Monday, December 30, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week Three

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Prayer – It Takes Two to Converse

Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18(NIV) tells us to “pray continually...for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” and Ephesians 6:16 (NIV) instructs us to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." God wants us to talk to him about everything. He wants us to share our desires, our frustrations and questions, our weaknesses and repentance directly with him—all of it, all the time. This is his will. It can be kind of intimidating to approach the Creator of the Universe, the Lord and King of all. But like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, we do not approach him alone. He has given us the Holy Spirit to hold our hand, to encourage us and even to speak for us when we can't utter a word and it is with this Companion by our side that we converse with a Holy God with confidence and joy, sharing all that is on our hearts.

Prayer is how God reveals his desires and directives to us. It's how he communicates with us. Too often, over the last few years, I've found myself at a ministry meeting where the meeting was opened and closed in prayer and I wondered why. Were we in fact inviting God into our midst, seeking his will for his Church? Or were we praying (speaking a short monologue in God's direction) because prayer was the first item on the agenda, because it's a church meeting and it just seems like something we should do? Did we expect a response from God?

I'm asking myself if I, as I pray, expect God to answer. Am I listening for his voice in the conversation? Am I talking with God or speaking at him? And I admit that I am disappointed with my answers. But, here's the good news—God is still happy to speak with me and spend time with me. He isn't holding my inconsistency against me, but encouraging me to grow and build on the foundation of faith that is there. He has not taken his Spirit from me and, in fact, has been guiding me all along, even when I didn't stop to seek his guidance.

God is tenacious in his love for us always and is faithful to his promise to never leave us. He is our God and we are his people. That doesn’t change in God’s eyes during those moments when we neglect to include him—THE omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, Eternal God—in the conversation. If it's been a while since you've had a real conversation with God, I encourage you to do it right now. Do not fear, for you are not approaching God as the cowardly lion trembling as he makes his way to the throne room of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, but as a child running home yelling, "Guess what Daddy, guess what!" God is waiting for you to start the conversation so that he can tell you how much he loves you.

To have God speak to the heart is a majestic experience, an experience that people may miss if they monopolize the conversation and never pause to hear God's responses.
 —Charles Stanley

Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. Gods voice in response to mine is its most essential part.
—Andrew Murray

Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you approach God in prayer as the cowardly lion or as a child running into his father’s arms? Are you talking with God or at God? What do you need to do to make your prayer time more of a two-way conversation? Take some time in prayer concentrating on listening to God’s part of the conversation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Day Before the Night Before Christmas

We will be taking a break from our journey through "Portraits of Prayer" for a very special message...It's almost Christmas!!!!! Knowing how busy everyone is at this time of year, I was going to repost a Christmas poem I wrote many years ago but this morning, God woke me up with a musing that turned into today's blog. I hope you will take 5 minutes to enjoy the following.

It's the day before the night before Christmas!!! Are you ready? For many people, this is the day they set to have everything done...presents bought and wrapped, Christmas decorations up, Christmas dinner planned and food purchased, house cleaned up, Christmas outfits picked out and cleaned.... As I reflect on that first Christmas, I want to offer a few thoughts:

Breathe! As a woman who has gone through childbirth, I can tell you with almost certainty that in those long hours of labor, someone told Mary to breathe. Christmas is coming. We can't stop it or slow it's approach. And during the worst of the stress that often accompanies Christmas, like Mary, we need to breathe. Let go of the worries, the plans, the whatever it is that steals the joy and anticipation of Christmas. I know, you want Christmas to be perfect...all the gifts lined up and coordinated, every surface in your home sparkling from the warm glow of the Christmas lights, and family and friends sitting with their hot chocolate loving on each other. You want the "Hallmark commercial" Christmas and you feel like if you don't control every second, you'll end up with "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"! For your own sake...breathe! 

Seek Christ! The world was waiting for Christ to come. The Israelites had been promised a Savior and generations of God's people eagerly awaited his arrival and they missed it because they were looking for the wrong thing. They were looking for their King to be born in a palace. But it was the shepherds and later the wise men who sought him in unlikely places. No place was out of the realm of possibility, even a stable or poor man's home. This Christmas, don't look for Christ in all the glitter and glam of the holiday. While it is proper to celebrate the birth of Christ in grand fashion, look for Christ in your heart and in the hearts of those around you. Yes, Christ can be found even in the sinful heart of those who welcome him in! Seek and share Christ and the joy of the season cannot help but be evident and tangible and it won't matter if there are a few dirty dishes in the sink, or if there are fewer or no presents under the tree this year. The perfect Christmas scene, the one you won't find in a Hallmark commercial, is the one that depicts you and me seeking Christ this Christmas!

May God bless you with a very merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week Two

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
Prayer Warrior or Prayer Wimp

-Excerpt from I Stand at the Door and Knock by Corrie ten Boom-
           I had been in the concentration camp a couple of weeks when I said to Betsie, my sister, "What should I do? I have a cold, I don't have a handkerchief."
      "Pray," she said, and I laughed. But she folded her hands and prayed, "Father, in Jesus' name, I pray to You, please will You give Corrie a handkerchief? She has a cold. Amen."
      Yes, I laughed again, but do you know what happened? I heard someone call my name. I went to the window where I saw a friend of mine, a fellow prisoner, who worked in the hospital.
      "Here," she said, "take this, a little gift for you."
      I opened the parcel and it was a handkerchief. "Why on earth are you giving me a handkerchief? I asked. "Did you know I had a cold?"
      "No, but I had found an old sheet, and I made a couple of handkerchiefs out if it, and then there was a voice in my heart which said: 'Take a handkerchief to Corrie ten Boom.'"
      Can you imagine what a handkerchief means to you at that moment? That handkerchief told me that there is a God in heaven who hears when one of His children is praying on a small planet, the earth, for something incredibly small. And that God in heaven tells one of His other children to give Corrie ten Boom a handkerchief.

-Excerpt from I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes by Glen Clark-
A story told by the Captain of a ship on which George Müller of Bristol was a passenger:  They had encountered a very dense fog. Because of it the captain had remained on the bridge continuously for twenty-four hours, when Mr. Müller came to him and said, “Captain, I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.” When informed that it was impossible, he replied: “Very well. If this ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chartroom and pray.”
The captain continues the story thus: I looked at that man of God and thought to myself – What lunatic asylum could that man have come from. I never heard such a thing as this. “Mr. Müller,” I said, “do you know how dense this fog is?” “No,” he replied, “my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.” He knelt down and prayed one of those simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray; but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. “Firstly,” he said, “because you do not believe God will, and secondly, I believe God has, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.” I looked at him, and George Müller said, “Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get and audience with the King. Get up and open the door and you will find that the fog is gone.” I got up and the fog was indeed gone. George Müller was in Quebec Saturday afternoon for his engagement.”


 -My Confession-
I share these stories of prayer because I’ve been thinking a lot about my own prayer life. I read these stories and have no problem believing it happened just the way the stories tell. God hears our prayers, large and small, and as our loving Father, does what he does to comfort, protect, provide for and support us. I believe that whole-heartedly. I admire people like Betsie ten Boom and George Müller and desire and strive to have the intimacy with God that was so evident in their lives.

Unfortunately, I must admit that I am more like Corrie and the Captain when I look at prayer in my own life. I have experienced great miracles of healing of my pain and my past through God’s grace in faithful prayer. Of this I have no doubt. And yet for some reason, my prayers often lack the conviction shown by my heroes in these stories. Too often I pray in earnest but down deep I’m not really expecting or looking for God’s answer—when I say amen, I’m still expecting the fog to be there even when I’m hoping against the odds that it has dissipated. Or I don’t pray at all because I feel it is too insignificant or absurd to pray about—like a handkerchief in the middle of a Nazi concentration camp. I wonder why God would answer me. I wonder if I’m asking for the right thing – am I praying in His will? Often, I don’t know what to pray for, and worse yet, too often it doesn’t even occur to me to pray before I rush into life’s moments completely unprepared and vulnerable to worldly influences.
I know there is some kind of barrier of doubt or disbelief that hinders me from having the kind of confidence that Betsie and George had on their knees and I know that I’m not strong enough to remove that barrier, to destroy the wall that has built itself up between my Lord and me. However, just as I know that God took the brokenness of my life and created something beautiful out of it, I know that if I ask him to break that wall down for me, he will. So that is what I am asking right now and where my hope lies.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.—1 John 5:14-15

Are you more like Bestie and George or Corrie and the Captian when you prayer? What kind of barriers stand between you and a more intimate relationship with God? How will you overcome those barriers?  Spend some time in prayer confessing your Corrie/Captain-like hesitations and ask the Lord to instill in you a Betsie/George-like expectation for answered prayer in your own personal prayer life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week One

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I. Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Faith Is Knowing God Will

There’d been a severe drought, and the members of a rural congregation were deeply concerned that their crops would be ruined. With the pastor’s encouragement, they decided to meet back at the church that afternoon to hold a special prayer service asking God to bring rain for their dying crops. Later that day after they had all gathered together, the minister stood up and announced in disappointment that they were cancelling the prayer service. When asked why, he told them because they didn’t believe it would bring the rain. “Why do you say that,” they asked. “Because not one of you brought an umbrella,” he replied.
 
This story paints a perfect picture of how many of us enter prayer. How often do we beg and plead with God, knowing he can, but unconvinced that he will provide, sustain, or whatever else we’ve asked for in prayer? Not long ago, I prayed about a desire of mine which is, for me, humanly impossible. I would have completely abandoned the idea altogether except I know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) We know that God can do the impossible—With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26, NIV) Granted, Jesus was speaking specifically about entering the kingdom of God and how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a person who appears to be perfect and seems to have all the right stuff to earn a halo by his own merit. What I’m hoping for is so much smaller than that. If God can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness, then he wouldn’t have any problem at all making my heart’s desire a reality. I know he can. What I can't answer is — why would he? I have to turn back to Jesus' words for my answer: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)
Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop

Many people would say to me at this point, “Well if it’s God’s will, it will happen. And if it isn’t, it’s better it doesn’t happen anyway.” Why do we say silly things like that? Usually, it’s to make others feel better if things don’t turn out the way they want. Let me tell you right now—It’s not going to make me feel better! That never makes anyone feel less disappointed or devastated depending on the circumstance.
 
Sometimes we pray for something and then sit there like a couch potato, sending up a reminder to God from time to time…“I’m still waiting!” And when we don’t see any movement toward what we want the outcome to be, we say our prayer wasn’t answered or that the answer was no. Seriously! Do we really think that? God is our Heavenly Father. He’s not going to sit by and not say or do anything when we come to him with our needs and desires. He’s going to scoop us up into his arms and talk with us, not like the department store Santa at Christmas time going over a wish list, but like a loving, doting father who is drawn to the care and nurture of his precious little ones. We just need to stop listening for what we want to hear and looking for what we want to see and actually pay attention to what he says and does to know how much he loves and cares for us.
 
One more thought about God’s answers—When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping for school clothes. She’d tell me the total amount she was planning to spend and if I wanted something that cost more, then I had to pay for it myself. I could have what I wanted as long as I worked for it. I learned so many good lessons from that and it made our time together more fun because it took most of the usual teen/parent arguments out of the process. Maybe that’s what God does with us for some of things we pray about. Yes, we can have it, but we have to work for it and in the process, we learn some important lessons and get to spend valuable time with him.
 
So what about this secret desire I was praying about? I don’t know yet and won’t for a while. This is one of those long-term situations. What I do know is that God will answer and when I know and take hold of his answer, I will be happy. How do I know that? Because God told me so:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)
 
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. —Ben Stein

Prayer is asking for rain. Faith is carrying the umbrella. —Robert C. Savage

Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer. —E. M. Bounds
 
When you pray, do you believe that God will answer your prayers? Jesus lived, died and rose for each one of us, even those who will ultimately reject him—What more does God have to do or say to convince you he loves you and wants good things for you? In Mark 9:24, we are given the perfect response to overcome our doubts—"Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!" (NRSV) Spend some time in prayer talking to God about your doubts and ask him to help you overcome them.

Monday, December 2, 2013

For Anyone Whose Missing Someone This Christmas

I’m going to be honest. It’s the beginning of December and there is a small sadness in my heart that I will soon be celebrating another Christmas without my son. There are lots of reasons why parents and children find themselves apart for the holidays. Sometimes it’s geographically or financially impossible to come together. I know a couple whose children are scattered all over the world. There are those who are in the military stationed too far away or those whose employment obligations make it impossible to travel. Sometimes it is an estrangement. I know two women whose children refuse to talk to them—celebrating the holiday together isn’t going to happen. And there are those like me whose children are celebrating the coming of the Savior in heaven. So I realize that what I say here has a much wider scope than my own personal situation. If we were able to examine each and every family unit, we could probably find someone’s empty chair at every feast table.

So how do we deal with this? The answer: Share love, seek joy, and put down, leave behind and forget worry and concern. (Check out my post What Makes a Moment Happy?)

  1. As I go into this day and through the season, I need to share the love of Christ with those around me. Giving away God’s love produces an abundance of joy and peace in and through us.
  2. Yes, it’s true that we find what we're looking for and if we're looking for that empty seat to be filled by someone who can’t or won’t, we are going to find emptiness. But if we look instead for the joy of the season, we will find that instead. That doesn’t mean the empty chair isn’t there. It means we are looking past it to find the joy of God and of the family and friends whom we are blessed to be with this holiday season.
  3. Lastly we need to put down, leave behind and forget worry and concern. That’s a very hard thing to do. I can’t keep holding onto something I’m putting down and walking away from. And my mother’s instinct wants to hold onto my son. If I put down my burden, my pain, my sadness, I’m going to want to take something up in my hands to hold. That’s just human nature. So am I going to pick it back up again or am I going to pick up the blessings of God found in Christ instead.

It would be so much easier to exist in my sadness. Who would blame me? But then, what wonders and joy I would miss out on. God has given me this precious new life in Christ and the way in which I can be thankful for and celebrate his great love and sacrifice is by living it, really living it! That doesn’t mean I won’t (and you won’t) have some sad moments. But if we keep in mind that this moment is about to pass and a new one is coming, than we can look forward with anticipation for the new blessing God is preparing for us in the moments to come in life.

If you are missing someone this Christmas—whatever the reason—my heart feels for you. You are not alone, even though you may feel like it. And there is joy to be seen and blessings to be shared if you look past your pain to God's grace waiting for you in family, friends, neighbors, the community church, and even in a stranger's smile or a blog. May God bless and keep you this Christmas Season. Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Schooled in Humility

This past week has been an interesting journey into humility. I really do want to have and exhibit the humbleness that is blatantly obvious in our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, but like every other member of the human race, pride, in all its many forms, is my default.

I wish I could tell you the story behind this week’s blog because I know it would be a very familiar one to many of you, but it might cause embarrassment or even hurt feelings for the other individual involved. So let’s just say that among the many normal accomplishments I achieve on a daily basis…getting out of bed in the morning, bringing a bag lunch instead of spending money I don’t have in my budget for lunch out, doing my work to the best of my ability, supporting and loving my family, etc. was one accomplishment that I was particularly proud of and excited to share. That is until I started to share it and this other person ruined my shining moment by stealing the spotlight.

This person wanted everyone around us know how big their contribution to “my” accomplishment was. Now, to be honest – this person was entirely correct. I didn’t do this on my own. If this thing had ended in failure, I alone would have been responsible, so I felt I deserved the applause when I succeeded. But the truth is that I had help. In what I thought should have been my moment of glory, I was angry that this person embarrassed me in front of everyone by pointing out that I really didn’t accomplish this thing at all – we did. My pride had reared its ugly head and instead of celebrating the triumph, I was stewing in anger at this other person.

It kind of reminds me a little of King Saul and David. Saul was the leader of God’s people and bore the heavy responsibility of that position. At the moment of what should have been one of his most glorious accomplishments, he became angry when those celebrating with him pointed out that he didn’t do this great thing on his own. In fact, he had a lot of help. (As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” 1 Samuel 18:7) His pride got the better of him again and he hated David. Not for any wrong David had done, but because Saul had to share “his” moment with someone else.

No one really enjoys being schooled in humility, but I am grateful to have received it. The truth is that I do nothing on my own. God is my strength, my breath, my guide, and my path. “My” accomplishments are His accomplishments in and through me. If there was one Person who deserved the praise and glory of that moment last week, it was God and both I and the other person missed that completely. From here on out, If glory is to be given, I hope to do a better job of making sure it given to the One who deserves all glory and praise – Jesus!

May God bless you all with a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finding Myself in the Story

For the first time in 4-1/2 years, I didn’t post on my blog last week. Today I want to share with you why. Last Monday morning, as I started my prayer time, something very bad happened. As I was praying for clarity of purpose in my life, I was suddenly beset with a crushing sadness and began sobbing. I was devastated and inconsolable because I wanted to be with Jesus. I was tired of trying to come up with goals to work towards in life when all I really wanted was to leave this world behind and be in the arms of Jesus. Yes I know how bad that sounds. And yes, I know that life is a precious gift from God and should be received and lived out in profound gratitude and joy. But what I know and what I feel doesn’t always agree.

A long time ago, before I gave my life to Christ, God gave me a dream. In the dream Jesus held me in his arms as I cried out all of my pain, my shame, and my sin. For the first time, in his embrace, I knew joy and security. In his arms I was overwhelmed with sensations of perfect love, pure peace, absolute grace and deep satisfaction. The pain and loneliness I experienced as I woke from the dream is indescribable. I can tell you that there exists no greater emptiness than being in God’s embrace one moment and in the next, not. That emptiness and the desire to be with God was the root of my despair on Monday.

In keeping with his incredible mercy and grace, even while I wallowed in my own selfish misery, God carried me through the day and this past week in triumph. Sometimes in life, the only prayer we can utter is “Jesus, I need you.” And I prayed it over and over again, all day long. By the next morning, I had finally stopped crying and after sharing in God’s Word and in prayer with close friends, God began to give me a peace. I didn’t have any answers, no resolution to my lack of motivation or sense of purpose, but I did have peace. As the week continued, I felt strong again—happy even, for the most part. Still I had no answers, but each new day became an exercise in waiting and total dependence on the Lord.

This morning, still searching for clarity of purpose, I again prayed, “What is my goal in life? What is my purpose?” As if giving me the answer, God brought to mind a favorite bible story—Jesus travels across the lake to the region of Gerasenes where he heals a demon-possessed man. As Jesus is getting back in the boat to leave, the man begs to go with Jesus but Jesus says no. Instead, he tells the man to go home and tell his people how much the Lord has done for him. The man did as Jesus commanded and went back to his people in the ten towns known as the Decapolis and told them how Jesus had healed and saved him and the people were amazed and believed. (Mark 5:1-20)

It’s very easy for me to identify with the “formally” demon-possessed man wanting to go with Jesus—to be in his presence, sit at his feet and hear his voice speak words of truth and grace. To be with the one who saved him, who healed him. To be in God’s embrace. But it was not to be—at least not then. With a renewed sense of purpose, this man went back to his home and shared the story of how Jesus saved and changed his life and the Spirit used that man’s bold honesty and changed-life to bring countless others into a grace-filled, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is not the first time God has given me that answer. It seems that occasionally, I forget that telling people about Jesus and what he’s done in my heart and my life is my purpose in life. God gave me a testimony to share and that’s why I write. I wonder if that man from Gerasenes occasionally went back to the graveyard by the lake where Jesus found and healed him. Did he longingly look out over the sea, wishing he could be in Galilee with Jesus? Were there days when he wondered why Jesus left him behind?  Probably. That’s what makes God’s Word so real and personal. It’s the story of everyday people like you and me and the God who loves them and us.

Where do you find yourself in God’s story?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hearing Difficulties

 One of the few real memories I l have from my early childhood is of my mom constantly yelling at me because she told me to do something and I hadn’t yet done it. Honestly, I didn’t hear her say it—that’s why I didn’t do it. Now if you’re a parent or have any kind of close relationship with a 7-8 year old child, the first words that probably came to your mind were “selective hearing.” After all, children and husbands are famous for that! You can’t blame my mother for thinking the very same thing. It frustrated her to no end to tell me to get my shoes on and find out 15 minutes later, as she is toting her purse, the diaper bag, and my very energetic toddler brother, that I never moved from the couch and had no idea where my shoes were.

After many, many months (she really was a very patient woman) of hearing over and over again, “I never heard you say…” Mom took me a specialist to get my ears check. Mostly out of concern, but there was a small part of her just waiting to prove her “selective hearing” theory. What we found out was that I was in fact losing my hearing due to scar tissue from numerous past ear infections and constant fluid in my ears because they don’t drain properly. Poor mom. Here she was secretly sure the doctor was going to confirm her theory and hearing that she was in fact wrong. He told her that if she had waited another month or two, that I would have been deaf for life. They put two ear tubes in each ear and a few months later and I was hearing a lot better. I still have some hearing loss, but now I say to mom, “I hear sound coming from your mouth, I just can’t distinguish the words.”  That’s usually when we’re in a noisy room and I can’t see her mouth to connect the sound to the sight of the words forming on her lips. To complicate my hearing difficulties, I also suffer from tinnitus.
One of the things I’m learning during this prayer challenge is how much this physical hearing issue I’ve had to deal with all my life is like my prayer life these last several years. I prayed. I tried to hear God’s voice and sometimes I have. But more and more these last few years, as God became more silent, I gave up trying. That’s how my hearing difficulty seemed to me as a child all those years ago—like mom was getting more and more silent. She stopped calling to me. I would have gone to get my shoes and put them on if she had said something…but she didn’t. Because (and here’s some logic for you) if she had, I would have heard it!
But these last few weeks, I have been realizing that pray is more like how I deal with my hearing difficulties today. I know Mom is talking to me. I hear the evidence of sound and when I don’t, I don’t assume that she didn’t say what she said she said (say that three times fast). Sometimes I have to put all of my concentration on hearing the sounds that come from her mouth as I read her lips and body language—especially when there is a lot of noise around us and if it’s too noisy, I just smile and enjoy her company until we get somewhere I can hear her words again. Because of the tinnitus, there is always some level of noise I have to ignore and listen past and it’s become easier with practice. I’ve found that I only really hear it now when I let myself think about it.

I know that God is talking to me. The peace in my heart, even in the silence is evidence of it. So I will no longer assume he isn’t talking. I just need to learn to hear him as I learned to hear my mom. I will need to concentrate on the sound of his voice as I see the words of his mouth (found in the Bible) and see the expression of his sentiment in his body (pray with and seek advice from my trusted brothers and sisters in Christ) to understand what he is saying to me. Like with the tinnitus, I have to ignore my own selfishness and sinfulness and listen past them to hear God’s voice. And sometimes the world around me is so noisy with temptation and tragedy—I might hear God’s voice but his words will remain unclear and that’s okay. In those moments, I can lean into him and, amidst the temporary chaos, relax as I simply enjoy the pleasure of his company.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Praying Like Never Before

Last week, I started a 40-day prayer challenge (Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson) and I wish I could relay to you how much it has changed my prayer life even in just one week but I can’t just yet. I could tell you that what God has done in one week is phenomenal and miraculous—it is. However,  I still need time to wrap my mind around the full implications of what is happening before I can really share the depth of it with you.

However, I did want to share something with you, so here it goes. First of all, I am keeping a prayer journal and in the process of doing this, God is redeeming another part of my past. From the ages of 12-25, I got in the habit of keeping a journal. I was trapped in an unhealthy environment and deep in depression and my secret journals were the only safe place to express my thoughts and emotions. The pages were filled with dark thoughts and pain. When I finished a book, I’d burn it hoping to and never succeeding to discard the past in the ashes. Today, my journal is a book of hope! It’s the record of God’s grace and love in and through my life. It will be filled with great need and answered prayer, repentance and forgiveness, questions and God’s wisdom. These books will not be burned—rather, they will fill my shelves as a reminder of how great God is.

Second, I have to tell you that after eleven days of waking up an hour early (6 a.m.) to pray and study isn’t getting any easier. I’m eagerly waiting next weekend when we turn the clocks back hoping that will help. Still I’m doing it because if I am serious about changing my prayer life, then this is what needs to be done. I’ve told you in the past that I hit a sort of plateau in my faith life several years ago which was the inspiration for this blog and have been struggling these many years to find new enthusiasm for my relationship with God. When I first gave my life to Christ in 1999, it was all new and exciting. I read everything I could get my hands on and spent hours in the bible and prayer. Then God began the very in depth work needed to heal my pain, my past, my depression, and my PTSD and it was hard work, but in the 8-year process, God has healed me beyond all my hopes. Corrie ten Boom’s saying, “You find God is all you need when God is all you have” describes that part of my life very well. I had been going to God and leaning on him for so long in my pain and my need that I didn’t know how to communicate with him any other way and now there was no pain and no need (not in that area anyway). I’ve been struggling to learn how to communicate with him ever since and this 40-day prayer challenge has begun to teach me a new way to pray. That’s the real reason I’m getting up at some “ungodly” hour – because that’s when God is teaching me to pray and life is exciting again. I’m craving that time in his presence and I won’t give it up just because I’m a little tired.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Prayer Is a Beautiful Experience

This weekend, I started a 40-day prayer challenge called "Draw the Circle" by Mark Batterson. I knew that today was going to be the first tough day of the challenge as it involved waking up an hour early. I'm happy to report that all went as planned. I hope to have some incredible things to report next week, but today, I thought I would share a poem I wrote last year in which I tried to describe the beautiful experience that prayer is. Enjoy!


Blessed Humility
I love that moment in prayer
when I realize all over again
how great is my need for my Savoir
in the presence of Jesus,
my Redeemer and King.
Before my God, I’m on my knees
admitting my weaknesses, my sin.
Not in fear with trembling, yet
marveling in Your grace.  
So much in me I want to hold back –
to keep just a little of my sin,
to dabble in that darkness
that, for me, has been a familiar place.
Yet I know if I am to serve You,
to love You with all I am,
with all my mind,
my heart and soul,
nothing from You can I withhold –
my dreams, my hopes,
my fears and my woes,
my strengths and weaknesses too.
Even in my uncertainty,
with overwhelming gratitude
I give all I am to You.
No strings – no disclaimers do I make.
I’m Yours to do with as You please.
Spirit of God work in me.
Make my heart Your very own.
Reach out to those in need.
Teach and love and heal them Lord
with Your Word of Truth, Your arm of grace.
I pray You choose to use my simple song
and compassionate embrace
to show the world Your glory,
bring about Your kingdom for them to see.
And Lord it would be my privilege
if You would consider reaching out to them through me

Monday, October 14, 2013

Some Things to Think About


1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
(John 9, Selected, NIV)


These events happened on the Sabbath. Walking the distance from where he (the blind man) was to the pool to wash and the act of washing itself were considered work, as interpreted by the religious leaders, and therefore sinful to do on the Sabbath. This blind man had a choice to make—He could do what Jesus said and be labeled a sinner and kicked out of the temple or refuse to obey the Lord of the Sabbath to adhere to the “rules” of the Sabbath. God’s ways are not man’s ways and often they seem to be diametrically opposed to what is considered acceptable. When faced with choosing to follow God or society, God or your superiors, God or the popular people…what do you do?

When God does something amazing, like give sight to the blind, we too often find it difficult to believe even when we see it with our own eyes. Even when we see we don’t want to accept it. Are we missing the amazing things God is doing right now in our midst because we aren’t looking? Are we missing God’s glory because we can’t reconcile it to what we understand even when we see it?

The Pharisees were the faithfully religious people of their time. They were the tithers of their church and the worship leaders. They were the trustees and the committee leaders. They were in church every Sabbath and attended mid-week small groups. They were the ones 0ut in the community talking about God’s glory, power and salvation. Yet Jesus himself tells us that they are the ones who are spiritually blind and their pathetic, arrogant claims to their spiritual superiority are the smoking gun that convicts them of their own sin. Are we so sure of what we know about God that we are not willing to look at it again in the light of God’s Word? When is the last time we ask God to convict us of our blindness and open our eyes to His way?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Anticipation

In Celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday (October 6th)

Anticipation
It’s here.
It is actually here.
I have waited so long
and it is finally here.
I can’t wait to get dressed
and gather my gift.
Rush to the celebration,
I am honored to be invited.
Are we there yet? 
Is it time?
Here I am parking the car.
Am I late?
Oh, hurry...hurry!
I don’t want to miss a thing.
I finally get in the door
And oh…
the sights and sounds.
So many people about.
I can’t believe it’s finally here.
Thank You, Lord,
for the privilege
of Sunday morning worship.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What Makes a Moment Happy?

This week I had an opportunity to reminisce about happy moments with friends. We were trying to discern what makes us happy and everyone was sharing about times with family and children in particular. (Children truly are our joy, aren't they?) We also shared about how the beauty of nature has the ability to swell a quiet peace within us. We were looking at Philippians 4:10-13 where Paul writes that he had learned to be content whatever his circumstances. He had found the secret to happiness whatever he had, wherever he was.

As I tried to look back on happy moments in my life, I had a hard time envisioning one. It's not that I haven't had happy moments in my life, but so many of my happy memories can also make me cry with sadness. For instance -- playing tag with Bryan while I was still pregnant with him. Sometimes, when he positioned himself just right, I could make out the impression of his foot or hand against my belly. I would push on that spot and he would move and the impression would push out against my belly somewhere else. We played this game often in the last couple of months. That is a very happy and fun memory, but when I'm in a time of really missing him, the memory of it breaks my heart.

Some memories of sad events sometimes make me laugh now. For example, I have a friend who hurt me deeply years ago by telling me the truth in love about my borderline personality behaviors within our friendship. We have a really great friendship now, one that will last our lifetimes and as I look back on that moment, I laugh at how silly it all seems now. With our boundaries firmly in place we have grown closer as friends. I look back on that moment now in gratitude, as a stepping stone to the joy of our relationship now.  

So the question remains--What makes a moment happy? As I examined that question, I came up with this answer: When love is being shared, joy is being sought and worry and concern are being put down, left behind and forgotten. As our group shared, we also discovered that happy moments also contain a connection or intimacy of some kind as we completely immerse ourselves in the moment. As I considered the question further, I realized that I am at my happiest when I am living into the vision of me that God had when he created me. When I am in the center of God's will for me, there is no happier, more fulfilling place no matter my circumstances. 

Want to be happy? Love wholeheartedly! Look for the joy and leave your pain and worry behind at God's feet and above all, be the person God created you to be.





Monday, September 23, 2013

How Is Your Health?

This past week, I was very sick with a bacterial infection and I spent a lot of time making sure I did all the things I needed to do to get healthy. Because this kind of infection has a tendency to trigger my asthma, I do everything I can to stay healthy to begin with, but when I get sick, my only focus is on doing what I need to get better before the asthma kicks in. In fact, I have a check list of things to do:
___ Go to the doctor
___ take medication on time, every time
___ get plenty of rest
___ drink lots of fluids
___ eat healthy
___ DON’T PUSH (I have a tendency to try to keep on with my daily routine even when illness makes that physically impossible.)

That got me to thinking…sin is an infection of the soul, a spiritually terminal disease. What does my spiritual checklist look like?
___ submit my day to God’s will
___ weekly worship
___ daily bible study
___ continuous prayer
___ fellowship with brothers and sisters of the faith

Now there is always the danger of doing each item on the list just to check the item off and not let them effect and change our spiritual health.  So I have to ask myself some questions:
1) Am I really submitting my day to the Lord’s will or am I just saying that to check it off?
2) Am I going to church on Sunday to say I did or am I being changed by the reading and expounding of God’s Word?  Can I explain to someone on Wednesday what the preacher revealed about God’s Word on Sunday and how it’s changed my way of doing things?
3) Am I feeding on Scripture daily, seeking God’s guidance and grace in His Word or am I just reading the words in the book to check it off my list?
4) Am I talking with God all through the day or offering up the obligatory “Good Morning, help me through the day” prayer and tucking God away until the evening “Thanks for the day, God” prayer?
5) Am I meeting with others in the faith during the week to support and be supported or just so I can put it on my spiritual resume?

How is your spiritual health these days?

Monday, September 16, 2013

God Speaks Our Language

This past weekend I traveled with my parents and my best friend from my home in Pittsburgh to a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio to visit my brother, his fiancée and their kids. We had an opportunity to meet my future sister-in-law’s parents during our visit. At one point, the discussion turned to her family’s confusion and amusement with my brother’s Pittsburgh accent and his use of the Pittsburgh dialect otherwise known as “Pittsburghese.”  Although they knew what pop is, they had no idea what my brother meant when he said he was redding up the living room, nor did they know what jimmies are! We had lots of fun interrupting for them the strange language their future son-in-law speaks.

Earlier that morning, we had attended worship at a local church where a woman interrupted the words of the minister and the song lyrics in sign language for the deaf congregants. I’ve had a fascination with American Sign Language (ASL) ever since I was a child and nearly lost my hearing to endless ear infections. As Scripture was being read and expounded upon, she expertly conveyed the gospel and the practical life applications preached in the message with her hands. I watched her so intently that I even picked up a few signs along the way.

As I think back on these two separate events, I realize how very important it is to be able to communicate in the language of the person I am communicating with. I can talk, but if they can’t understand me, I am only making noise. If they can understand my words, then a connection is established and God will make use of that connection. The minister spoke with great eloquence (and a beautiful British accent) and using clear examples he explained that like the lost sheep and lost coin, we are only of use, we only have value, when we are in the Master’s possession and being put to the use as God intends. His point was made clear when he said that a $10,000 gold piece lost in the dust bunnies under the sofa is worthless to the widow. It is only has worth once it is found and she can use it as it is intended to be used…as currency in exchange for her needs, wants, and desires at the marketplace. However, to the deaf congregants, his words were empty and meaningless until they were conveyed in their own language. This woman was the embodiment of the preacher’s message as she used her ability to speak using ASL to share God’s message with those who could not hear his words. Through her, God spoke the message to them in their own language. Whoever you are, whatever dialect or language you speak, God speaks your language and what he’s saying is, “I love you. I died for your sins. I rose from the dead to give you eternal life and I will never, never, never leave you.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Word Reveals

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of this and keep on keeping on. May God bless your week.

The Word Reveals

You’ve told me I am loved
and cherished
Your bride, Your child
Your very own
ransomed and redeemed
by Your hand alone.
I’m restored and renewed
by Your bloody cross –
So says Your Word
for my sin,
You paid the cost.
I’ve heard Your voice calling me
“This is the way!
Walk and be free.
I’ll be your strength
When you have nothing left to give
I’ll pull you from the pit.
I’ll hold your hand.
I’ll carry you.
My love for you runs deep –
I will not let you quit.”
You Lord have heard my cry
and eased my heart’s dismay.
You are my hope,
the light that shines
to guide me on my way.
You see into my heart and mind.
You know, in sin I’ve turned away.
My regrets, my crimes
I cannot hide.
We both know I’ve disobeyed.
Yet I won’t give into fear,
but shall rejoice and pray.
For your compassion never fails.
Your love and mercy
are new each day.
You’ve given to me life anew,
healed my brokenness.
You bound my wounds,
eased my pain
and made them into gifts.
Gifts of compassion, love and grace
of empathy for all.
And chosen me to love the lost
the hurt, the wounded,
those who fall.
This is Your gift to me,
to them,
to share as You command.
How wonderful it is
to be a part of Your master plan.
Someday, You tell me in Your Word,
You’ll be coming on a cloud.
Your power and glory shining
with trumpets blasting loud.
And on that day it will be said
that Almighty God fulfilled
all that He had vowed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 5 - Who? Me?!

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey —the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.
(Genesis 3:7-12)

To continue in our story of Moses and the burning bush—God spells out why he has called Moses. God’s people are being cruelly oppressed and he is going to rectify that by bringing them out of bondage and into a land of beauty and bounty. As we look at verses 11 & 12, we can see ourselves in Moses as he asks God, "Who? Me?!" (Maybe not exactly in those words, but that's essentially what he says.) Maybe he's thinking about the fact that he's just a shepherd, not a leader of a nation. Perhaps he's fearful of the fact that in Egypt, he is guilty of murdering an Egyptian taskmaster and he could be walking right into, at best, a prison cell and, at worst, a death sentence. Yet again, he's rebuilt his life now. He has a new home and a wife, maybe even a family. He has a good steady job that puts food on the table and even though he's middle management (tending his father-in-law's flock) he is essentially his own boss. Isn't that what we all want? He kind of has it made. Why would God call him away from that now? Why didn't God do this before he had a family to take care of and responsibilities?

My goodness this all sounds so familiar, doesn't it? How often does God call us and we have our excuses ready—I'm not gifted in that area or this is not a good time for me. I'm way too busy right now. Or here is a favorite of mine—I don't want to run the risk of being asked to serve on a regular basis, so I just don't say yes the first time. After all, I may be busy or sick or out of town the next time. (Yes, I have actually heard this more than once.) God gave us life and each moment we are sustained only by his power and yet we consider our agendas and schedules first when he call out to us to join in his work. Now I am saying this, not from a judgmental holier-than-thou place, but a I'm-just-as-guilty-in-this-as-everyone-else place. It’s such a struggle to give of "my" time, "my" talents, and out of "my" pocket. But when I remember that I am merely a steward of God's blessings, then it's not so hard to disperse of his time, his talent, and his money in the way he asks of me. Dear God, help me remember that the next time you are calling me to your work.

Here is the interesting thing in this story. God says in reply—I will be with you. There is that "God is with us" idea that we looked at in "Inside the Parenthesis" in July. But in this story, not only do we understand that God IS with us, guiding us, protecting and providing for us, loving us, forgiving us and pulling us from our sinfulness into his holy presence, but he is inviting us into partnership with him to bring about his kingdom here on earth just as it is in heaven—just as God created it all to be before the fall.

He doesn't tell Moses to go free God's people while He waits for Moses to bring them back to him at the mountain. He didn't tell Moses, "Follow me and watch as I do all the work." He says "we will go together and together we will free my people." So often we think that we have to have the answer, perform the right ritual, pray the right prayer, find the right bible study, but it's not about what we do and it's not even about what God does (which let's be honest here, God doesn't really need us to do anything to accomplish his goals). It's about what God does in us and through us in partnership. It's about the relationship he develops with us—us relying on him and him encouraging us and the relationship he fosters between us and others. And when we step out in that kind of faith, we will see God's glory in our hearts, our lives, and in our communities and marvel at God's awesome power. I want to be a part of that! Don't you?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 4 - Welcome Home!

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Genesis 3:5-6)

To continue in our story from last week of Moses and the burning bush—as we look at verse 5 we hear God saying to Moses, "Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I never stopped to think about this verse before. After all, it's not a complex statement—stop right there and take off your shoes because this is holy ground. What more could we really learn from that?!

As the group looked at this part of the story, our storyteller asked us why would God say "Stop right there. Don't come any closer." One person suggested that God was protecting Moses from the heat of the fire which tells us that God is a protective God. Another person said that God is a holy God and Moses was a sinner and therefore couldn't come into the presence of a holy God since Jesus hadn't yet come to bridge the gap by his sacrifice. Yet another thought was that when God calls us, we don't have to come to him, because he comes to meet us where we are. He was telling Moses, "wait there, I am coming to you" so to speak. Someone said that taking off your sandals on holy ground in Moses' culture was a sign of respect the way we in the U.S. might dress up in our Sunday best to go to church.

The most awesome revelation came when it was noted that in the Middle Eastern culture it is normal for people to take off their shoes before entering a person's house. We were told that is done for reasons of hygiene and out of respect for the host. When we followed that line of thinking through, we wondered if perhaps God was, in a way, inviting Moses into his home.

What an incredible thought! God inviting us into his home! Now you might say that the path we took to get there is kind of a stretch. But wasn’t God, in a way, inviting everyone into his kingdom, his home, when Jesus instructed us to go make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Wasn't Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection the act of God throwing open the door of his home to all of us, beckoning us to come in and greeting us with an embrace of grace and welcome.

Think about this with me for a moment—God has invited each and every one of us into his home but here is the even more unbelievable part—he invites us not as guests, but as children. We need not hid our face in fear. Yes he is the God of the Universe. He is all powerful, eternal and holy, and he has invited us into his Presence. He invites us into his home, not just to visit, but to stay for all eternity. He engrafts us into his family and we are his beloved children. This is the realization I want to hold onto always—that God invites me, just as I am, into his home and his life as his own precious child. I don't know about you, but I can't know this and not be overwhelmed by tremendous joy and gratitude!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 3 - Don't Put Out the Burning Bush!

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 3:1-4)

In Genesis 3, we see the story of God calling out to Moses from the burning bush. There were so many wonderful insights of who God is and how he wants to relate to us from this story that I had to split it over the three weeks. We will look at verses 1-4 today, verses 5-6 next week and verses 7-12 the following week.

The first insight I want to share is Moses' response to seeing the burning bush. As our group put ourselves in the story, we talked about how courageous and curious Moses was. Here he was leading his flock presumably to better grazing land when he sees a most unusual sight—a bush on fire that isn't burning up. When asked to consider all the options Moses had to choose from in reacting to this sight, the group began listing things like running away and taking the flock in the other direction, assume it was just a normal dried up bush that would burn out and go about his business, and even beating out the fire with his clock or throwing sand on it to put the fire out. But Moses doesn't do any of these things. He goes over to see what this strange sight is and finds God waiting there for him.
As I considered this, I realized how, too often, I have approached God's calling on my life with those other options first—I run away in fear of the unknown. I forget that God's plan for me is not to harm me but to prosper me with hope for a future. No matter what that unknown future is, my God will bring me into it by his hand and power and I will rejoice at his glory with awe and amazement. Yet I let my insecurities and doubt lead me in fear the other way.

Sometimes, I'm so involved in my plan, my agenda, my responsibilities, that I don't see or hear God calling me—I ignore him. I miss the opportunity to be immersed in his Holy Presence. Too often, especially when I "know" what I'm doing, or when I am attending to business as usual, I'm not looking for those divine appointments with God and so I miss out on them. From now on, I want to do a better job of watching for where God is pulling me aside out of the ordinary to meet with him, maybe even to be taken from my daily routine and placed into a whole new reliance on God—a whole new expression of obedience and love.

The option that made me laugh was that Moses could have chosen to try to put the fire out. How often do we beat out the fire of faith by failing to pray, to be in God's Word and worship God on a regular daily basis? How often do we think we know better and pour sand on the flame of God's desire and leading in our personal lives and in our faith communities? And yet, God will not hold that against us. He waits for us to reply, "Here I am."

Oh God, let me not be so engrossed in my daily routine that I miss your calling. Let me not run away in fear but come into your Presence with courage and eager anticipation. Let me not put out the fire of my faith, but Lord, fan the flames of my spirit to seek you and your will always. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 2 - Sinners One and All

I heard a wonderful story: At dawn Jesus went to the temple again where a crowd of people gathered around him so he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the law and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery in and stood her before everyone gathered there. They said to Jesus, "Teacher, we have caught this woman in the very act of adultery. In the law, Moses commands us to stone such a woman. What do you say?" (They were using this as a trap in order to have a basis of accusing him) Jesus bent down and began writing on the ground. When they asked him again, he straighten up and said, "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone." Then he bent down and began writing on the ground again. At this, they began to leave one by one, the elders first until only Jesus was left alone with the woman. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where have they all gone. Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir" she replied. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)

The one thing that struck me about this story that has never occurred to me before happened as I placed myself in the woman's sandals as she watched each person drop their stone and walk away. I pictured the scattered mob milling around the temple quietly in the shame of conviction brought to light in their hearts by the Holy Spirit as they eagerly watched out of the corner of their eye to see what Jesus would do. Knowing that he should, by all rights, pick up a stone and throw it at her, they were secretly wondering if there was grace to be found for her...and them.

As I watched this through her eyes, what I realized is that in this moment of complete humiliation and conviction, as the crowd dissipated, she saw the church as it truly is—a gathering of sinners. Often, when I'm in a gathering of my brothers and sisters in faith, I feel insecure and unworthy to interact with them—especially when I am fortunate enough to be in a gathering of those people of the faith whom I have come to admire. I only see my failings and compare them to the righteousness and courageous faith of those I look up to and forget that every one of them falls short of the glory of God just as I have.

As the woman watched the crowd thin, the burden of her humiliation lessened as those who walked away carried some of it away with them. By allowing them to take stock of their own position with God, Jesus was allowing the crowd and the woman to see how very much alike they were. When I joined the fellowship I’m in now, I thought everyone was better than me—more holy, with their lives more together and their faith secure. I thought if anyone really knew me or how scripturally incompetent I was and the doubts I had or that I was divorced once and heading for another one— they would look down on me or worse, suggest that I might be happier in some other fellowship. (Of course, that was just another one of the enemy’s lies.) Over the years, I’ve come to know some of them personally and I can tell you that they are just as messed up as I am.

Back in our story—the adulterous woman’s humiliation was converted to humble gratitude as the only One who had the right to throw a stone, chose instead to give her life and purpose (leave your life of sin behind.) As a sinner and a woman of faith, it is not my place to judge but to come along side and help bear the burden of others, to bring others to Jesus not to be condemned (as the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees did) but to receive the grace I myself have received from the only One who has the right to condemn and the power of forgive. And I guarantee 100% that when anyone, no matter who they are and what they have done, approaches Jesus in repentance—he will always, always, always choose to forgive.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Everyone Loves a Story Part 1 - Invisible No More!

At the New Wilmington Mission Conference (which you can read about in “Just Another Missionary), I had the opportunity to study the bible in a new and interactive way that God used to provide incredible insight and blessing which I want to share with you. So for the next five weeks, I will be sharing with you what I learned when I heard Scripture for the first time told to me by a wonderful storyteller as a story—a story in which we were able to step into and see and hear through the characters’ eyes and ears. I experienced Scripture through their perspective, their point of view, and received God message in a whole new way. I pray God blesses you anew through these old familiar stories.

Invisible No More!
Today, I heard a story that brought some very raw and unhappy feelings up in me. Jesus is on his way
to heal the dying child of a well-respected leader of the community when a woman who has been suffering for twelve years from bleeding, a social outcast because of her condition, sneaks into the crowd accompanying Jesus hoping to touch just his coat. After spending all she had on doctors who put her through who knows what kind of first century medical procedures in hopes of a cure and having that hope dashed time after time she decides, in desperation, to hope just one more time and seek out Jesus.

This is where the oh-so-familiar pain of loneliness rose up into my chest and my throat. I know too well from my childhood experiences what the loneliness of being a social outcast feels like and I know the pain that welled up in that woman's heart, even as she maneuvered her way through the crowd of neighbors and town folk, of being so alone and lonely in a crowd of people who at best ignored her and at worst chased her away from their company. She touches Jesus' clothes and immediately she is healed—the bleeding stops. This is what she had hoped for!

Did you ever wonder why she didn't just go up to him like everyone else and ask for healing? Why instead did she try to slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed? While we can't know for sure, my bet is that after a dozen years of being told she was a worthless, unclean sinner, irrelevant to God and society - she believed it. Why would Jesus bother with her especially when he was on his way to do something of such importance as healing the dying child of a prominent citizen? In her whole world, she wasn't worth the time or attention of anyone and she certainly wasn't worthy of Jesus' attention…or so she thought.

At once Jesus knew that power had gone out from him and he stopped, turned around and sought her out. "Who touched me," he asks. Seriously, Jesus! There is a crowd of people pressing in against you and there is a dying child who needs you now and you want to waste time with this. Who in this crowd didn't touch you?! That's what the disciples wanted to know.

Yet Jesus was most definitely serious. He asks again and keeps looking until the woman comes forward to confess that she is the one he is looking for. As she falls at his feet, she is trembling with fear—fear of attention, because in her world, attention equates only to degrading, hurtful remarks and threat of physical harm and fear of retribution for coming into their midst and "spreading her unclean cooties." But Jesus doesn't call her out to rebuke her, or even to take back his healing which some might say she stole from him, but to commend her for her faith and complete her healing by restoring her place in the community.

This is the part of the story that I love. He says to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you." Daughter! Imagine with me for a moment being this woman and the first kind word you hear in twelve years, and possibly your whole life, is God calling you "child." No longer are you insignificant, invisible, unwanted and unworthy, but now you are recognized and confirmed as God's precious child. In this one word, he restored her dignity and bestows upon her a relevance far greater than anyone else in that crowd possesses. Her pain, physical, social, and spiritual, was important to Jesus. Even though he was a holy man, a well-known rabbi whose reputation of healing and teaching with authority preceded him—even though he was on a very important errand—her woes, her concerns, were important enough to him that he stopped and gave all his attention to her and her alone in the crowd of people that moments ago, didn't even know she was there.

Here's what I am walking away with—Jesus loves me and I should never be afraid to approach him with anything, with everything, no matter what it is. I'm not inconveniencing my Savoir or diverting God's attention from something more worthy or important. God is never too busy for me. If it's important to me—it important to him because I am important to him. I matter to God. I am loved and accepted for who I am and he will always respond to me seeking his holy presence and healing touch with open arms of grace and compassion and with his undivided attention.

You can read this story for yourself in Mark 5:24-34

Monday, July 29, 2013

Just Another Missionary

This past week I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference. It was incredible! This morning I woke up thinking of a verse from the song If I Were a Rich Man from The Fiddler on the Roof (one of my all time favorite musicals).

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I'd discuss the holy books
with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.


By these standards, I've been one of the richest people on the planet this past week. During the rest of the year, I often feel like I'm running to keep up and there is never enough time to just stop and be still in God's presence. At conference, I spent every waking moment of the past seven glorious days there through interactive bible study, hearing about what God is doing all over the world during mission hour and at table during meals talking with brothers and sisters in the faith from all over the world and then joining hundreds of believers (from young children to the young-at-heart who are in their 90s) in the worship of our God. And that was just the mornings! I had an opportunity to deepen friendships started last year and make new friends I already miss dearly. I spoke with people from California, Florida, Ohio, Malawi, China, and Iraq learning about the places they call home as they shared about the miracles God is doing there every day. I can tell you from what I heard—Our God's not dead, he's surely alive!!!!! The echo of the praise music calling out to us all over the campus as we walked to the outdoor pavilion near the lake where we worshiped twice a day is still calling in my heart. Never has the song "Surely the Presence" been so tangible for surely the presence of the Lord was in that place and I hope to carry that reality in my heart every day.

I remember in the beginning of the week confiding in a good friend that I wondered if indeed I really
did belong at that conference. After all, I'm not a missionary and know in my heart that I'm not being called to bring God's word to a foreign land. This is my fourth year at conference and I almost felt guilty being there—like I was crashing someone else's party. I'm not a missionary. I'm just a pray-er and not a very good one at that. Early in the week, I was asked the dreaded question: So what's your connection to mission? When I told this missionary to Malawi I was a pray-er, I felt like I was confessing a horrible failure to her. You know—those who can, go and those who can't, pray. Her reaction caught me off guard. She was so happy to meet me and with excitement asked me to pray for her and her husband and the work they are doing and for the people of Malawi. It's like she thought my praying would make all the difference in their mission. I guess I have to look back on those things God has been teaching me about prayer because clearly my heart hasn't gotten it yet.

God has an amazing sense of timing because I confided my feelings of unworthiness to be there to my friend just before the morning worship and less than 30 minutes later, the speaker was expounding on the scripture of the Samaritan woman at the well being the first missionary as she ran home to tell everyone she knew what Jesus had just said and done. The speaker went on to apply that to us saying that we are all missionaries right where God has placed us. When we help our elderly neighbor out with her trash, when we share with a coworker what God is doing in our lives, when we live a life of grace in our communities, we are missionaries and our mission field is right in our hometowns, our schools, our places of work, and our city streets. Where ever we are—we are God's ambassadors to the world. I keep forgetting that!

I am so very grateful to God for this conference—not only for what it does in the world but for what it does in me. It helps bring God's Word and grace to the world by preparing those God is calling to go out into the world, but also, it prepares me for my calling to pray for those who are sent and to be sent myself as a missionary back into my own little corner of the world. I'm looking forward to being able to share the wonderful things God has done in my mission field at next year's conference. I hope you will join me there.

Learn more about the conference at their website: http://www.nwmcmission.org