2016, the year ahead

We are all focused on turning the page, opening a new year, new calendar, making resolutions, or promises, or going through the motions to start off on a fresh and new adventure…. and yes, i share that odd sense of needing a fresh start, a new year, and a new sense of direction.  But why are we like that?  There is nothing inherently different between December 31st and January 1… yet we build our mind sets around this being a quantum leap from old to new.

So what do i think about this emphasis on a new year/new start?  I think life can be very challenging and uncertain.  We each deal with joy and grief, wins and losses.  Some years are filled to the brim with blessings, and other years feel like they took everything we had, and then some to drag across that demarcation mark of the end of a year.

Our lives wear us down, and slowly erode a sense of hope.  Placing emphasis on a new year, and a fresh start means a new chance to live, a new opportunity to change something that has been impossible to live with, or a clean break from a mindset that has held us in shackles.

So as i greeted 2016 with its uncertainty thee was a fresh sense of hope for a wonderful year.  Will i loose those XX pounds?  Will this be a year when amazing things occur?  Whatever life will bring, i will choose to hope for the best, and attempt to practice something that can always improve…. Here is my list of thoughts and things that I will keep in positive light, no matter what comes:

  • I will smile, and thank God for each breath, each moment, each opportunity in life
  • I will choose to not lean onto my own opinions of life, or situations because perception can be skewed.
  • I will choose to forgive, to give grace, and find ways of living with those who are difficult, challenging, frustrating.
  • I will choose my words carefully, and try to filter my speech with love, concern and ask for wisdom when i have no clue.
  • I will choose to thank God for the hard times, the challenges that can be almost soul crushing, because this is the stuff that builds character.
  • I will choose to thank God for his provision, and pay no attention to the rest of the world, being grateful and blessed that my needs are met.
  • I will choose to passionately pursue Jesus, spending more time reading, studying, and growing.
  • I acknowledge life is often out of my control, and will accept that fact, knowing that God holds my life, and my future in his care.

This is the closest to resolutions i will make.  A new year is exactly that… a fresh run at life…. regrouping, reorganizing, moving forward with a new sense of hope and vigor.

It is my heart felt wish that your new year will be filled with blessing, health and prosperity.  i do resolve to write daily on this blog…

 

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Are you growing concerned?

Are you becoming more aware of the news?  From financial issues, and suffering of those around us, to the world events – horrific news, startling, and possibly very overwhelming.

My husband and i have been a part of the prayer team of our church, and so we find ourselves filtering things through soft and purposeful conversation with God.  Painful bodies, fearful moms, unemployment, disobedient children, struggling marriages, and on and on.   Our needs as people are very great, and our dependence is growing greater and greater on God himself to provide and meet the needs.

But i must tell you that while i know our needs are important they seem to pale in comparison to our brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for their faith in Jesus.

As I stand to sing worship choruses these past Sundays I realize how privileged we are to gather publicly, to give voice to our hearts cry of worshiping our great God without fear of imprisonment, beatings, death.  So as i close my eyes, and lift my heart and my voice to God I find myself lifting those believers around the world to Jesus, and ask for his presence in their lives.

Remembering Al and Eileen – We have friends who are Pakistani nationals, and have lived around the world. They are believers in Jesus.  And these last 10 years their government has not permitted them to leave their nation.  They are surrounded by 99.5% of their fellow citizens who believe in radical Islam, or tribal factions.  They have a life that is constantly one word or one action from death.  Al told us the last time he was visiting in the states that we need to pray for the believers in Pakistan like this:

  • Lord grant them wisdom to know your word, your heart, your spirit
  • Lord grant them favor with their neighbors that those who do not know Jesus might see his love extended through your people in that place.
  • Lord give opportunities to love, help and share your word with those who do not know
  • Strength, courage, boldness, fearlessness, God’s favor.

As the news continues to churn out photos and video of Christians being executed for believing in Jesus I can;t just stand in church and sing a worship chorus.  I am compelled to cry out for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted.  And i am compelled to cry out against the acts of injustice, shocking violence, of global bullying on a massive scale.

The rising tide of hatred and hostility of Christians is joined by the growing antisemitism that is playing out in the world.  Many are saying these are times much like that of pre-WWII, where people were being fed propaganda, believing ideology that was filled with venemous hatred, doctrines of demons.

America is not the same nation it was 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago.  The news media is whipping up a hostility toward Christianity, our government is embracing poor judgement, and the leadership of our nation is growing sketchy.  Being a Christian is becoming a dangerous decision, with frequent news of charges pressed, court cases, etc for simplly living out our faith.

The winds of change are blowing.  Are we there in prayer, standing firmly asking our Great God and King to meet us, change our hearts, accept our repentance, and heal our land?

I am growing concerned – not of God, because i know he holds everything in his great care, but i am growing concerned that fellow believers seem to have little sensitivity to the great need to pray, to seek God with everything in our souls, and to ask for the needs of our fellow believers that are hurting.

“Father, forgive us for our self focus.  Forgive us for not praying for our rulers, our government, or leaders.  And forgive us for letting your word slide from our lives.  We repent today, and ask you to fill our  hearts and minds with your spirit, your word, your strength.  And we bring our brothers and sisters who are being fiercely persecuted to you.  Please be their strength, glorify yourself in your people, strengthen and embolden your church to stand in the presence of evil, and know your plan is to bring many to salvation.  

We pray for those who are the persecutors… may they come to know they are persecuting your people, and that you know every thought and act.  May you show yourself to them in dreams, visions, and manifest fear in their very souls.  We ask for their salvation, we cry to you to turn your enemies to repentent believers.  In everything may we sense your spirit, your provision, your protection and your love.  And may the world sense this too.  Amen”

Wisdom, Speech, and unity

A story rests on my spirit today which i must share.  It is something that I have seen play out so many times.  It is a sad tale, a cautionary tale that is all too real in this day and age.  Here it is:

There once was a small group of people, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, who gathered with great joy, celebrating their mutual faith, strengthening and encouraging each other.  The trust was strong, the love was sincere.  Faith was growing, and transparency was the norm.  It was a close group of people, unified by the presence of Jesus.  His spirit had freedom to move in and through each of these people.  It was noticeable to those who visited from outside the group.  There was a deep hunger to grow, or at least it seemed that there was a core of people growing and seeking answers from God.

There were many stories of grace, and of miracles.  Healing of body, mind and soul was a daily occurrence, and the group was hungry to see what each day would bring because God’s Spirit was there and moving in power.  Certainly the enemy would not like this.

One day one of the people began to wag their tongue, stretch the truth, manipulate information to benefit their own self.  Nobody knew the pain, the sin or the scars that would rise to the surface in that moment because there was a deep trust among this group.  Transparency meant there were sometimes hard things shared, but always based on truth, honesty, with the heart to grow and see healing.  But that day the trust that ran deep began to erode.  And as people began to hear these words they believed them.  That is the nature of a trusting group of believers.

And the tongue wagging began to erode friendships, introduce rumor and speculation, and disturb the delicate and rare harmony and unity of this small group of believers.  One by one, the formerly united people began to wonder, sensing a coldness when they gathered to worship their lord.  And his words were still a clear invitation to love, trust and obey, but the living examples that surrounded them no longer shared that same mission.  Friendly smiles were met with suspicion, and few words were exchanged because of an uncertainty of what is true, honest or sincere.

Deep friendships became uncomfortable.  Common faith became cold.  Hearts became guarded, defensive, questioning of each other.  And God’s spirit was not able to freely move and breath in the group.

One voice was all it took to break down the unity. One word spoken to bring question, to bring challenge, to mock, or to question the respectability of another believer broke down that delicate trust.

Some of the group continued on as though nothing was wrong, yet others were deeply changed, sadly they could no longer live together in a harmony that was shattered by the careless words of another.

I tell you this story because it is played out throughout our nation, and it is breaking down what God wants to build up.  It is His Church, and he will ultimately build it as he wishes.  But small and seemingly harmless words can be like a spark of a match in a dry forest… it sets everything in its path on fire, destroying the beauty, and protection that we need as the church.

So what can be done?  How can this be avoided, limited, or removed from a community of believers?

1. The health of the community is directly related to the spiritual health of each believer – we must be responsibility for our own walk, our own growth, our own communication.  That means that each day we must seek the lord, spend quiet time to hear his voice and know his wishes for our life.

2. We must be the filter for problems – AS we begin to hear the rumblings of tongue wagging we must respond correctly – giving no room for that type of communication.  Defusing when possible, or taking it to an elder if our efforts to stop it dont work.  Some thoughts about defusing dangerous communication include the following:

  • Direct the person with harmful communication to speak with only the person involved… if they have something bad to say about another they should discuss this directly with that person.
  • Filter everything through the word of god.  Is each word I convey going to be true, edifying, strengthening, grace filled, encouraging?  If not, pray for wisdom and God’s leading on sharing it.
  • When a situation is beyond your ability to stop, bring it to the attention of leadership – that is a ministry leader, pastor, elder.  Ask they to go with you to speak with that person.

3. Don;t ruminate on the negativity that has been spoken.  Instead, like a prisoner of war, take it to Jesus.  Confess the struggle with the information and ask for this to be healed.  Leave it there with him.

4. Practice Grace.  Understand we all struggle, and allow a measure of understanding for others.  Each of us are on this journey to heaven, and we all have shortcomings, struggles, challenges.  A little bit of grace covers a multitude.

5.  Pray for our church leaders to be strong, wise, and responsive.  When the leaders are sensing and following strongly after the Lord these stories are less likely to take root and flourish .

6.  Churches should be extremely discerning on how the leadership is chosen… wrapped in deep prayer, and following strong after the leading of God based fully and explicitly upon the Word of God, elders should be chosen to meet the criteria layed out in the word.

 

So you read this and said, “Hmm, that does not describe my congregation” – to that I say Great!  Pray.   Pray hard daily for your leaders.  Pray daily for discernment, and for God’s Spirit to keep the unity and bind the work of the enemy in and through your congregation.

And perhaps you say “Wow, that sounds all too familiar… i am there.  I honestly dont like going to church any more because of this situation.”  To you I say steady on – pray and ask God for his wisdom.   Remain willing to be open and transparent, but use discernment. If someone has sinned against you go to them, and call it out.  If they dont receive your words and repent then go to a leader and together go with the leader to that person and confront them.  If they still are unresponsive, allow the leadership to take over the dealing with  that individual.  If leadership is not responsive that might raise another alarm flag… and perhaps you might wish to seek the Lord for wisdom on what to do.

The mission of living for Jesus is challenging, yet when we as a community are unified the life we live is made easier knowing we do not walk alone.  Sin can destroy everything in its path, and that also means it can disable people from the goal and purpose of their call by God.  Lets ask for wisdom from God that we can see the power and fire of God flood through our church, that we can see the hope and healing that Jesus wants us to know.

Prayer:  Jesus, the church is your work.  You have said that it is built by you and that the gates of hell shall not prevail.  But i confess that there are times when the church looks like it is being ripped apart by pride, lust and greed, and that the deadly sin of the tongue set about a fire that is from hell itself.  We hunger for unity in your spirit.  We hunger for strength in the leaders you ordain for us, and we hunger for a safety and transparency that allows us to seek you, grow in grace, and find our healing in you, and in community.  May you be glorified in our lives as we seek you, hunger for you and yield our very core to your authority.  Silence the tongues of sin, break the strongholds the enemy wants to set up, and remove the snares of deception, confusion and fear.  May we see your church rise in power, reaching our broken world with the power of your salvation.  Amen.

Wondering

I agonized over the title of this post for quite some time.  Titles cast the theme, and set a tone for the article… I chose to be very abbreviated with my title so that the body of the article could expound on the thoughts.

I wonder –

I wonder how each of us see one another.

I wonder if those differences are points of prayer, rather than points of contention and judgement

I wonder if as we gather to worship if we choose to lift each other up, or snap to conclusions on appearance, actions, thoughts

I wonder if we are willing to look at each other’s journey to heaven and accept that God calls each of us to travel different terraine  with his distinct purposes in our lives.

I wonder if we stumble over the path each of us have been called to.

 

My pondering came as a result of some time spent in prayer, and reading through the bible.  Its at the end of John 21 Peter has just been restored to fellowship with Jesus, and almost immediately he begins to inquire about John.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)

When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”   -Gospel of John 21: 20-22

Peter had just learned that as he became  old he would be led about, a prisoner, against his will.  And as he looks out at others, like John, he did not hear that prediction of John.  We are all creatures that want a quiet life, with little stress… but this might not be the plan God has for us.  Its human nature to wonder about others, or to compare their life to mine.  But if we are truthful in viewing this passage we will glean a treasured nugget.  Each of us are given a specific plan, and while we are on this earth we are here at the purpose and leading of our great God.

In my quiet time, as i read this passage for the 8 millionth time the words spoke to me in a fresh way. “Barb – the plan for your life is one of times of great challenge, of testing and of stretching. ”  No i did not hear voices, but it was as if God himself whispered into my soul.  “Let go of the idea that we are identical… and focus on what God wants of you.  Your heart, your surrender, your focus.  Love the lord your God and lay down the preconceived notions of what your life should be.”

I have to be honest and disclose to you that I have spent a long time holding on to and idealizing the life I once had, which is gone.  Yes, it was nice to have a predictable life, predictable career, evenings free, and weekends were not much more than laundry, grocery shopping and worship.  Loved those evening enjoying the summer nights on the porch sipping iced tea, and looking through a magazine, or catching up a chapter or two of a book.  Loved those fall evenings of painting, or big home improvement projects…. which we no longer can afford.  And i loved knowing there was a big bank account and credit cards, and no want of anything.  But God knew my soul needed something that was not found in bank accounts and free time.  It was his very real leadership and presence.

So i have layed down that part of my life, and look to this time as a new chapter.  God has called me to trust him, to wait on his provision, to trust his hand as good, and to meet my needs.  It is a much deeper immersion into living by faith.  And there are times when, like Peter, i begin to look at others in the body and become focused on their life… their needs not only met, but a life much more comfortable, and at ease.  And it is at that point i hear the words of God – “Why are you concerned with them?”  It is as if Jesus is saying to me also “Do you trust me? Do you?  Do you really trust me for the monthly income to meet your needs?  Do you believe I am intimately involved in your life, and care deeply for your needs?  Then trust me.”

I know that we are called to a different place.  For some reason the Lord has shut every door of employment for Steve, and as each rejection of a job lead comes it seems that a new door opens for our business.  Not once, not twice, but countless times over the past few years the Lord has reinforced our direction.  As we respond and follow His leading we have seen this little vision of a business into something viable, and profitable.  He has showed us that as we trust him for the next step that He will open those doors.  And the doors open.

Our life is not a traditional 9-5.  Our life requires a significantly larger involvement of our time, energy, creativity, and networking.  And our life leaves much less time for just sitting on the porch sipping iced tea.  But this is the life we are now called to.  Our life is a calling to a people group that needs hope.  The art world

I still wonder how you view us though.  Do you accept that our life is so very non-conventional?  Do you pray that God will continue to lead us, use us, and provide our needs?  Or do you find it hard to accept that some of us are called to a different place?  If you must know, we can see it in your eyes, and we can hear it in your comments.  We see those eyes that look at us like we are a bit on the crazy side… or you say things that are polite but have a belittling tone.  You don’t understand the work God is doing in our lives, or you have no realization of the way that our society has changed in a very short amount of time and has closed off the opportunities you always knew.

For the church to be a healthy place we must take heed to the passage about John and Peter, acknowledging we don’t know what God has in store for each other.  But we know God, and we know his plan is good.  As we get our eyes off of each other and on to the place they belong we will become a much healthier, less judgmental body.

We don;t expect the misunderstood comments to go away, but we only hope that grace and God’s love will replace human wisdom for willingness to watch and pray.

Because God is good. and his plan for each of our lives is as varied as his creation.  Its our job to trust and obey, and lay down the wondering.  Yes, that goes for me too.

its in god’s hands

prayerair

Life is unpredictable, people even more unpredictable.  The truth is that our lives are in God’s hand, yielding us to watch and pray, trust and remain faithful  to God’s word.

Note to Readers:  If you attend my church and are reading this post, thanks.  I some times write in generalities based on what i notice happening in the kingdom.  Sometimes I draw from current events, and at other times it is from experiences of my past.  My writing is intended to be a way of working out my faith… and should it help others, praise God.

I love to work on building friendships.  I only have a half dozen people that i can trust with my absolute life… let alone the deep things of life that I wrestle with.  I think its probably very biblical to know a lot of people, but surround myself with people i would call friends, and still fewer people that I would deem mentors, and mentees.  Jesus showed us that he had 12 disciples, yet only 3 or 4 very close disciples.

almost 3 decades ago i had the privilege of developing a friendship based on faith.  It was one of my first “christian friendships”.  We felt like we knew each other for a life time.  We shared the common belief in Jesus, and we shared that heart for evangelism, and for taking the gospel to the world.  We were both quite young in our faith when we jumped into ministry, feet first.  We ran hard for the work, knowing very little, but trusting God for all of it.   And there was a deep bond because God was developing in both of us the character and gifts he wanted used.

Ministry was flourishing… it was right, good, and we were seeing people come to know Jesus and it was fruit that remained.  But slowly, ever so slowly we felt a tugging in different directions, and a pulling of our hearts in different philosophy of ministry.  We both still loved Jesus, but something entered into our relationship that was changing us, breaking us apart.

God clearly moved us from our comfort in suburbia to an inner city ministry work that required the skills we had honed in those ministry start ups we were leaving behind.  Those years of building were able to be handed off to capable hands, trustworthy believers who would continue the work.  That work continues to this day, viable, vibrant and still preaching the gospel with the power of God’s spirit.  It is in God’s hands.

And over those  twenty some years we worked in the inner city God privileged us to be a part of mighty things.  In our work with youth we had a small core group of kids who had a deep hunger for truth, and for salvation.  We still hear great things about each of them.  Most have grown up well, become wonderful adult human beings that love Jesus, and have centered their lives on their faith.  Yes, they are in God’s hands.

And i think many of the youth group members of our group from the 90s were impacted by one simple yet traumatic event – One of the beautiful young girls (Diana) was a quiet spirited girl that never missed our jr high club meetings.  One Sunday evening we gathered, and we asked the kids what questions they have.  Diana quietly asked “What does Jesus look like?  Does the bible say very much about it?”  We looked at each other – shall we go for the Isaiah passage that he was of no reputation?  Or Revelation chapter 1?  That passage of Revelation 1 was the choice… and we read it to the group – Hair white as wool, feet glowing like brass in a fire, eyes… the image is both one of fear, and of awe.  And i remember saying that one day we shall see him as he is… we will bow down before his holiness, and he will speak to us.  I had no idea that night Diana would get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and fall on her little brother’s small toy, and suffer irreversible brain injury that would put her in a coma, and she would go home to meet Jesus.  Every one of the kids told us they felt moved by the thought that she was now seeing Jesus as he is, in heaven.  It became so real to each of us, and so important to share our hope with others because there might come a day when this life ends.  Diana was and is in god’s hands, as are those kids of the 90s who are adults today.

In our years of visiting the nursing homes we met so many good people who were aging, and their bodies were becoming unkind to the life they have known.  Some of the residents were sad, or even deeply depressed from their changing quality of life, or the death of a spouse, the loss of some portion of their body, or their mind.  We met so many people who ministered to us far more than i think we did to them.  One of the residents that impacted us so greatly was a man named Guy – sad, angry, lonely and feeling quite betrayed by life, he was not easy to speak with, but when he finally realized we cared, and wanted to visit his heart began to soften.  One day he called and asked Steve and I to come visit him.  We arrived and it was after dinner, late for the resident that turn in by 6-6:30.  But there was Guy, waiting, excited, eagerly scanning the horizon for us.  Guy wanted to know how to be a christian… 78 years old, having gone to church, lived an honest and hard working life, but had never given opportunity to yield his heart to Jesus.  Guy died 3 months later, knowing where he was headed, knowing he was forgiven, washed and clean, a child of the King.  Yes, all those years Guy was in God’s hands, and he is now in God’s presence.

Over the years we have known so many people who have walked this path of faith.  Some continue, others have turned back, given up, wandered away, or were lured away by the lust of the eye, lust of the flesh or the pride of life.  But they remain in God’s hands.

My point is simple.  WE choose to yield our lives to God, surrender our plans to him, and live for him each and every day.  As we touch others we can pray for them, we can encourage them, and we can pray and give them back to God’s hands.  We have no control over whether they choose to follow God or not.  We can only trust that God holds them in his hands.

Some of those we have known and we have  trusted to God’s hands flourish, shine for the Lord, and carry the message of hope to the world.  They are pastors, or missionaries, or lay leaders, worship leaders, chaplains, or just people of faith living in the work world.  Others choose to embrace power, privilege, selfish pleasure, personal gain or any of the other deceitful sinful things this world can pull us into… and they have crashed and burned.  Their life is a shipwreck, their ministry gone because they would not yield to the prompting of God’s spirit, or were unwilling to be teachable, or would not heed the warnings and admonition of leadership… or they were leadership and had given in to pride, or the flesh, or power. Sin has overtaken the ground of their soul and faith, while present, is tucked aside, forced out of the way for the idolatry  that has consumed them.  Yet, they are also in the hands of God.

The warning is to each of us – Guard your heart for out of it flow the issues of life.  Guard your heart, and give yourself to the hands of God.  For God is more than able to see you through, and help you finish well.

 

Unsettled Prayer

There are some times I am unsettled, and the words just don’t flow back to God on what set me on edge.  It is times like this that I sit quietly before the Lord, bible open, heart yielded and silent, waiting for his wisdom.  It’s a decision to wait until the answer comes, not wishing to yield to my own thoughts but rather have clarity that is God’s wisdom.

Recently I attended an event that should have been super encouraging, but instead God allowed me to see the deep underbelly of insecurity, of fear, and of the way human limitations stifle the work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

The presence of the  spirit of God was there, yet restrained, stifled by the many words of flowery speech, of laying out theological treaties before men, rather than honest hearts cry to God almighty.  And there were times that evening when the spirit was asking us to wait in silence, yet the room was  buzzing with words, with sounds, with anything but silent yielding.

My unsettled spirit found no calm, no ability to just sit and wait for word from Jesus.  Instead I found myself listening to words that were being voiced.  My thoughts turned to my own sense of judgement, of criticism.  Just because I need to sit in silence to wait before God does not mean this is true of others around me, right?  Why do I want to be so critical, to judge those who share every theological treatise verbally as though they are educating God on such things.

Still very unsettled I headed home to ask God to sort this out.  On the drive home the guy we pick up for church asked “whats with all those flowery words spoken tonight?”  Huh,I asked him’ what do you mean? ‘  He went on to explain that Christianity, and faith in general is a new thing to him, and he was not sure he would ever get some of those expressions, or details that were so eloquent and sophisticated.  He expressed his concern that Christianity was so odd and different to him.  He asked if it was necessary to speak like that to God.

Everything in me took a deep breath.   There is no way he could have known my thoughts, my unsettled spirit, and my heart on the matter, right? This was simple and pure questions of someone who is new at the faith.  If I can be honest  with him I would tell him of my thoughts, my wrestling.

I wrestled with how to respond to his questions.  It’s a delicate place – not trying to judge those who wax eloquent and flourish their theology in sweeping strides of verse, yet not undermining the simplicity of prayer as conversation.  But in my heart I also struggle too, knowing that conversation with the God I know is simple, easy, honest, and straight forward.

(Deep breath) I responded to our passanger:  Well, Prayer is simply a conversation with God.  It can look different depending on the situation  But it should be honest, reverent, and sincere.  Its just like speaking with a friend.  So all the flowery language is not necessary, really.

“Well, then, why do some people do this? Why do they have to tell us everything they know when they are talking to God.  If I were God I would be frustrated with that.  Getting to the point is so important.”

(Silently I was praying those wild prayers like “Lord, help me now to find the right words, and the right things to say.  I don’t want to deter faith, or undermine what you are doing in others. I need you now!!!”)

Our passenger continued with a ton of questions.  He seemed genuine in his search for faith, and his analytical review of what he sees.  He doesn’t always understand what he sees, or hears. He is searching for truth, and wants to process everything and find neat and clean answers.

(another deep breath, and here goes) Well, there is a passage in the gospel of Luke that gives us a glimpse into the world of two different men who came to pray.  I think it might help to understand that we each come to God with different thoughts, from different places.

Luke 18:9-14New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Both men came to the temple to pray for vastly different reasons.  The Pharisee came to judge others, and justify his own life based on his perception of righteousness.  But the publican came humbled, yielded, broken and desperate for God’s mercy.

Prayer is no different today as it was then.  People come with different reasons.  Some come with an understanding that they are right before God because they are comparing themselves to others.  And they justify their belief with much word, loud speech, and a display of the contents of their theology for the world to hear.  Others come to God wanting only to know they are able to run to the refuge of a loving God who will accept them and forgive them.  No judging either action, but if we filter what we see through the passage in Luke we learn that God will judge this… and those who puff themselves up with a lot of words will be humbled, and those who are humbled will be exhaulted by God.  So its probably better to be humble, and not make long flowery speeches.

Yes, there are times when declaring the attributes of God is good… when giving voice to the truth of his promises move us to deeper faith.  And yes there are times when we can be silent before God.  Its often not what is said, but what lies under the words in the motives of our heart.  Only God knows the heart of a man.

Our passenger thanked me for the clarification.  I think he was relieved to know that he does not have to find himself waxing eloquent, or speaking the entire survey of theology when he talks to God.   Even though his questions were somewhat answered, I was still a bit unsettled.

When I got home I was eager to just get apart, find some quiet space and The word that the Lord was giving me in the still quietness last night is to be still, and not look at my brothers and sisters, but like the publican, to come to God simply, yielding this hot mess to his mighty hand.  Its not for me to determine what is going on in the hearts and minds of those around me.

“Lord, in your presence I rejoice that you accept this sinner, and call me to your salvation.  Take from me the propensity to judge others, to filter what i hear and see through my human logic.  And lord help me to never cause others to stumble.  I thank you that you have called us to live for you, to humbly present ourselves to your authority, and i thank you that you will sort out the details of the human experience.  Help me to always remember that judgement is your work, acceptance and mercy is mine.  May you build your church.  And may you teach us how to glorify you.”

In a wicked world its good to know we have hope

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
    Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
    Let your eyes behold the right!

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night,
    you have tested me, and you will find nothing;
    I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
    I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
    my feet have not slipped.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
    incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show[a] your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity;
    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They have now surrounded our steps;
    they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
12 He is like a lion eager to tear,
    as a young lion lurking in ambush.

13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
    Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.[b]
You fill their womb with treasure;[c]
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness  —-Psalm 17

its been a month since we cut off the TV, and limited the endless drone of bad news, tragedy, fear breading flashes of a culture and a world sliding ever farther from its moorings, and ever more from the world a perfect and loving God created and said was good.    I’m not sure how these constant waves of negative and life taking information affects you, but as for me i can say it profoundly affects me.  Hearing news of perfect strangers is one thing, but as bad things happen to good people around us the news becomes more personal, and the reminder that we are just travelers in this life, heading for a city who’s builder and author is our great God.

Psalm 17 was penned by David in the height of his struggle with King Saul, who was hunting him like a dog.  Hiding in caves, and on the run to preserve his life, David literally knew two very clear things:

  1. He knew the character of his God, our God  – God will hear him, and will answer him, he gives loving kindness to him, preserves him from evil and wicked people,  Delivers him. and satisfies him.  He knew and understood his place in God’s Kingdom – apple of God’s eye.  If we can just wrap our minds around the thought that we are chosen, called, and so very much loved it would change our perspective, wouldn;t it.
  2. He recognized there is a war, and there is a very real enemy that is seeking to destroy him.  That same enemy is alive today, working hard to tear us apart, shred us… whether it is physical, spiritual, mental, financial – David knew he must be on guard, girded for battle, not letting down the guard.  While we are not physically being chased about the country by an army, we are in a real sense being pursued by the enemy of our soul.  If he can knock us off our blocks, invalidate our testimoney, reduce our capacity through insecurity, disbelief, anger, or any of the thousands of ways he tries then the work of reflecting the glory of God, and sharing the hope of Jesus will be limited.

I must tell you that since I began to plan the ladies conference at our church the war came home to my head, and my heart.  Insecurities I have never experienced before have visited me, trying to draw me into the vortex of doubt.  And people around me have been going through deep challenges, spiritual struggles, physical battles.  In my own heart and head i have run to Jesus to just clear the fog, disable the fears, and clarify again what I believe he called me to do.

So I have been praying hard, and spending more time with the Lord, seeking wisdom for life.  And here is what i have found:

  • Just like any relationship, thoughts and words have only as much power as you give them.  When the doubts, disbelief, misunderstandings, and confusion creep in the best idea is meet it head on, call it out for what it is – UNTRUE, and give the thought, idea, words, emotions to Jesus.  Give no room for the thoughts to grow, or develop – turn them over to Jesus and leave them there.
  • Spend some time assessing your heart.  Here are a few questions to ask:

– What have I allowed to creep into my heart or mind that might raise this doubt/disbelief/emotion?

                               – Have i invited the enemy in through some involvement with something or someone that is not a believer?  or an evil practice?
                               – Have i confessed anything that needs to be confessed, and repented of all that needs to go?
I heard a wonderful and clarifying teaching by Tony Evans, of the Urban Alternative and the sum of what he said is this – The war is real, and the enemy of our souls will continue to try to pound in, entrench in.  But he will only have what we allow him to take.  So take back your heart, your mind, your emotions and yield them only to Jesus, and give NO ROOM for doubt, mistrust, discouragement, or any other thought or emotion that will break you down.  Repent, give it to God, and fill the void with the words, thoughts, songs, sights that bless, build up, strengthen, and grow your heart.   We may be powerless, but our Great Savior is All Powerful to overcome anything the enemy would bring.

Broken Cisterns

spigot

I am a city kid…. and the only understanding of water sources i have known are the sinks and spigots in my house…. Water comes as i turn the handle.  It is so very easy, and so instant, yet i know there is a complex engineering design behind those spigots.  And there are people employed to keep the pressure up, the purity of the water consistent, and the service constant.  Cold on the right, and hot on the left.  A ready water source is right there in our homes, works, schools and churches  in this modern age.. piped in, pumped in to us with ease.  I have never had to search for water, with the exception of a camping trip as a child, for fun.

The bible talks about water in many ways, including storage of water.  I have chosen to write this blog about a passage i was again reminded of as my husband and i listened to the bible on his cell phone. (we love the app uversion.  its is so handy, and always with us.)  He is reading through the bible in 90 days, and over the weekend he approached the book of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah always speaks deep to my soul but i must admit i would not have wanted his job.  He was called to preach the truth, and call for repentence to a people who were stubborn and unresponsive to God.  But the book that God called Jeremiah to write speaks to us, as warning, as call to repentance and as hope for the future.  In the midst of listening I heard the passage that took me back to my first days as a christian, and a teaching that i have carried deep in my soul because I can say I was guilty of this myself.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” – Jeremiah 2:13

Throughout the bible God does not change.  In the new testament Jesus identifies himself as the Water of Life, and speaks of his word as water to wash the soul.  And here, centuries before he speaks through Jeremiah reminding us that he is the spring of living water.  For a people who live in arrid climates water is essential, for life, for refreshment, and for sustainability. In our modern age where water is readily available we may not think as much about the need, or the absolute blessing of refreshment that water is.

In this passage God is speaking to the heart of the matter, and that matter is a serious one.  His chosen people, whom he has seen through so much history with, have forsaken him.  Forsaken is a harsh decision – it is to abandon, to lay aside never to return, to give up on.  What a contrast in terms.  God is always calling, pulling, drawing, watching over, protecting, providing.  And his people, in this passage, have dropped him like a hot potato.  In itself that is very sad.  It is tragic.  But that is not the whole story.

The passage goes on to say that instead these same people have dug cisterns.  Not being so familiar with agrarian terms, i hit the internet and learned that cisterns are defined by wikipedia as:

cistern (Middle English cisterne, from Latin cisterna, from cista, “box”, from Greek κίστη, kistê, “basket”) is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater. Cisterns are distinguished from wells by their waterproof linings. Modern cisterns range in capacity from a few litres to thousands of cubic meters  effectively forming covered reservoirs.  – Wikipedia

Cisterns are a planned attempt to capture and store water.  It probably took great skills to figure out how to create such a thing, which drives home the point.  It took ingenuity, engineering, planning and skills to execute the plan. They put forth great effort to make this plan happen.  They put forth great effort to abandon God and his living water.

But the plot thickens more.  God tells us that these cisterns were built, but they cannot hold water.  As men and women we have a limited capacity for somethings, and we need to discern what is beyond our scope.  The living water is freely offered by God… without requirements to design, engineer, build and test out cisterns.  We must look to him for the source of living water, and know that he will supply our every need for that water.

So maybe there was a time when you went it alone, decided that the source of water for your life needed to be something you created, designed, engineered, and tested.  If you a re like me you would one day realize how leaky the design is, and the water contained in that cistern was fouled, polluted, and far from satisfying.

But the water of life was that and more.

(Jesus said) but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14

The invitation is there.  Jesus calls us to repent of those broken cisterns, and turn to his living water.  I just love Isaiah 55:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

Remembering Dad

IMG_1327[1]

My father, around 1946 with his faithful pup, Brownie.

Today is my father’s birthday.  Had he still walked the earth today he would have turned 104.  He has been in heaven since 1987, and i still miss him alot. My dad was a native Clevelander his entire life, raised in the Tremont neighborhood, and then his parents moved to a house that is now the off ramp of I71 between Pearl Rd and Fulton Road in Brooklyn Center.  He is a World War II veteran of the European Theater  decorated with honors, and carried to his grave some schrapnal that was not operable.

Dad’s first job was working in a hat factory, creating mens fedora hats.  I wish i had that photo to post.  It was so interesting.  He went into WWII as a volunteer, and became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne in the US Army.  His military service was all over the map… invasion in north africa, italy, behind the lines of the normandy invasion, and all over europe.  And i am the blessed one to have heard the stories.  My regret is that i did not capture the stories in video.  He had some amazing stories.

He returned home after the war to become a post office administrative guy… working behind the scenes, keeping time, doing all sorts of interesting things to keep the gears of the postal system humming.  And in the early 1950s he met my mom, who lived in Pittsburgh… their chance meeting developed into a friendship, and finally marriage in 1954.   They remained married to the end of their lives, which was 33 years.  Dad was a hard working bread winner, who took good care of his family.  He lived well, loved well.

My parents were lifelong Russian Orthodox church attenders.  While i can say my mom had a deep personal relationship with God, i am not clear about my dad.  But i have a peace to know that God was there, and he brought people to share the hope of Jesus with him.  In his final weeks of life he strived to make peace with everyone… from the sister he had not spoken with in 20 years to the smallest misunderstandings, he strived to clean up the accounts and bring peace to them.

So I ask myself what spiritual lessons my dad taught me.

1. Love with reckless abandonment – do good, love and encourage someone with all you have.

2. Be generous – share what you have, give as needed, be willing to open your hands and give to someone else what they need.

3. Dream big dreams – allow your self to have dreams, and lay aside the hinderance you perceive.

4. Consistence – steady on, continue daily whether it is a good day or a bad one, but stay the course, keep on going.

I long for the day in heaven when i can see him again, and we can really talk about our lives, and i can really thank him for the stability he gave my life, the selfless hard work he put in to keep us with our daily needs met, and with security that it was not just daily minimum, but abundance.  And i will thank him that he taught me how to be consistent and steady on.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Do I scare you?

Yes, it’s a serious question? Do I scare you? Is there something in my life that challenges you profoundly?  That makes you very nervous?

I don’t have an infectious disease. Nor do I have some major flaw that is difficult to look upon. I speak the same language, live in a similar house to yours, drive a minivan, and share a house with my husband if 33 years and several dogs. I believe marriage is for life, and people are more valuable than things. I have a profound faith in a God.

What I do have is a faith that has been tested by the hot fires of adversity. I have been stripped of so much. I had the American dream, and in a sudden economic downturn I hit the rocks. Yes, I wonder how you would handle having almost everything you worked for taken away. Had a wonderful job I loved and was great at that was yanked from my grasp… And the silent lack of ability to find work for the first time in my life. Oh, yeah, it was over 3 years of rejection.   And the market has never quite adjusted back to pre-crash days.  We had to give up a car because there was no money to repair it. Kept our house only by God’s grace. Felt like Job of Old Testament fame as wave after wave of bad news came. Have you ever felt like there could be no more bad news happening to you but then…bam. I told anyone that would listen that it seemed like at one moment I was safe on the banks of a rushing wild river, and the next I was being swept down river in an angry current, with no control. That’s right – we don’t really have a control over our life!  Oh, maybe that is what scares you so… be very afraid.  For if you believe you control any aspect of your life you are mistaken… there is no control really!

You may have even been a bit like one of Jobs friends, saying things that assuaged your anxiety, but did nothing for me.  You said all the right things… not realizing that you had no idea of what was really going on.  You probably never were in a place to see your world totally turned upside down… no, i bet you never were.

And yes, we are over educated and under employed. Finding work for income, not for career building purpose.  Doing tasks i once had assistants to do… but grateful for the scaled down wages… because it is income.

But you say we scare you. Right…what really scares you is not us. It is the fear that financial reversal might creep into your life, or our good God may ask you to step into the rapid current of floodwater that sweeps you from your mooring. Or calls you to the crucible of the refiners fire where you are forever changed, never to be quite the same.  Having witnessed the great love and keeping power of our Great God, and seeing the tender compassion of his grace reach right to where we are.

You fear that such a change of “status” in your life will force you to really acknowlege how little you can control.  You are afraid of us because you see that God took us out into deep places, tested parts of our faith that you dont want to know about.

Its ok that I scare you.  I know what it really is that frightens you is the vast and all powerful weight of the authority of God.  It is his desire to prepare a people that are set apart for his glory, prepared to be holy.

It is regretable that you feel this way, or that you even have given voice to it.  But now that it is out know that I am praying for you.  I am asking God to show you his grace, and insight into the work of faith he is doing in people like me.  People who he as stripped away the American Middle Class Normalicy.  People he has called to stretching places of faith, believing that God almighty will make a way.

You see, I believe that a part of our view is based on expectations.  Like any relationship we choose what we want to believe about the relationship.  It is unreasonable and false expectations to  think that any of us deserve a life that is padded with a fat wallet, and a peaceful existance free of trials and pain.  This world is scarred with sin… and that means that periodically something breaks, wears out, dies, or is lost.  I can tell you that my expectation is not in a life free of trials, but in a grand adventure with a Great God.  Like Job i can say that yet though he slay me yet will i praise him.

Consider John the Baptist, considered the greatest man of faith by Jesus, yet he died having his head served on a platter.  How about Moses – he desired to see the promised land and he did, from a mountain in the distance of it.  David was the man after God’s own heart, yet he died never having  the right to raise up a temple to the Glory of God.  And there is the end of Hebrews Chapter 11 – not everyone has a smooth life… some are martyred, live in caves, are sawed in half.

But the expectation is that God will see us through wherever we are.

Long before the economy crashed the lord called me out of darkeness, and into his marvelous light.  He taught me his word, washed me with it, renews my mind daily with it, and challenges me to live it out.

Long before i imagined that any form of stability would flee I asked God to take this life and use it for his Glory.  And i believe he is answering it in ways that are not comfortable for those around me.  Honestly they are not safe or comfortable places… butI would rather be in the stormy seas where God has called me and i know he is with me, than safe on the shore and holding him at a distance.