Excellent Harmonies

 

Stress kills.  We hear about it all the time.  Our doctors remind us at each visit, we can’t help but hear about it in the news, in the paper, and  in casual conversation.  An article I just read: Concern about stress’ effects on health increases brought me back to stressing about stress.  If I am stressed about stress, and you’re stressing about stress, then we’re not putting our focus where it needs to be: living as Christ’s disciples in the world.

Yes, we say… we should stress less.  We should live our faith more.  Yes, but…

In scripture, God gives us a solution.

Give this a try?

1. The passage below is from The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible. 

Philippians 4:6-9

 6-7Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

 8-9Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

2.  Consider one worry or stressor that you have today.  How are you dealing with it? Do you know why you deal with these things the way you do? 

3. Pray.  Stretch yourself by sitting in silence for a few minutes.  Breathe deeply, close your eyes, quiet your mind.  Feel the presence of God.  Express to God your concern.  Yes, God knows the situation better than you do- but even still- tell God all about it: every detail.  How is this stressor affecting other parts of your life?  What are you afraid might happen?  Whether rational or irrational, share your fear with God. 

4. Stop.  Just because you’ve finished praying doesn’t mean that you’re finished:  Reflect on the attributes of God.  How do the elements of God relate to your current situation?  What do they teach you or remind you about God? 

Well?

Did breathing, praying and contemplating the great God that we serve-that serves us- help?   “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” [Phil. 4:7, NRSV].

When You Pass Through The Waters…

The 43rd psalm is one of my favorites and I’m very excited to be talking about it this Sunday during worship.  The scripture is below.  Replace “Jacob” and “Israel” with your own name- that, too, is a fair reading of the passage.  Look at what it says.

 

Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)

 

 

But now thus says the Lord,
   he who created you, O Jacob,
   he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
   Ethiopia* and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
   and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
   nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
   I will bring your offspring from the east,
   and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
   and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
   and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
   whom I created for my glory,
   whom I formed and made.’

 

 

God has promised to never abandon us.  He extends to us incredible grace and mercy.  We belong to God- and this should be a source of great peace for us all.  God’s love for us and dedication to us do not change with life’s trials or  with life’s triumphs.  Fear not! 

…This doesn’t mean, however, that storms will not rage.  God DOES NOT ever say that we won’t face the deep, dark waters of life’s difficulties.   What is clear, though is that we won’t drown: the Lord will be with us.

And knowledge as simple as that is often enough to encourage us as we work to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called (Eph. 4:1).”  Something as simple as being called out- called by name by the living God- sometimes that’s all we need. 

 

 

 

 

The “Blest-Case” Scenario

 A few years back, my wife, ever mindful of my best interests (and then some), bought me a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht.  This relatively short book purports to give step-by-step instructions for surviving several “dire situations,” among them:

  • How to survive if your parachute fails to open
  • How to escape from killer bees
  • How to fend off a shark (contrary to one popular method, you don’t punch a shark on the nose, but jab at their eyes or gills)
  • How to jump from a building into a dumpster… treat a leg fracture… and so on.

But, for me, the worst of the worst-case scenarios by far is How to land a plane if the pilot has been incapacitated.  Step one?  Raise someone on the radio to talk you through the proper landing procedures.  Otherwise, you have to land it by yourself, and things get a WEE bit complicated. 

The Good News this day, for eternity, is that God has sent Jesus Christ into our scenarios, with the promise to see us through the worst.  Jesus, conquering death by death, assures us that God is for us, with us, ABIDING in us.  In Christ, God will impart hope and strength for our darkest, most dire moments.

This experience of the living Christ empowers the apostle to write to the Philippian church of his contentment and confidence:  “in any and all circumstances [scenarios]… I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:12-13).   

I pray you never have to… “wrestle free from an alligator… leap from a motorcycle to a car…survive adrift at sea…,” but I know you will be tested and tried in your life.  We will all cope with hardship and we all contend with death.  Christ Jesus is with us to overcome sin, fear, and, yes, the worst-case scenario.  

Through Jesus Christ, we are all granted a “Blest-Case Scenario”.

The Main Thing

Last Sunday, Dennis preached on Micah 6:8.  A line he said- to be fair, a line that he often says-stuck with me.   “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.”  I know it sounds a little silly, a little obvious, but I find that I allow things that aren’t the main thing to take the main spot in my life. Without thinking, I fall into a pattern of busyness and ‘getting things done’ and forget who I am and what I am called to be.

I have been told what should matter to me by the prophet in Micah 6:8.  “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  The problem is me.  Look at what I said before.  “Without thinking, I fall into a pattern…”  

I am not stopping to think. 

I am too busy believing that I am what should matter. 

Ouch.

It hurts to be told and to hear the truth.  It hurts, but it is so very necessary.  To grow and mature, we have to be willing to be hit with the fact that we are not the most important thing in the world and we are not supposed to act as though we are.  We have to remember that Christ was willing to humble himself to come to earth- to live and to die for us.  Why is it such a struggle for us to live humbly as his followers?

Were I to take the time to stop, to think… I would remember who I am.  I am a child… a child of God and a servant.  I am called to do great things (justice, kindness), but these things all have to be done humbly, and with God for them to be great. 

May the Holy Spirit guide us today and every day as we seek to keep God at the center of our lives.  Amen.

A Household Name

 
 God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name. 

 Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
      toddlers shout the songs
   That drown out enemy talk,
      and silence atheist babble. 

  I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
      your handmade sky-jewelry,
   Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
      Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
   Why do you bother with us?
      Why take a second look our way? 

  Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
      bright with Eden’s dawn light.
   You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
      repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
   Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
      even animals out in the wild,
   Birds flying and fish swimming,
      whales singing in the ocean deeps. 

 God, brilliant Lord,
      your name echoes around the world.

 

Psalm 8 (above) reveals that the earth and the skies sing praises to God.  Infants in their gargling drown out nay-sayers.  Animals raise whatever voices they have to the living Lord. [The above painting is called “Psalm 8” and is by Elizabeth Kindall while the scripture translation of Psalm 8 comes  from The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language]

Do you talk- not just to God, but about God at your house? 

Last Sunday, I preached about Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3) and what it means to us.  We remembered how Jesus was revealed as God’s beloved Son when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River.  As his followers, we noted that we received our identity as God’s beloved children in our baptisms as well.   The incredible gift of a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ brings with it a weighty responsibility. As we remember the incredible God who lived and died for us, we are called to live and die for our incredible God. 

The God that we serve is more astounding than we can even say– but there’s no shame in trying!  I dare you to strike up a conversation with your family about the attributes of God.  You might be surprised what you hear. 

 

Epiphany

Today, January 6th is the date the Christian church has set aside to celebrate Epiphany the coming of the Magi to the Christ child.

The gospel of Matthew is the only place where we read an account of the “Star of Wonder” and the coming of the Wise Men.  The star is a powerful symbol of God’s love made visible to all who live and look in the darkness.  It provides the illumination that will give those who are wise directions to the Savior. 

What are the stars that illumine our paths today? 

Do they direct us to the Savior?

Are we awed by a starry night or too busy to look up? 

What does it take to get our attention?

It seems to me that at Epiphany, especially, we should expect to be amazed- to open ourselves and our hearts to that which is incredible, that which is unexpected.  To do this, we need to stop and be silent, and to watch for God’s signs.  Once we recognize God’s signs, are we willing to follow? 

Are we willing to have an epiphany? 

The word epiphany is defined as, “a realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something or someone.” Also, it is an, “inspired understanding arising from connecting with profound insight, awareness or enlightened truth.”  Let’s try to follow that star and connect with God’s love shining forth in Jesus Christ.  May we be open to experiencing our own epiphany this Epiphany.