Friday, June 16, 2017

The Gracious Hand of God

(Message delivered at Ladies Express Lunch, Vero Beach First United Methodist Church, June 15, 2017)

 I had a faith breeze aha God thing happen recently and I think when those things drop into your life you need to share it.  I saw an old friend and as we shared what was happening in our lives, she gave me a thought that stuck with me.  And that’s a good thing because it was going to appear in my Bible reading very shortly. 

She asked me if I was still doing the devotions at these lunches.  I assured her that I am and invited her to come.  She shared with me that she had recently been asked to give the devotion where she works.  When she asked God what he wanted her to say, she got the message: faith without a backup plan.  Think about it, she said…having faith without a plan B. 

“Diane,” I said…”I’m stealing that.  You’ll see that again real soon.”  A few days later, following our church’s Bible reading plan, I dug into the Book of Ezra.  It’s a short book and I read it in one sitting.  As I worked along and got to chapter 8, I came to the part where the prophet Ezra had received permission from King Artaxerxes to lead a group of refugees from Babylon to Jerusalem to restore the house of God to its position in the kingdom and to return the precious gold and silver items that had been stolen when the temple was destroyed.  And I was just sort of letting the story run along in my brain when I read this in Ezra 8:21: Ezra is speaking…

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  Verse 22: I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 

My brain popped to attention.  Read that again!

Since he had so firmly declared God’s protection, Ezra was embarrassed to ask for man’s protection.  So there they went…off on the journey loaded with gold and silver possessions to dress the house of God.  And their only protection was the hand of God.  That’s faith, baby.

And how did it turn out?  Read on down to verse 31: On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.  The hand of our God was on us…

You know, there are plenty of verses that tell us to have faith…to trust…but sometimes we need to be shown what that looks like.  Here it is, in black and white on the page.  Ezra had told the king that the hand of God was on them and so he proceeded in that protection.  He asked nothing more.  He didn’t say, “Well the hand of God is on us but just in case we are beset by bandits we better have an armed escort.”  Now don’t think that I’m saying that we should not be smart about protecting ourselves with the available security…say at the mall.  The story is not telling us to be stupid.  But when we declare we are going to trust the gracious hand of God, then trust it.  I believe that if we need to go from Plan A to Plan B, then God will make that clear and show the way.

Is there anyone in this room who is not having to walk by faith in some area of your life today?  Please raise your hand if your life is so well-ordered and safe and sound that you are not having to trust the gracious hand of God for anything.  I want to see what somebody like that looks like.  As the great comedienne Gilda Radner was known to say…”It’s always sumthin’!”  In our family, we have so many sumthin’s it would be overwhelming if we were not trusting God to walk alongside us and show us his path…his Plan A.  It’s likely that any Plan B would be a plan of my own fixing and direction and we would be off in the weeds in a matter of minutes.  I know, because I’ve battled those weeds of my own making far too many times…and God help me I likely will again.

Faith without a backup plan refers to those times in life when we look at a situation and say, “I have no idea what to do here but I know God does so I’m leaving it up to him.”  As we make the first step, counting on that gracious hand of God, we can see where to make the next step and then the next and so on. 

Psalm 105 says: Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Don’t look for a backup plan.  No need to say, “If this doesn’t work, then I’ll try this.”  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  He who gave us his only son as his plan A will keep us with his gracious hand as long as we look to him and his strength.  That’s our Plan A, B, C, D and on and on and on.  Thanks be to God for his eternal love and caring over all we do as we seek to serve him. 

Remember: the gracious hand of our God is on all who look to him.

Pray:  Lord of all strength and power, we sit here under your mighty gracious hand.  We come to you thanking you for your love and care.  We have so many needs, so many concerns and so many praises.  Hear them all, Father, and touch each one with love and compassion.  May we seek only to serve you and bring you glory as we carry your cross in a hurting world.  I pray your blessings on each woman here…in the name of your son, Amen.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

To the Glory of God

How lovely are thy dwellings, O Lord...
Psalm 84:1

I have visited some magnificent places dedicated to God's glory.  I've enjoyed worship from the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey.  I've been blessed to stand awestruck in the middle of St. Peter's Basilica and St. Patrick's Cathedral...places that are truly grand dwellings in the eyes of the world. If we consider the man-made houses dedicated to the glory of God, these truly are among the most grand in size and decoration.

Saturday afternoon, my daughter, Becky, and I presented a program at Alturas United Methodist Church in Alturas, Florida.  Though it's a mere 70 miles from my home, I had never been to Alturas.  I'm glad I finally got there!  The church is not large.  In fact, it's one of the smallest churches I've ever enjoyed being in.  It is a lovely 102-year-old gem in an off-the-beaten-path Florida village.  The sanctuary is graced with exquisite stained glass windows and the warm dark wood of the pews completes the peaceful ambiance of God's presence.

And inside were the kindest, dearest people whose pastor is my friend, Kathleen Durbin.  They were so receptive to our presentation: my words and Becky's music.  We were as much charmed as we were blessed.  We kept looking at each other and saying, "This is so beautiful."

    What a lovely dwelling, O Lord.

(Becky and I would love to come to your church.  Contact information can be found on this page.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Of Rockets and Restrooms

EARLY 1960s

Rocket launches always make me cry. 

The drama of a man-made machine carrying its payload - whether human or not - into the skies for a specific purpose is just overwhelming to me.  Growing up in the shadow of the place where launches were made has given me many memorable moments as tears streaked my cheeks.

Today I sat in a theater watching the movie Hidden Figures.  The screen flipped to actual news footage from May 5, 1961.  In that moment, I was once again a junior at Vero Beach High School.  Our teachers had herded all of us into the yard surrounding the big brick school building because the important thing that was happening that day was not happening in the rooms of the school or on the streets of the town. 

It was about to happen in and above those clouds above our heads.  A man named Alan Shepard was about to ride a rocket from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral further into space than any American had ever gone.  No one knew if we would be able to see anything in the sky - after all, Vero Beach is some 50 miles south of the Cape.  But this was historic and they wanted us to be there just in case we could see some smoke did we know...get a glimpse of a rocket.  We chatted and looked at the sky until our necks hurt and we saw...nothing.  But we remember the day.  And I have watched the skies many times since then to catch the sight of the flame of the booster rocket and the trail of smoke disappearing into the atmosphere.

The scope of Hidden Figures takes us so far beyond what was happening in our country while we raced into space.  Fifteen minutes into the movie, I said to my friend, "This is eye-opening".  The Civil Rights movement as told from within the workplace called NASA became human in a way that other movies - not The Help, not 42 - have been able to do for me.  They made their mark, but this one drove it home.  When I was growing up, I didn't question my surroundings.  Things were just the way they were.  It was in those late high school days of the early 1960s, when I was so familiar with the street pictured here, that my awareness began to be opened to a small thought..."This is not right."  Watching the movie brought all those feelings back.  Maybe it was the sight of that poor woman running through the rain carrying her work with her to the colored restroom. 

The race to the moon...the introduction of the first behemoth computers...all of this and more was about to change forever the offices and stores of this street in my home town.  The 1960s were a pivotal time as life as we knew it - on the street and in the clouds - changed us all. 

If you remember that time...or want to know more about it...Hidden Figures will open a window of time for you. 


Friday, March 24, 2017

We Call It Mom

 Lyn, Mom, Becky

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Proverbs 31: 25 - 27

I looked at the clock a bit ago.  It's three o'clock.  In the afternoon. 

I have been sitting in my recliner all day and I really don't care who knows it.  It might seem to some that I'm eating the bread of idleness.  The fact is, I've been very busy, watching over the affairs of my household.  My extended household, that is.  Wisdom and faithful instruction have been working overtime because...that's what Moms do. 

You see, this is a Mom Day.  Both of my daughters are in stressful circumstances with a health issue and one with a career opportunity...and somebody has to be at the ready to listen, encourage and offer advice.  And in between phone calls and texts, pray.  Because God certainly can't work this all out without my faithful instruction, can he?  'Scuse's the Mom talking. 

The best thing I know is that this Mom, nor any other, is at the wheel of this ride called Life.  As my pastor has pointed out to me - and to our congregation as a whole - God is not pacing the  halls of heaven wringing his hands and wondering what to do next.  He has His plan, and He will be there in the midst of the plan.  The answer to it all is simple:

                                  Thy will be done.

Still, we use our Google and research possibilities.  We have brains and we're expected to use them.  We can only make the right choices when we are informed.  We look up airline information just in case we need to make a quick run to the bedside of a sick daughter.  We search for answers...information...encouragement for ourselves and our loved ones.  God's got this stuff.  We just have to be faithful.

It's strength and dignity, armed with a laptop and clothed in pajamas. We call it Mom.