I need to Preface this message by saying that this is a message I shared with our community at the Lenten Service. Our community is so incredible …we have 6 churches and so we have Lenten services together and we preach in each other’s churches. So I shared this at the Spring Valley Lutheran Church. What is also very special is a young man sang a solo and played his guitar just before the sermon and He sang the song “Live Like Your Loved.” You can hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfHyAMjLLdA
As with all the other pastors, when we talk about a portion of scripture that has made an impact on our journey of faith, seriously, there are hundreds! At different times and in different situations, a portion of scripture will leap off the pages of this time-honored book and make its way into the places in our hearts that thirst for some Word from God. There have been many along my journey.
I’m so thankful for the Word of God— it’s been water for my thirst… It’s been bread for my hunger…it’s been a guide …a plumb line in my life, in fact it has been life to me. The writer of Hebrews says, For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
As I examine the Word of God, it examines me.
Not only is it alive, it penetrates to the deepest parts of us. It’s life!
If you don’t hear anything else I say today, hear this….I believe reading the Word of God.. the Bible… will have one of the biggest impacts on your life. If you have never read it through…do so…even the hard or difficult parts.
It is God-breathed.
For my ‘journey scripture,’ I have chosen portions of scripture that have impacted my life most recently.
In the reading tonight, you have heard the words, “Be Still.”
Be Still….From the outside it seems like the simplest thing to do…just be still… ……..and yet… it is so difficult.
My journey is very convoluted.
I was raised in a very religious home. Not only did we go to church, we took church home with us. Our lives were centered around living a life that would please God. In fact, I was taken to church from before I was born, We were in church every time the doors were open…… but I honestly can’t tell you anything I learned in Sunday School, except that they told us about God.
You know what I remember most about church?…. it was a place where you had to “be still.” Sit still…Be quiet… Be still…It was a horrible thing for me. You see, the way I work, the more quiet I have to be on the outside, the more my mind takes a vacation inside.
You Know, I did not realize until I was putting this message together that that is what I remember most about church…you know something else? …that speaks to me so lovingly…that way back then, God was instilling in my mind the concept that I would need so many times in my life—the need to “Be Still.” Way too often life swirls around me and I can get caught up in stuff. What’s the most common thing you hear when you ask someone how they’re doing? “Busy, We’re busy” The thought that God was trying to get me to find the value of being quiet way back then …speaks to me of a thread of grace as far back as I can remember.
I didn’t get it back then….
Instead I thought somehow I had to be good enough good enough for my parents…good enough for others…reputation was a word valued back then..… good enough for the people in church…you had to work hard enough…do all the right religious things… in my mind you had to be good enough to earn God’s grace.
I was a naughty child. I could instigate more trouble and I had a twin who I could talk into the dumbest things. It came naturally for me.
So being good enough was HARD work for me. I am the eighth child of nine and mom was sick…more so than we realized and so by the time Konnie and I came along she was pretty well worn out and I was a challenge. Our relationship– if not non-existent, it was most assuredly difficult…Let’s just cut to the chase… the truth is, my mom did not like me. And people will often say, “oh everybody feels like that…Your mom really liked you but you just didn’t know it”…No…. she really didn’t.
So that put a seed in the heart of this child– my heart– that if my own parents couldn’t love me then how could this God, who had way too many children, love me? I was difficult to love. I figured I was basically a throw-away.
Parents, grandparents…those of you who have the privilege of being around children, if I could give you one piece of advice, I would tell you to care about those kids enough to listen to the seeds that are being planted in their lives. Talk to your kids and listen to what they say between the words.
I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, but it messed me up.
Can I just say that mom and I were able, later in life, to establish a relationship that was good.
Today I honor her, because the one thing that I took from my mom was her love for the Bible…I would often see her… late at night and in the middle of the day with her Bible on her lap…it was her solace in her troubled world. She passed that on to me and I am eternally grateful.
I married when I was barely 16 and ran away from my family and God for the next many years. Oh, I attended church but it was a discipline…not a relationship. And even though I was distant from my family, we would go back home and visit and every time I would tell myself that this time it would be different… I would be the good girl and I would hug my mom and dad and it would be different. We didn’t hug…we didn’t touch (not in kindness anyway) but it wasn’t as much that we didn’t do that as much back then.. as it was because our relationship was broken.
I pulled that over into my relationship with God too. Often I would hear a sermon or feel the nudging in my spirit and determine that this time it would be different.. I would be a good girl…. but I never was for very long. And so I decided that I couldn’t…. and I wouldn’t insult God by trying so I walked away.
I walked away from God, my husband, and my 4 beautiful children because I knew I would mess up their lives as well.
You see lies that took seed in my childhood grew into weeds that destroyed so many things in my life.
I don’t want to go into how far or deep I fell in my life…Think the worst.. I was probably there…. But what I will tell you is that even in my darkest places, God was there.
For instance in one of the worst places that I could have been, I remember having a dream that was so real…. In my dream I was standing in front of a large crowd and speaking….telling them that God could take the very worst of our lives and turn it into something good. It didn’t matter how deep the sin…God’s love was deeper still. God was giving me a glimpse of the future but in my sin, I couldn’t see it.
I can’t tell you how many times a song would come on or some thought would make me miss God so much but I didn’t know how to transition back to Him. I’d gone so far….
Many times I would cry out to God in tough places and say, “Get me out of here and I’ll never do this again”… but I did….
Can I just interject that another thing I love about the Bible is that is so real….. I saw some of my sin in some of those in the Bible who God transformed and used…God told their stories and didn’t gloss over them. Jacob was a cheater, David had an affair, Moses killed a guy, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer or at least an accomplice to murder, Martha was a worrier, Gideon was insecure, Thomas was a doubter, Elijah was depressed, Abraham was old… They give me hope…Knowing their stories give me hope. I think it’s important to tell our stories. We don’t have to go into all the details but people need to know that God is able…and I’m proof!
So let me jump way ahead in the story and tell you the rest of my story.
In the middle of my mess, God brought Don into my life and I believe that with all of my heart.
Shortly into our relationship I wanted Don to meet my Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad lived out in the country… two miles down a long, dead-end, dirt road. Well, if you turn the opposite direction and go about 2 miles, there is a little country church. They only have services there once a year… unless there is a funeral. No one is ever there, but they leave a side door open. And that day before I took Don to see my parents, I took him to that little church.
As we stepped into that sanctuary, something very spiritual happened there…. The atmosphere in that place was so palatable and sacred. It was like we could feel the prayers of all the saints that had ever been prayed in that place. God was there. We both felt it and we just stood still at the back of that church for several moments. And then Don took my hand and asked me to go pray with him and we walked down that isle and knelt at that old dusty altar and Don prayed and said, “God, our lives are a mess but if You can do anything with our lives…we will give them to You.”
That was a moment not unlike II Chronicles 20 for me…Both of us were in battles and truthfully we didn’t know what was next in our lives. This verse fit us….we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
We were not perfect…but God took us seriously and He began to work in our lives in ways that only He could.
Truthfully, I don’t know why Don stayed because I was like a tornado in our lives…testing and fighting… pushing buttons and trying to push him away. But he would say to me, I know there is a nicer person inside of you and I see her sometimes. He stayed and showed me what unconditional…a God kind of love… looked like… and more and more I lay down my weapons and learned to become still.
Being Still doesn’t mean that we give up or do nothing or the thought of what will be will be, but rather it becomes a quiet that takes us into a deep place of faith…a sure trust in God.
As an aside, two and a half years later, Don and I became husband and wife in that little church. It’s a sacred place for us.
I love this passage in 2 Chronicles. They were facing insurmountable odds. Three different armies were coming against them. They didn’t know what to do and they were afraid… so the only thing they could do was pray. And they got serious. They fasted and prayed and then it tells us that… All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.
They just stood there before God….waiting and still.
And in the middle of their waiting…God came. He sent them this word: “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.”
Stand Still….Do you know what they did? They began to worship… they began to praise…They began to sing. They believed the Word God spoke to them and they began to sing… I’m so slow to learn this. I want to know how? and when? and where? ….God, give me a sign and…..
BE Still.
In Mark’s Gospel …in the midst of a storm that scared seasoned fishermen…Jesus stood up and spoke to the storm, “Hush! Be still!” He didn’t prevent the storm…. He was not scared in the storm… He spoke to the storm….And in the midst of it He speaks to us as well….Be still. I got this… I can handle anything that comes your way. Don’t be afraid. In fact, He was a little bit disgusted with the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Giving our lives to Jesus 25 years ago didn’t prevent storms in our lives. God began to call us into ministry. I should have sung more…but I didn’t …how?…. Why? … God, do you know what I’ve done? You know who I was? I’ve got a past, God!
Be Still…Don’t be afraid…. “Where’s your faith?”
I was 45 and heading to college and hadn’t even finished high school. Student loans are still a storm in my life.
Be still……
But let me take you to today….The reason I picked this thought for my journey.
I don’t know about these guys, … these other pastors…but it’s not easy being a pastor. Please know this! I love being a pastor!…This is what I was meant to do… There’s nothing more fulfilling to me…it’s where I feel most at home…. but sometimes… it’s not easy. I take being an ambassador for Christ very seriously. I seek to give you words from His heart. And when I find His heart I want so badly for you to hear it….Sometimes, we care too much…when a sheep wanders off…or when the storms get the best of someone…we feel it too. When church is ho-hum to you and life crowds out relationship with God…it affects us too. We get discouraged too and we can begin to wonder if we are even making a difference…. We can begin to question….
And then throw in the other mix of life…health…bills… and when you’ve had a past like mine, I can forget that it’s not about me….it’s not about being good enough or doing more. I can fall into the pit that God pulled me out of.
Just a couple of months ago…. I get up early to read my Bible and spend time talking with God before Don gets up because I get way too distracted.
This particular morning…our finances were in the pits… Don’s health and the doctors were scaring me and things were happening in the church…. I was thinking that God was somehow withdrawing His blessings because of the mess I had made of my life. I mean.. how could He ever forgive me? How could He ever love me … How could He bless this ministry? I was the one who walked away from Him?
I was sitting there in my living room in that place and out loud I said, “ God, What do you want of me?” And very clearly to my spirit came the words, “Cease striving.” What?!!! What? What does that even mean?! Immediately I thought…those have got to be words out of the Bible because I sure don’t talk like that. So I googled it and I found it… Psalm 46: 10 .. the translation we just read said, “Be still, then, and know that I am God; The translation I found in the New American Standard Bible said, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
In other words, BE Still ….I’m God……
The commentaries I read say things like “Let go” It actually means let your hands hang down. “Be Weak” There is nothing you can do.. this is bigger than you.
Since then, there have been times that I‘ve found myself starting to get worked up about something and I literally stop…shake my shoulder out… and let my hands hang down to remind myself. ….I can’t.
You see, if we could…then we didn’t need a Savior. Jesus wouldn’t have had to die on a cross. Easter would have been un-necessary.
As Jesus made His way to the cross, He told His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble…but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”
The little girl in me still tries to be good enough and fails…the little girl in me is still trying to be worthy of so great a love…and My Father has to remind me….
Be still……
When your enemy surrounds you…..Be still
When the storms threaten to overwhelm you….Be still
When someone reminds you of your past…Be Still
Quiet yourself….Let it drop deep into your heart…trust Him with everything you have. God’s got this…
Be still.