Airplanes, Storms, and God’s Providence

The last few days have been quite interesting. Cindy and I went on an overnight trip by plane last Thursday. We didn’t have any luggage to check for such a short trip. All we had was just a carry-on with some essentials. We were supposed to fly United out of Columbia, go to Dulles for a 47 minute layover with barely enough time to dash to the next plane. Then we were to fly to Dayton, Ohio and on to Chicago, our final destination. Unfortunately, as our plane taxied out to the runway the pilot informed us that there was a mechanical problem and we would need to go back to the gate and deplane. There went our 47 minutes at Dulles, and that was the last flight to get us anywhere near Chicago. We were stuck.

United called a cab and paid for us to be ferried to Charlotte and gave us tickets on an American flight. In the process of putting Cindy’s purse and our one satchel into the cab, I left my black leatherette folder with my sermon in it on the ledge beside the ticket counter. On the way to Charlotte the driver called the agent at the counter and asked them to hold it until we got back on Saturday morning. I also called the hotel in Chicago to let them know that we would be a late arrival and please save our room. Little did I know that things were going to get worse.

In Charlotte, the folks at American said our ticket wasn’t valid. It had not been entered into the system correctly by the United agent back in Columbia. So we had no ticket, no flight, and they were the last flight to Chicago and it was already overbooked. So back to United and after some more confusion they got us on the last row of a Delta plane. We were going through 3 different air carriers to get to our destination, a record for me. Then the closest they could get us to Chicago was Detroit. Finally we had a short flight from Detroit to Chicago on whatever carrier I have no clue. Late Thursday night/Friday morning we got to our hotel with a marvelous 5 hour window for sleep before the next morning’s itinerary started.

And we kept monitoring the hurricane. So mid-Friday afternoon we noticed that Columbia, where my car was parked, was still open. We took the hotel shuttle back to O’Hare and went to the ticket counter. The flight to Columbia was still open, but my anxiety rose as the agent kept mixing up the airport codes for Columbia (CAE) with Cleveland (CLE) which might be the reason we ended up in Cleveland at about midnight Friday night. It was practically deserted and our next flight toward Columbia was going to board at 5:15 am headed to Dulles in DC. Cindy and I tried to sleep in those wonderfully firm seats, but it was very hard, pun intended.

As dawn approached we got on a plane to Dulles and kept watching the storm on the weather app radar. Upon arrival at Dulles we found out that everything to Columbia was cancelled. The closest they could get us was Charlotte. Remember my car was in Columbia. I had a smidgeon of hope that Columbia would clear by the time we got to Charlotte mid-morning on Saturday. It didn’t. We got off the plane in Charlotte and scurried to a ticket counter hoping for a taxi voucher for Columbia. The agent said, “Sorry it’s not our fault. It’s an act of God.” I replied, “I work for Him and I don’t think He did this!”

She looked at me unamused and said a tall guy was trying to make it to Columbia, too. She said for us to hurry and we might spot him in the rental car area across from the terminal. We didn’t see a tall guy, but there was this small pony-tailed leprechaun-like dude walking toward the rental counter. I spoke from behind him and asked, “Hey Buddy, are you trying to get to Columbia?” He said that he was and if we wanted a ride, we could. I said I’d be glad to pay and he said it was on the company. Wonderful news!

But the next problem was that there were no cars available, only a truck. Our new-found friend said he didn’t drive trucks. We saw why when he peered between the steering wheel and the dash. He was height-challenged, indeed, but by the grace of God, just over 24 hours after we started trying to get to Columbia, we got there – and by then it wasn’t raining anymore.

Storms are not “Acts of God,” or Jesus would have never rebuked the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee and said “Peace, Be still!” The act of God in our situation was a small-framed guy named Bryan who disappeared as soon as I went inside to retrieve my folder with my sermon inside. We got it and made it home, but my sermon changed. Psalm 66 became a message about praising God in the storms of life, storms God doesn’t cause, and about what God does best and that is to enter the storms with us in the most providential ways. I’ve got a stack of boarding passes about 3 inches thick to prove however crooked our paths may be, God can straighten things out. Thank You, Jesus, and thanks for Bryan.

hurricane

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South Carolina Flood Relief

This is a good week for I Kings 17:7, “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.” The State of South Carolina has been inundated and has literally had its fill of rain. My son’s home is split-level and the lower level flooded. His expectant wife along with their 4 and 2 year olds are staying in Aiken with us while he is at home trying to start the repair process. I have been back and forth to Columbia 4 times using every imaginable route to try to maneuver the streets. His situation isn’t dire and everything will be fine. I only mention his situation to say that there are a lot of people in far worse circumstances. People have died. Cindy’s school has been closed all week because roads have disappeared. This clean-up will take a long time, and we need the brook to dry up!

The context of I Kings 17:7 is instructional. Prior to the brook drying up, God had been feeding Elijah via ravens, and his source of life-giving water was a brook near the Jordan River. Then the brook dried up which wasn’t good news for Elijah like it is for us. It’s good news for us in flood-stricken South Carolina, but bad news for a desert-bound prophet. God then provided another avenue to meet Elijah’s needs. Maybe that’s the primary lesson from Elijah: Hang in there no matter what, or using the words of the South Carolina motto “Dum Spiro Spero, “While I breathe, I hope.” That is what defines both SC Strong and Christian Strong!

Sometimes, though, it takes a while to even gather hope. God told Elijah to find a certain poor widow in a nearby town and ask for food. She didn’t have any, plus she said that she barely had enough ingredients to make a final meal for herself and her only son before their anticipated deaths. Elijah asked for a meal anyway and she complied and miraculously her food supply stayed constant. That says something about giving even when you’re hurting. Unfortunately the celebration of that miracle was short-lived because her son did die. But the story doesn’t end there. God raised the widow’s son from the dead. We are also in that weird interval when we’re not sure how the story of the SC Flood will end, but we have hope in resurrection, beauty from ashes, bricks out of mud, and lessons from loss. Like the widow, how we respond will largely determine the outcome.

For many of us our theological understanding of God’s taking care of us has been flipped. On one hand there is ample Biblical hope that suggests that we will be saved from floods; i.e., Isaiah 43: 1-2, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you… When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” That didn’t come true for some this week, but the God “with” us part has for all of us. Other passages are tricky to understand, too, like the one Jesus uses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” This doesn’t offer much comfort and seems to blame us if we get whacked by calamity.

Frankly, most of us would agree that we live this conundrum of “Why, O Lord?” every day and especially in times of crisis: “God, if this is the way you treat your friends no wonder you have so many enemies.” So floods, cancer, and calamities are very complex from a Christian perspective. For instance, we affirm that God sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). The part I don’t like, maybe you don’t either, is that God is the one doing the “sending” in Jesus’ sermon. I’m good with a heavy rainfall in a drought, but not like what we’ve had! The counterbalance to God’s seeming responsibility in rain or drought is the time Jesus was on the boat in the storm with the disciples in Luke 8:24. It says Jesus rebuked the storm, “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.”

Jesus only used the word “rebuke” when dealing with evil or those possessed by evil. Why would Jesus have to rebuke the storm if nature was already under his control? If God’s will is already a done deal then why are we asked in the Lord’s Prayer to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? It seems to me that nature has a mind of its own, and is often at cross-purposes with God’s perfect will. So we trust God to do what God does best and that is to enter our pain and redeem it.

God does exactly that in the Incarnation of Christ: Jesus experienced all of our problems, died all of our deaths, and ROSE AGAIN! Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:14-16 assure us that Jesus went through all of his suffering so that we can know that God will make a way for us, too. That is the basis for our hope. It is not a fanciful rose-colored hope that knows no storms. It is a hope that is true because it has been through the storms. South Carolina will live up to its motto and then some. It has done it before and will do it again. While WE breathe, WE hope!

How is St. John’s Providing Flood Relief?

We are encouraging monetary DONATIONS to SC Conference Disaster Response, which will:

* Rebuild and repair affected churches, including small churches that do not have flood insurance.

     * Initiate an estimated three-year recovery phase until everyone is back in a home.

     * Walk with those who, even with FEMA help, will not have the resources to rebuild.

Why money rather than tangible assistance?

     * While bottled water, food, and flood buckets are absolutely necessary, the UMC Disaster Response team will provide sustainable and long-lasting means of recovery, rather than solely initial relief.

     * Our UMC SC conference staff are trained to identify how our resources can be used most productively.

     * ALL donations will only be used for SC flood relief as our apportionments cover all administrative costs.

How can I give?

* Bring a donation by the church office or drop it in the offering plate.

     * Cash donations and checks: Please specify on your envelope or memo line “SC flood relief.”

     * Donate online at:                                                                                                                     http://www.umcsc.org/data/disasterresponseflood2015.php

South Carolina

Who’s Your Daddy?

Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent – we’ve all heard these three descriptors for God that claim that God is everywhere, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Jesus’ incarnation and the promise of the Holy Spirit certainly cements God’s claim to being everywhere. Jesus’ knowledge of all our sorrows backs up God’s omniscience. Perhaps it is the miraculous power of God that underscores God’s omnipotence. But I’ve got a problem and it’s been brewing for a long time.

It’s not just about the first two of these descriptors. I can believe God is everywhere. I can even accept that God knows everything because knowing everything and causing everything are two very distinct things. Omnipotence is where I get antsy in my faith. If God is all-powerful then why is there so much violence, heartache, and poverty in the world? How can an all-knowing and all-powerful God allow the creation to be so corrupt?

My mental conception of God, probably like everyone else, is shaped by my relationship with my own father. Daddy was wonderful in so many ways, always helping, yet always demanding excellence and voicing high expectations. His nightly “knock, knock, knock” on his and Mother’s bedroom wall will always be cherished. His three knocks, and my return signal of the same were our coded messages of love. “Knock, knock, knock” meant “I love you.” Sure, he could be distant, demanding, annoying and a real pain sometimes, but his essence was love and love overlooks a multitude of sins.

Daddy quit school in the eighth grade so my education was important to him. He wanted me to have a better life than he did. I can hear his voice in the summertime yelling “Make haste!” when I was running the stockyard alleys with a walking stick in hand cutting cows, and then the same voice sounded pretty much identical the rest of the year when he voiced his opinion about schoolwork: “Make A’s!” “Make Haste!” and “Make A’s” were phonetically synonymous. Without elaborating further one can see how my perception of God was shaped by my Dad: loving, encouraging, high expectations, and more – some good and some not so good.

It’s interesting that tear-jerker movies for me are usually about father-son relationships and reconciliation. No matter how many times I’ve seen “Field of Dreams” I get choked up. “Build it and he will come” and the theme of father-son reunion really get to me. Another is the movie “October Sky.” I highly recommend it. I see my Dad and me in the relationship between the coal mining father, John Hickam, played by Chris Cooper and the son, Homer Hickam, a teenager fascinating by Sputnik and rockets, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a poignant true story about chasing one’s dreams, and loving people in spite of differences. The reconciliation scene at the end of the movie after the father has constantly shown disdain for his son’s interest in rockets is so powerful that I can’t help but cry. Please watch the scene below and/or see the whole movie.

Our parent image really shapes how we view God, and some of us, if not all of us, need either to forgive or be healed from some of those influences so we can embrace God anew. This is especially important to me as I ponder the attributes of God in the face of uncertainty. I saw a sign yesterday on a church of another denomination that declared an opposite theology from United Methodism. The sign said, “God Never Changes!” and appropriately the church was on Blarney Street right here in Columbia. Yep, that’s right, “Blarney,” as in “Baloney.”

God never changes? God changed God’s mind in the OT Book of Jonah when God was about to zap Nineveh. God changed God’s mind when Abraham was dickering over saving his nephew Lot and Sodom because of the number of righteous people there. My word, if God never changes why did Jesus pray for his life to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, or why do we pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s prayer if it’s a sure-fire given that it always will be? Why pray if it doesn’t have the possibility of changing anything? This presupposes that God can change, right?

Sure, I’m close to heresy here, but, thinking theologically, is God immutable and unchanging? God’s nature is unchanging to be sure, but doesn’t God out of love always change as God responds to our minute-by-minute choices and vagaries? God is always in love with us and that love has to respond in different and changing ways given the particular circumstances. So never confuse God with a distant puppet master that has a “plan” for your life. Do you think God made you marry that abusing spouse?

Gracious, even in the news this morning, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson gave me the creeps in what he said. He got his 200th win last night and he hit a rare home run for a pitcher. This guy is a lowly .179 hitter! His response was, “The stars were aligned and it was meant to be.” Yeah, tell that to Boston marathoners who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bombs went off. Tell that to Marcus Lattimore, football player from South Carolina, who is a United Methodist and has had two horrible knee injuries. It was the difference between being a first round NFL draft pick and a fourth! I dare you to say, “It was meant to be,” to uber-Christian Tim Tebow after his release this week by the New York Jets. Don’t dare say it to me about my daughter who is 33 and has a brain tumor! Fatalistic Calvinism says, “Praise the Lord!” when things go our way, and “Blame the Lord!” when it doesn’t.

We can say “Praise the Lord!” in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4-9) and let go of our anxiety because we have a God who never fails, especially when life is crummy. God does what God does best and that is to be with us and help us get through things. God will always respond to us because God’s unchanging nature is love. That’s God’s immutability! It’s blarney to accept an “It’s meant to be” perception that God never changes. Don’t let your skewed daddy-image put a barrier between you and the God in Jesus who is ever responding to our situations. God enters our suffering and redeems it. Jesus is a redeemer, not a schemer planning our next calamity. Who is God to you? Who’s your Daddy?

Adaptive Leadership Opens Door for God!

Adaptive leadership versus technical leadership is the buzz in the business world and the church. Technical leadership tackles a problem in a linear end-goal way: A+B+C=D. It answers problems with clear solutions. Sometimes technical answers to problems are necessary. They sure can be easy and WRONG! Life is much more ambiguous than simplistic answers. Adaptive leadership’s answers allow for complexity and uncertainty: A+B+C=A. Adaptive solutions have enough structure as to be effective, but seldom have a one-size-fits-all certitude.

The simple answer is that things are never simple. Technical leadership tends to be top-down and hasn’t worked in the church since James and John put their Mom up to asking Jesus if they could sit beside him in the Kingdom. Their position-of-power understanding of leadership was turned on its head by Jesus in his ministry to the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost. Jesus modeled the greatest adaptive leadership tool ever used when he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).

Clearly Jesus’ leadership was adaptive more than technical. Jesus practiced open-ended servant leadership by constantly yielding to the whims and vagaries of life and the ever-occurring poor decisions of his closest followers. Technical leadership from Jesus wouldn’t have been eager to wash the disciples’ feet. Technical leadership would have proclaimed, “Here’s what we’re going to do!” What Jesus did was teach in ambiguous parables that left great latitude in interpretation. It’s like the difference between a funnel-in-the-head three-point sermon, and an open-ended sermon by Fred Craddock that leaves you hanging and taking personal responsibility for how the message ends or actually begins.

Ponder the dichotomy in our denomination right now: on one hand they want us to measure everything seeking a technical solution to what ails us, but, on the other hand, they say we need to be nimble and meet the adaptive challenge. Maybe the two can go hand in hand, but it strikes me as a desperate search for a technical solution to an adaptive spiritual problem. Accountability is a good thing, but I don’t recall Jesus ever asking his disciples about numbers. He wanted faithfulness knowing that what he told Nicodemus was right in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” This means to me that the measurement of the Spirit’s actions is hard to do! You can know some things like the sound, but to measure more than that is to box in the Spirit.

This has all made me think about the tension between a live-and-let-live openness to church ministry and top-down “my way or the highway” strong-arming. Who am I, even as a District Superintendent, to declare by “divine” fiat that a church or its leadership is flatly wrong? Yeah, I know: I’m supposed to interpret and decide all questions of church law in the Columbia District (Par. 419.10, 2012 Book of Discipline and 423.13 in 2008), but what’s more important – doing things right (technical solution), or doing the right things (adaptive solution)?

A key book for me in discerning which kind of answer is needed has been Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Listen to what Amazon says about the book:

“Ten years after his death, Edwin Friedman’s insights into leadership are more urgently needed than ever. He was the first to tell us that all organizations have personalities, like families, and to apply the insights of family therapy to churches and synagogues, rectors and rabbis, politicians and teachers.

Failure of Nerve is essential reading for all leaders, be they parents or presidents, corporate executives or educators, religious superiors or coaches, healers or generals, managers or clergy. Friedman’s insights about our regressed, seatbelt society, oriented toward safety rather than adventure, help explain the sabotage that leaders constantly face today.

Suspicious of the quick fixes and instant solutions (Think “Technical” solution) that sweep through our culture only to give way to the next fad, he argues for strength and self-differentiation as the marks of true leadership. His formula for success is more maturity, not more data; stamina, not technique; and personal responsibility, not empathy.”

What this boils down to for me is theological: the difference between process theology and a static understanding of God’s work in the world. I am quite orthodox in believing God is immutable and unchanging in God’s nature, but there’s plenty of evidence that God is constantly responding in ever changing ways to our human vagaries. Such is the unchanging nature of God’s love towards the whole creation. Why would we have to pray “Thy will be done…” if God already gets God’s way all the time? Praying promotes adaptive leadership because it trusts in a God who can answer in lots of ways! The upshot of this is to approach problems/opportunities from every angle and without a specified result in mind, and trust that the Lord is going to always be on our side. I need the nerve to let things play out and respond accordingly, secure in God.

Adaptive leadership leaves room for magnificent yet oftentimes unexpected possibilities. For instance, ponder this information dated 1999 about Nonlinear Dynamics from Erick Larson in Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History:

“Most tropical disturbances dissipate over the open sea. … Occasionally they become killers, although exactly why remained a mystery even at the end of the 20th century. Satellites sharpened the ability of forecasters to monitor hurricane motion but could not capture the instant of transfiguration. No matter now closely meteorologists analyzed satellite biographies of hurricanes, they still could not isolate the exact coding that destined a particular easterly wave to a future of murder and mayhem. Satellites could document changes in temperature of a few thousandths of a degree and capture features as small as a foot wide or a few centimeters tall. “But suppose,” wrote Ernest Zebrowski, Jr., in Perils of a Restless Planet, “that a tropical storm develops, and that we play back the data record of the previous few days. What do we find as we go back in time? A smaller storm, and yet a smaller disturbance, then a warm, moist windy spot, then a set of atmospheric conditions that looks no different from that at many other locations in the tropics.”

Zebrowski proposed that the answer might lie in the science of “nonlinear dynamics”: chaos theory and the famous butterfly effect. He framed the question this way: “Could a butterfly in a West African rain forest, by flitting to the left of a tree rather than to the right, possibly set into motion a chain of events that escalates into a hurricane striking coastal South Carolina a few weeks later?”

The answer is, of course, “Yes!” Adaptive Leadership leaves room for the whims of butterflies, evil, and the Spirit of God. Technical leadership reads more like a dry book on systematic theology that boxes life and God into fixed presuppositions and predetermined actions. Adaptive leaders rely on the greatest adaptive leader, Jesus. He can give us the nerve to navigate the uncertain waters through the certain assurance of divine love! Take comfort: Jesus and you are going to have a great adventure today!

Frankenstorms and Questions of Why

One of my clergypersons in the Columbia District is enduring an unusual burden. His wife’s parents have been ill. Saturday night the father died at home. The mother was in the hospital, and the family decided not to tell her until Sunday morning. In their tenuous broaching of the news with her, she interrupted them, “I know what’s going on. Jack’s dead. I felt it during the night.” Within a few hours she was gone, too. Eleven hours apart they met Jesus face to face. It’s a powerful example of the intuitive power of love in a good marriage, yet a tough grief for a family to bear. How do we handle such news? Where is our solace?

Overcome by the news trickling out of the middle and upper Atlantic regions of the U.S. and the broad swath of tragic effects from Hurricane Sandy, I think there’s a message for all who go through the trials of life. Here we are in an uncertain economy, a toss-up election season, and a society that has more non-religious people than people of faith. What is our message to a hurting world overcome by natural calamity and difficult choices? What is our message to Marcus Lattimore, University of South Carolina running back and faithful United Methodist, who has already endured one horrific knee injury and rehab last year only to have another disaster hit his other knee this past Saturday? How do we encourage this forlorn planet where so many bad things happen to good people?

First off we have to answer people’s “Why?” questions with a non-Rick Warren/Purpose-Driven response. We do not believe it is God’s purpose to harm God’s children. That would be child abuse! The Scriptures tell us that “every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in Heaven …” (James 1:17). Therefore, hurricanes, cancer, knee injuries, and economic disasters don’t come from God. Grace is what comes from God. Call the source of calamities whatever or whomever you will, but never say that it’s the God we have encountered in Jesus. Jesus enters our pain rather than causing it. He redeems our fallen faltering world. He works for good our mistaken freedom-caused dilemmas that have led us down the dark path of blaming God instead of the real culprits.

So today as I ponder my daughter’s continuing saga of a brain tumor, and my dismay at the world’s suffering, I will NOT go quietly into the dark abyss of hopeless fatalism that falsely claims that our God is the enemy. I will rather face this day and every day with the Christian Hope that life trumps death; God’s grace and strength are sufficient for every time of need; and I am one of God’s agents for redemption in every situation. I choose to remember God today!

I dare you to read Roberta Bondi’s Memories of God as a way to recall the ways of God in tough times. Her last chapter is especially helpful to me. It is entitled, “Memories of God: In the Communion of Saints.” In it she poignantly describes her Auntie Ree’s last days on earth and the struggle Roberta had with medical professionals about her aunt’s end-of-life decision. Her Aunt Ree was ready to die and refused further treatment. The healthcare professionals wanted to attempt some more heroic efforts. Unable to fend for herself, Roberta interceded on her aunt’s behalf. Her Auntie Ree was ready to leave the Church Militant and join the Church Triumphant. With Roberta’s successful intervention, the last doctor and nurse indignantly left the room. Roberta says that her aunt’s joy was overflowing at that point, not so much because of the absence of jabbing needles, but because, as Aunite Ree said to Roberta, “You have given me eternity, my darling.” She thanked Roberta over and over again for the gift of transition from one life to another.

All Hallow’s Eve is tomorrow, October 31, and my mind is swirling with memories. My mother was the best at finding the right houses to get the most Halloween candy. Every year the car would be filled with ghoul and goblin dressed kids who wanted a chance to ride on my mother’s treasure-filled route. She made me a popular kid! I miss her greatly. She was so full of love and gave it so freely.

Bondi’s book comforts me because in 1993 after suffering a major stroke I hung on the side of Mother’s bed begging her to wake up and come back to us. I was selfish. I think that I got my wish because she was selfless and responded out of her love for us without a thought about herself. As usual! Unfortunately, she came back with only the faintest resemblance of her old self. She was so debilitated. She could only move one finger and smile just a bit and that was it. In her gift to us she allowed us a few short months to say goodbye and let her go. As she was finally dying, like Roberta Bondi’s Auntie Ree, you could see the response in Mother’s eyes, “You have given me eternity, my darlings.”

As Halloween approaches and I think of Mother I find great comfort in the Apostles’ Creed. In it we say that we believe in the “Communion of Saints.” What does it mean? Very few of the classes that I had in seminary discussed it, so I naturally assumed it had something to do with Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. It’s not that it doesn’t in a tangential way, but the creed speaks of a communion that goes well beyond the tremendum mysterium of a regular Communion service. It really wasn’t until my parents died that a study of eschatology gave me a proper grip on the subject.

The “Communion of Saints” is all about eschatology. Eschatology is literally “a study of last things.” So, when we say that we believe in the “Communion of Saints” we’re saying that we believe that there is some sort of mystical interaction, call it influence, memory, or inward impression that occurs between the saints in heaven and those on earth – an intersection of this life and the after-life. Saints on earth are called the Church Militant because we’re still struggling through life. The saints in heaven are called The Church Triumphant because they have overcome. Though dead, they are yet alive and continue to influence and inspire us to greatness.

They cannot see the bad things that we do. That wouldn’t be heaven, would it? I cherish the hope that just as much as I can feel my mother and father’s cheerleading presence, somehow, they, too, can know the good things that happen in my life. If they can see the good that I do, I am inspired to do all the more. Therefore, the “Communion of Saints” is a wonderful basis for inspiration and hope. It evokes the image of the family table reunited, loves ones living eternally, the cross-generational transmission of positive influence, and the circle unbroken.

Robert Benton’s Academy Award-winning film “Places in the Heart” captures this motif better than I can say it. The movie is a story of a young woman, played by Sally Field, widowed within the first few minutes of the film, struggling against all odds in a desolate corner of Texas during the 1930s. Her husband is killed and human vultures try to take away the only thing her husband has left her and her two small children – a small farm. The tapestry of Benton’s story is woven with every sin and hardship imaginable.

Then the film ends with a communion service. At first the camera shows you a few of the good folk in town. Next, the film reveals some of the not-so-good characters who have been part of the movie, like the banker and others who conspired to take away the farm. They’re all sitting together on the same pew, or in the same church. Suddenly the scene morphs into a visualization of the Communion of Saints. The camera continues to move with the cups of wine. There is the faithful African-American farmhand who helped bring in the crop so the widow might pay her mortgage; next to him, the blind boarder. The plate passes to the children, then to their mother. She is seated next to her late husband. As you are trying to take this in, the plate moves to the deceased young man who shot her husband. They commune, and each responds one to the other: “The peace of God.” All these folks, some dead and some alive, commune, and there’s peace!

This is more than a regular Sunday morning Communion service; this is the kingdom, eternity captured in time. The camera has given us a new look at life, the way Jesus said God looks at it. God has done something to enable everyone to come to the Table. The apostle Paul says it this way: “In Christ, God was reconciling us to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.” This is the Communion of Saints that we celebrate! This coming All Saints Day, Thursday, November 1, 2012, I will remember. Though the goblins of life attack and assail us in countless ways, I will not yield to despair. I will claim the Good News of Jesus Christ that God is love and love turns crosses into crowns. That is the story of Jack and Judy Lewis who died 11 hours apart. It is the message that the world needs desperately to hear on tough days. This is the only way for all the non-religious people to survive the Frankenstorms of life. In Jesus, the Wounded Healer, we can find hope and redemption.

Neo-Calvinism and The God Who Risks!

Two connecting coincidences occurred today. One is that I have just been asked to read a soon-to-be-published book by a friend and offer a back-cover endorsement. Second is that another friend asked me for a book list on theology in general, plus Liberation Theology, Process Theology, Wesleyan Theology, and differences between denominations. So after my morning devotional I have spent time perusing my library and noting which books have been most formative in my faith journey. I’m about to turn to reading my other friend’s manuscript, but first I have to work through my personal theological grounding. It’s something I need to do every day.

Why do we believe what we believe? That’s a hugely important question even for those who say believing in Jesus is all that counts. I spent 10 years on the Board of Ordained Ministry’s Doctrine and Theology Committee and know it’s important for our new clergy to articulate more than a cursory undeliberated faith. Too often clergy and laity alike are guided by the embedded theology of our culture and times. Our culture, unfortunately, has been inundated for several decades by a neo-Calvinism (Rick Warren) mixed with Dispensationalist’s premillennial understanding of eschatology (Tim LaHaye). United Methodists have had to work overtime to lift up the alternatives of Wesleyan Process Theology and amillennialism. For the former and latter perspectives I would recommend John Sanders’, The God Who Risks and N.T. Wright’s, How Became King.

The favorite two questions that I asked repeatedly in the Doctrine and Theology Committee were: “If you are close to heresy, how so and why?” and “Using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, why isn’t foot washing a sacrament?” Both questions provided an assessment of a candidate’s ability to do theology. Rather than spout rote answers via whoever put the biggest funnel in the person’s head, these questions gave people a chance to work out a theological perspective on the fly. Isn’t that what most of us have to do anyway? We’re caught in a hospital hallway and someone wants to know why bad things happen to good people. Our theodicy is quickly exposed. All the trite and unhelpful words of non-comfort like, “It was meant to be…” “God has a purpose/reason for your tragedy…” are antithetical to a God who risks submission to human whims and vagaries, even unto death.

If you haven’t been through the fire yet, you will. If economic disaster, natural calamity, ill health, tragedy, and crud haven’t come your way then watch out! They’re on the way – duck and run – to God! God doesn’t cause any of this stuff. What God does is meet us in the fiery furnace and stay with us through it all. God’s gracious act in Jesus Christ is proof that God enters our pain and redeems it, not through some escapist trick like the hymn “Farther Along,” or self-deprecating platitudes in the ilk of Job’s so-called friends, “What did you do to deserve this?” God’s response to our questions doesn’t provide an answer as much as a Presence.

Why do bad things happen? Reason One: my choices. Reason two: the choices of others. Reason three: the general decay that’s in the world that causes everything to fall apart. Reason four: evil (John 10:10). The Scriptures are clear that God is the author of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), therefore when I ponder the big question, “Why?” I am not going to blame God, but claim God. God does not jerk us around like puppets on strings. It does me no good to think that God is somehow the Mastermind pre-engineering everything, both good and bad, in my life. I am comforted and heartened more by the truth that Jesus knows my every weakness and sorrow for He was a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and tempted every way like us (Hebrews 4:15-16), yet conquered the grave and death through painful obedience. This isn’t cheap grace, but hard-won incarnational hope.

So what difference does this make on a Tuesday morning? I am going to do the very best that I can through the grace of God to avoid evil, personal defeat, and the vicissitudes of reckless people around me. I am going to pray the prayer that we all have prayed so much and try to really mean it, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” If everything that happens is God’s will, then why in the world should we pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? So, there you have it, right there in the Lord’s Prayer – what we need to do when life hits us with a sucker punch. Pray – pray hard, and even when the answers don’t come, God does come, and it is prayer that lets us know God’s supreme love, not enmity, towards us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Protect us, Lord, this day and every day, and give us grace to endure as your Son endured. Amen.

UMC In Exile

As I continue to process GC2012 and look forward to God’s preferred future, I am struck that where we are is a good place in spite of the predominant reaction of despair over the state of our church.  It’s a painful place, a scary one, but also a hopeful one. We are not people who want to go back to the good old days of the status quo or Garden of Eden. We are people who long for the New Jerusalem and want to be used by God to help usher in the Kingdom. We are a people who desire to put legs on our prayer, “Thy kingdom come…” If author Scott Peck is right then our pseudocommunity has given way to chaos, and if we let it do its work then we shall find ourselves embracing a Jesus-like emptiness that will lead us into a bright God-blessed future. But first we have to mourn our chaos: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh…Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep (Luke 6:21,25).”

The acceptance of Enlightenment era certitude created a centuries-old illusionary humanistic optimism that has fueled two opposing sides of hardliners. This has been evident in the halls of Congress and at GC2012. It is time for us to move away from the  literal and liberal fundamentalism of old world empirical stances and follow God’s directives which often find voice in mysterious ways.  As much as I would like to put funnels in people’s heads so that they know the difference between unchanging doctrine and ever-changing theology, it doesn’t work that way. Sure, I’m going to teach the truth of our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, but I want to do it in ways that allow God to speak more than me. I have to be quiet. We all do. We have to let God do the talking in contemporary ways. Then we can move forward and stop the status quo entrenchment of extremist polarities that are holding us back.

I’m not saying that we need to check our understanding of good theology at the door, but we do need to open ourselves to a new word from God.  Not a new Word of God, but a new epiphany so that we have a personal theophany with the Living God. Of course, this is where chaos reigns in our discussions. Who decides what is God’s W/word for today, this generation? What does this kind of thinking do to the unique salvific person and work of Christ? How do we objectify the Immortal, Invisible God that we see face-to-face in Jesus? Is there a way for us to hold in tension the apparent paradox and oxymoron of a God bigger than all, that created ex nihilo, yet is made incarnate  and truly human while remaining very God of very God? “Whew!” is about the best response I can make because I can’t answer all of these questions adequately. However, I will not yield on who Jesus is and what Jesus does or what Jesus says. He is the Logos! But, until I give up a great measure of what I think that I know, I know that I won’t know the God of the Apocalypse. There can be no revelation (apocalypsis) if everything is already revealed. Isn’t this the essence of our dilemma? Is God dynamic or static? Is God immutable only in God’s loving nature? Is God ever-changing in nano-second immediacy in response to God’s loving relationship to creation? If not, then why pray? The questions continue, leading from one to another, and yet we need a clarion call, a sure pronouncement from God. I contend that we will not and cannot hear such a pronouncement until we give up our human machinations that put words into God’s mouth. Where we are is between chaos and emptiness and this is where the Old Testament’s prophets found themselves. They, like Jesus after them, were strangers among their own people. They spoke God’s truth of judgment on a wicked and idol-worshipping people. They spoke also of a God eager to love. They were the voice of exile, and out of the Hebrew Exile came the most profound renewal: Dedicated care for the poor and oppressed, overwhelming revitalization of worship practices, and absolute dedication to community.

We, too, can find hope in our time of chaos and emptiness, our sense of exile from our glory days of yesteryear. Our hope is found in our hopelessness. Our salvation isn’t found in empirical data mining called metrics for the Spirit blows in unseen ways before there is fruit even imagined. Just ask Nicodemus. Our Gospel is a saga of exile to hope, death to resurrection, crying in the night before joy in the morning. To bypass chaos and death diminishes the cross’ victory! Now, that’s a paradox – “the cross’ victory!” But this is our Gospel after all. God redeems! Jesus died and rose again. We are not stuck between Good Friday and Easter. We are post-Pentecost Christians that supremely worship a Living Lord who can make all things new! Think about Jesus and the wineskins analogy or I Corinthians 5:17. Something’s got to give if we are to move past our semi-idolatrous harkening back to the supposed “good old days.” Polarities are keeping us from admitting the failure that is ours in reaching a confused generation. Revival can come only if we repent. If we will repent then we are able to have hope. If we focus overly on what was or is then we miss what can be and will be. We absolutely must give up all hankering for going back to the Garden of Eden and press on toward the New Jerusalem – a place described, interestingly enough, a lot like post-exilic Judaism: care for the least, last, lowest, lost; fantastic worship; blessed community.

So first things first. We can’t get to the New Jerusalem without going through real chaos and emptiness. Therefore, it behooves us to lament, to cry out, to express our anguish. GC2012 and Election Year 2012 have me convinced that theological and political gridlock on top of economic disaster is real.  We cannot dare to be priests or prophets who say, “Peace, Peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11), in a divided world or church. We cannot put a useless band-aid of denial on our situation and strike a passive stance of do-nothingism on our dismal condition. If we want to have hope in the God who sends exiles home and resurrects the dead, then, like the Hebrew prophets of the Exile, we must declare our utter failure at trying to manipulate and manage God. By accepting our emptiness and expressing our grief we acknowledge that God has judged us. Listen to the prophet in Jeremiah 30:12: “This is what the Lord says: “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing.”  We are judged by God who then enters our grief and surprises us. When all hope is seemingly lost by virtue of self-caused and God-judged chaos and emptiness we are surprised by God; i.e., Jeremiah 30:16-17: “Therefore, all who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.” Only grief allows newness and only newness can come from God entering the judgment we have brought upon ourselves. Jesus saves, not this group or that one. Only Jesus saves! That is the essence of my report about General Conference 2012, and it is my message to everyone about the state of our world: “We’re broken and we’ve tried everything we can to fix things on our own, and it hasn’t worked. God help us! And God does help. There is our only hope. God is our only hope!”

By the way, you need to know that this hopeful comparison of the Hebrew Exile to today is thanks to the gentle prodding of retired Bishop Ken Carder to reread Brueggemann. His book, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile is a must read. The book’s premise of Hebrew Exile as a means of renewal is more than a timely word for us. It was published in 1986 yet its words speak as if written today (pp. 45-47) (Hint: When you read “city” think Jerusalem, Church, Enlightenment, or Culture, etc.):

“I believe that we are in a season of transition, when we are watching the collapse of the world as we have known it. The political forms and economic modes of the past are increasingly ineffective. The value system and the shapes of knowledge through which we have controlled life are now in great jeopardy. One can paint the picture in very large scope, but the issues do not present themselves to pastors as global issues. They appear as local, even personal issues, but they are nonetheless pieces of a very large picture. When the fear and anger are immediate and acute, we do not stop to notice how much our own crisis is a part of the larger one, but it is.

When such a massive threat is under way, so comprehensive in scope, so acute in personal hurt, frenzied, dangerous activity takes place. Such activity runs from arms stockpiling to frantic self-fulfillment to oppressive conformity. All of these are attempts to hold the world together enough to maintain our dignity, our worth, our sanity, and probably our advantage. I believe these attempts can be identified among conservatives (including theological conservatives) who want to stop the change by formulae of authority and conformity. I believe these attempts can be identified among liberals (including theological liberals) who want to keep power in place because liberals have had a good season and still trust the worldly knowledge of the social sciences to keep us human and to keep us safe. The voices of newly revived conservatism and responsible liberalism are important. Both voices have something to tell us.

Neither voice, however, touches the issue of the death of the beloved city that must be grieved. Indeed, one can argue that the polarities in our society are a game on which we have agreed in order to keep us busy, so that we do not notice. Powerful vested interests are at work, perhaps mostly unwittingly, to keep the grief from notice. In one way or another, we believe the ideology of our party, our caucus, our nation, our class, because ideology serves as a hedge against a serious diagnosis. If one denies serious illness, then there is no need for the diagnosis. There is then no cause to weep over the city. There is no call for such poignant poetry. But if the city is dying, if the old order is failing, if the poet has diagnosed rightly, then the grief is urgent. It is a personal grief. It is a quite public grief. It is facing our true situation, in which living waters have been rejected and we are left with broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13), in which all our lovers despise us (Jeremiah 30:14), in which we are like restive camels in heat (Jeremiah 2:23-34). All the metaphors mediate our broken, beaten fickleness. The news is that God enters the broken, beaten fickleness.

In God’s attentive pain, healing happens. Newness comes. Possibilities are presented. But it all depends on being present with God in the hurt, which is incurable until God’s hint of healing is offered. We wait, along with the poet, to see what the tone of the next ‘therefore’ (Jeremiah 30:16) will be.”

This post is long, but long overdue. Where is our hope? The answer is found in our hopelessness. We can only find hope in Jesus! Exile is hard! Life is hard! The alternative is deadly! Let us give ourselves to Christ, the Only One who raises the dead back to life!

General Malaise

Maybe it’s the clouds and drizzle that we’ve had for three days, but I’ve literally sensed a pall over things. I don’t know what it is, but IT is usually something. Charge conferences are going well although there have been a few rough patches. There have been the usual nay-saying phone calls that are the soup de jour for a district superintendent. I have been non-reactive and tried very faithfully to be calmer as things get more tense. So far so good, but I have a wierd sense of dread-like unease waiting for the other proverbial shoe to fall. I am not a worrier, but there’s that nagging question of “What’s going on?” running through my subconscious and breaking into my conscious thinking. Have you ever been like this?

I am sleeping well, eating well, been around good positive people. My devotional life is great. Heck, even the stock market has been pretty much up for the last week. The biggest downers that I can point to are Steve Spurrier, the USC Football Coach, acting juvenile with a newspaper reporter that gets his goat, and 5th year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s final dismissal from the team. As a long-suffering Gamecock fan I know not to get too worked up or stressed out about the fortunes of our football team. I know this feeling I’m having isn’t about the ALCS or NLCS baseball games or a delay in the NBA season. Sports is a wonderful distraction from life, but I’m not one of those who lives and breathes for the next game or the stat line. Sure, it’s important and I want my team to win but there are bigger fish to fry in the game of life.

So what is it? What is it for you? Is there a general malaise that’s befallen society, the church, me, you? Christmas is coming and I have pottery to make but the thought of doing it is daunting rather than its usual exhilaration. Has the worry-bug got me? You? Maybe. Most of us in church work know the truth of the misconstrued sign, “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help!” Yep, for us churchy types, lay or clergy, the church is often our source of anxiety, not the cure. Worship and spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, serving others, being in a small group, and giving always improve my depleted emotional resources. Going to Mt. Mitchell is my oasis but that won’t happen again until sometime in November or next spring. Too cold and wet right now. Now into a three-day funk it wouldn’t much matter what I do or where I go. As someone said it, “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you.” Yeah! Duh, but what if there’s no escape?

Caleb has been to visit friends in Washington State for a few weeks. Maybe it’s him on my mind. Narcie will be soon due for another MRI in the midst of what I call our “prolonged anxiety” about the brain tumor, but I’ve been following Cindy’s sage advice: “Turn your worries into prayers.” Maybe the breakthrough is just around the corner. I pray so for her and everyone who is out of work, who is facing the unknown with a terrible or unknowable prognosis, or anyone who  is sensing a cloud of nebulous bewilderment. These are stressful times!

So I’m going to turn back to the One who is ever ready to come to our aid: God! Jesus! Helmut Thielicke, in his book Life Can Begin Again, offers a great word for me and all of you who are tired or just plain weary: “We should not artificially turn away from our worries by constantly listening to the radio, for example, or running to the movies, or some other kind of busywork, but rather direct our cares to him who wills to bear and share all our sin and all our suffering and therefore all our cares. No diversion, but directing our cares. This is what to do. Jesus did not say: Look at the ostrich, how it buries its head in the desert sand and so tries to escape the fear of danger. No, he said: Look at the birds of the air, keep your eyes open, stand up straight and look to the heights where God makes known his grace and care.” Matthew 11:28 works, too. Straight from Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 1 Peter 5:6 is also a help: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may lift you up in due time.” Isn’t it due-time yet? That’s not my task. My task is to humble myself and wait. God does the lifting. Check out 2 Chronicles 20:1-23 and start warming up the choir!

It Is What It Is?

I was listening to a sports radion station on the way to the office this morning and some unease about the phrase, “It is what it is,” finally jelled. I went to an on-line dictionary for the phrase and here’s what it said: “A phrase that seems to simply state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.” “It is what it is” is the new “Whatever” in our society, so no wonder our culture is in a funk .

Some of the funk is due to, I daresay, an embedded Calvinism that is fatalistic at heart: “It was meant to be,” “What goes around comes around,” “There’s a reason for everything,” and the scary one, “It’s God’s will.” Now, I admit I think God does have a will, but I know that there’s a big difference between God’s permissive will and direct will. I know that God knows everything that happens but I cannot believe that God causes everything that happens. That’s a huge difference. An “It is what it is” philosophy or theology is a set-up for expecting the worst. It doesn’t leave any room for redemption or corrective action. It doesn’t even leave much room for prayer because everything is “It is what it is.”

Why pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” or “Lead us not into temptation,” unless we think God can actually change the course of human history. I would rather say “It could be better” or “Things aren’t what they ought to be” rather than “It is what it is.” Praying and adding action to our prayers puts us on the offensive when life’s junk comes our way. As United Methodists we are a theologically optimistic bunch. We believe God loves the whole creation enough through prevenient grace to allow us to cooperate with God in making a new creation through Christ. We’re not passive fence-sitters with our heads in our hands futilely accepting our plight. Process theology leads us to an understanding of God’s providence that does what it says: God provides!

I Corinthians 10:13 comes to mind: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” There are plenty of other passages that also affirm to me that what God does best is not heap junk on our lives but helps us get through it. I Peter 5:6-11 is one when it says “…Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…and the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Another strong reminder of the real source of suffering and blessing is from James 1:16-17, “Don’t be deceived, my dear friends. Every GOOD and PERFECT gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

So when I think about Narcie’s tumor, my diabetes, and the tragedies I have seen or the economic disaster that has wrecked many a family – I am not going to say “It is what it is,” fold up my tent and give up. I’m going to pray to a God who gives good and perfect gifts, that delivers us from death and the grave through Jesus. God provides a way out of every grave situation. Instead of holding my face in my hands like “What will be, will be” and “It is what it is” implies, I’m going to open my eyes and see what God’s escape plan is. I’m going to participate in life’s solutions and not resign myself to a depressing done-deal fatalistic outcome. God is ever moving through us and history to work his good purpose. I can either get with it or give in. I refuse to give in. I’m going to do my best today not to say, “It is what it is.” There’s very little or no faith in that statement. Here goes, “It could be better!” That speaks to me and says “God and you can change this situation for the better!” Go for it! “Things aren’t what they ought to be!”

Drought or Doubt?

Is it right to pray for rain? Does nature have a mind of its own answerable only to the inherent laws of the universe? Can prayer change natural phenomena? These questions are decidedly more serious than simply asking God for rain. If Jesus is God and God controls everything then why would Jesus, awakened by the disciples in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee rebuke the wind and waves (Luke 8:22-25)? If nature was already under his control, why would Jesus have to do rebuke anything?

 The answer is quite obvious. There are things in this world that are not under God’s direct control. In God’s love for creation, He created it with freedom. It is a gracious freedom that allows us to obey God without coercion. True love doesn’t have to love, it wants to love. It is love and fellowship that God desires to have with His creation. God’s permissive will, therefore, allows for natural and human contingencies – out of love. God’s permissive will has allowed this wonderful planet about which He declared, “It is good!” turn into a place of decay and disobedience.

 However, before we proceed to tell God we would have rather stayed in Paradise without freedom than have freedom and lose Paradise, let’s be sure we understand what is lost if God had so ordered things. AParadisewithout choices might seem tempting at first glance, but if God controlled everything we would be mere puppets jerked around by divine machinations. Even if only benevolent jerking, it would still be jerking. Living in a perfect world without true freedom wouldn’t be perfect. It would generate a passive fatalistic attitude about life that would breed even less concern for both the people and environment around us. We would say, “What will be, will be,” and be done with things. Don’t you want people to love you because they want to and not because they have to? It is the same with God and creation. He has given us freedom because He loves us.

 This leads us from His permissive will, to His direct will. God’s direct will is that through Jesus the whole world has a gracious measure of his grace. Some would call this natural grace. United Methodists call it prevenient grace, from the Latin prevenio, which means “coming before.” It is a grace that precedes our response. Through the work of Christ and his resurrection, the whole earth is given a measure of grace, enough grace at least to respond to God’s overture to humankind through Jesus.

 In other words, the image of God has been restored to some semblance of its Pre-Fall condition through Jesus, enough so that every person has the God-given ability to accept God’s mercy. God’s direct will was that in Jesus we would all see His permissive will for what it really is – not some abandonment by an unconcerned Creator – but as a specific claim on our lives and our planet by a God who so loves us that He is willing to let us freely yield our lives and our very beings to Him.

 Bad things happen because we don’t yield, others don’t obey God, evil, or mainly because the very creation and its laws reflect a world given over to decay. So how do we respond to this freedom? How do we reconnect with God so that we can return to Paradise? The answer is FAITH. So when you’re asked to go to a prayer meeting for rain, carry an umbrella. Jesus asked of His disciples in the boat during the storm, “Where is your faith?” Faith encourages us to ask God to intervene and use His direct will and give us rain. It is faith that also helps us accept the fact that sometimes He doesn’t intervene and His permissive will allows nature to withhold its nourishment. Either way, faith is more than necessary; it is all that we have and it’s enough!