Trapped

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Psalm 31:4 "Keep me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge."  Did you ever feel trapped? Were you ever stuck someplace and unable to get out? Even for just a few minutes…which in retrospect seems like an eternity. On a recent trip to California, I was walking...

Does God Answer Our Prayers?

 

If ever a prayer needed to be answered it was now.

Standing inside the critical care unit of Children’s Hospital, I watched and waited outside a recovery room. A battery of alarms were blaring. Code blue blurted on high volume from the loud speakers. Nurses came running, equipment was rolled in, and one of the doctors who’d participated in that day’s surgery dashed into the room. I, as well as other family members, peered through the viewing window at the many monitors, with the heart rate monitor being the target of our attention. 

The baby in the room was only a few days old. The surgery just completed was the first of several open heart operations that would lead to her eventually being added to the heart transplant list roughly 8 months later. She was so tiny and helpless. Her heart failed to develop properly. She was suffering from a rare congenital heart defect known as hypo-plastic left heart syndrome. In layman’s terms, the under-developed left side heart can't effectively pump blood to the body, so the right side of the heart must be modified to do both functions.

Thoughts raced through my mind as we continued to take in the activity in the room. How can I help? What do I do for those around me also watching? In my head these words repeated again and again, “Please God, make it work. Please God, make it work.” After what seemed like an eternity, yet was likely but a minute or two, baby’s heart rate when back up, the oxygen level improved, and I knew she was okay for now.

A prayer with an immediate positive response. These are the times that hearing and seeing God’s answer to our request bring us delight and leaves us grateful.

But sometimes, God’s response to our prayers seems slow or even non-existent. Other times the response seems to be more of a challenge than an answer, leaving us to wonder, does God always answer prayer? 

If you spend any time at all researching this question you will find websites and articles that outline three possible responses - yes, wait, and no.

Yes -

There are many stories of answered prayer throughout the old and the new testament. One source offered 68 verses of answered prayer.(1)

One of the many famous immediate “yes” answers is found in Matthew 8. This is the story of the man with leprosy who simply asked Jesus for healing. Verses 2-3 tell us, “Suddenly, a leper came up to him, fell down before him, and said, ‘Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.’ So Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do want to. Be clean!’ And instantly his leprosy was made clean.”

Imagine the elation of the healed man! Clearly, for the leper, this was the answer for which he had hoped to receive.

Wait -

In reading the book of Psalm, it is somewhat surprising how often David prays to God to be rescued from his  enemies. Again and again he is on the run. Its clear that his situations are dire and his prayers are ernest. For example, in Psalm 69:1-3 he prays,

1) Save me, O God,

    for the waters have come up to my neck.

2) I sink in the miry depths,

    where there is no foothold.

    I have come into the deep waters;

    the floods engulf me.

3) I am worn out calling for help;

    my throat is parched.

    My eyes fail,

    looking for my God.

Clearly David is in distress and has been praying for quite some time. However, in continuing to read, the good news is that David always gets an answer. Through it all he continually praises God and acknowledges God’s goodness.

No -

Ask any parent and they will tell you that some times the answer to a child’s request needs to be “No”.  God, as our father, would also agree. The request may seem reasonable to us, maybe even necessary. But thankfully God sees the big picture, looking far beyond our limited area of vision.

One of the most profound stories in the Bible that demonstrate why God must say “No” at times, is the plea Jesus made in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. He was accompanied by his disciples and as he went off ahead, he prayed to God saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Matthew 26:39b

Can you imagine if God had shrugged and said, “Well, okay.”? It is a terrifying thought. We would have no redemption and no one would have saved us from our sins. Thankfully God said “No”.

As we consider our own prayers requests today and in the past, we are likely to be able to recall times we have gotten each of these answers. No matter where you are today in your journey with Jesus, remember in all things—and especially in prayer—we need to trust that God has us covered. He promises to take care of us.

When in doubt, read, ponder, and meditate on Jeremiah 29:11, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”    

 


(1) https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Answered-Prayer

Posted by Janelle Webber with

When We Go Through Hard Times

 

We all experience pain in one form or another—if we live long enough life usually brings us something emotionally or physically difficult. Throughout these hard times we wish that things were better. We might blame others, ourselves, or perhaps even God for what has befallen us. We might be angry, or despondent, or overwhelmed. But there is also something else that is happening in tandem with the pain.

If you look back on what you’ve been through; on all the hard times that you’ve made it through so far, one thing is always true--you’ve changed.

You may not always change as much as you’d like, and you may not always change for the better, but no matter what it is, something has changed. Perhaps it’s just a different outlook on something, or perhaps our entire attitude towards life completely changes.

We know that life is not always easy. So why do we question why something hard is happening to us?

Although it isn’t a common profession, most people understand what a blacksmith does. Essentially a blacksmith’s job is to take a chunk of metal, and through a lot of hard work and sweat, mold it into something useful. The process is not simple. The metal must be heated and cooled constantly, and the blacksmith must pound it over and over until it finally resembles a weapon or tool that’s usable for some specific purpose. In its original state, the metal was basically useless for such a purpose, but through the blacksmith’s hard work over a long period of time, it finally becomes something that can be effectively used.

We are the same way. God uses our life experiences, both good and bad, to mold us into something that he can use for his purpose. We may not always understand what that purpose is, but God always has a plan.

Some of us may reject him for putting us through the hard times, and we often fight to meet our own vision of what purpose we think we should fulfill for ourselves. We don’t mold easily, and it’s especially tough during the hard times. It’s hard for us to see what purpose we’re being shaped for. But, if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from the hard times, then it will be easier for us, in the long run, to understand and fulfill the purpose that God has for our lives. If we accept his purpose, we will discover a world opened up to us that we could have never imagined before.

A sword used as a nail would be a frightful waste of craftsmanship. But, when a sword is used in the way that it was created, it can be a powerful weapon. And the great thing is, we’re not all crafted to be swords. We’re each uniquely crafted, with different capabilities and purposes. Unlike a giant pile of spoons, which only have one purpose, the body of Christ is like a chest full of various tools that could build an empire.

God has a big plan for you, and for the people around you. If we would all allow him to mold us into the people that we’re meant to be, there’s no telling what kinds of “impossible” things might become reality.

As you go through the hard times that life brings you, remember that God has a plan for your life. You may not see it in that moment, but trust in him, pray, and listen for his guidance. He will pull you through and bring you into a world that’s brighter than anything you’ve ever known.

The Family You Choose

 

As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or baking cookies with my mom. I realize that not everyone may have these exact same memories, but I do believe that they are fairly similar to memories that many others share.

As I grew older, these kinds of experiences occurred less and less often. I became more and more independent, and family became something that I simply took for granted. They were still there, but I wasn’t. That is to say, I was absent in the sense that I wasn’t as interested in doing all the things that I had done as a kid. When I joined the military when I was 20, this was confounded even more because I literally wasn’t around anymore. I shipped off to Texas for several months for training, and then I moved to Germany right after. I took my wife Rachel with me to Germany, so luckily I had someone, but besides her, there was no one else. We spent three years there and then we moved to Guam for another three years.

Suffice it to say, being halfway around the world from your family takes its toll on you. The things that I took for granted in my late teens became the things that I missed most in my mid-twenties and now into my thirties. I miss just hanging out with my dad watching football games, or going to the movies. I miss grabbing a coffee and talking about life with my mom. I miss spending time with my grandparents, who also live where my parents do. My wife and I have missed so many life events because we’ve been geographically separated from our families for so long – the deaths of close relatives, family vacations, and holiday gatherings just to name a few. Family has also been absent for the births of all of our three children.

I’ve found myself missing all of that, especially the small things, a whole lot more in the past few years. It’s been so much so that I applied to get out of the military early so that we could move back home and be closer to family. I was very hopeful that things would work out, trusting God and praying that whatever happened was where he wanted me to be. Though I was expecting a ‘yes’ to my application, that was not what I received. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily for me I’ve grown a lot over the past 5-6 years, and was able to accept the fact that this was where God wanted us for the time being.

This was around the beginning of October, and about a month and a half later God showed me something that I hadn’t seen before…

My little family was prepared to spend another holiday together, just the five of us. Sometimes for Thanksgiving we hang out with friends, and on several occasions, we’ve had friends over at our house. I think for most military families this is common, though we do know quite a few people around here who have family close by, which has made it a bit more difficult for us.

This year we were invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and there were several other church families who we knew well who were also going. When we got there, there were about twenty or so people, with a mix of our friends, and a mix of the host’s family as well. By the time everyone had shown up, there must have been around fifty people including kids. To be frank it was chaos – a beautiful, turkey and stuffing-smelling, love without limits kind of chaos. After we prayed and everyone started getting their food, I just had to stand back and soak it in for a minute.

This was when it hit me…

Even though we didn’t have ‘blood’ family around to celebrate the holidays with, we still had family. I took a picture and shared the post on Facebook because I wanted to capture the moment, and I wanted others to see that the family of God can make a big difference when you’re feeling lonely and separated from your own kin.

As a military family, being separated from relatives is something that we’re quite used to, though the feeling of missing them never really goes away. As we’ve allowed God in our lives more, he’s given us good friends to help fill the void of missing our families. Of course, it’s not an exact replacement – no one can ever do that. But, it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing. And for many people out there who may not share a strong bond with their families, perhaps it could even feel like a suitable replacement altogether. When you have God in your heart, and when you allow others into your life, then God will bring people to you to build you up and be there for you when you need them. And the great part is, no matter where you go, there will always be someone there as long as you’re open and paying attention.

Another great thing about the family of God is that it’s always growing, and we can always add more brothers and sisters! This family crosses boundaries that blood typically does not – race, skin color, culture, as well as many other things! You will meet people you probably wouldn’t have normally, and it will make you a better for it. You will grow as a person, and you will grow in your faith.

With God as our Father, and countless brothers and sisters surround us everywhere we go, there’s no need to ever feel alone. If you do feel lonely, perhaps you only need to look around and realize, as I did, that you are surrounded by more family than you think you are.

If you don’t know about the joys of a family shared through Christ, then we invite you to attend Severn Run (if you live in the Baltimore-D.C. area), or otherwise look for a local church to get connected to. Wherever you go, if they make you feel like family, then you know you’re probably home.

And if that’s the case, then…

…welcome to the family!

 

Posted by Andrew Stevens with

How God Works Through Adversity

 

Have you ever asked yourself that ever-unanswered question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Well, don’t get your hopes up, because I’m not here to answer that—we just don’t have enough room on the internet to tackle it.

However, I can tell you how God works through bad things that happen…

He works through his people! And about a month ago, Severn Run had a taste of this. Here’s what happened:

It was a typical Tuesday morning when some of the Severn Run staff came in to work. It was shortly after the New Year, and it was quite frigid outside. As to be expected, there was some ice in the parking lot of church campus. However, on this particular day, there was a large cascade of ice flowing down from Severn Run’s back entrance into the parking spaces nearby. It was quickly obvious that this wasn’t just ice from the previous night’s cold temperatures.

As some of the staff members investigated the interior of the church building, they discovered more ‘fun’ surprises. It seemed that Severn Run had gotten an unexpected pool installed in the whole first floor of the building! Ok, so it wasn’t a pool, but there was about two inches of water across the entire first floor of the building.

After calling the local water damage experts, the Severn Run staff began the tedious task of moving everything off the first floor that wasn’t tacked down. It was a LOT of work, but since it was the middle of the week, pretty much anyone who could help was already at the church building. After a lot of sweat, and maybe a few tears, it was eventually all done. The workers showed up later to start removing all the water and doing what needed to be done to set the church building up for repair down the road. This would be where the lovely ‘airflow upgrades’ around the base of all the walls on the first floor of the building came from. Perhaps you’ve noticed?

By the time all the water was extruded from the floor and carpet on the first floor of the Severn Run campus it was Friday, and the Severn Run staff had to move everything back into place to prepare for the services on Sunday. Quite a daunting task. But, this is where God came in!

The invite went out to most of the church via social media, and oh boy did people respond! The re-setup of the church campus was scheduled for Saturday morning starting at 9 AM. When I arrived (slightly late) there were already about 30-40 people there. There was a desk up front for people to sign in and get assigned to teams, which would tackle different places around the church campus that needed help.

Pastor John, our Executive Pastor, was giving a quick pep talk before we got started. He spoke briefly of how they discovered the water, and how excited he was to see so many people there to give up their Saturday to help prepare the building to house services on Sunday. He spoke of how important it was for us to come together because he knew that God had big plans. There were people who needed to have a place to sit on Sunday morning so they could focus on a message that God had specifically crafted for them to hear. It was inspiring to think about how such a simple thing as giving up a few hours of our weekend could have an eternal impact on the Kingdom!

Once Pastor John finished, off we went. It was a furious task to get the building back into a prepared state for Sunday, but we had a lot of help, as more people came in to support. It was probably 50 or 60 people in total.

Many people went inside the Worship Center to set up the chairs – one of the biggest tasks to do in preparation for Sunday. Other groups went to help put the kids’ areas back into place, while others helped remove trash, set up other areas, or go outside to start chipping away (literally) at the ice arena in the parking lot.

It took about three to four hours for just about all the work to be finished. The ice took the longest, and wasn’t even completely done by the time we all called it quits, but enough of it had been removed to allow people to drive through, park, and walk safely into the church building on Sunday.

Sunday morning came, and the services ran without a hitch. If you attended that day and had no idea about the escapades of the previous week, about the only way you would have known would have been those ‘airflow upgrades’ that I mentioned earlier, which that are still there. Well, that and the fact that we told everyone who attended, or who viewed our services online that day. But, we told everyone because we wanted them to know that when we needed help, God responded by bringing Severn Runners in to have our back.

And, that’s exactly what God does when bad things happen.

No one can say what exactly God will or will not do when it comes to allowing bad things to happen, but it has been evident since creation that when they do happen, he calls people to respond. The pipe’s bursting at Severn Run, followed by water damage, may not fully qualify as something ‘bad’, but no matter how big or small, God responds. Sometimes God calls on others, and other times he calls to us each individually. How we respond is completely up to us. We just have to decide if we’re going to be willing.

God works through his people. Are you willing to let him use you?

The Difference Between Doing and Being

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Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

There is a difference between doing and being. More than the obvious differences of activity and rest—there is a spiritual difference.

Doing is about appearances. It’s about activity. It’s about the outward and the effort. Doing is “religion.”

Going to church because you’re supposed to.

Reading the Bible and praying because it’s on your list.

Joining a small group because you’ll look like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.

Serving because it looks good on your resume.

Man is not justified by works. “Doing” for the sake of redemption does nothing but keep us busy, bothered, and stressed. Doing makes us think that we are in control of our destiny, our purpose, and our salvation. Doing keeps us focused on self instead of God.

Doing does not justify. Doing is empty and broken trying desperately to be something.

 

Being is about presence. It’s about the inward. It’s about your motivation. The dictionary defines being as, “having the state, quality, identity, nature, role, of something specified.” Being aligns your identity, your nature, your role, to Jesus. Being is relationship.

Being changes your purpose and motivation.

So instead of just going to church, you go to be with Jesus.

Instead of reading the Bible and praying because it’s on your list, you do it to be closer to God.

Instead of being in a connect group for appearances, you go to be with other believers.

Instead of serving to build your resume, you serve to be like Jesus.

This week, instead of thinking about what you are doing, ask yourself what you are being.

Are you being close to Jesus?

Are you being Jesus to others?

Are you…being the difference?

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