Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Private Public Prayer of Jesus

During my daily prayer time, I get business done and I don’t invite others. It is a time when I come before the throne and call a spade, a spade. I confess things that I would not tell anyone. I ask God to show me my warts and I weep over them. It is well…messy, in the best way. So, I understand prayer as intimate. You would know A LOT about me if you were a fly on the wall.

So, as I read it, John 17 is a private, although public, moment between Jesus and the Father. He is about to be betrayed and arrested, and He prayed. By the time that you reach it, this is almost a love story to the ones who believe in Him and the Father. I think that in a moment like this, it is really important to hang off of His words because we…now…are mentioned in it.

First he prayed for the disciples, not just the twelve but those who had become believers in His time on earth. He had been here protecting them. Now He would be gone. He prayed for God to intervene and protect them. He prayed this so that they would be one, like the Son and the Father, like the vine grower and the vine. We need protection from this world to remain one, the branch in the vine. If you have ever been on a committee, in a club, in a church or on a mission trip, you understand this.

Next, we see wonderful evidence of the One who loves them. He is going so His joy is made complete in his disciples. What a time to talk about joy. In the next chapter Jesus is betrayed. We miss this key element of faith sometimes, but it was so important that Jesus prayed over joy before His death on the cross. We are to have His joy, John 17:13, “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves [or among themselves].”

Here is a big one, Jesus prays for the disciples’ protection, but not just so that they can be one…in other words protection between themselves. Jesus prays for protection from the evil one. This is a threat that we cannot ignore. It is something that Jesus knows His disciples would contend with and we contend with it. I once heard to be careful if I didn’t see the devil running around because he might be walking along side of me (horrible paraphrase).

Lastly for the disciples, John 17:17-19, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Jesus wants for the disciples to have their eyes open. He wants for them to be deep in the word, because they are going to be out there, in the world. To apply this to today…there is no way that we will survive out there if we are not sanctified by the word in our homes and hearts.

And here it is…the very next sentence is where we come in, two thousand years later. John 17:20, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word”. We came from the words of Jesus to the disciples. Again, Jesus asks that we will be one. That we will know that God is one, the only one, who sent Jesus Christ to earth. Amen. Amen.

This is how Jesus said it, John 17:23, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” He wants us to be completely one, the Father, the Son, and each other so that the world will see that God loves us like He loves His own Son. I say again, God loves us like He loves Jesus.

I was speaking to a friend of mine and we were talking about letting God love us. There is a lie that comes straight from the evil one that we are unlovable or undeserving. Hear this, God already loves us this much. There is nothing that we can do about that. He is constant, while we are buying into lies. Jesus wants for us to be so completely one with Him that we will get the fact that we are loved…and the world will know it because that is what people are looking for. Then we have the chance to multiply through His words.

Finally, and I consider this completely over the top, like the cherry on the sundae. He wants for us to see His glory. Oh, Lord, let us see your glory! That is exciting. It isn’t enough that he wants us to be safe, joyful, one (God, Son and believers), sanctified in truth, and loved. He wants for us to be around for the glory of Him. Saying all of this is just decadent.

Since these are the things that Jesus desired for us, where are they in our lives? Are we one; are we joyful, do we know that we are loved? Just something to think about today…

Father, thank you for your generosity and extravagance. Thank you for calling us your own from this rich legacy. Show us what is offered to us that we push away or can’t believe. Give us wisdom and belief where we lack it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Man Who Made Me Think

I had the privilege of meeting a man in a doctor’s office last week. He came in, very humbly, asking for the use of a microwave. He could be the most polite person that I have come across lately. I had seen him on my way into the building. He was napping on a bench outside in a light rain. He was homeless.

My dad was checking out when he came in, so I was largely useless at that point. Immediately, there was that uncomfortable silence that happens when our norm is challenged. No one wanted to look at the door where this man was standing for fear of solicitation…perhaps, for fear of shame. I couldn’t stand the tension, so I struck up a conversation with him.

I did not have time to find out much, but I know this. He didn’t mind the rain and the clouds because it shielded him from the sun for a while. He loved being back home from all the places that life had taken him, and he was a patriot. He loves the USA. That is where he belongs and he is happy right where he is.

I have been reading John 15 this weekend. I don’t usually get stuck, but indeed, it took me a whole day to digest vs. 1-11. Verse 4, says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The thing about abiding is that it is symbiotic. One feeds the other. The more we abide, the more we are able to abide. Abide means to remain stable or fixed in a state, or to continue in a place. When I met this man in the doctor’s office, I realized that at any station of life one can abide. We choose to abide in a lot of things, also. I have chosen to abide in sinful patterns at certain times in my life. This man abides in the idealism of home. We can abide in many things.

He was content as he told me how much better life is now. I did not have time to ask him about his experience away from home, but it was clear that wherever he went, home was better. Abiding here, in this current state, is better.

This is my testimony, also. His story reminded me that the places I have gone make it clear that abiding in Jesus is better. I have been through times of which I am not proud. I have been in places that I never thought I would go. It is because of my experience, the places that I know I can take myself, that I say this vine is the best. This is where I want to be, to continue.

We face obstacles in abiding. This week I have had company, my dishwasher broke, my dog started having anxiety problems, and I caught a cold. These are our like our travel agents. Instead of helping us abide, they are planning our next trip far away from the vine. These little nuisances are the every day experience and these can take us away from the vine faster than any other thing.

With the help of travel agents, abiding is not passive. It is an active endurance. We say things like, “If I will just abide”. I would suggest that abiding is the most difficult thing that we do. To remain stable…as women we have hormones and homes that make this an ongoing chore. Our challenge, and I do believe that it is a challenge, is to continue in one place while the scenery changes. It is like sitting on a train in the same seat while riding across the United States. You will see the spectrum of scenery, events and people, but you remain in the same seat. This is our vantage point, our place in the vine where we experience life.

Every day brings trouble of its own, right? So, we need to learn this skill of abiding, being constant, and being stable. We have to ride through life with its changing scenery, identifying the vine and burying our branch roots there.

Father, thank you for grafting us into your vine. We pray that you would give us the endurance to abide in you. Give us the strength and grace to endure daily distractions and temptations so that we can stay fixed in your presence.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Home Em-body

Since January, I have faced the challenge of redefining my home. In the large scheme of things, my home is already defined. The bible has given me my guidelines, so really I have been “catching on” to what my home could be. It has been a monumental endeavor. I did not think that it would be, but to truly make a home is an intense daily activity.

Here are a couple of things, off of the top of my head, that I know about homes.

1. A home is nothing if it relies on appearance. My home can appear happy, but everyone can be miserable. The façade of home and the façade of marriage can be devastating. When this is reality, what do I do with the rest of my life? I am disappointed. When I am not in public, I live a great disappointment because there is no content. Content is messy. Messy is where we see God working. There is no room for messy in a façade.

2. Homes are the place that the messy is worked out. The messy is prayed over and loved on, and by God’s grace and helpful hearts, it can be healed and changed. The messy is where God does His cleanest works.

The book of Proverbs tells us that the home is the place where the action happens. Do you want to know how to disagree with someone, without escalation? Learn to do it right with the ones that love you. If this is scary, remember this, when one heart changes, it is like dominos. There is so much grace in a home and God honors it.

I have considered this for a family verse, Romans 12:9-18,

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Doesn’t that just say it all?

3. The home prepares us for the larger community. It gives us all the tools that we need to embody our faith while dealing with the world. This is what parents do. They stock up the tool belts of their kids so that when they leave, they have everything that they need to build their own homes. This is constant action…every day, every word and every minute. No wonder all of my friends are tired.

This is not just with children, however. Marriage teaches vulnerability and intimacy that you cannot learn in your home growing up. I think that I am able to be a better friend now. I am less afraid of people knowing my faults. I can reach out for prayer. My best friend, my husband, knows all of it. He knows where I come short and he still loves me. I now look for friends who show the same grace. This has changed my life.

4. A home should be a place to manifest the fruits of the Spirit. Our home should drip with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My nephew told me that he wants to come here for college so that he can be near us. He wants to come over and get spoiled…and bring friends. The one stipulation was that they could not be spoiled more than him. My heart runneth over! My home draws him. My home spells peace and love and abundance to him…and video games.

My life statement is, “To effectively nurture, love, share & appreciate from the abundance of my life.” I should have abundance because my satisfaction comes from the Lord. It does not start in my tasks, church or with my girlfriends. I can only do this only if I am filled and my husband is filled in ways that I can address. I attend to myself spiritually and intellectually, and I attend to my husband’s needs. When that is complete, I share with people and things outside of my priorities. My home gets my best.

Oh, but when you come to my home, you share in my best. That is the part that I really love! When people touch this consecrated place, they can say, “I feel like I was home”. A girlfriend of mine (the one who commented yesterday) was sitting with me on her couch. We were talking about how wonderful it is to go into someone’s house and feel like you just want to put your feet up and snuggle down. I love afternoons with my girlfriends. I love to celebrate with them in their places of peace. A home can be so powerful. It can move someone from chaos to Jesus.

This is what a home can and should be.

Moving to the main point…So, this morning, when I read John 14:23, “Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’, I was wrapped in a warm blanket.

5. Those who love the Lord and keep His word will have God the Father and the Son with them…at home.

That is such a great thought.

Father, thank you for our homes and the possibilities of You that exist within them. Let them be expressions of You and opportunities for You. Let them warm their inhabitants and draw them closer to you. Show us where to start.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on Thursday

I have to apologize because I have given myself a vacation today. I am spending time with my dad and his doctors, and my nephew. I will be back and productive tomorrow. Thank you for the emails reminding me that I am a slacker. I thrive on encouragement!

One thing that I have noted today...I was standing at the heart hospital this morning looking at the pictures on the walls, the ones that show people with no skin. We give ourselves a lot of grace for matters concerning our bodies; even things that are bad, like too much fat or infection, take your pick...we can live with them because we don't see them. If we knew what the bad stuff actually looked like, as I saw today, we would transform and quickly. I saw a picture of carotid artery plaque that was removed and photographed and let me tell you, if that is in me, I want it gone. That was disgusting and I am a rancher's daughter, so I have seen a whole lot of disgusting. I don't want anything foreign resembling that in this temple.

I am mentally committed to a renewed regimen of decontaminating myself. I have no idea what that means. I am sure that you will have to hear about it.

Anyway, of course, things got spiritual. I was thinking of how ugly clogged arteries are and then how ugly sin is...really. We live with it because we don't look at it. If we saw its writhing, messy, destructive, ugly, fat, disgusting form face-to-face, we would run the other way. I wanted to take down their picture, and I would have except they never left us alone. Instead of running, though, sometimes I dust off the welcome mat. Somehow we manage to hide it...and it is uglier than any carotid artery plaque.

Just some thoughts from the doctor's office. Thanks for the gross pictures and thanks for you notes. I look forward to seeing what the Lord offers tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Breaking All the Rules

My nephew is visiting me this week. I get him for one week a summer. He always challenges my entire life structure. This is something that should be done every once and a while, anyway. I never really know what to expect, and now he is a teenager. It is like an intensive.

He is a different kid from year to year. I have been prayerfully gearing myself up for this. I have choices going in. Will I let my paradigm of our relationship dictate how I will respond to him? Will I rely on the rules of the past to demarcate the present relationship potential? Will I expect him to behave like an adult now? Result…applying rules of relationship to a thirteen year old is futile.

I am reminded of my attempts to wrap my mind around teenagers when I was reading in the book of John. It has the same ring as Jesus speaks to the Pharisees. They know everything and He knows nothing. In fact, the Pharisees are having an entirely different conversation than the one Jesus is speaking.

I can’t solely pin this one on teenagers, though. My husband and I do it all of the time. I like to credit it to my astounding ability to transfer fluidly between topics. He never even knows that I have moved past the current conversation, or that I could return to it at any time. He has other names for it.

That is what John looks like to me. It is a series of tunnels and slides for those who cannot figure out that Jesus is the Son of God. For Jesus, it is a constant, literally chapters of the same conversation. People know that He is acting the way that a Messiah would act, but they are reluctant to call Him that name.

By all appearances, therefore, Jesus is the Messiah. He performs signs with water and wine and He heals. He teaches, leaving people amazed. He does not follow the rules, though. In chapter 7, Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Strike one against Jesus of Nazareth. How could He? The Pharisees knew what God would do, and God would not break the Sabbath.

Jesus response…John 7:24, NRSV, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” But that is exactly what the Pharisees thought they had.

The entire body of chapter 9, in John, addresses Jesus healing on the wrong day. The Pharisees, upon finding this formerly blind man, struggle because Jesus is acting like the Messiah, but they are not going to hand out the title to just anyone. So, naturally, they try to refute the identity of Christ. When that fails they try to refute the healing, itself.

John 9:16, NRSV, “Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.” Two things worked against Jesus being the Messiah, he did not respect their Sabbath, AND…Jesus seemed to be too ordinary. He did not fit inside their box.

The Pharisees knew God and they would know if He just showed up healing one day. As a result, they would not know Him at all.

Questions for our box: Do we have rules for Jesus? Do we give Him full authority in some areas, but not in others because that does not follow our rules? Do we rely on our judgment to validate Him, or affirm Him? Is His experience as a non-sinning human too different from mine that I don’t equate our human existence?

I have to think about these questions. The identity of Christ exists independently of me and what I think. That is what these passages tell me. I don’t want to take the chance of missing out on Him.

Father, thank you for being new and fresh to us every day. Let us set aside the notions that limit our understanding of you. Bring us into a holistic experience of you today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kickin' the Tires

There are so many things that I wish I had known about Jesus growing up. I think that some of them could have significantly changed my later experiences. I am not saying that my journey would have been altered by much, but some things could have reassured me in some dark hours. Some things would have made it easier to face a holy God in times of need. Instead, I often hid in shame thinking that grace and mercy were extended to other people, but not a girl who willfully walked away from Jesus.

I was reading about the woman caught in adultery, John 8. I deliberately read it without the Jesus-is-writing-on-the-ground-what-could-it-be emphasis. Since we don’t know, I don’t want to detract from the point of the story…this sinful woman and these sinful men experience the same grace. I like to think that the writing that Jesus did was, as we call it in Texas, just kickin’ the tires. It was a waiting game. Jesus has this test under control.

Before the interruption, He was sitting down and teaching. This situation arose that was meant to trick Him. Jesus’ response…kick the tires, calm, cool, collected. I think a special note should be given to that fact that He is not freaking out about this woman’s sin. Let’s pause here.

It is really comforting for me to think of Jesus as just sitting there calmly knowing about my sin but not alarmed. He knows my heart. He is just waiting for me. We do not have an earthly model of this. I did not grow up to expect someone taking my rebellion into stride. Remember doing something wrong in your house? We were not spared the rod.

Jesus does not pull out the flyswatter when you do something wrong. He, also, does not let you go without acknowledging your guilt. Just like this woman called in for adultery, our reliance on the mercy of Jesus spares our lives.

So, there He is, writing on the ground. Then He rises for the first time, only to say, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7, NRSV).” Then He just bent back down, into kickin’ the tires stance.

We know from hearing this a hundred times that the scribes and Pharisees leave one by one. Jesus turned a matter of legalism (Mosaic law), to a heart issue. Isn’t that what our Savior does? In the gospels, we see that He turns every regulation and law into a conversation of intent and faith.

The next time that Jesus straightens up, it is to clarify that no one is judging this woman. Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again (John 8:11, NRSV).”

That is what we have. We have a Redeemer who is aware of every single one of our shortcomings, every single sin and He chooses not to condemn us. That is so awesome. As women, we know that there are people out there who are waiting for you to mess up. If you have children then you don’t have to look very far. When we are not the poster children for “I’ve got it all under control”, we are somehow messing up. Not Jesus. John 8:15, NRSV, “You judge by human standards; I judge no one.”

I can only imagine how my life would have been different if I had viewed Jesus as on my side. Instead, for the first half of my life, I saw Him as rigid and condemning. If I had taken John 3:17, NRSV, to heart, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”, I might have understood that the role I was assigning was not even close to what Jesus was trying to accomplish.

This is the most constructive of all crafty measures that Satan can put into our lives. There can be an expectation that we will disappoint Jesus, because we do sin. Instead of existing inside of no condemnation and complete freedom, we are shackled to our nature with the refusal to settle into our new creation. It is like moving from a trailer to a mansion, but instead of moving into your perfect new home you just park the old one on the front lawn and live there instead.

Let’s move into the big house today.

Father, thank you for showing us who you are everyday in so many ways. Thank you for allowing us to come to you without fear of condemnation, only to rest in your grace. Let us meet you there today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

One Year Ago

Psalm 119:71 & 72 (NRSV), is on my bulletin board. It says, “It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”

I have this up as a reminder to me.

A year ago marks one night in a series of the longest nights of my life. Only days before I had told my husband that I could no longer go in public. I could not sit any longer without extreme pain, which meant driving was out of the question. Unbeknownst to us, we were only four weeks away from back surgery. My “injury”, which was basically waking up one day with my pelvis about three inches to the right of its normal home, had happened in March. I was on a steady decline.

What I can say about my experience…I was humbled. I needed it. I had been in seminary for almost four years and had never read scripture from such a distant viewpoint. I was a good student and, yet, I would characterize my experience as “getting by”. It was, as though, the only way that I could finish this period of my life was to make it a task.

The problem with this strategy was the intent of seminary. From the beginning, I had understood my seminary career as an intensive. It was a set time for me to sit at the Lord’s feet and share in a much greater dialogue than I could conjure up on my own. It was a time for me to understand the burdens of Jesus in an invasive way. That happened on a good day.

Life certainly did not help. Some highlights…during seminary my dad faced health problems of which I became a primary caregiver, I started dating my husband, got a six month thyroid virus which did crazy things to me, I got engaged and married, and I graduated one week before this night a year ago. It was a time of constant trial. Sometimes, it was just easier to go cerebral so my heart could endure the rest of my life. I withdrew.

Let me tell you about the pain on this night a year ago. It was excruciating. I have never known anything as cruel as that. I slept on a mattress on the floor of our bedroom. I could no longer sleep in our newly married bed. As the hours ticked away, it was as though my nerves and muscles wanted to scream, and finally could no longer contain themselves. I would lie over an exercise ball for hours during the night, praying that maybe I could just sleep there. Eventually, these were the good days, when I could still get on an exercise ball. For the last month, I simply crawled to the bathroom, often crying. I dreaded this necessary function because the pain of sitting down was unbearable.

But on this night, I made a deal with my husband, one more sleepless night and I go to the emergency room. This night I realized that tomorrow was that day. I was actually comforted in the possibility of it. Pain and fatigue are crushing companions. The next day, I was in the emergency room as they gave me a shot of souped-up morphine and prescriptions, neither of which accomplished anything. My sleepless nights went on for three more weeks.

Let me tell you about the Spirit on these nights a year ago. Luke 3:8 (NRSV), “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Maybe it was from being awake all of those hours, with nothing that mattered but questions like, “Will I walk?” I started to wake up on the inside. My body and my voice did not work. All of my accomplishments and the many dialogues that I had witnessed were inconsequential. I was meeting the Spirit during these many appointed hours. I had accepted the Spirit when I was nine, but had never known its capacity for unruliness and adventure.

I started to see the world in spiritual terms. I saw the evil that existed and I finally commiserated with those who had solicited my heartfelt compassion. I cried for myself and I cried for the condition of humanity. I understood “fallen”, literally and figuratively. My life, my world, and my condition had all fallen. I was brought to nothing but this strange movement, this unpredictable wind that was blowing in my soul.

I heard an incessant chant in my mind, “God, this is for your glory and no matter what happens I know you will use this for your glory.” Finally, this could no longer stay inside. When the pain was at its worst that is what came out. I heard my voice, but it surely was not mine. I was in pain. I was surviving. On the inside, though, tornadoes of the Spirit were touching down and destroying strongholds, entire cities populated with my fears and shame were facing desolation. I was being recreated under the stress of chaos. This new comfort, this new friend that I had asked to indwell so long ago had been released in my weakness and was claiming lost ground. Hallelujah.

I left this experience as a completely new person. It was the most painful of my life, but I was lost deep within the winds of my Spirit. I would not change it, I would not trade it, and I would not miss it. It was good for me. The Spirit spoke the statutes of the Lord to me. The law of God was etched on my heart and I celebrated its fulfillment in my Savior. I was humbled…what a gift!

I encourage you, whatever your struggle is today. May the Spirit comfort you.

Father, thank you for those times, in our lives, that are painful but real. They bring us into your side and recreate us. Whatever we face today Lord, we thank you because we know that not one moment of this life is wasted. Let us glorify you today with our experiences.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Voices in My Head

Luke 23:23, “But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.”

This verse was obviously taken from the context of the sentencing of Jesus in front of Pilate. I was struck by the implications of voices. Voices do such damage to our lives. They come from every avenue, everywhere I turn. The louder they are, the more of them, the more that my orientation can turn to them.

I remember while in seminary, one of the safest places to be was with the majority. Who wants to defend their views on kingdom ethics by themselves? If you had more people sharing your viewpoint, then you stood less chance of having to look wrong. So, on lazy days, you would watch the people that you thought were smart and raise your hand along with them. Then you would disappear into the background as they confidently responded to questions of theological relevance.

Now you know my coping strategies. Those were only my lazy days, of course.

This is great in a safe context, but we live in the real world. The longer I am a Christian, the more fanatic I sound because I do not trust all of the other voices. Moderate is good in some things, but moderation does not have to mean compromise. I do not trust the voices of moderates who end up looking like the post al dente pasta that I cooked this week. It is limp, no substance, even mushy…mental baby food. Lots of voices made up of mush can be loud and powerful, even well intended, but they are often empty and poorly thought out.

These voices can lull us into a trace because we get lazy. This fight that we are assigned is the hard fight. I was driving through the Target parking lot yesterday thinking about the blog that I posted. I was thinking how different my optimism is from morning to night. I told my husband that I think it could be related to my glycemic index. That seems to cover a world of shortcomings.

It is like the experience of all of these voices has jaded me in a good way, though. It has caused me to mistrust the imperfect created and orient myself on the words of the Creator. This is what happens when I read his word in the morning, when I pray about what he wants me to think about, when I blog. It is all an exercise in orienting myself to Him. It is finding His voice and setting that as my course for the rest of the day.

This is crucial because there are lots of voices during the day. They usually start when we switch on the tube. I try never to watch the TV, unless my husband is home. I heard that it is the leading cause of depression for women who stay at home, because we are unable to listen to those voices without applying them to our lives. Let me say it again…think of all of the trash that we see on TV and we cannot watch that without applying it to our lives. Would you let some of those issues in the front door of your house? NO! But we give them free reign through the portal in our wall. They get to us anyway.

Voices have power. We hear it, we compare it, we mull over it, and we get unhappy about it. There is a time to say, “Enough!” You know what? I don’t miss those voices, and I think that I am gaining some of my lost IQ points. I truly believe that now I have less interference when I need to hear God’s voice.

But they are progressive, like the frog on the stove (I hope that you know what I am talking about, if not, disregard). These voices get bigger and grow. There are just tons of them, husbands, mothers, fathers, siblings, bosses, co-workers, people who are in the service industry. By the time that we finish the day, we are bombarded…and it wears us out (unless you are an extreme introvert, you guys kill me).

To discount the value of these voices would be a mistake. We see what persistent, loud voices can accomplish in the gospels, in this passage in Luke. They offer fear and cause people to give in to the majority. We carry the most extreme example of this in our hearts, every day.

So, the voices of today, though persistent, though urgent, though demanding and loud…they are just that, voices. Prepare to hear them. They do have all the power that you allow. The key is in the initial orientation. We have to pick God’s voice out of all the other mess in our heads and recognize that familiar tone. That is the tone that we look for today. That is the voice that will prevail if we set our hearts.

Father, thank you for the sound of your voice echoing in our ears. Make your voice clear to us today. When the voices grow, let us hear only yours. Orient us to your purpose and your will.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No Tomorrow

Luke 21:34 & 35, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

If I stand on this word, and there was just today, only today of which I was guaranteed, what would it look like?

I would have opened my eyes this morning, not half-heartedly and eager for my first cup of coffee, but eager to see the face of my Lord. I would think about Him like it was my birthday. I would wonder what He will look like and what I could possibly say to Him. I might even wear a dress.

That means that I would do over the eye roll that I gave my husband when the dogs wanted out at 5:45 and I knew that it was the end of any sleep for this night. I wanted him to want to let them out so that I could sleep for another half hour…badly, but instead I went, grudgingly…sorry, babe.

I would have thanked God for my dogs, because over 13 years, some mornings they were the only reason that I had to get out of bed. They have been good companions and evidence of God’s abundance.

I would have sat with my husband before he went to work and told him how he has been the most amazing blessing of my life. I would have hung on every word that he said, and he had some good ones today. He said, “It’s not that he is dumb, he is just a specialist in other areas”. That was awesome.

I would not talk about “one day” or the kids we never had. I would just enjoy him. Then I would give him a kiss that he would think about all day when he left for work, instead of worrying about my coffee breath. If I never saw him again, I would know that who we became made Jesus smile.

I would not have sat in the living room during my quiet time thinking of ways to move around money so that I could continue remodeling our house, bit by bit. Instead I would have been on my knees thanking God for giving us a place of safety consecrated for his glory. I would ask forgiveness for every time that I failed to show hospitality to someone who needed it.

Then I would call all of my friends and family members, briefly since I hate the phone. I would tell them, once again, where I am going and who my Savior is. I would celebrate with some, and with others I wouldn’t hold back anymore because I want for them to know that I am going home tomorrow and I want them to come with me. I don’t want to wonder about them anymore. I would pray with them for whatever happens tomorrow, regardless of what they said…and I would tell them how I love them.

I would spend the rest of my day not worrying about the grocery list, exercising, the dog hair tumbleweeds rolling down the hall, or this blog…no apologies. I would not worry about what I ate or what I did, just like scripture always said…only today I would take it seriously. I would go tell my neighbors that our time here is short and they need to hear something before tomorrow comes. I would laugh at myself because I will know how Noah felt, and how he just didn’t care what people thought.

I would call my pastors and thank them for their diligence. I would say good-bye until whenever, and really not care when that would be because I know that we will all be busy after tomorrow. I would pray for the ministries that I had been involved in, that I had glorified God and not myself. I would ask for forgiveness when I was tired or lazy. Then I would leave that all at the steps of His throne and not think about it again.

Every time I feel back twinges, I will think…that’s ok, I will be feelin’ fine tomorrow. I would not wear makeup because I am crying just thinking about it, so that would just be a hassle.

I would probably check outside a few times just to make sure that I didn’t miss a show. I would then go back in and repent of all of the ways that I wasted my time and resources. I am just astounded at that while sitting here thinking about it.

I would ache for the moment of His arrival. I would not be stilled because, let’s face it, everything has been done and all that is left is the party. I would sing…a lot. I would not care if the neighbors heard me. Hopefully, I would get to sit on the roof with my husband in my dress, laughing and talking about Jesus.

Or, maybe not. Maybe I would do something else. But I know that because I was given this verse today, tomorrow will be different.

Father thank you for showing up. Thank you for speaking through your word in ways that can change tomorrow. Let us hear your word and live it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Unbelief...or the Lack Thereof

Mark 9:21-24 - Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

This passage has a lot of interesting elements. The disciples had already taken a shot at healing this boy. It didn’t work out so well. They were probably feeling a little less than superhero at this point. Then they got scolded by Jesus, which in my experience, is hard to hear. Not only that, but Mark portrays Jesus as pretty exasperated with the whole human thing.

Then we turn to a dialogue between dad and Jesus. This situation is fast paced. The crowd is getting into it, Jesus is getting ready to fix the day’s mistakes…and this poor dad is wondering if he made a mistake. Jesus asks the dad a question to engage him. And poor dad…he says the “if clause”. Standing before the Messiah he puts his doubt right out there.

When I think ahead to the fantasized major spiritual moments of my life, there are no “if clauses”. Jesus says, “Go!”, and I am there. There is no hesitation and no doubt. I am the perfect little believer in futureland. Now, if I have to look back over my spiritual history, that is where you would see the “if clauses”. In pastville, I have openly expressed doubt, worry, frustration and anger, and ifs.

Standing before Jesus, I want to be able to say, “No, I do not doubt you. You are the One. I believe that you can do all things.” In reality, we think and sometimes pray, “If you can, would you consider, if this falls in the realm of your whole will thing.”

I don’t think that Jesus was really offended by dad’s responses. I think that He was requesting a point of clarification from dad…engaging the heart of this man. We have to keep in mind that Jesus could have walked right over to the boy, spoken to him and it would be over. Instead, he spoke to dad.

As a result of this dialogue, Jesus is healing based on the faith of another person. We see this with parents asking for healing in the gospels. That is a pretty big deal for parents out there. It is literally the idea of standing in the gap for your child.

Another interesting thing is that he healed this child even though the dad admitted his unbelief. Hmmm, seem odd?

Unbelief is not a bad thing. It isn’t helpful if we shove it down deep. Jesus can handle us saying, “I just do not get this and I would like to, so help me believe”. He is much bigger than we give Him credit for. Dad said, “I believe, I do, ok, well, maybe I don’t believe a little”…and Jesus healed his son who had been tortured from childhood. Dad probably believes now.

Jesus did tell him, though. Jesus said that for people who believe, anything can be done. He can use us mightily when we believe that He is already fully present in a situation. It is worth praying our doubt, asking for help where we come up short. Jesus expects it and He honors it. He does not withhold from people who stay in this conversation of unbelief. He might just be waiting for a chance to show us why we should believe.

Father, thank you for never turning away from us in our unbelief. Allow us to see unbelief in our lives and confess it to you. Do amazing things today through the humility of this act.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taking Me Down A Notch

Luke 14:8-11, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

At first glance this appears to be an Emily Post entry to the bible. I appreciate this passage so much because of its spiritual and practical applications. I am not a person who desires to be toward the front of any situation. We could go into that but it may take a phone call.

Perhaps it is because I am 5’10”, so say at a baby shower, if I am in front no one will even see any guest of honor, unless they are elevated. I feel more comfortable hanging out on the back wall, just watching and yelling out my comments intermittently, which is so much ruder.

Bear with me for a second, because I see this small social example of humility as evidence of a larger spiritual issue of humility. As I say all of the time, this is a heart issue.

Let’s look at another heart issue, submission. Submission does not have to be THE loaded word. If you are a Christian, you have been submitting to God all of your Christian life…right? We submit to God’s authority, to His sovereignty. This means that I believe that He is the boss, but in the midst of amazing love and respect.

We submit to other relationships. We put others interests ahead of ours. Think of the ways that we long to serve our family and close friends through acts of kindness, perhaps we are even acting under their counsel. There are just people that we know we can trust and we submit to them all the time. Have you ever had to say that you are sorry?

Jumping ahead, by the time we get married, submission is mostly a bad word. How dare he think that I am going to do whatever he says…blah, blah, blah. That is not submission. Submission is something that we should have learned to do in our relationship with God and others way before we took the big leap. If we had learned it properly, then it would not scare us so much.

So, submission in marriage can show, in the most unflattering way, what we understand about submission to the Father. It certainly did for me. I had to learn what submission was under God’s sovereignty before I could understand that my husband was not going to chain me to the stove. See, large spiritual issue reflected in earthly relationship.

Now, we have humility. If someone is bold enough to walk into the dinner party and sit themselves down next to the head of the table, they might get taken down a few notches when they are asked to look at the place cards. Humility is another heart issue that exudes from our relationship with the Father. Who would this person be when he is alone with God?

Luke 18:10-14, shows us spiritual humility, “’Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’”

This passage beautifully demonstrates the heart of humility with the Father. This is the heart that in any situation can now consider himself the least, even at a swanky dinner party. He recognizes that he is a sinner. He beats his breast as he is broken by the weight of his shame. When he walks away he is justified, it is done. That is where I long to be. I want to genuinely present myself before the Father, and that means in humility.

Sometimes, I opt to battle these issues of pride and rebellion on my own and I never get anywhere. Instead of doing the hard work self-evaluation and asking God if I am pleasing Him in my relationships, I simply claim my short-comings as part of this life. Essentially, I play the “that is just who I am” card.

It is not. I was not created to be a lone ranger, pompous, callous, self-absorbed, easily frustrated and lazy. It sounds so obvious when I write it down, but I assure you this has been hard work, but worth it. Join with me in asking God if He is pleased with the relationships in your life. Is there something that He wants to deal with in you? Make it an act of worship to become yourself, fully.

Father, thank you for your constant authority. Take us today into your hands and mold us. Discard the excuses and denial. Make us useful to the work of your kingdom. Let us celebrate the sovereignty of who you are.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Eternal Reassurance List

It doesn't exist. That is my word for today.

Luke 13:24 & 25, NRSV, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’”

I was reading this passage this morning and I disappointed myself. I found the question going through my head was, “Like how narrow are we talking about here?” There are some daily definites that I just don’t need. I don’t need to know how long I will have to wait in line at the bank or grocery store. I don’t even need to know if someone in my house will get sick today (We have had two dogs with tummy issues overnight…sleepy house today). Apparently, I would like to know if I am thinking to broadly about this door, however.

Since I got married in my 30s, I spent some time doing singles’ ministry discipleship beforehand. It was a lot of fun; but, let’s face it, one of the primary goals of the group was to graduate to the newly married class. One morning there was a free-for-all in Sunday School, although we don’t call it that anymore, do we? I still use the term Big Church, too. The topic was dating…

So, there we were, assured that no one would be judged for asking any question, and…bam. “How far is too far before marriage?” This is the question on a lot of singles’ minds. As the pastor stammered for an answer, a very wise guy stood up and asked why we would even ask this question.

See, the flaw in our logic is the very nature of the question. We want to know how to walk just far enough over “the obedience line” to say that we did it right. We want for Christ to say, “You can kiss, but no heavy petting”. I still don’t know what heavy petting means, exactly. I always picture my husband petting me heavily on the head. I don’t think that is it.

So, what about this narrow door? What are we expecting Christ to say? If you give 10%, that will cover that area. If you read your bible for 15 minutes and pray for 15 minutes that will cover that area. Oh, and make three out of four Sundays in a pew. Our task list could be renamed, “Eternal Reassurance List”. It would be magnificent. I would get my gold star stickers out and sleep well at night. It would also be predictable, stagnant and Pharisaical…things that our Savior is not.

You and I both know that this mentality has nothing to do with relationship. It has nothing to do with this narrow door. My husband would be so offended if I just made a checklist to get by in our marriage, even though it might be useful if he could tell me exactly what would fill him up to the brim everyday. I would get out my gold stars and rename my task list, “The Happy Marriage List”. I think that he deserves four home cooked meals per week, one clean bathroom and approximately 20 minutes of engaging conversation per night. But, that would never work in our home. It is my job to find out what he needs and meet those as best as I can. My husband is looking for authentic.

One of our pastors preached yesterday on this passage, Luke 9:23 & 24, NRSV, “Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” He made an interesting emphasis.

Every day we have to take up our cross, not The Cross. It is our assigned cross that only we can carry through this life. The deeper I get into relationship with Christ, the more I realize that my cross is wrapped in the way that I grew up and the influences that I experienced. It is the injustices and the concerns of my life, but it is not to be a burden to tote around in that form. My cross is then covered in the blood of Christ. All of these things that make up my cross are roads to refining me for eternity. They make up the narrow door that leads to my freedom.

There are points in my life where I could have really sweated a passage like this, but here is what I have found. The longer that I walk this road, the more Christ narrows my path. The temptations, trials and pleasures do not have the same texture to them. They seem different and my cross feels different. It gets less cumbersome the further I go. I am drawn to different things and repelled by new things. It is extraordinary when I realize that God is changing my very composition. I cannot do that, but He does. I literally am a new creation with new desires and contentedness. I can see that whenever I do face that door, He will have me just where He wants me.

Let’s desire His work in our life today.

Father, let us come before you as a blank slate. Make the changes that only you can make in order to prepare us for that narrow door. Thank you for your constant provision and care in this process.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hearers and Doers

Don’t get side tracked. That is my word for today.

Luke 11:27 and 28, NRSV, “While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

I really love this woman. You can tell that she is one that makes good comfort food for all of the church potlucks. Her mind is thinking about how proud Mary must be of this boy. Mary is blessed for having done such a fine job in raising the Savior of the world (She has a southern accent in my head). As women, we can appreciate this train of thought. You go Mary!

Apply brakes here…Jesus, less amused probably, brings it back down to earth really quick. He actually corrects her publically and says, in a nut shell, ‘don’t get side tracked’. I am such a side tracker. I struggle to keep myself on point. I can walk across the house and do fifteen things, but forget why I went there in the first place. I return to my place of origin and start all over again. This can go on for hours, especially during a quiet time.

We can make our spirituality about so many things. How about, we can make it about how we feel about the commandments of God? These are easy distractions as women. We place our feelings in a role over scripture, kind of like some authority to check it against…very dangerous. These can be nuanced, so we really have to pray about these deceitful little boogers. I have seen some amazing justifications come from how, “I just don’t feel that God wants me to…”, even if it is required from everyone else. I have heard this applied to everything from prayer to living together, and marriage, especially marriage.

I have done my share of it, too. I am embarrassed to tell you the qualities that I have superimposed on God, because I feel like, “He would feel like I do, if He were here”. Psalm 50:21, NRSV, “These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.” Ouch…and He has rebuked me, more than once. Our feelings can be such a liability.

Here is a great one. We can make our spirituality about our quiet times with God. If women spent as much time with God as they did scheduling it in and/or feeling guilty about it, we would have a powerful presence in this world. I am in that group. Only with the onset of this blog are my quiet times do or die, same time every day and a similar process. I moved them around before, according to my schedule, and I have found that now I don’t worry about them at all. They have to happen before I write a word.

Jesus makes it really simple. He says to Proud Mama in those verses, ‘You are missing the point. Stay with me here. Don’t get side tracked.’ We are surrounded by ways to make our relationship with Christ about spirituality and not about Him. We can read books about Him and have small groups, but nothing is a substitute for hearing the word of God (since He is not physically present, we have to pick up those bibles, ladies) and doing what it says.

I gave these verses to the high school girls group as they went out on their own for the summer. James 1:22-25, NRSV, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”

We are the greatest deceivers. We will look at the truth in the mirror for a while before we realize that we are in trouble. The inactivity of last year’s back surgery and the recovery through this year was fine for a while, but let me tell you that things have reached crisis mode in the mirror. My body does not look the same as it did before. I looked at it for a while, saying, “Hmmm. That is looking a little loose”. Then I had THAT DAY, when I realized that I have to do something about this. I could deny the truth no longer. My deceitful problem took place when I looked away from the mirror. I would simply resume eating my chocolate trifle. I did not want to do the strict workout thing/eating responsibly…and oh, how painful it is now. But we have to do it. There comes a point when you realize that you know the truth. I am the only one that can do anything about my dimply thighs!

I also am the only one that can decide that although obedience WILL mean that I will do things that I am not comfortable with, it is the word of God and I trust Him. I KNOW that it is true. My faith stands on the word of God. It is a non-negotiable. I do not have the right to pick and choose or to create my own agenda. It stands as is, without my help, without my brain, and without my feelings. I know that. So today when I look away from the mirror, what will I choose? Chocolate trifle or firmer thighs? Oh God, let me put down the trifle today! Will I choose to be a hearer only, or a doer, also? Don’t be deceived these are both questions of will. It might even be easier to set down the trifle. Let’s not get side tracked from obeying Him, today.

Father thank you for your grace filled faithfulness. Forgive us where we have ever stood in judgment of your word. Let us make firm decisions on obeying You and Your word today.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Get a Little Closer

Proximity. We are horrible at it. All a stranger has to do to make me think “stranger danger” is to get too close to me in public. If they smile at me, too, I am calling the police.

Mark is a study on crowd control. Everywhere Jesus goes it is like a fast furious rush of people getting as close as they can. He can’t leave His house or eat peacefully. People are being dropped through the ceiling. He was trying to run around in secret and crowds were always gathering around Him.

Matthew tells us that crowds were so thick that he had to go out to sea in order to talk to them without getting crushed. That is how he came across Peter in Luke. The gospels tell us that it was only in prayer, at night, that Jesus had solitude. Have you ever tried to pray when you were tired? Wow.

Luke 5:1 has a wonderful bit of imagery, “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God”. The crowd was pressing in on Him. Now, that is not unusual because there were always people pressing in on Him; but the why is pretty impressive.

Because I do not have people “pressing into me” to hear the word of God, I cannot imagine what this is like. Generally, I am chasing people to tell them about Jesus. It is so available to us that we can take it or leave it.

Most of us struggle to find the desire to press into the word of God. I used to have it press into me when I was doing my quiet times at night. I would fall asleep and wake up when the bible hit my face. What a different scene that is! And there was not just one, but a whole crowd of people pressing Him. That is a lot of pressing.

This is such a beautiful image and I have no doubt that there was just something to Jesus. There was something that you could not look away from. You had to hear His next word. It was like breathing in. I want that for my quiet times. I want to press into Him to hear the next word that He has for me. I want to wait expectantly that He will show up and satisfy my desire for His word.

Sometimes, I wish that I could have been one of these people who were in His physical presence. My model of expectancy is “the woman healed”. Luke 8:42b-48, “As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Again, the crowds press, but that is normal. The difference is this faith-filled woman, expectantly, touching the fringe of his clothes. I don’t know what Jesus felt when He said that power had left Him. But out of all of those touching Him, He recognized the faith of this woman. That is what I desire in the picture of my time with Him. I want to run up to Him, pressing in and before He can even turn around He will know that someone who loves Him, TJ, just grabbed hold.

That is so beautiful and I have such a long way to go, some days more than others. Let’s solicit a response from Jesus today by pressing into His word.

Father, thank you for your gentleness as you recognize our imperfections, but know our heart, that we try to steal time with You because we love You. Draw us close as we press in. Turn us into faith-filled women.

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