God is our Refuge and Strength…A very present and well-proved help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains be shaken into the midst of the seas, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling and tumult. Psalm 46:1-3 Amplified
I set my coffee cup aside this morning and started to close my prayer journal, thinking I was ready for the day, when I glanced at the calendar.
September 11. Oh, my.
Everyone over the age of 30 has a 9/11 story: where they were and what they were doing when they heard the News. Some stories are pretty dramatic—like the two fighter pilots I just heard about who were ready to take down United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania with their unarmed planes…and their own lives. Others involved simple ordinary decisions, like the people who took a few extra minutes to leave for work on that golden September morning and discovered they had saved their lives. Or a cousin of ours whose meeting at the World Trade Center had been cancelled at the last minute.
The rest of us were just going about our business when we felt the foundations of our world rock beneath us and realized we’d been transported into a nightmare from which there was no waking. I will never forget the shock of watching the planes fly into the proud towers of my native city, over and over, until I ran from the tv, screaming. I still shudder and feel my eyes fill with tears when I see that image.
Twenty-two years. Long enough for the grandson who was just a baby to grow to full manhood. For him to be joined by two siblings, the youngest of whom graduated from high school this spring. For the friend I tried to hike with to have joined my ever-lengthening list of folks on the Other Side.
Our Ancient Enemy did his worst that day; he’s still doing it. The earth is still changing, the mountains still shake in the midst of the sea, the nations still rage against each other and God Himself, wars still break out left and right, as the Psalmist predicted thousands of years ago, but our God is still “our refuge, our strength, a very present help in trouble.” No matter what the horror or chaos, He does not change.
On that basis and that basis alone can we “be still and know (He) is God.” (vs. 10)
FATHER GOD: I pray for my country. We needed You desperately on 9/11; we need You now. Help us know we can be still and trust You, no matter what. Amen.
To be published weekend of September 16, 2023.
…Joseph said to them (his brothers), “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Genesis 50:20,21 Revised Standard Version
Joseph traveled a long and difficult road to get to these famous verses. You may remember the story.
The favorite of his father Jacob’s many sons, Joseph grew up as the brother his siblings loved to hate. It didn’t help when he flaunted the beautiful coat his father gave him, or bragged about his dreams in which his brothers would bow down before him. Finally, they had had enough and sold Joseph to Egyptian slave traders, telling his father he had been killed by wild animals.
Handsome and talented, however, Joseph was no ordinary slave. Potiphar, an officer of the Pharoah, saw these qualities and brought him into his household. Unfortunately, Joseph also caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife who falsely accused him of rape when he refused her advances. Furious, Potiphar had him thrown into prison. Despite his aid to the prison keeper and successful dream interpretations for Pharoah’s servants, Joseph languished there for perhaps as many as 15 years.
At long last, with the threat of a famine looming, one of the servants finally remembered the man who told him his dreams. Joseph was called forth to interpret for the Pharoah. When he did so correctly, he was made Pharoah’s second in command, able to organize Egypt’s food production to keep them all from starvation.
What he suffered tempered Joseph so he could be God’s man in this critical situation. He had even been humbled enough to forgive the brothers who had caused his suffering in the first place.
But note, please: that tempering didn’t come easily, nor did the answers come without many prison-bound nights of anguish, questions and tears. Nearly everyone I’ve heard who can tell a story like Joseph’s will say that they only understood it after they lived through it. What one must do in the middle is simply believe and soldier on.
Sadly, we all get our turn in the crucible of suffering, sorrow and loss that is part of life in our broken world. Like Joseph, we have a choice: will it make us bitter or better? Will we allow the pain to teach us its hard lessons? Or will we, like Job’s wife, “…curse God and die?”
The choice is ours.
FATHER GOD: It’s hard here; I don’t understand. Help me learn what I need to know. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” July 23, 2023.
I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Jeremiah 29:11-14 The Message
I still remember my last final exam.
Understand: I dreaded finals so much that for many years after college I’d have this nightmare that I was about to take one and for some reason hadn’t attended the class. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, cursing myself. So you’d think I’d have been overjoyed to finish that final.
But when I handed in the last blue book and walked out of the last classroom, I felt a surprising wave of sorrow.
Then I walked into my dorm to find an underclassman moving her things out for the summer. “Good-bye,” she said, hesitant and suddenly awkward, “have a nice life.”
The wave rolled over me again, hard, leaving me staggering and breathless. The tectonic plates beneath my life were shifting; I hadn’t realized it before. I would never be a kid, a student again. That part of my life was over for good. And the future? Only the vaguest idea.
Now it’s happened again.
Our youngest grandson just graduated from high school. Yes, we still have a granddaughter in school, but she’s in Boise and in seventh grade—many long miles away and many years to graduation. We are done with the local school experience. No more shivering through fall soccer games. No more basketball tournaments. No more concerts, plays, grandparents’ days.
The last local bird has fledged. Like all fledglings, he will hang around the nest for a while. But his life has changed dramatically and so will ours.
Like that day long ago, I feel sad, excited, and a little scared. What does the future hold for us all? I don’t know any more than I did back then.
But I do know Who holds that future: the same One Who held my past. The One Who saw me safely through all the trials and struggles that came later, Who gave me a life far better than I could imagine.
I lost my last grandparent when I was younger than this grandson. They didn’t live to see my life unfold; I won’t live to see his.
But we all follow the same God Who has made us these wonderful promises…and He doesn’t change or lie. That we can count on.
FATHER GOD: Thank You for Your precious promise of hope and a future. Help us rely on that, no matter what. Amen.
To be published In “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” May 28, 2023.
(Jesus said) “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” John 11:25,26 The Message
My heart is heavy this morning. The darkness and sorrow of Holy Week has come early this year. There are never the right words to explain the slaughter of innocents, like the victims of the shooting in Nashville. There aren’t now… except that we have an enemy whose job is to “steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) and he just did it again. But, thank God, there’s more to the story.
There was for Lazarus.
You remember (John 11:1-44.) It was reported to Jesus that His dear friend Lazarus was seriously ill. Instead of rushing to the bedside and healing him, He waited inexplicably until Lazarus had died and was buried four days. Max Lucado, in his book “In the Footsteps of the Savior,” reveals something I’ve never seen before. When Lazarus’ sister Martha came out to meet Jesus, she was angry.
“She’d hoped Jesus would show up to heal Lazarus. He didn’t. Then she’d hoped he’d show up to bury Lazarus. He didn’t. By the time he made it to Bethany, Lazarus was four-days buried, and Martha was wondering what kind of friend Jesus was.
’Lord, if you had been here,’ she confronts, ‘my brother would not have died.’
There is hurt in those words. Hurt and disappointment. The one man who could have made a difference didn’t, and Martha wants to know why.”
You wonder if it’s okay to question, even be mad at God? Here’s your answer.
Notice Jesus’ response. He did not explain His absence or defend it. He was “troubled in spirit” (vs. 33) even “deeply angry” (The Message)—not at the sisters, but at the evil forces who brought such suffering to people He loved. His heart of compassion felt their sorrow. How do we know? Because He wept. (vs. 35)
As He weeps with us today. We have a God Who grieves for us and with us.
Even more amazing: we have a God Who does something about our grief. Lazarus walks out of his grave. Resurrected. Jesus’ triumphant promise to Martha was enacted before her eyes. As He was about to do for all of them, for all of us, for all believers to the “end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Let’s walk together into Holy Week and allow that sight, that blessed hope to lift our hearts and renew our faith.
LORD JESUS: You are the Resurrection, the Life that conquers death forever. Help us to know and believe that. Amen.
To be published “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” Sunday April 2, 2023.
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:23 NIV
I write on the third week of Advent. By the time you read this, we will be in the fourth. Christmas is ever so close…and I have never been so unprepared! It’s enough to make a (barely reformed) control freak feel the rise of her old enemy: panic.
The to-do lists whirled around my head like autumn leaves in a windstorm as I wondered: what was I thinking when I scheduled two back-to-back trips at the beginning of the Advent season? How in the world can I get everything done and what will happen if I don’t? Then I heard the hiss of the Old Snake:
“Where is your so-called faith, your joy in the Lord? Fine one you are to be writing about believing in God! Why don’t you just give up?”
Until I remembered: No one at the first Christmas was prepared, either. Every woman knows If Mary realized she was about to deliver the Baby in a cold, dirty stable far from home and help, she would never have made that fateful trip to Bethlehem, census or not. Yet they went ahead…and wonders happened.
God had His own ideas. He wanted Mary and Joseph to learn trust, to know they could rely on Him when all human plans went awry. He wanted them to know loved them and He was with them.
As He is with me. And you. The less prepared we are, the more we can open our eyes and see what He is doing, the difference His faithfulness makes. We go ahead and wonders happen.
When I quit worrying I could see His hand, over and over: from friends and family to complete strangers who stepped forward to do what we needed just when we needed it. We went ahead and wonders happened.
They still are happening.
So if you feel as unprepared and unready as I did, don’t panic. The end of our rope is where God does His best (and most obvious) work. Go ahead and watch wonders happen.
God—the creator and sustainer of the far-flung universe—has come to our obscure planet sharing life with us, helping us. That’s His Christmas gift, given for now and all eternity.
My prayer can only echo Max Lucado’s:
“Gracious Father, the wonder of the good news of Jesus’ coming as a baby never grows old. And it never will throughout eternity. You were the God of the impossible then and now. May your word be powerful with in me, giving me strength to believe great things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 18, 2022.