Patterns: Experiencing God

“Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.” Psalm 19:2-3

It doesn’t matter what story you read, movie you watch, or play you enjoy but each time you experience these things you will always be following a repeatable and necessary pattern in order to enjoy it. This is true even if the story is an epic that stretches over a longer period of time. The pattern of story telling begins with an introduction where we learn the setting and meet the characters. As we delve deeper into the story we begin to learn who the good guys are (protagonists) and who the bad guys are (antagonist). We begin to develop loyalties, likes, and dislikes. Next we see a problem or a crisis arise, and naturally, the problem needs solving, which is done by the protagonist. But not without concerted effort on the antagonist’s part to defeat her rival. But, at last, we have a resolution. It doesn’t matter where you look, this will be the general pattern that most satisfies the reader. If a part is left out, it becomes confusing. If the beginning is not told we may become confused. If the problem is unsolved then we become frustrated. The pattern completes the circle. The pattern makes sense to us.

We see patterns elsewhere in life. The most notable ones might include days which are followed by nights, or the seasons that occur as the Earth rotates and moves around the sun: always has and always will. These patterns are repeatable and predictable day in and day out, year in and year out. They are patterns that you can be comfortable with. The day will always take 24 hours because this is how long it takes the Earth to make its rotation. And a year will always take 365 days because this is how long it takes to move around the sun. Scientists tell us that since the beginning, time has increased and sped up, but we’ll reserve that logical discussion of time for another day, metaphorically speaking, of course. Suffice it to say that we live and exist in a constant, but repeatable pattern.

There are, of course, many other patterns that we live and experience. It may be the rolling of waves over the ocean, or the weather that moves across the surface of the earth each moment of each day. It could also be the pattern of human development that is so pIMG_0105redictable. It starts with conception of an embryo, the beginning of human life, but then that embryo develops into a fetus and gains a beating heart, fingers and toes form, we learn the sex in the womb. This young creation is now an unborn baby. We can learn from an unborn baby its many and remarkable characteristics. Next this young life is born and it becomes a new born infant, then a toddler, then a child, then a preadolescent, a teenager, then a young adult, then an adult, then a middle aged adult, then a elderly adult, and nearing the end of its life cycle the person becomes a senior adult. That pattern will end predictably in the death of this human body whose physicality then returns to dust, just as the Scriptures tells us. The soul then follows a new pattern unseen by mankind.

What are patterns and why are they evidences of a kind and merciful God. Patterns exist within the time continuum and allow us as finite people to do things like process, learn, grow at healthy rates, increase in wisdom, and heal. Time can often be thought of as a liability slowing us down, but it is actually a gift of God. Our great and infinite God, of course, exists outside of time, but He loves us and provides us with time. Time allows us to hope and it keeps our limited understanding from going off the rails. Finitude doesn’t allow us to understand the totality of time and its effects. This reality helps us learn and need dependence upon God. Timelessness is reserved for a good and eternal God. Limits protect His creation from thinking too highly of themselves. It what helps draw us to this amazing God.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new ever morning;

great is your faithfulness.”

Patterns protect us. Patterns comfort us. Patterns provide consistent care and love from God.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What patterns have you seen in your life that can cause you to think about and worship God?
  2. Why do you think that God gave us time? How is it helpful for our lives?
  3. What patterns in the world resonate with you the most? Which are more challenging for you to grasp and accept?
  4. Read Psalm 19 and thank God for the patterns that point us to Him. Worship Him for what he reveals to us as His children

Prayer:

“Father, I know that I am finite and can only understand so much in this remarkable complicated world, but I do thank you for revealing parts of yourself in things like patterns. It reminds me of your faithfulness to keep all of your promises and your mercies that are new every morning. Help me when I get caught up in the weeds of life to consider your greatness and majesty and the patterns you display to show your creative genius and your majestic power. When I fail to have faith, will you give me faith to comprehend on some level your persistent and never ending love for me? Thank You for You! Thank you for Jesus. In His name, amen”

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Perpetuity: Experiencing God

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”- Lamentations 3:22-23

 I am captivated every time I walk down a beach and watch the ocean waves crash onto the shore. It is easy to become mesmerized by the constant pounding, white foam, and continuously changing shape and color of this powerful water. What awes me the most, however, is the fact that the waves never stop! I can walk down the beach one summer and know with confidence that when I return a year later the waves will still be pounding the shoreline, reshaping it, and exposing more shells while providing cover for the tiny minnows. Kids will still be using their skim boards and lovers will still walk hand in hand as they skirt the flowing water.

My favorite place in the world to watch this perpetuity is in a river while fly-fishing. The majority of my most enjoyable worship experiences are while I stand in a river soaking up the wildness and the majesty of the mountains around me. This setting alone energizes me, but because I am fishing I can always manage to focus enough on fishing to present my fly in the right ripple to draw the attention of a beautiful rainbow trout. But part of my amazement in this setting is the way that the river never stops flowing. From a source way above me the water begins to obediently follow gravity as it makes its way to the ocean. And the melting snow and falling rain make generous contributions to the parade of life along the way. Because of this, the river’s journey never stops. The sound of the water falling joyously down the mountainside contributes to this glorious experience. I consider it an orchestral masterpiece on a mind numbing level. It displays, to me, an absolutely amazing Designer. I thank Him often for this intoxicating experience.

Both of these settings, the ocean and the river, add to the awe we can experience with God. They display His eternality. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God was not created and, thus, has no beginning. Neither will He ever cease to exist. He will always be sovereign.

Although rivers we see will cease to exist when the new heaven and new earth are created, His reign will be perpetual. One of the parts of heaven that I think I am most excited about is the River of Life, which will flow from His throne. Revelation tells us the water will be crystal clear and the river will be lined with the Tree of Life, a tree that we have not seen since Adam and Eve were escorted out of the garden. Imagine the devastation that would have followed had they also eaten of the tree of life! There would be no end to our sinful state. God in His perpetual love made sure we did not eat of that fruit. In the new garden we are free to enjoy of the Tree of Life which will line the banks of the River of Life!

IMG_0159My mind wanders to this literally endless river. I believe that we will be able to follow this beautiful river and never reach it’s end (because there is no end)! And yet, we will not wander from his watchful and loving presence. He will be with us forevermore. Imagine! Perpetuity at its best!

Psalm 136 explains all the things God has done and yet has never failed! He has the only perfect track record. Sometimes we may think He has abandoned us or stopped loving us, but with hindsight we realize this is simply not true. Here is how Psalm 136 ends:

“God saw the trouble we were in. God’s love never fails. He rescued us from our enemies. God’s love never fails. He gives food to all who live. God’s love never fails. Praise God in heaven! God’s love never fails.”

Despite our sometimes, perilous circumstances, God has never failed us. Our ability to see clearly is limited by our finitude. He is infinite and has no such confinement. Nor is their confinement in His goodness and mercy! His character is perpetual.

Questions to Ponder.

  1. As you think about your life, how might considering God’s unending love help your perspective about whatever you’re going through? Think of specific ways this could help.
  2. Where do you struggle to believe God’s love is relentless and perpetual?
  3. Consider making a “thankful” list of as many things as you can think of that God has provided for you (job, health, friends, health problems, finances, opportunities to serve, family).
  4. Consider memorizing and drawing comfort from Psalm 19:1-6 which reads,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.” Psalm 19-1-6

Prayer:

“Lord, I know that your word says to give thanks in all things. It’s much easier to thank you for the good things, but I want to thank you for the not so good things and ask you to use them to help me see your how you never change. I want to trust you in good and bad times and knowing that you are eternal and consistently good helps me do that. Even though my circumstances make me feel one way, I know the reality is that your love never fails. It’s as predictable as the sun rising each morning or the waves continuing to crash on the beach. Thank you for your perpetual love.”

Comfort: Experiencing God

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”- Isaiah 43:2

It was the phone call you dread as a parent. We got the worst news we thought we could hear. A good friend in Big Fork, Montana called me to ask if I’d heard about my son Philip. He told me Philip was in surgery and he just wanted to make sure we knew. Of course, I was shocked and did not know about the accident. So I called the Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana and found out our son was in surgery because of a motorcycle accident that had occurred at 3am that morning. Eventually I spoke to a doctor who told me that he was still in surgery and, although stable, the surgery would take an additional three hours. It was a punch in the gut. We called our other two children and asked them to come home to wait for a phone call from his neurosurgeon. We began texting friends and family about his accident and asked them to pray. The school he was due to graduate from in a week, Rocky Mountain College, turned out to be a great group and a community. We heard that many of Philip’s friends had stayed in the hospital since news spread that he was in an accident. His good friend Sam had done such a great job of being the point person because she and her husband cared for him like they did own children. That was very apparent to us. We eventually heard from the doctor who told us that he broke his nose and that a piece of bone went into his brain. They successfully removed that bone from the frontal lobe, but this, of course, was difficult to comprehend and accept. The future remained very uncertain and intensely uncomfortable. The numbness in our soul began to nag. Tears came and went like the waves of the ocean, unpredictable and often uncontrollable.

We left our home and had our kids take us to the airport where we hopped on a plane for Billings. We arrived at 11pm. It was, as you would imagine, a horribly long flights. When we arrived at the hospital there were still ten or so of Philip’s faithful friends who were in the waiting room late that night. That encouraged us so much. It was simultaneously comforting just to be with him and also disturbing to see him in such condition. He looked very rough with tubes and wires all over the place. It was encouraging, though, when we grabbed his hand and as we spoke reassurance, he acknowledged our presence. He had been responding to basic commands, which was a good sign for neurological recovery. We were just relieved to be with him, although small, that was a comfort to us. We left the hospital at 3am and went to the hotel for a couple of hours of “sleep.”

The next morning the nurse said that he was doing quite well and he was succeeding 100% in regards to the neurological tests she gave him. He even indicated that he wanted to communicate by writing. He made a “writing” motion to say this.

Even though the tears came and went, we were encouraged. The unpredictable state of his brain injury and how it would affect his personality, cognitive abilities, and his career, were yet to be determined. It was a sad time for all of us. Here is the passage of Scripture where we camped out during this horrific moment:

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up: the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

We were very sad about the accident, and occasionally angry that it happened because it shook our world. As I mentioned we cried a lot, and cried out to the Lord a lot more. It was disconcerting to experience such painful moments.

As believers, when such pain enters our lives, we can respond in one of two ways, usually responding both ways during the experience. First, we can try our best to rationalize and make sense of what we’re experiencing. During those moments we do our best to understand the dilemma. But, as Christians, we must eventually arrive at the second way, and that is acquiescence to our God and King. He is sovereign and always righteous even when He may not show His will. But it is a perfect will. His ways are not our ways, but His character is always perfect and He is entirely trustworthy.

Through our experience, we were comforted in our pain by God. He displayed His love through the inner peace, but also through His other children who prayed for us and comforted us through their prayers, kind words, and tangible gifts (food, money, time, hugs, tears).

When you encounter inexplicable circumstances where do you turn? Who or what do you trust?

How does God’s character encourage you as you walk through the valley? How have you seen His perfect will provide peace?

Read Matthew 8:23-27. How can we find comfort in this story?

In what ways are you seeking comfort today?

Prayer:

“Father, I want to believe and trust You no matter what life brings my way, but it is sometimes very difficult. I don’t understand you and your ways, but I want to trust you regardless because you have never failed me. Your mercies are new every morning. You’re kindness never fails. Your word says that in Christ You call me friend and have called me to holiness and righteousness. In Christ, you have adopted me. I thank you for that but am often caught up in the thinking that says, like the man whose son was healed by Jesus despite his struggle to trust Him. He said, “I do believe, Lord, but help me in my unbelief.” That, too, is my prayer Lord. Help me in my weakness to recall that you are with me when I am in deep waters. Thank You for never failing me. I worship You.”

Compassion: Experiencing God

“He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19

As I approached the greenway by the river a feeling of wonder overcame me. The setting was beautiful with a refreshing cool breeze blowing through the changing leaves of brilliant yellow and orange. I walked across the New River through the covered bridge. Before me lay a pavemass pic.jpgd mountain trail that ran beside the river twisting with it’s bends and turns. It was a familiar trail that I had often run on, but I never tired of its beauty and peacefulness. I always left refreshed and never grew tired of the setting with the sounds of the river, and the solitude it brought. I thought this would be a day just like all the others as I took off on my 3 mile run. When I came off the bridge I noticed to my left a handwritten piece of paper taped to a trail sign. I am by nature a very curious person so I stopped to read what the sign said.

“Lost. Necklace with multi colored stones. Sentimental value. Reward offered”

There was also a phone number at the bottom of the sign. But I thought little of it, except to feel a hint of empathy, but quickly headed down the trail for my run. I pessimistically thought, “that person will never find her necklace.” As I ran by the river, my mind kept going back to the sign, and the owner’s necklace. It didn’t take long before something interesting began to happen; I started to look for the necklace. It wasn’t very easy either because it began to affect my stride as I looked side to side trying my best to spot the necklace. Occasionally I would slow down when I saw something shiny. But as I searched the trail I felt a growing desire within me to find this piece of someone’s history. The more I looked, the more I prayed that I would find the necklace. Soon I began to think about what I would say to the person if I found it. I didn’t want the reward money. I only wanted to see the poor girl’s face when I handed it to her. Especially when I refused the reward money.

But, alas, I never found it. Instead the whole run started my mind churning and asking myself why it was so important for me to find this unknown girl’s necklace? It didn’t make sense to me at first, until I realized that the reason I felt such compassion was because God is a compassionate God. And we are made in his image. We have his DNA hardwired into us and the most uncorrupt basics of emotion are there essentially because God place them there. This realization encouraged me and brought a smile to my face. But it also occurred to me that this was an intangible proof of God. It was like a forensic piece of evidence pointing to this remarkable Creator. I cared about the woman’s necklace, as unimportant as that might seem, because it’s shows how God cares for us, his children.

It reminded me of the time one of my kid’s bikes was stolen when we lived in Colorado one summer. I searched and searched, but to no avail. Then I simply prayed that God would show me his kindness, not because he had to, but because he was good and compassionate. As soon as I said “amen” I looked up and fifty yards away I saw the bike!

Living out our faith and trusting God each day doesn’t require that he make our life easier or trouble free. Sometimes our lives are remarkably challenging and painful, but when we focus on his character and his consistency we can navigate those moments successfully. After all he told David in Psalm 23 that he would walk with him through the valley, not remove him from it. Being with us is, in reality, enough.

As you think about God’s compassions what comes to mind? How has he shown his compassion to you?

How does it strike you to know that you are made in God’s image? How might this affect how you live your life today?

Create a thank you list to express your thankfulness for God’s compassion upon you in saving you.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Philip’s Graduation: A Small Miracle

Most of this story is on Caringbridge.com/visit/philipdavis4, but I was unable to post it on that site. It is on my Facebook page, but if you can’t access that please feel free to watch this short video of Philip receiving his diploma from Rocky Mountain College. The reason this was significant can be read about on the Caringbridge site.

Thank you.

 

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This Silent Killer: A Look at Racism

I was speaking to a friend recently. He’s a younger man that I have known mostly from afar. From time to time I run into this guy and have grown to like and respect him a lot. He’s a kind person. He’s friendly, comfortable to be around, smart, and quick with a kind word. I saw him at a conference this fall and felt compelled to ask him how he was doing. And I meant, “how are you really doing?” This fall, as you know, was very tumultuous in our country. It wasn’t necessarily because of the election. But the election exposed the duplicitous underbelly of the dysfunction in our great land. It was a weird election and brought out some very strong emotion in people. Friends have turned against friends in some cases, but there has often been a lot of head scratching as people on opposite sides of the political isle look at each other incredulously. It has been very confusing, but perhaps not entirely surprising.

My friend answered my question honestly with a, “it’s been kind of rough. No,” he said, “it’s been very rough.” I asked him to explain further and I just listened. It seems that half of our nation can look past the acrid and toxic atmosphere that our two leading presidential candidates created. The other half stand in a lingering daze. I realize that there is much I don’t understand about the issue of race because I’m from srzgxxccetjx5xylo1qtthe majority culture. I was born in the South in a middle class neighborhood. I have never had to struggle with certain things. For the majority culture “the talk” implies an explanation of the “birds and bees.” For African Americans that talk means learning how to be pulled over by the police. Blue lights behind my car means an annoyance. For many in minority cultures it means danger and invokes real fear. My friend told me that he sometimes walks out the door wondering if that day will be his last. My friend is not the only African American who feels that way. I never had that thought or fear. Ever. I’m sad that my friend has to wonder what each day will bring. But, there is more to being a minority.

My name never interfered with any job application I made because it sounded like a majority culture name. I’ve never had anyone stop and stare at me with distrust. I’ve never experienced any of those things. I’m not saying every majority culture person is a racist. But I am saying that sometimes (often) we are blind to the struggle of what it’s like to be in the minority culture. It’s, quite honestly, very hard. The closest I can come to feeling what it might be like is when I have traveled overseas and it was painfully obvious that I was an American. In the former Yugoslavia while walking down a street in Belgrade, people stared at me, pointed, and often laughed. It felt awkward and very uncomfortable, and embarrassed me. But being black in America is much harder than that. In Belgrade, I knew I’d be heading home where I wouldn’t be judged.

It took awhile for me to figure this out, but what happened in Ferguson, Missouri had very little to do with what Michael Brown had been doing to get shot. It had to do with the larger narrative for what African Americans (and other minorities) have to experience in our nation. That’s what angered this minority. That’s what fueled such feelings of desperation that it boiled over into the streets. But Ferguson was just the beginning.

I understand that black on black crime is extremely high (though there may be some reasons for that in regards to our system). I also believe our police force is dominated by good men and wvbec68a6_200x200omen (many of them black). I deeply, deeply appreciate them and embrace that reality, but we really need to learn from what has been happening in our country. We need to empathize with the minority cultures in our country. We can’t keep looking at things the way we have. I sure don’t have all the answers but I wonder if as a Christian it might be good for me to humbly begin to ask good questions and make changes in my own way of thinking. Here’s what I’m committed to doing.

  1. Pray and ask the Lord to help me see this struggle the way He does.
  2. I want to call out racism when I see it. Not just stand by because I’m afraid.
  3. I want to ask my African American brothers and sister how I can learn.
  4. I commit to addressing all people by their name and be sure I don’t look “through them.” (I never realized many minorities feel invisible).
  5. I want to learn to appreciate their culture, not expect them to blend into mine.
  6. I refuse to listen and tell jokes that demean minorities and are racist.
  7. I commit to pray for our world to know Jesus (who was more likely a man of color since he was a middle eastern Jew). After all, Jesus is the answer to our sin struggle.

I hope you read this with an open heart and mind. I know for the white majority it can feel like the rules are fluid and hard to understand. We don’t have to perfectly understand, but we need to try to trust God to change our heart and open our eyes. We will someday be all together in heaven where we’ll live eternally with people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Let’s start now.