Archives For trials

The Seat of Gratitude

November 23, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

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Are you seated?

If not, find a chair and sit down for this post.

Psalm 46

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A song.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah

8 Come and see the works of the LORD ,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah

I’m so thankful for God.

I’m so thankful for all He does to provide and protect us.

Let these truths speak into your searching, frightened, and weary soul:

 “God is our refuge and strength . . . The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge . . . Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, though the mountains move in the midst of the sea.”

God is secure.

God is strong.

God is here…with us.

God is here, and ever-presently here, when we face trials and troubles.

How do you respond when debris from  this fallen world falls on you?

I want to respond like Mstislav Rostropovich.

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Mstislav Rostropovich, who died in 2007, was universally recognized as the world’s greatest living cellist. During the height of the Cold War, Rostropovich and his wife spoke out on behalf of human rights and artistic freedoms in the face of oppression at the hands of  Soviet Union.

This enraged the Communist government and Rostropovich and his wife were punished severely.

Their concerts were canceled.

Their foreign tours were canceled.

Their recording projects were canceled.

The state-run media imposed a black-out of their names and activities.

Finally, they were given visas to perform in Paris, but then their Communist government refused to let them back in. They could never come home to Russia again.

They were without a home.

Everything they owned and loved was left behind. They lived in exile until 1989. Until November 9th, 1989, to be exact. The date the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

The Berlin Wall was a 96 mile long concrete barrier that surrounded the democratic enclave of West Berlin between August 13th, 1961 and November 9, 1989. It was built to stop East Germans fleeing Communist rule that had been set up under Soviet control following World War II, it quickly became the most potent symbol of the Cold War. As many as 265 people died trying to cross it.

When Rostropovich heard the Berlin Wall was coming down, and the communist regime in East Germany was coming apart, his heart was full of gratitude. He knew that his exile from his native homeland would soon be over.

He was finally going home.

So what did he do?

How did he say “thanks”?

He flew to Berlin as quickly as he could. With his cello in hand, he caught a cab, and asked to be driven to the wall.

Upon arriving at the wall he realized that he could not play his cello because he’d forgotten something he never had to remember before: he’d forgotten a chair. You can’t play a cello without a chair. The chair was always ready for him. Never before in his life did he have to worry about the chair.

But now he had to find a chair.

He began knocking on doors of homes close to where he was let off. One German family produced a small kitchen chair. So to offer his joy and gratitude to God for the gift of freedom and homecoming, he sat down in his chair in front of the crumbling wall and played his cello unaccompanied.

So, what did the greatest cellist in the world play on his cello when he picked up his bow?

Something he had never recorded before. He played a Bach cello suite.

“I chose Bach to say thank you to the great God,” Rostropovich explains.

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Rostropovich knew what it meant to have the earth shake, and the mountains move, and the sea roar, and the nations tumble. But he also knew in the midst of it all, “God is with us. And the God of Jacob is our refuge.”1

This has not been an easy year. We had an outbreak of the Zika virus. Terrorist attacks around the world. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Ryan Lochte lied about being robbed at the Brazil Olympics. The nation has been in an election year tumult and has emerged bitterly divided.  We’ve faced some things this past year none of us could have predicted or anticipated.

Yet this Thanksgiving we will gather to thank God, to celebrate that God is our refuge and strength, that no virus, terrorist threat, Brexit, delusional swimmer, or Trump presidential victory can separate us from the love of God and the communion of saints.Now this is what I am going to ask you to do sometime this week, on Thanksgiving, or sometime soon: I want you to be Rostropovich.

Find a chair.

Place it in a quiet spot.

And say “thank you” to God for the walls that have crumbled in your life this past year. I’m not asking you to play anything (unless you can), though if you’d like to sing a song, or recite a verse of Scripture or quote a poem, that’d be great!

You can do this by yourself or set up a chair on Thanksgiving and give your friends and family the opportunity to take their turn with you in the seat of gratitude.

As you sit, reflect on Psalm 46 and how the truths of this psalm have come alive in your life this past year.

If you were Rostropovich, what words of thanks, what words of Scripture, would you speak out of our deep gratitude for the God who IS our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in time of trouble? Please share them in the comments section below so we may all give thanks together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

1 This portion of the story comes from a personal conversation between Rostropovich and John M. Buchanan, as recounted in the message”Glory,” at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 2000.

©2016 Arron Chambers

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Someone With Skin On

November 29, 2012 — 1 Comment

A little girl had been tucked in bed one night after the family prayers.  It was a stormy night, the lightning flashed across the sky and thunder shook the house.  The youngster endured this as long as possible. Then, she scurried to the living room and threw herself into her mother’s arms exclaiming, “I am afraid.”

The mother quieted the child as she put her back to bed saying, “Remember, honey, God loves you and He will keep you safe.”

But, no sooner had the mother returned to the front room and seated herself comfortably, than the child appeared in the doorway crying, “Mommy, I’m still afraid.”

Mother put the child back to bed telling her, “Honey, you must stay in bed, you are perfectly safe, I told you that God loves you and He will take care of you.”

The little girl replied, “I know God loves me mommy but, when it is thundering and lightning, I want someone with skin on to love me.”

As my mind turns more and more to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I find myself profoundly grateful for the gift of Jesus.

I’m so grateful that God loved us so much that He put skin on and came into this world as a baby to save us from our sins.

With all we must face in this life, I want someone with skin on to love me.

I delivered this message at Journey Christian Church last Sunday.

My message started as a post here (What to Do When You Step in Poop), but grew into an entire message.

I’m sharing the entire message here with the hopes that it might be a blessing to you or to someone you know who has stepped in a pile of trial.

——

He Knows Your Name

I’ve always enjoyed sarcasm and, even though I care about people and their problems, I’ve not always enjoyed people who complain all of the time, so I was drawn to this list of sarcastic responses for when someone won’t stop whining about his/her problems.

  • I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.
  • It sounds like English, but I can’t understand a word you’re saying.
  • I’m already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.
  • If I throw a stick, will you leave?
  • Can I swap this job, of listening to you complain about your problems, for what’s behind door……….1?
  • Aren’t YOU a black hole of need?
  • I’d like to help you out, which way did you come in?
  • I’m too busy. Can I ignore you some other time?
  • Have a nice day, somewhere else.
  • What am I, flypaper for whiners?
  • You want some cheese with that whine?

I want to make sure you know that I’m not whining today, but my experience over the past month has taught me some very important lessons.

I want to share one of them with you today.

On Labor Day, I was moving a box and herniated a disc in my back between the L4 and L5 vertebrae.  It was a severe herniation and I was admitted to the hospital for 4 days.

Upon my arrival at NCMC about Midnight on Labor Day, I was instructed on how I was to greet the nursing staff throughout my stay.

(btw…The nurses and doctors who treated me at NCMC were amazing. I have absolutely nothing but praise for them and for how they treated me.)

I was to give my full name, my birthday, and my level of pain.

So, by mid-morning on Tuesday, I was a pro.

My nurse walked in to do some other humiliating thing to me involving a bodily function and I greeted her with, “Arron Scott Chambers, 4/17/69, 9.”

To which she responded, “Wow! You learn quickly.”

I said, “Yes, I do and I expect some great birthday presents.  Do you want my sizes too?”

I can’t remember how many times I said that in 4 days…in fact, I was on so much pain killer I can’t remember too much of what I said during my hospital stay.

Matt Estrin, our worship minister, said he could tell I was on narcotics because I kept telling him how much I loved him.

I had a lot of time to think in that hospital bed, and at one time I actually started to think that it would really be a good thing for a church if we greeted each other like that.

“Sally Smith, 3/21/76, 1.”

“Joe Johnson, 5/30/80, 5.”

“Billy Brown, 2/1/50, 7.”

“Mary Jones, 6/4/69, 15.”

Then we’d know exactly how to interact with each other and exactly from whom we needed to run.

But, the more I thought about it, and the more I awoke out of my narcotic haze, the more I came to the decision that that would be a horrible idea.

I’ve never physically hurt like I have over the past month.

Pain has a way of bringing clarity.

When you’re suffering, it’s very easy to start defining yourself—and being defined by—your pain.

“I’m Sally Smith and I have cancer.”

“I’m Joe Johnson and I can’t find a job.”

“I’m Billy Brown and I can’t pay my bills.”

“I’m Mary Jones and my husband just left me for another woman.”

We all face trials.

Jesus promised us we would.

John 16:33

“In this world you will have trouble”

We have two large Labrador retrievers, who we love, but who also fill our yard with piles of poop we refer to as land mines.  It’s my boys’ job to pick up the poop so we don’t step in it, but we’re always stepping in it because our dogs have very healthy and productive digestive systems and we just can’t keep up.

It’s no fun to step in dog poop.  Especially, barefoot at night.

We all step in poop at some point in life, and when it happens to us, we have two basic choices:

1) We can cover ourselves in it.

Some people, upon “stepping” in a pile of trial, stop and wallow in their misfortune to the point that all you see, hear, and smell when you’re with them is tainted with the scent of the pain in which they have covered themselves.  We can either experience bad things, survive them, learn from them, and move on, or we can sit down in the crap, cry, cover ourselves in it, and spend the rest of our lives complaining that life stinks!

2) or, We can use it as fertilizer.

I think the better option, when something bad happens and we find ourselves standing in a pile of trial, is to search for ways to grow from the experience.  Poop can be powerful. Out here in the west farmers actually buy it as fertilizer for their crops.  Our trials have power, too.  Trials have the power to empower us.  God never wastes a hurt.

God inspired James to write, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your   steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4)

Yes, poop can be powerful, if we’ll only plant in it and not plant ourselves in it.

Yes, we all face trials, but we must refuse to let ourselves become the face of the trials we face.

Do you understand what I’m trying to say?

You have cancer, but you are not diseased.

You may be unemployed, but you’re not worthless.

You may be bankrupt, but you’re not broke.

You may be going through a divorce, but you’re not unlovable.

You may have stepped in pile of trial, but you are not poop!

My pain transformed me into a number at the hospital.

But we are so much more than a number.

I have experienced chronic pain for the past month and for those of you who have never experienced chronic pain, let me tell you that it is not just disabling, disorienting, and discouraging.

Now, I can hear what some of you are thinking and no….I do not want any cheese with my whine, because I’m not whining…I’m learning and now I’m teaching.

God never wastes a hurt and he is using my hurt to teach me how to be a better pastor to people who are in chronic pain.

When you are in chronic pain, the nights are the hardest.

I woke up on my second night in the hospital at 4am and demanded to be removed from my bed.

(Btw…It’s amazing how quickly 5 nurses will show up in your room when you start acting a little “unstable.”)

I was confused and discouraged and I felt like I was becoming one with that bed and I just needed to get up and get out of that bed and I wanted not to have to pee in a bottle.

Do you know that, when you’re in the hospital, they collect everything….and I mean everything that your body produces?  You start to feel not human—like you’re just a lab rat and it’s hard to feel like just a number, especially in the middle of the night.

When you are suffering, it’s always hard, no matter the time of day, but I’ve learned: the nights are the most difficult to endure.

Why? You feel so alone.  Everything has shut down; people are unconscious, yet you are still fighting pain or heartache.

That was a long night as I slept in the chair by my bed.

The next night, I woke up again in the middle of the night, but this time I decided to worship.  I pulled up Spotify on my laptop and turned up my worship playlist and I clung to the promises of God:

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).

 “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19a).

 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,  that I may meditate on your promises” (Psalm 119:147-148).

 “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

 “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5)

 “He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3-4).

 “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5).

 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

 That next day, God showed up in room B480.

The doctor came in and told me my options and that he could do surgery on me at 5pm the next day.  With the pain I was facing, that sounded like a good option, but we knew we needed to pray about it.

Rhonda and I prayed and God started answering our prayers through the hospital staff.

Unsolicited, the nurses kept saying things like, “I’m not sure it’s my business, but I wouldn’t have surgery just yet.”

No fewer than 4 nurses and a staff member gave us this guidance, but the “kicker” was when a member of Journey came up during a break in surgery because he felt lead to come and caution us against having surgery.

Do you know that, when you are suffering, God cares about you?

Do you know that, in the dark night of your soul, you are not alone?

Do you know that, when you are facing pain, that you are more than a number to Him?

Do you know that, when you are wondering whether or not to have surgery, that God will give you an answer if you ask?

Do you know that, when you are facing a trial, God knows your name?

Let me speak truth to you.

 Isaiah 43:1-3

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

 John 10:1-13

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

I love this passage for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that it teaches us some important things to remember when we are facing piles of trials.

 1.    We have an enemy.

He wants to steal, kill, and destroy.

2.    We have a Shepherd.

a) A Shepherd who is good.

b) A Shepherd who loves us.

c) A Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for us.

d) A shepherd who knows our names.

I read an interesting article in the NY Times from September 30, 2007.  (A boy named Godknows: In southern Africa, names that say a mouthful By Michael Wines–Published: Sunday, September 30, 2007)

It was about baby names in Zimbabwe.

They have a tradition of giving non-traditional names to their kids.

Across southern Africa, in fact, one can find any number of Lovemores, Tellmores, Trymores and Learnmores, along with lots of people named Justice, Honour, Trust, Gift, Energy, Knowledge and even a Zambian athlete named Jupiter.

There’s a boy named Oblivious, another named after a cowboy: Hopalong.

One of the worst is a body named “Hatred Zenega.”

How does a boy end up being named, “Hatred”?

Hatred got his name the way millions of other children here have – as a means of recording an event, a circumstance or even the weather conditions that accompanied their births.

Thirty-two years ago in western Zimbabwe, a baby boy named Tlapi was born so sick that his parents feared he would die. They took him to sangomas, or traditional healers, and to Western-style doctors, but nothing worked. It seemed that God, not man, would decide his fate.

So when he was 1 year old, Tlapi’s parents changed his name to reflect that.

His name was changed to “Godknows.”

Funny, that should be our names too!

In the last book of the Bible we get a glimpse of what it will be like for those who survive the piles of trials in this life.

 Revelation 3:5

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

When we overcome the trials of this life…and we will overcome the trials of this life, Jesus will say our name to God because He knows our names.

When you are suffering, and you are in His presence, you don’t have to stick out your arm and say, “Arron Scott Chambers, 4/17/69, 9.”  First of all, because that’s not your name, but most importantly because that’s all information He already knows…because, we are not numbers to God.

He knows our names.

He knows your name.

©2012 Arron Chambers

Bad stuff happens to everybody.

We can’t say we weren’t warned.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

We have two large Labrador retrievers, who we love, but who also fill our yard with piles of poop we refer to as land-mines.  It’s my boys’ job to pick up the poop so we don’t step in it, but we’re always stepping in it because our dogs have very healthy and productive digestive systems and we just can’t keep up.

It’s no fun to step in dog poop.  Especially, barefoot at night.

We all step in poop at some point in life, and when it happens to us, we have two basic choices:

1) We can cover ourselves in it.

Some people, upon “stepping” in a pile of trial, stop and wallow in their misfortune to the point that all you see, hear, and smell when you’re with them is tainted with the scent of the pain in which they have covered themselves.  We can either experience bad things, survive them, learn from them, and move on, or we can sit down in the crap, cry, cover ourselves in it, and spend the rest of our lives complaining that life stinks!

2) or, We can use it as fertilizer.

I think the better option, when something bad happens and we find ourselves standing in a pile of trial, is to search for ways to grow from the experience.  Poop can be powerful. Out here in the west farmers actually buy it as fertilizer for their crops.  Our trials have power, too.  Trials have the power to empower us.  God never wastes a hurt.  God inspired James to write, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your   steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4)  Yes, poop can be powerful, if we’ll only plant in it and not plant ourselves in it.

© 2012 by Arron Chambers