Archive for Church

Finding Our Way When the Boat Turned Over

Like a wounded white whale washed up on the beach, the Costa Concordia lies on her side. The pictures shock and frighten us. What’s worse- an incompetent captain running aground, or the realization that cruise ships really can sink? As a dedicated cruiser I never thought twice about putting my life in the captain’s hands. I took it for granted he knew what he was doing.

We’ve always departed from US ports, where the first order of business is the safety drill. The horn blasts, we cast off, and before the coast is out of sight we dutifully file into our assigned common areas. We grumble and groan as the crew straps us into our life jackets, until the crowd resembles a sea of heads afloat on an orange tide. “Remember your muster station,” the head strapper warns. “Come here in case of emergency.” I’ve sometimes wondered what it would really look like: passengers running in every direction, trying to remember where to go. In my wildest dreams I never envisioned the ship turning over, the lights going out, and the crew swimming ashore without me.

But now we’ve seen the pictures. The passengers must have been terrified: crawling uphill, blind in the dark, fighting the pull of gravity as the water rose around them. Photos show tiny figures rappelling across the belly of the beast, desperate to reach the lifeboats in the sea far below. Even in the movies it’s horrifying. I can’t imagine how they had the courage to try. But I have experienced the adrenaline-fueled panic of my own surreal disaster.

Last week we observed the anniversary of our daughter’s death, the result of a snowmobile accident. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw in the Emergency Room. Blessedly, her spirit had gone on to Heaven before we saw her body. In my wildest nightmares I never imagined the worst could actually happen, but it did: our ship went down in a matter of minutes. In its place spun a vortex: a cold, silent tide, sucking the warmth from my hands and the blood from my heart. I breathed in the dirt from the ER carpet, lying on my side like the Costa Concordia.

“Expect the unexpected.” Insurance companies thrive on helping us prepare for emergencies. For peace of mind we gather under the umbrella of impending doom with like-minded others, sharing the cost to cover the poor slob with the rotten luck to die early. We are ready- just in case. As we set sail into the future we ignore the rocks under the surface as best we can.

“In this life, you will have trouble,”1 Jesus said to his disciples. Like the life jacket drill as we pull out of port, we are warned. On this night, the last night before his murder, he told his dearest friends what he really wanted them to remember. Likewise, he gives us a heads-up: once in a while we’re going to hit the rocks. This is not good news, but it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been around a while. What can be surprising is what he says next:

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”2

What does that mean?

I will leave the literal interpretation to learned theologians, but I can tell you what it looked like to be a friend of Jesus the day our ship went down. On that day, and for weeks to come, we were surrounded (and fed, nurtured, and cared for) by our church family. We hurled our furious questions at God every day in the same place we always met him- in the Bible. God’s Word assured us we will see Catherine again; the same girl she was, only made perfect. We survived and eventually thrived because we knew what to do in an emergency. It wasn’t a matter of expecting the unexpected; it was a matter of accepting the invitation long before we hit the rocks.

Finding our way when the ship turned over was as simple as going to our muster station. Jesus drew the map on our hearts. The captain knows what He’s doing.

©2012 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

1. John 16:33b NIV
2. Ibid.

The Exclamation Point of Surrender

*The Exclamation Point of Surrender is the first in The Serenity Prayer Series.

Just
     “God”

Not reverently, like

     “Almighty God”
     “Most High”
     “Creator of Heaven and Earth”
     “I AM WHO I AM”

Not endearingly, like

     “Dear God”
     “My Father”
     “Jesus, My Savior”
     “Oh Lord”

Not claiming a single promise, or fawning in search of favor

     “God, who relents from sending calamity”
     “God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”
     “O compassionate and gracious God.”

Just one word. Without the “Dear” or the “O,” or any address whatsoever. The speaker prays with urgency. The first word of the Serenity Prayer screams immediacy, with no time for title; no need to clarify the address of the recipient or the qualifications of the sender. No “in reference to,” flowery prose, or unnecessary details. God’s child needs help, and she needs it now. So the cry goes up from the church basement or the doctor’s office or from detox in a crummy part of town. Whether this daughter of the King can’t stop drinking, or using, or finds herself in circumstances beyond her ability to endure, this much is certain: she’s desperate and knows God can help her.

All my life I believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, but I began to learn about the God of the Bible when I was a young mother many years ago. My mentor pretty much forced me to go to a Bible Study with other young moms, church ladies-in-waiting with babies in tow. I prayed with all the sincerity I could muster, but my petitions consisted mostly of “Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry. I won’t drink again tonight, I swear.” And I meant every word of it, until about 5:00 PM. When my hands started shaking I’d reach for the brandy, just to take the edge off while I was cooking dinner. Next thing I knew it was morning and I was sorry, so sorry, I won’t do it again, I promise. This included Tuesdays, when I’d pack Catherine up and totter across town to Bible Study.

Now there was this one church lady who was quite open about being a recovering alcoholic. Secretly I watched her live and laugh and love her kids, just like the rest of us. Secretly I was in awe of her. How could she go two days without alcohol, much less the two years I spent observing her? But on a sub-zero Sunday, in an early morning service, God responded to all my apologies with a Voice that thundered through my soul. I went home, poured my brandy down the drain, and called the lady who could laugh and love and make dinner without drinking. She took me to my first AA meeting, and I heard the Serenity Prayer. I’ve loved it ever since.

Far from being a too-familiar, almost insubordinate way of addressing the Almighty, I believe that the opening word of the Serenity Prayer is the exclamation point of surrender. Our urgency admits we need help, and that help can come from Almighty God alone. In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing my experience, strength, and hope through the framework of this famous piece. If you receive this post by email, you can click on the link to visit my blog home. There you will find a copy of the prayer, as well as a very brief history. To God as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ- the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, be the glory; for now and evermore. Amen!

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For more information on recovery and Jesus, too, visit my website at http://www.friendshipwithjesus.com

 

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