Facing the day, like Jesus did

Vol. 19 No. 43 | October 29, 2017

This morning finds me sitting at my desk with my fingers on the keyboard and Gordon Lightfoot singing in my head: “I’m on my second cup of coffee and I still can’t face the day.” (Second Cup of Coffee) It’s not a particularly spiritual song, but that first line repeated throughout the song fits the morning and many others I’ve experienced throughout my six-plus decades.

Some days are just hard to face. No, I’m not depressed. I’m not sick or angry or tired. I’m not dreading what is ahead. There are just some days that are hard to face.

Many years ago, in an Expository Preaching class at Harding University, Dr. Jerry Jones took my sermon based on the Luke 9 account of the Transfiguration (verses 28-36) and the verse right after that (37), and ripped it apart. He explained that according to the rules of expository preaching the sermon was technically flawed, and that I could do better. Although I’ve preached several versions of that sermon since and usually had pretty positive feedback, I know he was right.

The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.

The point I was trying to make from that text (or more accurately, the way I was using the text to make my point) was how difficult it must have been for Jesus – receiving so much and praise on the mountain by Moses, Elijah and the Father – to come down and face a large crowd of people needing to take so much from him.

When Jesus came down the mountain, He was greeted with a man begging for Him to heal his son. Most likely, there were many others with equally pressing needs begging to receive His attention.

In my mind, this would have been a difficult day to face. After being lavished with love and affirmation on the mountain, He was now back in the thick of giving all of Himself, attending to the needs of a crowd of people who had very little understanding of His true identity. That, for me, would have been a ‘two or three cup of coffee’ morning.

What stands out to me every time I read these two passages together is how different the man I am is from the man I aspire to be. I want to be like Jesus, but some days I feel more like Peter- ‘can’t we just stay here? Jesus, have you forgotten all those people down there who want a piece of you?’.

In other words, there are days when I like to play it safe, days when I want to be on the mountaintop and stay there, days when I don’t want to be bothered by the demands placed upon me.

But the reality is, I want to be ready to meet the needs of the people, like Jesus did. I want to greet everyone I meet with a message of hope and a gentle touch, like Jesus did. I want to enjoy the time in the valley as much as the time on the top of the mountain, like Jesus did. I want to use my time on the mountain as a moment of reflection, refreshment and restoration so that I can be ready for what happens when I come back down to face the crowd. I want to be able to face the day, with or without a second cup of coffee, knowing I have taken the time to refuel and get ready for whatever or whomever comes at me, like Jesus did.

If you are reading this at the beginning of the day, I hope you can spend at least a moment with the Lord being reminded of His love for you so that you can be ready for the situations and people that will appear in front of you, like Jesus did.

If you are reading this at some point in the middle of the day, I hope you are comfortable with what God is doing through you, so you can see those in need around you and offer a message of hope and grace, like Jesus did.

And if you are reading this near the end of the day, I hope you can look back over the last twelve to sixteen hours and realize that even in you felt frail, immature and selfish, you were able to express love to someone, like Jesus did.

You may need a second cup of coffee to get you going (or a third and another later in the day), but if Jesus is living in and through you, you can face the day like Jesus did. He will provide refreshment when you need it. All you need to do is take it one day at a time and be a gift of mercy and grace to someone who needs it… like Jesus did.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

Finding Peace Amidst the Chaos

Vol. 19 No. 42 | October 22, 2017

I took part in a discussion this week on the following verse:

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10)

During the discussion, insight to the historical setting was given and different uses of the verse were shared. But mostly, the discussion centered around why and how this passage is meaningful in our lives.

For me, the New Century Version seems to capture the essence of the passage very well.

God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I will be praised in all the nations; I will be praised throughout the earth.”

From the context of the chapter and the historical images, it seems that God is speaking to the fact that the world around us often seems to be out of control. Storms, wars, floods, earthquakes, and general chaos are commonplace. It is very easy to get caught up in it all, but God encourages us instead to be still, to find peace amidst the chaos.

The three pauses (Selah) suggested by the musical director calls us to stop after reading or singing and ponder the things that are happening around us. Just pause. Be still for a moment. Observe what has happened. Reflect on what is going on around you. Ask yourself, “How am I handling all this?” Then, as the key verse suggests, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Followed by very 11, “The Lord God almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

As our discussion evolved, these practical certainties surfaced.

There will always be times when the world around us seems out of control. Every week, there is the potential for a new natural or man-made disaster. Disease claims another life. Apparent craziness overwhelms us.

No matter what is going on around you, God is still God and He is in control. So when you start to feel overwhelmed with the chaos around you or within yourself, this might be a good time to sing or hum Martin Luther’s “This is My Father’s World.”

But it isn’t always this easy at times, is it? We are a busy people. Staying busy, even just looking busy, has become a modern-day addiction. However, as difficult as it can be to slow down, there are times when we just need to be still, to cease all activity and quiet our minds. We need to take the time to we remind ourselves that God is God, and we do not need to stand-in for Him. Our rush to ‘get it done so we can rush toward the next thing’ lifestyle isn’t healthy or helping us find the peace that we seek.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (vs. 1) When trouble hits, pause and remember, “The Lord Almighty is with us.” (vs. 7) “Be still and know that God is God.

When I reflect on almost twenty years of writing these notes, I have probably written about this verse more than any other Biblical text. One would think that I would have gotten the message by now. I have for the most part. And then I get busy, things get chaotic, and the world around me and my own inner world seem to rage out of control.

But little by little, I am learning to listen when I receive the prompting to stop, get still, and remember that God is God.

The chaos will always be there if that is what we focus on.  Perhaps this week is the perfect time to start a ritual to help you find your peace. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate or complicated. Simply find a quiet place and say these words to yourself….

Be still and know that I am God.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Memory

Vol. 19 No. 41 | October 15, 2017

This past Thursday, I headed to Memphis to join a friend for a charity golf tournament. The typical, random ‘thoughts-while-I’m-driving’ were floating around in my head until I got about forty miles from Memphis. I was suddenly consumed with the memory of driving down this same interstate exactly two years ago this week.

My sister had been very ill for several weeks. The family had kept in close communication with updates about changes in her health. After several days of little to no progress, I decided to go see her, despite the fact that she was so sedated, she most likely wouldn’t know I was there. As I was approaching Memphis, the late afternoon October sun hitting me in the face, I received a call from my brother saying she was not doing well at all, and he didn’t know how much longer she had.

My heart started racing as I sat trapped on I-40 West, stuck in the heavy, afternoon traffic, trying not to beat myself up for not going sooner. I finally got off the highway in an effort to find a quicker route and had just merged back on when my other brother called. She was gone. My heart sank and I could feel the pain rise up from the bottom of my soul.

As I approach that same intersection this Thursday afternoon, that scene and those events from two years earlier wash over me as if it had all just happened last week. And although I made it to my friend’s house and had a lovely evening of reconnecting and a beautiful day on the golf course, that painful memory lingered. It was a bitter-sweet reminder of the blessing and sometimes curse that our memories can be.

The curse of our memories is that they have the potential to enslave us to our past. If not channeled correctly, our memories will haunt us with our sins, mistakes, and failures. If we grant them the power, they can weaken and destroy us.

The blessing of our memories is that they can remind us of people, places, and events that have played a part in transforming us forever into who we are as God’s children.

When I remember that drive to Memphis two years ago, I am reminded of the unfathomable gift my sister was (and still is) to her husband, children, grandchildren, to me, my siblings, our families, and the multitude of other people who were fortunate enough to have their lives intersect with hers. There are few, if any, blessings that can ever compare with the memory I cherish of my sister.

I believe God has given us our memory as an opportunity to learn from our past and to remind us of who He is and how much He wants to be actively involved in our lives.

The rainbow is one example of a gift God has given us that serves as a reminder of His nature and love for us. It’s a rare and beautiful opportunity to take pause and reflect on His love and the magic that is all around us.

I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9:15-17, NIV)

Communion is another sacred gift God has provided to cultivate a relationship with us through his Son, Jesus, giving us an opportunity to regularly pause, reflect and express our gratitude for His amazing love.

For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:18-20, NIV)

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, NIV)

The drive to Memphis will always remind me of a very sad October afternoon. But it will also always provide an opportunity to remember a wonderful lady who powerfully influenced my life. A rainbow can create a pause in my day that reminds me of how, from the very beginning, God has been by my side and is always doing good in my life. Even the simple act of eating and drinking creates an opportunity to remember that with God in my life, there is hope that is real, there is joy that is real, and there is peace that is real.

For me, it is a drive to Memphis. For you, it may be a song, a picture or letter, a piece of jewelry, or family tradition that serves as a reminder that God has been and always will be with you.

So this week, here is my gift to you – a reminder to take a moment when the opportunity presents itself, to remember, reflect and enjoy the gift of a memory.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

I Love a Good Surprise

Vol. 19 No. 40 | October 8, 2017

I am writing this on an airplane headed to New York City on my way to Brooklyn. My wife had planned to make this trip to celebrate our oldest granddaughter’s sixth birthday. I had not planned to join her until a week ago when my schedule freed up last minute. We called our son to tell him but asked him not to tell the ladies (my daughter-in-law and two granddaughters). Surprise!

I have made similar trips through the years. I once surprised my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, and wife by walking into their church in Texas just as worship began and asking, “Excuse me. May I sit here?” I did a similar thing to my wife on Labor Day weekend on another visit to Texas. Surprise!

I have also been the beneficiary of a few good surprises myself. One Father’s Day, my son showed up at church to surprise me, and another time, my daughter showed up on Mother’s Day. On my 40th birthday, my wife went all out by planning a big celebration which included videos, letters, cards and a “Hats Off to Tom Salute.” I did get a little suspicious on that one, however. For months leading up to my birthday, every time a certain friend called, my wife would take the phone into the bathroom. That was pre-cell phones, so that meant stretching the phone from the kitchen into the bathroom.

I love a good surprise, and I know someone else who likes them, too. His name is Jesus.

There are countless occasions when Jesus surprised both His disciples and His enemies, beginning with His decision to leave His Father in heaven and come to earth to lead us to salvation. He surprised those who followed him and those who opposed him by healing the sick on the Sabbath; by turning a few fish and pieces of bread into a meal that fed thousands; by showing compassion and offering forgiveness to a woman who was caught in the act of adultery; by spending time with members of the community considered outcasts or deviants; and by changing water into wine (what was said to be an exquisite wine at that!).

He surprised His family by describing the Kingdom as more important than his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. And He surprised His disciples by choosing passive resistance when attacked and asking them to do the same. He surprised the world when He selected ordinary and seemingly unsavory people to join Him in building a new kind of Kingdom, describing his purpose as serving instead of being served.

He continues to surprise us by the fact that He was willing to suffer and die on the cross as a way to provide forgiveness and salvation for all of us. And then there was the ultimate surprise, when He came back from the dead, rolling away the stone that covered the entrance to His tomb and proving us proof that he had in fact, risen from the dead.

Our God loves a good surprise. The surprises I have had a part in planning and the times I have been surprised pale in comparison to God’s surprises. And although I try to imagine it, I am pretty sure that what we’ll experience when our time here has ended will be the ultimate surprise. Perhaps the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit will be greeting us with open arms, a big smile on their faces, shouting, “Surprise!

When was the last time you were really surprised? When was the last time you surprised someone? I hope you get the opportunity to surprise someone this week. And I hope you will allow yourself to be surprised by the One who started this whole business of surprising. Maybe it will be an awe-inspiring sunset, maybe it will be something profound you read in His Word. Even if you’ve read it before, maybe this time you will be surprised by the beauty and relevance His words have in your life.

God loves to surprise, so don’t be surprised when surprises you.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved

Don’t laugh. Believe

Vol. 19 No. 39 | October 1, 2017

Have you ever laughed at God?

A friend made a request of God that seemed outlandish. She boldly asked God to intervene and basically fix her son’s marriage. When you heard what she had prayed for, you couldn’t help but laugh. You gently tried to remind her that God doesn’t work like that, but she doesn’t care what you think. She is desperate and believes God can do it, so she asked.

A few weeks later you saw your friend again and asked how things were going with her son’s marriage. She immediately began to cry. “You cannot imagine what God has done. The very day I started praying for he and his wife, my son had lunch with an older gentleman from his church and shared what was going on. The man listened to him, prayed with him, gave him the name of a Christian counselor, and promised to stay in touch with him. He and his wife made an appointment, and after three sessions with the counselor, my son called and told me things have greatly improved and they are on the road to recovery.” Perhaps you shouldn’t have laughed, you thought to yourself

At the dinner table, your wife mentioned a friend from church who received a frightening diagnosis from her doctor. This friend has meant a lot to your family through the years, so your wife suggests that the family remember to pray for her. Later that night, you are putting your son to bed, and he begins to pray, “Dear God, please take care of Mrs. Thomas. She is really sick and we want her to get well. We don’t want her to die.” You kissed him on his forehead and smiled at his innocence as you walked out of the room. When you shared it with your wife, her eyes welled up with tears as she said, “Well, I said we needed to pray for her.”

For the next two weeks when you put your son to bed, he prayed the same prayer for Mrs. Thomas. And when the family prayed at meals, he reminded whomever was praying to pray for Mrs. Thomas. Then one night, just as you were about to sit down for dinner, your wife receives a call from Mrs. Thomas. All you heard was, “Oh, I am so thankful and happy for you. Thank you so much for calling.” She wiped tears from her eyes as she sat down. “That was Mrs. Thomas. She’s okay. The doctor told her today the tests showed that everything is clear.” Your son listened intently, and as your wife finished talking, he did a fist pump “Yes!”

There is a scene in the Jesus story where He was laughed at for doing the seemingly impossible.

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep. “But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region. (Matthew 9:18-26, NIV)

Is there something you want to ask God to do, but you are hesitant because it seems like too much to ask? Please, ask.

Are you seeking God’s help in a situation that seems hopeless? Please, keep seeking.

Are you knocking on a door that has not opened, and you are beginning to wonder if it will ever open? Please, keep knocking.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NIV)

The more I learn about the way our Father works, the more I am reminded that He loves to do the impossible, surprise the unsuspecting, convince the doubter, and amaze even the believers. Laugh if you want, but I choose to believe.

Tom

A Norvell Note © Copyright 2017 Tom Norvell All Rights Reserved