cloudy, with a 100% chance of miracles

“Listen to this, Job, stop and consider God’s wonders.  Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?  Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?”  Job 37:14-16 (WEB)

In the 2009 animated film, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” an inventor creates a machine that is capable of causing all sorts of food to fall from the clouds like rain thus relieving the suffering town of its hard times which consisted of having only sardines to eat.  Unfortunately things go haywire with the machine resulting in the town being threatened to be buried alive in an avalanche of food leaving the townsfolk wondering if maybe “just sardines” wasn’t so bad afterall.  The early hope of deliverance from sardines by the new possibility of meatballs instead became an impending disaster of terrible proportions leaving the beleaguered little town fearful of clouds.  Can you blame them?

Are we any different than this make believe town when it comes to the clouds in our lives?  When our lives get uncomfortably crowded with ominous clouds our attitudes and thoughts can take on a decidedly doom and gloom outlook right underneath our very noses.  As the steel gray gloom of towering clouds wears on us we naturally seek relief from our fears and concerns.  Where can hope…real hope…be found under such circumstances?  “Surely the promise of the crystal blue sky of the hoped for miracle that I seek exists somewhere, but obviously not here where I am,” we begin to declare to ourselves as we observe the menacing cloud for weeks and months on end.   “If hope is not here, then where can it be found?  And furthermore, since hope for a miracle doesn’t seem to be here, then why am I here in such a place having to endure this oppressive situation for so long?  Do You not care about me anymore, Lord?”

Let me be uncomfortably transparent here.  Right now at this very moment I am in great need of a parting of the Red Sea sort of miracle.  It’s been that way for going on several years now.  From where I sit the need for this miracle to come to pass grows alarmingly with each passing day and week.  It’s like I’m riding in a speeding car headed straight towards a 1000’ cliff edge drop just up ahead that grows ever closer with each passing moment.  My hope has been ruthlessly attacked along the way as you might’ve guessed by now.  It’s been frequently ambushed and left bruised and bleeding along the side of the road by ruthless bandits.  The story of the beaten traveler in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) comes to mind causing my heart to cry out, “Where is my Good Samaritan?”  Indeed, not long ago I came across Proverbs 13:12 (WEB) which says,  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.”  I’ve read this scripture many times before, but now I can truthfully say I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the pain deferred hope can inflict upon one’s heart.  It is an ever growing, insatiable  impact crater gnawing unmercifully away at my heart.   Words like squashing and paralyzing come to mind to name but a few.  So does soul-crushing.   It is a malignancy that erodes my deepest parts.  Make no mistake, hope deferred can be a very dark pit of a place to find yourself.   It is a place none of us want to know very well.

As my journey of hope awaiting this miracle has continued  a new, uninvited, and most unwelcomed traveling companion has taken up residence on my shoulder cozied up next to my ear.  This insistent, growling rasp of a whisper delights in providing me with a completely unsolicited play-by-play narrative of my journey.  The voice knows the first half of Proverbs 13:12 well and uses it against me.  This avalanche of taunts and accusations ignores the second part that speaks of fulfilled longings.  Instead it seeks to reinforce the first part with a piercing Hollywood villain sort of laugh, “This road you are now traveling is going nowhere you really want to go.  It leads to disaster.  There is no rescue coming.  Forget Him because He’s forgotten you.  You have no Good Samaritan in your future. Frankly, the truth is you’re not worth any sort of miracle at all.  None! Look, there’s an exit just up ahead.  Take it and be done with this madness and spare yourself all the additional heartaches that are sure to come.”  As mile after mile slowly goes by the whisper grows even more insistent.  Yet despite its repugnant tone the message the voice is selling to my wounded heart becomes disturbingly more and more alluring with each bypassed exit ramp.  How is it that all exit signs on this faith journey always  beckon and urge you to take the  “Short Cut” and abandon your earlier desired destination?  “He, your God, is no more than cumbersome and unhelpful baggage” the voice hisses.  “Ditch the extra weight.  He is obviously not trustworthy.  He doesn’t care about you.”   And as I wistfully watch one exit ramp after another slowly slide past me as if it’s in slow motion through the passenger side window I wonder, “Why is He so silent?  Why is He not acting?”

In times like this how utterly welcome it would be to be reminded that the Lord is indeed still very much present and in the miracle business.  I am alarmed at how easily I have forgotten meanwhile, behind the seens.  “Yes, I could certainly  use a double, extra-large portion of that sort of encouragement again right about now, please, Lord.”

A quote comes to mind:  “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances, but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” Perhaps C.H. Mackintosh is onto something here? What if the reassurances I’m seeking have been right in front of me for the entire time of this long and difficult journey?  What if I were to look in the direction of the clouds themselves?  Seriously?  Why would I possibly want to do that?  Afterall, the clouds serve as a constant reminder to me of my circumstances.  To be quite honest, it’s been easier to look away from the clouds.  Why stare at something that brings pain to my heart?  But what if I were to consider the clouds in a different light?  What if there is more to them than meets the eye?  Is it possible my understanding of these clouds that fill up my sky has been too narrow causing me to overlook the miracle of His presence?  To doubt His presence?  Has my lack of understanding of these clouds in my life caused my hope to be deferred thus making my heart more vulnerable to attacks along the way?  Is there a different perspective to take that will allow me to grasp something of eternal significance and value that will refresh my weary heart other than the hopeless one that has attached itself to me like a giant barnacle?

Lord, I need Your perfect insight and not my clouded sinsight!

Scientists tell us the average cumulus cloud weighs in at just over 1 million pounds.  1 million pounds!  The average car tips the scales at 2871 pounds so the next time you see an average sized cloud imagine 350 cars floating above your head!  Such immense weight seemingly suspended effortlessly above our heads surely is a miracle in and of itself is it not?  How is this feat accomplished?  Composed of millions and millions of tiny droplets of water, clouds float majestically in the sky suspended by a sustaining upflow of warm air.  The cloud’s weight is dispersed so efficiently throughout these tiny particles that despite its immense weight the cloud is held aloft.  Essentially, then, the larger more obvious phenomenon known as a cloud is itself composed of millions and millions of smaller particles all working together in perfect harmony to carry the load.  Or put another way, there are a dizzying number of smaller miracles tucked away inside the larger more visible miracle.   Who knew?  Obviously I didn’t.

Sadly, I’ve realized I haven’t fully perceived His ongoing presence in the midst of my circumstances.  My attention has been elsewhere.  I’ve been focused on THE miracle, or lack thereof so far.  In doing so I have been circumstance-centered and not God-centered. I have been tunnel visioned.  I have focused my time and energy on my perceived specific larger need.  This has caused me to overlook the many smaller miracles that have occurred along the way as I have awaited the fulfillment of THE miracle.  I have focused on the forest and have missed the beautiful trees within the forest.  Because I have dismissed the “commonplace” I have not recognized Him along the way and in doing so I have subtly undercut my own faith and trust in Him.   To overlook these smaller testimonies to His beauty and presence is like not seeing that single bright yellow flower waving in the breeze that stands between myself and the distant purple mountain’s majesty isn’t it?  Am I alone in this?  Sadly, no.

“They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them.” Nehmiah 19: 17a, (NKJV)  

Back in the day I once participated in running a few marathons and other long distance events.  If I wanted to complete the longer training runs in preparation for the upcoming event I had to stay hydrated so I would place water at certain intervals along my training route.  This was especially true for training in the heat of the summer.  Keeping that in mind do we really believe our heavenly Father would set us out on difficult paths alone and without His spiritual encouragement along the way?  His Word speaks to the contrary:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NKJV)

 “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)

So long as our gaze is solely fixed and intent on THE miracle we run the great risk of overlooking the other ways He provides for us along the way.  What a loss it is to miss the “mini” miracles He has so generously sprinkled along the way for us on our journey through life.

“You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst.  Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”  Nehmiah 19: 20-21 (NKJV)

The truth is most days I fail to recognize the miracle of His presence and provision in so many ways as I go about my day to day living waiting on THE miracle to finally happen.  If you’re like me, then, is it any wonder our hearts become so distressed?  Pause for a moment with me and consider each and every breath that gives us life, for example. Or how about the lunch with good friends you just enjoyed?  The joy of a hug from a friend or family member?  Or the roof over your head and the food on your table?   Being greeted by an overjoyed pet after a long day at work?  When you think about it this list could go on and on, couldn’t it?  When was the last time you stepped aside and paused from your busy day and thanked Him for His greatness, strength, and the goodness of His provision that lovingly embraces you in a myriad of less than obvious ways each and every day?  To see these we must be intentional lest they escape us.  Let us no longer be blind to such “lesser” miracles because they occur in the arena of what we view as the commonplace.  Let us no longer take them for granted without so much as a “thank you, Lord.”

Through Your inspired Word we ask You to open our eyes and our hearts, our very minds and souls to Your presence, Lord, in all the circumstances of our lives, big and small, that our hearts may be strengthened.  Grant us Your perfect insight in place of our clouded and imperfect sinsight that we may see with eternal perspective. We praise You for all the miracles that You provide us with on our journey through this life.  Each one is no less a miracle than the other in that they all proclaim and testify to Your kind and loving presence in our lives.  Forgive us when we overlook them for in doing so we have overlooked You.  Indeed, where would we find ourselves without You, Lord?   Help us to be ever-mindful of Your generosity and kindness in all things so that we continually give You the rightful praise that is Yours.   May we with continually grateful hearts acknowledge that You are our ever-present One True Provision.  Refresh our hearts once again with Your nourishment.  You, and You alone are our Silver Lining around and in every cloud in our lives.  In Jesus’s name…Amen!

“The Lord is my portion, says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him.”  Lamentations 3:24 (NKJV)

 “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 (NKJV)

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.”  Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)

 

Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child, from the album Look Up Child

appealing to your heart

“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”  Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

Q:  What do you get when you cross a banana peel with the beach?

A:  A precious gift of memories of my father that comfort and warm my grieving heart in just the right way by tenderly reminding me that I am deeply loved and cared for by my Heavenly Father who knows my deepest needs.

This new year, 2020, had barely welcomed its very first dawn when I received a call from my brother telling me our father had passed away in his sleep only an hour or so earlier.  Although we all knew his passing was on the horizon I don’t think any of us expected it quite so soon.  After all, we had just had a family meeting with the hospital staff just the day before in which we discussed possible next steps as to how to proceed for his care over the coming days and weeks.  We all also understood that his passing from this life into the next could possibly stretch out to months or perhaps even longer.  He’d had a really good day two days before he passed and that certainly colored our thoughts with optimism and hope that perhaps his life here with us still held the promise of more time.  It was only after his passing that something the doctor had told us in that family meeting the day before gained its rightful understanding and wisdom in our eyes.  Simply put the doctor had told us it’s not at all unusual for people at the end of life to experience what is known as “the last hurrah.”  And such was the case with my dad two days prior to his passing when he unexpectedly set up in bed, interacted with those around him, asked for some apple juice to drink, ate some Christmas pear, and followed it all up with a bowl of ice cream.

We live a 10 hours long car drive away from my parent’s home.  We had just made the return trip home after having spent several days visiting friends and family over Christmas.   Part of that time was spent with my mom and dad.  After spending what would be graciously understood later in hindsight as my last hour or so with my dad…a “sweet parting” as my wife later called it…the day before his passing we had driven back home and only been in bed a few hours when we were awakened by my brother’s call on that New Year’s Day morning.  That morning then became a fuzzy blur of tear filled telephone calls made to our own children, my dad’s grandchildren.  Eventually the morning mercifully gave way to the afternoon and my wife suggested we go and take a walk on the beach.  I resisted at first, but fortunately she persisted convincing me it would be good for both of us to “put our toes in the sand the first day of the new year especially with how it all began just a few hours earlier” as she described it.   She gently reminded me that my dad would’ve loved going to the beach so off we went.  We didn’t have to wait long to realize how right she was with that thought.

My dad, and my mom,  loved the beach and everything about it.  Each visit was an open ended invitation to adventure to their way of thinking.  They began their new life together by spending their honeymoon along the beach at Gulf Shores.  They visited the beach whenever and wherever possible afterwards.  Later, they were transferred to Jamaica for a few years by the company my dad worked for which gave them access to beaches they’d only dreamed about visiting before.  He loved snorkeling along the reefs off the northern shore which was only a relatively short drive from where they lived.  Shell hunting while snorkeling was priceless treasure hunting as far as he was concerned.   Indeed, even the rocks of the “rock beach” as they named it, were of great fascination and delight to them.  Over time they collected hundreds of multi-colored rocks that were transported back to the states for a much anticipated later date with the rock tumbler/polisher.  Fresh water lake beaches were sources of great exploration opportunities for my parents, too.  Who knows what interesting shaped piece of driftwood awaited them just up ahead?  Yes, the beach, any beach, was a heavenly adventure on earth as far as my dad, and my mom, was concerned.

Secondly, although it’s not anything seemingly related to the beach, I can’t begin to tell you how much my dad loved bananas.  And not just to eat them either, although he did enjoy eating them, especially if they appeared as a banana split.  I guess you could say he was obsessed with them to the point that anything having to do with bananas was always associated with him by our family and friends.  Birthday cards were pretty much required to be of the “banana” variety of some sort.  The last birthday card we sent him had two bananas on it that danced to music when you opened up the card.  He loved it so much he shared it with their friends at the senior center where they lived.   At the end of WWII he had a photo taken while overseas showing him eating a banana with the caption on the back simply reading, “Me eating a banana.”  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he serenaded our family with the “Chiquita Banana” song. We still all know that song by heart, by the way.  “When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, that’s when ‘nannies’ (his slang) are good for you!” he’d laughingly sing to us all.  One of the longtime favorite toys in their grandkid’s toy box at their house is a harmonica shaped like a banana.  So, to this day whenever any of us walk by the bananas in the produce section we automatically think of dad, or Paw, as the grandkids called him.

“Do you perceive mere coincidence, or do you discern the hand of God?”  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His highest)

My wife and I had been walking along the beach on that New Year’s Day afternoon looking for shells for only a short time when she yelled at me to come quickly to see what she had found.  Catching up to her she pointed down to her find, and, yes, there it was.  Perhaps by now you may have guessed that what she was excitedly pointing to was a banana peel.  The fact that it was mixed in amongst a collection of shells, my dad’s precious jewels, made it even more delightful.  Although we’ve walked many a mile on the beach since moving to the area 7 years ago neither my wife nor I could think of another time we’ve come across a banana peel before so this was a definite first for us, and for our friends whom we have shared this story with as well.  As you can no doubt imagine the timing of this latest treasure find could not have been any more poignant for us as we both stood there staring at the sight of the old banana peel mingled together with the shells along the water’s edge.  We both spontaneously laughed out loud at the sight as tears of sadness gave way to tears of gratitude as we were lovingly embraced by the Lord’s great compassion, tenderness, and kindness towards us in this our time of heartache.    Immediately our hearts felt warmer and our spirits were lifted as reassuring waves of memories of my dad enjoying earthly beaches combined with thoughts of him now delighting in heavenly beaches oh so gently caressed us.

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

And indeed…He is…and does.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

The promise of His presence.  Is there any greater hope than this?

 

Mercy Me, “I Can Only Imagine”, from the album “Almost There.”

truck stop rescue

(photo courtesy of Mindi H.)

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would have then perished in my affliction.”  Psalm 119:92

“What do you think?  If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which as gone astray?”  Matthew 18:12

Not long ago our friend, Mindi, shared an experience with me about when God sent her life giving hope and encouragement in a most unexpected and unlikely way during an extremely sad and very difficult time in her life.

Some years ago Mindi’s job was cleaning the bathrooms at a truck stop.  She described it as “doing a filthy job in a filthy place.”  You can only imagine what it must have been like—what she had to deal with day in and day out.  One day, despite the appalling physical conditions surrounding her, she confessed with head bowed low that she was so hungry that she was considering eating half-eaten food that had hopefully been left behind in the trash can in the nasty restroom she was about to clean.  Brushing away the tears of hopelessness in her eyes she opened up the door to the restroom to begin her job when she was completely startled by the unanticipated presence of a bird sitting on the sink in the restroom. Describing that moment, she said, “The bird just sat there sweetly looking at me, tenderly reminding me God was with me, watching over me. Instantly my focus was changed from my circumstances to Him. It was a deeply beautiful moment when I truly felt…well, not so alone.”

Isn’t it wonderful how stories of hope restored like Mindi’s make us feel not so alone, too?  Even when it seems all is lost and we have been forgotten God reminds us in Psalms 34:18 that He is there for us saying, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Echoing Mindi’s experience Rick Warren  beautifully observes, “Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days—when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great—and you turn to God alone.”  Amen, brother, amen.

In the midst of your brokenness He still lovingly calls out to you, “Where are you?” just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Ever the prodigal child’s Father, He longs for you to return to Him and in so doing run to your side and embrace you, desiring to fill you with hope and joy, all the while wiping away your tears in a beautiful, shared moment of tender worship and intimacy no matter where you might be…even if it’s in a highly unlikely place of worship such as a filthy restroom at a truck stop.  Are you surprised He, the creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would choose to show up for you in such a place? Are there valleys so uncomfortably and painfully low in your life that you believe the Lord will not meet you there?  Deep down you think to yourself, “He would never come here…no, not to such a dark, ugly, shadow-filled place as I’m now in.” Let us prayerfully reconsider such thoughts. In “Within and Without” Ann Voscamp puts it this way: “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”  Isn’t this what David is saying in Psalm 23:4? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  The truth is the very opposite of what those negative w-hiss-pers in your head are trying to persuade you to believe about Him: there is nowhere…NOWHERE…He will not go to be with you…to rescue you.  Indeed, Jesus declares, in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” 

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” Psalm 139:7-12

 

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love (radio version)