Monday, June 24, 2013

Noah and Mighty Joe Young

 A memory came to mind that I haven’t thought of in years. Many months after my son died, my husband and I went to the theater to see the 1998 version of Mighty Joe Young. It was the first movie we went to see after Bryan’s death and we found it quite enjoyable…until the very end. I’m sorry if I ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but at the end, there is a scene where a mother watches what she believes are her son’s last moments as he falls to the ground from the top of a fiery Ferris wheel in the arms the giant gorilla who risks his own life to save the boy’s. After they hit the ground, she races to the lifeless body of the gorilla and pulls her living son from Joe’s arm. She got her son back…and I started to cry. A few minutes later, as the credits rolled and our fellow movie goers walked past me as I openly wept in my husband’s arms right there in the middle of the movie theater, I didn’t care what they thought.

I didn’t care when they rushed their children past me as they told them that they didn’t know why “that lady” was crying and that it was none of their business. I didn’t care because that mother in the movie got her little boy back and I was missing mine so terribly. I loved my son and my tears were the only expression of that love I had left. While they rushed their children out of the theater, I mourned for mine and I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought. It’s the only time in my life when I can honestly say I couldn’t have care less what people thought of me.

This memory brought to mind a biblical character who, for me, is the epitome of a holy apathy of public approval – Noah. Think about it. He spent decades building a football stadium-sized boat on dry land far away from the seas and oceans. He didn’t care what his friends and neighbors said or thought, day after year after decade. And why did he bring this public humiliation on himself and his family? Because God told him to build an ark and bring at least two of every kind of animal on board to save them from a flood God was going unleash in 120 years!!! They probably told him he was crazy, a religious nut even. And he didn’t care. Why? Maybe for the same reason I didn’t care in the movie theater – love.

Noah loved the Lord. He was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. (Genesis 6:9) He sought the Lord with all his heart and the Lord spoke to him. Through Noah’s obedience, God saved man and animal alike to carry on after the flood. He provided for and nurtured Noah and his family in a faithful journey that began long before a raindrop fell and long after the clouds dried up and the rainbow glistened. Love is powerful. It can make us courageous and help us to find strength we didn’t know we had. Love moves us past our fears and walks alongside us to comfort and befriend us. And one of God’s most amazing gifts is that we can know how to love because he loved us first – he showed how. (1 John 10) He created us in his image and taught us what that means by being our example in Christ Jesus and then redeeming us through his sacrifice and rising from the dead, freeing us to be an example of his love to those around us.

As God presents me with new opportunities to share my faith, to tell the story of his love and grace for me and you, I hope my love for him will override my concern for public opinion. I hope that I can be more like Noah and follow God’s plan for me no matter how silly it may appear or how long it takes to come to fruition. Even though I want to impress and be accepted by others, because what human being doesn’t, I hope I will love God more than I care about how it looks to the world of people around me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

God-Defined and Personalized Goals and Success

Mark Batterson, in his book The Circle Maker, states that "if faith is being sure of what we hope for, then being unsure of what we hope for is the antithesis of faith. Well-developed faith results in well-defined prayer, and well-defined prayers result in a well-lived life." We should be able to spell out the promises, miracles, and dreams that God has put on our hearts in fervent prayer. He says, "Don't just make a wish. Write down a list of God-glorifying life goals. Then he makes this statement: "living without goals is living life by default." I resemble that remark a little too much for comfort. I am living my life by default and, among other things, I'm getting kind of bored with it.

I started to think about some God-glorifying goals I could "work towards as if it depended on me and pray for as if it depended on God." These are to be dreams and desires unique to me that God has put on my heart. I couldn't think of a thing! Except for the dozen years when my life's goal was to love and protect my son to the best of my ability, my only goal in life has been to die. Most of my life, I was living to die and now, while I am not rushing my way to the end, it still seems like making it to the end of my life here on earth and beginning my life with the Lord in heaven is still the only goal I really have. I've just been killing time with everything I do in the meantime. Sometimes, when I'm stuck on a question, I turn it around. So instead of asking what goals has God put on my heart for this life, I asked myself, "When is God's peace and presence most tangible and he most glorified in my obedience?" That was much easier to answer:
1) When I am laying hands on and praying for another's emotional and spiritual healing
2) When I am sharing God's comfort with a grieving soul
3) When the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart through Scripture
4) When I'm writing about God's grace and glory

The Spirit had long ago given me specific Scriptures to hold close to my heart as a kind of guideline for my life. They are Romans 12:15 - Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn and Revelation 21:5 - He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true." Combining my list and life Scriptures, I was able to form an overall life's goal, a mission statement if you will:  I want to be an encourager, to walk alongside those who mourn, and be an instrument of emotional and spiritual healing through prayer, deed, and the written word.

If everything I do in life is guided by this simple statement, God is glorified and I am living true to the specific purpose for which God created me. Batterson also states in The Circle Maker that we should have a definition of success to guide us further in reaching our God-given and God-glorifying goals. In other words, what will our lives look like if we are successful in living out our life's goal? Using the author's personal example, I thought about what I would do, how other would be affected, and how my heart's desire would be met if in fact God blessed me with success. Here's what I came up with:
1) I am acting and reacting as an extension of God's heart of mercy.
2) I am encouraging others toward intimacy with God and giving comfort.
3) My desire that others would see God in me and love me in him would be satisfied.
While I still don't have a specific list of God-glorifying goals, I feel like I have a defined purpose now and that is a good and satisfying feeling. Have you ever defined your unique God-given purpose or redefined it lately? And if so, do you know what success looks like? I encourage you to pray about it if you haven't. And if you have, I encourage you to, as Mark Batterson says, "work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God" in your pursuit to glorify the Lord in your daily life.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Holy Spirit Word Study - Romans 15:16

...Be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16b (NIV)

Among my many allergies, I am allergic to fragrances. My reaction to fragrances ranges anywhere from mild congestion to headaches to full blown asthma attacks. Consequently, since childhood, I have maintained as fragrant-free an existence as possible. Some years ago, I was blessed to journey my way through a prayer walk with a small group of friends where each stop led us to experience God through one of the five senses – taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. When I got to this last one, I was encouraged to take a cotton ball and soak it in scented oil and inhale deeply as if breathing in the very Spirit of God. I could have skipped this because of my allergy, but I felt God calling me to try it. I think that it was my lack of experience with fragrance that made this moment so profound for me. What I found so amazing was the way the sweet smell of the fragrance lingered in my nostril. Long after I left that station, I could breathe in deep and still the faint aroma of the scented oil which represented my time in God's presence was with me. With each breath, the lingering presence of the Holy Spirit filled me with peace and joy. As I gathered with my friends in a final prayer after the prayer walk, I could detect, not only my own time with the Spirit, but the leftover scent of their time with the Spirit mingling with mine and surrounding us. The sensation of the Holy Spirit's presence at that moment was overwhelming.

Like Moses whose face shone with the radiance of God after being in His presence, so too, we bring something of God away with us from our intimate time with the Lord. As we pray and read the bible, when we praise Him and reach out in mission and mercy to others in His name, we find ourselves in God's immediate presence. His Spirit, which lives within us, makes our lives a holy offering and those seeking God's peace can't help but sense His presence in us. The Spirit sanctifies, and is sanctifying us, as He guides us in the will of God. As we follow His leading, He makes us living gospels for the world to read, just as if they were reading the words on the pages of a bible. And when we come together in a group, each with our own unique lingering fragrance of God's presence, the reality of His existence is undeniable, overwhelming, and inviting to a world of people in need of his grace.

One last thing – the scented oil I inhaled on the prayer walk communicated a profound spiritual truth which I will always treasure, but it also gave me a really bad headache. Perhaps it was just God's way of reminding me that just because He calls me to it, doesn't mean it isn't going to be difficult for me. God never said following Him was going to be easy or tranquil. It doesn't lead to fame and fortune or being debt-free. Jesus had no place to lay His head and promised His followers trouble, and even persecution, and that includes His 21st century disciples as well. Following God may often leave me with a headache, or tired and sweaty, or maybe even limping, but the joy and peace of His presence and the gift of His grace far outweigh the pain of discipleship.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Prayer - It Takes Two to Converse

I have a confession to make. I've failed to pray as I ought. I've been very adamant about seeking God in his Word this week, asking him to give me a better understanding of his character and of his will for me in my daily living. I admit that it has been way too long since I've combed through the scriptures with such determination and focus. The peace that fills me as I communicate with the Lord so intimately is a welcome blessing.

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 tells us to “pray continually...for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” and Ephesians 6:16 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. This past week, I was reminded that 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.