Jesus Is Not In A Panic But We Often Are

I thought 2017 was a tough year for me and many of the people I work with but 2018 has already been marked by one report of bad news after another. I have that same sinking, weak, and impotent feeling I had last summer when my Dad died. My knees seem to constantly be in a state of weakness.

Thankfully, God provides messages and resources in my weakness. For my time with God, I like to read the meditations put together by Jan Johnson in her book, Meeting God in Scripture. In part five of the book, the theme is “Facing fears, frustrations, and discouragement.” The first passage that she walks the reader through is Mark 4:35-41, the time when Jesus is taking a nap on a boat while a huge storm erupts and has the Disciples fighting for their lives. Johnson pointed the reader to a Rembrandt painting of this scene.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

I found it so interesting to observe the disciples and all of their different responses (including the one heaving off the side of the boat) and then to ask myself which disciple most resembles the reaction that I would have.

At first glance, I identified with the lone disciple at the back of the boat straining at the rudder, trying to keep the boat on a steady path. He is all strain and little progress. Rembrandt seems to really like the dark and so it is hard to see that there is one disciple who is kneeling before Jesus, perhaps begging for him to do something, or crying out for mercy. Some scholars think this is Rembrandt himself, placing himself in the painting. Where are you in the painting and this scene?

Take a few moments and read the passage and then observe the painting. Which disciple are you in your current situation? What response do you wish you had in light of how the scene plays out? Will you ever be able to just calmly sit next to Jesus during your stormy seasons? How will faith help remove the fear in your life?

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Running The Race: To The Finish

On Dec. 4 I ran in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Over the last several weeks, I have provided my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

The marathon is done and I finished it in a little over five hours. My dad asked me if it was the hardest thing that I have ever done? As I was laying in the passenger seat and loopy from the run and the pain that I was experiencing, I couldn’t think of anything else that was harder. Now, with a few days to reflect, I still can’t think of anything harder but I can think of some important lessons that I learned. These are lessons that are important not just for running a marathon but also making it through any difficult moment in your life.

Lesson #1 – You need help – I would say that about 60 percent of the runners had someone to run with or at least had a someone they knew at the start with them. These people were able to smile and joke and distract each other with mindless conversation. I had trained alone and intended to race alone until I heard about the Clif Pace Team. My dad had encouraged me to find people to run with because he knew that it would make it easier. I had heard good things about the Pace Team so I planned on finding the 5 hour pace team at the start. I was able to meet one of the other runners on the Pace group and just having someone to chat with on occasion during the race was a big help. But I really didn’t learn this lesson until around mile 18. At this point, I started to have cramps in my lower thigh. I didn’t expect this kind of set back with still so much farther to go and I was beginning to stress out. I ran up to my new Pace group friend, who had run in some marathons before. I asked him if he had any advice for leg cramps. A lady who was running with us, heard my comment and was nice enough to give me some of her electrolyte pills. I don’t know if they helped but at a time when everyone was just trying to survive, her service to me was beyond generous.

Don’t expect your spiritual life to make it through difficult times without help from others. No matter how strong you are, there are some things that only other people can bring to you.

Lesson #2  – Endurance Brings Clarity – You would think that running gives one a lot of time to pray and meditate on God. Maybe for some people but just as when I am sitting still, my mind rarely stays focus enough to finish a prayer. I have been on many a run when I have tried to make it through the Lord’s Prayer and lose my train of thought and never finish it. That was not the case at about  mile 21. I was so wasted from the exertion and the pain that I probably said the most cohesive and direct version of the Lord’s Prayer I have ever uttered. Other prayers that I voiced over and over were “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and “I am one in whom Christ dwells.” I needed that last one to tap in to some strength and courage that I didn’t think I had.

Lesson #3 – Trust – Along this journey to becoming a marathon finisher, I had recognized God’s role in bringing me along. I had prayed for good health so as not to miss a workout and that was answered. I had seen validation of my quest in people who I met and things that I had heard other’s say. I had received a great pouring out of abundance from people wanting to donate to Scottish Rite in honor of our daughter. I had received unexpected notoriety from a newspaper article that included me in a story about first time runners. God was making these things happen for a reason and I was becoming more and more sure of it as the weeks went by. But then a collection of circumstances began to surface that were very unwelcome.

First, Thursday night, I started to come down with a head cold. My nose was getting very congested and the good health that I had experienced throughout my training was fading. Second, the weather forecast for Sunday was getting bleaker and bleaker by the day. Early in the week it looked like a high in the upper Forties with a 40% chance of rain but by Saturday, the chance of rain had moved to 100% with a high barely reaching 43.  I had only run in rain once in all of my training and that was not when it was 40 degrees. Running a marathon was not something that I had ever done before and then here were these two situations which were a part of my worst case scenario. I reached the point where worrying and fretting wasn’t going to be very productive.

It is in situations like this where God always comes in and reminds me that he can be trusted, that he is who he says he is, and that my only choice is to lean on him. I couldn’t do anything about the weather and how my body was going to hold up under the strain of the marathon was a complete uncertainty. I had to trust God that he had brought me to this point for a reason and that he wasn’t going to leave me alone. The race became less about me and more about God’s work through me. Which is the way it should be. The race taught me to find the place where I should have been all along – in ruthless trust of my savior Jesus Christ.

God Can Be Trusted

I have a meeting today that I have a small role in. I am worried not so much about my performance in the meeting but more about how my performance will be assessed by others. If I can trust God in helping me with the tasks at hand why can’t I trust him with the outcomes? Isn’t trust in God a pass/fail activity? You either trust him or you don’t.

Take a look at the Bible and every time you come across a character that really blows it you can trace their mistake to not trusting God. Adam and Eve didn’t trust that God knew what he was talking about. Saul thought he could always take matters in his own hands and hope God blessed it later. Annanias and Sapphira thought that God wasn’t worth being honest with other believers.

In the book of Daniel, the King summons Daniel and tells him that by helping the King he could have the finest the kingdom had to offer. Daniel was a foreigner in exile who probably could have used a little of the Kingdom’s riches but he flatly tells the King that he doesn’t need his riches. Here is what Daniel tells the King in Chapter 5, ” Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. ”

Daniel’s only focus was on God and he wasn’t worried about anything else. He trusted God, not just for the power to help the king and interpret signs and dreams but for his well being and stability. His narrative about God was that God could be trusted.

What am I holding back from God because I am not trusting him? Today, I am going to trust God at my meeting and after my meeting because I know that he can be trusted.

Is Following Christ No Fun?

The second thing that many Christians fear when they become more devoted in their faith is that they will lose the things that bring enjoyment to their life.  What people don’t understand is that God knows better than we do what brings us enjoyment. He has our best interests at heart and if we will just trust him, he will provide times and things in our life that are more enjoyable than we could have imagined.

I have a very close group of friends that I have known since I was five years old. We still stay in contact with each other but we are scattered all over the country now. I am not the easiest guy to get to know and relate to; I am a little quirky and possess a strange sense of humor. But these friends share my sensibilities and interests and we can be together only once a year and it feels like we have never been away from each other. Over the last five years or so I can think of several occasions when our times together seemed more like a gift than anything that we could have arranged or organized. To me, it just seemed as if God was providing these times together simply because he knew how much I enjoyed them and how much it meant to all of us to be together. God had organized something that I enjoyed and provided for it in bunches.

Have you trusted God for your enjoyment? Have you told God how much you enjoy certain things and asked him to provide these things in the best way he sees fit? Are you willing to not take matters in to your own hands and work against God, knowing that He has your best interest at heart and wants to give you special gifts of enjoyment? God is a God of good things and he loves to shower these on his people. All we need to do is lay ourselves at his feet and trust that He knows what he is doing. Times will not always be enjoyable but when the good times come they will be so rich and rewarding that you will bemoan the times you tried to manipulate situations on your own.