wonder

Wednesday’s Words: Amazed and Afraid

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But they were amazed and afraid, and said to one another, “Who is this man? He gives orders to the winds and waves, and they obey him! Luke 8:25

 

While crossing a lake with his disciples, Jesus fell asleep in the boat. A storm hit. Some of the disciples were sea-faring fishermen, but even they were terrified and convinced they were going to die. No wonder they woke Jesus up.

 

Jesus gave an order to the wind and waves and immediately there was a great calm. Luke doesn’t tell us the disciples were happy or even relieved. He says they were “amazed and afraid.” (GNT, NRSV)

 

No matter how good things may be, it’s scary to feel our powerlessness. Although it’s easy to forget when things are running smoothly, there are plenty of circumstances beyond our control. We’re not in charge of the universe. We’re not at the mercy of chaos, either.

 

The good news is that God, the Creator of the universe, is in control, even when it doesn’t look like it. God is all-powerful. Yes, He loves us intimately. Yes, He’s slow to anger and rich in kindness. Yes, His grace is amazing…but so is His power.

 

The word awesome has become trivialized by overuse. The word awful has a negative connotation. What word can we use to describe the mind-blowing, knee-shaking power and authority of the God who made the planets and stars but yet numbers the hairs on our head? To be known and loved by such a God is enough to amaze and frighten anyone.

 

Prayer: Glory and Praise to our Mighty God!

 

Reflection: When have you felt both amazed and afraid? How does it feel to experience your vulnerability? To glimpse God’s power? To know you are loved with that same power?

Wednesday’s Words: Not Knowing

 

 

iStock_000003550839XSmallHe said to me, “Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?”

I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3

 

 

It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.

 

 

Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.

 

 

At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.

 

 

If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.

 

 

Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.

 

 

Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Choosing To Praise

iStock_000003550839XSmall  [Job] said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!” Job 1: 21

 

Job lost his children and all his wealth in a single day, but still praised God. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have feelings, grieve the loss of his children, or fear his new-found financial insecurity. It simply meant he did not blame God for his misfortune.

 

Job was able to praise God because he recognized that all the good things he had been blessed with were gifts, not entitlements. Job may have felt sad, scared, overwhelmed, or even angered by his loss, but he didn’t feel wronged by God because of it.

 

Are we fair-weather friends of God? If we’re in it only for what God can do for us, that’s not much of a relationship.

 

I have Multiple Sclerosis. During an M.S. attack, I suffered an excruciating headache for days. I wanted to trust God but was shaken to the core by pain and overwhelmed with anguish. I shared my frustration and despair with a spiritual mentor, who suggested that perhaps there was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, an attempt to get me to turn my back on God. I’d never thought of it as a temptation, but in the story of Job that’s exactly what was going on. Satan’s theory was that Job worshipped God only for what he could get out of the relationship and would turn his back on God if his blessings were taken away. The book of Job shows otherwise.

 

Right after the conversation with my mentor, a contemporary Christian song came on the radio affirming that we can choose to praise the Lord whether things are going well or terribly.

 

Hearing that song at that moment, made it all click for me. I sang along at the top of my lungs in spite of my pain. As I sang, I felt a wave of victory come over my spirit such as I can’t describe. There is power in exercising our free will. No person or circumstance can take that away from us.

 

Prayer: Lord, blessed be your name.

 

Reflection: What might happen if you praise God in the midst of a problem?

Christmas 2015

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For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)

 

Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.

 

God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.

 

He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.

 

Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.

 

Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.

 

Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.

 

We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.

 

Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?

 

Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday’s Words: Mercy, Hope, and Joy

iStock_000003550839XSmall“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, from the depth of our troubled, weary souls we cry out to you. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we have sinned against you. Baruch 3:1-2

 

Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

 

So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.

 

Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?

Wednesday’s Word: Inspiration

iStock_000003550839XSmall…let us be completely holy by living in awe of God. 2 Corinthians 7: 1b

 

Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.

 

Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.

 

Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.

 

Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.

 

Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.

 

Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?

 

 

Wednesday’s Words: Counting What Counts

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Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. John 21:11

 

Who counted the fish?

 

You’d think after seeing Jesus risen from death and still providing miraculously for them, they all would have been focusing on more important things than counting the exact number of fish.

 

The gospel account describes an encounter the apostles had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. He appeared on the shore as they were returning from an unsuccessful fishing expedition. He called out to them and told them to lower their nets and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul the net back in. Jesus invited them to come and eat, and gave them fish and bread.

 

It’s astonishing that someone present at this miracle not only thought to count the fish, but took the time to do it. There has been much speculation on the significance of the number 153. One theory is that 153 was believed to be the number of varieties of fish in the world, so symbolically Jesus was instructing the disciples to spread the good news to people of all races and nationally. I’m not so sure. In Marks’s gospel, Jesus told them in plain language to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Why couch the message in symbols?

 

Is it possible that someone present at this miracle actually did take the time to count the fish? That makes me wonder if we sometimes get so caught up in practical matters that we miss the miracles right under our noses. Are we so busy keeping score or focusing on our accomplishments that opportunities to share love fall by the wayside?

 

I, for one, like crossing things off my “to do” list. As a working mother when my daughter was little, those lists were extensive. To tell the truth, sometimes it seemed easier to keep the house tidy and cook from scratch every night than deal with less concrete issues. I did the best I could, and had some quality times with my little girl, but how many miracles did I miss because I was “counting fish” instead of enjoying the moments?

 

Prayer: Risen Lord, help me focus on true priorities.

 

Reflection? When is it easier to pay attention to distracting details? Why?

Saturday Spotlight: The Cruel Centurion

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallThen the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him…And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Matthew 27:27-31; 35-36

 

It was now about noon, and darkenss came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the suns’ light fialed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” Luke 23:44-47

 

Although the centurion had witnessed countless beatings, tortures, and executions, no doubt he had never witnessed someone respond in such a way as Jesus…Jesus reflected God’s incredible love, not only with his life, but also with his dying moments. Betrayal, humiliation, physical pain: none of these could take away Jesus’ free will, his choice to remain faithful to his heavenly Father. They couldn’t prevent him from continuing to love and forgive.

 

The centurion’s heart, calloused by countless examples of “man’s inhumanity to man” as a way of life, was touched, softened, and quite possible healed, by Jesus’ quiet refusal to respond in kind. Even under dire circumstances, grace melted the hardened heart enough to allow love to enter and bring forth praise. One has to wonder what the centurion did with the rest of his life following that moment of grace.

 

We might find ourselves hardened by what we’ve seen of needless suffering and senseless cruelty in the worlds. We might even find ourselves contributing to it–perhaps not by overt cruelty, but by silently standing by rather than speaking out. If we do, we don’t have to get caught up in remorse and turn our thoughts inward. Like the centurion, we can keep watch over those in our world who are rising above a culture preoccupied with self-centeredness, greed, and the like. We can lift our minds and hearts to praise God who is bigger than all the cruelty in the world. We can take inspiration from those who light candles in the darkness. We can join our lights–however small they seem to be–to the Light that all the darkness in the world can never put out.

 

Prayer:  When what I’ve seen of suffering and cruelty overwhelms me, Lord, remind me that your love is bigger than all the pain and sorrow in the world.

 

Reflection: Rather than become immobilized by fear or overwhelmed by guilt when he realized that he had executed the Son of God, the centurion praised God in awe. Why do you think he was able to do that? How can you choose to praise God in the face of your own fear or guilt?

 

Excerpts from:

“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”

Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach

Paulist Press, Inc. Mahwah, N.J. www.paulistpress.com

Used with permission

Wednesday’s Word: Complaining

iStock_000003550839XSmallThe Lord said to Moses, “Put Aaron’s stick back in front of the Covenant Box. It is to be kept as a warning to the rebel Israelites that they will die unless their complaining stops.”  Numbers 17:10

 

Complaining can be hazardous to our health. Research indicates that chronic complaining causes physiological changes in the brain. It affects complainers and those listening to them. Chronic complaining leads to stress, which can result in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pain, sleep problems, and depression.

 

Everyone needs to vent at times. We don’t need to pretend things are fine when they aren’t. Keeping complaints locked inside where they can fester isn’t healthy. Naming a problem, sharing it to get it off our chest, and then deciding what, if anything, we will do in response is healthy. On the other hand, habitual complaining damages our well-being.

 

The Israelite slaves, once freed from Egyptian oppression, were chronic complainers. Granted, they had more to complain about that we do.

  • They complained when the Egyptian army was closing in on them. God parted the Red Sea, saved the Israelites and destroyed their enemies.
  • They complained about the water being bitter to drink. God made the water fit to drink and led them to a lush camping site.
  • They complained about not having bread or meat to eat. God sent quails and manna, bread from heaven. Surely that would cause them to trust God, right? Nope.
  • They complained about water again. God had water come from a rock for them. Now did they trust God? No.
  • While Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the people complained, wanted another God and tried to make one for themselves out of gold.
  • When they were brought to the Promised Land, they complained because some of their scouts reported that the inhabitants were giants.

The Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land for 40 years because of their own reluctance and failure to trust God’s providential power despite numerous demonstrations. I used to wonder why they didn’t “get it” until I started looking at my own reluctance to trust God when faced with problems.

 

Dwelling on the negative certainly is detrimental to the quality of life over the long haul. It can stem from fear, a sense of entitlement, or lack of faith. If it becomes a habit, it can have a negative impact on our health.

 

What can we do about it? Habits are learned and can be unlearned. We can pro-actively practice gratitude. It’s amazing how writing down a list of things to be grateful for can turn around a negative mindset. We can invest in spiritual growth through prayer and meditation. We can read uplifting books or listen to uplifting music. We can spend time with people who have a positive outlook. Praising God for His power, love, mercy, and faithfulness can reinforce our trust that our needs will be met.

 

We can enhance our lives if we choose to let go of complaining.

 

Prayer: Lord, increase my trust in You.

 

Reflection: Count your blessings. List every single thing you can think of to be grateful for in black and white, no matter how small. You might start with things that are easy to take for granted until you don’t have them: the ability to see, hear, walk, clean drinking water, shelter, central heating.

Wednesday’s Words: Room for Love

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She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn. Luke 2:7

 

Nothing was convenient about Jesus’ birth. The long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem must have been grueling for a young pregnant woman and emotionally challenging for both Mary and her husband. Finding herself in labor with no place to rest, being jostled in crowded city streets looking for shelter that was nowhere to be had mush have been nerve-wracking. No, nothing was convenient about the birth of the promised Messiah.

 

God comes to us whether or not it is convenient for us. The path of spiritual growth usually isn’t the path of least resistance. God always wants to enter our lives in a deeper way. What might we find inconvenient about that? Does God’s timing seem off? Are we pre-occupied? Is there room in our hearts to welcome Him or are our hearts crowded with other things? Is there a better time than now to make room in our hearts for the Lord of Life?

 

Reflection: What can I let go of to make more room for Love today?

 

Prayer: Welcome, Lord.

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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