Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Queen for a night

At times the story of Esther is told with a sense of humor. The antics of the King and his officials in chapter 1 is a bit keystone kopish. But the humor is merely a way to express the author's concern about some issues that matter deeply to him. The King's opulent lifestyle is financed through the high taxes and slave labor of his kingdom. Many of his subjects are Jews. As the story progresses we see how vulnerable the Jews are in Persia. In chapter 2, the King's men hold a national beauty contest to find the next Queen. Esther (Hadassah) is very beautiful and is chosen as one of the contestants. Each of the teenage girls underwent a year long course of beauty treatments so she could be fit for the King. The King had his pick; he tried each of them out. Each beauty had her night with the King. The rejects were sent to the second harem to live out their lives as second class wives of the King. Esther was chosen to be the next Queen. John Goldingay points out that Persian women had no choice about who they would marry. They hoped the wedding night might lead to a life of love. No doubt, it did sometimes. Often, it did not. That was life. Hebrew marriages were arranged too, but according to the stories in the Bible Hebrew women had more say in the arrangement. So, what the King and his men were doing was the custom of the times. From our point of view today it was a repugnant practice; we would call it sexual abuse. A man today would be put in jail for what the King did. Of course, Kings are Kings. And this King will do and plan to do much worse. Much is made of the Esther story by Christians who tell how God used her to save her people, and that is right. But, Esther sacrificed her virginity and her hope to marry the one she loved in order to be the right person in the right spot - to save her people. This is one of those times in the Bible when we want to ask God, why allow her to go through what she did? That question is not answered. We have the story. Esther lived this life in this culture. She was beautiful and she was used in ways she would not have chosen. Yet, her God was with her. She would have other more important choices to make, risks to take. God was with her. There are many unpleasant realities in the world in which we live. The Bible does not just deal in the spiritual side of life, but all of life. God does not shield us from real life in the world nor does he protect us from it but God is with us, and we have choices to make, risks to take.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Good Wife

The Biblical book of Esther has it's historical reference in verse 1 of chapter 1. "In the days of Xerxes" places Esther roughly halfway between the return of the exiles to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the returns of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Hebrews called the Persian leader Ahasuerus and Xerxes is the English version of that name. He was a fabulously wealthy and powerful king. Esther would not have merited a footnote in his kingdom were it not for the events told about in chapter 1. She was able to rise to a position of power in the kingdom because Queen Vashti forfeited hers. It is one of the great stories of the Bible. King Xerxes throws a magnificent banquet, if you were a member of his staff and male. The banquet went on for six months (banquet is just a fancy name for drinking party) and the duty of the women was to obey their husbands. First Lady Vashti is no exception so when her husband, the King, sends for her to dance before the staff, she must dance. When she says no (who knows how many times she has had to perform in this demeaning way - and she had reached her limit) the whole country shakes. What if other wives think they can disobey their husbands too. Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, points out that the Persian terms for husband and wife were master and mastered. The wife was her husband's property and it was her duty to do what her husband told her to do. Unlike, the Hebrew way of marriage where the husband is "her man" and the wife is "his woman". There was an equality of marriage in which each owned the other. No one who reads the stories of Old Testament couples (Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, etc) gets the idea that the husband got away with bossing around his wife! Adam and Eve were created to help each other, and yes, sin entered the picture and led to the situations where man takes authority over his wife, but every so often we get a picture of the creation ideal. So, while Vashti's refusal to act like a good Persian wife sent shock waves through the government and led to a ridiculous overreaction on the part of the King and his staff, the Biblical story is saying, she doesn't have to take it anymore (sort of like an Old Testament version of The Good Wife). She will pay the price for her choice to step beyond the bounds of her culture and her absence will lead to Esther's providential coming to power in order to save her people (God's people, too). But, in her defiance we see the Biblical value of women asserted and a blunt questioning of some cultural definitions of marriage. Goldlingay points out in his comments on Esther that there is nothing in the Old Testament that suggests wives have to obey their husbands. That may come as a shock for some Christians who have heard that assumption made during the giving and receiving of wedding vows at a Christian marriage service. The vow that states that the wife will obey her husband is attributed to something Paul said in Ephesians. But, it was said in the context of mutual love and service. The wife models the obedience of faith we owe Christ as the Head of the church and the husband models the sacrificial love of Christ. The Good Wife vows to lay down her life for her husband, and the Good Husband vows the same for her.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Unfinished business

The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah have been my Bible reading over the summer. I've read them before but like most of my Bible reading, I realized how much I missed this time through. Ezra was a priest and Nehemiah was working as the butler for the King of Persia when the story of   Nehemiah begins. He's a pretty interesting guy. Nehemiah, I mean. He was living in Susa, the capital of the vast Persian empire (Susa was near Babylon). It's about a hundred years after Cyrus said the Israelites (Judahites really) could go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was also about half way through the era of the Persian Empire which was ended by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. It is 13 years after Ezra left to go to Jerusalem and Nehemiah's mission will overlap with Ezra. When Nehemiah hears how bad things are in Judah he asks for his leave from his job. This was no small request. He was like the King's chief of staff. More importantly, he was in charge of the King's wine cellar and he personally tasted the wine before serving the King so if it was poisoned he would die rather than the King. That meant they had to be close. As close as you could be to a King. So close that the King noticed Nehemiah's moods and when Nehemiah was especially down one day the King asked him what was bothering him. Still a King was a King and you don't mess with Kings so Nehemiah shot one of his blunt prayers to the LORD and then told the King exactly what was on his mind. Not only that, but he lays out what he needs for his expedition which he had clearly been planning for awhile. God is mindful of Nehemiah (another of Nehemiah's favorite expressions) and the King sends him off with his blessing. Which comes in handy several times throughout the book. Nehemiah's main task was to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem for the protection and prosperity of the city. But he was trying to rebuild the moral and spiritual life of the people, too. And, that was a much harder job than working with bricks and mortar. The walls got built. Working alongside Ezra, the rebuilding of the people's faith was an unfinished job. That was frustrating. You can see the frustration building as you read through Nehemiah. Then, in chapter 15, it explodes and he literally tears his hair out as well as the hair of few others, as well. The end of the book is unfinished, too. Did Ezra's and Nehemiah's reform efforts work? Was their rebuilding project a success? It looks like they never knew. They worked hard but they never had the satisfaction of knowing that their work was not in vain. The concluding chapter of Nehemiah's story suggests that some of the people never got the message. Nehemiah's closing prayers were LORD be mindful of us (me). It's a prayer that is equal parts anxiousness and trust. It's a necessary prayer for church workers. We never know if what we are doing will be effective and how long lasting it will be. There is a lot of anxiety in our work but it does not have to prevent us from keeping at it or discourage us. Simply because we don't see the results we want, or it looks like our efforts failed, doesn't mean much. LORD, be mindful of us. Naturally, we forget sometimes that our best work is limited, and in the end, it is not even our work. LORD, be mindful of me, and my anxiety, and I leave the results (all the rest) with you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Survival skills

We visited a church the other day. It met in a nice, large facility - too large for the number of congregants. The neighborhood had changed since the church was started some years ago. The congregation had aged. The pastor was some 40 years younger than most of the people at worship. He was enthusiastic in his presentation, personable, and a capable preacher. We happened to visit on the Sunday of the church's quarterly business meeting which was held right after worship. So, the sermon's focus was on vision and commitment. It was clear the pastor had vision and was looking for commitment. He was not interested in staying the same, doing ministry as usual. During the service he referenced a new denominational program he wanted to use to help them discern their vision. This was not a new program, the program's literature stated, but a new process. Still, the new process had to be explained, adopted, and then recruitment for it's implementation could begin. I have been there, done that and I knew the energy required by pastor and congregation to pull it off. I already felt tired. Churches face a multitude of challenges today. Aging churches with older facilities and the costs that come with them, and aging members feel the need to attract younger people just to survive. And younger pastors will not settle for "just to survive". That is not why they were called into ministry. That is not why they went to seminary. That is not what they were trained for. From my perspective as a veteran of many denominational programs (or processes) to help the church discover it's vision and grow beyond just survival, I sat in that church thinking that many of the people were just surviving, or trying to. Survival is not a bad thing, is it? Surviving on a retirement income, with reduced options for the future; surviving with health concerns, for themselves and even older parents, perhaps. Surviving in an uncertain economy and an unstable world filled with threats to life and peace. Surviving with doubts that are no less troubling when they attack a faith held for many years. I talked with a pastor once who had been in the same church for many years; it had held it's own but had not grown much. He was feeling discouraged. We talked about the importance of preserving the faith through faithful preaching and pastoral care. There is always a tension between what church leaders want a church to become and what it is. It is not easy to discern what God's vision is for a particular congregation. What that vision is does not usually come from the leadership, or a packaged program. It comes from the Spirit working in the midst of the church body. We, who are the church discern it, we don't impose it. With all the struggles and challenges in our lives and churches today, helping people survive may be what we are called to do.


Since moving to Florida I have been asked many times whether I am retired or looking for another "church" job. I find myself stammering, at a loss for words. I am not sure, obviously, I do not know. So, I say well, maybe, I am looking but I am not sure for what. If I am retired it is clear I have not totally bought into it. I feel like I need a 12 step program. Hello, my name is Todd and I am retired. I am not there - I cannot say those words. I find myself browsing ministerial placement services. They are worth a laugh if little else. I noticed one entry for a church that identified itself as "loosely affiliated with a Baptist denomination not known for their ecumenical endeavors and wondered how you "loosely" associate with them. And "loose" is not the term I would choose to describe them. Then there are the churches that indicate they are expecting someone who will be their next pastor to work 50 -60 hours a week. Wow, at least that's honest or almost... if they say 60 it means "a truly dedicated man of God will work more". So when does the family time or the personal time happen? Pastors need to pace themselves if they are going to last. Studies show that many young pastors entering ministry today don't stay very long; the average length of ministry is 5 years before moving on to something else. Expecting 60 plus hours a week tends to do that. Here is the job description I would be looking for if I were starting out today. 40 hours a week ( it is not badge of honor to be a busy minister - it is foolish), two days off a week, which can be taken as a weekend every two months, one sick day a month (cumulative), five personal days a year which can be taken on a Sunday if needed, and allowances for health care, car use, books, cell phone and annual study leave. How likely is that to happen? Probably, not very. But, it communicates to the one who will become the pastor that the church values you, and wants a long term relationship. I've known a few pastors who were angry at their churches for the way they were treated and felt stuck with them (some churches feel stuck with their pastors too). The point is it's tough to have a healthy church if the pastor is unhealthy.  I recall the church member in one of my first churches who would take my wife and I out to breakfast every so often and he would ask us, so are you reasonably happy? I like that, pastors need to be reasonably happy and they will stay somewhere a long time. Churches need to have someone who asks them that question from time to time.

I have been reasonably happy in my ministry. That's why it's so hard to leave, to say the "r" word. I am not ready to accept it yet.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Little league has grown up

The Little League World Series began in 1947. I began playing Little League about 13 years later. There was no t-ball or machine pitch or coach pitch when I played. Our uniforms depended on the generosity of a business sponsor and were one size fits all except they didn't. We played with a couple of wood bats; the sluggers went for the 34 or 36, singles hitters chose the 30.  Bigger bat meant bigger hits. No one knew about the science of bat speed then. I had heard about Williamsport, home of the LLWS, because I lived in New York and it wasn't that far away but it was farther than we traveled then. It might as well been on the west coast. In our minds we might have traveled there, saw ourselves playing for US championship of LL. But, in those days there were no traveling teams, no one of us in our right minds thought we had a chance to play beyond our local league. We had a couple of games a week, a practice, and most afternoons all the guys met at the ballfield for pickup games. No coaches, umps or helmets. Just baseball.  Today you can turn on ESPN and watch former major league ballplayers announcing the games at Williamsport. The teams from all over the world play in a modern day stadium that looks like it draws more fans than the Oakland A's or Tampa Bay Rays do. Their uniforms fit nicely and the teams play like well oiled baseball machines. The players are photographed, interviewed (how did you feel giving up the game winning home run, Johnny?), and they are ON TV! They are 10 and 11 year old celebrities. How do you top that? A few years ago there was a scandal around a dominating pitcher who was actually older than he said he was. Now, LL is going to begin teaching about PEDs to their young players. Anything to gain an advantage. You never know who might juice for a chance to get to Williamsport. The only juice we knew about when I played came from the mouthful of bubble gum each of us was chewing which isn't allowed today on the newer artificial surfaces. We were on grass and dirt. None of us ever got to Williamsport but we didn't miss it either. We played the same game. And loved it.

MLB goes to the tape

MLB just announced they will be using more video reviews next season. Coaches can challenge calls just like the NFL. So now we can sit through more long pauses in baseball games. We don't have to endure the long walks to the mound, the warmups of relief pitchers, the commercial breaks every half inning, the seventh inning stretch ONLY. Now we can wait while the umpires get together and call NY or wherever for conclusive video evidence to change a call. Just like the NFL. Call me old and out of touch with technology - Ok I know you did - but I have been playing and coaching baseball and watching baseball games live and on tv for a long time and so now that I have established my "fan cred", I can say, I don't like it. Not one bit. America's pastime is passing. Some would say evolving to a higher level. I would say it is changing the character of the game, it's essence. Baseball is played between the lines with one team trying to score runs while the other team tries to stop them. Each team employs strategies to do that. The first change detrimental to baseball was the introduction of the DH which eliminated the need to strategize around a pitcher who was known as a weak hitter. Would he bat, and if he did, would he bunt, or would the manager pinch hit effectively removing him from the game and necessitating a call to the bullpen. There have been numerous changes since. The use of all kinds of statistics so that the most important employees of most teams have never even set foot on a field to play the game! They crunch the numbers and tell the owner who to go after based on formulas the fans know nothing about. Now, we have a further triumph of geekdom: video replays. We could see it coming: there are so many cameras at a game now that every scratch, bobble and umping mistake is magnified many times over. So why not use the technology to correct every mistake, the so-called common wisdom asks. Why not? Where will it end? Do we even need home plate umpires? Put sensors in the home plate and call the game electronically. Likewise sensors in every base would tell you who got there first. Do away with all the umps. No more arguments. No more Lou Pinellas, Billy Martins and Earl Weavers kicking dirt and throwing bases. Just put a guy in a suit, dark glasses and an ipad in the dugout and let him run things electronically. You see where this is going. Baseball is a human game. Errors, mistakes, blown saves, hbp's, walks, outs, foul balls, chewing tobacco and crotch scratching are part of the game. And so are the calls the umps make on the field. Was the call right or did he blow it? That's part of the game to be debated long after the game is over. Well, now we will know for sure. We can reverse a call and make it come out right. Except when an infield fly rule is called. I guess we could use sensors for that too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Today marks about two months in paradise. We are anticipating another very wet weekend. And it has been hot, hot, hot so a few thunderstorms will cool things down to the lower 80s. We have enjoyed driving which is what you do in Jacksonville. I learned yesterday that J-ville is one of the best radio markets in the country because people spend so much time in their cars. It is nothing to drive 30 to 40 miles to work or shopping or church. This is something of a culture shock after living in a place for the past 14 years where we drove in a three mile loop most of the time. We are astonished by all the gas stations where the prices fluctuate daily based on what the competition is doing. Not only gas stations, but there are stores galore which has been a fascination for us. We often talked about what it would be like to get off the Rock (Kodiak Island) and live in the lower 48 again. Truly, we had forgotten. Truth is, once the shock wears off and you get your fill of the big box stores, I can say it is really not that big a deal. Driving, shopping, comparing gas prices is not all it's cracked up to be. Life is still mostly sleep, eating, praying, working out, (of course, we have been "off work" for two months!), reading, checking how the Mariners and Yankees are doing, reading and spending time with people you want to spend time with. The weather, the shopping, the driving, the gas stations and new restaurants become distractions. There is only so much time and how do you want to spend it. There are ads for cable tv, dish tv and direct tv that arrive every week and it is cheap to get  connected but so far we have resisted the temptation. The question here like anywhere else is what do you want to do with the gift of time you have been given.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer weather

It's been really HOT here in Florida since we got here in June but the past few days have been really, really HOT. When I get in the car after it has sat outside for awhile the temp reading is over 100. I never knew it went up that high. I read in the paper that on days as HOT as the past few days the temp in a car can reach 150! You don't want to leave your pet in the car, or your wife, my wife joked because I like to "just run into a store for a minute" and leave her in the car, stuffing the keys in my pocket. Now, that doesn't happen much any more. We fight over the a/c - she likes it on from the moment we get in the car until we come to a total stop. I like to run the windows down and enjoy the (admittedly warm) breeze, act Floridian, I say, don't be such a sissy who needs to live with a/c all the time. She's not having it. Give me a/c or go it alone, she says. In the early morning when we go to the YMCA for our workout, there are often little frogs on our car. Yes, on our car. It is also a hot, muggy 77 degrees usually, too. So, I willingly turn on the a/c - who wants a frog jumping on their lap when your driving. It's dark out, too, so you can never be sure where those little guys are. Weather is a huge news item here. The Southeast has had an especially wet summer. And there hasn't been a hurricane yet. "Yet", we are constantly reminded, as if we could forget we are in the middle of hurricane season. There are weekly columns in the paper about how to prepare for a hurricane. The local tv news is always reminding people to keep their eyes on the tropics for that is where the danger of a hurricane lurks. This weekend heavy rains are forecast due to a tropical disturbance, which is not even a tropical storm. Because the ground is so saturated already flash flooding is a good bet. What that means to me other than the water pooling up in streets and yards, is that the frogs will be out in force. And their barking will keep us up at night, and they will be hanging out all over our garage door, and they will be sitting on our car in the morning so the a/c will get turned on and my wife will be happy.

On visiting churches

We have visited a few churches since our move to Florida. It is not hard to do because there is a nice, shiny, big church on every block ( I do wonder how much money is tied up in church buildings and landscaping here and what that money could do to fund mission... ). In another sense, visiting churches is hard to do. I have a new appreciation for church visitors. It is hard to walk into a new building where you know no one and feeling awkward, wait to be helped - to a seat, or a bulletin or to know what one does when he or she enters this church. Some churches are less than helpful I am finding. No one even spoke to us in one church. In another church some people were very friendly and one woman even sat down with us and sort of whispered throughout the service to guide us along the way. It must have been distracting for others but we welcomed her hospitality. It seems every church has a screen where the music and scripture and even sermon points are projected. Unfortunately, the quality differs widely. If a church goes with a screen, at least make sure the verses line up with what the worship team is singing. And, what is on the screen should reflect the same point the pastor is making in his sermon. Speaking of worship teams: some churches could do without them. A worship team that struggles with instruments or singing is not doing anyone any favors. There is nothing wrong with a piano and hymnbook if that's all you've got. By the way, what on earth are we going to do with all those hymnbooks just sitting there unused (another mission funding source? Doubt it - who would buy them except some poor third world church? There's an idea - why not ship them off to them with free shipping included if they speak English, of course). One church we were going to try had a sign out front that guns had to be checked at the door. Were they kidding? We weren't sure and since there were so few cars in the parking lot, we drove on, wondering if their policy was to shoot those troublesome visitors, and that was why their attendance seemed to be down. Some churches have had great worship times, and others good preaching; some were friendly and some not so much. What we have discovered again is that there are no perfect churches. But a church that welcomes visitors and treats them as their guests goes a long way toward covering up other imperfections.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sad state of pro sports

Is professional sports getting you down? The media is in a feeding frenzy with all the negative news and there is a lot of it. A-Rod leads the list of villains but there are the other baseball stars suspended for PEDs today, and there are the other bad guys disciplined for language, or dui's and worse. Those negatives grab the headlines today. Used to be you looked at the sports news to check a score or a stat but today the 24 hour news coverage needs constant feeding to keep going. It's enough to make even the most loyal sports fan cynical. And it's not only professional sports, did you see the NY Times article on the University of Nike out in Oregon? Major college sports athletes are no longer student - athletes like their schools refer to them. They are moneymaking employees of those huge institutions. And they are not paid. Sure, they get a college education but if they are going pro they don't need it and many of them don't stay in school to graduate. They bring millions of dollars to their schools and they should be paid for it. There would be no U. of Nike without them. Some schools might even concentrate on spending more to train teachers or something. Sports is still great although since moving to Northern Florida where Football Season is heating up, there's a sign up, just to get in line, to have a chance, to buy seasons tickets for the local high school football season!  No more paying 5 bucks to sit or stand where you want like I am used to. I am taking a break from ESPN, and SI, Fox and MNF, and SNF and College Game Day. I may see if I can get a ticket to a local high school game on a Friday night. Or, go into Jacksonville and catch a local minor league game. Our grandson is on the swim team at the local YMCA and from the looks of things none of the performances are enhanced and no one is making a lot of money swimming or coaching. It's a nice break.

Church work

The other day our young grandson was over at the house our son is rehabbing so he can rent it out. We have been working on it non-stop for the past couple of months (he has been on it non-stop since April). We were down to some last minute jobs before we could call it good. His father asked our grandson to do something. I don't want to do that, he said, don't you have something else? Now he came to help and he has been a good helper. But, it reminded me of some reading I have been doing in Nehemiah. Nehemiah goes back to Jerusalem after the Exile to rebuild the walls of the city which were very important for security. A whole bunch of people go back with him and then there are the ones who had already gone back but weren't doing much. So in chapter 2 and 3 we read how Nehemiah surveyed the work that needed to be done and then he called for the workers to do it. I love this picture of all sorts of different people working on various sections of the wall. There were pastors, goldsmiths, perfumers, and supervisors, and people from outside the city, too. They were all taking part in the grunt labor needed to be done. No one was allowed to say but I am trained for... or my spiritual gift is... or I don't do that kind of work.... No excuses! There were women as well as men and at that time this rebuilding work was "man"s work". John Goldingay points out that the Bible rarely speaks of leadership as a spiritual gift. Instead, the preferred term in the Bible is serving. Servants of God rather than leaders of the people of God. Nehemiah refers to himself that way. You can bet he wielded a trowel with the best of them. In the Church there is always work to do. You don't need a special spiritual gift for most of it. You just need a heart of service. And no excuses.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

One thing after another

Since moving to Florida in June we have experienced a lot of rain which we are told is abnormal for this time of year. Low lying areas are flooding, yards are saturated with water, frogs are barking like crazy. The place we moved from has had a month of beautiful sunny weather which we know is abnormal because we used to say it was a good summer when we got one sunny, 70 degree day and Kodiak residents have had so many they have lost count. Some people are praying for rain! Our son and daughter who live nearby with their three kids are awaiting a trip to China to adopt their fourth, a little girl. It's a blessed event about to happen. Yet, there have been setbacks, obstacles, mounds of paperwork, and unseen costs as well as the seen and prepared for ones. While they are waiting for the green light to go to China they have been busy dealing with a whole slew of other setbacks, obstacles and unseen - and unprepared for - costs. This week their 20 year old central air conditioning unit died. The replacement comes with a financing plan. In the midst of the unpleasantness of living in unconditioned Florida summer air where one wakes up to 75 degrees of mugginess, the flu struck and the sewer backed up due to the monsoonal rains (get the picture - intestinal flu and unusable toilets). A few months ago our son bought a house from a man at his church who was going into assisted living. It seemed like a good deal for both parties until our son began remodeling the bathroom and found termites and then more termites and then the good deal became a complete house remodel which has taken every spare minute of his time when he is not at work. A couple of years ago he moved his growing family out of their nice new but smallish home into an older but bigger one (the one with busted a/c and backed up septic system). This was in the middle of the burst housing bubble so rather than sell the first home for a big loss he rented it out (this is the cat pee house I have blogged about). So, setting aside the remodel of the third house, our son and us and one other son replaced the flooring and did other sundry tasks to get the first house livable again (so we could move in). If you are getting the picture this is about the time someone wonders Why is all this happening? Our son is a good guy. He is not trying to cheat anyone. He goes to church regularly and even leads worship there. He was trying to help out a guy from his church who needed to get out of his house. He and his wife want to take in an orphan which follows a Scriptural teaching. Needless to say, they are a praying couple. In the midst of all of this, neither he or she has asked that question which I have wondered about, although they may have thought it (if they have I don't know). I do know from years as a pastor, it is a common question at times like this. It goes like this, Why is God testing me? Or What is God saying in all of this? Or maybe what does God want me to learn from this? And then there is the advice given at times like this by well intentioned Christian friends, Remember God will not give you more than you can handle, which is hardly comforting when you and He are clearly not on the same page about how much you can handle! And the unwelcome thought occurs, I wonder how much God does think I can handle! Is it up for discussion?

I was reading Psalm 4 this morning. I do find God gives a word for most times in our lives. It seemed like He did for today.  Verse 4 says, there are many that say, O that we might see some good! The news lately has been so difficult I told our son when the Starbucks barista offered him a free cup of coffee this week (of course, it was the last cup from the bottom of the pot) that at least there was some Good News! Verse 7 says, You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I took that to mean that Life Happens and things go on that we have no control over but don't confuse God with Life. He still puts gladness in our hearts. I get that: the joy is Independent of the other stuff going on in our lives. Later verse 8 says, I will lie down in peace because I trust in You. That peace is a good thing that comes in the midst of troubles. It is something we can count on when it seems we can't count on much else.