Tag Archives: Word

Calm Assurance in Stormy Seas

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.  Acts 27:33-36 (NRSV)

I grew up on the water, and as a boy I wanted nothing more than to be a sailor. There was a period of my childhood, around the age of nine, that I wore a sailor hat all of the time. My mother still jokes about finding me asleep in bed with my sailor hat on and jumping into the pool forgetting it was still on my head.

Our summer vacation every year was two weeks on Rainy Lake which lies on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. It’s a large lake and our daily fishing excursion normally entailed a long trip in our rented john boat across a vast expanse of open water. When storms came up, the white caps could swell to decent heights. It could definitely make the trip back to camp in our small boat a rather frightening affair for a small kid.

I can remember as a young boy paying attention to my dad during those seemingly endless trips in stormy waters. If dad was calm as the boat rocked and rolled, if I looked back at dad and received a “Isn’t this fun?” smile, then I knew everything was going to be okay.

I thought about those moments this morning as I read the chapter and imagined being on board the ship with Paul and Dr. Luke as their small ship was mercilessly pounded by a raging storm for two entire weeks. The fear and mental weariness among passengers and crew had to have been immeasurable. And then Paul speaks with faith and assurance. He smiles, and encourages them. “Take some food. Be strong. Don’t be afraid. Everything is going to be okay. We’re all going to make it through this.”

This morning I’m thankful for parents who comforted me as a child in stormy times. I’m thankful for teachers, counselors, mentors and friends who walked with me through various difficult stretches of life’s journey and gave me the encouragement I needed to weather the storm. I’m praying today that I might return the favor to those in my sphere of influence who face their own frightening storm clouds and the gusty winds of life change.

Bildad’s Blunder

bildad“How long will you say such things?
Your words are a blustering wind.
Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.”
Job 8:2-4 (NIV)

Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, and Bildad doesn’t mince words. In fact, Bildad has all the tact of an atomic bomb. He opens his argument with an insult (“Job, you’re a blowhard”), and quickly follows with a sharp accusation of Job’s children (“They had it coming”). By the time Bildad got to all of his talk about hope and restoration I’m afraid he’d already alienated his audience.

Wise King Solomon observed that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I’m afraid Bildad’s harsh opening only assured an angry response from Job.

Today I’m thinking about a handful of recent situations in which harsh words were spoken. I cannot control what others say or think, but I can certainly control my reaction and response. Along the journey I’ve come to realize that conflict is like a math equation: Two negatives result in a negative. I’m not always the best at responding appropriately, but disciplining myself to keep anger in check and respond in a gentle, controlled manner leaves the door open for meaningful dialogue and hopefully, a positive resolution will eventually follow.

Dealing with “God Told Me to Tell You” Statements

source: n3k via Flickr
source: n3k via Flickr

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”

The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 1 Kings 13:16-19 (NIV)

Along my journey I have been, from time to time, approached by individuals who proclaim to have some kind of “God told me” word or statement that pertains to me. I am not discounting the possibility that God could speak to me through another person, but I have learned over time to approach these situations with Jesus’ words in mind: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The man of God in today’s chapter had been given a clear directive by God. Along comes another prophet whose “God told me” statement contradicted the clear word he’d been given. His blind faith in the stranger had disastrous results. I don’t want to make a similar mistake, so when someone claims to have a word from God that affects me, there are a few simple guidelines I’ve learned to follow:

  • Consider the source. If approached by a stranger or a casual acquaintance whom I don’t know, I am going to be appropriately more cautious. If it comes from Wendy, one of the guys in my inner circle, or a fellow believer who knows me and whom I know and respect, then I’m immediately going to give it greater weight in my consideration.
  • Beware of contradictions. There are some things that I’ve learned about myself and believe wholeheartedly based on my own experiences and faith journey. I am supposed to be in Pella. I believe that God has a purpose for both me and Wendy here. If someone approached me today and said, “God told me that you are supposed to move to Timbuktu,” then I would be immediately, shrewdly suspect. This contradicts all of the sign posts and waypoints on my journey.
  • Seek wisdom. I have a strong circle of family and friends who are wise, who know me well, and whom I have given carte blanche permission to speak into my life. Before giving a stranger’s “God told me” statement any credence, I would run it by these people whom I trust. If I share the word given to me and their B.S. Meters start sounding an alarm, then I feel totally secure dismissing it.
  • Don’t worry. God will accomplish His purposes in me (consider Jonah). I am open and actively listening. I am continually asking, seeking, and knocking. If I’m supposed to move to Timbuktu then that’s where I’m going to end up. Just because a stranger tells me such doesn’t mean I need to obsess about it. Chill. Have faith. Follow. Press on.

Oh, Mercy

Forbearance
Forbearance (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us….
Psalm 123:3a (NIV)

Mercy (mur-see) n. 1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence. 2. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty. 3. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.

Sometimes we lose sight of what words really mean. Throughout God’s Message I read cries for mercy and calls for mercy. I regularly plead for God’s mercy. But, do I ever really stop to consider what that really means? I read the three definitions pasted above and find in each of them a slightly different but wholly apt nuance of the word.

I need God’s compassionate and kindly forbearance because despite my best efforts I keep testing God’s patience with my repeated offenses, my moral faults and my personal shortcomings.

I need God’s discretionary power to pardon and mitigate just punishment for my condemnable thoughts, words, acts and omissions.

I desire daily evidence of divine favor and blessing.

At the same instance, I am reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I need to show compassion and kindly forbearance towards those who have offended me.

I need to pardon those who have perpetrated hurtful thoughts, words, and actions towards me.

I need to give tangible favor and blessing to others who do not deserve it.

This morning I prepare for the day mindful of the truth that it is totally improper of me to pray for God’s mercy if I am unwilling to show mercy to others.

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Chapter-a-Day John 13

 

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...
Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:36-38 (NLT) 


It is Holy Week as I write this, the day before Maundy (Sorrowful) Thursday. How appropriate for our chapter-a-day journey to bring us to the events of that night as all who follow after Jesus remember them in our annual pilgrimage through the calendar year.

The truth is, as I sit in the darkness before dawn and read about Judas, and read about Peter, I want to distance myself from them.

“Who is it that will betray you? I would never. Not me. I would never deny you. I’d die for you!” I hear my own spirit in the words of Jesus closest friends. “Not me. I’d never…”

But, then I hear the rooster crowing in my own conscience. I do it every day. I betray Him with each willfully sinful thought, and word, and act. I deny Him with  each self-centered motive. That’s the point. Not that we would be just like Judas and Peter if we were there then, but that we are just like Judas and Peter here and now. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. Not just because of Judas’ kiss, but also because of mine.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Thessalonians 2

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...
Image via Wikipedia

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (NLT)

Throughout the journey I’ve had some very interesting experiences in which I know God has impressed something upon me. There are times when God has clearly spoken to my spirit regarding something I should know or do. When I was younger I admit that I was quick to hear my own will and slap a “God told me” sticker on it. Over time I learned to be much more careful with what I say. When I believe God has spoken something clearly to me I treat it like a priceless treasure. I keep it, I test it, I guard it, and I share it with relatively few people whom I trust with something so valuable.

Along the way I’ve met several people who play fast and loose with the phrase “God told me….” I generally don’t have a problem when a person says that God told them this or that if it only affects the person speaking. Fine. Who am I to judge? If what they say is true and I see the eventual evidence of it then I think that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about times when people tell me that God told them that this or that was His will for them, and then it clearly does not come to pass. I can remember only one occasion in my entire life in which someone told me, “I thought for sure God was telling me that, but man was I ever wrong. I was completely mistaken!” More often than not, when someone was clearly wrong they will not say a word. I’m generally left wondering if the person thinks God changed His mind or if they realize how foolish they look to have so boldly spoken something that was false.

For me, the larger problem occurs when people claim that God has given them a special word, a vision, or a discernment concerning me. It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen, but once again – what happens if they are wrong? When we journeyed through the books of the Old Testament law I remember the law prescribing death by stoning for those who claimed to have received a word of prophecy that proved false. I’m not advocating the resurrection of such a draconian rule. Nevertheless, I observe no real accountability for those who regularly use “God told me” or “I have a word of discernment from the Lord” to justify their own will and/or get what they want from others.

Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same. It is clear from today’s chapter that Paul was dealing with similar frustrations in the early church. People were playing fast and loose, telling those in the church that Jesus had already come back and they’d missed it. Some were even telling outright lies, writing letters about it and claiming it was from Paul.

I have learned along the way to heed the advice of the verse above. I don’t allow myself to be easily shaken when someone tells me “God told me…” or “God gave me a vision.” I quietly pray for God to reveal Truth in my heart and in the matter at hand. I wait. I watch. I let time and events test the truth of what they say. I press on, trying to obediently live out what I know God’s will to be. There’s not a lot of sense in getting bent out of shape about it. If that person is right, then what they say will come to pass. If they are wrong, then it will simple pass away.

I confess that I’d still like to stone a few people, though.

God, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 13

Guide me in Truth. But he said, "I am also a prophet, just like you. And an angel came to me with a message from God: 'Bring him home with you, and give him a good meal!'" But the man was lying. 1 Kings 13:18 (MSG)

The promptings of God are a sticky wicket. I will hear the words "God told me" slip from the lips of others. In some cases, quite often. These are powerful words, as they presume that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God of Creation is the ultimate author of a person's comments or actions. There is a not so subtle claim of authority and pride in the subtext of such statement.

The phrase used to pass my own lips more readily, but along the journey I grew more reticent to claim such a thing publicly and more discerning when I hear it uttered by others. I know there have been times when my own deep (or shallow, even) longings got mingled and confused with my perceptions of what God was prompting. I confess there have been specific instances in which my statement "God told me" was no more true than the prophet from Bethel in today's chapter.

God still speaks to my spirit through his message, in the midst of prayer, and in the course of a given day. His still, small voice whispers deep with me. I have just chosen to relinquish my human desire to broadcast it in most cases. I know God still speaks to others, so I don't immediately dismiss those who claim a message from God. Still, I wonder if they are a true prophet like the man from Judah, or a well intentioned fraud like the man from Bethel. It's not for me to judge the person either way. I simply pray that God give me the discernment to know Truth and the grace act on it accordingly. God can handle the rest.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Fickr and loswl