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Hindsight is Rest | Philippians 4:4-5

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; Philippians 4:4-5 (ESV)

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Philippians 4:4-5 (NLT)

After the experiences of last year, tilting one’s head at this verse in curious thought wouldn’t be unimaginable. Paul writes to the Philippians that they should practice always being full of joy and rejoicing, and Paul repeats it for added emphasis. It sounds like a phrase that would be easy to say and hard to do. What subjects this thought to further scrutiny is the fact that, while 2020 was hard, I believe most (if not all) of us haven’t experienced life with the same struggles Paul experienced. To add background to his experiences, here’s a list in his own words:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (ESV)

If Paul, having experienced these things, can set an example of the fullness of joy and rejoicing for the Philippians, following Paul’s lead and letting the Lord fill us with joy and rejoicing, even in these difficult times, sounds a practice worth emulating.

As 2021 continues and difficulties arise, reflect on Philippians 4:4-5 and seek the Lord in joy and rejoicing! Will it be difficult? Of course! Our heritage of belief is full of those who have faced what we’ve just been through (and continue to experience), and much worse, and still found and expressed the joy only Jesus can bring, rejoicing along the way. As the struggles of life greet you, tap into our heritage and let the true joy of the Lord fill you and rejoice in him! Perhaps, without even knowing it, you’ll be a shining example to those around you!

By Rich Obrecht

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Hindsight is Rest | Philippians 4:4-52021-01-22T13:36:40-07:00

Not Perfect, But Pursuing | Philippians 3:12-16

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:12-16

Many companies are using the phrase ‘pursuing perfection’ as their product by-line. From car manufacturers to prepared foods and electronics, producing the perfect consumable seems to be the goal. In their pursuit of perfection, we can be sure there are the occasional failures. Imperfect beings can’t produce a perfect anything. We can only get close.

Paul admits as much in our passage. He describes pushing forward in his pursuit and leaving behind him past efforts, ostensibly good or bad. This passage almost seems to have a sporting motif, using words like ‘press on’ or ‘straining forward.’ It brings images of track events where athletes are running hard for the tape, concentrating on the goal of finishing and hoping for victory. Mistakes made previously are forgotten in the pursuit of victory. Focusing on past events, good or bad, can distract them.

As Jesus followers, we experience our spiritual journey with successes and failures. We slip up and make mistakes. We also have bright shining moments when the journey moves forward by leaps and bounds. But, like the athletes running hard for the goal, we try to keep our eyes on the goal, keeping it in view, and leaving past experiences behind. But sometimes the past distracts us from our pursuit.

Some of us are perfectionists, never fully happy with what we’re doing. What we’re doing never feels or seems good enough. But, in our spiritual journey, despite our imperfection, we have the perfect one, Jesus, present with us. When the ‘track’ we’re running on seems to reach up and pull us down, we have someone to help us get up and begin running once again. In all the exuberance brought by great strides forward and the frustration by the stumbling, we continue to persevere.

We’ve all watched track events where the athletes participate in their event with little evident struggle. Technique on the track is only perfected in practice and failure. So, too, is our journey. As mentioned before, successes and failures come along. If distraction or failure comes along, perhaps reading what Teilhard de Chardin has written will help in understanding that we’re not alone, and the strong hands of Jesus will lift us up in our rough times.

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

By Rich Obrecht

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Not Perfect, But Pursuing | Philippians 3:12-162021-01-14T10:30:45-07:00

When Love is Rooted | Philippians 1:8

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:8

Rizpah isn’t a name most would recognize from the Bible (2 Samuel 22:10-14). She was a concubine of King Saul’s whose two sons were given to the Gibeonites as justice for something wrong Saul had done to them. These two, along with five other of Saul’s male descendants were executed and left outside. Rizpah, seemingly driven by deep and rooted love, guarded her two sons’ bodies against birds and wild animals for the entire harvest season, night and day. I can think of no other reason why someone would guard their sons so diligently than a love as deeply rooted as a mother’s love.

Today the word ‘love’ is tossed about for everything from a shirt or blouse to dogs to just about anything you can think of. It’s almost as if this broad use has decoupled its true meaning in the English vernacular. The depth and rootedness of the word ‘love’ has been diminished, nearly eliminated.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, demonstrates the rooted love he has for them. Before the short verse above, Paul talks of his feeling affection for the Philippians, and how appropriate his affection is. Their love for him was astounding to him, and it was the deep, rich, fertile soil in which his love was firmly rooted for the Philippians.

The love God has for us surpasses the demonstration of Rizpah’s love, and it surpasses the mutual love and affection the Philippians and Paul had for each other. Jesus, God’s only son, descended into humanity, came as a servant (Philippians 2:7) and died for us. Rizpah probably felt she approached death in her seeming never-ending protection of her sons’ bodies, but Jesus did die. Only an eternally rooted love of the deepest variety could ever prompt such a sacrifice (Ephesians 3:17-19).

As you go through your day, observe those around you, whether you know them or not, and consider God’s deeply rooted love for them. Listen closely for the Spirit’s prompting. It’s amazing to understand and witness the healing qualities of a loving look, gesture, touch, or conversation. While our current circumstances limit our ability to touch, love can be demonstrated in many ways. A spoken word with a gentle look can show those around you God’s deep, abiding love for them

By Rich Obrecht

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When Love is Rooted | Philippians 1:82021-01-08T09:53:15-07:00

Context of Gratitude | Philippians 1:1-7

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Philippians 1:1-7

As long as I lived at home with mom and dad, I remember mom standing in the door, waving as I left. When I asked her why she waved, her answer was “While I’m waving, I’m praying for you.” It brought me to tears. My deep sense of gratitude for mom caused me to mimic this with my children. And it’s a habit I’ve begun for anyone leaving my home.

Paul describes his gratitude for the Philippians receiving this letter. The jailings, beatings, threats, and all the other harsh realities for Paul didn’t diminish his gratitude for them. His gratitude was present regardless of context, good or bad. What an example Paul is for us! Following Paul’s example of gratitude regardless of context is worth emulating (Philippians 3:17). Paul was also very thankful for God’s bringing the Philippians to mind. As an aside, what a wonderful practice to bring those who cross your mind to the Lord in prayer. This can be an uplifting spiritual exercise for you as well the potential for meeting some need of those who cross your mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a young man. My memories contain many old hymns. To this day, I remember their words as they’re deeply etched in my heart. Rarely does singing them not bring tears to my eyes, just as thinking of them does as I type these words. My soul-felt gratitude for my parents loving my soul enough to introduce me to Jesus is probably the reason for the response. No matter the circumstances or context, it’s uplifting and gratifying. Wherever we are in life, our sense of gratitude towards God and our fellow Christ-followers can lift us. The circumstances may not change, but God remains our stalwart, strong tower, the one we lean upon.

Perhaps a hymn that best puts words to my God-directed gratitude is ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’ I’ve included the lyrics below and a link to hearing the song. Take a few moments and either read the lyrics, listen to the song, or both. As you go through the hymn, my prayer for you is, regardless of your context, these words will increase your gratitude towards our Father.

Great is Thy Faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassion’s, they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Lyrics: Thomas Chisolm
Tune: William M. Runyon

By Rich Obrecht

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Context of Gratitude | Philippians 1:1-72020-12-31T11:44:06-07:00

Hindsight is 2020 | Philippians 1:1-6

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-6

I’ve been alive for the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam war, wars in the Middle East, innumerable natural tragedies, 9/11, all of which altered life in some way. As a young boy, I was shielded from some changes simply because I didn’t know what things were like before. But, as an adult, I know very well the before and after. And 2020 appears to be bringing changes to how life will be.
I believe we’ll be talking about 2020 for the rest of our lives. The nexus of injustices made evident, an election year, COVID-19, the death of family members, to name a few, will make sure of that. And we’ll recite what happened, and how they could have been handled better by all. While these conversations don’t help a whit the experiences as we lived them, they can inform our living through more calamity when it comes. Perhaps we’ll be able to learn much from 2020, giving credence to the phrase, ‘Hindsight is 2020.’

My prayer is we’ve learned leaning on anything other than Christ is like leaning on a broken rod and its painful result (Isaiah 36:6). Learning trust in the Lord and not humans would be the best result to this prayer. God is perfect, man isn’t. God’s direction is with perfect vision, humans’ is accomplished through dirty lenses and the fog of self. God is worthy of our unfettered trust!

Anchoring trust in God might begin with making a timeline. Draw your timeline since March 2020, when things really spun up. Write down, as best you can, the dates of things which seemed insurmountable and things that didn’t. As the memories come back, and you recall those good or bad times, jot down how God was present with you. If you didn’t feel his presence, write that down, too. Write it all down as you remember it. Then, share your timeline with friends and family. When you do, perhaps conversation will remind you of God’s presence you may have missed or forgotten. As the years go by, and you experience difficult times, look back and remember God’s presence in 2020, and how he was with you, especially when you didn’t realize it. I believe you’ll find God’s with you once again.

By Rich Obrecht

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Hindsight is 2020 | Philippians 1:1-62020-12-31T11:31:57-07:00

The Space Between | Malachi 4:5-6,1 Samuel 1:1-2

 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and strike the land with complete destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6

There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. 1 Samuel 1:1-2

These passages are from two stories in the Old Testament. The first describes a promise of another Elijah coming to the people of Israel before the ‘great and terrible day of the Lord.’ The second speaks of someone having no children, and her grief. Both were fulfilled by God, the first described in the Gospels, the other in a son, Samuel. Since the second story seems more tangible, I’d like to focus there. Perhaps reading ‘the rest of the story’ would be beneficial for you, so take a few minutes to read it.

Hannah’s grief in having no children was intense. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, was blessed with children, and she made sure Hannah knew it (1 Samuel 1:6-8). Her husband, Elkanah, trying to sooth Hannah’s distress, failed miserably (1 Samuel 1:8). In this space between for Hannah, she was driven to prayer, so intense and emotional before God the priest Eli thought she was drunk. We don’t know how long Hannah suffered, but the depth of her despair indicates it wasn’t short term, and this wasn’t the first prayer.

For us, the year 2020 seems to be a ‘space between’ time, and it hasn’t been all that much fun. I’m sure we can relate in a small way with Hannah in this story, praying to God for it to be over, but it’s lingering on longer than we might want. Grief appears to be the most appropriate word here as we’ve all lost something. From time with family and friends to the actual loss of people we love (whether to the illness or not), grief seems a constant companion. Reminders of loss arise at every turn and entry into service establishments or churches.

Grieving is okay. Remembering things as they were is okay. Learning how to live in new paradigms is okay. We disciples of Jesus have someone closer than any family member or dear friend. We have someone who is present, showering us with grace and mercy, whether we feel it or not. Even if this between time continues into 2021 and beyond, remembering whose we are and whose is ours will make the hardest times easier. When rough times come, remember the passage in Song of Solomon of one lover for another: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3a).

By Rich Obrecht

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The Space Between | Malachi 4:5-6,1 Samuel 1:1-22020-12-21T10:01:17-07:00

Spend Less | 1 John 2:17

 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:17

“…the world is passing away with all its desires…” is a gripping part of this verse. If there’s anything we’ve witnessed this year, it’s things changing dramatically in a hurry. We went from a very open society, able to move about as we wanted, to one where our freedom to move about is limited to our homes, along with perhaps a feeling of being watched for compliance. Life can dramatically change in mere moments.

If we listen to all the differing voices around us, from some friends and family to commercials, spending less in this season is completely countercultural. Our society seems to have taken this season and averted our eyes from what’s everlasting (Jesus) and focused it on things temporal (what this world offers us). And we’ve done so way earlier in the year than I remember. This really isn’t a new concept at all. It’s been around since the fruit hit the ground after the first shared bite in the Garden of Eden.

When Jesus walked the earth, there were those who spent their time teaching and watching those around them what it meant to be godly in light of the law. When asked, Jesus brought the bulk of the law down to two things: loving God with our entire being and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Our relationships with God and neighbor trump everything.

In this season, as we’re bombarded with things to purchase, what if we turned a deaf ear to it and focused on Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor? As Advent continues, spending (more) time with God can fill us with the joy freely available to us. And perhaps the time spent in stores and online looking for that ‘perfect’ gift could be better spent with the person to whom the gift would be given. If there’s one good thing Covid-19 has brought through technology, it’s given us the ability to share life with those around us, local or not.

If this is the choice you make this season, investing time in closer relationship with God and neighbor, perhaps you’ll find lasting reward from a gift that truly keeps on giving.

By Rich Obrecht

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Spend Less | 1 John 2:172020-12-03T15:15:52-07:00

Permeating Presence | Acts 1:8; Joshua 1:3

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. Joshua 1:3

Life is such a journey. It can be full of splendor and wonder or full of choking dust and scorching heat. As much as we like to think differently, stepping out of our house in the morning and driving our cars is a journey that’s pretty much out of our control. These are things I consider when I drive. Looking around, you’re surrounded by creations that mostly think for themselves and can be completely random at the strangest, and potentially most dangerous, times. Life isn’t about control, really. It’s about faith. More about that later.

These passages are both about presence. Acts 1:8 speaks about being Jesus’ global witnesses with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And while this particular verse in Joshua doesn’t speak of the presence of God with Joshua, it does speak to the journey itself, until verse nine. Then the presence of God with Joshua is made evident. God promises presence with Joshua and Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s presence with the disciples as they both journeyed in the world God set before them, and it hasn’t changed. God in his Triune presence is with us yet today.

God’s presence isn’t necessarily felt. Granted, there are times when we can feel the Holy Spirit joining us. It’s palpable, almost as if you can reach out and actually touch Him. But as many times as we feel this way, there are perhaps more times where we don’t feel the presence of God. This is where God’s F-word comes to into play: Faith. Our faith, made abundant through Christ, helps us push through those times where we feel alone and we’re walking where we’ve never been, much like the Hebrews and Jesus’ disciples (1 Timothy 1:4).

Part of my morning prayer time has been praying for God’s presence with people. My family, my brothers and sisters from the search committee, friends, elders, and church staff are all called before God, asking his presence with them. Two benefits for me have come from this practice. The first is pretty selfish: it helps me memorize their names! Second, however, it teaches me I’m not alone – God’s gift of a rich panoply of soul-journers palpably demonstrates God’s presence to me. As you journey through life, feeling alone, perhaps missing the presence of God, speak to a friend. God’s only a whisper away.

By Rich Obrecht

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Permeating Presence | Acts 1:8; Joshua 1:32020-11-19T13:44:45-07:00

In the Promised Land | Joshua 5:10-11

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. Joshua 5:10-12

I imagine after 40 years of wandering in the desert, with all the emotional ups and downs, and their time of slavery in Egypt, many of the people may have placed their hope in a new life in the Promised Land. How could you not? Hearing phrases like ‘flowing with milk and honey’ and ‘you will be my people and I will be your God’ couldn’t help but cause them to believe in a bright future. Plenty of food and a personal God? Hard to imagine a better time and place for them.

While stepping into new lives in the Promised Land would certainly mean life change for everyone, I believe it’s important to consider the changes they’d already experienced. In Egypt. In a short period of time, they went from deep and harsh oppression to freedom. I’m certain they had a sense of euphoria, at least until they looked over their collective shoulders and saw Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. The terror they probably felt was replaced once again by joy as the waters closed up over their pursuers. God saved them from certain destruction. And, change would be the name of the game in the desert. Things like living in tents, eating Manna, their worship, it all changed. These changes sometimes prompted serious arguments with Moses, Aaron, and ultimately, God. And, these arguments were sometimes deadly.

Like the Hebrews’ world, our world is experiencing change. Covid-19, the violence in some cities, and forest fires have led to big changes for many. Somehow, we’ve come to believe life shouldn’t change. Like the Hebrews in the desert, we complain about how life isn’t what it used to be. These changes can help us lean more on Christ, less on self, and reflect his grace and mercy to those around us. This change can bring us to the place where God’s Kingdom can flourish and God’s glory can abound. Surrendering ourselves to Christ is paramount.

South Fellowship has experienced quite a bit of change over the last year or so. We now have new leadership in place, most likely leading to more change. This would be a great time to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we’re at. As we move into this new era at South, we should embrace change, grieve loss, and continue to present ourselves to others as reflections of God and his Kingdom.

By Rich Obrecht

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In the Promised Land | Joshua 5:10-112020-11-12T14:20:48-07:00

Forward with Presence | Joshua 3:6-14

And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”  And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.”  And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people…” Joshua 3:6-14

We don’t know if Moses clued Joshua in on what would happen when they crossed the Jordan. I’m pretty certain the people Joshua would lead didn’t know anything, except what they were told, which doesn’t appear to be much. It also seems they were quick to forget what they were told.
In this passage, it seems what they were told related to the ark and the Levites carrying it. It’s possible they knew a struggle was coming as they entered the land God had promised. They also knew the land would be ‘fat’ with food and drink, described as ‘flowing with milk and honey.’

Struggles in life come and go. We move from one to the next, knowing little to nothing about what we’re going to experience. These struggles go from being something simple like a scratched knee or elbow to hearing someone you love describe their rejection of God and his Son. The hard things feel like those crashing waves we experience on the beach when we turn our back on the ocean. One moment, we’re taking in the sensory experiences of the beach and the next we’re being thrown underwater and tossed in a tumult.

Stepping into life is such an adventure! I had no idea what I would experience when I married my wife, Christel. There were times one or both of us couldn’t catch our breath due to the ‘waves’ and their churning. Others were glorious mountaintop experiences like holding a newly-born daughter in your arms, whispering words of love to them, dreaming their future.

Despite our lack of foreknowledge of these adventures, there’s one thing we can be certain of, and it echoes the words given to Joshua by God in Joshua 1:9. God will be with us. We’re not alone! If you’re like me, when those life struggles come along leaving you gasping for breath, recall God’s presence as that strong arm lifting you out of the waves. As you consider these thoughts, listening to “Christ be all around me,” remember God is present whether you feel him or not!

By Rich Obrecht

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Forward with Presence | Joshua 3:6-142020-11-05T16:21:54-07:00
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