Woe and Hope

People throughout time have encountered God.  Abraham and Sarah had a nightly visitor who made them laugh in disbelief.  Don’t forget the burning bush incident – that was weird.  Jacob wrestled with God at night and ended up with both blessing and a chronic injury.  Adam and Eve walked with him in the Garden and then were banished from the garden.  Moses got handed a set of stone tablets but never saw the Promised Land.  Elizabeth and Mary heard from the angels more than modern ultrasounds ever tell us and managed to each experience a miraculous birth.  There were so many, many more times when God entered the lives of his people.


I hear the stories today too.  A friend of mine was once diagnosed with cancer and a bunch of his friends prayed over him and his next visit the doctor couldn’t find the cancer - a modern day miracle.  My own brother in 1986 heard the voice of God and he wasn’t even interested in God but that didn’t bother God.  As my brother recounted later, “God said, ‘Gary, this is your chance.  Your last chance.  Call for help or tonight is your last.’ ”  He called.  A few days later he experienced a remarkable and miraculous healing and baptism.  The thing that was also odd about this experience is prior to hearing God’s voice he had WANTED to die.


We love these stories, don’t we?  It gives us hope that in our hour of need perhaps God will come for us and save us!  But some of these God encounters are more disturbing than delightful.


Isaiah comes to my mind.  Or Jeremiah.  Both had “Woe is me!” moments in the midst of loving God and serving Him.  I suspect many of us have had those moments too.  Both men were sent by God to deliver truth, hard truth, to a people who had grown forgetful of God, his promises and his sovereignty. 


What amazes me is how God continues to show up with the exact message folks need to hear.  Some get healing; others rebuke; all his love.  My prayer for us all is that we continue to listen, listen for the voice of God.  Whether it shows up in the wind and rain or sunshine, may He continue to lead us, his beloved children. May we follow his lead today!

Injured in Battle

My job title can be a burden.  I observe two inclinations in strangers who find out that I serve as a pastor: they back up or lean in.  I prefer the leaning in response.  Paired with our laser focus on spirituality AND recovery at NSC, the “leaning inners” often tell me some really great stories.  One storyline troubles me. It’s the storyline that recounts how a loved one does not believe in God.  I’m not sure the response the “leaner” is looking for, but historically I suspect I’ve been a disappointment in my response to them.  In response to this consistent message, I have acquired a personal perspective on the subject matter of lost sheep.


It is far more important to understand God’s perspective on his sheep than it is to know the opinions of the sheep. I could support this perspective with any number of biblical references regarding wandering sheep and their tireless faithful shepherds.  We could talk about how God has been compared to a shepherd in the bible at least 33 times – give or take a few due to my poor counting abilities.  Instead, I want to talk about someone who just might have fit into our community at NSC.  His name was Jacob.


He was one of those stars in the lineage of Abraham and he was one tricky trickster.  He used the favoritism of his mother toward him to help him trick his brother out of his portion of his inheritance.  Many biblical accounts support the idea that Jacob was a man with defects of character.  But his greatest weakness – a stubborn propensity to passionately want and take what he wants out of life – turned out to be a strength in the story I want us to focus on today.


In Genesis 32 Jacob is once again in the midst of a scheme.  He’s preparing to meet Esau, his twin that he cheated and who he hasn’t seen in years because Jacob fled the scene post con.  He’s gotten in trouble with the family he married into while in exile and is returning home.  It really is a story worthy of your reading!  Trust me on this – Jacob is pretty ruthless in his intent to preserve his own hide.  Then there is this weird wrestling with God story.  Ultimately, we find out he is actually wrestling with God, and he refuses to let go of God until God blesses him.  He received both a blessing and a torn muscle that resulted in a permanent limp.


I don’t know what to make of this story but to say this: God is in the business of blessing people. He isn’t interested only in perfect people; he is willing to wrestle with ALL people.  That willingness is a consideration when we are doing our own wrestling – over both dark inclinations and our holy humanity.  When people tell me that their loved one doesn’t believe in God and imply that this somehow is connected with their addiction issues or poor choices, I generally respond like this, “Don’t you think it is at least as important to remember that God loves your kid/niece/spouse as it is to focus on what your loved one indicates about their opinion of God?”  I think it matters.  I’d encourage you to be gentle with yourself and others in the God department.  Disappointed in yourself?  OK.  Go wrestle with what to do.  But remember that the seat of power is God’s (not ours) and he’s crazy about you.