I Got Nothin”

Twirling a pen in my hand I just sat there. I stared at the card in front of me, waiting for an idea, for something, anything, to say. A few words popped into my brain but they seemed trite and shallow. So I sat there, staring at the card waiting for the right words but I got nothin’.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to sign way too many greeting cards. Generally I like choosing and signing cards but this most recent batch were all for the unhappy occasions of life: Get Well, Thinking of You, and the saddest, With Sympathy.

What is there to say when the news is bad/sad? When you know the person receiving the card is struggling and in pain, physically, emotionally or both? What do you say when the person is standing in front of you with tears in their eyes?

Other peoples pain can take us by surprise, leaving us at a loss for words, uncertain how to acknowledge their sorrow, how to support, not knowing what to say or do. My heart hurts for the other person and I have that sinking feeling of frustration; that any words I might say trivialize their pain. There are times when silence is best, a hug, a comforting touch might be all that is needed and wanted but there has to be some verbal or written response, some words of understanding, some acknowledgement…

In the midst of pain our hearts cry out for comfort, for an answer or reason, for hope that the pain serves some purpose and that life is not meaningless. I always pause; I don’t want to say or write anything stupid and I don’t want to make the situation worse. I want to be sincere and genuine; I can’t know exactly how the other person feels but I do know what it feels like to lose someone, to be afraid, to worry. I want my few words to be comforting, positive and hopeful.

The Bible has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows; He knows what if feels like to be lonely, rejected, mocked and tortured. Many of the psalms are vivid descriptions of the authors’ fears, despair and pain. Many of those who wrote and are written about in the Bible experienced great loss and prolonged suffering.

Through all of the sorrow and challenge in the Bible runs a long and unbroken thread of hope; the hope of a better life, of an eternal home, of a promised Messiah, of blessing, of purpose. The hope spoken of and demonstrated in familiar Bible stories is not just a vague wish but also the absolute certainty that God has permitted every experience, good and bad. It is a sure hope for those who trust Him and believe in Jesus that God has a plan and His plan is for our good.

But, sometimes God’s Word is not welcomed or wanted and even openly opposed. It makes me profoundly sad that His words of comfort and strength cannot be shared and that is why it has been so difficult to sign the cards, to say the words. All the “acceptable” words, the “politically correct” words (whatever those are) have no real meaning or substance and everything the world offers is only temporary.

When I cannot share the hope of heaven, the love of God, His plan, His comfort, His peace, His presence, His eternal and greater purpose there truly is no meaningful hope I can offer, no words of lasting comfort.   Apart from God, from Jesus and His Word,

I got nothin’…

 

Whom have I in heaven but you and besides you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Warning – Acts 27

Soon after moving to Florida, I was greeted by several serious looking men as I entered church one Sunday.  The men were distributing a large and ominous looking flyer entitled, “Will You Be Ready?”  What?  Is it the end?  Armageddon?  Nope, this is Florida and the men were part of my church’s Disaster Recovery Team and the flyer a guide to hurricane preparedness.  Hurricanes are serious business in Florida!

Technology can tell us that a major storm is imminent but what about the storms of life?  That diagnosis we didn’t expect to hear, the spouse who just walks out, the child who is on the path of self-destruction sometimes we get blind-sided but sometimes we are forced to realize that there have been hints and we just did not recognize the signs.

We’re Warned

Paul, the great traveler is now a prisoner in Caesarea and is ordered to Rome; as a Roman citizen he has appealed for a hearing before Caesar.  Winter is approaching and sailing conditions are not ideal, Paul warns against the journey but his warning is disregarded.  Are you being warned of an approaching storm?  A friend tries to confront you about your choices and behavior.  The principal of your son or daughter’s school calls you again to discuss their behavior in class. A persistent cough does not go away, your spouse wants you to see your doctor.  Your spouse is always angry, never home, unavailable by phone and in person.

Look for a Nugget

The sailors and crew decide that weather conditions seem conducive to sailing, they ignore Paul’s warning and set sail.  When criticized or told about a possible problem don’t immediately react defensively or in anger.  Not all criticism is valid but sometimes a nugget of truth, a warning, is buried in words that seem harsh or judgmental – not always, but give it some thought before dismissing it.

We Pull Up Our “Big Girl Panties”

Faced with a “life-storm”, we think, “Ok, I can get through this, I’m tough”  or maybe we create a plan of action to “solve the problem”.  Sometimes we are told, “Keep your chin up.”  “You can do it.”  “Act like a grown-up.”  Any or all of these might work for a short time especially if it is not a big storm.  But for Paul and the men on the ship, when the storm hits it hits big – a major Nor’easter.  As the ship begins to fall apart they use cables and ropes to undergird the ship, hoping to keep the ship in one piece.

We Compromise

We attempt to make deals with God, “God if you just get me through this I will never ask for anything again, I’ll start going to church again, etc.”  We make deals with ourselves, “I will only drink on week-ends.”  We make deals with others, “If you just stay in school you can hang out with your friends on week-ends.”  “I will only call you in an emergency.”  The sailors jettison all the cargo on the ship, hoping to lighten the load.

We Change Our Behavior

Next the sailors toss off all the ship’s tackle; they get rid of the tools they need to sail the ship.  We return to church, we pray and read our Bibles.  We give up smoking and start jogging.  We start cooking elaborate dinners and make sure our spouse knows dinner will on the table at 6.  We search the internet looking for 5 easy steps to health, happiness and self-improvement and jump right to step 5.  We stop drinking or maybe we start, just to calm down.

We Despair

God seems silent, our prayers are not being answered.  It is too cold, too hot, too rainy, too snowy, my calves hurt too much to jog.  The first night our spouse is late, we smile.  The second night when our spouse doesn’t arrive until 8, we seethe.  The third night we throw out the dinner and eat cereal from the box.  We give up.  We have tried everything we know to do, everything the internet has advised.  We enter the dark pit of abandonment, frustration, and despair.  The ship that Paul is traveling on breaks apart completely – all of their effort to save the ship and themselves has failed.

God will sometimes allow the foundation we have constructed to fall apart.  The sailors in Acts 27 depended on their ship to get them to Rome, in the midst of the storm, as the ship split and shattered, they abandoned hope.  Has your foundation been crumbling?  Are you down to one or two bricks?  The foundation of “doing the right thing”, “being good enough”, “a big bank account” – if you are building your life on things or appearances it can and will fall apart in the storm.

Paul shares the vision he was given and reminds his ship-mates to hold fast to God’s promises.  In the storms of life we need to remember the vision and the promises God has given us.  The Bible gives each of us a vision – a picture – of heaven, our future, eternal home.  A place full of God, His peace and joy, a place where there are no more tears, suffering or pain.  Each of us has also received many promises.  Promises that God will be with us through the storms, that He hears our cries, that all things work to our good.

Ultimately, Paul, the other prisoners, the soldiers and sailors reach land, and all of them survive the shipwreck and the storm.  I don’t know the storm you are facing today.  Some storms are so intense, so devastating that it seems hopeless.  But to those who believe in Jesus, we have a sure and certain hope.  Don’t despair, cry out to God, trust His promises, the One who calmed the storm and walked on water will run to you!

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Let Me Use Your Words

My eyes open and I know something is very wrong. I am gripped with anxiety. I had a restless night, had trouble falling asleep, tried the couch for a while, drifted off, awoke, went back to bed, fell asleep again and woke at the first glimmer of daylight.

Tired and anxious with a “low-grade” headache, and an unsettled stomach, I took several deep breaths trying calm down.

Walking is a stress reliever for me so I go out and walk. That remedy, usually a sure thing, fails me. My husband asks me what’s wrong but that adds to my distress since the only answer I have sounds lame and whiny, “I don’t know!”

I have been learning the importance of regularly pouring my heart out to God; pouring it all out, the good the bad and the ugly. I take my laptop and start writing, a total free-write. I just type out everything that’s swirling around in my anxiety-ridden brain. I close my eyes some of the time and cry a lot of that time. I talk aloud as I type. I know I have to continue until I feel peace. I run out of words but my mind is still racing. Now what?

I pick up my Bible and turn to Psalm 142. I begin to type the psalm, saying the words aloud as I type. Time passes; I pray and type the psalm at least 3 times before I feel the burden lift.

Is this some kind of magical charm or guaranteed prayer formula – ABSOLUTELY NOT!!   I was not just “saying words”, I was saying God’s Word; this was a deeply personal and prayerful conversation between God and I.  Just as David was pleading for God to hear him, to help him, to release him, I was pleading with God to hear me, for peace, for calm, for deliverance.   I had run out of my own words so I used David’s.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my laptop but I sat there long enough, I prayed long enough, I talked with God long enough that the peace I had sought now replaced the anxiety that had me crippled and powerless. I deleted the conversation, it is private, between me and My King and now, it is settled.

Some hours later I realized why I was so anxious and I was able to deal with the very small issue that had paralyzed me. I believe God wanted me to see how gloriously dependent on Him I am and how His Word is the answer; He was testing me to see if I was going to put into practice what He had been teaching me. I passed the test.

Next time you find yourself anxious or struggling with a problem or person I encourage you to pour out your heart to God and open your Bible. The Psalms in particular are a treasure trove expressing every human emotion. Read a psalm, using the author’s words to talk to God. Write the psalm, take your time and think about the words, tell God how you feel. He is waiting to hear from you, to bring you peace.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. Psalm 142:1,2

Atomic Reactions – John 12

PIZZA! Bet you had some reaction to that word!   Maybe you are a pizza maniac (Yes!) – as soon as you saw ‘pizza’ you started to think about getting a slice. Maybe you don’t like pizza (excuse me but that is a literal impossibility!!), so when you saw pizza your reaction was, “YUK”. (Again, literal impossibility.)   No matter what opinion you have about pizza, the word itself causes a thought, an emotion and/or a salivary gland response!

JESUS. What reaction do you have to this word, this name? For thirty-three short years, Jesus lived on the earth. During the last three of those years He went where His Father told Him to go, said what His Father told Him to say and healed those His Father told Him to heal. Every place and person who met him and many who only heard about Him had a reaction to Him.

  • Lazarus (v1) – heard of him, Jesus had raised him from the dead in John, Chapter 11. We find him in Chapter 12 reclining with Jesus at dinner; at peace, comfortable with Jesus.
  • Martha (v2) – she witnessed the resurrection of her brother, Lazarus. In Chapter 12, she is simply being herself, relaxed, serving dinner to Jesus.
  • Mary (v3) – Martha’s sister and a witness to her brother’s resurrection. Now, she is covering Jesus’s feet with perfume, wiping it with her hair; demonstrating her lavish devotion to Jesus.
  • Judas (v4) – his criticism of Mary’s actions, his false concern over money, was his attempt to hide his real agenda, to betray Jesus in just a few more days.
  • The large crowd (v9) – curiosity seekers, heard that Jesus was there but really wanting to see the dead man walking, Lazarus – the paparazzi of their day!
  • The large crowd (v12) – they were looking for a King; thinking Jesus would bring an earthly kingdom and free them from Roman rule.
  • People who witnessed (v17) – like CNN, on the scene with their report; they were more interested in reporting a miracle, not the Miracle-worker! Perhaps there were some who truly testified about Jesus.
  • People who heard (v18) – self-seekers, heard the news and wondered if there was something in it for them, seeking miracles, perhaps some were sincere seekers of Jesus!
  • Pharisees (v19) – full of jealousy, fearful of losing their positions of power and the respect of the people.
  • Greeks (v20) – they came for the feast and decided to seek Jesus; some for Jesus sake, others for curiosity.
  • Philip and Andrew (v22) – uncertain, they decide to just go directly to Jesus.
  • Crowd of listeners (v29 & 37) – some heard thunder, others angels, some saw many signs, “yet they were not believing in Him.”
  • Many rulers (v42, 43) – believed in Jesus but were not confessing Him because of their fear and “they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

Each one of these people described in John 12 had a reaction to Jesus and His words. People today continue to react to Jesus. What is your reaction to Him?  Are you simply curious like some in the crowd? Are you angry like the Pharisees? Do you hide your reaction, fearing what others might think if they knew you were interested in Jesus? Do you reject Him, like Judas?  Can you rest beside Him like Lazarus? Serve in quiet obedience like Martha? Do you run to Him with all your questions like Andrew and Philip? Do you weep at His feet like Mary? Whatever your reaction, talk to Him. Ask Him for understanding, that is all prayer is; a conversation with God. Don’t say you don’t have a reaction; even indifference is a reaction! Jesus never told anyone what to think; He simply spoke the truth. Your reaction, your response to Jesus is up to you. What reaction will you choose?

So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” John 12:35,36

Writing 101 – Death to Adverbs

Today’s challenge: Go to a public place and write a detailed account of what you see. The twist – no adverbs allowed!

A warm breeze caresses me, temperatures have started to go down in this part of Florida – the oppressive heat and humidity of summer will soon be a memory. Dragonflies flit at the water’s edge, dipping down to the surface. A quick touch, and then, back into the air; back and forth, flying knitting needles, weaving the fabric of another day.

So many birds in this place, I wish I knew more of your names. Many are dozing under the trees, hoarding their patch of shade. A few call to each other from among the branches. Several larger birds, white, gleaming white with black tipped wings argue among themselves, quarreling over who gets to stay on the bench.  Preening and cleaning, using their long curved bright orange bills. Their bills look like some medieval instrument of torture; they use them constantly ruffling and then smoothing their feathers.

There are other large, white birds in this place, stocky, sturdy with long, thin legs. They maintain their distance, aloof. Their chins tucked down into their bodies, by turns, grumpy and judgmental, too superior and mature to join in silly bird arguments. Large heads, dusty black with elongated black beaks; the beaks curve downward, like scimitars, cruel, efficient at finding dinner in the murky water. Bald, nasty looking birds, there are no feathers on their heads, only black skin, coarse, leathery skin, like old men who have spent too much time baking themselves in the hot, Florida sunshine.

Short round brown birds, their heads are so tiny in relation to their brown bodies. Suede-like feathers, they look so soft with their plump little bodies balanced on their short and tiny birdie legs. They move to and fro, pecking at the ground. What are they looking for?

Squirrels, tree rats, I hate them – they are too bold, not afraid to come close looking for crumbs and bits. Their rodent faces disgust and terrify me, grey tails twitching, flicking, some secret message I don’t understand. They inch their way closer and closer, sniffing the air, hoping for a crust of bread, a squirrel-y treat. I see menace in those flat black eyes – dead, shark-like eyes – get away from me!

Only a few walkers are out in the heat of the day, striding with determination around the small lake. Arms swinging, feet flashing by in their colorful sneakers, dedicated to burning off the calories, becoming “heart-healthy”. My favorites are the residents of the nearby “mature adult community”; ladies chattering, louder than the birds, sharing the latest gossip in their brightly colored outfits. Their workout costumes always match, bright colored jackets and pants, carefully chosen for this semi-tropical area. Turquoise, pink, sneakers match too! Make sure you wear your hat, must be a large-brimmed hat, love the warmth but avoid the sun, fearing carcinoma, melanoma, the dangers and perils of modern life. A few “working people”, easily recognizable in the dress shirts, long, sharply creased pants, shiny shoes.   A few minutes respite from the artificial indoor air, the telephone, the questions, the quotas, the computer screen. Got to see something real, something green, eat my lunch in peace.

“Mommy, Mommy!” her cries pierce the air, desperate, panicking. A frantic search for the source of the cries, my eyes pan and scan the water’s edge. What is happening? Then, I see her, dangling, arms stretched to the breaking point, feet kicking. She hangs from a bar over in the playground. She climbed her way out, just one more inch, one more inch and now, her feet dangle too far from the ground for her comfort. Mommy scurries into view, in full super-hero rescuer mode. Mom throws her arm around the girl’s tiny waist, “Don’t worry, I have you now”. Mommy does it again! Thank God for mommies!

The water moves in the gentle wind; a single small bird glides across the surface and into view.  The motion here is constant, but the sense of peace, of calm is pervasive.

A small park, in a small town, on a sunny day, in the middle of an afternoon.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27