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.