Category Archives: trust

Hide and Seek with God

Andrew_peekingWhen my children (and now grandchildren) were small, a favorite game we played was hide-and-seek.  One of us would close our eyes and count while the others scattered through the house to hide.   The basement closet, the upstairs bathroom, under the bed – no room was off-limits.  The seeker would search every room, look behind every door to find the hidden ones.  If I was hiding, I sometimes would make special shouts – “Ookookachoo” – to help them in their search.  We would all squeal with delight when the hidden were found and then a new person would close their eyes and start to count.

When I was a child I imagined God was playing an ongoing game of hide and seek with me.  I knew that God was somewhere in the house but that he was hidden in some way and that I had to find him.  If I prayed long enough, or studied the right scriptures or behaved the right way, God would suddenly pop out of his hiding place and we would embrace.  I experienced moments of shared spiritual intimacy and wonderful joy, but then, in a moment, God was hidden again.

In this season of COVID-19 pandemic, one might think God is hidden, beyond our normal sight lines.  Our regular practice of gathering for worship has been interrupted.  The comforting taste of Holy Communion and church coffee has been locked away.  The familiar sounds of congregational songs are silent.   We sit alone searching on our computer screens for the hidden God.

Yet what the Bible teaches and what my contemplative prayer practice affirms is that God is always present, especially in the suffering of life.   When the great leader Moses died, his young protégé, Joshua was called to lead the people into their promise land.   Joshua was frightened by the unknown challenges ahead.  In that moment of uncertainty, God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)  God did not magically remove Joshua’s obstacles (nor our pandemic) but God gives us courage and strength to walk through the challenges, the fears, and even death itself.

What I am learning -and it is a life-long process- is that God is not hidden, but rather I am the one who has closed my mind and heart to the God.  She is always with me.  And the ironic thing is that it is often when I close my eyes, quiet my racing mind, and open my heart in centering prayer, I hear the still small voice of God shouting, “I am here, I am always here.”

Be strong and courageous, friends.

Experience the Way

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

My daughter, Christina, was not quite three. She was waking up from a nap and my wife noticed that she did not seem fully responsive. Christina’s eyes were open and she was breathing, but her face was blank and she did not respond to any touch or sound. This persisted for a few minutes, so we called 911 and an ambulance came. We rushed off to the children’s hospital, uncertain what was happening, but praying for God’s intervention.

I think about that ambulance ride, when I read the story (John 4:46-54) of the royal official whose son was ill. The official traveled more than twenty miles by foot to Jesus and “begged him to come down and heal his son.” The official was someone who normally gave orders and told people what to do. Begging was not part of his daily life—especially with a wandering, controversial preacher. Yet he was desperate to help his son and if begging was necessary, he would do it.

Many parents would do the same. I know my prayers in the ambulance were a form of begging, “God, help my daughter.” It was raw and real and I waited for God to hear me.

Jesus’ response to the official sounds ambivalent, almost callous, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” It sounds like it is meant for the crowd that surrounded Jesus and not for the official.

Yet the father persisted. As I said he was desperate. “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”

I hear and empathize with this father’s plea. At times God seems distant and silent, yet I persist in my prayer for God’s assistance.

Jesus responded, “Go, your son will live.”

This is not what the father asked. He wanted Jesus to come with him, to be present and touch his son. I would want the same. I want Jesus to be physically present, reassuring me as much as my child.

Yet the official believed the word of Jesus. He started on his way, not knowing what would happen, but simply trusting in the promise of Jesus. I wonder what thoughts and feelings he experienced as he walked towards home. (I let you read the story to discover how it concludes.)

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Many parents live right there in the story.  We are walking the way, unsure of the future.  We have the promise of God’s love and healing, but are uncertain how it will unfold. We walk, trusting in the promise of God for our children and for ourselves. We are on the way, but the way seems dark and cheerless.

Shortly after my daughter arrived at the hospital, we met with doctors and discovered that she had experienced a mild form of epileptic seizure, something that could be treated with a prescription. They assured us that she would grow out of it. And she has.

Still I remember clearly that feeling as we drove to the hospital, the begging quality of my prayer and the simple trust in the promise of God’s love. We all walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We try to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)

When have you walked by faith and not by sight?

Lord Jesus, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

Giving as Trust

The simple story of the widow’s gift in the temple has fascinated me for years.

the-poor-widows-offeringJesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

In a past post I wrote about how Jesus may be chastising the temple officials for taking the last coins of a poor widow. That still may be true, yet one cannot help but notice, as Jesus does, the trusting heart of the widow. Then this week I read a story that underscored the emphasis of giving as trust.

The Rev. Gordon Cosby was the founder and pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. When Cosby was a young man, minister of a small Baptist congregation in a railroad town just outside of Lynchburg, Virginia he got a call from a church deacon. Cosby later wrote

My deacon told me that he wanted my help. “We have in our congregation,” he said, “a widow with six children. I have looked at the records and discovered that she is putting into the treasury of the church each month $4.00 – a tithe of her income. Of course, she is unable to do this. We want you to go and talk to her and let her know that she needs to feel no obligation whatsoever, and free her from the responsibility.”

I am not wise now [writes Gordon]; I was less wise then. I went and told her of the concern of the deacons. I told her as graciously and as supportively as I know how that she was relieved of the responsibility of giving. As I talked with her the tears came into her eyes. “I want to tell you,” she said, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”

“I tried to retrieve the situation. I was unable to do it. I went home and pondered the story of Jesus in the temple watching the people put their offerings in the collection plate. Jesus’ attitude amazed me. He had the audacity to watch what people were putting in the collection plate. Not only did he have the audacity to watch, he had the audacity to comment. Of the rich who put in large sums he said, “They put in what they can easily afford.” Of the poor widow who dropped in two coins, he said, “She in her poverty, who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living.” I knew I would have said to her, “Let us take this to the council. We have a sensible council that always makes exceptions and I know that they will relieve you of your discipline of giving.” From Letters to Scattered Pilgrims by Elizabeth O’Conner.

Giving can go beyond sensible into the realm of trust and devotion.  Giving reorients us to the core of our lives.

Lord Jesus, teach me to give with total trust and devotion.

Underground Work

Horizontal Drill working at Resurrection

Horizontal Drill working at Resurrection

This week at Resurrection there has been plenty of working going on, but most has been invisible. A horizontal drilling machine was on site and it drilled a 350 foot tunnel under our parking lot so that a sewer pipe could connect our building to the county sewer line. It encountered rocks and layers of stone that slowed progress but the drill eventually broke through and the connection made.

Meanwhile our pumpkin patch continues to flourish and will soon be ready for our annual Harvest Festival on Sunday, October 6. The small seedling that were planted last June have flourished over the summer and more than 500 pumpkins that were once hidden by leafy vines are now visible.   They are ready for the harvest.

Harvest Festival brings much joy.

Harvest Festival brings much joy.

The Harvest Festival is a celebration of local farm heritage and your participation is encouraged, both as volunteers and participants.  Discover how you can help make this day special by volunteering here.

All this underground work reminds me of Jesus’ parable in Mark 4.

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Jesus’ parable states that the kingdom is growing all around us, often in invisible ways that we do not fully comprehend. Jesus calls us to be faithful in scattering the seed, God’s Word of promise and hope for all people.  The Word is often mysterious in how it calls people to faith in God.  I am one who wants to see tangible results right away, but God’s Word sometimes needs to be like the horizontal drill, pushing through a stony sinful heart. I need to persevere in my spreading of God’s Word.   The harvest of faith will eventually come.  And oh what joy comes with the harvest!

I am confident that all the underground work done this week will eventually bring glory to God’s kingdom. We need to remain patient in our trust of God’s promise of a fruitful harvest.

In what ways have you had to be patient with God’s underground work?

Lord Jesus, work your Word into my life and world.

Getting Off the Rails.

This month during worship at Resurrection we have used Psalm 95 as our call to worship. Verse seven states, “For he is our God, we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.”

Thus the picture above sparked my imagination. As God’s sheep, we sometimes wish that we had a clear direct path to our lives.   The railroad track is a set path that will not be moved easily. We want God to lay down our life’s tracks and make the path smooth without steep hills or broken rails. However rarely is our life so clearly defined and directed. And even when the rails are clear we may not be sure in which of the two directions to travel.

Upon further reflection, I am glad that my life is not set on such rails. Trains are great, but they are so limited in where they can go. They must follow the rails. As the sheep of God’s hand, we have a greater flexibility. After all Jesus told us that the Spirit of God (like the wind) blows where it will (John 3:8).

This week I am in the midst of experiencing how the wind of God blows. Last spring I planned to be heading north this week-end for a canoe trip in the BWCA. I scheduled a guest preacher and kept my calendar cleared. But last month the canoe trip was cancelled but I kept the guest preacher. Then two days ago I learned that the male chaperone for our youth mission trip had to cancel and the trip needed a replacement. So Thursday I am leaving, not for the BWCA, but for Denver to serve with our youth in a YouthWorks mission trip next week.

I will be writing more about the trip in coming posts. Right now I am thankful that my life in Christ is not set on some static rails, but has the flexibility to discover new paths. Like the sheep in the picture, I need to step away from the common track and set off on a new path of adventure.

Otherwise, I just might be smacked down by the oncoming freight train of routine.

Lord Jesus, guide me by your Spirit.

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Three

The night’s rain was still dripping from the trees as I stirred from my tent. A thick fog covered the beaver pond and surrounding forest. Though it was not raining at the moment, its threat would be my constant companion.

IMG_20130530_065714_527After a hurried breakfast and fast packing, I was on the trail by 6:00 am. I was glad to have a trail since I could only see a few yards in any direction due to the thick fog. The guide book described the trail as having several scenic overlooks but I could see nothing except grey mist. I scramble up and down the ridgeline, wondering what was ahead. The hike had a surreal feel to it as I moved through the wet forest.

I was reminded of a sermon I heard in seminary. The preacher was describing a similar experience, driving along a foggy highway in North Dakota. He had to trust the road since he could not see very far ahead. He described our faith in God like that drive. God rarely gives us long-range vistas of how our life will unfold. We see only a short ways down our path of life. Our call is to daily trust in God’s presence as our guide for each step along the path.

I was also reminded of a sermon (do pastors always think in terms of sermons?) based on Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The lamp of the Psalmist was not a searchlight that could cast a brilliant beam for miles, but rather a weak oil-wick lamp that helped you see a few feet so as not to stumble at night. God does not give you a google-map direction printout that shows every twist and turn in your life, but a promise to be with you even in the fog.

IMG_20130530_091848_204Later that morning I reached the Beaver River. It was roaring full of water. There was a tent at one campsite, but no campers around. I continued on through the fog.

I reached the trailhead by Silver Bay about noon. Though it was misting, it felt like heavier rain could happen at any time. I had a choice. I could either continue on the Superior Hiking trail towards Finland MN over a section of the trail described as the most challenging in the region OR hike down into Silver Bay and check into a motel for the night.

My ankle was sore, my gear was wet from last night’s shower, and the cloud cover threaten heavier rain. I turned towards Silver Bay and the Mariner Motel. An hour after I checked in, a large thunderstorm dropped buckets of water and I was glad I had made this choice.   After all, God had given me a brain to use as well as strong legs and back.

IMG_20130530_160347_421Still I had one more day of hiking before heading home.

Lord Jesus, guide me through the fog and the rain of life.

The Path Chosen

I subscribe to other blogs and two recent posts caught my attention. Both had stunning pictures and described walking in a kind of spiritual wonder and beauty.  I appreciate each photo and  written reflection.  They described paths I yearn to follow.

The first is from Jacob Schriftman.

Morning Walk in Heaven

I love to walk beside the ocean.  One of my most memorable runs was along Seven Mile beach in c, Jamaica.

The second photograph is from Sister Pat Farrell, OP,  a Dominican Sister of San Rafael.

Muir Woods Trail

I also love to hike forest paths.  I am looking forward to a hike this summer on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Yet today, on the first day of spring, my morning run in St. Paul, Minnesota, was on snow and ice. I felt somewhat deprived. I grumbled and complained as I ran. This is not path I would have preferred.    Then I watched a video on the beauty of trail running even in snow.  (It is only two minutes in length, yet inspirational.)

Show me your ways, oh Lord, teach me your paths.  Whether snow-covered or not, teach me to walk, run, and dance with you though all circumstances and situations.

Prayer Challenge

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion - ...

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3) Painter: Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956) Year: 1990 Characteristics: Oil on canvas, 245 x 137 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus made radical promises regarding prayer.

  Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Jesus promised that his disciples could “ask whatever they wish” and God would make it so. Such bold promises challenge my observation of the church and the world. So many prayers seem to go unanswered or forgotten.

I am not talking about what I consider “childish” prayers, like winning the lottery or finding a parking spot at the shopping mall. I am thinking about those real prayers of the heart, when day-after-day you pray for the healing of a loved one. A friend is afflicted with cancer or an addiction, a spouse is battling depression or a child is traveling in the wrong crowd and we pray. We pray asking God to bring healing and peace to this person believing that this is God’s will for God’s people. Jesus certainly brought healing to those in need; healing and wholeness is what God desires for all of creation, especially his children.

Naturally if the person resists God’s healing, God will not force mercy. Often a person wrestling with addiction has to hit bottom before they can see how powerless they are in their addiction. God does not force healing.

Still many of us pray daily for God’s healing and we do not experience it. Oh, there are those occasions when miraculous healings occur. Thanks be to God! I have participated in prayer services where God’s power has restored the sick to health. Yet such answers seem almost arbitrary because others have not had the same prayers answered even when their faith was strong and their prayers persistent.

I do not know the answer to my own question, other than to look to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his own cup of suffering to be taken away, yet the next day he walked to the cross and death. His prayer was real and deep. And though he did drink the cup, his prayers gave him the strength and power to walk to Golgotha . . . . and three days later, the empty tomb.

And that is what we each need: the strength and courage to walk the path God has given us. So, like Jesus, we pray, “your will be done.”  The final answer to all prayers comes in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life in him.

Lord Jesus, your will be done in my life.

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.