Anchored

It’s been a stormy summer.

And I don’t just mean the weather, although we’ve had our share of those storms too. One early summer storm was so severe it spawned tornados and spewed hail the size of baseballs, leaving shattered windshields and shredded roofs in its wake! We’re still repairing the damage.

We’ve also endured medical storms. A late-night ER visit. MRIs. Shoulder surgery. Physical therapy. A root canal. We’ve weathered emotional storms–challenging situations both personally and professionally. (And did I mention the water well line leak that bubbled up in our backyard and required a backhoe to fix?)

None of these were more than tiny blips on the radar when the summer began. We charted our course, expecting smooth sailing. But storm clouds gathered and our plans scattered.

So what do you do when you find yourself tossed by waves in the middle of an unforeseen gale?

You anchor up.

I know this from watching “Deadliest Catch.” If you’re not familiar with this reality TV show, it chronicles the dangerous work of crab fishermen on the Bering Sea. In a recent episode, the fleet was warned of an approaching hurricane. Most of the captains quickly sought shelter in the nearest harbor, where they anchored to safely ride out the storm.

During our recent storms, I took refuge in the word of God. One verse in particular helped to steady me:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19a, NIV)

An anchor’s function is pretty obvious. But for those of us non-nautical types, here’s a basic definition just in case:

An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to wind or current. The word derives…from the Greek ankura.” (Wikipedia)

In Hebrews 6:19 the anchor is a metaphor “…for that which supports or keeps one steadfast in the time of trial or of doubt. It is an emblem of hope.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) W.E. Vine writes that “what an anchor is to a vessel in its tossings, so the hope is to us in our times of trial, difficulty and stress.”

I was fascinated to learn that the most common early Christian symbol was, in fact, not the cross (or the fish), but the anchor. Inscriptions on first century believers’ tombs often depicted anchors along with messages of hope.* In Roman catacombs, the ancient hiding places for persecuted Christians, one symbol appeared more often than any other: the anchor.** Some scholars believe the anchor was a word play in the Greek, noting the similarity between ankura and en kurio, or “in the Lord.”*

I found comfort in the two adjectives found in Hebrews 6:19. The Greek word for “firm” is asphales, which literally means “that which cannot be thrown down, tripped up, tottered or overthrown.” Bebaios is the Greek word for “secure,” and “speaks of something that does not break down under the weight of something that steps on it.***

I liked this summary from the Hebrews Commentary:

This hope which the believing soul has in the Lord Jesus is an anchor of the soul which cannot be made to totter nor break down when put under stress and strain.”

This anchor holds. It will not slip or snap under pressure. It can support the heaviest weight and withstand the strongest current.

And indelibly etched on this trustworthy anchor is a name: Hope. An unshakeable hope. Firmly embedded in a secure salvation.

The certain hope of our future salvation is an anchor to steady our souls while we wait on God in present storms.” (Stephen J. Cole)

We can hang on because Heaven is coming! On the other side of this storm called Life is a glorious future. One so amazing the Bible says we can’t begin to imagine it (1 Corinthians 2:9) and our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with it! (Romans 8:18)

But God not only promises a future salvation, but also a present help. He’s with us in the storms! We never face them alone.

No matter how turbulent the seas get, He won’t let go. No matter how fiercely the winds blow, He will hold onto us. We won’t drift into the rocks. We will not be destroyed.

Yes, it’s been a rough ride this summer. Wave after wave have rocked our little boat. But He’s sustained us through them all.

We’re still afloat. We’re anchored by Hope.

 

When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation. (Proverbs 10:25, NLT)

 

This song has become an anthem for me in the storms. Let Hope be your anchor!

Notes:

*From an article in Christianity Today.

**Jon Courson’s Application Commentary.

***Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament.

–The above painting is called “Ships in a Gale” by Dutch painter Willem van de Velde.

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A Photograph and a Poem

I was weary and discouraged. A couple of very difficult appointments with clients at the pregnancy center where I work had left me questioning my abilities and doubting my adequacy. I felt like a failure. I wanted to quit.

But I had a Bible study to prepare for that evening. Flipping through the pages of my workbook, I spotted the photograph. Thoughtful Geraldine had excitedly given it to me before the start of our study the previous week. It was a picture of a sunset over the Sea of Galilee in Israel, with a short poem printed below. She knew I had traveled to the Holy Land and thought of me when she saw it. I didn’t have time to look closely at it just then, so I tucked it between the pages of my workbook and promptly forgot about it.

Until now.

I picked up the photograph and slipped on my reading glasses to examine it more carefully. The sun, setting behind the Galilean hills, was in the shape of a Star of David.

This was the text of the simple poem that followed:

Star of David on Galilee
Jesus walked on this very sea
He called to Peter, step out and believe
Our eyes on Him and we receive.
He calls us now through Holy Spirit
For those with hearts and ears to hear it.
God Almighty, Creator of all
No prayer too big, no prayer too small.
So step out of your boat, you're not alone
Your miracle awaits, sent from the throne.*

Geraldine didn’t know that the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus was special to me. But God knew. He had used this very story to lead me to accept the very position I had taken at work. Geraldine had no idea that a week later I would need confirmation that the Lord was still with me in the midst of a storm. But God knew.

It was as if He had sent this photograph into the future for me to find at the exact moment I needed it.

He knew I would recognize His voice speaking through this little poem, reminding me that HE was the One who called me out upon the water, that great unknown where feet may fail. (He had also used these very lyrics, from the song “Oceans,” to confirm His call when I took the job.) He knew I would see Him in this beautiful photograph of the very waters upon which Peter walked, and the shores upon which I had stood.

The truth is, I had actually begun to enjoy being out on the water with Jesus, preferring my exhilarating adventures with Him to the safe confines of the boat. Until like Peter, I took my eyes off of Him and placed them on myself–my inabilities, my inadequacies–and on the cresting waves around me. Next thing you know I’m panicking, thrashing, and coughing up sea water.

He came for me that morning in a poem and a photograph, and pulled me close, dripping and sputtering. He gently informed me that it was never about me. He pointed out that the storm didn’t actually stop until He and Peter returned to the boat.** And He patiently instructed me that He alone will determine when our walk on the water is over and it’s time to step back into the boat.

Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him? Who exists outside of time, sees our future needs and makes preparation for them? Who defies the laws of nature, walks on water and invites us to do the same? Who comes to our merciful rescue when we forget that apart from Him we can do nothing?

Jesus.

Amazing Jesus.


For Reflection: Where are you in your journey with Jesus? In the boat? Out on the water? Going under? Wherever you find yourself today, He is there too. He knows exactly what you need. Just “step out and believe.”

Watch this video of “Oceans,” filmed on the Sea of Galilee, and be encouraged!

*Photo and poem by Anthony R. Torres, Hand of God Photography.

**See Matthew 14:22-33 for the account of Peter walking on the water.

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Into the Storm

Gray clouds

There’s a new tornado disaster movie in theaters called “Into the Storm.”  I’m not sure I want to go see it.  I’m still recovering from my own brief, but traumatizing tornado “encounter.”  No pun intended, but here’s how it went down…

I was out shopping on a Sunday afternoon last month when, for the second time this summer, my cell phone vibrated with this ominous message:

“Emergency Alert. Tornado Warning in this area til 2:00 PM MDT. Take shelter now.”

Yikes.

I hastily abandoned my cart with its contents and hurried to a neighboring store to collect Laurel and her two friends.  Outside in the parking lot, we scanned the horizon in search of a funnel cloud.  Seeing nothing but dark clouds and gray skies, I decided to make a run for home, reasoning that our full basement was a safer location than a one-story strip mall.

I was fairly confident I could make it there in time.

Within moments I was fairly confident I was wrong.

Warning sirens began blaring as our van rounded the back of the building.  The girls continued to monitor the clouds through the back seat windows.  The wind picked up.  Rain, mixed with hail, started to pelt.  My pounding heart echoed the staccato sound.

Soon we were engulfed in Gray.  For all I knew we were driving straight into the tornado.  And believe me when I say I’m no storm chaser.

At this point I instructed Laurel to call home to see if we could get some idea of where the funnel cloud had been spotted and which direction it was moving.  Emily answered and informed us that “it” was “by the church.”  “We” were several blocks directly east of the church.

Gulp.

This was beginning to get real.

My heart now kept time with the windshield wipers set to their highest speed.  I pressed harder on the accelerator, my leg trembling involuntarily as we sped north towards the house.  At times visibility became so poor I feared I would drive right off the road.  Seeing no other cars around, it seemed that everyone had gotten the memo about the tornado’s location but me.

I began to pray.  Nonstop.  Out loud.  I’m not sure if my prayers were a welcome comfort to my three wide-eyed passengers, or an unsettling sign that a meeting with our Maker was imminent.  (I’m guessing the latter.)

Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours.  I just kept driving (read: speeding).  And praying (read: crying out to my Maker).

We finally skidded around the corner onto the dirt road that leads up the steep hill to our home.  I scaled that hill in record time, fishtailing as I floored it down (read: up) the homestretch.  We lurched to a stop in our driveway, flung open the car doors and bolted through the heavy rain into the house.  We were breathless and drenched.

But we were safe.

We later learned that a tornado did touch down east of town not long after our crazy storm chase.  Emily had witnessed some scary looking cloud rotation in the church parking lot.  It was all part of the same strong storm system that cut diagonally across the city that afternoon.  But as far as we know there never was an actual funnel cloud bearing down on us, despite how frighteningly real it felt at the time.

After the fact, a friend jokingly remarked that those moments of sheer terror were a great time to make sure one was “good with God.”

“Oh, I’m good,” I replied without hesitation.

You see, that’s the thing.  A tornado could have swept us up and into eternity that afternoon.  All of our days are numbered.  As Christian author and teacher Beth Moore once said:

“You gotta get home somehow.” *

Be it via tornado or illness or accident.  One day we will depart from this place we now call home.

It is vital to know that we are “good with God.”

I am.  I don’t base my confidence upon my own performance, but upon the perfection of the One I call Savior.  I love how Tullian Tchividjian put this in his excellent book One Way Love:

In other words, the older I get, the more smitten I become by the fact that God’s love for me, His approval and commitment to me, does not ride on my transformation but on Jesus’ substitution.  Jesus is infallibly devoted to us in spite of our inconsistent devotion to him.  The Gospel is not a command to hang on to Jesus.  It’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith and how unsuccessful your efforts may be, God is always holding on to you.”

Amen.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus, then as far as He’s concerned, you’re good with Him.  Not because you are good or even just good enough.  But because HE was!

Storms will come.  They are unpredictable, unavoidable, and inevitable.

In those moments of fear and uncertainty, you can be completely sure of this:

He is with you.

He will hold on to you.

He will deliver you safely Home.

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” –Jesus (John 6:39-40, NIV)

*From her teaching on Daniel 3.

 

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Stormy Weather

The drive to Laurel’s orthodontist appointment on this sunny summer morning was pleasant enough.  We chatted amiably and even prayed together.  The drive home?  Not so much.  By the time we turned into the driveway we were hardly speaking to each other.

This was Laurel’s first time getting her braces tightened.  (Or adjusted.  Or whatever it is they do to braces these days.)  The assistant wasn’t the most gentle, and before we even left the office Laurel’s teeth were already sore.  She was also disappointed that her braces were minus the colored elastics she was hoping to sport for her upcoming birthday.  (This may sound minor.  Let me assure you, as the mom of a 12-almost-13-year-old, that it is not.)  Physical pain plus emotional let down is a bad combo.

When my children are hurt I don’t handle it well.  I often react by getting angry.  Not at them, but at the situation, and my lack of control over it.  (Of course, they don’t know the difference.)  I also have a low tolerance for complaining.  The kind which commenced immediately upon exiting the orthodontist’s office.  Another bad combo.

Add to all of this an adolescent girl and one menopausal mama and you’ve now got yourself a really  bad combo.  A hormonal hurricane.  The perfect storm.

Our emotions and voices began rising like an incoming tidal surge.  Before we even knew what had hit, “Tropical Storm Smith” had made landfall and was swirling around us.  Words pelted.  Tears fell.

Upon arriving home we quickly retreated to separate rooms to recover and regroup.  I attempted to process the emotionally charged exchange that had just occurred.  A common denominator stood out to me:  Pain.

When we are hurting, either physically or emotionally, conditions are ideal for a storm to develop.  I also recalled reading a few years ago that hurricanes need fuel, in the form of moist, warm air, to survive.  Laurel’s frustration and my anger added the necessary fuel components.  Next thing we knew we were caught up in unexpected, heated conflict.

Jesus knew a thing or two about storms.  To this day, the Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms that can spring up out of nowhere.  Jesus and His disciples were threatened by such storms on more than one occasion.  Only they never caught Him off guard.

Thankfully, He also knows a thing or two about calming storms.  I asked Him to settle my heart and restore peace to my relationship with my daughter.  We offered and accepted apologies and shared hugs.  We were able to discuss what had happened, and why, and how we might prevent it from escalating out of control in the future.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in relationships.  Storms sneak up.  Conflicts come.  Hormones wreak havoc.    But we don’t have to end up a shipwreck.  With His help we can seek to understand our reactions, learn from our mistakes, and take steps to avoid repeating them.

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39, ESV)
 

Ahh, the sweet calm after the storm.

(Note:  The painting above is called “Storm Before the Calm” by Lucy Dickens.)

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