Friday, March 13, 2009

Saving Grace My Journey Back to Weight Watchers

Dear Friends, I'd love to tell you that it was I who crafted this poignant, raw and hilariously honest piece, but in fact this is the writing of my Aunt Anne. With her permission I am posting this because I know there are many who will find this of huge encouragement. In my adult years I have discovered my Aunt to be one of the wittiest, most genuine people I've ever met. I know you too will fall in love with her after reading this. Please if you have friends who would find this inspirational, will you send them the link? Two weeks ago the young nurse practitioner at my office handed me a glossy catalog of cookie dough.The inevitable fund raiser for her son's day care center. I have always managed to pass on these handouts. This time the idea of my own personal three pound bucket of frozen glistening chocolate chip cookie dough was more than I could resist. My ears buzzed with the whir of out of control negative stinking thinking as I handed her my fifteen dollars and placed my order. I joked to all my coworkers in the heart center that I was getting it with a spoon. It seemed to me a splendid idea. In the following days as I waited for delivery I dreamed about it. I imagined how much fun it would be. Just me, my bucket of dough and my ever faithful companion, my dog Angie. I figured she would want in on some of the action or at least a ring side seat.As the days went by the dreams began to erode my otherwise normal daily routine of racking up CDOP's (complete days on program for you non WW'ers), journaling, and walking Angie. It did seem a bit pointless after all to be CDOP when any fool with an ounce of wits knew the bucket was coming and all would be lost. I stopped counting, journaling fell into a limited scrawl of daily events and foods consumed and then withered away entirely. My meals and snacks were still made of the healthy, simply filling foods that WW expounds on when they aren't trying to sell me 1 point snack cakes. I'd smirk at the luncheon size plates in the cupboard and reach past them for a big old dinner plate and load it up with my simply filling foods and eat them until I was stuffed. That buzzing in my ears got louder and I knew I was headed for a serious breakdown. When my mind stops talking in complete sentences and starts to just whir and thrum and hum like a funnel cloud I am really on the skids. My sweet bucket- ridden dreams of cookie dough began to be interrupted with thoughts of a crisis. What was I going to do with three pounds of dough? My very supportive husband is diabetic. I knew he would help shovel with a spoon, but he has his limits and then there is that issue of his health. My freezer is too small to refreeze he dough - it would have to sit on a shelf in the refrigerator next to yesterday's brown rice and tomorrow's limp romaine. I spent the night before last awake. The arrival date was fast approaching and I was having second thoughts. I needed help. I prayed. God why do I have these temptations? I walked the floor late at night and ate two bowls of cheerios. It struck me that I could give it away to the needy. My mother always wanted me to give to the needy. The needy lived in little wooden shacks down the hill from us when we were growing up. She liked to point them out to my brothers and me when we went to the grain store. They were wedged up against the train tracks that my Dad travelled on his way into Boston to work at Zorigan's Studio everyday. Good Deeds. As three am approached I wondered where I could take my bucket here in Florida. I could bake cookies and hand them out to the homeless who wander the waterfront in Sarasota. But they would smell so good baking and I knew if I opened the lid even once I would be doomed. That just wouldn't work. I could send them to Angelina and Brad - they are skinny and don't have problems with buckets of dough. Maybe they could take them to Africa and do some more Good Deeds for George Clooney to grin over.It was an exhausting night, but by morning I'd had a brain storm. I would give the unopened unseen bucket away to a nurse at work. She has a free day care center at her church. They could have the bucket of dough. I even resolved that since this is the last week to go to WW and sign back up without paying all your missed meetings fees that I would rush to a meeting right after work. It was a relief to tell my friend she could have the whole enchilada when it came in. I promptly went off by myself and ate some freshly made cookies that another earnest coworker had made. I needed some consoling. I was still full from the cereal so what the heck, let's have some of these peanut butter cookies with the cute little fork marks criss-crossed on their tops. Soon enough I would be at a meeting and signing my life away. Oh my dangerous mind. The long work day wore on and I ran into every available food item with an open mouth and an out stretched greedy hand.Now my dear husband knew I'd had a sleepless night. He called during the afternoon to say he'd take me out to dinner. That was very nice, but I told him I was determined to go and sign up at WW first and then we could go and eat. He picked me up just before 6pm and off we drove. Angie grinning in the backseat is always ready for a road trip with food involved. Well, we went right out of the office parking lot and WW was to the left. Oh, the fickle finger of fate I thought. He has forgotten my meeting... well never mind... no harm will come... I'll just go to dinner and then go sign up at the meeting tomorrow night. Oh see how easy it is to redirect my best intentions. I had prayed over this. Help was on the way. I had done my Good Deed and given the bucket away unseen. It would just be a small delay and I was so full from my day of indulgence that I would just get a bowl of soup at our local diner. Angie thumped her tail from the back seat and grinned out the window in perfect agreement with me.I really was full so it was just my luck that they had nine bean and ham soup on the menu. They make a new soup everyday. Nine beans that would qualify as a simply filling meal. It wouldn't have much ham in it. My husband tucked into his salad and I had the first bite of creamy smokey soup. You know how sometimes ham will have just that little plastic bit of dark brown rind on the edge? Well my bite of ham had that and I didn't care for it so I delicately removed the little tidbit from my mouth and spooned up my second bite of creamy beans and broth. Mindless now that I was eating, the third bite came on autopilot to my mouth. With my peripheral vision I noticed another bit of that glossy brown rind on my spoon and took another look at my spoon before closing my lips around it. Now you may remember I mentioned I had prayed to God for help. Well have you ever wondered what is God really thinking? Why did he make all manner of creatures to share our planet? What possible use does a horseshoe crab still have. I mean they are ancient and they just seem to wash up on beaches, tentacles and feet flapping uselessly into the air. Why are they still here? Why did God make so many bugs and things that slither around and frighten us? What kind of a mind dreams these things up and to what end? You just never know. Until you look a second time at your spoonful of nine bean and ham soup and there on the brim are two long delicate antennae waving at me from the stewed body of a gleaming brown cockroach. Suddenly you stop eating, spoon in mid- air and the riddles of God's precious world become crystal clear to you. There is Saving Grace. It is bigger than Good Deeds. It is God working in the details to answer a late night prayer. A Florida cockroach has been kept crawling on this good earth, the spitting image of a horseshoe crab, it crawls and does what roaches do. It gets into places you don't want. With that you stop your orgy of overeating and come face to face with the dose of reality you were so blindly seeking for two long weeks. There it is, you have the ability to stop and put the spoon down. So simple. Just stop and put the spoon onto the table. I got up and went out to the car for a heart to heart with my dog Angie. My husband sorted out what was left of our bill and tipped the poor waitress. My prayer was answered. I got help. Tonight I did go to my meeting and sign up. I sat in the back and thought about how lucky I am to get another chance. WW has given me all the tools I need. From my prayer I got some extra Grace. A little more time to make this work. Anne Pierce

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sailing into the storm (part 4)

"I am a man who has experienced affliction..." Lamentations 3:1 It had been seven years since his lips and mine had met for the first time in front of a couple hundred witnesses--our wedding day. Some people call it the seven year itch, but when you are right in the middle of it with toddling baby boys nipping at your ankles while you stare into each other's eyes and confess that you don't really know if you want to be married anymore, it feels very different from an itch. Neither of us had changed really, but somehow everything was different. As we sat their disappointed, disillusioned and tired, so tired of trying, we both knew we had run aground. I think the passengers aboard the sinking ship with Paul knew those feelings well when Paul tells them to keep up their courage because God told him he would make it out alive. Paul ended his encouragement with a sentence that has refreshed itself in mind day after day since I first read it. "Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island." These sailors had foolishly ignored Paul's good advice and now they find themselves suffocating under the dark swells of a storm, literally driven across first the Mediterranean and now the Adriatic Sea. Paul says to them, 'Look you screwed up big time. But hold onto your courage because my God, the one true God is delivering me to Caesar and you get to arrive with me, but...But! We're going to experience some turbulence along the way. We have to run aground." Paul was well qualified to write the words "And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) God always moves and works in our lives, but most of the time He does not remove the natural consequences of our decisions. That is critical because if we miss it we will end up disappointed with God and wondering why He didn't move amidst our storm. Those sailors chose to sail on the open sea late in the season and they bore the result of that risky decision. Run aground they did. Literally. They were caught probably on what would have been a sandbar in some cross currents. In the end the stern of their ship was splintered by the waves like fire logs by an ax. This is so significant to me because God told them they'd make it to shore and yet they watched helplessly as their ship--the only mode they had for getting to the shore--was pummeled by wave after wave like a wrecking ball to a high rise. I have watched as the vehicles I planned to use to get to shore were torn apart more than once in my life. Have you? A mom who planned to spend her children's lives running and playing with them is plagued with chronic illness. A marriage we thought was the happily ever after story ends in divorce and with it a family once involved in church no longer feels worthy to darken the door. A precious person I know was blindsided when her husband lost their family business. Another watched as their million dollar investment portfolio dropped like an arctic barometer in a matter of days after Enron. Another couldn't have a biological child. Another had five and each one walked away from God. And yet another sat in horror as her husband revealed his pornography and prostitute addiction. Real people. Real human lives that I know and love. Run aground. Their lives literally beaten to tiny pieces. And you tell me God is good? We say He works everything out for our good,but when you are in the middle of the wreckage it does not feel good. When we are left with fragments of the lives we build, it is then we have a choice to believe as Paul did that "it will be just as we have been told." (Acts 27:25) It is in the moment when the sterns have been broken and darkness chants "all hope is gone" that we decide whether we will believe the promises of God are true and real. You know how those sailors made it to land? It's incredible to me. Some of them just swam. Those who were strong enough and able, swam to land. The others followed either on planks for pieces from the ship. That's it. No incarnate Jesus walking on water to carry them to shore, no big flapping fish offering it's fins to bring them ashore. Just some pieces of broken boards and their own arms and legs. So often we miss God because we don't give Him credit for the strength He has given us--the ability to swim in an ocean of doubt and fear, for example. And I wonder if any of them stopped and praised Him for the splintered wreckage of that ship. So often I have everything figured out for God, the mode, the means and the method of getting me to shore. But more often than not, God takes those preconceived ideas of Himself and explodes them into a thousand fragments. His ways are just plain higher. It's so beautiful to me that God didn't remove the consequence of their choice, but from that wreckage he gave them just enough to float to shore. Just enough. When Jeff and I looked into each other's eyes that day we knew we had a decision to make--would we trust God and obey His plan or give into the storm? We chose God. And he literally gave us just enough. Just enough to make a choice to get some counselling. That was all. I remember driving to our first counselling session, lips pressed firmly together in relative silence thinking to myself, 'the fact that we are in this car driving in the direction of this counselor is a miracle because I do not want to be here and neither does he.' But we were and that was just enough. Six months later it was just enough to start falling in love again. There was never a moment when we trusted Him that He didn't provide that plank of hope--just enough to bring us to shore. And now we are a testimony not to the strength of our marriage, but to the strength of our God. There are seasons in our lives when we've just run aground. Ships were meant for water just as we were meant for hope. If you've run aground I pray you can hear my heart. Hold on. Your Father will not let you drown amidst the circumstances of your life. He will NOT. You have to know that as long as there is a God (and that's forever) you have hope. He does not abandon. He does not quit. He does not give up. He does not leave you in the consequences of your choices. He carries you through them, gives you just enough strength to stay afloat until you are safely to shore. That is the God whom I love, and that, my friends is the God who loves you. Do you believe it will be to you "just as He said?" Pray with me: Jesus, the God of hope--You came to earth to show that You will supply our greatest need for relationship with You. For that, I praise and thank you. When our lives are aground teach us to trust You. Teach us to swim with expectant hearts knowing that when our strength fails You are stronger still. Teach us that all life is in you and that our lives do not consist of the wreckage of the physical but in the peace of knowing who You are. Help us to see that we don't need a ship to get to shore--teach us to release all the 'ships' in our lives to you. Show us the planks, God. Help us to embrace the ways YOU want to work in our lives and the lives of those we love and to surrender all our preconceived ideas into Your capable hands. Help us to hold on, Father. Amen. Read with me: Lamentations 3 (especially 22-24, 55-58)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sailing into the Storm (part 3)

I'm way too much of a perfectionist to live without regret. I've always admired people who without hesitation insist they have walked through the past to the present with no regrets. You may be one of them--the kind of person who looks at every mistake as an opportunity to learn and embraces them for what they are. Now don't misunderstand me, I do learn from my mistakes and I believe readily that God is sovereign amidst every misstep in my life. But I'm not going to lie to you--there are a thousand things I'd do differently if ever given a do-over card. It's interesting though because in God's economy there is a perfect way to live, albeit rather narrow, but perfect nonetheless. And yet "there is none righteous, no not one." (Rom. 3:10) No man's soul has ever slipped into eternity without first having missed the mark of God in some way. And God holds us to that standard which is why He can say about a good man or woman--maybe Mother Theresa, "Even you fall short." (Rom. 3:23) But though He holds us to that standard, He also miraculously and completely releases us from every shortcoming. I'm not talking about a license to do whatever we want, (Rom. 6:1) but I am talking about a God who somehow demands complete holiness and yet forgives and repairs every failure and poor decision we will ever make. Just yesterday I read a quip on a local country church: God doesn't measure us using the curve; He uses the cross. Somehow amidst our mess ups in life the miracle of grace is allowed to bloom like the first crocus of spring budding in a bed of winter snow. When Paul stood up to encourage the sailors, prisoners, soldiers and captain on a ship whose end was certain destruction, he knew the reason they were in this mess was a result of poor choices. Certainly they regretted ignoring Paul's sound advice with everything in them. After all, Paul had warned them that setting out to sea was dangerous and he knew that pushing forward into the Autumn Mediterranean would result in loss of life. They hadn't listened. Sound advice was given to them and for reasons unknown to us, they left Paul's advice in the wake of the ship as they set sail. How many times have I been given sound advice, been warned about a decision and pushed on because the current of my own agenda was stronger than that of the counsel I received? My guess is those men on that ship wanted to deliver those prisoners as quickly as possible. Perhaps the centurion responsible for Paul had a wife waiting back home for him with a belly full and ready to deliver his first child. Maybe the owner of the ship would receive some additional remuneration for seeing to it that every prisoner arrived by spring. Perhaps they genuinely believed it was the best thing to do despite what Paul had told them. Now Paul says something that I think is worth pausing to take in. Paul reveals some of his humanity here. I can't get over his inability to resist saying, "I told you so." Here we have a man who is responsible for spreading the message of Jesus all over the New Testament landscape and the guy who penned the very words we commit to memory from book after book of our scripture. When he stands up to a slew of desperate and depressed men I can't help but notice that he couldn't resist reminding them of the advice he gave. "Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss." (Acts 27:21) He just had to say I told you so. Did it really matter that he had given them advice and they hadn't listened? I only point this out because I think it's important that we see our heroes of the faith in their humanity. They, just like us are mere humans following Jesus. Just knowing that Paul, the man who was confident enough in other passages to tell people to emulate him, live like he lived, had the occasional human tendency gives me a little hope. Let's go on. He says to these men who have gone beyond looking into the horizon with worry and fear to a resignation that their lives are on a slow-motion journey to the bottom of the ocean's floor, "And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.' Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told." (Acts 27: 24) I think it's worth mentioning that these men worshipped gods like Zeus, god of thunder and lightning and Poseidon, god of the sea. Can you imagine worshipping gods like this your entire life and finding yourself collapsed on the deck of a ship, water sloshing around your wet ankles resigned to the belief that those gods must not care enough for you to calm the storm and quiet the sea? Surely they prayed to their gods, begged them for mercy. Remember when Elijah had the contest with the prophets of Baal and they called out to Baal for an entire day pleading with him to light their sacrifice? "They invoked the name of Ball from morning until noon, saying, "Baal, answer us." But there was no sound and no answer...Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response." (I Kings 18:26,29) It is no wonder these men literally gave up hope--they would have pleaded and begged their gods to intervene only to discover their cries for help fell like the waves around them into a sea of unanswered and misguided prayers. Their gods were silent. Silent. My heart has always broken for these men and I have to marvel at how similar I am to them. How often do I put my hope in my husband's job only to find it disappoint? When he loses his job we discover who the true God is. How often do I put my hope in that of a friend only to discover they cannot fulfill my needs? When they don't have time for us anymore we discover who the true God is. How often do we put our hope in our savings account or our retirement funds? When the stock markets falls like anchor of a ship we discover the true God. How often do we put our hope in great men and women of the faith? When they fail in some human way we discover they are not the true God. How often do we place hope in education or in doctors? When our children aren't getting well, we know the true God again. And here's one I constantly have to catch myself on--how often do I put my hope for our children in the way we are raising them? If we do everything right, surely they'll turn out okay. Wrong. Just ask the mother or father who prayed daily, raised them well, loved them well, taught them about God and then watched their child walk away. There are no guarantees. None. My children have free will and that truth forces me to confront the reality that only God can truly grip their hearts. Though most followers of Jesus would say they are monotheistic--worshipping only the one true God, I have to wonder if God himself wouldn't say, "You have become like the Israelites worshipping the gods of the world around you." Usually we don't realize we have formed idols from worldly ideas until we count on them and their complete silence break out hearts when we've cried out. It's then we realize we were crying out the name of our idols and not the name of our Father who loves us desperately. The other thing I love about this passage is this: these sailors made a grave error in judgment and God still moved in their situation. Paul looks them square in the face and says, 'you messed up but there will be no loss of life because the God that I worship? He wasn't silent. He sent an angel to speak to me last night and told me that He still had a plan. His plan is for me to go before Caesar and nothing, not even this storm will stop Him from accomplishing His purpose.' God will not allow any other God to get His glory--He always shows up. Always. He always shows himself strong. Always. Because his love does not depend on our perfection. And though these people made a significant mistake, He still reigned. His purposes for Paul's life would still be carried out. Period. This is such an incredible truth--God is sovereign even when we screw up. He knows we are human and He allows us to be exactly that, but that is the exact definition of mercy. He sees our needs and meets them. He doesn't change us so that we have no needs--that He's reserved for eternity--but He meets them over and over and over again. His grace says, 'Behold I love you with an everlasting love,' and His mercy says, 'And I see you messed up, but I knew you would and I have charted the purpose of your life with this in mind. I'll not be thwarted. I'll reign amidst the chaos.' This is our God--the one true God. So would I change some of my decisions in the past? Do I regret them? Sure I do. I've been tossed by the storms of poor choices and I'd have far preferred avoid those storms, but has God proven Himself faithful and worked each of those poor choices out for my ultimate good in the end? Absolutely. Without question He has never left me disappointed, never left me in the muck of my humanity. He has a strong right arm and He has never withheld His hand from me. Never. Paul had hope because when he gazed into the black of the storm He saw the light of the face of Jesus and remembered His words, "I'll never leave you. I'll never forsake you." Oh that we could know those words in the deepest marrow of our bones, the very fiber of our hearts when we stand hopeless amidst the storms that rip our spirits apart. I'll close with words Paul wrote to the Roman church, "Now may the god of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) Do you believe in the God of hope? Pray with me: Father, God who is literally hope, teach us amidst the storm to believe in who you are. Your word says you are the God who is hope. Your word says hope does not disappoint us. Lord, teach us to anchor ourselves so deeply in your character that when storms come we see that though they rage around us they do not change our position in You. Spirit of God may your fruit of hope overflow from the branches of our lives. In Jesus name, amen. Read with me: I Kings 18 Romans 8:6

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sailing into the Storm (part 2)

They said it was the wind that caused the accident, that it happened in an instant--his motorcycle vacuumed into the path of that tractor trailer. The life of a young, healthy father ripped from his sweet children and wife and not a moment to say goodbye. One morning he left on his bike and all was calm, normal. And then the storm. I will never know the ravage that ripped at this family from the moment they heard their daddy wasn't coming home. I will never fathom the depths of grief that wife and mother felt when she lay that first night in a bed empty of the man who loved her all those years. But I bore witness to their tears. We picture how our lives will be--whether we mean to or not. And most of us don't picture the storms. Acts 27:14 tells us that not long after the flutters of south wind passed by "a hurricane-force wind called the northeaster blew down from the island. When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along." I've never been on a ship in a storm, but I have given way to the powerful rapids of a river. I've been carried unwillingly to the place of the water's whims. What is incredible in this passage to me is that word driven. The Greek word indicates that they were no longer in control--the storm was now driving that ship. I can see that captain just as he releases the controls, hangs his head and turns his back on all human attempts to navigate that ship surrendered to the thrashing will of winds and waves. He had to come to the point of realizing he couldn't control where they were going or what would happen. Sometimes the storms in our lives are so intense, so powerful that we realize we are not in control. Driven by the force of the storm, we have no idea where we will end up. We need to know in those moments that though we are no longer in control it isn't the storm that dictates where we will land. It is our Father God who controls the winds and the rains of those storms. It is our Father who says to the wind "You may blow." and then later "Quiet. Peace be still." And it is our Father to whom those winds and rains always submit. We need to know in those moments that there is nothing that can thwart the purposes of our Heavenly Father in our lives and that He will accomplish all that He intends. (Is. 14:27) In that understanding comes a sense of release. A sense that when we've done all we can do, when we've prayed all we can pray, when we've done all things responsible, and when we've wept every tear left in our heart we can be still and know our Father reigns. Still. He reigns. (Ps. 46:10, Is. 52:7) Verse 18 says that they were "battered by the storm." The Greek word means that they were violently beaten by that storm and then verse 20 goes on to say something that just rips my heart up. "When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and a violent storm continued to batter us, we finally abandoned all hope of being saved." Those sailors needed the stars and the sun to navigate. They spent nearly fourteen days without seeing the light of day and you and I need to know when we are in the midst of dark hours of the soul that there are those who have gone before us. We're among a company of many who have passed through the black of night to see the Spirit of God reach down and rescue a heart that is without hope. Here's the thing--those sailors thought they needed the stars to navigate where they were going. But God does not need human mechanisms to bring about His plans for our lives and often He removes them to help us see that it is God who is at work within us. (Eph. 3:20) Scripture says they through their cargo overboard. They did everything they could to lighten the load. We do that too, don't we? When we sense the magnitude of the storm we begin to lighten our loads. We'll do whatever it takes to stay afloat. Suddenly superficial things become insignificant--the things we thought we couldn't live without are cast over the ships of our lives without a second thought. Financial ruin? We don't need satellite TV. We don't need that second and third vehicle. We can live without going out to eat. In fact we can live without going shopping for anything but essential food. Marriages being ripped apart? Maybe I didn't need all that "me time" after all. Maybe all I really need is face to face time with the man I committed to marry. Maybe I really didn't need to win all those fights. Maybe I just needed to love him. Children struggling? Nothing else matters. We'll fast. We'll pray. We'll cancel every appointment, we'll leave work early and we'll call in every family member and counselor and pastor we know to give us advice. Because when a storm comes we see instantly all that really matters in our lives. In my opinion, that's a wonderful place to be. These sailors actually abandoned every shred of hope that they would be rescued. They were so convinced of their death that they actually quit eating. What, after all was the point of fueling a body doomed to be consumed by the ravenous jaws of the Mediterranean? Have you ever been through something so intense that you just really couldn't keep doing the things required for living? I mean there are griefs that can grip the heart of a man so deeply he no longer showers, he no longer cleans his house, he no longer gets out of bed. I've seen that grief in my days. And there are shocks that wave through families so powerful that they no longer go to church and they no longer get together with their friends. Who of us would be honest if we said we've never felt utterly without hope? And here's the funny thing--it doesn't take a tragedy to bring us to a place without hope. Sometimes the drudgery and constant gnawing of the day to day requirements of our lives brings us to the point of being so down that we just can't get up. It's at this point that Paul stands up--can you see them all there, faces in hands, numb, cold, wet and cavernous and empty without hope? There, strung about loosely along the deck of that ship no longer gazing into the charcoal horizon, they know the sun isn't going to break through before they are swallowed by the sea. It is to this group of sailors and fellow prisoners that Paul speaks these words: "Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss. And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you. Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told." On this day, in this hour in your life I don't know what situation through which you may be journeying, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the promises in God's Word remain true. I love that Paul said he was confident it would be just as he had been told. In other words he was insisting that whatever God said would come to pass. This is the truth of our lives too--what God says is true. Period. No matter what waves are standing higher than the sun in our lives, no matter what rain has ripped at our faces until we are blinded by the impact. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen." (Heb. 11:1) We stand not on what is before us, but on the guarantees of the God who promises to never leave, to never forsake, to be with us through the valley of the shadows of death, to be an ever present help in times of trouble, to be near the broken hearted, to comfort, to love. You'll never find me dancing a jig of joy in the face of a storm, but I pray that you'll find me believing still in the pure and perfect goodness of my Father. Pray with me: God, you have taken through storms. You've brought me to the other side. You have proven that you will not leave me or abandon me to the ravages and disappointments of this life. Help me Lord to believe when my heart doesn't want to, doesn't have the strength to anymore. Lord, help me to honor you with my belief--to proclaim to a world that you remain the hope of all nations. Jesus, it is you that lives through me. Help me to surrender to the power of your life within. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 42

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sailing into the Storm

What human who has cast a glance seaward has not forever been impacted by the liquid-gems poured out for miles that surpass the sight line? The sea. My forefathers crafted wooden ships that would navigate the prism waters and sailed the seas with skill. I suppose it is in my blood though I've never sailed. So the story recorded in Acts 27 and 28 holds particular appeal to me because of the setting--The Mediterranean Sea. Guilty only of loving his Jesus, Paul finds himself a prisoner on a journey across the Sea to plead his case before Caesar. It's late in the year and Julius the Centurion in charge of Paul along with the sailors knew that though they had orders to deliver this and other prisoners to Caesar, embarking on a journey this long was dangerous. And yet, they set sail. If you will, walk with me through this passage a while. The first few verses use phrases like, "sailed slowly,"or "sailed under the lee" and "sailed along the coast." These skilled sailors were scared. They knew the dangers that surrounded them and they hovered along the coastlines of various islands and cities in hope of being sheltered from vicious winds. I love that they played it safe. We are so similar aren't we? We make sure we have 401k's and we take our multi-vitamins. We carry life insurance and look for jobs that provide benefit packages. Sure, it's common sense to do those things, but it's also playing it safe. Wouldn't you agree? If there is a natural shelter available, we're gonna sail the ships of our lives pretty near it aren't we? And there's nothing wrong with that at all--in fact I'd probably call it being wise stewards of our lives. When my husband and I moved from Ontario back to Georgia to be nearer my family one of the things that we gave up was the shelter of health insurance. We purchased it for our children, but not for ourselves. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel completely vulnerable. There isn't a morning that passes that I don't pray for God's protection over Jeff and that I don't look forward to the day when we again will have the harbor of insurance. But here's the thing--I know of so many people without health insurance for whom God has provided their medical needs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. In God's economy He just provides. Whether He provides through Bluecross/Blueshield or through an agency that helps people with cancer the bottom line is that it is still God who has provided. "And my God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19) As humans we like to compartmentalize provision and say that out of the ordinary provision is from God and the rest is just us taking care of ourselves. Surely God laughs at our audacity to actually think that anything we have could have found its source in anything other than His gracious hand. Scripture says that their sailing became difficult along the coast of Crete as they headed into the beginning of October. Paul knew that their lives were in danger and though he was a prisoner, he wasn't afraid to mention his concerns. "Men, I can see the voyage is going to end in disaster and great loss not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." (Acts 27:10) Proverbs 22:3 says, "A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but a simple man keeps going and suffers for it." It's ironic that the captain and owner of the ship--the individuals who should have known better--both insisted that they should continue on this voyage. The greatest expert in our lives is the Spirit of God and yet so often we ignore his still small voice and listen to the voices of those around us. Spiritually speaking any course we take that poses even one iota of threat to our walk with God is a dangerous sea on which to sail. I'm talking about buying that one item on credit because next year we think we'll have the money to pay for it. I'm talking about gossiping just that one time because that morsel of news is just eating a hole in our tongue and we're dying to share it. While taking that course may not have immediate implications, we are opening the door to loss not necessarily of physical life, but definitely of abundant life. So they continue on their journey and "when a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they could carry out their purpose, so they weighed anchor and sailed close along the coast of Crete." (Acts 27:13) Here they are sailing and what relief they must have felt when that south wind began to cool their faces as they stood on deck--that reassuring calm that gave them confidence they'd be okay despite the facts they knew to be true about sailing this late in the season. We all know the expression "it's the calm before the storm." It was. Here in the mountains of northern Georgia, the wings of Appalachia, we enjoyed several years of economic calm--houses going up, construction booming, new restaurants opening, people buying bigger trucks, more equipment, more, more, more. It wasn't sustainable growth and surely people knew the facts. It doesn't take a genius to realize that houses can't double in value every three years forever. Yet so few saw danger and took any sort of preparatory refuge. Often in our families we have prolonged periods of calm--everything seems wonderful--the kids are doing well in school, they're doing well with friends. Or in our marriages--we've been getting along well, we enjoy each other's company. Or in our churches--the new building is going up, offerings are coming in regularly, people like the new youth pastor. Calm. But are we prepared for the storm? The reality is that storms come. They do. We may have relative quiet for years, but in our lifetime we will face storms. This passage is so powerful because Paul faced the storm and lived to tell his story and somehow amidst all that he goes through, His faith in God remains the anchor that holds. We'll continue this story, but for now, let me just ask in what harbor do you seek refuge? Because here's the thing--there is shelter in the God who has loved you with an everlasting love. His arms will not fail in times of trouble. On this you can stand. Pray with me: Father, show me the areas in my life where I am enjoying relative calm and need to prepare for what may lie ahead. I know you told me in your Word that in this world I would have trouble, but to be of good cheer for You have overcome the world. Teach me to take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Teach me to seek harbor not in the coastline of worldly protection but in the shadow of You, the Most High God. Thank you that your Word promises you are with me always even in the shadow of death. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 91:1 Jeremiah 31:3 We'll continue to sail...I hope you'll join me again for part 2.