Friday, July 30, 2010

Money Makes . . .

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.

2 Corinthians 8:13

Honesty is the best policy, so here it goes - I could always use more money. It sounds terrible but the reality is that a "bit" more money would definitely come in handy when it comes to the essentials of my life. After all I do like to pay the water bill, the electric bill, my mortgage—my bills of requirement.

But almost every day I am awakened by a story of inequality. Just when I am longing for financial comfort, I meet a family living in a tent. When my yearnings lean towards added household items I am introduced to a mother whose home has burned down. When worry about school bills threatens to undo me I recognize the friend with school bills that far outreach my own.

I have no idea how they made it happen but within the community of believers in the first century there was very little need. Everyone put forward what they could to meet the needs of those who lived without. Paul delineates between need versus want – equality comes when our focus is on what we all need. There is usually a limit with needs, while wants have only the limit of our imagination.

Living with the mindset of need versus want is a challenge. Years ago I heard about a family who met the challenge by asking themselves this question every time they wanted to purchase an item, "Can we afford to buy two - one for ourselves and another for someone else?" If I faithfully asked myself that question I know that my wants would be greatly reduced!

Jesus, I need You to help me
discern my wants versus my needs.
I relinquish all my wants and
place them in Your hands.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


And if one asks him, “What are these wounds on your back?” he will say,
“The wounds I received in the house of my friends.”

Zechariah 13:6

Privilege and luxury were Malika’s daily life as the adopted daughter of the king. As companion to the princess she was afforded the rights of the monarchy. Besides missing life with her birth family there wasn’t any reason to believe that her opulent life would change. However, a failed coup by her birth father, the king’s general, tilted her world, dumping her into prison along with her mother and five siblings. The king, whom she had considered a second father, became her jailer for the next twenty years.

Betrayal and injury by friends or family is perhaps the most difficult wound from which to heal. There exists a vulnerable factor. These are people who know you and have used their knowledge as a weapon. There seems to be no point of return. Forgiveness is unforeseeable.

While in the vortex of emotional pain, thinking about forgiveness seems impossible and humanly speaking it is. Left to my own devices I’m tempted to keep the wound fresh, opening myself to further infection. At this forgive/NOT crossroads, the life of Jesus and his own friendly wounds can become my inspiration. The gift of Jesus’ humanity gives me a “how to forgive” guide when it comes to my own woundedness.

With the help of His Father, Jesus accepted his friendly wounds as indications that the one who was wounding had a greater need--His Father’s love. Accepting our friendly wounds with the Jesus spirit we, too, will discover that living in the kingdom means honing the art of forgiveness.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of your humanity.
Your willingness to be born into this world of hurt shows me
that I am not alone.But your life also opens the way to a life of forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Prayer Blessings

We are called to bless even our enemies. How much more should we pray a blessing on others in the Body of Christ! Especially those we disagree with, or who hold a different view from our own.

If we ask a blessing on them, it is up to God to decide what He can and cannot bless in what they are and what they are doing.

We are not asked to understand each other first. If there are some elements in the church who really aggravate us it may be more useful to pray a blessing on them than to interact in a critical spirit. As we pray we begin to realize just how much God cares about them.

Celtic Prayer Book of Northumbria

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Changing Church

I wrote this piece last year and reading it again recently I thought I would post it again having read numerous accounts of our churches that are experiencing the difficulties of "changing" in a changing world.

In case you haven't noticed "church" has changed. When I was a little girl Sundays were an all day affair in my family. Beginning at our arrival for worship at 8:30, we were usually one of the last families to leave, only to return again that evening. In the between hours my parents took a nap and I counted the minutes until we reconvened with our church family.

My daughter being a "preacher's kid" has, of course, very different memories but they don't consist of Bible "Sword" drills, memorizing quantities of Bible verses, long sermons, altar calls, lengthy baptisms. She would probably tell you that her memories include waiting. . .waiting for her father to lock up the church, waiting for her mother to put away the music, waiting while we both cleaned up the pews, waiting outside a hospital room. Her world, her generation is very different than my own and yet I have discovered that some where along the line my world has radically changed as well and, as far as "church" goes, well, as the world has changed so has "church."

Being in the "ministry" business means somehow connecting these two tilting worlds. Stopping by a friend's office recently he described the transition in the "church" as watching a death and a birth at the same time. Now, in certain regions of the country I realize that there remain vestiges of what I experienced and remember "church" to be. But, personally, I haven't been involved in that type of community in a long, long time.

Instead, in the congregations we have ministered with we are constantly facing the conflict between someone's memories of "what it used to be like" and the reality of what the world is today. As the world changes ever more rapidly, so the Christian's response has to alter. How we did "church" thirty, forty, fifty years ago, even ten years ago isn't how "church" can be done today.

It's difficult to accept any change. I know one man who seems to be angry that he has gotten older and so is determined to keep "my church" exactly the way he remembers. I haven't once heard him refer to "my church" as God's church or a church that needs to reach out beyond its wall to the surrounding community. Every complaint, every negative comment, every demand is couched in the language of "my church." His grown children abandoned church long ago because "my church" isn't relevant to them.

How do we keep moving forward? Jesus was undetered by the Pharisees. Particularly in the gospel of Mark we see him moving, going to the next town, next mountain, next desert, preaching the Good News gospel wherever he went. He refused to be bound by "my church" rules even though the Pharisees made copious attempts to tether him.

I often wonder what Jesus would do if he walked into any of our churches today. Would he see that his death on the cross made a difference in how we did "church" or would the conflicts over the order of worship, worship tapestries hanging in the sanctuary, hymns versus praise songs, how communion is served, budgets, women's "ministries", etc. make him want to get out the Temple's whip and drive us all out. Or, if these conflicts aren't enough how about if he stood and listened to our words or read our e-mails about how "my church" isn't the way "I" want it to be.

This may be all more than you are experiencing. But, the truth is, ask someone under the age of thirty if they are going to church. More than likely you'll receive a blank stare and then the question, "Why should I?" If they are, great, and be sure to find out what is happening in their congregation because they are a rarity. The statistics are that 70% of college students walk away from their faith and few of them are returning.

Everything is looking different and "my church" doesn't belong in this day and age. I'm sorry. We ARE the Church not because we sit in a building but because we are called to be outside of the building being Christ's hands, feet, mouth--touching, walking, talking to everyone we meet about the love of Jesus Christ. We have to go find the world. We can't afford to sit around in "my church" waiting for the world to find us.

Monday, July 26, 2010

God's Mirror

And no creature is hidden from his sight,
but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:13

At our first introduction, I was struck with the careful attention “Gayle” had obviously taken with her appearance. She had cultivated an image of control and compact togetherness. It was rather impressive until the day I saw her when she hadn’t gotten her way. Nothing of the well honed outward appearance was visible, only raw anger, shaded by hatred. Her inward life was colliding with the cultivated one.

No matter what measures I take making my physical appearance impressive, ultimately if more attention hasn’t been given to my inner life there will be an eruption. Nothing remains hidden forever.

It is humbling to stand naked before a mirror with every imperfection in view. My clothes selection often are chosen on the basis of what they will hide. Hiding my inner self is ultimately much more difficult. Its true identity will make itself known when I least want it to appear. If “Gayle” had seen her face that day she probably would have been shocked. In fact, she probably instinctively knew that her true self had shown itself, because when I saw her several months later she refused to look at me.

How we look on the inside is what we will be held accountable for. The fact is that all our volunteer hours, humanitarian efforts, church involvement won’t amount to anything if our inside erupts because we have refused to look at ourselves in God’s mirror.

Jesus, forgive me for focusing on my outside appearance
when you are looking only at my heart.
Help me to be willing to look in your mirror.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Responding to the Unexpected

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross…

Luke 23:26

Whipping into a parking space I hurried toward my destination. It was a quick errand. A well dressed stranger stepped in front of me. Making an avoidance move, her question halted my progress, “Would you pray for me?” People came and went as we stood in the parking lot while she told me her story. I wasn’t sure how to respond so I promised to “keep her in my prayers.”

When Simon of Cyrene left his home early one morning he never anticipated that by the end of the day an unexpected request would seal his name in Christian history. A trip to Jerusalem had probably been planned for several months. He had made all the appropriate arrangements for his absence and was probably looking forward to the special events planned for the week. But, when he entered the gates he was caught in a hive of hostility with hands grabbing at his clothes and unexpectedly an immense weight was transferred from a condemned man to Simon’s shoulders. It was an unexpected request that would live with him the rest of his life.

The day I walked away from the “would you pray for me” request I was ashamed by my inaction. My scheduled day had excluded any possibility of a Holy Spirit interaction. I missed an opportunity to nourish a hungry heart. God, in His redemption, offered me another opportunity a few years later. Standing amidst a swarm of people the same unexpected request came again. This time I responded without hesitation and my life was changed.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of a new day.
With the rising of the sun You offer a “do over.”
Help me to schedule my day to allow for, as well as anticipate,
Holy Spirit moments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Speak Up

You see antagonists everywhere; they are rebellious, loose-lipped,
and deceitful. . .Their talk must be squashed. . .

Titus 1:10-11a (The Voice New Testament)

When I read this verse from Titus I get closer to understanding why people are leaving the Church. . .in droves. Within the Church conflicts abound, rebellious attitudes dominate and too many loose-lipped members have reduced the average stay of a pastor to 18 months. That may seem unbelievable but take note of one resignation of the senior pastor of the Riverside Church in New York. He lasted nine months all because of a few antagonists, rebellious, loose-lipped and deceitful members.

One day I received an e-mail from a ministerial group in our town addressing the issue of gossip. Apparently a few loose-lipped "Christians" were dishing one of our local churches claiming that a church split was imminent. The best part about the e-mail was the fact that they were actively attempting to squash the gossip. Having gone to the pastor involved and heard the issues, they discovered the deceit.

Now, none of this is particularly new to me, which, in a sense is sad. My church as a young girl also had a few loose-lipped, deceitful individuals who decided to write letters to a select few claiming our pastor was having an affair. As a ten year old, the image of my pastor standing with his wife at the front of the church, professing his faithfulness to the love of his life, has been deeply imprinted on my psyche.

Still, I stayed faithful to the "Church", married a man who felt "called" to minister and as a result jumped into the fray. We've lived all over the country, worked in a number of different churches and talked with lots of pastors and their spouses. Everywhere it is the same--antagonistic, rebellious, loose-lipped, deceitful "Christians" causing disturbances within congregations. Unfortunately their actions are all too obvious to the world.

If we want to speak Jesus into the world today, to be good yeast, we must be different than the world. We all know that the world is filled with the rebellious, loose-lipped and deceitful. And it's true that Christians are human, but shouldn't we be visibly striving against our "human" nature?

To speak against sin in the Church is difficult. But if we're going to be witnesses, effecting change in the world, we'll need to do some "in house" cleaning along the way. Confronting the antagonists, rebellious, loose-lipped and deceitful will take courage and strength – but don’t be afraid.

Jesus, help me to have the courage to speak up
against those things that destroy your kingdom!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Vacation

I'm taking a few days off and am heading out of town to be with friends and my daughter. Decided not to drag my laptop along. Sometimes we just need to be "disconnected!" Look for a new posting on Thursday, July 22. Please don't forget!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Muscle and Time

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, til it was all leavened.

Matthew 13:33

It has been my experience that yeast is temperamental. Cooking at 6500 feet above sea level, yeast acts more quickly, making the amount I use somewhat of a guessing game. Generally, the amount is slightly less than what is called for. My forgetfulness, as well as my eagerness, occasionally creates a mess—my bread rises too quickly and falls flat just as rapidly.

The ability to purchase artisan breads on a whim doesn’t give this verse quite the same “punch” that it had in the first century. But the properties of yeast remain the same—yeast must be “hidden” or worked thoroughly throughout the dough in order for it to be effective.

Living in a world of “instant” our patience wears thin while waiting. Personally, I want to see God work fast and furiously! And, that makes me exactly like the disciples who wanted to see the kingdom of heaven descend with a swoosh. But, throughout the gospels Jesus never talks in the language of the spectacular. Instead, his images are always one of time, requiring patience.

Having been called to be kingdom of heaven yeast, my rising ability will depend on how willing I am to allow God to work me into the “dough” of my community, family, friends. I've kneaded bread, trust me, the process requires muscle and time. It's uncomfortable but the results can be spectacular!

Jesus, thank you for the simple images you used
to illustrate how we are to live in your Kingdom.
I want to be good, active yeast, living in my
community and by my inclusion, helping it to grow in you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ancient Promises

And they will say, “This land that was desolate
has become like the garden of Eden. . .

Ezekiel 36:35

When obscure verses pop into my view I pay attention because there is usually a connection in my life. More and more I hear about how the younger generation doesn’t “believe” anymore because they don’t think the Bible is “relevant” to their lives. But, again, there are also long time “Christians” who keep the Bible at bay—“it’s a good book to read but we don’t need to get personal about it!”

If you know anything about the Israelites in the Old Testament you will remember that God was frequently frustrated and although He had promised them all sorts of good things they kept stumbling over their doubt and disobedience. Sound familiar? The result was the destruction of their temple, their city Jerusalem and, almost, their extinction.

In the midst of their desolation, Ezekiel comes into the lives of the Israelites with messages of hope and assurance—dry bones will be raised up and given flesh—land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden.

So, why did this verse jump into my view? Because I’ve doubted, in spite of knowing that God has plans for me. I’ve been disobedient. I have felt like my world was crashing around me. My very existence has, at times, seemed questionable.

My life has mirrored, at various levels, the lives of the Israelites. And, even though Ezekiel spoke thousands of years ago, his repeated messages of hope and assurance echo in my soul because I read the obsure!

Thank you Father, Son and Holy Spirit
for your work and movement in time and history.
Nothing is old—all is relevant.
Help me to make the connections in my life.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good Choices

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.

Deuteronomy 30:15

From the moment of understanding we make choices. Listen to parents “reasoning” with their children—"you can stop crying and enjoy the park or you can keep crying and make yourself miserable." There is, for all of us, a choice between this or that, whatever this or that may be. Sometimes our choices are overwhelming and we long for someone else to make the decision.

Taking responsibility for our choices becomes even more challenging, particularly if our choice has been a disaster. It’s so much easier to load the blame on someone else. To admit to ourselves, much less to others, that we made a poor choice, well, that’s about as painful as have oral surgery.

God created us to choose. With it comes a tremendous amount of freedom. But, oh the weight of responsibility that counter balances that freedom when we respond to the call, “Follow me.” From that point every choice defines who we are in Jesus Christ. Every choice matters, but the choice to get up and follow Jesus should change how we make our decisions.

God knows the depth of disaster that will result when He tells Adam to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Eden is destroyed, with Adam and Eve pointing their fingers, what results is that even “a little evil” erodes the life of a Jesus follower. Consequently, it takes heart, soul and mind to choose to follow Jesus and live according to God’s “rules.” But isn’t that better than death?

Jesus, thank you for giving me life by Your death on the cross.
Because of you, Eden’s destruction is no longer.
Help me to make choices that will bring me to the good life in You.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Memory 101

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Psalm 107:29

Most Jewish men in the first century had put to memory the Psalms. With just a trigger any psalm would rise to the surface bringing solace and encouragement, praise and thankfulness. Scripture was at the tip of their tongues. Oh that I had a memory reserve like that!

I wonder then if the disciples, who were on the boat with Jesus the night the storm broke out while crossing the Galilee, remembered this verse. Perhaps fear prevented them from remembering. They probably woke Jesus with “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) more out of desperation and the need for an extra hand on deck. Nevertheless, isn’t it interesting that if they had remembered this verse in the Psalms they might have behaved less frantically?

When the waters are rising around me what is my first instinct? More often than I care to admit, I hear my voice wailing above the torment, “Why is this happening now?” and scramble to solve the problem in my own way. I would like my first thought to be, he made the storm be still and respond to whatever is troubling me out of that promise. But, first I need to have buried it in me, making it a part of my very essence.

I keep any number of things in my “just in case” memory—social security numbers, phone numbers, account numbers, birthdays, passwords. They all help me to “survive” in the world. But, knowing and memorizing Scripture will help me more than just survive it will help thrive.

Jesus, forgive me when I panic and feel like I have to shake
you awake to calm my storms. You already know and are ready to say,
“Peace.” Help me to remember Your words, making them a part of me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Don't Know it All

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help.

James 1:5 (The Message)

When our daughter turned sixteen it was a terrifying realization to my husband and me that one of us would need to be her driving instructor! In the following weeks our parental driving instruction was given with minimal questions asked by our one and only who took the stance that, although she had never driven before, she pretty much knew what she was doing. Getting her driver’s license took a couple of tries. It was after these “failures” that we heard “How do I do. . .?”. We’re not perfect parents but we were eager to help!

Too often I have an attitude of “I know it already.” My fear is that by asking questions I reveal weakness or perhaps a lack of intelligence. And, that isn’t what I want to project! But living with that fear means I live pretending that I know what I’m doing! And ultimately, like a failed driver’s test, the image I confidently created, soon is exposed, falls apart and I grudgingly have to admit that I need help.

When God created me He never intended to watch me from a distance. In the beginning He desired communion, or in other words, conversation with us. Because He created everything, He knows how everything works and so He is eager for questions. I wonder if Eve ever thought to ask God if the snake was telling the truth? There seems to be a moment of hesitancy but then she plows on and I now live Eve’s choice of not asking God for help!

I don’t know what your life is like, but, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no weakness in asking, only strength in the received guidance. Your Father would love to help you.

Jesus, You were in continual conversation with Your Father.
You weren’t afraid to ask for His help, even at the cross.
Forgive me for thinking that I can do it all myself.
Help me!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spacious Places

Once during a year of unemployment, every possible option came to a dead end. It wasn't because we didn't try. We sought jobs through all sorts of avenues but road blocks consistently barred the way. And then suddenly it all changed; opportunity pounded at our door and we were given options beyond our imagination.

One evening while sharing our "predicament" with friends one of them felt God nudging them to give us a Godly word--"God has given you all the choices. Not one of them is perfect but He will bless the choice you make."

Over the next few months as we prayed over the decision for our future I pondered over the "Godly word." I believed that God did want to satisfy me with my heart's desire but being a jealous God He wants my total, unrestrained commitment.

We made a decision. The ensuing months were a struggle - difficult beyond words. Numerous times I was convinced that we had "missed" God's opening and pursued our own desires. But then those words, "none of them are perfect" would float across my vision.

Walking through God's open doors doesn't mean that the other side is pleasant or a perfect experience. This is the lesson I continue to learn. But at the door and in the landscape God shows up in the most unusual places and at unreasonable hours of the day. And my progress, while slow, keeps a forward movement. If I turn around I turn my back on God.

My future was at that time and continues to be uncertain. Hope sounds good but it doesn't always arrive in abundance. Huge challenges repeatedly arise but like the carousel's golden ring, I daily grab the promised blessing that by staying committed to God, who promises to give me my heart's desire, I will arrive safe in His broad and spacious place.

But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, "You are my God.
My times are in Your hand.Psalm 31:14,15

Monday, July 5, 2010

Long Weekend

Just checking in. This has been a marvelous long weekend of friends, celebrating my husband's birth and hiking. I am thankful to live in this diverse and amazing country. My prayer for this particular holiday is not for God to bless America but that God would pour his blessings on our world.

In regards to my country specifically, I pray that the anger, hostility, slander, lies, violence that I have experienced personally as well as seeing every night on the news would cease. We are in desperate need of peace within our own boundaries.

I believe that this will only come through intense, intentional prayer. Humbling myself before my Maker in repentance for my behavior; behavior that does not promote peace but further deepens the conflict. Each word I speak can make a difference for good or for ill. The tongue is so small but so powerful!

Lord, thank you for my freedoms but help me to use these freedoms for your glory; making a difference in Your Kingdom, pointing the way to You with every word I speak and every action I take. Amen.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Food for Thought

Deep down the soul has understood that it must let itself be carried, that it must abandon itself to its Saviour, that alone it can do nothing, that God can do everything. And if it remains still and motionless, as though bound in the faithfulness of God, it will quickly realize that things have changed, and that its progress, though still painful, is in the right direction. It is the direction of love! This realization will come like light after darkness, the midday sun after the dawn.

What matters is to let God get on with it.

Letters from the Desert by Carlo Carretto