Thursday, October 28, 2010

Restoring Inner Peace

Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!”

Mark 1:25 (The Message)

Isn’t it interesting that the first healing, found in the gospel of Mark, is one where Jesus expels a demon that has found a home in the synagogue? Having arrived in Capernaum Jesus heads immediately to the synagogue and begins teaching. Right there smack in the middle of the synagogue, where they gathered for the Sabbath, the first recognition of Jesus’ identity comes from a demon. The encounter sets the stage for the drama that increasingly unfolds as Jesus begins his ministry. The demons consistently recognize the power of a Jesus spoken word.

In my life I've experienced varying degrees of difficulties. Usually, just when I’m setting the table for a good pity party for one, along comes a “perspective” story. It’s always a story of someone else’s difficulties that simply ruins my well laid table of self pity! Of course, I shouldn’t be having pity parties to begin with; Jesus doesn’t want to be a guest at my pity party. He wants to heal me, inside out.

When I find myself with issues that “drive me insane”, problems that “torment me”, or worries that “plague me” Jesus willingly speaks into my turmoil, “Quiet! Get out of her.” These are the words that will drive out the “demons”, healing me from the inside out, restoring my inner peace.

Jesus, thank you that you have the authority
to speak the words, “Quiet! Get out of her!”,
bringing me healing from the inside out.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Living Resurrected

Unbind him, and let him go.”

John 11:44c

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But before Lazarus could live he had to be unbound. Life came when Lazarus could again move every joint, every muscle, every limb, freely. At his unbinding he could get out and live his new life.

I once heard a sermon on living the resurrected life. The preacher exhorted his listeners to live out the Lazarus story by believing that Jesus could do the same in their lives. They may have been beaten down, trampled on, discouraged, feeling like death itself, but Jesus could speak into their “dead” lives “Lazarus, come out.”

I needed to hear this message. But it was Jesus’ final words that hit home. Living the resurrected life was available if I believed, but there was a key essential that had to happen to be truly free. Jesus needed to unbind all the straps that kept me bound up.

Straps could be a a vareity of things. In a church they may be systemic issues of control, gossip or traditions that bind up the resurrected life. Individually they may be negative attitudes, unrealized desires or paralyzing fears that keep me tied up.

Whatever the straps, Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” He wants me to live a resurrected life, unbound by anything that keeps me bound to the status quo. Living His gift of a resurrected, unbound life is to live a new life.

Jesus, thank you for the gift of a resurrected life.
Help me to live in that new life by speaking the words,
“Unbind him, and let him go.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Outside

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
the door is the most important door in the world--it is the door through which folk
walk when they find God.
There's no use my going way
inside and staying there,
when so many are still outside,
and they, as much as I,
crave to know where the door is.

Samuel Moor Shoemaker

People often find safety within the confines of their church community. Even if they have a life "out there" that's exactly where it stays "out there." Afraid to allow their various worlds to combine they keep separated their "spiritual" life from their "worldly" one. One "world" consequently knows very little about the other. If God isn't ashamed to call us his own, why are we relunctant to claim that relationship when it comes to our "worldly" friends? At such a time as this, we can't afford to go where it is safe and close the door behind us. Standing in the doorway, as Shoemaker describes, is keeping open to whatever opportunity might arise to open the door to the kingdom to whomever passes by.

May you see today the opportunities that God brings your way.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Prayer for You Today

I Kings 3:12-13

Lord, You know I am Your servant, so give me understanding. Protect me from deception. Give me wisdom. When people try to trick me or confuse me with their questions and clever arguments, help me to see their heart. Help me to know when to say nothing. Help me to know when to answer what they are saying. Help me to know when it is an unspoken question that I should be answering.

Teach me to recognize the moments when You wait to intervene, so I can say, 'It is time--YOU work now, Lord!'

Celtic Daily Prayer

Friday, October 22, 2010

Glory in the Desert

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Exodus 33:14

I can relate to Moses. He tried to avoid his God given responsibility. Picked by God from his birth, for a destiny he never imagined, Moses knew first hand the range of emotions and experiences that happen when one obeys God. There had been heart stopping, God-glory moments when he and the other Israelites first escaped Egypt. But as days and weeks passed into years, the unending desert vistas began to take their toll. Moses had been chosen by God for a job which seemed to only accentuate his inadequacies.

Despite all that Moses had seen of God’s glory in the desert, when it got tough he needed assurance that God was still there. And instead of God getting angry at Moses’ need, God but gives him a God-glory encounter like he has never experienced (read the whole of Exodus 33).

It’s this same God that walks with me every day, even when I feel He his distant. It is perhaps in my most desperate times that I hear His voice most clearly, because in my questioning, and my desire to know, I listen more intently.

Thought of the day: What God-glory moments have I experienced?

Help me to know your presence every day.
When my day is dry, lead me to water.
When I am weary, help me hear, “I will give you rest.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Like a Child

…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God, like a child, shall not enter it.

Mark 10:15

We were locked out of the house! Tears puddling, my small niece tentatively asked, “Aunt Val, how are we going to get back in?” Gathering her up, I asked, “Do you trust me to take good care of you and find a way back in the house?” Nodding her head and griping my outstretched hand we walked away from the locked door and towards a plan of action. She never again asked how my task would be accomplished. Instead, she went about her play, confident that I would do what I had promised.
A child’s trust is humbling. No wonder Jesus used it as a point of reference for spiritual maturity. Children have the ability to believe what they cannot understand. Somewhere adults lose this gift; turning believing into a challenge. With each downturn come the questions—why did it happen, how will we survive, what next?

Being ignorant or na├»ve isn’t a Jesus follower requirement. Instead, Jesus gives us a picture of believing, that in spite of not knowing how or why, when God promises that he will “deliver them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17b) we can look into his face, grip his hand and keep living.

Thought for the day: What am I facing presently where I need faith like a child?

Jesus, help me to never outgrow the spiritual gift of a “childish” trust in You.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why Do I Have to Change?

“Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here.
Change your life and believe the Message.”

Mark 1:15 (The Message)

It’s election time again and just about every politician promises change. In a world that changes faster than my ability to keep up, I keep looking for the “change” that will be positive. Whether it’s “change” that takes me back to some point where I felt comfortable or “change” that takes me out of my discomfort, I tend to only want “change” that keeps me well within my comfort zone.

“Change” shouldn’t happen just for the sake of changing. When Jesus preaches about the good news that God’s Kingdom is now, he’s talking about a “change” with a purpose, change with one goal in mind—life itself.

Peter and Andrew, James and John leave the only life they know to follow Jesus. Their choice of “change” brought financial instability, not only to themselves, but to those who depended on them. What went through their minds as they changed their lives, we’ll never know. But the gospels let us see that their change choice radically altered their lives and changed the course of millions of lives. Their’s was a change for growth and life in God’s kingdom.

When I follow Jesus I have to be ready for life-change. The disciples were on the forward move with Jesus, the message of the Kingdom never changed, but the life lived was always growing.

To grow in Christ, literally “be in Christ” requires me to live life in God’s Kingdom. I’ve discovered that I won’t always be “comfortable”, but my life is richer and much more fulfilling.

Jesus, change is not very comfortable.
By choosing your Kingdom life I know that my life cannot stay the same.
A vote for change means allowing you to do with me what you will.
As uncertain as it is, I choose life in your Kingdom.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Word of Promise

Every morning I greet the day with readings from my Celtic Daily Prayer Book. In the ten years I've been using this prayer book I have ceased being surprised at how God's speak through either the selected portions of Scripture or the daily readings. The book is made up of two sets of yearly readings and although I've read all of them numerous times in the past ten years different ones rise to the top, ready for skimming!

The last three years have been very difficult in ministry. Days have been filled with unrealized expectations and disappointments. This particular ministry is coming to an end and our future is wholly and completely unknown. We feel as though we are free falling off a cliff.

Then came the following reading this week based on Judges 6:11-14 -

The story is told of a man who tripped and fell off a cliff. Clutching at the grasses on the edge of the cliff he found himself for a moment or two able to hang on and delay his fall.

"Is there anyone up there?" he cried out desperately. "Yes," came the reply, but no further response. "Who are you? Why don't you help me?" shouted the man. "I'm God," said the Voice, "and I will help you. But you must do exactly as I say." "OK," whispered the man, "what have I to do?" "First, let go!" "Is there anybody else up there?" called out the man.

Poor fearful little Gideon had to do something just like that to become the mgihty man of valour God saw him as. Against an army which far outnumbered them, God's solution was to cut back even further on numbers!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Going Camping

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

One college summer I decided to memorize Psalm 139. I can’t remember why this particular psalm except that I liked the idea of being known before I was born. Along with memorizing, I would journal my thoughts and pray over the sections. I never anticipated my life being radically changed.

Writer Diana Clancy talks about knowing something so well it “makes camp in you.” The same holds true with memorized verses. When a verse “makes camp in you” it settles in for the duration of one’s life. Turning ten, my parents challenged me to memorize 32 verses in the book of Proverbs. As each verse “made camp” I would say them to my mother telling her what I thought it meant. To this day, those verses are still camping.

Be careful, however, what verses you want to make camp! Anticipate that if you take on a verse about life change, life changing events will happen. If its verses about God’s forgiveness know that confession is around the corner. Expect when you set out to make camp with some verses for God to show up!

My college summer and the end of Psalm 139 coincided. As these verses made camp I kept being reminded of thoughtless words spoken to specific individuals, one whom I hadn’t talk to in over a year. I had been searched and found grievous!

Looking up the individual that kept joining my camp site, I apologized. Fortunately I was forgiven because as it turned out, God showed up and we were married a year later!

God, my heart is open to you.
Search me.
My thoughts are muddled.
Know me.
Show me what has hurt you.
Forgive me.
Lead me, God, to your glory.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Checks and Balances

Pray for us, for we are sure that we
have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Hebrews 13:18

When making a decision there’s nothing like a clear conscience. But these days it seems that it is increasingly difficult to maintain a clear conscience as we are faced with decisions and choices that are troubling. From encounters with neighbors to co-workers to work ethics to church politics we come up against issues that cause us to double think our reactions. We ask ourselves, are our intentions honorable or do they reside in the muck of self preservation?

Perhaps we’ve been blamed for a broken relationship, a misunderstanding at work, an unrealized expectation or we have been unjustly accused and we wrestle with our conscience as to how we should respond. At times like these wouldn’t it be nice if God would speak, audibly, letting us know if the decisions we’re making are good ones?

As a Jesus follower I frequently have to call in-check my “instinctive” reactions. Unfortunately, I live under the cloud of “human nature” whose instincts lean more towards the category of “sin.” And, it’s for this reason, that I must check myself, listening to the voice of God through the truths of Scripture.

Life is full of checks and balances and I have the perfect scale. To gain a clear conscience and live a life that is honorable means taking the time to pray, study and learn the biblical truths, fighting against what may come “naturally.” But sometimes I’m also called to do the hard thing and confront sin in the community using the Biblical scale to speak the truth.

Jesus, forgive me when I respond to my “nature”
instincts instead of my “redeemed” ones. You
speak through the ministry of your life setting the guidelines in place.
These are what I want to keep me in check.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rearranging the Furniture

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Romans 12:1-2a (The Message)

One evening my husband and I were invited to dinner at the home of a retired architect and his wife. I looked forward to it because I had heard about his unique home. When I walked in it was evident he had a particular style.

As he walked us around the rooms, showing his careful design which included an enormous billiards table in the middle of the living room, I realized that his initial design had not changed one iota from the time he initially put it all together. He had even designed his environment without consideration of his wife’s one request—there was no dishwasher in the kitchen because, “it didn’t work with my design.” I asked him, “Do you ever change anything around?” “Never,” he retorted, “When I put something down, it stays there.”

My host was so well adjusted to his culture that he never allowed for anything new, whether it be a new arrangement of his furniture, a gift received from a friend or giving his wife her wish of a dishwasher.
As a Jesus follower I can’t take anything for granted or become too settled in my “created” environment. Nothing in my life is too mundane or unimportant for God to take an interest in and want control. Trying to achieve a sense of security I set up my inner house in a way that I find comfortable. I like it comfortable. But God wants all my thought out designs, my collections of whatever is important to me, people, events, my treasured traditions. The kicker is that He makes no promises about keeping my arrangement comfortable.

When I “fix my attention” on God opening the front door and giving him free reign, He will probably want to move around the furniture so that I get a better view--of Him. He may want to get rid of some of the objects that keep me distracted and prevent me from accepting the gifts He wants to give. He may even find, that what I thought kept me connected to Him, is out of order!

One night, my husband and I weren't able to attend the weekly Bible study we had for college students in our home. In total trust, we told the leaders to go ahead and meet in our home. When we walked in the door, later that evening, our equilibrium went haywire! Every piece of furniture, pictures, wall hangings, figurines, plants, everything had been moved slightly. I was completely unnerved, which was their intention! It’s similar to when I totally embrace God’s life instead of my “created” one. I’m going to be changed from the inside out and initially I’ll be uncomfortable, but ultimately I’ll be content with the outcome.

Unlike my architect friend, the day after the “attack of the college students”, I moved everything around and found the new arrangement very refreshing!

Jesus, help me to not become so settled in my life
that I miss the refreshment of living life in You.
Help me not to opt for security and sameness but
to trust that even though You move things around,
You know what is best for me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eating for the Run

The angel of God…shook him awake…and said,
“Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”

I Kings 19:7

No one went out the door without breakfast when I was growing up. I remember thinking, “when I get big I won’t eat breakfast!” In college sleep took precedence over breakfast. Later exercise took precedence over eating. But one morning I set off on what ended up being a longer and more strenuous race walk than planned. Having had nothing to eat since the previous night’s dinner, I collapsed on a nearby patch of grass conscious that I had still had more to go. I hadn’t been prepared. My body was depleted and shaking.

Elijah had embarrassed King Ahab and Jezebel, being one angry wife, threatened Elijah with death. Running for his life he collapses, falling asleep under a bush. But his running has only begun and the angel of God wakes him up demanding he eat. And the angel provides food with so much nutritional value that it sticks with Elijah for his last forty miles!

When I take a road trip my preparations usually include going to the store to buy travel food. My road trip with God also requires some preparations. The difference is that God provides the food - I have to take the time to eat.

Daily “breakfasting” with God will get me down the road in better shape than if I skip the meal. But it takes discipline. In Elijah’s exhaustion eating was probably his last thought. I still don’t like eating breakfast, but I have to admit, eating it makes a huge difference in how I feel for the rest of the day.

Have breakfast with God! It’ll make a huge difference in your day.
Jesus, forgive me when I take on the day
without “breakfasting” with you.
No wonder I grow emotionally and spiritually tired!
Help me to not miss any of the meals you provide.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's in the Details

This is is the final meditation on James and here are Eugene Peterson's final thoughts--According to church traditions, James carried the nickname "Old Camel Knees" because of thick calluses built upon his knees from many years of determined prayer. The prayer is foundational to the wisdom. Prayer is ALWAYS foundational to wisdom.

What a gift life is to those who stay the course!
You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power,
and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end.
That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

James 5:11 (The Message)

Frequently I search Job for reassurance; usually to chapter thirty-eight when God finally speaks up. While all the previous chapters lend their comfort in times of difficulty, God speaking out of a violent storm (The Message) shakes me because God, at that moment, claims his authority. The God who decided the earth’s size, hung the stars, and “orders the Morning, Get up!” has a thought for me as well.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I am in the process of learning is to thank God for life, period. It began a few years ago when in the midst of a debilitating time I literally would choke on the prayer, “thank you for today, thank you for my life.” There were days when the struggle was so fierce that I could barely say them in a whisper. I don’t remember the exact day, but, there came the morning when, with ease, freedom and genuine thankfulness, I boldly prayed these words.

Job’s kind of staying power is impressive and there are definitely lessons to learn. It’s always good to hear, at the very end that whatever Job had lost was returned beyond his imagination. But God’s storm talk holds the real promise during difficult times. And if, like Job, I listen closely, my only response will be—“I’m convinced. You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plan.” Job 41:1 (The Message)

God is the big picture. God is in the details.
Thank you, Father, for this day. Thank you for my life.
I am yours and you are mine.
Thank You for knowing the big and microscopic
of my life bringing it together in a way
that brings glory to You.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Living Together

Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For, what good is a truth if we don't know how to live it? Eugene Peterson (The Message: Commentary introduction for the book of James)

You can develop a healthy, robust community
that lives right with God and enjoy its results only
if you do the hard work of getting along with each other,
treating each other with dignity and honor.

James 3:18 (The Message)

Having “matured” into adulthood in the late 70’s my husband and I were fascinated with the idea of living in community. Influenced by Francis and Edith Schaeffer we dreamed of a home where a number of people would live, eat and worship together. And, for about five years we lived out that dream as we opened our home to a number of different full and part time community “residents.” Everyone contributed to the life of our small community through cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, and gardening, at least most of the time.

There were times when someone didn’t get in and do the hard work. Agreements that had been made when moving in were broken. Household jobs were left undone and places set at the table were empty. It was amazing how, when this took place, what had been a smooth and easy operation suddenly jerked and jolted.

When I have the option to pick my friends, getting along isn’t all that difficult. But, put me into a church, a dorm, the workplace and I come face to face with individuals who are my polar opposites. And too many times I have walked away because the effort to be in their “space” takes too much work.

James addresses his letter to a church in the 1st century. It is a letter appropriate for many churches today. Strife and discord plague churches, governments, school boards and neighborhoods because people just don’t want to do the hard work of getting along. The result is that very little gets done and there are lots of empty places at the table.

Jesus, which one of your disciples did you “connect” with?
They seemed as varied as could be imagined and yet you brought them
together, teaching them the hard work of living in community.
Be my Teacher!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Action vs. Words

"The letter of James shows one of the church's early pastors skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential." Eugene Peterson (The Message: commentary introduction to the book of James)

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this
if you learn all the right words but never do anything?
James 2:14 (The Message)

I once met a woman who by her appearances looked like a perfect Christian woman. She spoke the right words. Her life revolved around her church community. She frequently talked about caring for people in need. But, as time went on, I noticed that everything she did was self focused. There was never a time that I saw her reach out beyond the walls of her church. She talked a Christian line but her words never translated into positive actions.

For those of us who have grown up in the church, Biblical truths can easily become just words. “Well I can’t really live that way,” becomes our excuse because the “truths” we’ve learned are too uncomfortable to live by. New converts are more likely to take literally the Sermon on the Mount, where religious Christians reason that Jesus’ teachings are simply metaphors or even “suggestions” on how to live.

I can go to Bible studies, read my daily devotions, go to inspiring Christian seminars but it becomes a religious hideout unless I get “out there” and do something - taking my talk to the streets actively making a difference in the world’s ghetto.

Jesus, help me to live on the street, outside the protective church walls,
and be Christ to my community.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Anything But Ordinary

Insiders see it (the church) differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It's similar with sinners inside the church. Eugene Peterson (The Message: Commentary introduction to the book of James)

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence
how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith.

James 2:1

Once, while employed at a humanitarian non-profit, it became quickly apparent that I was one of a tiny handful of Christians. One evening, after orchestrating a huge fundraising event, several co-workers and I kicked off our shoes to wind down. With cigar smoke curling to the ceiling and beer cans popping around me, I was startled when I became the center of a religious interrogation. Between the jabs and pokes came serious questions and yet there was a general opinion that what I believed, was unbelievable. That evening set the stage for the remainder of my time at that organization.

The barrage of questions never stopped during the duration of my employment and they came most frequently when, alone, I was surrounded by a group of people who could render their opinions. I was watched, constantly. And, of course, there came that time when I lost my cool in a meeting and I witnessed the smirks of “you’re no better than us.”

I don’t really know what marks I left on my last day of employment. My prayer is that in spite of my stumbling, I lived out my faith in Jesus Christ gloriously.

There were times when I simply wanted to be just another ordinary employee, after all we were about “doing good.” But then I would hear Jesus’ voice, calling me out of my wilderness, and I realized again that choosing the Jesus Way makes me anything but ordinary.

Jesus, you lived in a swirl of public opinion.
Thank you for showing me how I can live
my life in a glorious manner!
Help me each day to live out my uniqueness in You.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Listen First

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends:
lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue,
and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness
doesn’t grow from human anger.

James 1:19 (The Message)

When next you sit down and watch the news, particularly those that have a talking head with a panel of experts, watch how well they listen. Granted they are governed by the clock and so their experts must disseminate their “vast” knowledge in seconds, but the level of anger that often explodes seems to be a direct result of minimal listening and excess talking.

Across the United States Christians and churches suffer because of deaf ears and tongues gone wild. With each story we hear about a church in crisis or a congregation struggling, the common thread connecting them is anger. Where and why the anger grew is varied, but more often than not, it is a result of people with out of control tongues and ears that are plugged.

The culture is angry. How then are we, as followers of Jesus Christ, supposed to live in this world and not let the world corrupt us? What the world sees is “us” looking and acting exactly like “them.” James gives us at least one way we can be markedly different and it isn’t really anything new but a truth that isn’t practiced consistently and it is this: Listen before you speak. Listening allows God to speak, bringing about his character in and through us.

Jesus, forgive me for the number of times
that I jump in with speech and so
water the seeds of anger.
Help me to be quicker to listen, bringing
your character into view.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hear and Act

Those who hear and don’t act are like those who
glance in the mirror; walk away, and two minutes
later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

James 1:24 (The Message)

Looking in a mirror isn’t always pleasant. I remember when my daughter was a toddler she loved looking at her reflection in the glass, in mirrors, anything that confirmed her appearance. Her reflection was comforting and she saw nothing “wrong” with the image. What I noticed was, as she got older, she began to see herself with a more critical eye. Now she has joined my ranks - avoiding the mirror if at all possible!

Using the Bible as a mirror to reflect my life becomes a minefield. Like walking away from my reflection I tend pick and choose which “images” in the Bible I want to reflect. I find comfort in the reflection that I am loved by God, but, it’s a harsher reflection when I read that my enemies deserve love as well. Being forgiven is a gift, until what is reflected back is that I first must confess my sin. It is so much easier to focus on the beauty instead of the ugly.

And then there are those sticky parts of the Bible! Like running into a spider web, I simply can’t shake off the Biblical truths that I don’t like. Loving each other sounds like Shangri-La until I am wronged by someone. And instead of “going to your brother” (Matthew 18:15) I end up going to anyone but him thus creating untold damage.

Hearing and then acting takes an effort of one’s will. God cannot make us “do” anything but he has given us a mirror that reflects how we are doing!

Jesus, help me to look into Your mirror
and see not only how I look now, but
the image you desire to see.