We Choose to Follow Jesus

What did we talk about last Sunday? You might remember the Parables of the Talents, The Legend of Bagger Vance or the quotes on success from Larry Bird or Queen Elizabeth II, but the main point was when God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something and fear is the main thing that holds us back.
Our scripture this morning is Luke 19:1-10.
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Did you ever climb trees as a kid? We had a magnolia tree in a neighbor’s backyard that was perfect for climbing. If you know anything about magnolia trees, their branches are close together, which makes it an easy tree to climb. We spent many afternoon of my childhood climbing trees.

That’s why the story of Zacchaeus has always fascinated me. The story of Zacchaeus is familiar to many of us. He was the short guy who had to climb a tree to see Jesus. There’s even a song that we sang in Sunday school about him.  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. Jesus said, “You come down for I’m coming to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.” I can’t believe after all these years I still remember that.

Zacchaeus wasn’t the funny short guy climbing in a tree that I pictured in my mind’s eye as a child. He wasn’t the wee leprechaun that I imagine when using the word “wee.”  He’s the chief tax collector. Zacchaeus doesn’t need to be told he’s a sinner. Society’s already made that clear. He doesn’t need people to tell him he’s an outcast. He already feels it.
The English word sin is used to translate at least six Hebrew and seven Greek words. Soren Kierkegaard defines sin this way. “Sin is the steadfast refusal to be your one true self.” That is a very different understanding than the typical definition of sin. Evigras of Pontus’ understanding of sin is that sin is a “forgetfulness of God’s goodness.” Jesus actively sought out sinners and made room at the table for them, he was searching them out reminding them of God’s love specifically for them.
You would think that the religious people would get used to Jesus hanging out with the social outcasts, lepers, women of ill repute, tax collectors, dirty and smelly fisherman, but they didn’t catch on at all. That he picked them continually only seemed to make them more angry and haughty. They reject any idea that he would pick THOSE people over them. He CHOOSES to hang out with sinners and NOT the hyper religious or wealthy. They are surprised by this EVERY time. I want to shake my head and ask, “Don’t you get it?” Jesus chooses to go where no one else would go. Jesus chooses the least, the last, and the low. Jesus chooses the ones what society stamps “not good enough.” Jesus chooses us sinners. In verse 10, it says Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost. Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he was getting a “reputation” for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Everyone that he encountered, he saw as a person in need of God’s love, even the Pharisees.
If they would stop looking down their noses and judging, they would realize we’re all in need of God’s grace and mercy because in fact, we’re ALL sinners. They probably didn’t like when he said in Luke 6, “37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Or “41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” A good and challenging word for today. As Mother Teresa says, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

I’d like to tell you a story, “There was a young, intelligent university student named Bill. Bill was what some people call a “free spirit” or “hippie.” He had wild long hair, always wore the same old and torn T-shirt, jeans and no shoes. Across the street from the university campus was a church. The people there were rich, older and well-dressed. They wanted to help the university students nearby, but they did not know exactly how to do it.

Well, one day Bill decided to go visit this church by his university. As usual, he went wearing his only jeans, old, torn T-shirt and his dirty long hair. The church service had already started and was full, so Bill walked down the center aisle looking for a seat. People were getting more and more uncomfortable as they watched this unclean, wild-looking young man. Finally, Bill got to the front and saw there were no more empty seats, so he just sat down on the floor right in front of the preacher. No one had ever done that in this church before! By now, everyone was upset and distracted.
Then, a respected old church deacon got up and started toward the front. Everyone was thinking: “You can’t blame the deacon, he really should correct this disrespectful young man.” Everyone was watching. Even the preacher stopped his sermon when the old man finally got to the front. Then, they were all completely surprised to see the old deacon drop his walking stick and very slowly sit down on the floor next to this young hippie. He did not want this young man to sit alone and feel unaccepted. The people in the church were moved to tears. Finally, the preacher said: “What I am preaching about today you will probably never remember. But what you have just seen you will never forget!””

Jesus came for all of us. It doesn’t say, “For God so loved some of the world…” The great God of the universe came down and was Emmanuel God with us and he seeks relationships with each of us. Just as Harry seeks the horcruxes in the later books of the Harry Potter series, just like they seek the ring of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just like they seek the Lost Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, the and they seek treasure in the Mummy, National Treasure, and the Goonies, our Lord SEEKS us. And we don’t have to hide who or what we are. God knows us. God knows when we sit and when we rise. We are sinners. We are lost. We don’t have to put on our masks every day that we put on for work or school. We don’t have to hide behind our answer of “fine” when someone asks how we’re doing. With God we can let our guard down. God already knows the things that we’d rather keep hidden. What we’re worried about, our hopes, fears, and dreams. That can be freeing for some people and it should give hope to ALL of us because Romans 3:23-24 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We have all fallen short. None of us immune. It is a free gift of grace through Jesus.

This is a poem by Roberta Porter. It’s called “Transforming Love.”
“God wants our lives –
Not Sunday morning shiny,
But all of the fragments of our failures,
Shards of struggle and sin
We’ve gathered, hidden, on our way.
And in Jesus’ transforming love,
His willing brokenness, sacrifice, rising,
Our sorrow and pain become gifts
To be used for others,
Our weakness the dwelling place
For the Spirit’s strength,
Our broken-open lives
Bearers of God’s grace.”

We’re not perfect. None of us are. At least Zacchaeus was aware of his sinfulness. He was aware that he needed saving. As C S Lewis perceptively wrote in his classic book, Mere Christianity:  “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” It doesn’t say in the text when Zacchaeus made a change of heart – if it was when he saw Jesus, when Jesus recognized him worthy to speak to him, actually when he invited him down from the tree, or as he was climbing down the tree, but it’s clear that this is a lifestyle change. It’s clear that he has repented.
He says in verse 8, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” It was biblical custom to only pay them back twice as much, so he’s going above and beyond because of this encounter with Jesus.
How do we encounter Jesus? Do we pretend to not see him and not meet his eyes? Or do we ignore his voice by putting our fingers and doing what we want? Do we even consciously admit to being sinful or do we push that aside because it’s distasteful? Or are we so oblivious to our own faults like the Pharisees? Maybe Jesus liked to hang out with sinners because they were real. They chose to be honest about their flaws or growing edges. Zaccheaus chose to lay it all out there, repent, change, make amends and then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus’ are obviously “out there” – the social misfits, the humans that wound each other, the anarchists, the people on the fringes or outside society’s norms, BUT there’s a bit of Zacchaeus in all of us. We’re all Zacchaeus. Jesus would have come into the world for any one of us. We all have worries and fears. It’s okay. Like the parable of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep. All for one.

God will give you the evidence you need to help you believe. Like in Luke 9:24, when the man of the child that Jesus is healing says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” One of the most profoundly honest prayer.  I believe, help my unbelief.  Just ask. Jesus desires a personal relationship with each one of us. That’s why before we even have understanding of it, God searches us out and draws us to God’s self in God’s prevenient grace. We recognize we’re in need of God’s grace – that that grace is for us – in justifying grace. God doesn’t leave us where we are in the mire and the muck. In God’s sanctifying grace, God helps us to grow and mature as Christians. God will give us the signs and the answers that we need to believe if we but ask him. God will answer our doubts and reassure you when you need it most. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
God’s heart reaches, searches, longs for EACH of us and meets our needs. If you don’t hear anything I say this morning, hear that. There are no outsiders because no one is out of the reach of the love of God. Nothing can separate us from it. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is a verse I cling to on my darkest nights.
Have y’all ever heard of cardboard testimonies? On one side of the cardboard you write what you’re struggling with and when you flip the cardboard over, you can see the power of God working in your life.

What would you write as your cardboard testimony? Do you live your life in such a way that people know your cardboard testimony without you even writing it down? Is it known that you’re a Christian? Or is it just known that you’re a nice person?
Bob Goff says, “Follow the footsteps of God. Walk (don’t just fall) in love. Love God. Be like Jesus.” How are we like Jesus? How are we to be Jesus to the world? I read an author once that said, “Love is the only power that can compel us to risk our own lives. And love is the only power that has the potential to heal all the wounds that human beings inflict upon one another.”
Love is the answer. Love God. Love people. It’s that simple.
We choose to follow Jesus. We choose to follow him because of his great love for us. Because he’s the answer to all of our quests, to all of our journeys, to all of our adventures. He’s the One that we’ve been waiting for and the world needs to know. Will you share it with them? Will you share it by living your life of faith out loud? The good, the bad, the ugly and the faithful. Growing in grace and growing the depth of our faith that the world may see and know that our God reigns and God’s grace is available to them without price, without strings attached. Tax Collectors. Prostitutes. You and Me.

LOVE – Songs of my Soul for Now

In an hour I go to the hospital for my second brain surgery and it feels super surreal to write that.  I wanted to post a quick blog before I go to say thank you to everyone who is praying and who has been supporting us.  We can feel your love and the community surrounding us!

I spent this past week with 30+ students from Gator Wesley touring around the state of Florida doing our Spring Tour – singing, dancing, rocking out, reading scripture and so much more.  There’s a song that they sing in one of the sets (and I love the mash up that they do) called “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit Band and one of the lines says, “There’s no place I’d rather be…but here in Your love…”  I’ve felt that from each of you.

Campus ministry is this crazy special place where things intersect – struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, silly Vine videos, lots of laughter, and experiences that both challenge and inspire. The students this week have inspired the heck out of me.  I’ve been ministered to in their music and their passion and their faith, and even more than that in their zest for life!  There weren’t many stops during this tour where I didn’t feel moved in some way and though I couldn’t figure out how to share that with them without becoming a blubbering hot mess, I want to let them know how special this week was for me.  Even the trampolines.  And the cold water of the spring when knocked off a raft.

Two of the songs that they’ve been singing are two favorites of mine that I’ve been holding dear over the past few weeks.  They didn’t know that when they picked the songs how much they have been resonating with me and yet again, I know that God is weaving all of this together in mighty ways.  The first is Meredith Andrews’ “Not for a Moment.”

And the second is by an amazing band that we hosted here at Gator Wesley called Bellarive.  It’s their song, “Taste of Eternity.”

These have been the songs of my heart.  Worship taps into a place that breaks down the barriers that we place.  It digs in between the walls that we’ve built to protect ourselves and the layers of stress and muck that this world provides.  May the scales on our hearts and our eyes be removed that we may see God more clearly and know God more fully, as God draws us to God’s self.  I know that no matter what happens today, I know that I am God’s and God is ever in the midst working things together for good.

Y’all have humbled me speechless with all of your texts, facebook messages, tweets, and cards and I hope that each of you feels the love, hugs, fist pumps, and high fives that we have for you!  Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Much love!

Cheers to a new haircut!

Grace and Peace,


Questioning God

A friend from high school sent me a facebook message the other night and her question gets at something I think that many of us struggle with. We each wonder about these things and reconcile it within us in different ways.

“Hey Narcie I hope you are doing well. I am sitting home tonight watching a special on 9/11. I’m not trying to question God but how did all those good people die that day? There are a lot of bad people in this world and they are still here. I know you aren’t suppose to question God. I just don’t understand and thought you could help me. Thanks for your time.”

My Response:
“I think God is big enough for all of our questions and that God welcomes those questions. Faith is faith, but it’s not blind faith where if you question – than you’re wrong or punished or unfaithful. We all have times of questioning God, especially whether God is good all the time or why terrible things happen or even just the mildly sucky things. I believe (and thankfully the United Methodist Church/Wesleyan theology believes) that God is good. God is a loving and just God and those two things can both be true. That when Adam and Eve made their choices in the garden and sin entered the world, that with that came free will and our choices for good and bad. That free will means that sometimes really evil people do terrible things – like crash planes into buildings or kidnap people, etc. It also means that all of creation is fallen as well – ie. earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Remember that text where Jesus is on a boat in the storm, and he “rebukes” the wind and the waves? If you were in control of everything, you wouldn’t have to rebuke it, right? It’s not saying that God can’t do whatever God wants – God is God. All powerful, all knowing, all present. God can paint the sky purple with green stripes if God wants. But it does to me mean that God doesn’t directly cause everything to happen. God is not some puppet master. God let’s us make choices and the people around us make choices, and consequences arise from those choices.

That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t work good out of the situations – because God does work things together for good. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care. Because God cares intimately about all of us. God wants to love and be in relationship with every single one of us. God hurt with those people. God hurts with the families still grieving. God is present with us in all the good, the bad, and the ugly.

That also doesn’t mean that God’s turning a blind eye and just set this thing in motion and then walked away. Now – I do wonder why God “allows” some things to happen and others not to. Or why it seems that God answers some prayers or miracles happen in some places, but not others. But I also know that we don’t always understand everything and that what we think are answers aren’t always…as well that consequences are consequences, even if it’s something we had nothing to do with. Yes, it’s not fair and yes, it sucks sometimes. And I think it’s fine if we say that. God knows that we feel that way. It’s not like we’re fooling God. God knows what we’re thinking and our hearts. And it’s not like people go around cheering saying, “Heck yes, I have cancer!” or “Isn’t it awesome that God made my husband cheat on me.” But we do wonder, why these things happen and how all of this works. We wonder about order and control and what all of it means. What I know for sure and for certain, our God is a God who loves us. God wants to know us. God doesn’t cause hurtful things to happen, but God walks with us and gives us encouragement and strength and grace and peace and perseverance in the midst of it all.

And the most beautiful thing for me – is that good does continue to win. Good does continue to conquer. And it happens all the time. Maybe not in ways that we want or expect, but eventually, sooner or later – God wins. Evil is defeated. Whether in this life or the next – evil is no more. And that’s pretty freakin awesome. When I go on trips or hear people’s stories and I see people who have had absolutely no reason to believe in God because they’ve had a cruddy time of it and yet they continue to persevere and believe – it’s amazing to me. I think that’s awesome. It’s a witness to us all. I also though think it’s awesome that we have a God that wants to know us and welcomes us as we are – whether angry, sad, questioning, frustrated or anything else. We each have adversity to deal with, some of us more visible than others, but we keep pushing through trusting in grace and love – even when we doubt the heck out of it.

Hope that makes sense. Prayers as we all wrestle with this today and in all that we do.”

What do you think? How would you answer the question?

The Power of Prayer

Intentional Prayer Time at International Justice Mission
I was reading some blog posts yesterday and one of the commentators asked another if he had prayed about a particular situation going on at his church. She wasn’t seeming to say it in a “jesus juke” fashion of trying to make him look/feel bad or in a way that said look at me the better Christian, but in a real, practical and honest way. It struck me at the time and I read the comment again. It began to challenge me as we live into the present and future of our personal lives, families, ministries, vocations, churches, etc. Have we – several times a day – intentional asked God to show us and lead us and guide us?

I admit that I am better at that sometime than others. I try to read my email version of the Upper Room when I get to the office every morning and I am one of those sometimes rare people that really like Christian music so I often listen to it in the car. I often have a pretty good indicator on how I’m feeling in connection to God by how often I steer clear of the Christian music stations or how often I just skim or delete the devotional. It’s not that I’m intentionally saying – I want some distance between me and God right now. But whether I articulate it that way or not, in many ways that’s what I’m doing.

For me, when I realize that there’s some space there, it’s gut check time. What’s going on that I’m not acknowledging? What’s my hesitation? Why am I not sleeping at night?

In our lives right now we’re busting at the seams with worries. We’ve been getting moving estimates this week and juggling boxes, pick up times, and delivery is awesome. The kids have a two week break between the end of their preschool regular school year and the first summer session and Enoch asks every day why I can’t stay at home on vacation and not go to work. Enjoying the kids for two weeks while keeping the house clean and spotless and ready for someone to do a showing – super stressful. Wondering if people will see the house and want to buy it or if we’re going to juggle payments or end up renting – not for the faint of heart. Realizing that I only have a couple more weeks in the office to get everything settled here and to be emotionally, spiritually, and physically ready to begin a new adventure – baby steps.

It’s a lot.

But I know that we don’t go into this alone. And I know that we are not helpless in facing life’s joys and challenges.

Sometimes I just want to avoid the weight of the pressure and the huge emotion that goes with being personally invested in this crazy ministry that has been more than a job or a ministry but a home and community for over a decade.

Yet God is there, waiting and ready to offer what I need. A random facebook comment to point me in the right direction. Jars of Clay’s “Shelter” coming on my itunes reminding me that “in the shelter of each other is where the people live.” So instead of ducking my head in the sand and being in denial for a bit longer, it’s time to make a list of prayers. Not worries. But prayers. That I will intentionally pray for throughout the day.

1. That our house sells.
2. The Enoch will love his new school and that he will have a great teacher and kindergarten class. That he will make friends and that he’ll continue to do well with his speech and language since he had a delay and worked super hard here so won’t do speech in Florida.
3. That we’ll find a good preschool for Evy and that there will be room for her to join one of the classes. That she’ll make friends and will continue to excel at school.
4. That the actual move will go well. That the estimates are not too crazy much. That everything gets there and transporting us, the kids, the cats and everything else will go well.
5. That Mike will find a church music job and can do what he’s passionate about!
6. Winthrop Wesley and the transition
7. Gator Wesley and the transition

There’s more but I’m sticking with this list – Mike, Enoch, Evy, House, Move, the two Wesley’s.

God help me to remember to come to you and to seek you. Help us to remember to open ourselves to your Word for us and that we can urgently come to you in prayer. Amen.


The highlighted verse in The Upper Room online this morning was Numbers 11:5-6 (NRSV), “The Israelites murmured, ‘We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing…but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

This speaks powerfully to me today.  As a family we’ve been discerning what the future holds for us.  Where is God leading us, how will God provide for us, what are we “supposed” to do???  So many questions surround these decisions and weigh on each of our hearts.

Over the past few months, Mike and I have transitioned out of a place that we loved and cared about and from a worship service that we helped create and foster and grow over many years.  There are definitely seasons for everything and I believe that to be true, but there’s also grief and loss as seasons change and it’s sometimes hard to see the daily provisions in that.  

As these changes have happened, that has meant a new economic reality for our family and I write about this not looking for some quick fix or answer, but because I think there are a lot of people in our churches and communities and families that are struggling in these economic times and are asking some of the same questions that Mike and I are asking.  There are friends’ facebook statuses that I see talking about eating peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month and their couponing exploits and I know there are many people that are living wisely and practically, trusting not just in God’s provision but also being wise about what we’ve been given.  I had the pleasure of hearing my brother, Josh’s sermon series on Stewardship some this fall and he really brought to life all that it means to be a good steward as we give our time, our presence, our gifts and our service.

Sometimes we’ve become used to all of the extras of life – like that coffee from Starbucks or being able to get that skirt from Target or the luxury of cable tv and we forget the beauty and sustenance of the manna that God provides us every day.  Times may get tough and things might get real tight (how many ways can you use the whole chicken – a lot apparently) but God is with us providing for us each step of the way in big and small ways and giving us the wake up calls and the encouragement we need to move forward in wisdom and faith.

May we treasure these gifts and those that neither most nor rust will destroy.  May we trust that no matter where God leads, that God “gives us this day our daily bread” and that manna is not something for us to look down upon, but something that is a visible sign of God’s provision.  This manna is not just money, by any means, but it’s the daily sustaining through those beautiful ways that God draws us to God’s self each day.  What that means for us is that in the midst of that trusting, we must also be intentional and committed to our prayer life and to being open to God’s leading and promise in our lives.

This is one of my goals for the year, to see the manna as valuable and as grace given to me, not just as something to take for granted.  May it be so!

How has God provided for you? How do you see God’s daily providence? What does this manna also call us to do in our communities and how does it shape the living out of our lives and faith?

God Things

Today in this season of thanks I thank God for the God things. That sounds like a really general and broad area, right? But I know you know what I’m talking about. I thank God for the times when you can feel God’s presence whether in the sacred or the secular, the intentional and the spontaneous.

Both kids have not been sleeping well lately and both were up off and on all last night. Needless to say, it’s been a sleep-deprived hazy day. But in the midst, there’s all these God things that keep us going. When things seem to derail and doubt starts to creep in or fears for the future begin to weigh, it’s nice to be reminded that we are called to trust in God. We are asked to step out in faith. We are charged to live lives full of the bold promise that God will provide.

So today I thank God for the little bits brought into our lives where we can feel that Spirit moving. I am thankful for possibilities and dreams and prayers. I am thankful for gentle reminders and teachings that I know I needed to hear today about forgiveness and peace. I am thankful for spiritual mentors and grounded students who reflect God’s grace. I am thankful for the joy that buoys us up even when we’re exhausted and blah-ed out and for the promises of God.

What little God things did God show you today? How was your spirit refreshed today or your calling confirmed? Where did you see God today?

Loving jamming to Colbie Caillat “Brighter Than the Sun” today.

Are you there God, it’s us…

A beautiful picture by Robin Morren
When I was growing up there was a popular book called “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Blume. It’s a classic. Seriously.

It’s been one of those days where you want to ask something along the lines of – is this ever going to be easy? Is there ever going to be a catch up day or a normal day? Why are we all here? What is this God-thing or Gospel that we believe and we’re to share with the world?

Two veins have been turning over in my mind. The first is that of theodicy (why bad things happen) and Providence and God’s will and the second is looking at the crud and muck of life and why sometimes we get so much flack and have to “battle” through to another day.

I wasn’t going to write a blog in the midst of this pondering, but when Casting Crowns “If We’ve Ever Needed You,” Natalie Grant’s “Held,” and Laura Story’s “Blessings,” come up in a row and you’re wrestling with these questions, you begin to feel a nudge saying maybe I should pay attention to this.

This summer I watched the Gamecocks win their second National Championship in baseball and I listened to them throughout the season and especially in that series say the word “battle” about a gazillion times. They talked about the battle that you have to go through to persevere and get through to the other side. They talked about all of the challenges and adversity they faced. They talked about the faith they had even in the midst of the really tough times. If you’re a Gamecock fan you know the battle of which they speak. If you’re not one, you probably think the rest of us are the most masochistic fans ever.

Sometimes it truly feels like one step forward and three steps back. Sometimes that one step forward is huge and it could have been the hardest thing you ever did. Sometimes it feels like you’re talking to God and you’re trying….praying, reading, listening, crying out, and it seems like no one’s there. It’s an “Are you there God, it’s me….” moment. It’s like – are you with me, God? Do you see this? Do you feel this? Do you know what’s happening? Do you know how hard, frustrating, angering, devastating, debilitating this is? Are you with us???

And there are days when we just don’t feel it. There are times when we may want to throw in the towel and say I’m done. There are times when I want to shut down and just not do or be or think or plan or respond to anything. There are times as a pastor and hearing people’s questions and doubts and worries and fears that even I’m gut checking to see what this whole faith thing is all about.

Because that’s the thing. No matter how much battle there is, no matter how much crud the world tosses at us, we have claim and know that God is there. God is here. God knows our heartache and our fears. God doesn’t just hover in a distance but God rejoices with us and also mourns with us. God is there in our suffering. God is there when we cry out. God is there when we’re tired and we’ve had enough. And God brings people and places and songs and sights and sounds and emails and telephone calls and shooting stars and silly jokes and lightning bolts into our lives when we need them so that we draw closer to God and we know for sure and for real that God is with us.

In a week where so many have experienced tragedy, where so many are struggling with friendships and classes and life questions and broken relationships, it’s sometimes hard for us to trust and to hope and to see any rhyme or reason. And sometimes it’s not yet the time or the place and we are shoving fingers in our ears because we don’t want to hear it. There’s such anger and grief and feelings of abandonment that a loving and merciful God could let such things happen. As there should be. The thing about the God we serve – the God of the scriptures is that God is a big God and can handle our anger, our tears, our crying out – all of the words or screaming that we want to use. The Psalms are chock full of people crying out. There aren’t too many Bible stories where someone didn’t question God somewhere along the way. Always in the midst even when we don’t feel it, God is faithful.

It’s not always the time or place to bring up verses about “beauty from ashes” and “for such a time as this” because that can sound trite and cliche and not helpful at all at the time. Sometimes the most loving and grace-filled thing to do is just sit and be present. To listen and love. To care and comfort. Not always with words but with love – tangible, real – prayers and presence. We may not understand why. We may not know the answers. We may not have the perfect thing to say. But we trust and pray and hope that God will continue even in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances to continue to bring mercies anew each day. We rest in the hope that we have someone we can always run to and someone we can always cry out to. We believe and feel the grace knowing that this life and this world is not the end but that the kingdom of God is alive and well in the already and not yet and that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May God answer us. May when we seek, we find; we knock, the doors opened; we ask, we receive. May we know and reach and grasp and cling to the love of God that is right there for each of us.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”