My Help Comes from the Lord

Vol. 20 No. 07 | February 12, 2018

A Pilgrim Song

I look up to the mountains;

does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes from God,

who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let you stumble,

your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.

Not on your life! Israel’s

Guardian will never doze or sleep.

God’s your Guardian,

right at your side to protect you—

Shielding you from sunstroke,

sheltering you from moonstroke.

God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now, he guards you always.[1]

I’m not exactly sure what a moonstroke is, but when Eugene Peterson calls this a pilgrim song, I know exactly what he means.

When you think of pilgrim, try not to think of a person wearing a black suit, peculiar shoes with big buckles, and a strange looking hat. Think instead of traveler, tourist, wayfarer, or visitor.

Maybe you can also relate to a bumper sticker I saw recently:

All wanderers are not lost.

I’m not lost, but I certainly feel like a wanderer- moving along, often at a rapid pace, on my way somewhere to do something with and for someone, constantly trusting that God is with me.

Some will remember singing these words: “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.” It’s never been one of my favorites necessarily, but the sentiment often resonates with me as I work my way through life. I am a pilgrim. I am a visitor in this world, and I am a wanderer in this land.

Psalm 121 offers a couple of adjustments that may help us keep our wanderings on course.

First, be aware of where you’re looking for help and direction. Where are you looking? The Psalmist says, “My help comes from the Lord.” When I find myself wandering off course, I can usually trace it back to looking for help, hope, and guidance from my own wisdom or from the wisdom of other people. But real wisdom, real hope, and real guidance comes from the Lord.

Second, remember the Lord will provide us with protection even when we are wandering. Although we can’t always hear what God is saying to us and see where He is leading us, this doesn’t mean He has forgotten or is ignoring us.

I have no way of knowing where you are on your journey through this life. But I hope these rambling words will give you comfort that you’re not alone on your pilgrimage and you’re not forgotten. Not by the people who love you and not by the Lord.

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2018 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

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[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Ps 121:1–8.

Be Mindful of the Words You Hear

Vol. 20 No. 06 | February 5, 2018

It was raining and Starbucks was quiet. After I got my coffee and settled in next to the window, I opened up my laptop to get a few things done while I waited for my friend.

Three men entered and sat down at the table next to me. They were excessively loud, so I moved to another table. A one-sided conversation took over the room from a man who ‘knew everything about everything’. It was impossible to tune out and I finally ended up at a table in the far corner of the room.

My intention’s not to sound judgmental or over-sensitive. I just didn’t need or want to hear all of that. Actually, I didn’t need or want to hear any of it. But this particular fellow seemed to think I (and everyone else in the coffee shop) needed to hear everything he had to say.

Although this incident ranks extremely low on any list of First World problems, it does remind me of the importance of surrounding myself with things that are positive and uplift me. I can try to convince myself that what I hear doesn’t affect how I think and feel, but the reality is, it does.

As Jesus says in the passage below, we need to carefully consider what we hear.

For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Consider carefully what you hear, he continued. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. (Mark 4:22-24, NIV)

If I watch or listen too often and too long to the news, with its panel of experts who talk (or yell) over other experts, I find myself becoming frustrated, agitated and anxious. The same negative emotions emerge when I’m in the car listening to talk radio or radio D.J.s.

It’s usually better for me to listen to my own playlists or nothing at all. Or when I’m writing and studying, I usually listen to quiet, relaxing music; total silence is sometimes too quiet and other types of music make it difficult for me to focus. Plus, when I need to look up from my computer and gaze off into the distance, the softer music provides a soothing soundtrack for my thoughts.

What I learned from my experience at Starbucks was that when I allow other voices or the ones in my head to talk over God’s voice, it’s easy for me to become dissatisfied, downcast and discouraged. This is when I know I need to get back to the Word and let Him remind me of how He feels about me.

An overexposure to conversations or messages that are harsh, negative and judgmental tends to make me react with harshness, negativity, and judgment. On the flip side, when I hear and engage in conversations that are positive and life-affirming, I feel inspired, encouraged and have a more pleasant attitude.

Obviously, there are times when we have no option but to hear things we’d prefer not to. In a restaurant, for instance, we may have to focus our attention on something else so we won’t hear the conversation going on next to us. Or when we’re traveling with a co-worker, there may be no escape from hearing them rant about a colleague or boss.

These situations can be uncomfortable and frustrating. We need to be intentional and do what’s best for us: move to another table, read a book, or listen to relaxing music.

Jesus regularly retreated from the demands of the crowd to be alone and listen to His Father. He chose solitude over the constant barrage of voices from his followers expressing their needs and demanding His time, or religious leaders throwing out false accusations, or His disciples’ attempts to redirect His mission. He used this time as a time to refresh, restore and refuel His soul.

He knew we would have the same need, so He said, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. … Consider carefully what you hear.”

So maybe it’s time to consider more carefully what we’re hearing. We owe this to ourselves and should not feel guilty for seeking out a situation that will better serve us.

Being discerning about what we hear is vital to our mental, spiritual and physical well-being. We need to distinguish between lies and truth, redirect the conversation, or get away from the noise of life and find a quiet place to rest so we can redirect our attention to what the Lord has to say.

I promise, this conversation will leave you inspired, encouraged and with a more pleasant attitude.

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2018 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

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A Cluttered Desk, a Cluttered Mind

Vol. 20 No. 05 | January 29, 2018

I almost always keep my desk and study area clean and free of clutter. I find an orderly desk provides less distractions.

But when I got to the top of the stairs this morning and saw what was in front of me, chills went down my spine. (For picture go to www.anorvellnote.net)

I hate it when my desk is like this- covered with papers, bills, receipts, a water bottle with one good swallow left, yellow sticky notes stuck on top of other sticky notes attached to my computer monitor, gift cards, tax forms, pens and highlighters, and of course my Bible (this does not fall into the ‘clutter’ category, obviously.)

Everywhere you look- on the floor, the filing cabinet, and the bookcase behind my desk- are folders, stacks of papers, files, textbooks, a plastic crate filling up with 2018 receipts.

Have I mentioned that I hate it when clutter collects like this?

“Tom, oh Tom, why have you allowed your desk and study area to get in such a condition?” you might ask.

The answer is reasonably simple: because this is a lot like how my life looks right now.

But I will say, although most of the stuff piled up on and around my desk looks like clutter, it’s not entirely. With the exception of a few of the sticky notes, most of the stuff scattered about has a purpose. (Okay, five pens may be a little much.)

Like the desk clutter, the things piling up on my list of what I need and want to do in my life are also important. There are people I try to stay connected to (you are one of those people); I am currently involved, to some degree, in four writing projects; teaching part-time; counseling; trying to develop my practice or perhaps find a full-time position; working part-time in a department store; trying to be a good husband, Dad, Papa, friend and all that’s wrapped up in trying to live as a follower of Jesus.

On some days, when I sit with my journal and reflect on all that exists within the boundaries of my life, I have the same feeling as when I arrived at the top of my stairs and looked into my study. Ugh! Where do I even start?

So as I sat amidst of all the clutter, I turned to the words of Jesus:

You are blessed when you get your inside world — you mind and heart —put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

I read those words three or four times, took several long, deep breaths and closed my eyes, sitting quietly for a few minutes. When I opened my eyes, I took one of the five pens on my desk, (the one with brown ink) made a short list of the most important tasks for the day, and one by one, started removing the yellow sticky notes.

I probably won’t get all the clutter cleared from my desk today. And when I climb the stairs tomorrow, most of those important tasks I jotted down will likely still need to be checked off. But one by one I will deal with them.

As I clear the clutter from my desk and my mind my inside world — my mind and heart — will be put right again. Then, I can see God all around me.  

When I’m able to see God all around me, the clutter seems to disappear and I’m able to see more clearly what I need to do to serve Him and fulfill my purpose.

Maybe you need to do a few things to clear your mind and heart this week. If I can help, let me know.

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2018 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

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The World is Beautiful or Terrible. The Choice is Yours.

Vol. 20 No. 04 | January 22, 2018

There were some bad things, sad things, and downright awful things that happened this week.

But there were also some beautiful things that happened this week.

One man went to the doctor and received bad news about his health. Another man, expecting the worst, found out he was going to be fine.

One couple who didn’t want to be pregnant found out they were. Another couple who’d been praying for months to get pregnant also found out they were.

A school where the children didn’t have enough to eat received hot meals from a group of caring adults in the community.

A political leader disheartened the public with his mixed messages and disrespectful comments. Another leader uplifted his constituents with dignity and gratitude.

A sports team responded to their loss with excuses and blame. Another team acknowledged they didn’t perform their best and the other team deserved to win.

An employee found out his company was downsizing and he would be the first to go. That same employee was offered a higher paying job the next day.

One author received another rejection letter. Another author signed her first book deal.

One family gathered around a casket to pay their last respects. Another family gathered around a crib to marvel at the miracle of birth.

On any given day there are plenty of terrible things that happen. But on that same day, plenty of good things happen, too. We can choose to focus on what is tragic and become despondent and pessimistic. Or we can focus on what is inspiring and positive and let it lift our spirits. At the end of the day, where we focus our attention and how we respond will determine what we see and how we live.

The choice is ours.

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2018 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

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When You Care

Vol. 20 No. 03 | January 15, 2018

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

When you care, it hurts to see a person standing in the intersection selling papers on days when it’s too hot or cold to be outside. (or any day, for that matter.)

When you care, it’s disturbing to see news reports of an a 5-year old or 68-year old being killed in a neighborhood shooting.

When you care, it’s upsetting to learn that people who survived deadly storms from months ago are still struggling to find shelter, food, water, and medical care.

When you care, it’s maddening to hear the leader of our nation use disrespectful and bigoted language when speaking about people of the opposite sex or who have a different skin color, economic status, from a poverty-stricken country, or political view than his.

When you care, it’s upsetting when another person reveals they’ve been subjected to abuse and harassment by someone in a position of authority.

When you care, it’s disappointing when you learn someone you loved, admired, and respected did something to hurt you or someone else.

When you care, it offends you to see Christian people, or anyone for that matter, treating the server at a restaurant with disrespect.

When you care, it infuriates you to hear about a child who has been sexually abused, beaten, neglected, or abandoned.

When you care, it breaks your heart to learn about a woman who has been abused by her husband and is too afraid to leave.

When you care, you feel the pain of those around you…and it hurts.

There are times when I wish I didn’t care so much. There are times when I wish I could tune out all the pain and suffering and not have to deal with it.

But the fact is, I do care…as do you. And yes, it hurts, and I sometimes want to escape it. But then I revisit Jesus’s sermon:

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

Life might be easier if we stop caring, but if we do, we’ll miss out on the care and love He promises us…and the care and love we receive from those we care for.

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2018 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

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Lord, Where Are We Heading?

Vol. 20 No. 02 | January 8, 2018

The first full week of the new year provided me with some time to reflect on the past year. I journaled about the lessons I learned and the things that happened, both good and bad. There was a lot of good and some bad, but overall, it was a year full of learning and growing.

I’ve always heard that time seems to move faster as we get older. If that’s true, I must be much older than my driver’s license says: these first weeks have flown by.

So today, I’m making it a point to pause and pray:

Father,

Where are we headed this year? What adventures will we experience together? What new lessons do You have planned for me to learn? What new people will You send into my life and allow me to help on their own adventures?

Will this be another year of learning to trust You? I ask that, knowing full well it will be; that always seems to be a part of our journey.

Will the lessons be difficult because I sometimes can’t see or hear You? Or will this be the year when trusting comes easy because I can hear You above all others and see You in front of me showing the way?

Lord, where are we headed this year? How will I handle the challenges I’ll face? Will I be strong and courageous? Or will I be weak and fearful? Will I be alert and attentive to your bidding, or will I be easily distracted and miss opportunities to help someone who needs me?

Lord, I do not know where we are headed this year, but I do know is this:

Although there will be times of fear and weakness and confusion and times of joy and accomplishment (when I may be tempted to forget about you), I will always be safe, I will always be loved and I will always find hope to share with others…

Because I will always choose to follow You.

I will be safe, I will be loved, and I will find hope to share with others.

Tom

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It’s Time to Create the Life We Desire

Vol. 20 No. 01 | January 1, 2018

It’s Time to Create the Life We Desire

We have been waiting for this day for weeks, and it’s finally here. The past year has been so difficult and we are ready for a new start. We watch as the ball makes its decent, counting down to zero and declare, “Happy New Year!”

Now what?

Now that we have an opportunity to put the past year behind us and start over, what are we going to do with it? Now that we are able to put those mistakes, failures, illnesses, losses, and bad decisions behind us, how are we going to make sure the new year will be better than the last one?

We will make other mistakes and will probably experience a few failures in the coming year. We, or someone close to us, may have an illness and we may lose someone close to us. There’s a possibility that we will make more bad decisions. But now we have the opportunity to make new and better choices.

Make the most of the opportunities when they come.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5,6, NIV)

When we encounter a person who is outside the faith community, we must be wise in how we treat them. We have to take advantage of those opportunities and use language that is filled with grace. Being kind and graceful doesn’t cost us a thing, so we need to use each opportunity to display the spirit of Christ.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13,14, NIV)

Forget the past and move on.

We want to forget the past year, so we have to put it behind us. We messed up. We must accept it. Learn from it. Move on. We failed to accomplish all we wanted to accomplish? Me must let it go and move on. We accomplished some great things? We should celebrate them and move on. We had a great year? We should celebrate it and move forward to even greater things.

Encourage people.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)

We must look for opportunities and ways to encourage others every day. If we missed an opportunity yesterday, we must encourage someone today; we may not have tomorrow.

Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Now is our opportunity to do things differently and carve out the life we desire.

Tom

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It Begins with You

Vol. 19 No. 51 | December 24, 2017

Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

This year, let’s do it! Let’s make these words more than a line out of the Christmas story. This year, let’s bring those words to life.

When you have decked all the halls you can deck and jingled all the bells you can jingle, why not make a commitment to bring peace on earth and good will toward men.

It’s not as difficult as it sounds. A good place to start would be to read these words from Romans. In fact, you might try reading them two are three times.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19, NIV)

Now, try:

When someone does something bad to you, let it go. If it is truly evil, do not repay it with another evil. Instead of revenge, choose forgiveness.

Just do what is right. Plain and simple. Of course there will be times when you can’t please everyone. But as much as possible, do what is right by everyone. It makes sense that if you are doing what is right, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll please most of the people most of the time.

Live at peace with everyone. You can see how the three overlap with one another. If you let go of evil when it is done to you and do what is right, you are more likely going to be at peace with those around you.

Don’t wait until the new year begins, and don’t limit it to three weeks in December. Bring these words to life, start today, and let there be peace on earth by showing good will toward men.

It begins with you.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

At the End of Your Rope?

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 Vol. 19 No. 50 | December 17, 2017

At the End of Your Rope?

The sermon begins with these words:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.   (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

Do you feel like you’re at the end of your rope?

Maybe you’ve been in a classroom with twenty-five kindergarten children and it’s two days before Christmas break.

Or you’ve been working two jobs for the last six months, so you can afford the Christmas gifts your children want.

Or you’re headed to yet another doctor appointment to hear one more time, “Let’s try this and see if it helps.”

Maybe the end of your rope comes when you’re visiting your wife who hasn’t recognized you in two years, hoping today she will.

Or you’re clocking in for another boring day at your dead-end job.

Or you’re trying to prepare another sermon when you are spiritually and emotionally drained.

Maybe the end of your rope is another night eating alone.

Or reading another Christmas letter reminding you how wonderful they and their kids are doing.

Or looking at the calendar and remembering all the things you intended to do this year that you didn’t.

Maybe the end of your rope is opening your Bible again with no idea of what words you need to hear from the Lord.

Or maybe the end of your rope is when you feel like, no matter how hard you try, you still keep falling short and can’t seem to get your life right as a follower of Jesus.

If you are the end of there is good news. Jesus said,

With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

Although there is probably much more to the second part of that verse than I understand, I understand enough to know that Jesus is saying, “Congratulations! You’ve done your part, now I can take over and do what needs to be done. You’ve worked hard trying to navigate this life I’ve called you to. Finally, you’re realizing that you can’t do it alone. Now, let me help.”

Are you at the end of your rope? Good. You are right where you need to be.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved