EMBRACING A SEASON OF BLESSINGS – GOD’S PRESENCE
October 28, 2018
This is a great time of year! The clear, crisp days of autumn have finally arrived! The Shenandoah Valley is framed by a patchwork of brilliant kaleidoscope colors on the mountains surrounding us.
Life is slowing down a bit. The kids are in a settled routine at school. The holiday rush of Christmas is still weeks away. The days are growing shorter. It’s a time in which we often hunker down a bit, pause and reflect…reflect upon the blessings in our lives.
A young woman named Tatiana, on her blog Holidappy, lists some of the random things she is thankful for. They include:
Scented doggy poop bags
Target’s dollar section
duct tape (is there anything it can’t fix?)
Chuck Norris (the only thing stronger than duct tape!)
Salt and vinegar anything
My crazy family
You and I could come up with a similar list, no doubt.
In this season of embracing blessings, have we ever paused to consider the unique and enduring goodness God brings to our lives? Blessings of God’s grace, provision, quest, eternity and, today, the blessings of God’s presence?
Let’s focus today upon what I believe to be one of the pivotal passages of scripture in all the Bible – Romans 8:26-39. Paul states…
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
GOD INVADES THE CONFUSION OF THE PRESENT
We live in confounding times. Just try sifting through the daily news on is an exercise in frustration…what is true? What is objective? Do we share any common values in our nation anymore?
Dealing with the constant change in the technology realm is daunting.
In the past week our internet service here at the church had slowed down to a crawl. So, on Thursday, I gritted my teeth and called Verizon. And I actually got a person on the other end of the line in a reasonable amount of time. She had a Pakistani name and accent, so we did have a bit of trouble understanding each other.
She ran several diagnostic tests on our computers in the building. And what was amazing and a bit disconcerting to me, she discovered the source of the problem: she said I had a ESPN app running in the background of my computer that was hogging data. Now, folks, I want you to know I don’t watch ESPN in my office all day. I just check the scores occasionally! How in the world did that lady find that out from the other side of our planet? It blows my mind!
Then there come those moments and seasons in our lives when we find ourselves caught in the spin cycle. The props have been knocked out from beneath us. The word from the doctor was not what we wanted to hear. A pink slip appeared on our desk at work. Our significant other has decided the relationship is no longer working. An accident has claimed the life of someone near and dear to us.
You’ve been there. Caught in the spin cycle of life’s tough situations. No one is immune from such painful punches to the gut. And there are no words. We are speechless.
This is when God invades the confusion of the present. His Spirit is in solidarity with our groans and tears. He sees our grind. He hears our grief. And he draws alongside us, seeking to bring peace and clarity, often through the caring of another individual.
Nancy Shomo is the head of Sentara RMH’s Grief Support Services. She spoke to our chaplain’s group this past week about ministering to parents who have suffered a miscarriage or stillborn child. It’s something she knows a lot about…she experienced it firsthand.
And she spoke to us about how she seldom uses words when reaching out to parents. She simply goes and sits with them in silence, listening to their shock, their sadness, their groans of pain.
Nancy said she is a woman of faith. She believes God has enabled her to use her times of loss to help pick someone else up who has fallen.
Indeed, the Spirit intercedes for us, often through others, with sighs too deep for words. God invades the confusion of our present. That is a tremendous blessing. And…
GOD INVADES THE CONVOLUTIONS OF THE PAST
Let’s hear more of what Paul has to say:
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Friends, you and I live in a fallen world. We are not inoculated from bad things. Bad things can and do happen to good people. And we all carry scars from what has happened to us in our past.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot rewind the reality of our scars. However, through the Spirit of God shown to us in Jesus Christ, we do find the capacity to move beyond them, to persevere and to endure, to claim the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things can and will work together for good for those who love God….
I am reminded of the comment of Terry Waite after being released from four long years of captivity as a hostage in Lebanon: “I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined today, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people…It seems to me our faith doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you take it, face it, work it and eventually convert it.”
Philip Yancey, The Question that Never Goes Away. pp. 152-53.
Valerie’s grandmother, Mrs. Laura Painter, was not a hoarder. But one item she collected religiously were boxes of scrap pieces of cloth gleaned from shirts, pants, dresses, you name it. She cut them into squares. And she would take these worn, sometimes threadbare pieces of cloth and sew them together, creating nice, warm quilts. Her work was amazing!
Our Lord is able to do the same, weaving good out of the threadbare circumstances of our lives. When we look back upon those tough chapters, we can indeed the good that God wrought from those experiences.
Madisyn Hess is a sophomore at Christopher Newport University. She is an awesome young lady who continues to overcome daily the challenges of paralysis.
October 16, 2011 was the day her life changed, the day she experienced a spinal stroke. She wrote these words on her Facebook page on the anniversary of that fateful experience:
every october 16th, i’m lost for words. 7 years ago my body betrayed me. each year the grieving process becomes a little different as my perspective on life becomes different. this year i am feeling nostalgic, and joyful. this date only means that 7 years ago i was strong enough to survive the hardest portion of my life. happy october 16th
Friends, I still marvel at how God was able to invade the convoluted pain of Madi’s past, helping her to come to grips with all that befell her, and to learn how to rise above it, bringing good out of tragedy.
And I was also blown away by the words of Madi’s mom, Lisa, which she also shared in a Facebook post on this same anniversary:
As a parent, you want to nurture & care for your children. You want to teach them the lessons that you have already learned the hard way so they can avoid pain and disappointment. You want to make things better and wipe their tears. Watching your child go through a life- altering situation and not being able to fix it can be devastating. Through Madisyn’s journey these past 7 years I’ve realized that many things in life are out of our control and it’s how you face each day with positivity, faith, tenacity, accountability and grace that really makes the difference. Thank you, Madisyn, for helping me and so many others see this life lesson played out daily ❤️ #7yearsstrong
Yes, in hindsight, we can indeed see where our Lord has somehow managed to invade the tough times of our lives. His presence was with us, even when we were not aware of it. He brought us through and lifted us up. Good still prevailed in spite of the bad. And for that we are most thankful.
One more thing:
GOD INVADES THE CONSUMMATION OF THE FUTURE
Hear Paul once again:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Did you catch that? God is for us! That is the ultimate assurance, my friends! At the end of the day, at the end of all time, when all is consummated, when all is said and done, God remains for us, not against us. If only we could wrap the tiniest portion of our head and heart around that, life would be different. We wouldn’t dwell in such an anxious, frantic, cynical, hoarding state of mind.
Indeed, Paul assures us, we need not fear tomorrow, for God will meet us in that tomorrow. Nothing can every pry us from the firm grasp of his love, love that was shown to us in the gift of his only Son, Christ Jesus our Lord!
I receive occasional articles from my favorite Christian author, Philip Yancey. In last week’s email, Yancey talks about the life and death of his dear friend, Eugene Peterson. Eugene Peterson, as you may know, was the pastor, preacher and author who was revered for his 12-year-undertaking of translating the original languages of the Bible into a very readable edition that became known as The Message. I give a copy of The Message to every graduating senior of our church. Peterson passed away on October 22 at the age of 85.
Let me share with you a portion of Philip Yancey’s remembrances and musings about his friend, Eugene Peterson:
I thought I had the ideal location for a writer, beside a mountain stream in the beautiful state of Colorado. Then I visited Eugene’s home, built in part by his ancestors, situated on a high ledge overlooking a Montana lake. We stood together outside, breathing in the pure air and the forest scents, drinking in the view.
After a few moments of gazing at this idyllic scene, Eugene told me of one winter when ice was still forming on the lake. A deer in search of water wandered out too far on the ice and fell through.
He knew that if he tried to help, the deer would panic and swim even farther into the frigid water. For half an hour he watched as the young doe thrashed around in the water, trying desperately to gain some traction on the ice shelf, which would always break under her weight. Finally, against all odds, she somehow hauled herself up on an edge of more solid ice. She shook herself and stood there for a moment, her sides heaving, then suddenly bounded up the slope toward freedom.
I thought of that scene when I read the Peterson family’s reports of Eugene’s last days prior to his passing: “He is now in his own bedroom with a spectacular view of Flathead Lake. He is comfortable and well-cared for. It appears that he is talking with people that no one else can see. These, I believe, are not hallucinations; rather, he is being prepared for something too glorious for words.”
Like the deer, Eugene took one last deep breath and bounded away, free at last. We’ll miss you, dear friend.
Friends, in this season of embracing blessings, may we pause to offer gratitude for the amazing grace of God’s presence…a God who invades the confusion of our present day, a God who invades the convolutions of our past, a God who invades the consummation of our future.
I close by sharing with you Eugene Peterson’s translation of a portion of today’s scripture from Romans 8:26-39 we find in The Message.
Hear it, and believe it:
26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us.
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
To God be the Glory! Amen!