Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's about a trust fall

Have you ever participated in or experienced a trust fall? I have been reading about and studying prayer for the last couple months and the other evening, the image of a trust fall came to mind as a metaphor for prayer.

As I thought about the trust falls (A trust fall is a trust-building exercise in which a person deliberately allows themselves to fall backwards, relying on someone else to catch him or her) I had experienced, it came to me that they were not always good experiences. I can remember being half-caught, being hurt a little when the person did grab for me or being scared when it seemed like they were letting me fall a long time before they actually caught me.

Then I thought about what it would feel like to do a trust fall with God, to just fling my arms back and fall into his arms. I think it would feel like falling into cotton candy, not that it would give way, but his arms would be so tender, so open and sweet. It would be a place of such relief and absolute pure joy and safety. Hmmm, I think that praying, truly trusting God with our burdens, should feel a lot like that.

Then a verse  came to my mind, I Peter 5: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. That's what one aspect of prayer is, casting all your burdens, your cares, fears and worries into the hands of God, and when you do that, leaving them there. Can you imagine the relief and joy that you could experience doing that? It is God after all - he can certainly handle any of my problems.

As I imagined what it would feel like, to do a trust fall into God's arms - really thinking about what it would feel like - it was amazing.  I think I would be filled with laughter, with the kind of joy that chased away any kind of concern.  I wonder if that is what God wants us to experience when we go to Him with our boatloads of needs and concerns.  He just wants us to throw ourselves and our junk into His arms, and then just laugh out loud to express the relief and joy we find trusting Him with it all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Been thinking about prayer and love

Seems like they do go together.
  • John 15: 12-13 This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
  • Gal. 6:2 Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
  • James 6: Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
 Last night in class, we were talking about passions, what constituted a passion and what our own particular passions were. As I mused over the answers our students came up with I was challenged as to my own passion....and it suddenly became very clear: I want people to know what it means to be loved by God and to live out that knowing.
It all seemed to come together: the last few weeks I have spent in the gospel of John, reading over and over again the words of Christ ( I do appreciate my red letter Bible), and as I reviewed His words, the conviction that rose about what it meant to love like Jesus.
I have also spent my "before bed" time reading about prayer, and this morning it all came together in the above three passages. God simply wants us to love one another. That's how we show Him and the world that we love God; it is the evidence of that love. Then that love for others will manifest itself by our own desire to bear other's burdens, to see what we can do to help others, to lighten their load. And finally, real love will manifest itself in our prayer life. If we love someone, God will hear from us about that person.
And I wonder if the measure of our love for God is most clearly seen in or heard in our prayer life. The prayer life that is limited to our own personal concerns seems to reflect a self-centered life. Could it also be that the greater the world encircled in one's prayer life, the greater the love demonstrated, and the more intimate our relationship with the Father? Just thinking out loud.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It’s not a book about gays,

though one of the two main characters is gay, kind of like a lot of television lately. The book’s title is Out of a Far Country by Christopher (the gay son) and Angela (the straight mother) Yuan. Chapters alternate voice, one Chris’s voice telling how he experienced a certain period of time, and the next chapter is his mother’s experience of the same time.

Chinese-American, Chris Yuan was one of two brothers brought up by successful, hard-working and sacrificial first generation Chinese Americans. Angela and Leon Yuan wanted only for their two sons to go to college and join the family dental practice, a dream that would bring great heartache as the two sons had other dreams.

Chris, as he was known as a boy and young adult, knew for a long time that there was something different about himself, something he came to know and embrace as his gay identity, something his parents could not ever embrace. You can imagine what happens next: Chris leaves home, ends up in the gay world of sex and serious drugs, finally in prison for selling drugs.

His mother, never a God-fearing woman, meets a believer who introduces Angela to God and disciples her into a different way of thinking. And here is where the book takes a right turn out of darkness and death into light and hope. I want you to read the book, so I’m not going to tell you everything, but what you must know is that it’s not a book about gays. It is instead a book about God and how He works, about faith and what life looks like for someone who is seriously searching for God. It is also a book about the seriously and miraculously changed life.

Chris becomes Christopher (and that's a story), yanked from the brink of death, as his own mother was, and he goes from criminal to Christian. But he does not become straight. However, he does recognize that regardless of how some people use Scripture to justify the gay lifestyle, Christopher cannot. To his surprise, Christoper comes to understand that God loves him, the sinner, and that God hates only the sinful activities the gay person may embrace.

Easily read, this book is one that begs to be discussed. In fact, it comes with an eight session study guide in the back.

In today’s world, where the gay lifestyle is viewed only as an alternative, Christians must see it as one more tool to deceive and deprive believers of God’s richest blessings. It grieves me as I type these words to think of the number of former, and perhaps current, students that I know either living in or considering the openly gay lifestyle. Perhaps, as some claim and believe, they were born this way. A lot of people are born with all kinds of challenges, the results of a fallen world. But God’s design remains the same, and the gay lifestyle does not fit. Still, the gay man or woman can live in the same godly lifestyle as the straight man or woman who has not found the right mate – a celibate lifestyle, with God’s help and bringing glory to Him.

OK, I got sidetracked - the book is really about much more than a comment on gays - it is about faith and perseverance and most of all, about the love of God.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ordinary Heroes

Sunday our pastor’s message was about ordinary heroes.  Pastor Mark talked through Ehud, the left hander’s life, as an ordinary man, perhaps a disabled man because in the Hebrew ‘left hander’ really implies that the right hand could not function normally. So maybe Ehud was also looked upon as disabled and probably was bullied as a child.  The right hand was used for clean chores, the left for other chores – like picking up dirt or  cleaning up after using the bathroom.

Despite his left handedness and all that it meant, Ehud killed the ruling king freeing the Israelites after 18 years of slavery. I could repeat the message here; it was fascinating, but the point is, Ehud took risks and was greatly used of God despite his low status.  We remember him as a hero.

Then we were challenged to be ordinary heroes, but what stuck with me, beside that challenge, was the ordinary heroes in my life.  I think of the student who, when asked for constructive criticism after I led a panel discussion, took the time to give me very thoughtful and very helpful counsel.  He didn’t have to do that, but he did, and as a result, I have to believe we were better able to communicate a serious message about integrity. Thanks Austin.

I think of Eleanor Mosher who has been a faithful prayer warrior for BBC, and I would hate to think of what Satan could have accomplished without faithful prayer warriors like Eleanor and Peggy and Helen – heroines, like the women in Romans 16.

Funny, the things God brings to your mind like John, mentally and physically disabled. I see him at work in a fast food restaurant and I see him at church, and his faith encourages me. And then there’s Ken, retired from the police force and serving at BBC, loving and protecting and mentoring students, and I have to say, more than one adult – even if it is a side-ways mentoring, an accidental mentoring that occurs only as we watch and work with him.

I think of the young man who came to visit one of our freshmen girls, and I gave them permission to go to church and dinner and shopping alone – unusual for freshmen.  He came to me before he left campus to thank me for the special permission and to tell me about the great church they had gone to - encouraging me to send anyone looking for a church to that one.

OK, I could go on and on, but today, I am grateful for the ordinary heroes in my life, young and old.  Thank you God for such sweet gifts.



Friday, September 28, 2012

September 28, 2012 Thoughts about burden-bearing!

Matt. 23:37  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the propets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not.

Luke 19:41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it.

I have been studying the prayers of Jesus, and I encourage you to take a look at them as well.  You can find a good study guide at

As I read the verses above, I was impressed with the  idea that I have my own Jerusalem - this campus here at BBC, and with the idea that I have always said that this was my calling, as much as it was to go to Africa years ago.  With all my heart, I believed God had appointed us to the ministry at BBC.

Anyway, as I was thinking through all of this, I felt the weight of the burdens people at BBC are carrying: family loss, impending family loss, the burden of caring for parents, the burdens students are carrying from parental struggles with cancer, suicide of family or friends, physical needs, family and friends who do not know or embrace Christ, and a myriad of other burdens. 

This last week a couple of students came to me about starting a support group for abused women.  Can you imagine that?  Having experienced sexual abuse of some kind, and trying to look normal and be a college woman with that hovering around the edges of every day?  One student told me she cried when she found the other woman who shared that in her past and how comforting it was to know she was not alone.

I guess today my heart is just very heavy, feeling the pain of my students and colleagues.  And I think that is the way it should be; it is pretty hard to minister genuinely if you never enter into the suffering of others.  The challenge is to not allow their suffering to overwhelm and discourage you. 

Jesus wept, but he talked to the Father and he kept at it - getting up a great while before day to spend time in God's presence without distractions, and from that place, doing great things.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September 14, 2012 On Listening to God

John 10:3 To him the porter opens: and the sheep hear his voice and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out

I used to get so frustrated with these words, "Just read your Bible and pray." Those words were somehow supposed to be the solution to every problem, the prescription for spiritual growth, and the recipe for devotions.

But it didn't work! I came to understand that these words as advice for building a relationship with God were a lot like telling a young woman that all she had to do to develop a relationship with her husband was read his old letters and talk to him. That wouldn't work either. A relationship, by definition, requires two people to share, to communicate meaningfully, a listening and replying with the other's values in mind.

So when I think about having a relationship with God, there has to be some listening on my part as well as the listening I assume He is doing in response to my prayers. The problem is we don't do all that much paying attention to what He might be trying to say to us.

James Martin says the "Emotions are a key way that God speaks in prayer. You might be praying about a favorite Bible passage, and suddenly you feel happiness over being closer to God, or anger over how Jesus or the prophets were mistreated, or sorrow over the plight of the poor. God may be speaking to you through the emotions...These invitations to listen can be easily overlooked because they are often fleeting. If we're not careful, we'll miss them."

As I read this, I thought about how little time I give to paying attention to what is happening when I pray. Too often, I think we go to prayer with our list in mind, and then we sort of pay attention to other things God brings to mind.  However, I am not sure that we are listening or paying attention to how He might be guiding our response to our prayers or anticipating His desire to guide us in life.

I am not sure we even expect to feel all that much when we pray. Oh, certainly we feel when we pray out of desperation we are feeling and hoping for something, but how many of our prayers are uttered out of desperation. Even then, in our desperation, do we listen for God to respond?...or do we just feel better because we have gotten our pain off our chest?

I guess I am concerned about how real we are when we pray - we expect to feel something when we talk to a human. I expect to feel loved when my husband listens to me and responds with caring gestures and words. I want that, and I look for or anticipate it. I expect to feel grief and loss when I talk to someone about a death in their family or friend circle. I am just not sure that we go to prayer anticipating that we might recognize God's communication to us, and feel something. And as I feel affection for my husband when he listens carefully to me, I want to love him back in some way meaningful to him to show him my appreciation. Do we return God's love that way?

Well, now I am rambling, but this is what I have been thinking about.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012 Because He Loves You

I John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God, therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew him not. KJV

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. ESV

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. NIV

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it - we're called children of God! That's who we really are. But that's also why the world doesn't recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he's up to. The Message

I love it how things come together when you are loving God back. I am leading a Bible study on prayer here at the college...and as I think about prayer, I think of it as one part of any relationship - communication. When you love a human, you want to hang around them and with them and you sure do want to communicate with them - in lots of ways. And since God loves us and desires our love - that means a lot of communication should be taking place.  So all of that has been perking around in my mind.

Then, I am always on the look out for resources, books and articles, that will be helpful in my own spiritual journey. Some time ago I came across The Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. I have to say it was the last few words that caught my attention, and as I stood there in the store browsing through the book, I found more and more in it that spoke to my desire for another voice in my growth. Not that the Bible was not enough, nor the dozens of believers that surround me at work every day, but I'm always open to more somehow.

Please don't stop reading, just because it is a Jesuit guide. I believe that God does give us discernment, so I read and process in light of what I know the Bible says. And this book, read slowly and not straight through, has been a blessing in my life, especially right now as I have been studying prayer.

Let me share a few things that caught my attention this week. In the chapter on Friendship with God, the writer speaks to ways God responds to or communicates with us. I am going to list them because it is way too much to tackle in depth today. He suggests that emotions are a way that God speaks in prayer. Insights and memories that float to the surface during prayer are also tools God uses. Feelings, both emotional and physical are also ways that God communicates with us. As we pray, God responds and in that stillness, I do believe God's Spirit moves...

I will talk more about this another day, but I wonder what you think.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Aug. 31, 2012 How Awesome is That?

II Cor. 4:17-18 Our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don't look at troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.

In light of eternity, our present troubles are indeed small and of short duration, and we have to do the work of reminding ourselves of that reality.Sometimes that is not as easy as other times.  Yet, the brevity of that time of challenge and pain bears fruit that lasts forever - an immeasurably great glory and joys that will last for eternity.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read this passage, almost flippantly, to get to the rest of the story, but this morning, these few words caused me to stop in my tracks at this astonishing truth. My challenges, trusted to me by God, somehow, in ways my mind is too small to grasp, they produce glory and joy - and if I don't see it now, I will understand it later.

It's funny how you can look at someone else, like Joni Erickson Tada, and say that you can see how that is true. Paralyzed, living her life in a wheel chair, yet serving God by writing and speaking, Tada has glorified God in the present and certainly deserves a glory and joy-filled life in eternity. But it is much harder to conceive of that for us.

I am so grateful that God is not in the comparison business. He has sifted the challenges we face, allowing only those into our lives that we and He together can endure in a way that honors Him. It may be as little as conquering a temptation to sexual sinful thoughts or as great a trust as living with chronic pain or in a prison cell for your faith. But, those challenges, those trials are temporary, a few years, and God uses them, like rain on thirsty ground, to produce the fruit of glory and joy.

I am sure I still don't grasp it all. but what a thrill just to think about this reality, this hope.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28, 2012 And why should I be discouraged?

Psalm 42: 1-3 and 11  As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you O God.  I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I come and stand before him?  Day and night I have only tears for my food while my enemies continually taunt me saying, "Where is this God of yours?..."  Why am I discouraged?  Why so sad?  I will put my hope in God!  I will praise him again - my Savior and my God.

As I was reading this, it suddenly made a new kind of sense.  How foolish to be discouraged, to be sad because you have given power over you emotions to anyone other than God!  I am not speaking of the sadness that comes from losing someone you love - it is reasonable to feel sad from time to time when you lose a loved one.

It struck me that it is unreasonable to be discouraged when we have God on our side.  When, as someone who has put their faith in God, in Christ as the One who gave His life so we might have life, and as someone who believes the Spirit of God dwells within us, why on earth should we be discouraged?  God has said He loves us. He has promised never to allow us to be tempted above what we can endure or pass through because we do not do it alone.  He has filtered everything that comes our way, and we can do it...because as our loving parent, our loving heavenly Father, He only allows into our lives that which is for our good and for His glory.Think about it...our failure does not bring much glory to Him.

Anyway it just struck me this morning, that it is unreasonable for us, as children of God, to yield to discouragement.  We have to get our eyes back on the God who loves us.

Another thought, and a short one, but important I think....could we say that, "I long for God in the same way that a thirsty deer, perhaps one fleeing human presence, does?  I fear we take God too much for granted, pulling Him out when we need Him.  Anyway thoughts that challenged me this morning.

And my apologies for anyone who might have been wondering what happened to me.  I confess these last couple of weeks, getting ready for the students to arrive, and a couple of other distractions have kept me from writing here....not from engaging with God's Word.

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10, 2012 Ready to go?

Psalm 31:5  I entrust my spirit into your hand.

I read this passage yesterday morning, and today I learned that a dear friend, Darlene Baker, has entered into the presence of God.  Certainly Darlene had many years ago entrusted her spirit into God's hand .  These past several years, she has lived gracefully with this ugly disease, ALS, a disease that every day robbed her of more of her ability to function. But she continued to be faithful to God, to trust in His goodness when others may have faltered in their faith.

I have not written much in my blog this summer because I have poured most extra moments into a book I was commissioned to write, taking the journal of a woman who had cancer and turning it into something others could benefit from.  Like Darlene, Sandi said, "Not my will but thine," and "To God be the glory." 

These two women have shown me afresh not just what it looks like to die, but to live.  Both women suffered intensely, physically and mentally.  Think about what it is like to find your body failing you and having to live at the mercy and good will and patience of others - to feel like you must depend on those you longed to serve. Both of these women loved God first, then their husbands and family, and then us...and both would rejoice that even in death they could reflect glory to God.

So today, I am grateful to have known Darlene personally and to have come to know Sandi as I typed her journals and as I talk to those who did know her personally.  And I pray, that I might similarly live and die for the glory of God.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Aug. 3, 2012 Making It Up To God, or Doing Penance

Mark 1:15 Repent and reform your lives.

I have been reading Souvenirs of Solitude by Brennan Manning before I go to sleep and came cross this thought-provoking, at least to me, chapter on penance. My first impulse was to turn on the discernment antennae, and honestly I must admit, read on with prejudice. My understanding, albeit subjective and faulty, was that Catholics confess their sins to the priest to be forgiven and to get rid of the penalty. The priest told them to say three Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers, and they were good to go. At least that is what my television viewing taught me.

Then I came across this paragraph, and I will probably copy most of it here: Evangelical penance has a twofold purpose: to overcome the disorder and disharmony in our lives and to deepen our relationship with Christ. It should be both corrective and productive. A dialogue at Wernersville, Pennsylvania, with Father George Schemel, S.J., on the subject "What is a suitable way to do penance?" was enlightening. A suitable approach to penance depends on how the spirit has been wounded. How have I grieved the spirit within me? How have I wounded myself? How have I burdened or damaged the vital, animating force in my life? Obviously the most suitable way to do penance is to do that which revivifies the spirit within me Rather like letting the punishment fit the crime.

Manning goes on to ask "How has the spirit been deadened?...We are talking about the person here.

Ok, here's what came to me: my sin does separate my from the Father, from the Spirit of God - it damages my relationship with the Father in a way similar to what happens when one of my children might have sinned or offended me. The communication between us then is flawed, unnatural and shallow until the offence is cared for.

So penance is probably an unfamiliar and perhaps scary word to us, whatever you want to call us: evangelicals, Protestants, conservatives, fundamentalists, or Baptists even. Take your pick. We hear the word, tie it to Catholicism and dismiss it.

But I have come to like it - a way to name the process where I clear the air between God and me. I examine what I did, admit it and think through why I would choose to offend the One Who loves me and paid my sin debt. Remember, this is not about getting a sin paid for, but about repairing a violated relationship.

Then, I apologize to God for grieving Him, and I ask for His help in identifying what I allowed into my life or bumped into in the course of my life that made that particular sin reasonable, at least at the time. And with His help, I make a plan not to go there again. To that place, whether mental or physical, where the temptation might occur or where I am weakened by whatever, wherever that option of choosing self over God is reasonable.

I love this line: the most suitable way to do penance is to do that which revivifies the spirit within me. I have, with my sin, shut down the Spirit of God. I have hardened my heart to His voice, and now I must revivify it, or make it alive again. In reality, it never died, but I died to it, and now I must do whatever it takes to make myself alive again to the voice of God.

Well, this is much longer than I wanted it to be. I wrote a version yesterday and lost it, so I have to believe God wanted me to work through it once more...and here it is.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25, 2012 It's easier to complain and ridicule, but...

I Timothy 2: 1-3 I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.

Seems to me that it's pretty clear here - Paul is exhorting Timothy, and us, to pray for those in authority over us. When he said kings here, he was speaking about people who were not believers nor supportive of The Way or Christians. So what does that look like today?

We are to see what those in authority need (and this may take some serious, open-minded research) and ask God to supply that need. We are to thank God for the leadership He has raised up, or allowed to be in place. We are to be faithful in praying for them, praying when they don't or can't; that's the ministry of making intercession for them.

Honestly, I struggle, and have been struggling, when I see Christians post all kinds of negative things about the leadership in this country. I wonder how much different our leadership might be if we prayed as much as we criticized. It feels sometimes to me like it is much easier to call names than to obey God and pray. We all know sin is pleasurable for a season; I think our problem is naming our unloving and disobedient, disrespectful behavior as sin.

Certainly there is no perfect leader, and our president is a human trying to use his influence to create the kind of world he wants his daughters to inherit. And yes, he may hold positions we wish he did not, but I think, in the long run, praying for him would accomplish more that lampooning and criticizing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24, 2012 Dare you? Be blessed by someone outside of your faith tradition?

Part 1. I was talking recently with someone who lives a miserable life - that is to say, nearly every minute of every conversation with her is about how her life is miserable and filled with suffering. She would call herself a believer, yet there is little joy or willingness to see blessing in her life.

Part 2. When I was in grad school, at a secular university, my prof had trouble relating to my work - written from a Christian worldview. More than once a professor brought up the name of the writer Flannery O'Connor, a devout Catholic writer who died in her thirties as a way to understand my work. Both of us loved God, and our work in varying ways was influenced by that relationship.

Recently I saw a book entitled The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, and I had to have it. I'm not sure why God is bringing the prayer practices of some Catholic writers into my life except that maybe I'm ready for them. Maybe my appetite for intimacy with the Father is part of it, and some of these practices satisfy that appetite. I do have to say that I believe God does give us discernment, so as I follow some of the guidelines for morning and evening prayer in this book, there are also things I disregard.

So maybe I will deal with that up front. Each day there is a section where there is a prayer to a saint. I believe I have the amazing privilege of communicating directly to God. I do not believe that saints have any power to answer my prayers -at least I cannot find anything is Scripture that would make me think praying to saints is a profitable endeavor. That said, I am not willing to "throw the baby out with the bath water" or disregard other things in this book that might be profitable for me....and I say for me because you may not find them helpful.

I love it that every prayer time is couched in much Scripture reading and meditation first. I appreciate that I am reminded to slowdown and be silent after reading. I appreciate that each day I get to read some of O'Connor's thoughts as she considers spiritual things. I appreciate that I am guided in prayer by biblical prayers and songs. I appreciate that I am given biblical language in which to frame my own requests. And I love the idea that there are countless other Christians engaging in communication with God when I am.

Part 3. Back to the title of the book and my friend. The title of the book - The Province of Joy...the implication is that Prayer is the province of joy. How can we not rejoice when we can engage in fellowship through prayer with our Savior? And if we do not find that experience of prayer joy-producing, whose fault is it? Perhaps ours for running in and out of the presence of God like spoiled children, whining when we do not immediately.

I fear we allow everyone but God to determine the meaning and source of joy, when true joy is a product of our relationship with God - check out the fruit of the Spirit. So if God is the source of real joy, then I want to, I need to, hang out with Him a lot more.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23, 2012 Who are you listening to?

Romans 8:15-16 NIV You should not be like cowering fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into His family - calling "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how busy we all are, (like I was the week before my first grandchild's wedding) and how very hard it is to be either silent or in silence. Personally, when I am trying to get into that quiet place, the first thing that happens is the list, you know, the list of all the things you have to do - even if you have not made a list. Then, you start hearing things, floors squeaking, birds singing, or people. Even the whir of an air conditioner can be a distraction. Your ears are beleaguered by all manner of odd sounds and what you might have considered quiet becomes a raucous place.

Funny, how it is so much easier to listen to, and hear, anything other than the voice of we end up making all of our decisions based on the counsel of everyone else.

I have long loved the verse 26 in John 14, But the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you.

The thought just occurred to me that I wonder if we do not treat God the way struggling teenagers might treat their parents, as out-of-touch and with little too offer; in other words, too easy to blow off. At least that is the way I think God must feel sometimes. He wants us to come to Him in delight, secure in His love and wisdom, with a "Daddy, tell me what to do," uttered in a ready-to-listen and pay attention posture.

Instead, we rush into his presence with our demands, our Deareavenlyfather all running together and our inJesusname closure like poisonous words we want to get by fast, so we can get onto more interesting things.

He's a person, one who loves us and who just wants to sit quietly with us, the way lovers do, content just to be in each other's arms. I wonder what we miss in our hurry to chase after all the other distractions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16, 2012 The Seductive Power of Position

I Chronicles 17:16 King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?

Prov. 19:11 People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs.

David finally got it - he recognized his own weakness, his own poverty of soul apart from God. But unfortunately he learned it the hard way - by his own failure. As King, he used his power to manipulate the Army, his intention to kill the husband of the woman he had lusted after and seduced. His actions had consequences and caused him great pain.

We should all learn from what happened to David, his misuse of power cost him the lives, ultimately, of some of his children. Yet we fail to learn, personally, and corporately. We seldom talk about the seduction of power. You don't have to be a king to have power, you only have to have people who look to you for influence, for care, for some kind of security, and seduction lays in wait with the attentive glances of those who look to you.

Recently the news media have been full of the story of men who exercised power over children and then other men - to keep them quiet. Ultimately many men in power, seduced by that power and the concept that they have a reputation as powerful and "good," were responsible for the horrible and life changing abuse of a number of vulnerable children.

We might think that would never happen to us - we would never cover abuse, nor would we abuse, but is that true? How far are we from using our power in any way to make the point that we have power? Angry, we hurt people with our words and actions, and look away, rather than back with the humility necessary to make it right. Indignant, and perhaps in self-defense and our own guilt, we point out the sins and short-comings of others.

The abuse of power is so seductive that perhaps it is one of the most pervasive and secret sins of the believer. The pastor, the deacon, the Sunday School teacher who uses his or her power to get his or her way; the parent, the sibling, the teacher, the administrator who finds it easier to look at a situation only from the perspective of his or her own gain...abusers of power.

Oh God, help me and those in my world at BBC to catch ourselves when the seduction of power comes calling. May you find us instead people with good sense who in deed and word, love all of those around us looking to find you in us.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13, 2012 I'm bored!!

II Timothy 1:5-6 For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands.

and 3: 16-17: All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

In the book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor, she says :"One characteristic of post modernism is distrust of old institutions that have let people down. As I was thinking this through, the phrase "I'm bored" came to mind. Kids in the old institution of church have grown bored with and distrustful of church because of a couple of things, I think.

One, we entertain them until they are in high school, and then we expect them to jump into the version of church we have for old people, the one where you mostly sit and watch. Sooner or later, you get tired of just listening to an endless stream of words. Now I must say this is not true of all churches, but I do think it is true of too many.

Then, they are bored because we fail to help them make the link between Bible stories and theology with real of course they are bored. They have heard all the stories and too much dry theology.  Church and the Bible are boring because we have sucked the life out of them. We preach at them, but fail to let them ask questions, without embarrassing them because they do have a question. Theology should be living, a guide for practice - a manual for life. Again, I know that all churches are not like this, but too many are.

I wonder if we don't need to stop blaming things on postmodernism and start listening with discerning ears to see what truth there might be. God did not mean for His followers to sit in rows and listen and then go do their thing. I think He meant for them to listen and then figure out, by talking about what they have heard, what being a Christ-follower looks like today - in this culture. There's nothing like interaction to keep you from being bored.

If you only lecture, it is tough for your listeners to make the transition to application. God did not mean for us to do the Christian life alone. We are to do it in the context of a loving and interested community - interested enough to allow for discussion, for failures, for growth, but most interested in loving others like God loved us first.

Just thinking!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012 It was just a mistake!!

I Cor. 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

Sin: harmartia - offence or trespass, with the implication that one has missed the mark and thus the of eternal life, of God's blessing.

I heard him in the hallway telling someone he had made a mistake calling his wife a name and yelling at her in the presence of his children. It wasn't the time or place for me to rebuke him, but all the way down the hall I kept thinking, "It was not a mistake. It was a sin, an unloving and hurtful act committed on your wife, and by the way, teaching your children that it is OK to do, humiliate your wife - we do teach our children what is right by what we do."

In the book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor, the author discusses the language we use when talking about salvation related matters. In a discussion about decision-making, she talks about "moral and ethical decision-making," and has this to say, "I understood that there were immoral and unethical decisions I could make that would violate basic human values. When I substituted the word "sin," however, the stakes automatically went up. If I sinned, then the values in question were no longer human values but God's values."

I am so grateful that Christ died for my sin, that he paid my sin debt, but there is more going on here than getting a free(to me) ticket to heaven. It has to do with how I behave, how I show my appreciation for that gift. Christ suffered physical and emotional pain in my stead, the pain of separation from His Father and the weight of my sin, pain I cannot even comprehend but which caused him to sweat blood.

When I call sin, when we call sin a mistake, when we or I violate God's values, I fear we are dishonoring what He did on the cross, and we are lying to ourselves and others. Sin is a big deal!!! A mistake is a little thing that we can easily sweep under the rug, that causes us to feel little regret. Sin is much more.

It causes us to miss the blessing of God, to grieve Him, and the greatest sin, unbelief, causes us to lose eternal life.  My sin grieves God, just as the sins of any child grieves his or her parent. Today I am mindful of the gulf between the words mistake and sin, and I pray that I would be aware of my own vulnerability to rationalize away what I could so easily call a mistake.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012 Leadership and Followers

I can see I was looking at the June calendar when I posted yesterday - forgive me please....

I Cor. 11: 1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (NASB)

Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ Jesus. (KJV)

I've been working on the subject of leadership this summer in preparation for our RA training for the fall, and it is not easy to find just the right thing. There is a lot written about leadership from a professional or business perspective, but I am not sure that is what might correlate with what God calls us to do as leaders.

Just before bed, I always read for about 20 minutes, or more sometimes, but one of the books I have been working on is My Beautiful Idol by Peter Gall. It is autobiographical though it does not cover his entire life. Think Donald Miller with a little more depth maybe. Anyway as he relates his young adult life, he touches on a lot of important themes - like leadership, and in a way that spoke to I want to share a few lines from his book here.

"Leadership is best measured buy the communion it facilitates between the follower and the Father. The question is not how many people follow you, but how effectively they pass through you. Jesus is the way to the Father. Paul says, "Follow me as I follow Christ." Leadership is an usher's sweeping hand gestures, and the intention is to move a person beyond the leader. (Think a few seconds about this image.) Leadership faces forward to the Son and the Father. Real leadership is aware of who['s following."

He goes on to talk about static leadership in the church whose focus is on getting people across the finish line, or saved. His point is that maybe the finish line of salvation is only the beginning of the race. He goes on to say "Pastors could choose to run, could face forward and just go, trusting the spiritual gravity of leadership that is not about influence, but about facilitating communion between the follower and the Father."

Those words stopped me dead cold. I fear that too much of leadership is about influence - just general influence. We tell young leaders that they are role models, influencers, but I am not sure we always help them understand the responsibility that comes with being a leader - the responsibility to God. We make leadership in our culture be all about power whether we like it or not, I am pretty sure that is true.

I like what Gall says here so simply - it is about facilitating communion between the follower and the Father, no matter what we do or where we go.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 12, 2012 He loves you, really loves you!

John 16:27 For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God

I John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

I've been on vacation for a while and thinking a lot about God, the Person, the One who invented love and who has loved us with a perfect unconditional love before we knew Him.

Maybe I am beating a dead horse here, and everyone gets it, understands the God loving us thing, but it really doesn't seem that way. When you understand that God loves you, it seems to me that it has to change you...change all the things you like and do and think about. It seems like thinking about that idea, that God loves me, or you, would bring a smile to our faces, and would make us want to love Him back.

If we allowed ourselves time to feel God's love, to actually give ourselves over to soaking in the reality that the God Who breathed it all into existence chooses to be interested in us, to seek us out and to make us His own, then we would want to do something either to love Him back or to tell others about this miracle of love.

I don't think I will write anything more today. I will just think about God's love for me, and you, and let it fill me, so that what spills out of me is pleasing to Him.

Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29, 2012 Free, really?

John 8: 31b-32 If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.

True freedom can only be achieved when one gives oneself over to the good (health and well being) of the community. Jim King 2011

(The Message I Timothy 2:8-11) Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray-- not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.

I know it may appear that all of these words have little in common, but they all flowed together for me this week. I remember as a young woman in the church, and older, not really feeling very free. In fact, I was really afraid I would do or say something wrong...not what you might today identify as sin, but something my church people would view as sin. It probably stems back to when I was 16 and worked at an A and W Rootbeer Stand...No alcohol and we wore black capris and white blouses (not tank tops) and one of the older ladies in my church informed me that was not a godly place to work.

So, I learned to watch what others deemed acceptable, and followed suit - in a prison of my own making, trying to win the acceptance and approval of men.

I won't go into my journey to this place where I am coming to be comfortable, but I think we in the church all those years ago, and too many churches today are not all that interested in freedom. The focus is more on a safely prescribed behavior, deemed safely by people. God calls us to know Him, to take in His Word and allow it to change us, and then we will find real freedom....loving God and loving others in very practical ways.

I keep in my car a copy of the Message and read it while waiting. Yesterday I read the above passage and loved the simple beauty of it: praying and doing something beautiful for God, and not wasting time and energy and witness by hating. I am tired of that, and I see way too much of it - believers wasting their time attacking other believers, attacking our nation's leader and ...anyone who doesn't use the same words they do in the way they interpret them.

I am going out on a limb here - God tells us to pray for those in authority over us, but too many believers are in a prison of hatred. Imagine the freedom available to them and disregarded because it is too easy to hate and criticize rather than obey God and love and pray and live in that space where God dwells.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012 Just do what I told you to.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Funny the things that God brings to your mind - like my father, my earthly father's words, "Just do as you're told" or "Just do what I told you to." His point, and to be honest, I heard my mother say these words as well, their point, was just obey me, don't question me, do it my way, and probably the subtext was, then you'll be ok and it will turn out OK.

I remember not listening to my mother once, when I was trying to make applesauce for the first time, choosing to believe a cookbook and not her, and it did not turn out well. Well, that lesson took, and even today, I tend to want to follow directions, do it like the boss says - the pastor says, - the teacher says, and to just launch out and trust my own judgment is a challenge.

The problem is I have learned a lesson or two over the years. The Spirit of God has given me discernment. And as long as I keep this verse in Colossians as my compass, I can try new things. I can read even writers outside of my own faith tradition, something in years past I would never have dared.

Which brings me to prayer. Like you, I imagine, I long to have a relationship with Christ, a prayer life that reflects that, and it is way too easy to allow prayer to fall into a phone call for help. Certainly a one-sided relationship. I came upon a prayer called The Examen last week, and appreciate very much the possibilities that come from it.

This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced; I will follow each step here with a few notes..

1. Become aware of God’s presence. (Too often, even in prayer, we are too busy to recognize God in the room.)

2. Review the day with gratitude. (Start at the morning and consider all of the manifestations of God's love for you - even things as simple as food and clothing)

3. Pay attention to your emotions. (As you review the day, do you see things you need to make right with God or man? Make a plan to follow up. Conversely, do you see occasions for praise and thanksgiving? Or an encouragement from the Spirit to do something - like me writing this entry?)

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. (And it does NOT have to be only one feature - as many as God leads you to talk about with Him.)

5. Look toward tomorrow. (Review what is ahead - your plans; consult God about these things.)

So, yes, the examen may have its roots in the practice of a Catholic priest, but does that mar its usefulness to you or me?

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22, 2012 The End is Coming

John 14: 19 .After a little while the world will behold Me no more, but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also.

There's a movie coming out about an asteroid heading to a collision with the earth, and I understand we moviegoers get to watch what the main characters do in light of the impending end of the world. I recently learned of a lady who died ten days after being diagnosed with cancer, and another lady who on Tuesday was caring for her grandchildren and on Wednesday was gone from this life.

Whether it is a movie or reality, we have no guarantees of a certain life expectancy, no matter what the insurance actuaries tell us. In light of that I was challenged to think about what I would want my last words to be.

I'm not afraid. Those are pretty important words to leave with someone when you are going some place they cannot see yet. I am not afraid because Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for me, and He is waiting for me. Can you imagine that? In fact, I can get really excited about what is ahead...because though there is a lot about eternity that I do not know, there is a lot that I do know.

Jesus is there, the One who redeemed me and who has prepared a place for me - can you imagine what that place will be like? I can't. But I do know that I will have a completely renewed mind, unencumbered by sin and temptation. My desires, for once, will truly be His desires.    

So I would want "I'm not afraid" to be among my last words I've read a lot of obituaries over the last couple of weeks (that is another story), and so many of them say that he or she died peacefully. That is an important thing to the survivors, that their loved one was a peace - and what a peace there is in knowing that death is only the open door into the presence of God - and He has cleansed me and made me ready for that place. So, I am not afraid, and I hope you have the same kind of peace and hope that I do...Love God and enjoy His love. If you really do, you too will not only have peace with God, but it will engender an appetite for all those around you to do the same.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012 Redeeming the Time

Acts 10:9-10 The next day as Cornelius's messengers were nearing the city, Peter went up to the flat roof to pray.  It was about noon, and he was hungry.  But while lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance.

Don't you love how human this is: Peter got hungry; don't we all?  And sometimes we have to wait till dinner's ready...whether it is someone else preparing it, or it's in the oven or cooking on top of the stove, and it is just not ready... What do you do in those unexpected waiting moments?

I love it that even though Peter was hungry; can you feel those distracting belly growls? he went up to pray, up where there was space and time to be alone.

We tend to pick up a magazine, turn the TV on, check out facebook or email... but pray? I confess that option does not come to me nearly as often as it should.  And it would be so easy to just sit in the living room, settle myself by looking out the window and the trees waving in the breeze or the clouds like chalk marks on the sky...and maybe slide down onto my knees and pray...and ask God to excuse the belly growls that might distract me.

And though I may not have a trance quite like Peter's, I wonder what God might bring my way in those precious redeemable moments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13, 2012 The Spiral of Light

II Timothy 2: 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

I love Facebook for its ability to shrink the world. I get to follow the lives of my students, those God has allowed me to minister to and alongside and see how they are teaching others also.

This week my husband is teaching a doctoral course, and in his class here on campus are men from Africa, Kazakhstan and the US. The cool thing is that as Jim talked to the student from Africa, he found out some wonderful news, some II Timothy kind of news. Tita, the student, had studied in Cameroun. One of his teachers, Adjingar Daniel, had been both a member of our household in Chad and one of our students. One mark of Daniel's life (Daniel - as we knew him) was that He loved God and he wanted to serve Him. Daniel would work for us, and that is another story, but he also studied night after night by firelight and kerosene light so that he could succeed in Bible School. And he did, going on to teach in the Bible College in Cameroun.

That's what Paul was trying to do in this letter to Timothy - give him a vision, a passion for passing on the torch and the Word of God, to people and places the first teacher might never reach, except through the student.

So it came through, that spiral of truth - not a circle, that ends where it began, but a spiral that comes by it place of origin, but keeps on going - like a cheerleader encouraging all of those who have been part of its track.

Facebook shows me the spiral, the fruit where we have been allowed to touch the lives of our faithful students, and a BBC and S classroom, this week reminded us once more what it is all about - a trust of the Word, not to just keep it neatly closed up in our Bibles, but spilling out of our lives into the lives of others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12 Forgetting how to pray?

I Kings 8:56-58 Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to talk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.

I don't know about you, but I find it so much easier to pray for other people than I do for myself. When I came upon this passage yesterday, it struck me once again, about how we can take God for granted, and about how we need to read Scripture to see how others before us related to God.

• May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers. I think here about my spiritual fathers, and how God has so blessed them with his presence, enabling them to persevere and to finish well, showing us the way through some very deep valleys.

• May he never leave us nor forsake us. I love this part of the prayer because it always brings to mind the New Testament passage that says, "He will never leave nor forsake us." Hebrews 13:5

• Me he turn our hearts to him. Oh how I know I need this part of the prayer. It is so easy for our hearts to turn in other directions, to be distracted or attracted by things of the world.

• To talk in all his ways. His ways - loving, merciful, forgiving, kind, joyful. Talking in His ways takes practice and immersion in His Word and ways. I think that is why we are encouraged to continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of...II Tim. 3:14-17

• To keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. This boils down neatly - Love God and behave in loving ways toward others because you do love them. Matt. 22: 37-40 It really is all summed up here - all those laws and regulations were designed by God for the good of His peopleand are summed up in the command to love.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7, 2012 It's really all about focus!

Psalm 125:1-2 Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever. Just as the mountains surround and protect Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds and protects his people. both now and forever.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how people endure some of the nightmarish challenges that come their way: cancer, the loss of a loved one, chronic disease and pain, even betrayal or perceived betrayal. In particular, how do believers do it?

It came to me the difference that focus makes. I am vision impaired - so near-sighted that the first thing I do in the morning is put on my glasses. Without my glasses, everything is a greasy blurr, even something as close as my bed, even standing besides it, or the shoes on the floor when I am searching for slippers. Just can't see or make out anything. I can't focus without my glasses, so life looks like one big challenge or mess...and I am pretty helpless.

Then I thought about the difference our ability to focus in real life is when we fail to look at it through the lens of our faith and our understanding of something as simple as God's love. Everything looks like an impossible challenge and chaos. When we experience our challenges through the lens of trust in God, through the lens of knowing He loves us and will never leave us nor forsake us. how different our reality is.

The flip side of that occurs when we focus only on our circumstances, our loss, our pain. From experience, the more I focus on my pain or loss, the more it hurts and incapacitates me. BUT, when I shift my focus on what I know is true, that God surrounds and protects me, that He will never allow me to be tempted above what I am able (with His strong right arm holding me up), then the whole situation or reality becomes much clearer.

Not only does it become clearer and bearable, but a place where rejoicing can occur. How can I not rejoice from that beautiful place of God's embrace?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

January 6, 2012 But that's legalistic!

Matt. 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Funny how those words, "But that's legalistic!" seems to justify not doing good things. Theoretically it is said, "If you do something because you have to (whether you make yourself do it or you have developed the habit because someone advised it), then it doesn't count to God. It is just legalistic."

Maybe that could be true, but let me borrow some words from Dennis Okholm: "It is strange that we take the advice of our dentist and floss regularly to maintain healthy gums or follow doctor's orders to exercise on schedule to enhance our physical well-being, while we often spurn the counsel of spiritual physicians and trainers to develop habits that will maintain and enhance our spiritual lives."

It seems to me that the trend these days is against having a regular quiet time with God or a regular prayer time because "Then it is not spontaneous or done out of a desire to be with God." The idea of doing something out of an intentional habit seems to be frowned upon, but why?

We do lots of things out of habit: we eat three meals a day, and I wonder how many times it is because we waited until we were hungry. We brush our teeth, we bathe, we dress every morning almost on auto-pilot. We take our vitamins and drink our orange juice, without thinking, because we do it every day and it is good for us.

But we say it is legalistic to communicate that someone should set aside time/times every day to be alone with God, to read His Word, to listen for His Spirit to commune with ours or to pray - to talk things over with Him. Maybe building those things into our lives is necessary in order to strengthen the flesh so that when temptation comes, we are ready...or perhaps we have prayed away some temptation by praying regularly. Or maybe doing these things shows God that we do love Him, and we do want to be alone with Him, just as we would want to be alone with someone human that we love.

I think those words, "That's legalistic!" have become powerful tools of the evil one to discourage God's people from building healthy spiritual habits. Can the words be true? I suppose. Sometimes.  But I think they are far more often tools to discourage than truths to encourage.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 5, 2012 So how long do you wait?

Acts 2:1-2 On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Jesus' resurrection, the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them, and it filled the house where they were meeting.

I was reading this passage the other day, and it struck me what was happening. Seven weeks earlier they had lost their leader. They did see Jesus alive, resurrected and He did talk to some of them, but they also watched Him disappear into the heavens. Can you imagine, putting yourself in their place, what you might be thinking, left behind, so to speak?

Luke, the doctor records most closely Christ's last words in Like 24: 46-49. He told them,. "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third say, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name top all nations beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Of course, Luke wrote both passages, as a doctor, almost clinically recording exactly what happened. So, those early believers did what they were told. They stayed there, in that place for seven weeks, hoping, praying in unity for each other and that power from on high, Jesus had talked about. Imagine this, He was gone. And every day thereafter, regardless of how much they prayed, how much they had to adjust their lives to remain their, no matter how much they hoped, nothing happened. Day after day, nothing happened, externally.

But I wondered what happened internally, spiritually. They had shared anticipation of the new King of Israel. They watched the King die on a cruel Roman cross. They mourned for three days, doubting, wondering if it had all been a bad dream. Then He arose and jubilation broke out, for three days or a little less because it took a while for the news to get out and for them to accept it as real. Think about that roller coaster of emotion. And finally, they watched Him wave good by as He disappeared once more, His words, "Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." echoing in their ears.

For seven weeks they waited. I wondered if some did lose hope and wander off. But there were many who did remain their, struggling together in prayer and in just the work of living together away from their normal circumstances. Did you ever wonder what they did about food or sleeping arrangements?

And then it came - that roaring wind and the Holy Spirit! Think about the reality that they had no New Testament yet. It was only as they shared what they had heard and seen with one another that they had the courage and hope to hang in there.

And here we are: Bible in hand, historical evidence, a heritage of persevering believers, and that Spirit of God dwelling within and empowering us, and personally speaking, personally examining, do we demonstrate any of that same power and courage and witness those believers did over that seven weeks of waiting?

I am not sure our "good times" or "easy life" of material wealth have been all that good for us. I remain struck this morning by the power of God and faith in their lives even before the gift of the Holy Spirit. And our impatience.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012 Thirsty?

John 19:28 Jesus knew that everything now was finished, and to fulfill the Scripture he said, "I am thirsty."

This last week (on vacation) was a hot one - averaging 93, so it wasn't a wonder that Tuesday morning my husband woke up dizzy. Normally we share bed-making duties - he makes his side while I make mine, and there is invariably some pulling from one or the other of us to make the sides even. This Tuesday, when he stood up and bent over to grasp the bedding, he immediately went into windmill mode, his arms stretched wide out on either side, treading air, so he could get his balance.

It took a while! I brought him a glass of orange juice and he steadied somewhat. Then he made it into the bathroom to take his shower, and halfway in, as he readied to take the last step over the side of the tub, the windmilling returned. What on earth??

I went downstairs to make some breakfast while he finally finished the shower and got dressed. More orange juice and some eggs, and he felt ready to go to work, but not to drive. He made it through the morning, drinking lots and feeling better as the day wore on. The problem: dehydration. Not enough liquids, not thirsty enough the day, the days before, and the heat drained out what moisture his body had stored.

This last week, and then this passage made me think of being thirsty and the effects of not drinking enough...drinking enough of the Word. When the weather is fine, we neglect the care our body needs to maintain our health. Similarly, I'm afraid, when our world seems fine and things are going well, we neglect to drink in the Word. And then when our Spirit is stretched, when things heat up, we stand in danger of spiritual dehydration.

Both types of dehydration lead to organ collapse and possible death. Both types of dehydration are easily prevented. We need to pay attention to our needs for nourishment before we feel thirsty, before we are drained. Jesus was not dehydrated. I am not implying this. But his words, "I am thirsty" made me think about how we need to face and admit our thirst and do something about it before it is too late. We need as fiercely spiritual nourishment - reading and meditating on the Word of God, listening as His Spirit helps us understand it, as we need water and bread and meat!

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18, Who's Speaking?

John 10:2-4 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them and the sheep follow him because they know His voice.

Have you ever net (remet) someone who says they know you, and you think they look familiar, but cannot pull a name up for them, nor place where you are supposed to know them from. That has happened to me more than once, and when you consider that I have been in the education field or ministry life for 40 years, I have met a lot of people. Certainly there are some people I have little trouble remembering, even though I met them even 40 years ago. Those are the people with whom I spent a lot of time , those I worked and played with, and especially those with whom I suffered.

And there are people that you don't even have to see to know; I can hear and recognize my husband's voice across a crowded room, even if I don't expect him to be there. It's because of the depth and longevity of our relationship.

This passage reminds me of, not only how God pursues us, as a shepherd pursues and cares for his sheep, but how those of us who have a long and close relationship with God can recognize His voice. Have you ever had a choice to make, two options from which to choose, and only later you find out the one choice had serious consequences? Most of us who are responding to God's pursuit have experienced that conundrum - two of what look like similar choices.

But, if we listen carefully after we pray, we can recognize God's voice through those around us or through our circumstances as He calls us by our name and leads us out. Funny, as I sit here, memories flood of just those kinds of situations: when we had to choose whether to go to Liberia or Chad, and God led through a variety of circumstances....or when we had to decide whether Jim would leave Africa without us to go for treatment of his broken leg. We followed God's voice, for the kids and I to stay in Africa, and I believe God used that to demonstrate to the Africans our faith.

Oh, I could list a lot more, but there is something else here at stake. The point is that you have to have a close relationship with someone to recognize their face and their voice. If much time passes between the period when you became acquainted with them and you next saw them, there is little likelihood that you would recognize them. If we want to know God's voice, we must hang out with Him, a lot, and regularly. We must not just hang out at the edge of the crowd, but respond to His pursuit of us by loving Him back...and loving someone is demonstrated by the quality and quantity of the time we share.

This passage reminds me that God opened the door to me, made my faith possible, but that He wants to lead me to pleasant places - sometimes through storms or scary places, but always to end up inside with Him in safety and peace. Still it is possible for me to wander off on my own, and if I do so for very long, I may struggle to recognize His voice and get stuck in a very dark place. I'm so grateful that He will never leave me nor forsake me, and I'm sorry that my failure to listen will also cause Him, the lover of my soul, pain.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Hungry?

Would I have enough to offer myself as food for thought?

Settle yourself in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do. Say, "I am now with myself," and just sit with yourself. After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored. This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored! Why is this so? It is because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction...We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from outside...Anthony Bloom in Beginning to Pray

What a thought! We spend more time waiting for something to respond to than we do filling up with meat so that when the incident happens that we must respond to, we too quickly find ourselves malnourished. I think of how much of our entertainment requires only watching.  Then I was thinking about how much of what we read requires little more than the ability to decipher letters and words and punctuation....not much being required of reasoning nor much reason to work at remembering what we read.

Bring back the memory verse competitions. Bring back real "quiet time," not the fifteen minute devotions but the Sunday long periods met for stillness and perhaps an intake of what is virtuous. I fear that we are a starving obese nation - full of physical food and starving for the kind of spiritual food, the kind of thought-provoking meat, that grants real life, and we don't even notice it.

I remember a bright young woman saying to me, "I don't like to think; it's too hard."  I wonder if whatever she had was contagious, and we would all rather be entertained than we would do the kind of thinking that requires choices and action.

Am I full of cotton candy,
or is there some meat in there, some 12 grain bread?

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012 To Listen is better than to sacrifice

I Samuel 15:22 Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams."

I guess I didn't get the listening thing all that well because last week God slowed me to a stop. Periodically I get muscle spasms in my back, and the only cure is a heating pad, a recliner, and muscle relaxants. Last week was one of those times when God yanked my chain, and for three days I did not get far from my chair.

As I sat there, too miserable to even watch TV or read, I did have plenty of time to listen and to talk to God. If I learned one thing it was how hard it is to listen to and for God. I confess, my prayer time is over way too quickly, and then I am off to what needs to be done...a real mess that is, because what really needs to be done is for me to be still and listen.

In the moments that I was able to listen, God made a connection for me. I am working on a writing project, one which requires me to immerse myself in another woman's journey through cancer. As I waited for the next spasm to strike, God reminded me of what suffering could be. I knew eventually the medicine and the heat and rest would kick in, and my pain would be over.

My friend, as I have come to call her, had no such assurance. She hoped and trusted God for healing, but her everyday normal was pain, and active nausea and endless suffering. Throughout her journey, she never lost faith, and I am reminded how quickly I lose patience. And I call out to God to take the pain away.

In truth my prayer should be, "help me to be still and listen" because I do not want to miss anything, and the pain or confusion or conflict can mask the best of God's Words.

My friend brought great glory to God over the nearly two years before her home going, but she never stopped listening. As I rehearsed all of these things, I confessed to God that I was sorry that it took this kind of thing, my muscle spasms, to cause me to listen for Him. I confessed that I was sorry I had to grieve Him because He does not rejoice in our suffering. Even though He longs for us to rejoice, He does know that listening will bring the greater blessing, so He allows the suffering.

I would not for a moment want anyone to think my friend's suffering was because she needed to suffer to get quiet, to listen. I believe her suffering was a trust. God knew He could trust her to glorify Him through this nightmare, and take it from me, who has been immersed in her journals, she glorified Him all the way to the door of heaven.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 8, 2012 Can you hear me now?

I Samuel 3: 9 He told Samuel, :Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening." So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Psalm 143:8 Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk for I lift up my soul unto thee.

I had visions of what I was going to do after school was out, after graduation - not of what I would do at school, but at home in the evening. No more papers to grade. No more classes to prepare for. No more research to do for whatever issue was most pressing. Only dinner to prepare for and clean up after, and the usual chores, but domestic, not related to my academic life.

Oh, the books I would read. The hours available to sit on the deck and think. Oh the fool that I am!! I forgot for a moment the enemy who would fill our hours up with what appear to be good things, but which may not be the best.

God wants us to be listening for Him, and then to Him. He wants us to hear His loving kindness in the morning, but too often our mornings are spent trying to play catch up to all the chores waiting. We think technology simplifies our lives - almost instant coffee through our fancy coffee makers, crockpots to fill for the evening, facebook to catch up with our friends, email to wade through for our job and personal lives, load the dishwasher or empty it, and the clothes washer, and...count the outlets you have something plugged into. And the ear buds or pandora or kindle or phone or ipad or Galaxy in my case, that is never far from us....

Just tell me, how on earth could we hear the voice of God in all that mess? I am beginning to think we have allowed technology and everything else to set our agenda and to make so much noise that we have a way harder time listening for or hearing the voice of God that Samuel ever did.

So what is the solution? Dare I say, making a real effort at going unplugged? at least for a while? After all, can't most of it wait? And I am certainly speaking to myself here. Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 3, 2012 Hospitality - making who feel at home?

Luke 1: 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

John 14: 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him; but ye know him; for he dwells with you and shall be in you...23 Jesus answered and said unto him, IF a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.

I was talking to a student about making choices, (hers and it wasn’t all that great a choice) and trying to get her to see that we are constantly speaking to all those around us by every choice that we make. Our actions sometimes speak more loudly than our words, and that message communicated by our actions often lingers far longer in someone’s mind than any words we might speak.

I shared with her the reality that we take God everywhere we go, and not only is He a witness to everything we say and do, everything we say and do says something about our relationship with Him.

After she left, the above Scripture came to mind, the idea that Mary indeed carried the physical body of Jesus for a time – making a home for Him inside of her. Then the Scripture in John came to mind: the idea that the Spirit of God, God Himself, dwells or abides or makes His home inside of me, and not just for a while, but as long as I live.

Mary knew, as far as a human mind could comprehend it, that she was carrying the Messiah. And if you have ever been pregnant, you know that reality is never far from your mind. I remember that I worked extra hard about being careful to eat the foods right for my baby, and to avoid the foods that might harm my child. I avoided risky behaviors and embraced anything that would increase the likelihood that my baby would be born healthy. All of that to say, I would bet you money that Mary did the same thing, at least as far as she knew to do.

Taking that one step further, if you are a believer in Jesus, you carry the Spirit of God around with you every moment of every day. The issue or the challenge is, are you as hospitable to Him as you might be to a human child. And for the record, I have to admit right here, I have certainly not been as hospitable to the Spirit of God all the time as I wanted to be or could have been.

I remember talking to my little unborn child, telling her or him that I loved her (two times) and him (one time), not that I only did it a total of three times, but I did only have three children. The point is do I talk to God as much as I talked to my unborn children or talked to God about them, and is He as at home in my body as they were.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 1, 2012 Where has the time gone?

Ecclesiastes 3: To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

You might not think it so, but April is one of the busiest months for me, and perhaps for most people who work in my field - college education.  It is a month of tying up loose ends, of grading final projects and exams and trying to figure out semester averages. It is also the month when stuff comes out of the woodwork, or so it seems.  Hidden sin refuses to remain hidden.  Students who have tried to minister to other students seek help; students who have seen others hide sin fear the consequences of that sin unaddressed, call out for help. And I don't know about you dear reader, but this crazy weather, or at least we blame it on the weather, has brought about all manner of bugs across our campus, and not just in the dorms.

BUT, for me, this month has brought also dessert!  At least that is what I call the few days I spent in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Festival of Faith and Writing that takes place every two years on the campus of Calvin College.  This year I joined 2000 other lovers of reading and writing, and it was like being back in school, only by choice.  Classes started around 8:30am and ended at about 9:00pm - with classes that ran through lunch if you wanted to balance a sandwich with the opportunity to squeeze in one more session with experienced and published writers and teachers...which I did.

I came back from the conference exhausted (I am not as young as I used to be), exhilarated, and encouraged, six new poems in my notebook.  I was reminded again of both God's call in my life as a writer and of the reality of the enemy who would keep me from writing and who would keep feeling me a failure if I don't publish as others have.

One lesson I ask God to help me remember is this: He is the only one that matters.  He loves me.  He has called me to give back what He has given me, and it doesn't matter who reads what I write, or who buys what I write.  It matters only that I write because that is who He made me to be.

In this stolen moment in the busy finals week at school, I am reminded that I must watch out for the evil one who, like a lion, seeks to devour the very words God has entrusted to me. This is a season and a time for me to write, perhaps for you to write, or sing, or sew, or teach, or parent.  This season is a gift, and God calls us to enjoy it, to savor it....and we have to watch out for whatever the evil one would put in our path to discourage us or to cause us to doubt that call.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April 5, 2012 Should do it or Want to do it?

John 14: 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you and yet has thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

John 14:21 He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.

I've been hanging out with John, the beloved, this Holy Season, and just lately spending time in the chapters where John recorded the events of Holy Week. As I read chapter 14, I was overcome again with what Jesus was feeling in these final days as He anticipated the cross. He knew the agony that awaited Him, and even in that foreknowledge could experience in anticipation the horrors of taking our sin upon Himself. Then, after John records in chapter 13, that Jesus was troubled in Spirit, we hear again an exchange that must have brought Him further pain.

Think about those words in verse 9 - "Have I been so long time with you?" I can imagine the frustration Jesus was experiencing. For three years these men had been scarcely an arm's length away from Him, and yet they appeared not to have gotten it, to have heard and understood His Words. Scarcely hours before this scene, Jesus said, " He that seeth me seeth Him that sent me." And somehow Philip either didn't hear, or notice or remember those words. And patiently, Jesus goes through it once more, ending that dialogue reminding Philip that "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him," v. 21.

All of that takes me to the questions in the title: Should do it or Want to do it? How much of our faith is about what we should do and how much is it about what we want to do - to love God back? Are we very different from Philip, having heard over and over the Great Commandments: Love God and love one another, having heard that God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to pay our sin debt? Has it become a list of words arranged in a certain way that we acknowledge? Has our Christian life become filled with things we do because we should, like going to church or having our devotions or reading our Bible, because we should...or it has become our thoughtless habit?

I wonder how like Philip we have become - having heard it all, but not having allowed it to penetrate very deeply?

Jesus was a Person who lived, and walked, and talked, and grieved and got frustrated, but He finished well because He was motivated by a love we cannot understand. He cares only about what we do as a way of loving Him back, of the pages of Scripture we devour because we long to hear from Him, of the minutes we spend in prayer, because we long to be in His company, to talk to Him. He cares about our awareness that He is constantly showering us with His unconditional love for us, love that He demonstrated some two thousand years ago when He walked the steps to Golgotha for me, and for you.

Oh Holy Father, Holy Savior, I thank you for what you did for me, and what you do for me every minute of every day. I kneel at your feet in gratitude and peace and joy, and I thank you for one more Holy Week we call it, a time of reminding ourselves of the reality of your gift to us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 3, 2012 Looking Ahead

John 12:25-27 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and that where I am, there shall my servant be: if any man serve me him will my Father honor. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.

I have settled into the book of John this Easter season, spending a couple of weeks at the end of John. Did you ever notice the difference between the way John ends his book, his gospel and the way Matthew, Mark and Luke do? John ends his with words about Jesus, his beloved friend. I think the others end theirs more impersonally, about Christ's words to them and about them.

Anyway, I decided this week, the Holy Week, as it is often called, I would go back to that week in John are reread the events as John recorded them. First I was surprised to notice that of the 21 chapters in the book, just under half of the chapters are about the final week.  It must have been so fresh in John's mind, still so powerful, that when he wrote his gospel although he had year's worth of events to write about, these events were most important.

Chapter 12 begins with the dating of the chapter - six days before the Passover. Six days before the crucifixion. It appears that Christ was crucified on the Passover, a fulfillment of what the Passover symbolized, the value of a blood sacrific to covwer sin, to redeem God's chosen people. But think about Him that day, waking up and knowing what was ahead. The parade, the palm leaves,   the knowledge of the shallowness and the brevity of that worship. He knew it all. He felt it all, just as we feel the pain of something ahead that we know will hurt.

As He says these words that John hears and records for us, Jesus knew experientially the truth of every phrase He uttered. He knew that loving His own life and well-being could cost not only His life, but our lives. I've been thinking a lot about how we mentor and disciple without any kind of formal relationship. How there are people all around us watching how we do it, so they can learn how to do, or perhaps not to do something. So Christ shows us here how to hate our lives, how to serve God rather than self.

But this morning, maybe three days before the anniversary of the crucifixion, I think about how Jesus was troubled. He knew all about the horrors soon to be visited upon Him for you and for me. And He wrestled with it, bringing to mind Hebrews 4: 15, But we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but which was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

And I am both comforted and challenged by His prayer here in John. He was tempted in a way I never will be, and He turned to the Father, and in honesty expressed His need. And then He went out and did it. So I need to pour out my heart in honesty, express all of my need, and then live life in absolute confidence that God will not allow me more than He and I can experience, yet without sin.