may be that we find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the turnings of life.

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary world and the earth has never quite been the same.  God’s gifts of comfort, strength, hope and joy came with Jesus. It is God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, sent to all the worlds people. We call this gift grace.

May your life be touched by “grace filled moments” where you have cause to marvel at God’s good gifts of love for you.

Turning the Pages of a Year

Turning the Pages of a Year

OXYGEN ChristmasI remember a year that I was really glad to turn the pages of. It began with our newly home from the hospital, preemie getting sick, very sick. Her first three months had been spent in the neonatal unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. After five weeks at home with six older siblings, she had been exposed to everything that was going around their school.  A day earlier, her six and a half year old brother was running a temperature of 105. By Friday night, of that 1st weekend of the new year, it was becoming obvious that what had appeared to be a small problem with my daughter was much larger. On Saturday, she’d been put in the pediatric unit of the hospital where our doctor practiced. By Sunday morning, the hospital called to tell us that she was being transported to life support at Children’s hospital.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday morning, our two year old, four year old and six and a half  year old were in the emergency room of another hospital, with bronchitis and tonsillitis. Later that week would see my four year old admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I don’t know how we managed to have children in two hospitals, but we did. Most everyone else was sick at home too, except for my two older children who avoided all of the rest of us. On the positive side, our yearly family deductible had been met for our insurance by the end of the first week of January.

I wish I could say that the rest of the year had gone better. The youngest was very sick again in February and hospitalized in March with bronchial pneumonia. A series of illnesses would plague her through the year, until in late December, she was back in life support at Children’s having an apnea study done. A heart monitoring system would follow that stay.

I think it was the overwhelming sense of everything going wrong at the same time, which made it so difficult. Like Mary discovering she was in labor at the very moment she and Joseph were being told there was no room for them in the inn. But life went on. The child survived. Difficulties were overcome. By the time the magi arrived at Christmas, scripture records the couple living in a house.

The magi’s visit would force additional changes upon the young family. Being warned in a dream, Mary and Joseph flee the city with Jesus, to live in Egypt for a time. Once more their life had to be reconstructed. Fortunately, Joseph’s carpentry skills were useful anywhere. For the magi, that Christmas miracle, would send them home in another way, avoiding Herod and his plans to kill the child.

The gift of Christmas is not and has never been, a stress free – pain free life. Rather, the gift of Christmas which we carry every day, is that Christ has come.    What I treasure most about the gift of Christmas is knowing that whatever the new year will bring,  God is with us.   God will be with us in our joys and in on our griefs. God will be near to pour healing on our wounds, blessing on our prayers, and calming waters on our fears.  Christ has come to be with us in our pain and our sorrow, our joys, our dreams, our hopes and our fears. We have been visited by one who has chosen to live and remain among us.

Christmas Will Come and Go – But the Christ of Christmas Will Remain

Candle

Christ Came as Light

Some years back, a person kept taking a cab to the same location several days in a row. He simply asked the driver to stop at a certain place where he would sit and stare out the windows. After the third night, the cab driver became suspicious. He contacted the police who came to talk to the man. The man told the officers that his wife was very ill. The future did not look good. He wasn’t, he said, a very religious person and found it hard to pray. Pointing to the stained glass windows, glowing in the darkness of a nearby church, he said, “Something about its light gives me strength and peace and somehow, looking at it, I have the words to pray.”

Something about Christmas and that light which came into our world gives me strength. Strength to face trials, hurts and the inevitable losses that life brings. It gives me strength to face whatever lies ahead for good or for evil. Because God chose to be present in our world, not only for a season, but for all time.  Christmas is about hope. It is about the light that breaks into our darkest night, our most anguished moment. Light that gives direction when we are confused or broken. Light that surrounds us and embraces us. We never really come to terms with Christmas and what Christmas is about, until we realize that Jesus was born for us – you and me. Light came into the world to meet every single one of us in our personal darkness.

I’ve been reminding myself of this as the season of Christmas has come with complications in my family. An extended hospitalization for a family member with surgery scheduled just before Christmas, has changed agendas and plans as well as created anxiety. Other family will be out of town. The forecast is not conducive to trust that many of us will be able to get together.

I’m reminded that this Christmas will come and go, but the Christ of Christmas will remain, shedding light into our world. A light that does not diminish with the years or shine only for a season, but lasts through each day. Christ came into our darkness to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life  – not only in the distant future  – but here, today,   at this moment.   The New Testament writers looked to the words of Isaiah to describe the changed reality. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9: 2)   There really is something about that light that stirs the soul, moves the spirit, encourages us and gives us strength.

Giving Thanks in an Imperfect Time

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Fall 2014

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Fall 2014

As I write this, much of the Middle East is embroiled in turmoil. Syria is a mess . . . ISIS is on the run, but still poses a serious global threat. A terrorist plot was just averted in Europe. Our nation is divided over the recent election. Demonstrations continue around the country. There are many who fear the future and what changes might come. Daily tragedies tug at our hearts. In spite of the economic recovery too many people do not have a living wage. Painful stories of tragic events come to families who live near us. Our own lives have their share of grief and pain. We are anxious for ourselves and those we love. Depression strikes. Our dark moods deepen. We wonder what there is to be thankful for.

In challenging moments we have a choice. We can focus our thoughts on the painful pieces of life or we can focus them on the good. A bit of perspective helps. Not so many years ago, in the spectrum of the ages, pilgrims driven by their need for religious freedom came to this country. Life was difficult. Cemeteries filled quickly as hunger and disease spread across the colony. The men, women and children who survived had to work through their many losses and the tremendous amount of pain those losses brought. In spite of that, when the first harvest after several bad years came through, they turned their eyes toward God. They reflected, not on their losses but, on their many blessings. Our pilgrim fathers and mothers did this because they knew that even in painful moments, God never stopped loving them.

When we look at our lives honestly we have much to be thankful for. We have reason for giving thanks even in imperfect time. God does not abandon us. God walks with us through the heartaches of life. When I take time to list the blessings I experience daily, I am amazed at all the gifts I so take for granted. I see the ordinary gifts of color and beauty, of harvest and food, warmth and shelter. I remember the people God has put in my life who have graced me at different stages and times. I think of struggling moments which led to life long friendships. I find blessings in my family and joy in relationships. I celebrate God’s faithfulness and mercies.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” Psalm 92:1-2