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Posts Tagged ‘King David’

God Surprises 5

If we fail to acknowledge God at work in the ‘big events’ of our life, what is the likelihood that we will ever recognize him at work in the small, ordinary, everyday events of our life? Yes, it is a ‘step of faith’ – perhaps even a leap – for an individual to look at their life this way.  We are more prone to give Lady Luck, good fortune, or coincidence the credit than God.

It is perhaps the height of human hubris to refuse to give our Creator credit for anything good that happens in our life; let alone what good happens on earth in general. However, let something fall apart, a tragedy strike, catastrophe fall upon us or another part of our world and suddenly we want to point our finger heavenward and blame the Divine.  We want an explanation from God for our hurt and sorrow, even if we do it in doubt, “If there was a god, he/she would have prevented this!  That’s what I would have done if all the power of the universe were in my hands.

The Bible teaches us that, out of his sovereign will to run his creation or allow it to run according to the laws of creation he established, God permits his blessings to come to both the just and unjust of the world. It confounds those who think that they belong to a special religious club, which gives them privileges to God’s blessings and protections against bad things happening to them, that Jesus would teach us, “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45, MKJV).  It does not fit our theology, so we avoid it.

However, Job was a man in the Old Testament who knew both the blessings and the trials that come in this life. He was a man who looked like he had everything in life.  He was the model of success.  A day came, however, when everything he had and more was ripped from his life: financial security, family, peace, and good health.  Standing on the brink of his trust in God staring into the abyss of doubt and despair, his wife encouraged him to abandon all hope and leap by offering him the advice, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

At that moment, Job decided to take a step back from that abyss and offers this answer to his wife’s solution,Stop talking like a person who does not know God!  We accept the good things that God allows to come to us.  Shouldn’t we also accept the bad things that he allows to come to us?” (Job 2:10, my own paraphrase).  This seems to be the reverse side of the faith equation Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of Matthew (see above).  Instead of the sun and the rain, Job is thinking in terms of killing frosts and monsoons.  Everything that comes to us comes to us through what God allows.

Santa Claus with a little girl

Image via Wikipedia

This whole idea messes with our desire to have a god who is a benevolent benefactor handing out goodies to all his good children and handing out punishment to all his bad ones. However, this approach makes the Creator sound more like Santa Claus than a Divine Sovereign of the universe.  It also makes him petty and capricious.  In the end, we are left always trying to figure out how to keep God happy – be on his “nice list” – and on our side, lest we offend him somehow and get put on his “naughty list.”  After all, there are worse things than ‘lumps of coal’ in store for us if we do not stay on his good side, right?

The problem with this is that it makes the God of the universe as small as we are in our thinking and behavior.  Job seemed to understand this in the midst of his troubles. Jesus pointed us to a larger more complicated picture of God.  In his own day, many people who assumed they should have been on God’s ‘nice list’ were not and those who thought they were on God’s ‘naughty list’ were actually favored and shown mercy.  This really messed with the heads of the religious people of Jesus’ day and still messes with them today.  It is so unlike us and how we would do things.  And maybe that is just the point.

The key may not be what we focus on and weigh: whether events are good or bad for us.  It may be how we view them in light of our trust in God to work out all things for his purposes and his glory, not ours. This makes God bigger than us and our personal agendas or happiness.  God has a bigger picture and bigger story to tell.  We can allow our lives to be woven into that story or refuse.  Either way, it is all about the story of God’s glory revealed in all of creation.  Our redemption is a part of that story.  If we refuse, so will be our fall.

So, one of the keys to finding purpose in this life is to see how God is at work in all of our situations and the events that come to us – good or bad.

  • What is the story of faith and trust he wants to write through us?
  • How do the small acts of love, kindness and obedience add up to tell a larger story of God’s activity in our life?
  • When has he visited us or interrupted our lives in small or large ways to reveal his ways to us?
  • Who are the individuals in our lives with whom he wants us to weave our stories together?

And the questions and searching goes on.

A pinnacle for me in the realization of this was an experience that my wife and I had early on in our lives together. We were a young married couple just out of college.  I had just finished almost two-and-a-half years of being a youth pastor at Neighborhood Christian Center in Bremerton, Washington.  Sensing a change coming, I quit the position fully expecting the Lord to open up something right away.  At least, that what I sincerely believe was going to happen.

Kelly had just finished teaching at Bremerton Christian School. However, she had become pregnant with our first child and they had a policy of not allowing young mothers to teach.  This left us both unemployed.  However, we were still hopeful and expecting the good Lord to bless us and show us the way.

Soon, however, as the months clicked away, it became apparent that nothing was going to materialize as quickly as we thought. Our savings became depleted.  The last pay check from the youth pastor position and teaching position came and went.  It was August of 1987, our son was due to be born at the beginning of October, and we were out of money.

I started taking the Seattle-Bremerton ferry to look for a job in Seattle. Out of desperation, I signed on with an employment agency in hopes that they could find something for me.  Finally, I was signed on with a job with the Pay-n-Pac Corporation – a large chain of home improvement stores.  I was assigned to the Rainier Valley store in Seattle.  This meant a long commute.  While it offered hope down the road, it only added to our immediate financial burden since I would need money for commuting and couldn’t expect a paycheck for two weeks.

We had no idea what to do. We limped financially through the beginning of August.  But unpaid bills were piling up.  September’s rent was soon to be due.  We were desperate.  We prayed and asked God to help.  But our situation only seemed to grow worse and more desperate.  We were reticent about reaching out to family and friends for help.  For Kelly, the days at home alone and pregnant with our first child were depressing and unbearable.  For me, the long commutes to Seattle were depressing.  Instead of listening to the radio like usual, I spent most of the hour-plus commute complaining to God about our predicament.

Where are you God?  Why aren’t you answering us?  Why don’t you provide?  What about the promises you made to us in the Bible?  Do you care about us?  How are we supposed to make it?  Are you really there?  Are you even listening to us?  What have we done to make you angry?  I left me job because I thought you had a plan, did I not hear you right?  Was my ‘step of faith’ a ‘step of stupid’?  Why are you putting us through all of this?  Do you want us to homeless and broke?  After serving in ministry for these last few years, are you just going to leave us hanging in the wind?”  You get the picture.  It was pretty much an hour each way each day of writing my own imprecatory psalms to the Lord.  Only mine didn’t sing as sell as King David’s.

Fall Berries and Raindrops, September 2010

Fall Berries and Raindrops, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

One day, while I was in the middle of my morning commute to Seattle’s Rainier Valley, a knock came to our door. It was early enough that Kelly was still in her pajamas.  Not knowing who it was that would be at our door in the morning, she looked through the peep-hole.  It turned out to be an elderly couple from the church we had just resigned from a couple months prior.  Bruce and Lois Wilkinson had become dear friends and a joy to be around.  He was retired from the Bremerton Shipyard.

Kelly wrapped herself in her bathrobe and opened the door to them.  “Good morning!” she greeted them.

Good morning,” Bruce answered.  “We have some things for you.”

And with that they began to bring in to our apartment bags and boxes of groceries.  Kelly was overwhelmed with the amount of food being brought in.  She continued to thank them profusely as the brought the items in from their car.

Finally, with the last bag of groceries brought in, Bruce and Lois turned to Kelly and said, “Our granddaughter and her husband got a hold of us the other day.  Apparently, they have been praying for you and felt led by the Lord to do something for you to help you guys out.”  He then handed Kelly an envelope.  “And we decided to add something to it ourselves,” Lois added.

We had come to know their granddaughter and her husband only briefly as he had been transferred to Guam by the Navy shortly after we had arrived at the church. Someone in Guam had been praying for us, felt led to “do something” for us, and acted upon it.  Pretty extraordinary when you take into consideration that we had shared with no one our situation.

Kelly looked surprised at first. Then, looking into Bruce and Lois’ smiling faces, began to cry.  She explained to them that they were truly an answer to prayer.  Little did either of us expect that an answer to our prayers would come via friends in Guam!  Bruce and Lois prayed for Kelly and I and our unborn son before they left.

After they left, Kelly put away the groceries. She was amazed at their generosity.  Then she sat down and opened the envelope.  It contained a check and cash.  Stunned, she added up the amount between the two.  Of course, the amount came to what we needed to pay August’s rent as well as September’s and catch up with all of our bills.

About that time, I arrived at work to one of my co-workers calling my name.

Hey, Ron!  You have a phone call.  Sounds like your wife,” they called out to me.

She never called me at work, so I worried, “What could it be?

Hi,” I tentatively greeted her.

Good morning,” she said cheerfully.  “I know you’re at work.  But, I just had to call and tell you.  You’ll never guess just what happened…

She was right.  I couldn’t.

Would I ever want to go through that experience again? No.  Have I gone through tough life situations since then?  Oh, yeah.  But what happened in August 1987 has helped me to learn and remember that even in the midst of our trials and troubles; God is weaving a story line bigger than just our parts.  In the midst of our troubles, someone else’s faith was being stretched into an act of obedience.  To minister to our discomfort and worry, someone else was being prodded to reach out in kindness, care and love.  So, on the good side and on the bad side of life’s experiences, God seems to be at work.

This perhaps is a key to discovering God at work in the big and small events of our life, whether they are good or bad. Solomon seemed to understand this spiritual axiom when he penned the proverb, “In whatever direction life’s road takes you look and listen for Him, and He will make your direction clear as you go” (Proverbs 3:6, my own paraphrase).  Life’s road can have some great stretches that bring us much joy.  But it can also have some rough patches and steep climbs that cause us grief.  Wherever you are, he is there.  Just look for him.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Human Saints

I am continually amazed at how human characters in the Bible are portrayed. One would think that if you were going to write a “holy book” espousing the virtues of a god that all your main characters in that book would be stellar examples of faith and righteousness.  What we have in the Bible, instead, is a parade of characters who are fallible, unstable, unreliable and often very poor examples for others to follow.

From Sunday School to the preacher’s pulpit, however, we usually ‘cherry pick’ the positive stories of Scripture. We like to highlight all the successes in the “good” characters of the Bible.  We then juxtapose them against the failures of the evil characters.  I have come to think that this not only does a disservice to the Bible and its message but also to its followers.  The stories of all the individuals are a mixed bag of failures and successes.  All of them are complex human beings placed in complicated life situations.  In some situations, they handle themselves well; in others, not so much.

Growing up on Sunday School lessons, David in the Old Testament was always portrayed as a hero and someone to emulate. However, a careful examination of his life as an adult reveals that even though he is called “a man after God’s heart,” he is a deeply flawed individual who on more than one occasion failed God, his family and his Kingdom.  The legacy left by him through his children and grandchildren is dismal.  By today’s standards he would be an absentee father and a failure as a parent.

In the New Testament, many of the disciples of Christ failed to get his message or understand his mission. Peter’s leadership in the early church was marked by duplicity and was called out by Paul.  Paul was known for his anger and early on alienated a young protégé and close friend in ministry.  Most of the first churches were marked with strife and doctrinal errors; so much so that all the New Testament letters contain some kind of correction if not out right rebuke.

Few Biblical characters get away with a spotless image aside from Jesus, the son of God. And perhaps that is just the point.  No one is perfect:  not any one.  Only one came to live on earth who could do so perfectly before God and man.  That person was Jesus the Messiah.

So, rather than holding up paragons of perfection, the wise author of the Bible through divinely inspiring human writers went ahead and told stories that reveal the best of human qualities along side the worst. This should encourage us all, I think.  It reveals that God knows human nature and is not afraid of dealing with its messiness.  It gives us hope that if God can work in and through the lives of such imperfect humans then perhaps he can do so in our lives too.

Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Instead of examining the Bible for perfect characters to model, perhaps we should be looking for imperfect human models who inspire us to believe that God is able to work in the world and in us despite our worst qualities. I think this approach is more healthy.  It gives a much greater image of God grace, mercy and goodness.  It also magnifies the work and power of God in us.  Instead of our message being about us and how we can make God look good and help him, our message simply becomes about how great God is despite us.  God gets all the glory because we cannot add anything to him or his story.

God must be pretty secure in himself to allow the written testament of his acts throughout history to include some of the biggest failures named as his followers. Most any other book of heroes would edit out those kinds of stories.  Yet, here record for us all to read and study is a raw history of human successes and failure despite God’s best efforts.  It shows us that he did design the crown of his creation to be mere puppets or robots but agents with a free will to make their own choices.  The fact that God continues to work amidst all this mess reveals the depth of love and care for his creation.  It means that, in the end, we are all saints in his eyes – very human saints.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The mid-winter months are the toughest months for me.  The skies and clouds are gray.  All the colors of the earth are muted and lifeless.  The long cold nights seem to awaken in me a need to hibernate.  Life seems to come to a slow crawl – like molasses in January.  The shorter days, where one goes to work in the dark and comes home in the dark, bleed the sunshine out of the soul.  And it truly seems like my soul goes dark.

Some call it Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Others label it simple depression.  Whatever it is, all I know is that it sucks away life and the joy of living.  I am not talking about the kind of depression that leaves a person huddled in a ball in the corner of the room paralyzed.  I am talking about a more subtle kind.  I am talking about the kind of depression where one can half-way interact with others, even smile and laugh, but behind it all have a lingering dread and foreboding that consumes every thought and action.  It is mentally exhausting.  Moments alone are painful mental exercises in attempting to get over the cancerous negative thoughts that eat away at any self-esteem or sense of self-worth.

Many people cannot relate to this mental state.  Few have experienced sadness but not this type of lingering despair of life that broods for weeks or even months.  Thankfully, many people will never experience what it is like to live with heavy soul-filled despair without any hope of relief on the horizon.  Some people have experienced periods of depression and those that have all exclaim the painful experience and hope never to go back there.  However, for many people like me, it is a regular re-occurring event.  When relief finally comes and the “cloud of depression” finally lifts, it is tainted by the bitter after taste of knowing that it will visit again.

Depression does not seem to be something that even the best of Christians get to bypass in this life.  There are plenty of examples of leading Christians who suffered from depression.  Likewise, we have some biblical examples too.  King David complains of dark periods in his life to God.  About 3/4 of the Psalms contain laments.  Read Psalm 69, 77, or 88 and you get a picture of someone painfully wrestling with depression.  Elijah and Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” were prophets of the LORD God who seemed to have dramatic episodes of depression too.

Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote about “the dark night of the soul.”  It portrays the utter discouragement that comes to those who suffer from depression.  Martin Luther‘s three-year period of depression threatened to ruin him.  The great 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, suffered from paralyzing depression to the point that there were times he could not preach or minister.  He tried to explain to others that he could not think himself out of his depression.  He described his thoughts like knives shredding his heart into pieces.  Abraham Lincoln once said about his depression:

“I am now the most miserable man living . . . If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. . . Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell . . .  To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.”

William Cowper (1731 – 1800) was a gifted poet and writer.  Nevertheless, he struggled with depression so much that he was institutionalized.  Miraculously, it was in an asylum that he read the Bible and understood that salvation is found in Christ.  Yet, despite becoming a Christian, Cowper was never completely free of depression.  He continued to struggle with it for the rest of his life.  Still, through dark valleys, he wrote some of our greatest hymns.

J.B. Phillips (1906 – 1982) was a loved pastor and well-known for his Bible translation work – The Phillip’s Translation.  Phillips had many admirers and seemed to them to be the epitome of success.  Little did even his closest followers know that he suffered life-long with clinical depression that often incapacitated him.  After his death, his wife, Vera, and good friend, Rev. Edwin Robertson, published a book about J.B. Phillips entitled “The Wounded Healer.”  It tells the other side of Phillips’ story.  They write,

While he was ministering to others he was himself powerfully afflicted by dark thoughts and mental pains. He knew anxiety and depression from which there was only temporary release. And while he never lost his faith in God, he never ceased to struggle against mental pain.”

Some years ago I read “The Wounded Healer” about J.B. Phillips’ life.  He became a hero of the faith for me.  I in no way suffer the level of incapacitating depression that he did.  However, I know too well what it is like being afflicted with “dark thoughts and mental pains” while ministering to others.  I also know the constant struggling against that mental pain while maintain my hope and faith in God.

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

There are no easy “steps” to getting out of depression.  I have had many well-meaning friends give me their counsel and advice for defeating depression.  I am not sure it is ever defeated.  One might as well wage war against the frigid cold of a January winter in North Dakota.  The exertion may make you feel like you are accomplishing something but it is utter futility at the end of the day.  It blows on you and through you regardless of what you do.

The best that I hope for is to weather these tumultuous storms of the soul.  Experience has taught me that they will pass – though later than I like rather than sooner.  The Word of God becomes my mainstay in reminding me of God’s continued faithfulness and delight in me regardless of how I feel.  I particularly dwell upon the hope that David expresses in his darkest laments as he puts his faith in God.  The warmth of friendships around me, whether they are aware of my inner black hole or not, comforts and encourages me with moments of levity.  In these moments, rays of sunshine warm my heart.  My world will not be colored gray forever.  Someday, the full colors of spring will bloom and I will be able to bask in the full warmth of the Son.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Public Displays of Worship

How we love to laugh at ourselves!  A joke frequently told in parts of the upper midwest USA that exposes its Scandinavian heritage is, “Did you hear about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much that he almost told her?”  (You could put Swede, German, or any other Northern European group in there.)  Yes, we Scandinavian and Germanic folk are known to be a somewhat emotionally reserved.  Some would say we are emotionally constipated!  Granted, we are not a little reticent about open public displays of affection.  We were taught early on to guard the expressions of our hearts.

Unfortunately, this cultural attitude creeps into our attitude and expressions of worship towards God.  Our definition of worship done ‘in decency and order’ means in an acceptable fashion to our cultural tastes; something that does not move one out of his or her comfort zone.  At the same time, we can look across the great diversity of God’s kingdom and see many expressions of worship that draw upon our hearts: southern gospel, urban gospel, African American gospel, not to mention the other diverse styles and types of worship around the world.  If you were to sit through a Latin American or African church worship service, the sight and sounds would be a lot different than a typical upper midwest USA service.

Never mind cultural flavors in worship, the Bible describes worship as “bowing low, kissing another’s feet, expressing adoration.”  Simply, worship is the love language of the worshipper.  How much do you love the One you worship?  That will indicate the level of your extravagance in displaying your love to the object of your love.  Now, I am not talking about weirdness.  Neither am I talking about expressions that draw attention to the individual worshipper instead of to the Lord.  True worship points to and gives focus toward God only.

Opening Rose Bud, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009

Opening Rose Bud, Bush House Gardens, Salem, Oregon, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

The book of The Song of Solomon is an extravagant display of affectionate words and actions between two lovers.  To real conservative people, it comes across as being ‘over the top.’  When I was a poor Bible college student, I wanted to show the girl I was interested in how much I cared for her.  On Valentine’s Day, singing groups on campus would deliver Singing-grams with a carnation.  So, I used the last of my pocket change to have a group deliver a carnation and sing, “You Light Up My Life”  (Yes, I’m THAT old!).  I wanted to do something extra special to show how much I cared for her.  (Unfortunately, I later learned it was a song she hated!  Oops.  Well, she married me later anyway.  Some things are forgivable.)

Two stories of Scripture that have always captured my imagination are found in 2 Samuel 6 and Luke 7.  In both of these cases, something extravagant was done to worship the Lord.  In 2 Samuel, David “wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might…with shouts and the sounds of trumpets.”  David’s worship, along with “the entire house of Israel,” before the Lord was an extravagant celebration of his love for God.  Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of Saul, was embarrassed by David’s unbecoming conduct and “despised him in her heart.”

David’s response to Michal was not to gain her approval!  He told her, “It was before the LORD…I will celebrate before the LORD.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…”  I have to admit that I cannot recall a time in my spiritual journey where I would call my worship of God “undignified” or something that caused me to be “humiliated”.  Still, it this proposal by David challenges me and prods me.  Have I ever allowed my worship of the Lord to become that extravagant?  I am more like Michal, I am afraid, than David.

In Luke 7, a story unfolds that is recorded in all four gospels.  It is the record of a single worshipper at the feet of Jesus.  This was not a ‘religious person.’  Far from it, it was “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town.”  In other words, she was the town prostitute and everyone knew it.  While Jesus reclined at a religious leader’s table eating dinner, this sinner came up behind at his feet weeping profusely.  Using her tears to wet Jesus’ feet, she then took her long, beautiful hair (the object of her glory and dignity in her culture) and washed them clean.  Next, she kissed his feet tenderly and took the alabaster jar of perfume she brought (worth more than a year’s wages – $28,000 in today’s terms) and poured all of it on his feet, rubbing it in carefully to anoint them.  The aroma of her perfume filled the whole room.

What an amazing picture of extravagant love openly displayed before others.  Of course, not everyone could appreciate such worship.  Some, like the Pharisee, were put off by the woman’s reputation and ‘over the top’ self humiliation.  It was undignified!  In the other Gospel accounts, one of Jesus’ disciples was bothered by what appeared to him to be a waste of money, time, and effort.  Jesus stopped all those who looked down their noses at her by asking, “Who loved more?”

As forgiven and redeemed sinners, we should appreciate more than anyone extravagant worship and displays of lavish love for our Lord and Savior.  He has forgiven us for so much.  He has given us so much.  Yet, if you are like me, we have grown uncomfortable around others who openly display their adoration of God in song, dance, and shouts of joy.  Early 20th century Pentecostals were especially known for their extreme acts of worship.  They did not earn the name “holy rollers” for nothing!  However, a tame “Jericho march” would throw many worshippers into a tail spin today.

What Michal saw as “undignified” and “humiliated” was for King David a celebration of his love of God.  Both David and the sinful woman worshipped and displayed their extravagant love publicly, not in private.  Does the world around us know how much we love the Lord?  Is public thanks and love to God expressed from our lips daily and on every occasion we get to give it?  Or, are we afraid that we will appear “undignified” and be “humiliated” because we appear so radically in love with the God who forgave us and blessed us with his salvation?

If worship is the love language of the worshipper, do others know that we are in love with our Redeemer, the Lover of our soul, and the ‘fairest of ten thousand?’  It might be time to let the secret out and let others know.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The first decade of the 21st century is quickly fading behind us in the rear view mirror of our lives. Isn’t it amazing how one 10-year period can bring so much change?  How quickly it can come and go?  How terribly swift its events can over take us?  International disasters from earthquakes to tsunamis.  Horror’s from 9/11 to the Swine Flu pandemic.  The list of events just from this last decade is almost endless.  On a global scale we have seen it all.  We have been amazed at the rise and fall of the world economy and the rise and fall of our cultural heroes.

It makes one wonder what the next decade will bring. What surprising discoveries await humankind?  How will world governments and rulers navigate this next decade’s international events and crises?  What tragedies and human horrors lurk in the next 10 years?  What scientific or medical breakthroughs hide from us just around the corner a few years from now?

On a more personal level, there is no doubt that our own lives will continue on and change.  We cannot avoid it anymore than we can avoid getting older.  As my grandma Stalnaker would always say, “Time and tide wait for no one.”  Some of us in this next decade will watch our children grow and graduate from High School and/or college.  Some of us will bury our parents and/or grandparents.  Some of us will marry and begin families.  Some will go through “the valley of the shadow of death” and others will enter the decade “sowing tears” but leave it “reaping a harvest of  joy”.

Who knows what the future holds for us. I believe the most important question for us is, How are we equipped to deal with the circumstances and changes we will face?  Some of us have prepared and are preparing our lives well – spiritually, financially, emotionally, relationally, etc.  Others of us, I suspect, have neglected to even think about the future; choosing, instead, to face it with a ‘que sera, sera’ attitude.  Whether you face the future with a sense of self-determination or fait accompli, you cannot avoid the on-rush of the next decade.

Sunlit Leaves BW, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington

Sunlit Leaves BW, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Looking back over the past decades of my life, I have come to appreciate just how small a decade really is in the scheme of life and especially eternity.  My grandparents lived 7, 8, or 9 decades.  My parents just entered their 7th decade of living.  Put in those terms, that doesn’t sound very old does it?  In Methuselahn terms, they are just children.  I am only 4, getting ready to turn 5.

Just this past decade, my family and I have moved from Washington State to North Dakota and back again.  Two of our children have graduated High School and left home.  My wife, Kelly, earned a Master’s Degree in Education.  The last of my and my wife’s grandparents have gone on to their eternal reward.  Now, our parents are the remaining grandparents to our children.  I have had the joy of pastoring and leading two great congregations.  I also had the privilege of traveling to Albania and India.

The decade before this last one, the 1990’s, my family and I moved from Washington State to Springfielf, Missouri, and back again.  I earned a Master’s of Divinity degree in Springfield, Missouri.  Our two youngest children were born.  I pastored and led two great congregations (the last one from the 90’s into the beginning of this last decade).  We owned six different vehicles.  Our two oldest children began their school years.

And these are just the highlights from only the last two decades!  Looking at all that has happened, it is no wonder that I am exhausted.  The decades before those were even busier.  It is amazing how much can be packed into 10 years.  One has to wonder about all that will happen in the next 10 years.  As I stand on the edge of beginning my 5th decade of earthly existence (I’ll be 49 this Spring), I am more cognizant than ever of the fact that I do not and cannot control the  future.  After all, many of things I have experienced over this past 10 years was not on my “To Do List”.  They were not even on the radar screen of my forecasting abilities!  Some of the biggest events were complete surprises to me.

Perhaps each decade should come with a life journey sign that says, “Caution:  Sudden Changes Ahead!”  One thing is for certain, how we face this next decade and the personal “tools” and preparation we go into it is very important.  No wonder the wisdom of King David is still so appropriate.  It must have been in his old age when he sang the prayer, “Lord, teach us to number our days.”  He knew, as we are all discovering, that they pass too quickly.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Beyond Our Inabilities

In a day and age where sports stars loom larger than life, it is hard to settle for being average.  It is painful being below average in anything!  How can you compare with the likes of a Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Williams, Roger Federer, Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, or Tiger Woods?  It would seem that the world doesn’t have a place for your average ‘Joe’ or ‘Josephine’.

The wonderful thing we find in a relationship with God, and confirmed in the Bible, is that God does use the average person.  In fact, God uses people in spite of any weaknesses or inabilities.  The Bible story seems to tell us that God delights in using the average, ordinary person to do extraordinary things in his creation and kingdom.

Throughout the Bible we find stories about God interacting with people who have all sorts of inadequacies.  Moses stuttered too much to be a spokesperson.  Caleb was too old to go off to battle.  David was too young to be a national leader.  Elijah suffered depression.  Josiah, made king as a child, was much too young and inexperienced to start a national spiritual revival and renewal.  Peter was too compulsive and hotheaded to be a pastor-leader.  Mark was a quitter and Paul had anger issues.

Lone Tree In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009

Lone Tree In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Another great example of this is found in the story of Gideon (Judges 6 and 7).  He is someone that God used to deliver Israel from the nation of Midian.  Midian had overrun Israel and sent her people into hiding in the mountains.  They stole crops and cattle, leaving nothing for the Israelites.  Finally, Israel seeks God’s help.  He sends them Gideon.

Gideon is much too timid to be an army general.  He simply lacks the skill set required for such an adventure.  Not only that, but he seems to be somewhat of a doubter.  He is definitely not “a man of faith and power for the hour” that is for sure.  Gideon confronts the Lord with a series of troubling questions:  Why has this happened to us?  Where are all the miracles we were told about as kids?  Why has the Lord abandoned us?  (In other words, where is God when evil is present?)

Gideon’s story teaches us that God is not bound or limited by human misunderstanding or mysteries.  He is not thrown off course by what is humanly unexplainable.  Only God has the capacity to understand everything.  Nothing is a mystery to Him.  Plus, he is not put off by us because of our doubts and lack of faith.  The Lord God seems to have enough confidence in his own power and ability to accomplish whatever he wills.  He’s just looking for a little cooperation, which, indeed, will require a little faith and action on our part.

The Lord tells Gideon to “go in the strength you have.” Since Gideon was real unsure this was a mission he could accomplish, the Lord also told him, “I am sending you.”  God always uses what we have available, which is usually not much.  At the same time, he is not limited by the lack of our abilities, strength, skills or experiences.  He promises to make up the difference with what he has, which are resources way beyond ours.

Gideon’s response is a lot like Moses’ at the burning bush.  It is a barrage of reasons why this plan will not work.  Gideon’s poor self image has taught him that he is powerless and helpless.  His family is on the bottom of the social scale in the tribe of Mannasseh.  Not only that, he is the least of the family, the last born, the smallest.  Plus, he has been living in a nation that has been socialized to expect to be beaten down and on the run.

This is an amazing story that has a principle repeated over and over in the Bible.  It is a story that tells us that God is not bound by the weaknesses we were born with.  Your parents, home life, siblings, birth order, gangs, school, or neighborhood does not limit God’s ability to work in your life.  He is bigger than your genetic or environmental makeup.  He is all-sufficient in himself.  While he does not need us to accomplish anything, he has chosen in his sovereignty to partner with his creation to fulfill his purposes and plans.  So, he is just looking to you and me for a little faith and cooperation.

So, you don’t need to be a superstar.  Average or below average, it doesn’t matter.  God can use you beyond your inability.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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