Over sixteen years have passed but I still remember the details like it was yesterday. Jenny and 1 had hit a few snags, to say the least, in our attempts to leave Madagascar and head to the states following our wedding there. We had not idea when we were going to be able to get out, of if the US Embassy would ever approve her visa. Then the call came in on a Thursday afternoon telling us to be at the embassy the next morning.
We went and within a couple hours we had a visa for the US, which was a great thing, because our tickets were going to expire that evening, and if we didn't leave that day we were going to have to spend thousands more for new tickets, if we ever got the chance to leave. By the time we left the embassy it was already afternoon and our flight was scheduled just before midnight that night. We went back and began to pack. We had to leave the house around 8:30 or 9:00 to get to the airport. The sun went down around 6:30 as usual. Then at 7:30 the power in Antananarivo also went out.
We packed ALL of Jenny's life into suitcases that were way overweight in just a few hours in the dark. She also had to say goodbye to all of her family in those moments. I remember being there and getting things into the van, and having to physically take her by the hand and separate her from her family, from her life, from everything she had ever known, as the tears flowed down her face, to get her to an airport for a flight a to a new place, a new culture, a new language, knowing that her chances to see her family again would not be many.
In sixteen years she has only been able to go back twice. We simply cannot afford it. Her sacrifice is great. Her sacrifice is a choice that she made and I still find myself in awe of that sometimes.
This week we come to the story of Ruth in our study called STORY. Ruth made an incredible choice to go with Naomi and leave all that she knew behind. She utters beautiful words in the first chapter that echo through time:
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me
Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV
God honored Ruth's decision. I encourage you, Go read the rest of the story.
Story! We all have a story. Our lives our filled with individual moments that make up our greater story, and our story is often deeply intertwined with the stories of those around us. The Cambridge English Dictionary says that story is:
A description, either true or imagined, of a connected series of events.
Whatever form story takes, one of the truths of telling stories is that there is a point of connection within each story. I have often used story in my teaching and speaking, because unlike relating a series of facts, we can often find ways to relate to characters within a story and we connect with them and the events. I remember one time I was speaking at a church and I told them I was going to tell them a story that I had written, and I told it from the first person narrative. The story was an amalgamation of a number of different people's story into one character, and the story was so compelling to some that they actually thought it was my story. In fact I ended up getting some backlash from people who were upset that the story wasn't true about me.
For those of us who grew up in the church, and I know that is not everyone, we grew up hearing certain stories. We heard about Jonah and the whale (or big fish). We heard about David and Goliath, or Moses, or Daniel in the Lion's Den, or Noah and the ark. We often heard the kid-friendly version of these stories, and many of us have never gone back and actually looked at these stories.
For the next ten weeks we are going to look at some of these stories, and see what we can take away from them. Jesus in his teaching used stories and parables often. Sometimes they defused situations. Sometimes they ticked people off. Sometimes they brought people together. Always they reflected the reality of life.
Our stories matter. God has put us here on earth to live lives of purpose. As we journey through these stories together may we see that God used ordinary women and men to do extraordinary things. May we find the value of our own stories.
In February of 2001 I decided to accompany the swim from Asbury College (I was Director of Athletics for the school) to the NAIA Championships at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. My flight took me through the Seattle airport where I was to meet one of our assistant coaches and we would drive to Vancouver from there. While waiting airport I walked into a gift shop that featured a lot of hand crafted glass items all over the shelves.
Suddenly there was this noise, kind of like a low rumble, that started to move through the room and airport. The noise grew and I looked down and suddenly the floor was rolling. The items on the shelves began to come off and shatter in the room. I moved toward the door of the shop and the main terminal, and as I stood in the door way a piece of the ceiling of the terminal fell onto the floor about 15 feet from me. I finally just decided to stay put and ride out the earthquake, my first one.
This past week two earthquakes rocked California within a couple days of each other. They are always unexpected, and the aftermath and clean up is never something to look forward to. I will never forget the sights and sounds from my day in the airport. For me it's a rare event, for others they've experienced many in their lives.
This week as we conclude the series entitled INCEPTION in our Sunday morning services, we come to the second half of Acts Chapter 4. We find in there a verse that says:
31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
This moment is the second one where they are assembled together and the place where they are is shaken. There is a noise, a loud rushing wind, and the place is shaken. I can relate to their fright, to their wonder. When you experience something like that it changes you and effects you. For the early church it was a key moment as they left that place and spoke God's word with boldness.
We all could use a good shaking from time to time, especially one that gets us to go out and speak God's word with boldness.
Every now and then as I'm reading through scripture I come across a verse I've never paid attention to before that just makes me laugh a little. This coming weekend in our services we will be studying the 4th Chapter of Acts as we head into the final two weeks of our series entitled Inception. As I was reading this morning I came across this verse:
For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. v. 22
I have no idea why the author had to point out the age of this man. In fact, as someone who is, um, over 40, I find it at least a little disconcerting in some ways. This past weekend I had that chance to attend the wedding of a girl who was one of the flower girls at my wedding. Now she is all grown up, and while we were there my daughter said to me, "Wow, everyone who is here is young."
Now that wasn't exactly true, but it in many ways it sure seemed so. So i guess maybe I'm just feeling old as i write this morning. But then I look at that verse again, and I think what Luke (whom I believe wrote Acts) is reminding us of is the fact that Christ can give us new life and new inspiration no matter what age we are. This weekend I got to spend time with people from my past, but while I was away on Sunday the church voted to take away the interim title, and just make it Pastor, and they helped change my future.
So like the man in the story in Acts I am not lost in the past, but rather I am excited about the future. He could suddenly walk and leap and had his whole life ahead of him. I am excited about what lies ahead. The path has taken so many twists and turns over the years, but God has the future and that is where our focus needs to be, on what God has in front of us. His mercies truly are new every morning.