Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Prayer

 It's a time for resolutions...and most people are hoping for change, improvements in their lives.  For me, there is nothing more important than my relationship with God, and I have always looked for those farther along the way to learn from.  I am not neglecting the Word of God, for certainly it is effective for changing lives, but I need  more, I want more.  I want to know how other humans live out their faith.

 I want to have more effective communication with God.  Too often I feel like my words are so small, so narrow in their vision, that  I accomplish little because I ask little of God.  So today I share with you what others have said about prayer, what I want to learn this year about prayer, what I want to own about prayer.


The only way to Heaven is prayer; a prayer of the heart, which every one is capable of, and not of reasonings which are the fruits of study, or exercise of the imagination, which, in filling the mind with wandering objects, rarely settle it; instead of warming the heart with love to God, they leave it cold and languishing. --Jeanne Guyon

Is the Son of God praying in me, or am I dictating to Him?....Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray. --Oswald Chambers

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your task. --Phillips Brooks

Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It's important because it's the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you "my beloved daughter," "my beloved son," "my beloved child." To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being. --Henri Nouwen

Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell God your troubles, that God may comfort you; tell God your joys, that God may sober them; tell God your longings, that God may purify them; tell God your dislikes, that God may help you conquer them; talk to God of your temptations, that God may shield you from them: show God the wounds of your heart, that God may heal them. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. Talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration say just what you think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God. --Francois Fenelon

Whether we think of or speak to God; whether we act or suffer for him; all is prayer when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. --John Wesley

I thank you God that you do not ask us to live the Christian life alone, but in community.  And I thank you that this community extends back in history as it extends into the future.  May those who might read these words be as encouraged by them, be challenged by them, as I have been, and may we leave words behind us to encourage those who come behind us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I don't know what to say

Have you ever been there, in prayer and you didn't know what to say or how to pray?  When that happens, I am always confronted with the reality of how much of my prayers are prescriptive prayers - This is how you need to fix it God.  And isn't that little more that arrogance, that I should be telling God what to do at all?

It is in these moments that I  hit the proverbial brick wall, and I have no idea of how to fix it or what to do.  And I find myself sitting before God struggling to figure out what to do or say.  Sometimes I tell him just what I am thinking, that I don't even know how the situation can be redeemed, how it can be resolved without serious pain in the lives of the people involved.  And I hurt for everyone involved, me included.

What foolishness all of that is!  As if God needed my help.  I know we are compelled to bring our burdens and petitions and requests to Him, but I am not sure it says anywhere that we are supposed to tell him how to answer those requests or what to do about those situations.  He is God, after all, and not limited by our imagination.

And then Philip Yancy's words from Where Is God When It Hurts? comes to mind, "Romans 8 announces the good news that we need not figure out how to pray.  We need only groan.  As I read Paul's words, an image comes to mind of a mother tuning in to her child's wordless cry...The Spirit of God has resources of sensitivity beyond those of even the wisest mother."

It made me think of those early months and years of a child's life, any of my children's lives.  I would wake from a sound sleep, hearing tiny noises, and later cries from their bassinets or cribs.  Sometimes, it was little more than a sigh; sometimes it was the stirring that would turn into an insistent cry if I didn't meet a need quickly.  And I did, get there and tend to that child as quickly as possible even though that child did not utter one clear syllable - only a breath not-quite-right, or a whimper.  My heart was touched, and because I loved that child so passionately, I would do anything to relieve his or her distress.

And so God loves us, or even more does God love us, and when we have no words to define our pain, He hears our whimper, our not-quite-right sigh, and he envelops us in his love and grace, if we would take the time to notice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prayer and intimacy

Wesley said, "In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer."

Filled with love...brings to mind Eph. 5:18, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."  Or, in simpler contemporary words, getting drunk is a waste; allowing alcohol to control you leads to no good thing, so instead of being controlled by foolishness, be filled and controlled by the Spirit of God.  And God is love (I John 4:8), so the Spirit is love.  Be controlled or motivated by love.

And we have come full circle back to what Wesley said," In souls filled,(controlled) by love, the desire to please God is continual prayer.

If you are controlled by love, for God and for others, then you not only desire to please God, but do please God, for the first and second commandments in the New Testament call us to love God with our heart and soul and mind and then to, likewise, love one another. 

Now, think about how God views us when we are controlled by love for Him and for others.  It is as though we are singing the same song in harmony with His will and heart, and our actions fill the air with prayer, expressions of our love for Him. 

When I act in a loving way toward someone, see and meet a need, I am singing a song, praying lyrics of love into God's ear.

I don't need to worry about or feel guilty because I don't spend hours on my knees in prayer; I can sing a continual song of prayer simply by loving God and others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

God: do amazing things through me???

It all started here for me this morning, reading the words of Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."

Consecrate -To declare or set apart as sacred; purify and set apart to a purpose. Here, the people were told to, forgive the vernacular, clean up their act and set themselves apart from the world and its values because God had something for them to do, something amazing.

This set me to thinking, about the idea of consecration and what that means to us and whether the New Testament say anything related to this. So, I looked up that word and related words and found out that the three primary writers of the New Testament, John, Paul and Peter had plenty to say about the subject, though they may not have used the same words.

John writes in John 14:23 these words: Jesus answered, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The believer, the one who says he or she loves God will be obedient to God's words or commands. That means that when the world's values and God's values conflict, the one who loves God will choose obedience to God's words, will freely separate themselves from the world.

And in John 15:4, John records more of Christ's words: Remain in me and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.

Consecration has the sense of purifying from and separating to. Here Christ says separate yourself from other influences and remain in me. Consider this word picture; remain in me as a branch illustrates that we are to purify ourselves from all other sources of nourishment. We are to draw sustenance and power from Christ alone, resisting all peer and worldly pressure to be conformed to anything other than Christ.

Paul gives us a word picture of consecration in I Cor. 7:34: An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and spirit.

This passage goes on to talk about how the married woman is consumed with pleasing her husband. But I was struck with this word picture of consecration - the unmarried woman who purifies herself from any unholiness, who seeks to please God in both her body, her physical relationships and, as well as her spirit, that inner life - her relationship with God. She lives a consecrated life.

In I Cor. 11:1 Paul holds himself as a role model talking about his own consecration: Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.

The one who is consecrated or set apart to the holy life lives according to the model Christ gave us. Remember, Scripture tells us he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. So we can look at the lives first of Christ, and then of Paul, not Saul, to learn what a consecrated life looks like.

In Ephesians, Eph. 1:4 for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight, Paul gives us the purpose for our consecration or set "apartness," we are set apart to be holy and blameless in his sight. That's the standard for consecration God's sight, his point of view, not what looks good from our earthly perspective.

Finally Peter addresses the subject in I Peter 1:15, " but as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct, (16) for it is written, "Be holy for I am holy."

Here the standard and extent of our consecration is addressed. The standard for our purity is God; we are called (or drawn to him in salvation) to be holy as He is holy, and in all our conduct. There is no aspect of our life that is exempt from the call to consecration: our humor, our work, our entertainment, our dress, our company (the company we keep - our friends), and I am sure the list could go on and on.

We are to separate ourselves from any unholy action or thought or influence. We must remain in this world, but not be influenced by this world.

So, as I live this day, I must rehearse, as many times as it takes, that this day is my offering to God. It is, and I am, consecrated or set apart to holiness. And when I get off that road, I must take immediate steps to "clean up my act" as Joshua warned those people, so God can do amazing things. And what a thought that is - that God might do an amazing thing through me and through you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Simplest Things

Isn't it interesting how somehow the simplest things somehow become the most difficult things. James 4:7-8 reads like this: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.

So easy, these verbs, to say, even to understand, but then there is the doing: submit, resist and flee, come near. And I wonder if the first is the hardest, the idea of submitting.

We hang on so fiercely to our rights, our will. We know what we want, and we reserve the right to demand it, to have it, regardless of what God might say in his word. Oh, we say we want God's will, but then we exhaust ourselves finding a way to rationalize what we want. As I write those words, three faces came to mind, three individuals who know what they want is wrong; in their hearts, they acknowledge that their will brings them in conflict with the Word. And they search for a way to explain away Scripture that calls their choices sin.

So this little word submit is really a big word demanding our attention, our concentration to search out what it really means for each of us. Is warfare involved here? My will against God's will? This thing I am struggling with, that I want or want to do, is it filling up the space between God and me, pushing me farther and farther away from him?

All of that in one little word - amazing conundrum. I must face the reality, the question: am I willing to trust God with my life in exchange for his presence and peace, or do I really just want to bull my way through life, at who knows what cost?

Remember those three people I mentioned earlier? They all chose their own will, and not one of them is happy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God's thunderous grief

This last week my grad students have been writing articles on how to encourage someone undergoing various kinds of grief experiences, so I've been thinking a lot about the subject.  One of them wrote that he would remind the grieving person that God is in control, and it occurred to me that in the early stages of grief, I am not sure everyone would find that equally comforting.  Some might be tempted to question whether God was all that loving if he would make such a terrible thing happen... but that is a subject to tackle another day.

For today, I want to think about what has comforted me, and one of those truths that I have found comforting is that God has personally dealt with loss and grief and that he really does understand.  Hebrews 2:18, referring to Jesus, says that "since he himself was tested and has suffered, he is able to help those who are tested." Hebrews 4:15-16 says this: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” ( NAS) 

Christ grieved at Lazarus' death, he wept over Jerusalem, as chicks without a hen.  Scripture tells us that we can grieve the Holy Spirit.

And then there's God... I was thinking about the crucifixion and the events of that day and how they showed God's experience of grief at the death of his son.  Remember that Luke 23 tells us that the sun's light failed and darkness came over the land for three hours.  Imagine God's love for his son and his first a wordless grief so great no light could penetrate it.  How many people who have lost something or someone precious to them have experienced a figurative, if not a literal, darkness?  God himself could bear no light to shine in his pain.

Then, I wonder if what we see next is the anguish of God, his cry so terrible that the atoms and molecules of very earth vibrate into earthquakes.  Luke 23 says the curtain in the sanctuary was split down the middle, from the top to the bottom.  Matthew 27 goes on to describe the earth quaking and rocks, imagine this, rocks splitting, tombs opening and dead people raised and walking about.

Have you ever seen someone hear, for the first time, that their loved one is gone?  A scream, a tortured cry fills the air, words useless, agony expressible only in sound, vibrations of the air, their meaning loud and clear.
So, I wonder if that earthquake, those rocks splitting, that heavy wide curtain tearing from the top are evidences of the pain God experienced, of his inexpressible anguish that his innocent son had to die such a horrible death, that he had to really know what it felt like to be separated from his son...I know that the tearing of the curtain has symbolic meaning as well, but I wonder if there is more here.

So, I find comfort in the knowledge that God, the trinity, the persons of God, understand my grief, and when I cry out to them, they hear in comprehension, and my burden is shared and in some way, borne even by God.  His comfort means something because it is the comfort that comes from having been there, from truly knowing, in some measure, my pain.

Well, perhaps I am way off base, but that is just something I have been wondering.

Friday, December 4, 2009


A tendon (or sinew) is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension; tendons render function across a joint. 

You can stretch a tendon or rupture it, rendering the joint ineffective.  Then you will not be able to walk or use your arm, for example, to bear weight. The limb kind of flops there uselessly.

I think that prayer is somehow like a tendon.  It links us (as muscle with potential energy) to God ( the bone as the immoveable and pwerful dynamo), and when the tendon of prayer is healthy and strong linking us to God, we can do amazing things.  We can endure all kinds of tension and stress. 

However, when our prayer tendon is ruptured (and we have broken off communication with God) or stretched thin, (we are reduced to emergency or no real communication), we are rendered vulnerable to the enemy and discouragement, defeat, depression and all kinds of spiritual damage.

John 15:4 says Abide or dwell or remain in me and I will remain in you.  For a branch (or muscle) cannot bear or produce fruit if it is severed from the vine (or bone), and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.

I'm not sure why I am sharing this, but yesterday I watched an athlete fall to the floor in a game, a leg tendon obviously damaged as she limped off the floor.  And the picture made me think of how we walk around weak, as Christians, limping with stretched and ruptured tendons - made so by the neglect of real prayer, communcation with God, practicing the reality of his presencec and drawing power from him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On calling it a mistake

"I yelled at my wife.  I told her she was stupid right in front of my kids.  I knew it was wrorng, but I lost my temper.  Then I had to tell them Daddy made a mistake." 

Those are the words I overheard as I was making my way by the cluster of people in the walkway.  It is not as though I was attempting to listen in to someone else's convesation.  He was sharing this with the small group gathered around him there publicly, and I could tell this man doesn't have exactly an "inside voice" normally.

All I could think of was this wasn't a mistake.  This was sin.  Using those words and that tone to his wife in front of his children was disrespectful and unloving to her and to them, and it was sin.  But he didn't see it that way; he just saw it as a mistake, like picking out brown shoes to go with black pants.  Mistakes don't offend God; mistakes may only mke us uncomfortable, but they aren't really all that serious.

Then I wondered how man times, I did the same thing.  Renamed a sin so it would be more tolerable, so I would be less uncomfortable, guilty.

Now, please don't think I am going to be one of those "you have to confess every sin to get them forgiven" people.  That's not the issue.  But when we minimize sin by calling it a mistake, when we don't acknowledge that we have offended God and his people, we miss the opportunity to renew or revive fellowship with God and others.  That unattended mistake piles up against others, like Peter's rejection of Christ, until we finally either get the message and are broken or, and more seriously, we harden our heart to the Spirit of God and become deaf to his entreaties, like the hard dry ground spoken of in Hebrews 3:13-15.  The word harden there has the sense of being hard like ground that has dried up and the rain can no longer penetrate it, but just runs uselessly off.

Calling sin a mistake is dangerous.  It is like missing the warning sign that the bridge is out, and we fall into a raging torrent.  How much more beautiful the outcome when we call sin by its name, when we go to God in confession, which is only saying the same thing about our behavior that he does.  In that moment of acknowledgement, we are seeing and saying that we know we missed the mark of holiness.  We hurt our God who longs for us to know peace and joy and love, and whether we call it a mistake or sin, our ungodly behavior robs us of love and joy and peace.  Our sin separates - us from the person we have offended and from fellowship with God.

So, all we have to do, is call a spade a spade.  Come before God, and others as needed, and say I see how I have offended you, how I have hurt you.  And say honestly, I am so sorry.  I am filled with regret.  I want to turn from this wrong behavior, even this pattern of offence (if that is the case), and then enjoy the restoration now possible.

For the believer, the penalty for our sin, the price of our sin, has been paid by Christ on the cross  Calling sin -sin, does not get us saved from the punishment of our sin.  Christ paid that price.  But it does restore communication and fellowship with God.  Oh, it is true there may be consequences, ripple effects of our sin, but don't see that as punishment. 

Oh God, I pray this morning, that you will help me to be sensitive to the waves I create with all of my behavior and all my words, that I might not sin against you.  And Father, help me to never fall into the trap of calling sin a mistake.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Up close and personal

Peter begins his letter with the following greeting: "Grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure, through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." II Peter 1:2 NEB

For years I almost overlooked these first words of the epistles - just seeing them as common greetings between Christians, almost as meaningless, like saying Greetings in the Name of the Lord... Then I was convicted that I would regard any words in Scripture or spoken by believers as meaningless, as Christian cliches.  The reality is that these words have meaning, powerful meaning worth exploring.

Though all of these words are significant, I want to focus on the last phrase: through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.  Knowledge, the product of knowing.  Knowing - what happens when you spend time with someone, when you explore who they are and what that means in your life, a seeking to understand who and why they are.

Knowing God, what a concept!  Imagining who he is, and considering the reality that he is interested in me, that he loves me!!!  OK, this takes me to the fruit of the Spirit - or the product of intimacy with God the Spirit.  The more I know him, the more I seek that relationship, that reality that God actually dwells or abides or makes his home inside me, the greater his influence in my life.

Love, joy, peace, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentlenes, self-control: how cool is that!!!!  The more we are filled or controlled or intimate with, or know - not about, but personally God, the more we will also experience these qualities.  Sometimes I think we are so reality bound, so concrete and worshipful of knowledge - the facts, that we miss out on all that God has for us.

When we imagine or meditate or consider, letting our minds wander and soak in the reality that God, the Person, loves us, that he sought us out and revealed himself to us, that he gave us understanding of his Word, that we matter to him, how could we not just wallow in his love.  How could we not wish to celebrate that love?

We had just been married and were in the car; I couldn't contain my joy and filled our little car with singing  Why on earth are we not filled with inexplicable joy bursting out of us when we consider our relationship with God? 

How is it that we allow ourselves to be stressed out with anything in this life?  We have peace with God; our sins are paid for, and we have God on our side!!  He will not allow us to face anything that we cannot endure with victory and in a way that glorifies him  We are not guarenteed a life free of pain or sorrow, but we are guarenteed that when we face it with him, we are guarenteed the possibility of being overcomers, not being overcome.

Oh, that is enough for me to think on today - to celebrate his presence here in this room with me....loving on me..I want to love him back.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Work

Edith Schaeffer in her book The Tapestry says "Prayer is not just the icing on the cake of a so-called spiritual life; prayer is warm, close communication with the living God, and also matter of doing an active work on His side of the battle."

Hmm, somehow that idea that prayer is work on the side of God against the evil one brings reality to the idea of spiritual warfare. Paul says he wrestles with the flesh, doing what he doesn't want to do and not doing what he wants to. And so, honestly, do I. I have all these great visions of what I want to do and not do, and remember too often, my good intentions in the middle of my failure. It just struck me here, as I look at Schaeffer's words, how simple it is, how obvious it is, prayer matters.

It matters because it brings us into the awareness of the presence and will of God. The longer we stay away from prayer, the more often we whip through our prayer time with remembered words and our familiar list, the shorter time we allot to prayer, all of these lead to failure in this battle between God and the evil one for our good. It's really that simple. God desires only that which is for our good, that which leads to love, joy, peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit. Who can question that the fruit of the Spirit is desirable and leads to a happy and fulfilling life?

But it appears that we give way to the devil; we go into the battle for our good with our armor left back in the closet. We too seldom clear with the Father our plans. We too seldom wrestle over our desires and goals before Him, measuring them against His leading and pleading for His guidance. Instead we pray, God guide me today and be with my loved ones and the missionaries in the "corn fields." That's how one of my children heard that oft-repeated prayer requests. I think it made as much sense to her as it did to God, since he was already there with them, if they were believers.

Anyway, today I am challenged about the work of prayer. Work takes time and effort. It takes dedication to do well. I remember an aged lady in our church saying that all she could do now was pray, and I wonder if she wasn't doing the most important work of any believer in that church. She was waging war with the devil from her chair at home, holding up the rest of those who fling themselves into battle without much prayer-work.

I know I am generalizing here, but I wonder how much truth there is to it, how many battles christians have lost because we have an aversion to the work of prayer.

Monday, November 30, 2009

about a word

I have never been crazy about the abbreviation for the word devotion used by high schoolers and college students. They call it "devos," and I think there is something telling about that shortening of the word. I am not sure how you can abbreviate the word and maintain the integrity of the word.

The word devotion has the sense of having "feelings of ardent love" or "commitment to some purpose." Furthermore there is an element of zealous in that commitment by the one who is devoted, a passion for the object of the devotion. To be devoted to something means to be dedicated exclusively to a purpose or use or person, for instance a "life devoted to poetry." It carries with it a passionate affection for its object.

But we do it anyway. We call it devos, and we give God five or fifteen minutes. Or maybe we don't even give God the time; we depersonalize Him and give his words a few minutes to be read. We certainly cannot say we have given them much devotion when we quickly read a passage or devotional guide and then run through our prayer list.

E.M.Bounds says "the root of devotion is to devote to a sacred use...Prayer promotes the spirit of devotion while devotion is favorable to the best praying....God dwells where the spirit of devotion resides...True worship finds congeniality in the atmosphere made by the spirit of devotion."

In simple language, he is reminding us that it costs us time to meet God, to really enter into fellowship and intimacy with God. You won't have much of a relationship with a friend or demonstrate much devotion to that friend if you only read their old letters for a few minutes a day. God calls us to spend time with Him. True devotion calls us to stillness. To recognize the value of that relationship. Devotion is about dedication of oneself to another, and it can be measured by how much the person doing the dedicating is influenced by his or her affection for the object of the devotion.

Too many Christians call a few minutes spent praying or reading the Bible or studying it as our devotions. I think our devotion might rather be measured by what our life looks like. Is there clear evidence of becoming, becoming daily more and more like Christ, loving God and loving others more than loving self?

I think there is a place in the believer's life for Bible study, and prayer, and meditation and just simple Bible reading; I'm just not sure that "devos" is a good name for it. Perhaps that is why some call it their "quiet time." I guess I kind of like that better. Somehow either one lends itself to putting God into a time allotment, some kind of box rather than demonstrating a passion for intimacy with God.  I'm not sure what to do about it all except cultivate a sense of his presence always.  And, yes, giving some time to prayer and Bible reading and study, but a whole lot more time to stillness and meditation, to enjoying Him. 

Now, there's a thought.  Enjoying Him.  I think the longer we are still before Him, the more pleasure we will find in His company.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving it up

Funny all the difference two little letters can make: the difference between giving up and giving it up.  God calls us to give it all up, our will to him.  In Luke 22:42, Christ modeled this for us, this yielding of his will to the Father's, all the more notable because, though he was here the incarnated Christ, he was still God.

Now I don't fully understand that, but it's OK.  He's God, how could I, a human, expect here to understand God? but I do believe it, that Jesus, though fully God assumed humanity, so that he could pay my sin debt. 
That's what faith is: believing what we do not have physical evidence for, taking someone, here God, at his word.

'Yet, I want your will, not mine."  Those are the words Christ prayed to the Father, and think about it, Jesus knew what he was saying.  He knew the nightmare yet to come - the humiliation, the trial, the cross, and he said "It's Ok with me.  I want whatever you want for me.  I trust you, regardless of what that means."

So the constant challenge for me is to pray that prayer, to give it all up to Him.  Sometimes that is really hard.  As a parent, there have been many times when I prayed asking God for specific things for each of my children and grandchildren. Then came the decision, am I really able or even wanting to say, "Not my will, but your will, because I trust that you know better than I do."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I was in third grade when the doctor proclaimed me "near-sighted" and fitted me for my first pair of glasses, cheap ones with clear kind of pink frames.  One day I couldn't see the black board and had to sit in the first row.  I had to sit so close to the TV to see Saturday morning cartoons that I can still hear my mother's words, "Don't sit so close, you'll ruin your eyes."  Over the years, I have run through a lot of glasses, a decade or two of contacts, and now I'm back to glasses, and so grateful to still be able to see and to read.

Thia morning I was reading about the tax collector who bowed his head and cried out, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  The notes written by N.T. Wright says this about those words, now known as the Jesus prayer, "Praying for mercy doesn't just mean 'I've done something wrong, so please forgive me.'  It's a much wider petition asking that God send is merciful presence and help in a thousand and one situations, despite the fact that we do't deserve such aid and never could."

As I thought this through, it came to me how spiritually near-sighted we are, at least I am.  Wright says the prayer is asking that God send his presence.  But for me, the issue is not that God will send his presence, but that I will see it.  The writer in Hebrews 13: 5 quotes words from Psalms 118:6 - perhaps words said initially to David since we believe David wrote many of  the Psalms, " I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you." 

God is already here; John  14 gives us Jesus' words on the matter, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may be with you forever.  That is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not behold him or know him, but you know him because he abides with you and will be in you. (16-17)  Then Jesus goes on to say, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."  And in Acts 2 we have a record of the receipt of that gift of the Holy Spirit to us.

Now to the near-sightedness, I think I am too often not able or willing to see beyond my own nose to see the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, who never leaves me.  Instead I am ovewhelmed by mere earthly circumstances, my own desires for the moment, my fears, my memory loss - forgetting how God has worked in my life, protecting and rescuing and answering prayer and blessing me.  It is as though I have dark glasses on in the night, and I just can't see that God is present with me right now.

He loves me and he will never forsake me.  He will bring to my mind everything I need to deal with the day, if I will just shut up and listen and own the reality of his nearness.  I don't need to ask for his presence. I have that. I need to acknowledge his presence. His merciful presence.  Life could have gone is such different ways for me, and for you.  But, in God's mercy, he revealed himself to us so that we could know him and his love, so that we would never be alone. 

Thank you God that you are here in this office with me, that you will go with me every step of the day.  You will so guard me that nothing will be allowed into my life that You and I cannot handle.  Help me to see you today, to practice your presence, to do nothing that would create separation between us -that separation of my own making, I know.  Thank you for your endless mercies in my life.  Thank you, especially, that they are new every morning

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Protection and Rescue

I don't know about others, but sometime I find that certain portions of Scripture have become so familiar that I hardly hear them.  I have a superficial picture or idea of what they mean, read them again, ad think, Yeah, I know that, those words, and I move right on.

In the case of some biblical prayers, I might even use those familiar words as part of a prayer, but the familiarity of them sucks meaning and passion from them.  I'm just being upfront and transparent here.  Then something happens, the Holy Spirit maybe, and you see that passage a whole new way.

That happened this morning when I read the following words in the day's entry from A Daybook of Prayer:

I need forgiveness for myself--from sin, from debt, from every weight around my neck--and I intend
to live with forgiveness in my heart in my own dealings with others...And because I live in the real world, where evil is still powerful, I need protecting and rescuing. ( taken from N.T. Wright's book Simply Christian)

Couple thoughts:  I know I am forgiven through faith, my sin debt removed at the cross, but daily confession is not to get rid of the sin, but to get rid of the wall of separation that comes between God and me, of my own making, that fruit of guilt.

So I do need to ask for forgiveness - I need to do the work of saying the same thing about my sin that God does, that as it grieves him to see me on a path that would ultimately separate me from him and his influence, in that same way, it grieves me.  Sin offends God, not just because he is sinless and holy, but because he loves us and knows sin leads to destruction and pain and ugliness in our lives, and loneliness - as the distance created by sin pulls us further and further from the reality of his love.

So, in this model prayer, Christ teaches us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness...and every weight around our neck.... As I thought about what this might mean, because I think it is more than our own sin that weighs on us, I wonder if it could mean the sin that is done to us, and our response to it.

Sin done to us can become a source for, or an excuse for, or justification for -  bitterness, for resentment, for anger, for revenge, and all of those things weigh on us like burdens.  They eat at us; they make us ugly to ourselves and to others. They keep us from knowing the peace of God, and because Satan is the master liar, they keep us from even recognizing how these things and their weight keep us from God.  No longer is the one who abused or hurt us the issue, but we are, our choice to stray from the fold of peace and beauty into the weedy field of burdensome anger and bitterness. 

And Christ reminds us of the value of confession - seeing our behavior, all of it, from the perspective of God's eyes and heart. Hanging onto an unforgiving spirit does not hurt the offender; it only continues to hurt us.  (side note - forgiveness does not mean that what the abuser did was alright; it means that you trust God to balance the books.)

Th final rewording of this part of the Lord's prayer struck me as well.  Wright paraphrases the Deliver us from evil part by putting it very graphically in terms that struck me with its truth: praying about being delivered from evil does mean that I can get into the place where evil dwells, and I need rescuing from that storm, that dangerous place where I can fall over the cliff into destruction....or at least big-time damage and failure. 

Rescue - what a powerful word bringing with it visions of flashing red and blue lights and emergency vehicles and hospitals and doctors and policemen; well, you get the picture.  Someone is in danger of losing their lives and others are coming to rescue them or get them out of danger.  Sin is like that.  Temptation is like that.  Dangerous, and I need rescue from it.  I need God's intervention to help  me see the danger, the allure, the excitement, as he sees it - a road paved with destruction and pain, my own.  So I must pray for rescue, for an awareness of his presence, not just to rescue me, but to remind me to whom I belong, and to whom I matter, and to whom belong the keys of real love and peace and joy.

All of that said, and I am reminded of the value of reading the Word in a translation or paraphrase different from the one I am most at home in, to escape the hazard of familiarity.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I used to avoid thinking about heaven - I knew too little, and heaven meant death mostly - mine to get there unless Christ did return.  And the reality of Christ's imminent return pressed on me as a young person; we were reminded of it often, or at least it seemed that way.  Maybe that was because I was learning everything for the first time (we do need to relearn many things because we don't really get it all the first time, but that's another issue), and it was all so new that it made a big impression on me.  So, I lived for many years with the idea that Christ might come that day....then people stopped talking about it and the idea and much thought about heaven kind of slid into the background.

That said, recently I have been thinking more about heaven.  I always thought that when I died, or Christ returned, His brilliance would be so great that I would fall on my knees and cover my face.  After all how could I possibly look at the face...?

And that was pretty much more thoughts.  Well, almost no more thoughts.  From time-to-time, when a loved one was threatened by death or a friend died or the parent or grandparent of a student died, I would think about heaven and their relief from this world and its pain.  Certainly we would miss them, but wishing them back was all too selfish.  How could I want them back here with all of the pain in this world, when they could be safe in Jesus presence - no more pain?  And I always thought about physical pain.

But heaven is more than a relief from physical or emotional pain.  Lately, I've been thinking about how heaven is relief from all evil, from temptation, from what Paul calls "that sin which dwells in my flesh."  I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to continue life, glorified life, without ever being tempted.  That part of me that responds to sinful impulses, like everything from envy or covetouness of someone else's goods or place in life, to hatred of those who hurt me or those I love, or jealousy, or a desire for revenge, or dissatisfaction, that desire for more....of anything.  It will all be gone.

Think of it.  We will wake up in that place where no sin dwells, where that burden, that inclination to be tempted no longer exists for us.  When I think of that for very long, I feel like, with that weight gone I will truly be able to fly.  I will finally know what pure joy and pleasure is.  I will be able to enjoy all people and all situations.  I will not have regret or sorrow controlling me.  I will be able to sing without worrying about what anyone thinks because with our minds free from sin, we will all want only to worship and glorify and serve God unconditionally.  It is then and there that I will understand and appreciate true beauty.

So, I've been thinking about and anticipating heaven in a way never before.

Then I am drawing to Galatians and the fruit of the Spirit and what is possible for us even in this world...but that's for another day,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better...As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it...

The rule for doing this is simple but demanding.  It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God...Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and promises of God.  It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God as a means of communion with God.

from Knowing God by J.I Packer

Powerful, isn't it this tool of meditation, and simple?  So powerful that the evil one keeps us too busy doing what would appear to be good and profitable things like church work and jobs and relationships that we think we cannot afford time to meditate, to be still before God, to listen as His Spirit might bring things to our mind to encourage or comfort or edify or challenge us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

from I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt by Vince Antonucci

P. 34 
"So when we pray to God about our relationship with him, I imagine God saying, "Did you really just say that?  I mean, yes, I guess it is a relationship, but you did catch the part where I said I want us to live inside each other, right?  You want to call that a relationship?  You can call it what you want, but I'm inviting you into much mroe than a relationship.  I'm offering to be the womb you exist within, and theblood that flows though you veins.  I want to be the umbilical cord that brings you the fluids that sustain you, and I want to be those fluids that sustain you.  I want to be the breath that enters your lungs when you're born, and I want to be your lungs.  What I want is for you to get lost inside of me, and I want to be lost inside of you.  My desire is for us to be one."

my words:
Every time I read this I am rendered speechless. 

Online recources for spiritual growth

A week ago, I prepared this material for a workshop for pastors' wives. Too often, pastors' families are one computer families and mom gets on last...and she has too little time to do much more than the essentials, so I thought it might be helpful if she had some resources to work from. The following are sites I found useful...a variety of devotionals for all tastes, and time constraints, and a load of Bible study resources. I hope you find them helpful.

Devotional Resources write your own and use resources or responses to the text there tips on doing devotions ...Literary Study Bible where you can listen to Scripture

Bible Study Tools


Our aim is to offer the freshest and most compelling biblically-based content to Christians who take seriously their relationship with Christ. Bible Study Tools gives Christians of any age and at any stage the opportunity to read, study, understand, and apply the Bible to their lives 1&type=bible&translation=niv calls itself " the largest free online Bible website for verse search and in-depth studies. This is probably the one I use the most. You can read a passage in a variety of translations, Strong's word links and definitions are readily available as are both old and new commentaries.

Misc. Resources

Wander around and look at the amazing resources available. I think these tools can be especially useful with younger women, those who grew up with a laptop literally in their laps. They are comfortable reading the Bible or any text that way, perhaps way more comfortable than women of my generation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Walking in the Spirit

Galatians 5:16...25

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the desires of the flesh, for these are opposed to each other......25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

This was the key passage I was teaching for a workshop for our Growing Leaders Conference at BBC this week. The point was that to walk in the Spirit we must practice the presence of God, the person of the Holy Spirit. I talked about how the Spirit of God never leaves us and that when we cultivate an awareness of his presence, all of our life is changed. All of our decision-making is changed. All ofour behavior and choices are changed because we know He knows, and we want to make him smile.

I talked about the danger of leading or walking alone, that we can do it alone for a while, we can fake it for a while, but eventually we will hit the wall. Bottom line, God made us to be in community, with him and other believers.

So, how can we be fearful of anything when we are aware that the same God who breathed all of creation into existence is the same God who loved us so much that he made provision for our sin debt? How can we be fearful when he says ""I will never leave you nor forsake you." Heb. 13:5 How can we fall into depression when we rehearse the reality that God loves us, that he sought us out and revealed himself to us, when we rehearse the reality that he never leaves us alone but has made provision for our every need?

Now there's a conunudrum! He has made provision for our every need. But he who is omniscient gets to define our need, and that's a good thing. Most times, what I define as need is very temporal and earthy, but God sees the big picture. He has long vision and can see what I need to be prepared for eternity.

Anyway, back to my topic. Walking in the Spirit. This was a tough week. An assault from the evil one and an assault from the flesh. People that I care about making bad decisions - the kind that I can see will end in destruction, and they refuse my counsel. Heartache. Hmmm, guess I make God feel that way too often. Too much to do in too little time - perhaps some of my own bad decision making. Technology that fails.

So by the end of the week, I was fearfully close to tears too often. I had gotten off the walk...filling my time with people, and work, and stuff and noise and no stillness. That's the point. You have to have stillness to practice the presence of God. You have to make a space quiet enough that you can think, that you can rehearse just who you are and who he is in relation to you. Funny how it seems like we would prefer to wallow in self-pity than to walk courageously in the Spirit, or is that a work of the flesh? That wallowing in self-pity, that self-isolation?

I think I will stop writing and go sit upstairs for a while in the quiet. I will imagine Him sitting in the recliner, there where he can see out the window on the deck, and we will watch the stars together.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And why the name?

We lived in the middle of a war zone and had traveled from our home to the hospital station in hopes it might be a safer place to wait out what looked like a clash of armies in the village where we lived.

I heard another missionary say, "You don't know what they would do to our little girls," and frankly fear took over.

I got onto the bed in the guesthouse, pulled the moustiquaire around me, opened my Bible, and begged God to help me. I confessed that I knew my fear was sin, that by allowing fear to control me I was saying God was not enough, that I did not believe He could help me.

As I searched for something from God, I leafed through the Psalms and came across a passage I had underlined.

Psalm 40:1-4a I waited patiently for the ord; and he inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; and he set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm. And he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. Happy is the man who has made the Lord his trust...

I knew that was for me, and as I relaxed into the Lord's welcoming arms, he took my fear and my feet from the miry clay, and set me upon a Rock, my Rock and my Redeemer and my Very Present Help in trouble.

So, that's the name of my blog, a testimony of what God did for me, an what he wants to do for you.