Taking God to the Bank

Hear now the Word of God from the book of Genesis chapter 15 verses 1 through 12 and 17 and 18.

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’  But Abram said, ‘O Lord God what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?  And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’  But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’  He brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are about to count them.’  Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’  But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’  He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’  He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.  And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him….When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.  On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Raphaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’”

This is the Word of God, for the people of God.  Thanks be to God for it.

There are many things in life that are uncertainties, and for some of us our bank account is one of them.  How many of us balance our checkbooks anymore?  I know that I do online banking, trusting that the bank will keep their promise and is keeping track of what I’m spending, and I just check and make sure we’re not bouncing.  But there are times I wonder – hmmm…..can I trust what’s in my account?  Do I really know what’s in there?  Will they keep their word?  Call it the paranoid in me, I sometimes have doubts.  Especially in the middle of the night, when all of those worries creep in.  If you can identify with this, you know something of what Abram felt as he struggled to believe in God’s promise in the midst of his doubts.

Before we dig into the story wondering about trust and promises, what was going on with Abram before this happened?  Well, you know the story of Abram, later called Abraham.  In chapter 11 of the book of Genesis we move from looking at the world as a whole and its various acts of disobedience, to following the story of Abram.  In chapters 11 and 12, God called Abram, saying “Go from your country, and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[1]  Wow.  Leave all that you have known and go to this new land that God will show you and God will make you, who has no children, a great nation.  That was pretty unbelievable.  You’re 75 years old, with no children, and God tells you go and I’ll make you into a great nation.  Yeah right.  But what does the text say “Abram left, just as the Lord had told him.”  So Abram begins this new journey.  He steps out in faith.  They really should make a movie like The Ten Commandments a la Charlton Heston about the story of Abraham because of the large scope of it all.

In chapter 13 God again makes a promise to Abram.  “Raise your eyes now and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.  Rise up, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”  So again, God promises Abram two very big things – the land and the offspring to inhabit it.  Not just a handful of offspring, but descendants like the dust of the earth never to be fully counted, because who in the world could count the dust?  I wouldn’t want to begin to count even the dust in our house.  So yes, again, God had promised this childless man not only land but descendants as numerous as dust.

Right before we met Abram in today’s passage there had been a battle and to make a long story short, with God’s help, Abram won.  When you win, you take the loot.  Our family plays the game of Risk a lot, and in that game, when you win a battle, you take that person’s land.  The goal in the game is world domination.  Just like in anything else – if you win, you get the reward.  Abram realized that God was the one who had delivered his enemies into his hand and after giving the priest ten percent of all the spoils, he didn’t take anything else for himself.  That was a whole heck of a lot to turn down, but God had been faithful to Abram delivering him from Egypt and helping him win this battle, and he didn’t want to owe anyone anything, he and his allegiance belonged only to God. Since he gave God credit for the victory, the spoils weren’t his. His refusal was a sign of faith.

This is where we are in our text today.  Abram has just turned down this handsome reward and God comes to him in a vision and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  God says look I’ve got your back, I’ve got you covered.  You may have given up that loot, like in The Goonies, “the rich stuff,” but I’ve got an even greater reward for you.

What does Abram do?  He, a little on the angry, maybe even on the sarcastic side of things, asks what can you give me when I’m childless and everything I have will go to a servant in my house.  What can you give me?  Doesn’t that sound like a question you hear today all too often.  What can you give me?  The Message says it this way, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless…?”[2]  What use are your gifts?  That’s a pretty straightforward and forthright question.  What good is all this stuff if I can’t take it with me and I can’t leave it to my children?  Abram has heard God promise to make him this great nation, and he’s heard God say he’ll make his descendants as many as the dust of the earth, but yet, he hasn’t seen anything yet.  It’s a show me the money kind of moment.  He’s tired of the talk; he wants to see some action.  Don’t we get like that sometimes?  We’ve been given this promise, this word from God, and it seems that nothing is happening or that our prayers are going unanswered.  Sometimes we start to worry if God’s taking a break or if we’ve misunderstood God’s will.  In our fast-paced society, we often want things right NOW, and if they don’t come fast enough, we begin to think they’re not coming.  We get discouraged.  Abram had some of these same fears and questions.

What did God say to Abram, even before he began to ask his questions?  “Do not be afraid Abram.”  God cuts at the core of his fear.  See in Abram’s day, being childless was a big deal.  Some thought it was a sign of judgment or wickedness and as it is today, your children are who hopefully care for you as you get older, so Abram’s concern was not unfounded.  God knew Abram’s thoughts and he gave him the proof he needed.  God knows us, and God knows where we are and what we’re feeling even before we articulate it.  God is a big God, and a gracious God and God doesn’t slink away from our questions, God doesn’t hide or back down from them, God doesn’t smite him down for questioning and God doesn’t get angry at his doubt – God reassures him.  In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise’s character, a sports agent, has just made a huge stand professionally and he’s trying to rally all of his sports clients around him.  Cuba Gooding’s character, a pro football player is who he calls first.  Over and over again he reassures him that he is on his side, looking out for his best interests and working hard for him.  And the classic scene shows Cuba yelling back and forth into the phone “Show me the money.”  With Cruise responding emphatically assuring him as he yells into the phone, “I will show you the money!” He puts everything he has into it at the loss of all else.  He assures him and puts his fears at ease.  He steps up to the plate.  God does the same thing.  God meets Abram where he is, and answers him.

God says that Abram’s heir won’t be this servant, but a child of his own from his own body.  God doesn’t give a general speech about keeping God’s promise, but God addresses Abram’s actual fears, the doubts and worries he has about his own specific situation – having an heir or a legacy to pass on.  After he answers his doubt, God provides him with another image, another symbol just like the dust in his earlier promise.  He says, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”  Again, he gives him something so huge that it can’t even be counted.  Can you imagine it?  If you were Abram in the days, weeks, and years to come as you go through your every day life, in the daytime seeing the dust and in the nighttime seeing the stars and thinking about this promise that God made you, this crazy and unlikely reality that God has promised you, would you believe it?  Would you keep the faith?  Does Abram have concrete evidence that this will happen, that God will keep God’s word?  Not really.  But we have heard how God had called him and had provided for him, and how God continues to make the promise.  We have heard how God answered his fears.  And because of these things, through God, as our Covenant Keeper, Abram believed. Verse 6 says, “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  Through his faith, Abram was made right with God.

There is a story about Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, going to a bank in England and opening up an account for the China Inland Mission.  As he was filling out the application he came to a question asking him for his assets, or in other words what you got.  Taylor wrote in the blank, “ten pounds and the promises of God.”[3]  You can take God to the bank!  If you know the story of Taylor and the China Inland Mission and all of the great, faithful work that they did, you know the foundation for his life was God’s promise:  That God has begun a good work and would bring it to completion; faith that God would keep God’s covenant.  When you have received God’s promise, it is something you can take to the bank.

Abram had seen God at work in his life and as unlikely as the promise sounded, he believed.  He trusted that he could stand on those promises.  And what about those words, “reckoned it to him as righteousness?”  Paul would later allude to this verse in Romans 4 and Galations 3 when he begins talking about justification by faith.  He uses Abram as an example to the early church saying that through his faith Abram was set in right relationship with God, not by anything that he earned or worked, but just by his belief.  What Paul was trying to communicate was that it is the same with us.  We’ve seen all the ways that God has worked in our lives, just as Abram saw, and just like Abram, all we have to do is believe to be reckoned as righteous, or counted as good even though we obviously don’t deserve it.  We believe that God loved us and drew us to God even when we didn’t know it and that by grace God gives us the opportunity to believe.  Through this faith and belief, we are saved.

In verse 7, God again reminds Abram of who God is, the God who has brought him to this place, and the promise.  Here Abram goes again questioning God, “How am I to know that I shall possess this land?”  Although in verse 6 it says that he believed, he is now asking for some sort of sign.  Just like us, sometimes even when we do believe, we have questions and doubts.  Again, God answers him.  God provides the assurance that he needs both in word and deed.  God makes God’s self vulnerable by making a cutting covenant with Abram.  I know it sounds a little gross, but this is where we get our saying of “cutting a deal with someone.”   The way it works is that you walk between the animals sealing your agreement and if you break the agreement then your fate is that of the animals.  Covenants are serious, being cut in half is serious.  These are not just promises, but something far more-weighty and binding.  Marriage is one of these things, where it’s not just a promise made between two people, but it is a pledge, an oath that should not be taken lightly. It’s a covenant.

God’s covenant with Abram isn’t quite like a marriage where there is an equal partnership in the covenant-making. This is a special kind of covenant, a royal covenant, where a king rewards a servant for loyalty and faithful service.  All of the responsibility and pressure is on the king to uphold the covenant because he is the one of greater stature.[4]  In other words because of God’s love for us and God’s knowledge of our human limitations, God puts God’s self on the line, knowing that this is not an equal partnership, but that the majority of the risk is God’s.  In the form of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch, God covenanted with Abram to fulfill both of his promises – to give him all of this land and to give him descendants to inhabit it.

What an amazing God we serve, that God has staked God’s own life on this promise.  This is not a promise that Abram initiated, but it is a unilateral decision and covenant made by God.  It is not something we have to do or initiate, but it is part of the nature of God.  That’s the important point.  God’s promise is certain not because of anything that we have done, but because of who God is.  Yes, Abram has been faithful, but so has God and so God will be.  God is not a distant God who watches from afar, but God is a present God who has entered into the fray with humanity.  God seeks relationship with us and has covenanted with each of us in the greatest of all sacrifices on the cross.  God doesn’t pull back or go half way, but as in popular games of Texas Hold ‘em, God goes all in.  God, Emmanuel, became one of us.  God is a personal God that seeks us, that woos us, that draws us to God’s self.  On the cross God provided the greatest sign and gave us the opportunity to join in the greatest covenant.

What is our response?  Our response is that of Abram’s, to believe.  To have faith in the God of the universe that covenants to be in relationship with you and with me, sinners redeemed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  To trust God’s promises – promises to never leave nor forsake us, promises to give us abundant life, promises to walk with us, both assuring us and answering our questions and fears, but also calling us to grow and trust and respond in faith.

An old man and woman were driving down the road, with the man behind the steering wheel and his wife of many years sitting next to the passenger-side door. They came up behind a car in front of them that had a very young couple riding side by side, almost looking like a two-headed monster because they were sitting so close together. The woman looked over at her husband and pointed at the young couple in front of them and asked, “Why don’t we do that anymore?” He slowly looked over at her and replied, “I haven’t moved.”[5] There have been times, like Abram, we have moved back and forth sometimes trusting, sometimes doubting and questioning God’s provision for us. At times we’ve even gotten out of the car, but God hasn’t moved.

In closing, one of my favorite hymns, perhaps because of the words, perhaps because of the gusto, is “Standing on the Promises.”  Listen here to the second verse, “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God.  Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior, standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”[6]  You can stand on and trust the promises of God.  God’s a sure thing.  Bank on it!

[1] Genesis 12:1-3, All scripture references unless otherwise noted are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible – New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs:  Navpress, 2002), 39.

[3] Patrick Mead,“Standing on the Promises of God,” www.sermoncentral.com, February 20, 2006.

[4] David J. A. Clines, “Genesis-Esther,” HarperCollins Bible Commentary  (San Francisco:  HarperCollins, 2000), 93.

[5] King Duncan, King’s Treasury of Dynamic Humor (Knoxville: Seven Worlds Press, 1990), 173.

[6] The United Methodist Hymnal:  Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville:  The United Methodist Publishing House, 2002), 374.

Here We Go Again.

In December I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon in Charlotte and since it was the last day of classes here and was a 7 hour drive, I decided to cancel it and find a neurosurgeon here in Gainesville.  I didn’t make this decision lightly and I looked up all sorts of things about the awesome program here and I asked around to a number of people.  I saw my new neurosurgeon for the first time on Valentine’s Day (ha!).  He ordered an MRI to be done the Monday after our spring break trip to Costa Rica (March 11th).  On Tuesday, March 19th while Mike and I ate lunch with Evy, the nurse called and said that the doctor recommended surgery.  She then set an appointment for me to talk to him about this for today, March 28th.

Mike and I of course called our parents.  I didn’t want to say anything about this before we knew anything, but needless to say, we’ve been pretty distracted this past week and because I try to be a reasonably transparent person, it was hard to preach on Palm Sunday or for either of us to function without a twinge of something always in the background.  My parents came to visit last night so that Mom could go with us to the appointment and Dad being the great MacMac that he is, could hang out with the kids this morning since they’re on spring break.

Three years have passed since the first surgery.  To review, my doctor in Charlotte removed what he could of the tumor but left a strip near the motor cortex of the brain.  The type of tumor I have is an oligodendroglioma and very thankfully it’s a grade II (low grade).  At the time, research and common practice said that you take a watch and wait perspective and treat symptoms.  Now, research says that you resect as much as you can of the tumor so that it does not increase in grade.  They will use computer guidance to make sure that they are as precise as possible in removing as much as they can of the tumor that remains.  All of the risks associated with brain surgery are still at play here (duh.), but even more than that, because this is on my motor cortex, there could be temporary weakness in my right arm, hand and face.  As he said, scenario A is much like the first surgery – I come in on Friday and have surgery, I go home on Sunday, and I go back to work on Wednesday (this is also because I’m a crazy person that likes to work – yes, I know).  Scenario B is I go into surgery on Friday, hopefully still leave on Sunday depending on some things, go back to work in two weeks, and then possibly do physical therapy and rehab for a month.  If removing as much of the tumor as possible gives me a higher means of this not turning into something worse, I’m willing to risk either scenario.  The doctor’s suggestion is to take the “earliest elective opportunity” to do the surgery.

I’ve decided to do the surgery in May – most likely either May 10th or May 17th.  What does this mean for our family?  The kids were 1 and just turning 3 when the first surgery happened so they thought Mommy was on a trip of some sort.  They’re 4 and 5 now so we’ll be handling things a little differently.  They’ll still be in school so that should help.  I am blessed with an incredible extended family….and in essence I consider y’all a part of that as well.  Mike has been an absolute rock in all of this and I can’t begin to thank him for living out the weight of our vows every day.  The irony of asking him today – do you want to have the surgery around our 11th anniversary (May 11th) or around your 34th birthday (May 16th)?  I know that God is with us and will provide – whether that’s within the surgery, recovery, sanity, financially or us trying to squeeze in two more days at Disney before June 6th when our passes expire =0).  I’m also looking at the beginning of May so that I can be present for all of the end of semester fun, but before things ramp back up for summer.  I didn’t plan on a surgery during my first year here in Gainesville, but I know that there’s an amazing staff, student leaders and board here and we’ll be good to go.  As always, I’m pretty open with questions – so if you have one, ask me.  I also tend to use the blog to process and answer things as I can. (Don’t be afraid.  I’m not “broken” or an invalid, and I’m still the same person.  Human as can be, but trying to figure it out….so ask, don’t just wonder.)

As soon as I get the actual date of the surgery, I’ll definitely post it and I will hugely appreciate all of your prayers!

So all that to say, I don’t have any big actual blog “reflection” tonight.  We just completed the Maundy Thursday service and I’m pretty spent at this point, which I guess is just about right with Good Friday coming tomorrow.  I am increasingly struck this Easter season that there’s no fast forward button between Palm Sunday with the Hosannas and Easter.  I also appreciated a song that my parent’s sent me when I told them this last week.  It’s Tenth Avenue North’s “Worn.”  Hope that during this Holy Week we are reminded of our redemption, peace and hope in Christ in the midst of the sometimes dark despair.

For those visual people out there that want to pray over an image….rock on.

Image

A little too much…

I don’t know why but it’s been a hard couple of days in thinking about brain tumor land. Don’t worry nothing new – no change. This sounds so morbid, but on Saturday night I dreamed that I died – literally – and then went to heaven. Let’s just say in my dream, heaven was not what I expected. The pros – my three cats greeted me at the entrance. Who knows what that means…could be because two weeks ago I found out that the oldest cat Pug is in the beginning stages of kidney and renal failure or then again it could be because they greet me at the door all the time and any time they have thrown up a hair ball somewhere or made another mess Mike likes to threaten them. =0)

I don’t remember a ton about the dream or how things were laid out or anything and I am not at all saying that this is what it’s like or any sort of premonition at all (is that enough disclaimers there?), but I spent the dream waiting for people to get there. Now I know that heaven is heaven and duh we’re not going to be miserable sitting around swinging our legs back and forth waiting for the rest of our family to get there, but that was the dream. It sucked. Royally.

I didn’t really tell anyone about it until yesterday primarily because I had been thinking about it a lot and I know that if I say something out loud or if I write about it, in some crazy way, that helps me to process and make sense of things.

And then brain tumor stuff has just been popping up everywhere – wonderful friends checking in, a minister on the conference prayer list that we should be praying for, on everyone’s cancer statuses yesterday which was great, me still trying to get hair gel to smooth down the little hairs from the scar that are now long enough to look a little ridiculous, and the sometimes headaches and tingling that I often ignore but sometimes in one of these moods, wonder about. It is so stinking frustrating sometimes. On Sunday at the South Carolina delegation meeting we listened to a presentation on Benefits and Pension for close to two hours hearing about possible changes at the upcoming General Conference. When talking about life insurance and death benefits and spouses and pensions and insurance and disability for that long there is a large part of me that wants to just think of this as a tiny bump in the road and things are going to be fine and I’ll make it to the mandatory retirement age of 70. It could happen. I know that it could. And there’s another part of me that wants to figure out ways to provide and care for my family no matter what will happen and looking at all scenarios have as much of a plan as I can.

For the most part, I don’t even like bringing it up because I know if I talk to Josh about it while playing basketball or Mike about it when we get home from Wesley or to whoever in some ways, especially for my family, it stresses them out too. They don’t know what’s going to happen any more than I do.

It’s scary. And there’s still a part of me that is angry and frustrated that this is even part of our lives. There’s enough to worry about with kids and bills and living out one’s calling and vocational discernment to actually deal with all of this.

So that’s where I am. Saying to God it may just be a little too much and that I’m a little tired of battling in so many areas.

Are pastors “supposed” to say that? Who knows. But if I don’t keep it real and have my integrity than to me I’m nothing but a hypocrite and someone in denial.

The irony of this is that last night I preached during our sermon series on the book of Romans about God making impossible things possible. We were specifically looking at Romans 4 where it talks about Abraham and his faith. We then had some time of silence at the end where we could have a chance to think about some things that we would see or do or figure out or try or find if only we didn’t have doubts or fears or even sometimes “reality” holding us back. What would you do with your life if you could do absolutely anything and money nor education nor baggage nor what people would think were obstacles for you? What are some of your hopes and dreams for your family, your friends, your community, your church, your work? If we threw all of the “buts” out the window what would we grasp hold of and pursue?

What are the things that get in the way of that? What are some things we need to let go of in order to move forward and try to make our dreams into a reality?

These aren’t questions that you wrestle with for five minutes and than you’re good to go. Or maybe that works for you. I find that I have to intentionally pray and meditate and think and actually force myself to look and open my eyes and heart to the possibilities while telling my fears and frustration and failures to “shut it” for a few minutes so that I can see the light.

Because sometimes it feels like it’s a little too much. Actually sometimes it feels like it’s a lot too much. As excited as I was to move from 3 months to 6 months in the amount of MRI checks, there is a scared part of me that is nervous about that. What if that’s 3 months of something growing and us not doing something about it? I know that my doctors would never have let me go longer if I wasn’t ready to, but that’s what fears do…they somehow make it where even the things you want, you’re nervous about because you’re still feeling a way into a “new normal” or any kind of normal for that matter.

Then you go down the list of all of the people that have it so much worse than you and that things could be a million times more terrible….but that’s not comforting. I don’t want anyone to be going through anything like tumors or cancer or sickness and uncertainty of any kind. Does it mean that you’re thankful for all that God has done, is doing and will do? Sure. I have no idea what I would do without that. I need those times between me and God where I can say what I need to say and cry out and wrestle and not be censored by anyone.

We need time to sit and rest and be with God. We need time to let our fears and frustrations and disillusionment and grief go so that we can let new life spring forth not just in the midst of the weeds randomly despite everything, but in ways that we nurture and water and grow.

So I guess in this rambling post that may not be for anyone except for me writing and figuring this out – I need to find and make time to discern and be open to what God would have me do in this time and place, what God is calling my family to do, our community to do, Wesley to do. I need to trust that it’s okay that sometimes it’s a little too much and it can be heartbreaking and angering and discouraging and annoying. I need to realize that God is bigger than all of this – crazy dreams, long talks on benefits and pensions, things in my life playing up to my fears – and that God is with me and walking with me and comforting me each step of the way even when I want to bless the world and God out sometimes.

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

Prayer

This Sunday’s Gospel lectionary text is Luke 11:1-13.  It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray and Jesus teaching them Lord’s prayer followed by him talking about seeking and finding and words that I say in just about every other sermon or talk with students at one time or another.  Very familiar words… “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you fill find; knock, and hte door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Then it goes on talking about eggs and scorpions.  It’s a rich text.  And when I picked it at the beginning of the week when I working on the bulletin, I really wanted to work on it and see where the Spirit led because while saying the Lord’s prayer in the midst of The Journey service last week, I actually stumbled over some of the words – can’t even remember which ones now – because I was thinking about what they actually meant and what we’re actually saying when we say that familiar and yet powerful prayer.

I admit that as often is the case when I pick a text as time gets closer to Sunday I start to second guess and think that I might should have gone with one of the others.  It is always awe-inspiring for me to think about all of the little and amazing things that God brings to us when we’re wrestling with something.  This week it has been prayer for me.  Part of me does regret picking that text because there’s a part of me that’s not ready to think seriously and openly about this text after the events of the past couple months.  It’s still a little too personal to put into a sermon or to reflect on.

Mike brought in the poster board card that the folks at SC’s Annual Conference made me while I was having surgery.  Who knows how it ended up in my trunk and I have no clue who brought it from Florence but it ended up in Wesley on Thursday morning as Mike was cleaning out my trunk.  I can’t say how much those prayers meant to me and continue to mean to me.  I can’t begin to express how much I want to keep asking and knocking on that door in prayer in hope.

I’ve been reading various women’s books over all this time out of sheer boredom from doctor’s office visits and when the kids are watching that episode of Caillou or Dora or Phinneas and Ferb for the millionth time.  (Sidenote:  most women’s books are so depressing and sad – does no one believe in happy endings anymore besides the Christian fiction authors???)  One of my dear students here let me borrow The Time Traveler’s Wife before she left for the summer.   Beautiful story.  Deep love.  I will never watch the movie because it’s more sad than I want, but beautiful.  Yet again I do think God brings random things into our lives that wake us up to a truth we need to see or things we need to realize or just that guidance that we can’t always even understand.  In reading the ending of that book – I found myself realizing that even though I have prayed and felt uplifted throughout this journey and I have appreciated the prayers of so many, I’ve never actually cried out specifically for God to heal me. 

It kind of freaks me out even to type it.  I know that’s weird.  Especially for a pastor that does believe that prayer can do miraculous things.  And someone that does believe in the “Heal me and I will be healed.  Save me and I will be saved.  For you alone are God.”  So in thinking about the sermon that I have no idea what I’m going to really say tomorrow – what makes us afraid to ask or knock or seek?  What holds us back?  What stands in our way?

Crying out to God that night, trying to figure it out – I don’t know.  It’s a lot of things.  Fear that it won’t happen.  Fear of what healing really means and for how long.  Fear that even if everything is healed, I won’t know how to go back to life as usual.  Is it pride?  Do I pray for others but not want to pray for myself?  Why is that?  I’m no more resilient or together and certainly not any more godly.  Is it that I see people all around every day and I hear stories of people that need healing so much more and I wonder and rail that I’m sure some of them ask, seek, and knock and where are their good gifts and not scorpions?  I just saw a blip of Ann Curry’s special on the Today Show with the family of 10 living on $500 a month and I’m like why am I even taking the time to write a blog or eating lifesaver gummies when there are people out there that are struggling and hurting needing “good gifts” as much as the rest of us.

Do we think we’re not good enough to ask?  Or not deserving enough?  Or needy enough?  Or nice enough?  What is it that holds us back from prayer?  What makes it hard to ask and give these things over?  Control?  Pride?  Fear?  Anger at what we’ve seen as unanswered prayer?

In watching Anne of Green Gables on PBS for a couple weekends I noticed how Marilla first taught Anne how to pray and she explained to her in a very simple manner – that she should thank God for God’s blessings and then ask God if there’s something she’d like.  Hilarious scene.  Sadly youtube does not have it.  I think about the whole ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  I think of all the prayer circles and prayer ministries and prayer shawls (and Windsor UMC I love the one y’all made me!  it is in my office and i’ve already had a couple students wrap in it and i hope feel your prayers!).  I read this passage and think very layered/complicated back and forth theology blah, blah, blah statements but you know it’s really pretty simple.  Ask – it will be given, search – find, knock – door open.  It’s not complicated.  And yet somehow we make it so in our minds.  Or maybe that’s just mine.

I don’t have all the answers and I feel sure that I won’t have come up with them by tomorrow morning at 11 am, but I do know that God is a God of love and that God does love us as God’s very own.  So those scorpions or the AIDS or the heart attacks or the car accidents or the cancers or the abuse or the hurricanes are not from God.  They can be used by God for our good but our God knows us, loves us and seeks the best for us.

Maybe that’s what it boils down to…the trust and the faith to believe not only that God answers prayer and that God hears us, but that God is love and is good and is not going to bait and switch us and give us a mouse trap to stick our fingers in instead of an awesome gigantic lollipop.  It is with confidence and boldness that we pray knowing that we are heard and held by the great God of the universe.  We can cry out when we’re starting a new job, or a new school, or a new adventure and we will be answered.  We can continue to ask the hard questions and wrestle and just not understand and as we seek, surely we will find…Can’t wait for each of us to knock on that door and to see the warm light and smile when the door is opened.

Found this from Celine Dion and Josh Groban on youtube.  I know a little cheesey but I do think there’s a love and emotion in there that is present in these passages about prayer…that love of parent and child – that guidance and leading.

I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

The light you have
I pray we’ll find your light
will be in the heart
and hold it in our hearts.
to remember us that
When stars go out each night,
you are eternal star
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
quanta fede c’è
when shadows fill our day

How much faith there’s
Let this be our prayer
in my prayer
when shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We dream a world without violence
a world of justice and faith.
Everyone gives the hand to his neighbours
Symbol of peace, of fraternity
We ask that life be kind
and watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
another soul to love

The force his gives us
We ask that life be kind
is wish that
and watch us from above
everyone finds love
We hope each soul will find
around and inside
another soul to love
Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer, just like every child

Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

It’s the faith
you light in us
I feel it will save us