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The Boat’s Rocking

 

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Photo by Ray Bilcliff from Pexels

 

I am not and have never been a seafaring person. Maybe that’s because I was born in the Midwest, a distance from the ocean coastland, or maybe it is because I feared the water growing up and never learned to swim.

 

One of my big adventures a few summers ago was to go with our son and his family on a pontoon boat on a lake for a day’s outing. They were able to borrow a jet ski for the day and our two adult grandchildren as well as our son and his wife were eager for the fast-paced fun that it would add to the afternoon.

 

I really had no interest in adding that experience that day for more than one or two reasons, BUT some of you know that grandchildren can often cause us to set aside our “usual” selves and step out of our comfort zone. So, it happened that our grandson whose heart is tender as can be persuaded me to ride with him with promises not to go as fast as he and the others had gone.

 

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I really was anxious about it, but his kind words, expression, and heart made me step out of the pontoon boat onto the rocking jet ski. My husband was shocked, and I kept saying to myself, “What are you thinking? Do you realize how old you are? Do you remember you can’t swim? Don’t you remember how a boyfriend persuaded you to try to water ski and said you would be safe because you wore a life vest and then forgot to tell you how to do it or to let go of the rope?”

 

The lake was not stormy that day and I so glad I decided to risk it, knowing I would regret it later if I had not.

 

Even so, boats often don’t feel very safe to us and less so when we are in them in the midst of a storm.

 

We are living in a stormy time and as I reflected on that I recalled a very special woman I was blessed to know more than 20 years ago.

 

Linda had come to my professional clinical counseling practice for me to walk through the months ahead of what she knew would be her death as a result of a terminal illness. The time we spent together was a precious one and I think I benefitted more than she did perhaps. Her heart was stalwart as she faced what lay ahead, but she was never phony about the pain and fear she was living through. Her faith was not flimsy and could carry her through the truth of what she was facing and would face.

 

When her days on this earth came to an end, her funeral service was a most celebratory occasion and included a video she had made when she was still able to go to one of her beloved parks. The final scene was of her swinging on a swing, smiling, and waving goodbye to us.

 

It was after the service that I received a treasured gift that I still look at from time to time – her journal from some of the last months of her life.

 

As I thought about the stormy time we are in, I recalled one specific entry she had made in her journal:

 

“Storms and boats! Ever been in a storm?

The waves are crashing, lightning is flashing; the boat is rocking!

Feel alone?

Well, we aren’t!

Jesus has promised to be in the boat with us!

He’s promised to bring calm to the waves.

At times though, I sure feel alone!

But God’s promised – He’d never leave us; never forsake us! (Heb. 13:5)

Jesus has promised to calm our storms! (Mt. 8:26)

We think He’s not even in our boat – yet He’s there…

We try to “calm” our boat!

Have you ever stood up in a boat?

Just our standing up makes us rock the boat all the more!

Yet, if we wait and trust in Jesus – He is sure to calm our storm, steady our boat and keep us from drowning!

Jesus has even promised to be “our anchor” in our storm (Heb. 6:19).

An anchor works best in a storm. It is our safety line in our seas of turmoil and crashing waves, it’s our footing on shaky ground – our lifeline!

Our lifeline to Father God!

Are you struggling in your storm?

Well, put out your anchor in the storm, and hold on!

Our storms won’t last forever…God’s promised!”

 

She was right! She left the storm to perfect rest with the Lord February 11, 1999, but she left me the gift of her powerful words in her last journal.

 

Today I want to share that gift with you as you travel through the storm.

 

Thanks, Linda.  If you could see how I am sharing this I know you would smile.

 

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Photo from Rob Blair

Living in a Dream World

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Movie fans will read the title of this and likely recall it from the popular 1999 film, The Matrix. It’s an interesting sci-fi movie even for those of us who are not sci-fi fans like me.

 

In the movie one of the main characters, Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) has new information for Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) as he is dealing with the craziness of the world back then – at least Neo believes it is the only world that is real.

 

But Morpheus tells him: “You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

 

 In the upended days we are experiencing now those words sound a bit more significant than they did in the sci-fi movie.

 

Have we been living in a dream world?

 

Have we succumbed to believing only what our natural eyes can see?

 

Have we been lulled into thinking we can order our lives each day with a certain rhythm and predictability on a routine basis except for the occasional hurricane, tornado, or war?

 

I am not so sure the world has not been pulled over our eyes as well.

 

It comes at us in more forms and fashions than ever before exposing us to what we are told is reality. It shows up in the themes of movies, TV, ads, music, news broadcasts, and more. If we are not very judicious, we even fail to recognize what we are told is real is only a sliver of all there is to know and still that is within the physical natural realm.

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Have we forgotten that there is an unseen world in the spiritual realm that is vaster than we can comprehend?

 

I love the story in 2 Kings. The part that I am focusing on begins in the eighth verse. Elisha, the prophet, has been with those in the school of the prophets and the king of Syria discovers this and determines it is the best time to plot to capture Elisha whom he fears.

 

The king of Syria sends a great army with horses and chariots during the night and surrounds the city. When Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, gets up early in the morning he sees the army surrounding the city and the imminent danger they face. He is full of fear, but Elisha is not. The world was not pulled over his eyes. He was in touch with the unseen world in the midst of the natural one and he prays for Gehazi so he might be able to see that as well:

 

“And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

2 Kings 6:17 (NIV)

 

What a powerful reminder in this time for us!

 

We are shut off from our usual lives, the familiar we thought would always be there, and we are surrounded by an unseen enemy – a virus – that we can be so focused on that we miss the power of the unseen spiritual reality of all the angels and power of heaven and the Lord’s armies that are there.

 

We are bombarded with news and concerns that would seek to undo us and shift our focus from the unseen angel armies and the Lord’s presence with us in the midst of this chaotic fearsome time.

 

But the Lord would remind us though we live with the truth of the enemy, He is greater than the enemy and will be with us in and through this trial for as long as it lasts and whatever may come.

 

My prayer would be for each of us each day that the Lord would open our eyes so we too can see beyond the world that has been pulled over our eyes.

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One Thing…One Day

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In 1991 one of the popular movies was City Slickers with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance among others. If you haven’t watched it or haven’t seen it recently, it might be a great one to add to your list of movies to catch up on during this time when we are home.

 

In the movie Billy Crystal is on an adventure with two friends to try to find himself. The trio has often gone on adventures together, but the character Billy plays isn’t sure he wants to go this time. He feels pretty empty (I would say depressed), but his friends prevail on the outing to a dude ranch. The excursion is hilarious since all three of these friends are city dwellers, true “tender foot” guys.

 

The trail boss in the movie is played by Jack Palance as only he could play it. He’s salty and rough around the edges as he tries to manage these three and some others on this excursion none are prepared for.

 

One of the dialogues between Palance (Curly) and Crystal (Mitch) is worth remembering:

 

Curly : Do you know what the secret of life is?

[holds up one finger] 

Curly : This.

Mitch : Your finger?

Curly : One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean …

Mitch : But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly : [smiles]  That’s what *you* have to find out.

Today this dialogue came to mind and I think it speaks so clearly into this time of sheltering in place or self-quarantine.

 

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We can either get lost in daily news items that threaten to wreak havoc on our souls, or we can settle in and consider what is that “one thing?” What is the secret of life for you? Our usual activities and busyness rarely allow for us to reflect on how we might answer that, but the answer is important. It will reveal where we anchor our days and what we choose to adjust as a result of what we learn during this time.

 

Our minds can too easily be pulled to look at not only what we are missing out on today, but what we will miss next or the week after as this continues. That’s natural for all of us as the things on our calendar are no longer options for us, but if we keep looking at all those days ahead, we will miss the beauty and provision that will be there when we get to those days that were altered.

 

Today we are not unlike the Israelites we read about in Exodus that needed to learn to live on the provision for “one day.” If you know the story you recall it was not something they did very well at the outset. The manna the Lord provided was not something they could store up ahead of time, but some of them tried it only to discover it was rotten and full of maggots the next day. This incredible gift of manna seemed a boring menu, so they begged for meat at another point because they still had not come to rest in the Lord’s provision one day at a time.

 

There is so much truth within that lesson for them and now for us. We presume we have tomorrow, next week, next month, and more on a routine basis, so it can be easy to forget that what we have is the one day we are living now. It can cause us to miss so many glimpses of beauty and provision if we fail to stay in that focus.

 

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If we make the shift, we discover things that give us joy. For me it was seeing crocuses blooming near our garage door recently when I took a walk despite the cloudy, rainy, chilly temps. Another day it was tuning in to the sound of a bird I could not name but sang a beautiful song that I really took time to hear and listen to.

 

I have begun to notice how long my gratitude list is each day during this time as I notice little things I would have missed when life was as it used to be. How could I have missed that bird song on other walks? Why didn’t I notice the bulging buds on the trees preparing to burst forth into blossoms and leaves?

 

Corrie Ten Boom left a rich legacy for us as she shares her story of life during her time in a concentration camp during WW II with her sister. As she lived one day at a time, the Lord brought to mind one thing their father had taught them as children that encouraged them now in this agonizing time.

 

She retells the story in her powerful book, The Hiding Place:

  

“She confided in her father that she was afraid of death and was quite sure she did not have the strength to be a martyr. Corrie’s father reminded her of the train ride to Amsterdam. “”When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”

“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”

“That is right,” her father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength . . . He will supply all you need just in time.”

 

And so, these illustrations point us to how to traverse this time in what may feel like a wilderness, while we live apart from one another and with no certainty about when that will change.

 

Mitch and Curly remind us in “City Slickers” we each need to determine the secret to life. The Israelites remind us to appreciate the provision for one day at a time. And Corrie’s father’s story reminds us that the grace we need for whatever is ahead cannot be allocated today because it isn’t for this day.

 

One thing…one day. 

 

Savor it.

 

Find the goodness in it.

 

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What If?

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With so many issues swirling around, it would be helpful if we could learn to set aside our individualistic and competitive tendencies and learn to work together without thinking we need to be in charge or take the credit for every idea we toss out there.

 

It would mean we would need to do more of that upstream thinking I wrote about recently after reading Dan Heath’s book, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen. He devotes a whole chapter on the subject of “How Will You Unite the Right People?”

 

Sounds like a great idea, right? With the rampant amount of division in every area we see today, that would be an incredible accomplishment.

 

Dan Heath suggests the place to start:

 

“Each one of them gets a role. Given that your progress may hinge on people’s voluntary effort, it’s smart to maintain a big tent.”

 

But it isn’t just that more people are better.

 

“To succeed in upstream efforts, you need to surround the problem. Meaning you need to attract people who can address all the key dimensions of the issue.”

“Once you’ve surrounded the problem, then you need to organize all those people’s efforts. And you need an aim that’s compelling and important – a shared goal that keeps them contributing even in stressful situations…” Dan Heath

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Can you imagine what would happen if we lay aside all our territorialism in just about every aspect of our lives in such a way?  What all might be accomplished in medicine, engineering, government, missions, and more.

 

I think Paul of New Testament fame understood that without ever reading Dan Heath’s informative book. He makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 12:

 

“12 Just as the human body is one, though it has many parts that together form one body, so too is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we all were immersed and mingled into one single body. And no matter our status—whether we are Jews or non-Jews, oppressed or free—we are all privileged to drink deeply of the same Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (TPT)

 

And then he adds this great metaphor:

 

“17 Think of it this way. If the whole body were just an eyeball, how could it hear sounds? And if the whole body were just an ear, how could it smell different fragrances? 18 But God has carefully designed each member and placed it in the body to function as he desires. 19 A diversity is required, for if the body consisted of one single part, there wouldn’t be a body at all! 20 So now we see that there are many differing parts and functions, but one body.”

1 Corinthians 12: 17-19 (TPT)

 

Paul then shows how well he understands mankind by exhorting them not to compete about which parts are most needed or valuable. He certainly had all that right, but whether in the world or the church it often seems we didn’t get that message (at least we didn’t apply it if we heard or taught it).

 

One big obstacle deals with how little humility is evident in most of our lives and the kind of thinking and team building that Dan Heath talks about requires humility.

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There’s that sticky issue again that we all too often stumble over. Every Christian author since the canon of scripture was closed has written on the subject to remind us of that essential quality of character.

 

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” 

Andrew Murray

 

“Every Christian has a choice between being humble or being humbled.”

Charles Spurgeon

 

So, what if?

 

What if we each stopped looking at that other person, organization, business, club, politician, pastor, etc. as not pulling us together in unity and looked first at ourselves and how we play a part in disunity?

 

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What Is Your Precious?

 

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J.R.R. Tolkien’s powerfully trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Hobbit, looks at more than one theme as darkness and evil battle against light and life. Much of the story revolves around rings of power and one ring to rule all the others. That one ring that holds power over all the others is called “the Precious” and many seek it for the power it holds, but they miss that the power also destroys any who seek to possess it.

 

Many of you know this story well and have not only read the books but also enjoyed the movies that were made in recent years that depict the story on the big screen.

 

As we recently watched both trilogies of these two series, I wondered what I or any one of us might fall prey to in our own lives. Our “precious” is not that ring of power but are there other things that we hold tightly to that can control us more than we might realize?

 

Our “precious” would be something we hold so dear to us that we would refuse to give it up even if it were doing us harm. As you consider that I wonder what might come to mind.

 

One of the books I recently added to our bookshelf was the latest one by John Eldredge entitled Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad. It’s somewhat ironic that it was released when we just entered this new crisis of disease and economic uncertainty and were asked to stay at home versus zipping around from one thing to another in our busy lifestyles.

 

Some of us are handling the new directives to stay at home and shelter in place better than others. The best of us might be a bit more upended as this goes on for days and weeks ahead.

 

As I was reading and considering this question of what my “precious” might be, I came across a major clue in John’s book.

 

“Over time, throughout our lives, the Self stakes out its own territory within us to try to assure getting its own way, ordering our world to its likings. It has imbedded assumptions and privileges in our psyche; there is a momentum to its desires, motives, and presence in us. I call this the Self Life.”

 

Bingo!

 

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This could be the key to identifying the “precious” as we each grapple with not being able to order our world according to our likes. We can’t meet our friend for coffee at our favorite coffee bar. That trip to the beach that was planned for spring break can’t happen either. Graduation ceremonies are canceled, and wedding receptions are postponed. The latest movie isn’t available to see in the neighborhood theater either.

 

Things like church services and activities are canceled as well – just one more thing we could never have guessed might happen just a short time ago.

 

We can err on two sides of the Self Life. We can ignore the need for nourishment, rest, and quiet intimate times with the beauty that surrounds us, or we can be driven by it.

 

To be clear about how Eldredge defines Self Life in his book, let me add a few more details he notes:

 

‘It’s the Self Life in us that so easily takes offense, enjoys taking offense.

It wants things done our way, so it’s continually making demands, because, of course, our demands are perfectly reasonable, justified. The Self Life doesn’t like being interrupted, cut off on the freeway, and told what to do or how to do things; it hates it when someone corrects our driving, typing, cooking, performance (or writing). It’s the Self Life that keeps a record of wrongs, holds those imaginary conversations with people we’d love to set straight, crafts those devastating emails we only wish we could send.”

Ouch!

 

That hits pretty close to home in one way or another and we don’t get off the hook as believers either according to John:

 

“This matter isn’t a matter of Christian and non-Christian; the Self Life has a religious version. It gets irritated when a prayer time goes longer than we think it should, it feels wronged when church services run late, and it doesn’t particularly enjoy worship. The Self waits to be asked during small group how we are doing, and it feels righteously irritated when someone else takes too long talking about their life.”

 

Reading through these challenges can expose how often demandingness creeps into us despite our attempts to surrender and submit it to the Lord’s hands.

 

The problem about these things is that when the Self rules (sometimes without our awareness of how much), it gets in the way of our awareness of the Lord and how well we hear or receive Him as He seeks to guide us through ordinary and not-so-ordinary days.

 

So perhaps this time where our usual daily activities have ceased gives each of us time and opportunity to consider this part of us we often miss. Maybe each of us can make our own trip to “Mt. Doom” to destroy the power it can still exert in our lives.

 

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