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.