God Knows – Know God

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You do not know what you are going to do; the only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing.*

God Knows. The great challenge of faith is that we live and move in uncertainty. I chuckle to myself whenever I hear people lay out life plans: we’re going to finish college before we get married; we’ll wait a few years and get settled into jobs, then start a family. Or, We’re going to move to a cheaper area and work for a while so we can save money, then we’ll move back and be able to buy a house.

The encourager in me cheers on the young couple; the realist wants to start asking, “But what if…?”; the arrogant Bible student in me (yes, he’s there) wants to quote James 4:13-17.

God didn’t tell Abram where to go, he just told him to go; I wonder how Sarai felt about that. Jonah was told exactly where to go, and he went the other direction; God compelled a smelly, messy u-turn. Saul (the future evangelist, not the king) was following his plan when God interrupted with a blinding flash; he ended up finishing that journey, but with a very different purpose.

Plans are good and necessary; they help us make decisions today that would be more difficult without some idea of what we wanted to do tomorrow. But for those who want to follow God, our plans need to be held loosely. And when they don’t work out, we must lean on the One who is always certain.


God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.*

Know God. No matter how well planned, the future is always uncertain. Even when plans are going just as we … well, planned, life can change in an instant: Cancer. Car accident. Market crash. Layoff. Miscarriage. Or, as with a student teacher I met recently, someone else’s innocent mistake years back has rippled forward and disrupted everything, potentially laying to waste all the work and schooling and training she has done.

When plans are interrupted, life can spiral out of control. Emotions spin, hearts drain, motivation dies. We go from living to existing, and that in the cold, persistent grey of a Seattle winter. Questions drip from the dark clouds, slowly building in intensity until all life is a storm and spiritual vertigo blinds us to any sense of direction.

And it is there amid the tempest that God meets us. There we—like the Psalmist—find in God a refuge. He becomes shield and shepherd, guide and guardian. In the cancer, he is Comforter. After the layoff, he is Provider. In the waiting, he is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the injustice, Merciful.

God is not always who we want him to be, when we want him to be it. In the hospital, we want Healer more than Comforter. In the courthouse we want Judge, not Mercy (unless I am the one on trial). After the layoff, I want a job, not charity.

God rarely meets our expectations—and always exceeds them. 

In the midst of the storms of his life, Job had endless questions for God; none was answered. In the end, he only had a new glimpse of the Almighty, and that was sufficient. Saul, too, received new spiritual eyes (though, ironically, he is believed to have had very poor physical eyesight). The blind man’s prayer, “I want to see,” should be our cry when life’s circumstances blind us. The vision we need is not to see the road, but to see God, to know him in ways we have not yet perceived.

Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they may know you….”

When only God knows, may we know God.

 

*Quotes are from My Utmost for His Highest, [January 2], by Oswald Chambers.

Now What?

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Carols sung
Cookies frosted
Cinnamon rolls rolled
Dozens on dozens
Now what?

Tree trimmed
Halls decked
Presents hid
Stockings hung
Now what?

Baby born
Shepherds came
Circumcised
Prophet-blessed
Now what?

Christmas morn
Joy unbridled
Laughter laughed
Mem’ries made
Now what?

Gifts unwrapped
Wrappings discarded
Dinner eaten
Hearts and stomachs satisfied
Now what?

Wise men-gifted
Angel-warned
Flee to Egypt
Set up shop
Now what?

Games played
Puzzles puzzled
Movies watched
Cookies and desserts devoured
Now what?

Immigrants and refugees
Fear and strange new worlds
Tents and lines
Our ancestors once lived here
Now what?

Christmas isn’t just a day
Not just swapping gifts
Not just cookies,
Ham and bread
Now what?

Life goes on
The baby grows unnoticed
Will he in my life still today
Live on invisibly?
Now what?

Angels, prophets
Stars and kings
Shepherds, cousin
Enemies
Now what?

Messengers from God
Tellers of the story
Angels then
Neighbors now
Now what?

(c) 2016, Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

Mary Did They Know?

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mother-and-kids-afghanThe song has become popular recently, especially with the beautiful arrangement by Pentatonix. But as I saw in a recent Twitter post, “Yes, Mary did know. Now quit asking!”

We often miss the human side of the original Christmas story, though. And though Mary did know that “this sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am,” many others throughout his life missed it. Here, then, are some new words for the old song asking questions from a different point of view….

Mary, did they know you were young and scared and filled with childlike wonder?
Mary, did they know you were just a girl when life around you thundered?
Did they know that the man you wed was not your baby’s dad?
The tears that stain your cheeks now aren’t tears from being sad.

Mary, did they know when the shepherds came to gaze upon your child
Mary, did they know that before he’s weaned, the boy would be reviled?
Did they know that the Roman king would seek to have him killed?
This innocent in your arms the prophecies fulfilled.

The shepherds came, the wise men kneeled, the angels sing his praise.
The rulers fear, the common cheer, this babe who will be raised.

Mary, did they know that a virgin girl had carried God in her womb?
Mary, did they know that before you died you’d weep outside of his tomb?
Did they know that your life would be a tragedy of peace?
The child there in the manger would make suff’ring cease.

Mary, did they know?

(c) 2016, Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

Prayer Requests

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jesus statue kneelingTwo or three times a week, I volunteer in our church office and type up the prayer requests from our weekend services. During that hour or so, I get a glimpse into the deepest, most vulnerable spaces in the hearts of men and women, young and old. I read of great joys – the birth of a baby, a son’s turning to Christ, a new job; and I feel the depths of despair – a miscarriage, a child diagnosed with cancer, a death too young.

Prayers are asked for job interviews, school exams, struggling marriages; for safety in war, peace with finances, release from fears, faith.

Only a few of the prayers come with a request for follow-up from a pastor or a volunteer. Some clearly want guidance in how to deal with the situation; some may just want to know that someone—anyone—has heard and prayed.

A number of weeks ago I came across a prayer request that spoke of violence in the home, abuse the writer didn’t know how to handle. They didn’t mark the “follow-up” box; I don’t remember if they even wrote their name or contact information, or if this was one of the several anonymous requests we receive each week.

It’s not my place to respond in those situations, and I trust our church’s pastors to act even when no action is requested. But that was one of the many times I’ve taken my hands away from the keyboard and lifted them to God in brokenness and empathy, and asked Him to intervene.

Other than the cries from deep pain, the hardest thing about these prayer requests is that there are so few, and so few seem to want anyone to come talk. On a typical Sunday, we receive maybe 20-30 prayer requests; that’s less than two for every hundred people in church. That’s staggering. Do we not believe in prayer, or that God answers? Do we not know that a team of people is waiting every week just to pray for those in our church? Or do we think that no one cares enough to want to read our burdens?

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, New Living Translation)

So many of our prayers are looking for peace – in families, in finances, in work situations. God tells us to pray about it and thank him for what he’s already done, and then peace will come. Peace that doesn’t make any sense. Peace in the midst of the struggles, the questions, the radiation treatments.

Jesus prays for us (John 17) and the Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom 8:26); God also says we ought to pray for others (James 5:14-16) and to let others pray for us (1 Thess 5:25, Heb 13:18).

Today, pray for the people in your church, in your neighborhood, at your school, in your family. Let someone know that you prayed for them. And let them pray for you.

Prayer is not reserved for the “professionals.” It is what we do. It is how we live as family, as community, as church.

Gratitude

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veggie-turkeyNow thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. —Martin Rinkart, 1586-1649

Gratitude is an interesting concept; expressing it even more so – especially if you look at it across different cultures.

In the West we tend toward over-politeness almost to a fault. It’s how we are raised, with “please” and “thank you” among the first words we are taught. Other cultures almost shun verbal expressions as artificial; gratitude is better shown through actions, such as gift-giving … which must then be reciprocated if one is to avoid offending the giver!

Our Western culture is also a highly intellectual one: we will study anything. Anything! Even gratitude. And then publish our findings. And that is just what Robert A. Emmons, PhD, did. The result is his book, Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).

Emmons identifies two keys to gratitude: recognizing and acknowledging. “First,” he writes, “gratitude is the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. … Second, gratitude is recognizing that the source(s) of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self. The object of gratitude is other-directed; …to other people, to God, to animals, but never to oneself.”

I guess some of us just need more help then others. Like me. Especially today.

Thanksgiving—the holiday, not the act—is hard. I’m supposed to give thanks; that’s sort of the point. But feeling grateful isn’t an on-demand emotion. Or is it? Of the 70 times in the Bible the words “give thanks” appear, roughly half suggest an obligation or even a command. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”

Maybe what makes Thanksgiving hard isn’t my lack of gratitude, but our culture’s tendency toward over-politeness: we say thanks more because we’re supposed to than because we feel thankful – like when we opened that sweater from Grandma last Christmas!

Maybe Thanksgiving is hard because the words of thankfulness are sandwiched between over-filled dinner plates and Black Friday sales. (Like the internet meme I saw recently that said something like, “Only in America can we give thanks on Thursday for all we have, then wake up at 4:00am on Friday to buy more.“)

But maybe Emmons’ research can help me today when I gather with family around an abundant feast. I can acknowledge the abundance of goodness in my life—and on my plate—and recognize that the goodness didn’t come from me. (Well, except for the mashed potatoes.)

And I’ll give thanks. From the bottom of my heart.

(Psalm 136 is a good example of this acknowledge-and-recognize type of gratitude. Here’s a blog I wrote about that last year.)