Archives For encouragement

arkansas-tornadoes-2014

When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a meteorologist. Well, not always. I toggled back and forth between meteorology and journalism, giving up on the weather gig out of sheer fear for the level of math involved.

So, now I’m a pastor and counselor. Fairly seasoned too, at this point. Makes perfect sense, right?

Actually, as strange as it may sound, the truth is that God’s call on my life has done something that I never would have believed all those years ago. In His own wonderful way, God has allowed me the best of both worlds. You see, I have the opportunity every single day to talk with people — to interview them — about various aspects of their lives, their beliefs, their passions, their hopes and dreams. I also get to walk with many of them through the storms of life.

Of course, these storms are generally not weather-related. They come in a wide variety of forms: unplanned pregnancies, unemployment, loss of loved ones, major illnesses, freak accidents, honest questions, doubts, fears, and crises of faith. Sometimes the storms of life come as a result of a real-life meteorological event, as was the case this week in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, and various other places.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t really know anyone that well who was impacted by the tornado that scourged the earth just miles from my city. But I had met a couple of them — and I am friends with several families whose extended families were directly and severely affected.

It has been a tough week for many people across the South. The stubborn cut-off low just continually churned an environment ripe for severe storms. The photos, as bad as they are, don’t even come close to telling the whole story of the total devastation wreaked by the monster EF4 tornado that cut a path some 40 miles long as it traveled on the ground for an hour.

The news reports have documented the heartbreaking tragedy inflicted on so many people during the storms. People lost loved ones on Sunday, April 27 — a day I preached about the grace of God. And while I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God, sometimes I require reminders that His grace is always there when we look for it. I’m grateful that amid the stories of incomprehensible loss, there have been many stories of God’s grace — often from the mouths of the very people who lost the most. Their mom or dad or grandparent or son or daughter or co-worker or close friend.

For me, this particular storm has really affected me personally. Even though I don’t know anyone who died in the storm, and even though I’m not close to any of the ones who lost everything, I’ve felt a certain amount of survivor guilt — that somewhat irrational but still palpable feeling that life is just not fair. Questions like these pop up frequently:

  • Why should I get to hold my kids, tell them I love them, and tuck them safely in bed?
  • Why should I get to laugh and play with them and tease and tickle them?
  • Why should I get the privilege of being annoyed by their typical bickering and whining?
  • Why should I get to enjoy the company of my beautiful wife?
  • Why them and not me?

Life isn’t fair. And there’s no answer to those questions other than the amazing grace of God.

I’ve hurt deeply this week for those who have lost so much. I don’t understand how mini-vans can just completely disappear. Or how family pictures can be found 110 miles away from home. Or how people even begin to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, knowing that they lost not only their loved ones and their homes but also, in some cases, their place of business too.

I’m thankful that God has given me a heart of compassion for people. But sometimes it’s tough to be so tender-hearted. I’ve cried real tears this week. I’ve prayed the kind of prayers you pray when you don’t even know what to say or ask for. And I’ve felt the very uncomfortable sense of knowing that when my tears dry and my prayers fade, these people — in many ways, people just like you and me — will still be hurting, grieving, and doing the best they can with whatever and whoever they have left, to continue this journey of life, one day at a time.

May we always remember that old but true saying, “But by the grace of God go I.”

Life isn’t fair, but tragedy and death are no discriminator of persons. If it’s not our turn to experience some tragedy or trauma today, then we’ll have another chance tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

Dear reader, I ask you to please pray for Arkansas — and for all the other areas that suffered crippling blows in this wild weather week. May we bear each other’s burdens by loving one another, and may we allow God’s grace to freely flow through us to those who need to know Jesus is real.

Life isn’t fair, but God is good. Check out a couple stories about that by clicking here and here.

2012reflections-shadowIt’s time to wrap up another calendar year and turn the page to a new one.

Our nation and our world have faced a plethora of challenges this year — many of them serious and challenging. While all the TV news programs have found a way to highlight the stories that mattered most, chances are that their stories were not the ones that most impacted your life.

Maybe you said goodbye to a loved one — through death or divorce.

Maybe you sent your first, last, or only child off to college or into the work force.

Maybe you lost a job — and/or took a new one.

Maybe you welcomed a new baby into the family.

Maybe you participated in a mission project — in your community or half-way around the world.

You probably did a lot of things that will never be mentioned in a ‘year in review’ report. But these things were meaningful to you because they were personal.

Tennyson wrote, “I am part of all that I have met.” We’d be hard-pressed to find a statement that rings more true. It’s true of the good things, the bad things, the ugly things. Whether we like it or not, everything we personally experience shapes us, our attitudes, and our perspective on life.

As we head full speed into a brand new year, I hope you’ll take time to reflect on the year that was. So often we fail to adequately process the events of this life. Instead we bounce like a pinball from one experience to another, taking no care to really think about how those experiences change us.

It has been said that pictures are worth a thousand words. Whether those are actual photos or mental images, I encourage you to take time to think through your pictures from the year that was.

Laugh.

Cry.

Meditate.

Grieve.

Give thanks.

Pray.

However you do it, acknowledge the impact of 2012, complete with its triumphs and its tragedies. Realize that there is absolutely nothing you can do to change what is past.

As a kid growing up, my parents had a plaque on the living room wall. Its message sticks with me even today:

Look to this day. Yesterday is a dream; tomorrow is a vision.

Jesus Himself took care to remind us that we can’t control everything. The older I get, the more I understand exactly how little I do control. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always found comfort in these words from Matthew 6:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:25-30, ESV

As we close the door on 2012, let’s look to the new year with anticipation of what God will teach us in the next 12 months. Give Him your fears, your doubts, your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Know that He is absolutely trustworthy. You can depend on Him. He is never surprised and never uncaring. He is faithful, forgiving, and fully involved in the events of this life.

I’ll leave you today with an Irish blessing that is my prayer for you in the year that awaits:

May the friendships you make,
Be those which endure,
And all of your grey clouds
Be small ones for sure.
And trusting in Him
To Whom we all pray,
May a song fill your heart,
Every step of the way.

IT’S YOUR TURN!
What did God teach you in 2012?