Friday, May 29, 2009

Praying Women...All Kinds

I tend to make things messy. The more of me that enters a situation, the more awkward things seem to be spiritually. Can I get a witness? I have said before that I am a nervous talker. There are no calm silences around me. My husband calls that my hostess voice because my pitch gets higher. I start to try to feed everyone, even if they don’t want it. I think that I certainly have done my part for the obesity epidemic in this nation. My understanding is that the more full people are, the happier they can be…probably my Texas up bringing.

So my natural tendency to fill the space, works against me in prayer. I talk about prayer a lot. I think that everyone knows that they need to do it…BUT, there is always a but, you are usually a fan or not. In theory, it is simple. It is based on something that we do even with complete strangers, talking. The difference is that we talk to people while doing dishes, eating, watching TV or checking email. We are rarely asked to sit, face-to-face and talk with anyone.

That would mean that two people are doing nothing for the advancement of something for a few moments. That would mean that children have to take those ear buds out for a second. (Side note: I went out to lunch with my husband and across the aisle was a teenage boy. He was wearing a baseball cap but kept fixing his hair to fall in his eyes perfectly, then adorning this creation again with the cap. To me, a waste of time, but it is the new thing, so whatever. Then when his parents came back from the bathroom, he put his ear buds back in and put his head down on the table. I could not help but stare because that is not his fault. His parents were sitting across from him…hmmm? I can only assume that they did not like him enough to talk to him. I digress.)

Ladies probably do this face-to-face business more than men do. Although, I have found that when I hang out with my friends it is seldom without a child running around. I usually have one ear of any mother. I believe that all women have this ability, though. This one eared nature works for us all day; and this one eared nature works to our detriment when quieting the mind. Matthew 22:37, NRSV, “He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’" This could be a sort of mantra as we lead ourselves into this prayer thing.

What kind of a praying woman are you?

There are some people that pray their list of demands to God. It is an interesting way to make a point. I am not sure if God is overly impressed with the business relationship that it implies. This is the person of limited time resources, who probably has a full plate and feels lucky to get these five minutes in each day.

I have been all types of prayer people and I am not refined by any means. In fact, I have really struggled in this area, sometimes even with the desire to do it. I can honestly say that this business mentality robs me of the joy of the presence of Christ. He wants for me to want to be with Him, and realizing this has changed my heart towards prayer. I find it hard to squeeze in this type of experience. I don’t know how mothers do it. Feel free to give tips.

Then there are some who desperately try, but can never slow it down and quiet themselves long enough to be aware with whom they are actually trying to dialogue. I just want to give them a hug and sit down to pray with them. This is a place that I have definitely camped. I treated prayer like a search and destroy mission just so they could be a part of the activity.

Then we do this funny thing of speeding up our minds because we are trying to slow it down. The longer it takes, the more frustrated we get. I usually leave for a second and come back to it when I have these days. I recently read something that I found really valuable. It put out the idea that sometimes God allows a little white noise to encourage your tenacity in prayer. Part of coming to this spiritual practice is the desire for Christ. These experiences can definitely demonstrate our desire.

I consider myself pretty moderate in prayer, although I guess it all depends on who you ask. I have fallen into the all day prayer approach. Since we are told to pray without ceasing, how can we get it all in, if we don’t? Every day is different for me. I sit before Him some days and it is very silent. I don’t try to drive the train anymore. I don’t start with talking.

Sometimes to get me in His presence, I simply say His name over and over, until I am aware with whom I am speaking. Until I understand that this ground is holy, and He is the Creator and I am His created. I pray for my husband and myself…very important to pray for yourself.

I ask Him to teach me how to be a wife. Who else can do that? I pray for the sick, the troubled and my family. I pray for what is brought to my mind during the day. When I am asked by others to pray for certain things, I usually pray on the spot. That way I don’t forget. I, also, pray with people when given the opportunity. A dear friend taught me that. I have found that nothing, not what I say, what I have prepared, what my time line appears to be, is as important as my actual presence, my heart, soul and mind.

Prayer brings to experience that it is He who lives in me. It is not me communing with the Father in prayer, placing my agenda before him, but God doing His work in me while the Spirit communes with Christ. If the goal is that I am taken out of the equation, then the real chit-chat should be the groaning of the Spirit, and my words are few and concise. Matthew 6:7 & 8, NRSV, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

The truth is that we really have very little to do with it. The Father has this one under control. That is so awesome isn’t it? So, let’s pray in the presence of the Lord.

Father, thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Thank you for giving us a way to know you so intimately. Give us the opportunity to commune with you today, through the groaning of Your Spirit. Give us greater understanding of the power of prayer.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Late Bloomers Unite

What good news I have found today.  If you are a late bloomer, never fear.  You have hope.  I am definitely not talking about anyone’s developmental status, but spiritually you are on the upside.  I was slow to commit to this faith thing.  Looking back, my spiritual life has been like a collection of scrapbooks done by different people, 25 years of them as a Christian.  I definitely look different in all of them; I was, at times, a victim of trends.  My spiritual life fell victim to trends and influences.  Some of my worst moments came in rebellion to my parents’ faith.  I wish that someone had the courage to walk up to me and say…“So, you are basing your entire belief system on not believing anything that anyone of any authority believes…how grown up of you.”  I am sure that I would have been very offended, but perhaps I would have stopped being a spiritual teenager for a second, and considered that there are precepts of the faith that are true no matter who believes them, even my parents.  I have discovered, however, that I have the same haircut at 34 that I had at 5.  This is the only continuity that one might find in the scrapbooks of my life. 

My devotionals have looked like an array of trial and errors, many errors.  I study the way that makes me happy now, AND, I get so much more out of it.  I got a new bible this year and I have this massive set of colored pencils.  I underline, make boxes and write notes.  You can tell the areas that I have visited, and not.  I am actually ashamed of the blank pages.  When I am in church and we are visiting one of “those”, I just look at my husband’s bible.  I don’t want anyone to know that my new bible has not been completely broken in and covered in color, pharisaical isn’t it?  Anyone who cannot dirty up the pages of a book would cringe.  I totally love it!

So, I was reading the parable of the two sons.  For your viewing pleasure…

Matthew 21:28-32, “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

This is an example of two spiritual teenagers.  Both invited to the same task, both typical teenagers…one says “No”, and probably means it.  He is being honest, so you have to respect that.  The other says, “Yes”, and does not mean it…maybe didn’t intend to lie, but it ends up that way.  All is the same, typical teenage stuff. 

So, let’s look at the “Yes”, kid.  Jesus is saying to the chief priests and elders that they are like a lying teenager.  They are never going to make it saying all of the right things and following all of the right rules.  There is no substance to it.  They can’t believe that what they are anticipating, the realization of the Messiah could be true.  What they have been waiting for is standing in front of them, the Savior of the world, but they don’t have the faith to claim it, to incorporate it.  We know these people.  Some can quote the bible to you, front to back, but they have no depth.  You look for fruit, but instead you find another defensive verse or phrase.  Some break your heart because they desire the Savior.  They need the freedom of a Savior, but they can’t let go of their past long enough to take His hand.  You have to empty those hands to grab on to Jesus, right? 

Finally, the other teenager that just says, “No”, but changes his mind…Oooo, the spiritual child takes his faith into his own hands.  Now that is exciting.  The reason for faith or anti-faith is no longer adherence to rebellion or anything else on this earth.  It belongs to him.  He can touch it, taste it, and grow it.  It is completely his own.  This person might be a late-bloomer.  Late-bloomers have scars, bumps, bruises.  We might look a little awkward, like scrappers, but we love the Lord, with all of our hearts.  I think that it is because…with us, he bothered.  He bothered to continually go and find that one that got away.  He bothered to weep tears for our self-inflicted pain.  He bothered to comfort us, even though He knew that this time would be no different and we would walk back into the world and do it all again.

But then, there was that one time.  Remember it?  It changed everything.  He came and sought me out.  He found me crying on the bathroom floor, without a hope in the world.  He picked me up and said, “Jump”.  He took me to the edge of the cliff and told me to leave everything that I held on to behind me, and just jump.  It was the best day of my life, scariest but best.  Even after that, many scrapbooks have been glued together.

When looking into the lives of the yes or no teenagers, I look for the Spirit at work in people’s lives.  I absolutely love a good Jesus story.  I love to tell my own.  There is something recognizable in that encounter, right?  The Spirit isn’t flat.  Some of us were raised under “the flat”; it is a hard burden to bear.  The “No” kids are no longer flat.

The “Yes” kids, even though they have no interest in an authentic relationship with Jesus, would be offended by the tax collectors and the prostitutes.  They are opposed to the possibility of hanging out with the rowdy crowd, the infidels.  The “No” kids realize that sin is sin.  We are not too proud to admit that we have been there, and need a Savior.  We are willing to take our fellow sinners with us on the narrow road.  So, go on you late bloomers.  You are the children of a holy God. 

Father, thank you for your infinite compassion.  Thank you for letting us change our minds when we are finally captured by your mercy.  Lead us faithfully down the narrow road and show us who you are in new ways. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Day of Miracles

Exodus 7:8-10

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.’ ” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.

Mark 5:27-29

She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

John 2:6-11

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Joshua 3:14-17

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Matthew 1:18-21

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Mark 16:4-7

When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

This is who God tells us He is. Who will He be in your life, today?

Father, thank you for being a God of the abnormal, the unusual, the lost and the sick. Thank you for using any means necessary to accomplish your plans. Let us be willing to participate in a larger understanding of you today. Do the amazing in our lives today, Lord. We bless your name.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Peter Knew It All Along

Matthew 17:4, NRSV, “Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

I will be perfectly honest; in the past, when I have heard about Peter’s reaction to the transfiguration, I thought, “this is not the time, Peter”. I have not given him much credit, but I think that I get it more than ever before. Let’s look at his story.

He is led up the mountain with James and John. It is like an exclusive boys club. They must have been proud as they walked away with the exclusive attention of Christ. There Christ was, walking in front of them, leading them on. They had no idea what was going on; how could they? So, they keep going. I wonder if Christ was thinking, “Oh, they are never going to believe this!”

Matthew just says that they were walking along…and then Christ was transfigured. His face shone like the sun. Now that is unusual, eh? Can you imagine standing in front of someone and their face begins to shine? You can’t look straight into the sun without physically hurting yourself. So we know that it was intense, and unlike any man made light that he had seen. Christ’s clothes began to dazzle. That will take your breath away.

So, not only that, but Moses and Elijah show up…yep, sort of a big deal. Think of the weirdest dream that you have ever had. Just add in, “and then Moses and Elijah showed up and started to chat it up with Jesus”.

I like to think that it was some supernatural encouragement meeting. Christ was starting to talk about what was coming and the heavenly realm was showing support. What can I say, Christ was human, we all need encouragement? I could be totally wrong. It is just a thought. So, Peter was watching the pillars of his faith talking to the man he had just proclaimed as the Messiah. Things are starting to match up for him here.

Peter can’t help himself…there he goes. He has to say what is on his mind, and no I am not going to say the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. I have no doubt that Peter is for real; he probably wants to stay there forever. Not only that, he wants company. He really wants to build a camping area with Jesus, Moses, Elijah. He is even willing to sleep outside.

Have you ever been in the presence of the Lord and thought, “This is it; I want nothing else. I want to go home”? You just want to stay with Him. The alternative is going back to being an imperfect role, the wife, the mom, the friend, the daughter. It is tough to go back to reality.

God knew that Peter was offering his services. He knew what was going on. He interrupted Peter’s fantasy with some poignant words. The point of the transfiguration was not to affirm the disciples. It was about Jesus. God took this as the second opportunity to publically substantiate Jesus’ position.

This is God’s Son. Christ is “the Beloved”; Christ is the first of the beloveds. God is pleased with Him. And now, for the command, and this IS for the disciples, you (the disciples) need to listen with your ears and your eyes! (This is a phrase that I have learned from children’s ministry.) This is the point in my prayer life that I know God is saying, “You are not useful to me on this mountain staring at my face.” If I stay there, I am willing to forsake all of God’s burdens for premature heaven. He simply says that it is time for me to go back. This is why constant communion with Christ is so important. It takes those moments and builds them into daily life. It can exist in the mother, the wife, the daughter and the friend. We can stare at His face down here in the low lands, too.

A situation that began with the exclusive attention of Christ, ended again with the exclusive attention of Christ. He picked up His friends off the ground and took them back down the mountain. Doesn’t it seem that all of the cool revelatory things happen on mountains? So, today I understand Peter better than I have before. The truth is, I would want to stay, too.

God, thank you for being a Savior that shines like the sun, as well as the one who reaches out a hand to pick us up when we are afraid. Thank you for bringing your truths to us through your word. Let us be deeply affected by what we understand as well as the mystery of your character.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wheat and Weeds

One of my favorite parables in Matthew is that of the weeds among the wheat, 13:24-30,

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’"

Lots of people claim Christ as their Savior. From one sower of the Word, the Son of Man, we get so many different pictures of believers, which is something to be celebrated. The diversity in Christianity is a point of strength. Saying this, there are some Christians of whom I can’t make any sense when I look back at Jesus. The tyrannical and performance driven ministries are just some of these.

I try not to ever enter discussions on individual faith. That is a slippery, stumbling slope. I am truly grateful that the judgment of the heart does not lie in my future, or even my present. I don’t even like to be a volunteer judge for game days at church. I hate to think about people losing. Let’s broaden it to Christians and non-Christians. We all have good and bad seeds. Like it or not, Jesus tells us here that we all have the same fate. We are in the field together and we are harvested together.

I believe that this parable is very purposeful. It is a warning to the disciples about being on their guard, and putting down their guard all at the same time. If you like red letters, then it is really purposeful. Jesus wants for the disciples to know that there are some things that will, potentially, identify with Jesus and not belong to Him. They are planted among His wheat, but they will not look, smell, taste or feel like Jesus. They will not bring the weight of the Spirit with them. We need to be on our guard because we are planted with the weeds. We can put our guard down because there are some seeds are bad and that is just the way that it is. Christ knows this and has it covered.

So, the human me says…isn’t it hard enough to discern things in our own lives without thinking about the weeds in our neighborhoods and churches?

Let’s address this question, in the longest way that I can possibly think of. In Matthew 13:36-43, Jesus explains this parable. It says that there are some seeds that were planted by the Son of Man, and there are some seeds that were planted by the evil one. We are all rooted in the same field, this world. And, we all have the same fate, the gathering at the end of this age. I want to put these two verses next to each other because I believe that they are the keys to answering or redirecting my question.

Matthew 13:29, “But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them…”

Matthew 13:41, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers…”.

We are essentially looking at the soil at this point, the causes of sin. The answer appears to be that we need the causes of sin right now. Something for us to remember: we live in a world that is under the temporary rule of Satan, although God still has ultimate control.

It is kind of like God being president and Satan is the unfortunate mayor, scrambling to get his piece of the pie for as long as he can. We, also, know that Satan is a formidable foe and we are to fear the things that we cannot see, not the stinging of the bees or the occasional act of vandalism. Due to Satan’s cunning nature, there is a sin condition that is alive and productive in this world.

So, if Christ allowed His angels to take out the weeds, we would still have the same world, the causes of sin. This is only removed at the gathering of the field. We would just have less people. So, it would be a bunch of flawed Christians running around with the causes of sin. That is not much of an improvement.

But, wouldn’t it be a relief for the Lord to take out the weeds? No more confusing double talk. We would know who the false teachers are and never put ourselves in the path of any destructive ideologies. Those people would be gone. Isn’t it easier to talk about weeds than people, fathers, mothers, children, souls? This is where my questions redirects. We need the weeds, they are purposeful. They are people who Jesus loves, as much as the wheat.

I believe that God means what He says. He says that it would uproot us. These are people, His own creation. It would be disruptive and unjust to remove them before there are no more days. We would not be able to handle it. I don’t know why, but I tend to accept the explanation that it is just not time. I can’t imagine it. It makes my heart grieve for the lost who are rooted in this field without the promise of protection, of safe gathering. There are those who will hear the word of Christ and not accept it, AND there are those who will not hear the word of Christ and know that there is a living, redeeming God.

The saddest part is that the weeds are negligible to Satan, only weeds growing abundantly in the fields that he sows. Their fate is destruction in cruel and unimaginable ways. Some hearts are so hard that they don’t care. These are the ones that the disciples are warned against. They are not seeking the living God. They are seeking the destruction of themselves and others. We have to sit in this sin-filled field, this world. We have to be rooted together with evil doers, the bad seed, claiming Christianity or not.

So, redirecting my question, what do we do with all of us crammed in the same field? There has to be choice and influence for the good and the bad seed. Our part is to influence the sowing of the field because there are only two sowers, and it can go either way. We can influence the sowing of the seed through relationship, although we cannot control the outcome of any of it. To some it is frightening that the causes of evil can influence us and invade our root space…but you know what? Christ can do much more. We have the same power of influence rooted in the kingdom of heaven. We can love the weed right out of them.

This is the master plan; the one that works. It allows us to raise our children with the tools to know God and identify with Him, to choose Him. What a gift! It allows us to be able to walk into the grocery store and be led to someone who needs life, His life. Maybe we are intermingled, the wheat and the weeds, because we are so simple-minded that we can learn best about Him through comparison…good seed, bad seed. By looking around we can pretty easily see things that He is not, therefore, narrowing down the playing field.

The trick is to be grateful for even the bad seed and pray for opportunities to interfere in the sowing. Some are already planted and rooted, but some are ready to be cast out amongst us. Let us work within the field in which we were planted.

Father, thank you for showing yourself against the backdrop of this field. Thank you for giving us the discernment to grow in you. Protect us against the weeds in our field and give us the opportunity to influence the sowing of the seeds, for your glory.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mercy, Not Sacrifice

The other day I was reading Matthew 9:13, where Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” I thought about this and thought, “Wow, I can’t think of anything else that sounds like this”. He essentially sent the Pharisees away with homework. I remember thinking, “I should really know what Jesus is talking about since He bothered to assign it”.

I didn’t. So, then I noted that, yet again, Matthew 12:7, says, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Since I certainly don’t want to condemn anyone out of sheer avoidance, I figured that I needed to check it out.

This is a verse that comes from Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”. I have two ways to look at this. First, the Pharisees are known for their legalism and Jesus is telling them…false, it is a heart issue. They can come back and talk to Him when they get it. That is a perfectly legit way to see this. Second, let’s wander down the trail of what Jesus is uncovering.

Jesus is concerned with the heart. He cares about relationship. That is what was broken in the garden, relationship and shalom. That is what will be restored at the end of this world. The Pharisees are missing the larger conversation, which happens to us all of the time. We have a skewed idea of the commandments. They were given out of love. They were given as manna, water, a pillar of clouds and fire, and the Promised Land. They are described as right ordinances, true laws, good statutes and commandments (Neh. 9:12-15). The “you can’t dance at this church” rule was not like these rules. These were for the good of the people and it was a privilege to receive such a special symbol of protection and guidance, a covenant from a God who provides for all needs.

The Sabbath was a symbol of rest. There are many wonderful symbols of rest and restoration that are given to the Israelites. Sabbath was a frequent reminder of relationship. It brought to mind the character of God and the way that He desired His people to live. He desires us to labor and rest. But…we can mess up all of that, too. Do you take true times of rest? Every week? That is part of a relationship with Him. How many relationships that you know of that include nap time? That is so awesome.

What if we think of it in terms of a marriage covenant? Some of us look at our wedding ring and it no longer inspires us to thoughts of love, protection, friendship, and covenant. The first thing that we might think of when we see it is, “Oh no, it is 5 o’clock, I have to make dinner”, hardly inspiring one in the previously mentioned direction. Sometimes, covenant becomes rote, like for the Pharisees; it is reduced to task, while the former emotional value is drained slowly through the colander of time. This reduces the bonds of the heart, but we are people of fortitude and commitment, right?

Sometimes marriage becomes about the piece of paper, and that is a reason to stay the course. The Pharisees had position. So, we build feeble responses to the whys. Do you love your spouse? “We have a lot of history together”. Why are you a Christian? “I have been one my whole life”. Why do you go to church? “That is just what we do”. We can suck the covenant right out of marriage and we can suck the covenant right out of being a Christian…we can suck the covenant right out of the Sabbath. Each was built on relationship.

We can safely say that we are people that can emotionally and spiritually emaciate. We just shrivel up until all that is left is the unattractive wrinkled shell of a spiritual life. We could retain the vigor of a spiritual commitment through relationship, but just like the Israelites, we want the golden calf, or we want to blame God (since Moses is not longer around) for trying to kill us when we are experiencing our spiritual growth pains.

We need to reconnect to these relationships. Just as we need to see our wedding band and think, “that is the symbol of my full covenant”, we need to understand that this Christian thing that is not about attendance or potlucks. There are no awards given for this one. In fact Matthew has a series of heart decrees. Chapters 5-7 are dedicated to, clearly, stating, if you are doing anything for show consider it done. God will not acknowledge that offering. So…hope it was worth it. Relationship…relationship…relationship. He just wants our heart.

So, in Matthew 9, Jesus is saying, back off. These verses really epitomize the complete rejection of legalistic judgment in the kingdom. Jesus was in the right space, the home of the spiritually sick, at the right time. He didn’t come for people who are not interested in being in relationship. Above that, He was not interested in who they, the Pharisees, thought He should be. Jesus, the maker of the rules, is telling them that they are spiritually emaciated. They have reduced themselves to a place that they are not capable of authentic relationship. Jesus is capable, however, He is always capable of relationship. It is our choice.

Matthew 12, demonstrates that without relationship, we are incapable of mercy. Jesus wants mercy…not empty sacrifice. He does not care for our reduced version of His creation, His kingdom, or His mercy. We cannot tell Him how it is or how it should be. He is interested that we reflect the investment of our life with Him. He wants our heart. He desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, knowledge of Him rather than offerings.

Father, thank you for challenging us with these passages that are vital to our understanding of you. Let us give you steadfast love, Lord. Remind us of our covenant to you and what it means. Refresh it and revitalize it. Let us gain knowledge of you, today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cleaning House

I spent yesterday under the question; do I come to God because I love Him? There are a million reasons to come to Him. One reason could be that it is a habit left over from another time in life, one could be fear of - what if quiet time didn’t happen, or one could be that it is on my daily task list. The legalist could be obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt have a quiet time”. There are times we go through when the constancy of the act is the important thing, not the motive. This is not that time for me.

My desire is to come to Him because I love Him. I want to express my love by creating space for Him. He can fill this space with whatever He sees fit. Some days He leads me to scripture, some days repentance, some days to song and others to prayer. He leads me to lots of questions. I get most things from Him in questions. I always know that these come from the Spirit because, believe me, I would never challenge myself in those ways. I am content to leave most of it in the closet and keep singing.

I read a book once, called Authentic Beauty. It is a great read by Leslie Ludy. She gave a visual on creating space for God that goes something like this. She said imagine that it is your wedding day. Your new husband has you in his arms as he carries you to the front door of your house. You are all a dither with anticipation for the most romantic moment of your life. He turns the door knob and opens the door. You are thinking PARADISE, and you see his face drop. You look to see your home consumed in trash. It is covering every piece of furniture and there not even a navigable trail through the room. The odor of rotting garbage almost knocks you down. This is the state of many hearts. If it makes you feel better, I am sure that this visual can come in mildly trashed.

Our hearts are so much more deceptive than we give them credit for, Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it?” God does. Mostly, we desire perfect communion with God, without the work. We have to adjust our thinking to making the work part of the communion. Part of creating space for God to be present and work in our lives is taking out the trash. We want to have a place for holiness in our lives. Think of it in terms of a clean house; btw, you can get creative and think of any kind of house that you want, mine is big.

So imagine, this, you, in your perfect house, and Jesus. Just quietly follow along after Him. Note the way that He brings peace to the halls of your home as He walks through with mercy and love. There is gentleness in the way that He desires to help you pick up this space. He points to the next box of memories, unrealized goals, hurts and fears; and he says, “It is time to throw this one out, don’t you think?” You see the corners of His mouth turn up because He is proud that you picked it up. You hand it to Him and He says, “That’s my girl”. You are so sure in that moment that you know the Savior of the world that there is no fear, no guilt, and no questions. Then the box just disappears. You continue to walk with Him (I am usually crying by now). You start to remember Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”. And, see, you made a place for the two of you to sit down together.

I have misunderstood this most of my life. I thought that there would be condemnation and guilt in this act of “cleaning house”. I attached guilt to acts of confession and forgiveness; but instead, with each box that we hand over He brings lightness, clarity to our hearts and our minds…a clear conscience. 1 Timothy 3:9, “they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

Father, thank you for coming to us as the destroyer of sin. Thank you for making that real in our lives by Your constant guidance toward confession and forgiveness. Give us the strength to offer You our garbage today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Warning, It is Just Like He Said

I just had such an interesting experience with the Beatitudes today. The fact that they exist should be posted in the Christianity 101 pamphlet that churches hand out. “If you are considering following this man, Jesus, then you should know that He said this…

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely- on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:3-12, NRSV).

It really should be preceded by a giant warning sign. Christianity is not for the faint of heart. It guarantees tragedy and opposition. Our world asks us why bad things are happening, where is God? How could He allow the collapse of our homes and nation? The Beatitudes say to me that everything Jesus said about the world is true, and when we face wickedness, malice and oppression, we have the best responses at our disposal. There will be times when you are called upon to carry these traits into the work of the kingdom. Let’s look at them more carefully.

Those who are poor in spirit are simply humble. They seek no glory but that of the Father. Paul told us that in his weakness, he was strong. That is the heart of the poor in spirit. They do not seek this life for themselves, but only the will of the Lord. I see this in the heart of a good mother. They no longer live their lives for themselves, but the kingdom building that is happening in their homes. Do you see it in yourself? This is a great response.

There are times that you will mourn. You will mourn for the lost. You will mourn on behalf of people that you love. We mourn death. Mourning is a part of our lives. We mourn for opportunities lost, for the rejection of Christ. Women are able to feel this strongly. I think that it is our advantage when we confess our sins. True confession always involves some mourning. The act of repentance is one of mourning acts against the Father, yourself and others. It is a deep and powerful response to the realities of the world.

The next is, perhaps, the most important for a wife, and yes, I do think that it is an element of submission, perhaps the most important. Meekness is not a negative word, Christ was meek. In this instance, meekness took the most powerful man who ever lived and allowed Him to carry through the most significant event of history.

He did not strike down the guards with laser beams or create chaos for a dramatic escape. Christ meekly advanced to the cross and ascended to heaven. Meekness is controlled strength. It implies a discipline that one has learned to enhance strength of character. This person is unassuming because they are in control of who they are. They do not need to be the center of attention; in fact, they are filled and run over all on their own. In order to be submissive, we need to be meek. This gives us the power to be truly useful. It allows us to carry out the most important purpose that we can have in God’s kingdom, our intended purpose.

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a state of the heart. It is a decision that we make every day. It rejects the world and recklessly follows after Jesus, desiring change resulting from encounter with Christ; and through prayer and the word, this only increase.

We have lots of opportunities to be merciful. Mercy is a rare commodity today. We need to be merciful in our homes, in our churches and in our workplaces. Mercy brings forgiveness. It brings equality. It demonstrates that we understand that we are all equally loved and jealously sought out by our Creator. Mercy allows real justice to happen. It sees in the hearts and minds of people and brings hope to darkness. Mercy is good.

If I could have only one, I would want to be pure in heart. It sounds kind of romantic, although only in title. These are people that are conscious of who they are, who they were. They keep their accounts short. They forgive and confess. They desire a pure, clean heart in front of a holy God. These are people who are willing to confess fault to their brother or sister. They are a true friend and a pleasure.

The peacemakers are refreshing. They will sit in the midst of a difficult situation and hone into the center of the message of Christ. Christianity is about relationships. It is about the relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is about our relationships in our homes and work. Those who are truly peacemakers are not gossipers. They are so wonderful. You never worry about stumbling around them. They keep all of their responses and retorts completely honorable. They desire only to bring the Spirit, shalom to tangible experiences.

The next two are kind of the worst and the best when it comes to the Beatitudes. This is not what we want to hear at all. If you are persecuted for something good…good. If people revile you, persecute you and say nasty things about you, throw a party. You have been so bothersome to the darkness of the world, that you have made a stir. You deserve backlash. How exciting for you.

So you see, these are elements of God's character, choices that we can make, that will result in restoration, mending, care and caution. They are the things that we should have on the tip of our tongues. I don’t believe that they are typologies, so much as states of the heart that connect with the resources of the Spirit. They are counter cultural and uncomfortable, but they are successful.

Father, let us understand the teaching that You gave us in our lives. Make it clear to us where we can call upon Your holiness to manifest pieces of Your character within us. Thank you for giving us the promises of your kingdom, in the middle of this life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Fire Hose

This world is distracting. When I pray that I only want to be used by God for the intended purposes of my life, I mean that. Then I open my eyes to the list of emails, phone calls, ministry needs, etc. It is so easy to get sunk in the mire. I have been talking about this intentional living business, and goal setting has been a major deal, lately.

My husband and I have redesigned this blog and we are incorporating all of this design into my new prayer journal and organizer that I am developing, thank you Donna Otto and my husband/designer. It is really quite a task, but well worth it. I am inspired from some of the books that I have listed (for the non-techy people, see the side bar and scroll down). The reason that I am doing this is because I have bought expensive systems to manage my time, but they did not meet all of my needs. Donna made her own. Does that seem like a brilliant idea? Well, it did to me. My husband, at my request, is now making my own organizer and prayer journal that manages all of my demands, and, bonus…it is cheaper.

A man that I admire gave me a very useful tool to deal with distraction in prayer life. He said not to panic when distractions enter your mind. Every time that you return your thoughts to God, it is an act of worship. This was just in prayer. Imagine every moment of the day when our thoughts get caught up in the details of life, and instead of beating ourselves up with straying from His direction we consider it an act of worship to return to His side.

We are guaranteed to stray away, otherwise why would we need the bible? If we all were constantly focused on Him, it would be, well...heaven. It is not. It is the world. Give yourself a break today.

If you need a stronger tool, just look at who we do serve. Matthew 4:18-22, talks about the calling of the first four disciples.

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

Imagine, not hearing from your husband all day and finding out that he had gone to follow a guy named Jesus; interesting times on the home front. What if you were Zebedee and just watched your bread and butter, and offspring walk away from your boat? Talk about distractions.

There is something about this man, though - the woman at the well, the Pharisees wanting to stone the adulteress, the guys who fish and became the pillars of the early church. What is it that makes people leave everything and go for Him? Why would we bother to call the church our family? There is something about Jesus.

He says, “Come to me”, and we come. We can’t put a finger on Him. Maybe that is what makes Him so exciting, He is unpredictable. He is also gentle and kind. He loves us more than we can imagine. Your parents, your husband, your mouthy kids…none of them love you like He does.

One of the biggest struggles that I have encountered is letting God love me in an unpredictable way, His way; one that can only exist if He was responsible for knitting me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139). This was foreign to me. I thought that I would just sign up for Christianity and obey my way into heaven.

I used to get uncomfortable when someone touched me as they tried to squeeze around me in a crowded room. Letting God, unabashedly, pour out his endless love on me, in exactly the way that meets all of my needs, is a skill that I had to learn.

I had to put my arms at my sides and raise my face to Him…and just sit under the fire hose. It feels like that because it knocks you over with its new texture and taste. It is different from other types of love…overwhelming and satisfying.

This is who we are turning back to, when we say, “Nothing is more important than you. I want for you to take every thought captive. Do with me what you will. I am safe today under your love”. Leaving everything, on our “to do” list, to think of Him is a lot easier than leaving everything to follow Him. So, baby steps today. Let’s turn our thoughts to Him.

Father, thank you for desiring our mental presence with you. Thank you for loving us in a way that we cannot understand. Place in us the desire to return our thoughts to you today. Let us sit with you in the peace of your love.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oooo, Scary!

Jeremiah 13:15-17, “Hear and give ear; do not be haughty, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, and before your feet stumble on the mountains at twilight; while you look for light, he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.”

When I was younger, like a year ago, I had a hard time with watching anything scary. I could not even watch crime shows. I just did not have the stomach for it. It was like it opening up a new world of possible endings for me. The worst thing in the world is to watch Nancy Grace. Every situation becomes one big conspiracy, and then I wonder why my husband is walking behind me down that hall, so quietly. FYI, domestic homicides are the most prevalent.

A year later, I watch crime shows. I am kind of proud of myself that I can. I do not believe that those situations will happen to me because I see them on TV, anymore. I do, however, point out to my husband any similar situations which happen in public. If someone gets on a bus with a bag, I say, “They probably have lethal serum in their bag”. He just keeps looking forward and says, “Probably”. That amuses me more than anything…probably.

I still don’t watch horror flicks. At least crime shows can be based in reality. I do not subscribe to making scary things up. There are far more scary things than we can conceive of in this world. Satan is more horrific than we can ever imagine. Still, when I read this passage, I think, scary horror night…

With this ominous tone, let us examine this passage a little. We, as women, know how to talk. It is probably one of the key things that keep our minds from being still…from the presence of the Lord. When we are not having a verbal experience, we are talking to ourselves in our heads, making lists, planning on our calendars, wishing for clearance sales on designer bags. You know that someone has something important to say when they start with, “Shut Up!” He is leaving nothing to the imagination here. He spells out that we are on sacred ground. Someone more important is talking…this happens to anyone, everyday, with small children.

Next, we have the entire necessary action of the passage. Give glory to the Lord before he brings darkness. Why? What happens then? You can’t see in the dark. You are guaranteed to stumble. That is right; God knows that you will stumble. And, what do we do then? We go looking through our purses for something that might make light. We try to get our eyes adjusted, and think back to our wretched career as Brownies when they were teaching us how to make fire with sticks. Face it, ladies, we are helpless…there is no light. When this happens, our efforts and our plans fail. Mentally we know that the worst is upon us. The gloom comes and it seems like it just keeps getting darker. You can hear the owls hooting in the trees and the rustling of leaves around your feet. Remember that the blond girls always get it first in the horror movies.

Why did all of this happen? I believe that it was inevitable. Everyone experiences darkness. But, if the darkness is going to come, anyway, then why all of the tears? God told us the one thing to do that would save us in the darkness, but we did not listen to Him. He always tells us how to walk through, “the scary”. But we are prideful and we would prefer to rummage through our purse for devices, or try to remember how to create fire so that we can manipulate the darkness, making it tolerable. So, we are stuck. We are in the dark and we are taken captive by fear, gloom, and it just keeps getting worse. In those times, we are being wept over. Tears are running down the face of our Lord for His lost and desperate people.

Let’s return to the main part of this. Notice that He did not give a light in this darkness. In fact, He let it get more dark and gloomy. Instead, He gave us a quick warning before the onset of the dark. Give Me glory. Why would we worry about giving God glory when we are about to enter a dark and scary night? Wouldn’t it be smarter to be packing a flashlight and matches? No, because even a light in the darkness will not change that we are in darkness. We will be able to see, but even without a light you will know that it is scary. Light is useless in these times of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness, or fright. We never see it coming, so get rid of the light, it won’t help. He tells us of the only useful thing that will help us survive these times. He is simply saying, “Set your heart”.

Setting our hearts is like digging our spiritual heels in the ground, a mental stance. It is like a hockey player setting themselves on the ice before someone tries to skate over them, a physical stance. Setting our hearts places our heart and mind on who God is, so we know what the darkness really is. It is on the outside. It doesn’t touch our inside. It is uncomfortable, and hard, but it is followed by light. And, when we know who He is, we know who we are. We can face the darkness because the light is inside of us…His glory. This is important because the darkness will come, and it might just get worse. Let’s set our hearts on His glory today, so we will be ready for whatever comes.

Lord, thank you for your words to us. We are not left unprepared or abandoned in this world. You have given us everything that we need to survive times of darkness, and even in the gloom we give glory to you. Glorify yourself today, Father. Amen.

BTW, something that I ran across, education for the day:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Change is Awesome When You Are Married to a Designer

I am changing. This is changing. I hope that you are changing, too.

I am just quivering with anticipation. Today, my husband and I are having a "blog summit". Instead of giving a thought today, I am asking for prayer. I have my husband's brain for the afternoon and I am going to use it. This site will have a new look, soon. I am locked in my office today sifting and praying.

FYI, interesting, last night in a dream state, I remember this: They returned to Caesarea before they went back out. But did they really have to do this? Don't know what it means.

These are what all of my brain has been/will be attacking today. I will let you know of any words. Please let me know if you have any.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking Hold and Letting Go

As usual, the verse that I am stuck on is not especially meaningful to commentary writers. To them it spells out…be moderate. To me it tells a story of my experience. Ecclesiastes 7:18, sums up a lot of difficulties that I have had in my religious experience. “It is good that you should take hold of the one, without letting go of the other; for the one who fears God shall succeed with both.” I have tended to lack moderation in my religious views. I only now, in the past several years, have entrusted the content of my faith to God’s word, His Spirit, my community of believers (most of them), and some outside influences.

When I was 17, I left for college. I was raised a Southern Baptist, and I had a very weak foundation. I had lots of rules, but very little reasoning. So when I went to college, I took hold of lot of new information and philosophies and let go of my religious upbringing. I found that in this new circle of influence my ideas did not hold up to any logic that I could find. Not only that, but the ideas of the world beyond high school were more sophisticated…and…they let me do whatever I wanted without consequence. The only consequence that I was really aware of from my childhood was shame. The Spirit, or Holy Ghost, was peripheral at best in my experience. So, I was lacking the spiritual tools and the wisdom to hold on to both.

When I desired to reestablish myself in the church, I was drawn to a “life theology”. I got to live my life and call myself a Christian. I then chose to take hold of this effortless lifestyle choice and adopt a new social interest…the church. I understand that God moves you in baby steps, as He proved by enduring my lackadaisical presence. Salvation does indeed require “working out”. So, I was on spiritual milk for eons as a social Christian. It was…like Christianity light. Fun, but I eventually was starving to death.

Next, I went to seminary. Here is where I took hold of spiritual academia and let go of Christianity light. I realized that I was much too silly to understand anything significant and I had to increase my knowledge in order to know God…my reasoning was vanity. I have to credit this move for pushing me to a new dialogue in Christianity. It introduced me to the lives of historically saintly people and the acknowledgment of my inadequacy. It served my ego well…and then I thought that I was really smart, so it served me poorly, also. Seminary was the most significant spiritual stepping stone that I have hopped on, however.

Next, I had my back breakdown and surgery. That is when the magic started happening. I took hold of the Spirit as it groaned on my behalf and demonstrated God’s power. I let go of head spirituality. It is funny that lying on my back in pain, questioning the rest of my life is when God chose to show up in a way that would change the way that I understood Him, forever. He joined my head and my heart during that experience. It was the most significant season of my life, ever. Now I take hold of Him every day, without letting go of any of Him. I fear God now. Saying this does not scare me, it is my covering.

This tells me that the key to spiritual growth is in the joining of spiritual knowledge. It is not in the disposal of experience when it proves less useful. We have to be willing to acknowledge our past and join it peacefully with the present. Even my times of complete abandonment are marked by the usefulness of my testimony. Our lives are collective. I am not four separate people, but one person who has experienced the grace of God, despite myself, through many different phases. Oh, how I pray that I am in a moderate zone. Lives are much easier to live when we are one person and not many.

Thank you, Lord, for your infinite kindness and endurance. You are steadfast through all of the phases of our lives. Join our lives and make us effective and moderate for your service.

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