Monday, July 28, 2014

NWMC 2014 - Confessions

Last week I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference. It’s the one week I look forward to all year. It's the only place on earth I know where this particular introvert feels completely at ease to walk up to anyone around and start a conversation and where life-long friendships are made in an hour over a simple meal consisting of something called tater-tot casserole. The freedom and joy I feel there from my usual insecurities, I believe, are just a glimpse of God's Kingdom to come here on earth. I received great encouragement from the speakers whom God used to remind me of a few things I forgot like:
  • If you cannot see very far ahead, go ahead as far as you can see.
  •  Let the day's trouble be sufficient. Let the day's blessings be sufficient. Let the day's calling be sufficient.
  • God calls us to the place where our deep gladness and the world's deep need. 
  • You need to release the season you are in so you can embrace what comes next.
  • A person cannot continue to exist in a manner inconsistent with how they see themselves.

They reminded me that God’s ways are very different than my human ways and I’ve been spending too much time lately trying to approach my faith from the human understanding of goal-oriented, ever-increasing action. God created me specifically to do in his kingdom exactly what I love to do and am doing.  I love to help those who do the big things. If I never do a “big thing” for God, I’m okay with that. We can’t all be Paul. Someone was created to be that nameless, faceless person in the crowd who attended to Paul’s needs as he addressed the crowds and wrote the letters we now know to be God’s Word and that someone in my world is me.

I've been feeling lost and joyless in my walk with God for a long time. I thought it was because I wasn't planning a bigger, bolder move in my discipleship—I wasn't working towards some future goal. I stopped reading my bible because I was depressed and the words seemed so empty. Eventually, I stopped praying because I felt like I had nothing to say. By the time conference came around this year, all I was doing was working, eating, watching TV, and sleeping. I needed an attitude adjustment.

I attended a workshop in which a missionary was explaining a Bible study he does with seekers in the foreign country he lives in. One of the study questions he shared cut me deep—If we believe this passage is from God, then what do we have to change this week to be obedient? I really do believe that the Bible is from God. So when I don't read my bible it's like I am refusing to listen to God when he's trying to speak to me. That's when I heard God's voice in my spirit:  "You're not listening to me." It wasn't the angry accusation I expected, but rather a sad exhortation. After the workshop, I confessed to my brother in Christ that I haven't opened my bible since I can't remember when and his heavy-hearted response took me by surprise: "You must be emaciated." For a moment, I couldn't breathe. He nailed it. God's Word feeds me, nourishes me, and I've been starving myself. Why? I don’t know. Why did Adam and Eve disobey God? Why does anyone do unhealthy actions repeatedly? We’re human and that’s the nature of sin.

I’d like to say that I ran to my room and spent time reading my bible, but I didn’t. And I’d like to say that I came home this weekend and opened up my bible and couldn’t put it down, but I can’t. The change that needs to be made in my life isn’t one I can make happen on my own—only God can change a heart and that’s what I need right now. If all we needed was to change our attitudes and habits, we wouldn’t need God or his grace. I can’t pull myself out of this, but my God is powerful and his love for me is stronger than any hold this world may have on me. So that’s my prayer. God help. Change my heart and draw me to yourself. And I pray this with hope and with the assurance that he is just waiting for me to ask. I can rejoice now because my empty days are numbered. For God has promised that as I seek him with all my heart, he will be found. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Another Day with God

My dear friends,
I have decided to step away from the virtual realm of the computer and TV and other forms of electronic media for the week and spend the time in the presence of God and my brothers and sisters in Christ. Not wanting to leave you without a thought for the week, I've decided to re-post a poem I wrote many years ago. It seemed so appropriate. Enjoy!

A Day with God
Let the ocean’s rhythmic whoosh linger in your ears
while you dance with the sandpipers to the seagulls’ song.
Sway to the water’s gentle lap upon the smooth worn rocks
that wade just beyond the shore.
Your toes sink into the cool wet sand where the water’s edge
plays its perpetual game of tag with the land.
Abandoned by the water’s retreat, shells and sparkling seaglass
glisten as they dry.
A wash of colors layers the horizon where water and sky touch, never to part.
You can almost see where the waves began their quest
to briefly touch the sand.
Breath deep the salty breeze of the ocean’s kiss.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Come with me to the mountain range rising from the earth to touch the sky.
See the river waters stampede over rocky cliffs
and wind through the lush valleys below.
Drink in the rainbow of wildflowers shimmering like rare gems in the sunlight
blanketing the hillsides.
The insects’ hum swells as the orchestra for the animals’ choir that echoes
through the rustling leaves of their forest home.
Hear the moose and coyote harmonize while the eagle sings his solo.
Each bird adding its own sweet trill and in the distance rises
the bass rumble of the bear.
The fragrance of wood, animal, and flower permeates the air
and you can taste the aroma.
A cool breeze rushes down from the snowy peaks to greet you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Walk with me as the setting sun shimmers off the golden sea of prairie grass.
A tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows weaves through
the endless evening sky
And the fading sunlight glistens off of the network of spider webs that connects
each blade of grass.
The swish of the wind combing through acres of grass and wildflowers rushes
to your ear
as the soft graceful sway of the rolling waves of flora waltzes
across the landscape.
The scent of animal and wildflower carried on the breeze tickles your nose.
Rising up out of the distance comes the lonely howl of the prairie wolf
and the screech of an owl echoes from a single tree on the horizon.
As the day fades, the air begins to cool and the grasshoppers’ lullaby
rises up around you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

I've deliberately not included any photographs with today's post. My hope is that the poem will bring the beauty of God's creation into your heart and your mind through your imagination.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Rope

I received this story in one of those chain emails that had been passed to hundreds of people before me. I don't know who wrote the original story, but it is well worth the share, even if I didn't write it. Enjoy!

The Rope
The story tells about a mountain climber, who wanted to climb the highest mountain. He begun his adventure after many years of preparation, but since he wanted the glory just for himself, he decided to climb the mountain alone. The night felt heavy in the heights of the mountains, and the man could not see anything. All was black. Zero visibility, and the moon anbd the stars were covered by the clouds.
As he was climbing, only a few feet away from the top of the mountain, he slipped and fell into the air, falling at a great speed. The climber could only see black spots as he went down, and the terrible sensation of being sucked by gravity. He kept falling... and in those moments of great fear, it came to his mind all the good and bad episodes of his life. He was thinking now about how close death was getting, when all of a sudden he felt the rope tied to his waist pull him very hard.
His body was hanging in the air. Only the rope was holding him, and in that moment of stillness he had no other choice but it scream, "HELP ME GOD!!" All of a sudden, a deep voice coming from the sky answered, "What do you want Me to do?"
"Save me God!!"
"Do you really think I can save you?"
"Of course I believe You can."
"Then cut the rope tied to your waist."
There was a moment of silence and the man decided to hold on to the rope with all his strength.
The rescue team tells that the next day a climber was found dead and frozen...his body hanging from a rope - His hands holding tight to it only 10 feet away from the ground.

And you? How attached are you to your rope? Will you let go? 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Life Isn't Fair and Neither Is God

As a child, one of my favorite outcries was “That’s not fair!” To this, my father would reply every time, “Who ever said life was fair? I never said life was fair.” It always amazed me that my “That’s not fair” made no difference to him. While it made sense to me that this unfairness, after being realized, would be immediately corrected—it never was. It seemed this very logical thought (correcting this terrible unfairness) never occurred to my father.

Maybe I’m thick-headed or just an eternal optimist, but I was in my twenties before I got it—Life REALLY ISN’T fair! My ice cream cone falls on the ground and my brother’s doesn’t. That nasty human being who cut me off in traffic glides through the intersection as the light turns and I get stuck at the red light. Other people go on vacations to the beach and it’s just never going to be in my budget.

Even in things that really matter, life isn’t fair. Dishonest people cheat and steal and get ahead while honest hard-workers struggle to get by. Sweet innocent children die tragically every day while very bad people live long lives hurting as many people as they can. In principle, America is the land of equality, but we all know people who get jobs or better pay over others because they are black or white or a man or a woman or handicapped or pleasant looking or because they have connections, or because they are loud and pushy. This isn’t a case of the grass is greener on the other side…. It’s just true that life really isn’t fair.

That’s why I’m so glad that God is always fair. But wait! That’s not true. God isn’t fair either. Jesus tells us so in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Jesus tells us that a landowner goes out in the morning and hires some workers telling them he will pay them a denarius for the day. They agree and start working. This guy goes out several more times during the day (the last time being just an hour before quitting time) and hires more workers. Then when the day is over, he pays his workers, starting with the last hired. He gives them all a denarius. When he gets to the workers hired first thing in the morning, they are all excited thinking if the guys who worked only one hour got a denarius then they are going to be rolling in the money. (Maybe they will get that new cart they’ve been looking at—like the one their brother-in-law got last month.) As they are each handed one denarius, they cry out in outrage – THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!!  We worked ALL day in the HOT, hot sun and they only worked one hour in the cool of the evening and they got the same pay we did. And the landowner (God) said, “Who said I was going to be fair?! Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? What I do with my money is my business and if I decide to be generous to those hired last, what’s that to you?”

And let’s not forget exactly who Jesus hung out with and blessed with miracles of healing and forgiveness. It wasn’t the righteous, temple-going, Torah-reading, tithing, more-deserving-than-the-unmoral-masses-because-they-follow-all-the-rules, upstanding church members otherwise known as Pharisees and Sadducees. No, Jesus hung out with the undeserving, social outcasts and sinners. While the church people refused to touch, talk with, or even be seen on the same side of the street as these undesirables, Jesus partied with them. He put his arm around them as they walked down the street. And when we listen in on their conversations, we don’t hear Jesus condemning them to hell or even uttering condescending remarks about their sinful ways sending them to hell if they don’t say the sinner’s prayer. Rather we hear Jesus offering love, hope, and grace to these miserable sinners. And when does Jesus offer these incredible, undeserved gifts? Is it after they say they are sorry and ask for forgiveness or before? Take a look at the conversations he has with the Pharisees.  Do you see love, hope and grace or condemnation for the way they take it upon themselves to decide who is worthy and who isn’t?

If we all got what we deserve, we would all be hopeless. Even the most deserving “saint” falls way short of God’s perfect holiness. It’s because God isn’t fair, because he is love, that Jesus took our place in condemnation and punishment on the cross and overcame death so that nothing but my own willfulness could come between an eternal relationship between me and him.  I am so very grateful God isn’t fair.