Monday, January 31, 2011

Sometimes a Cave Feels Safe

And Gideon said to him, "Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us...?"

Judges 6:12-13a

Oh God, why is this happening I shouted after hanging up the phone. Our family had moved five times in four years and this move, to work with a Christian organization, was supposed to be help with the financial stability we desperately needed after years of educational pursuits. Now, four months later, learning a new city and sitting in a house that was waiting for our furniture I listened to my husband’s voice over the phone. His new Christian employers had reneged on the job. An injustice, done by “Christians”, was particularly painful. Where was God?

Gideon lived the upheaval of having to move frequently. Israel was under an oppressive regime that swarmed over them devouring their crops, destroying their pastures, consuming their lives. Gideon ran and hid in a cave. I understand why, when assured of the LORD’s presence, he asks, why then has all this happened.

There are times when I want to retreat to the nearest cave! Retreat seems my only choice when, afraid that if I poke out my head, I will feel the smack of another blow. I ask, why then has all this happened? I ask because Gideon had remained faithful to the LORD but it didn’t protect him from trouble.

The LORD never does answer Gideon’s "why" question. Instead the LORD responds by giving Gideon a task that seems beyond his ability! And when Gideon objects, the response he hears isn’t an answer but a promise...I will be with you.

Jesus help me to accept the unexpected
within the security of your promise,"I will be with you."

Friday, January 28, 2011

From Frederick Buechner

What is both Good and New about the Good News is the wild claim that Jesus did not simply tell us that God loves us even in our wickedness and folly and wants us to love each other the same way and to love Him too, but that if we let Him, God will actually bring about this unprecedented transformation of our hearts Himself.

What is both Good and New about the Good News is that mad insistence that Jesus lives on among us not just as another haunting memory but as the outlandish, holy, and invisible power of God working not just through the sacraments but in countless hidden ways to make even slobs like us loving and whole beyond anything we could conceivably pull off by ourselves.

Thus the Gospel is not only Good and New but, if you take it seriously, a Holy Terror. Jesus never claimed that the process of being changed from a slob into a human being was going to be a Sunday School picnic. On the contrary. Child-birth may occasionally be painless, but rebirth never. Part of what it means to be a slob is to hang on for dear life to our slobbery.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

They are NOT Redundant

So the churches were strengthened in the faith,
and they increased in numbers daily.

Acts 16:5

Not sure why, but the other day I googled “churches for sale.” Up on the screen popped as one of the options, “churches for sale, chapels and schools, redundant churches. . .” It was the word redundant that riveted my eyes. It means superfluous, exceeding what is necessary, in other words, something we could do without.

In my small, semi-rural community of 50,000 we have over 45 churches and I don’t live in the Bible belt! But, in my capacity as the director of a local pregnancy center I decided to go down my faith based, non-profit’s church list and worship with one or two for the next several Sundays. From my start on January 9 I have worshipped with six congregations. One Anglican church met in the recreation center, an “under the radar” church met in a home, a college lecture hall gathered students on Sunday evening. Another Sunday afternoon I stomped through the snow to worship with a PCA group that rented their sanctuary from the Southern Baptists. There was a petite Baptist church that was trying its hand at a video series for their Sunday School class. And then there was the Pentecostal church.

I’m far from my quest but so far I haven’t found a one of them redundant.

What I am discovering is that while the church culture has changed dramatically from my first remembering, there is good stuff happening. It’s true that those who are staying true to form and function are smaller in size and whiter in hair. While those worshipping bodies that are moving away from the rules and regs of structure have a larger number of youngish people but also include a number of white polka dots scattered throughout!

But thing of it is – they are all stretching, reaching, growing in the Kingdom. Whether they pray ancient prayers or speak in tongues their focus is on the same Father, the same Son and the same Holy Spirit. With each visit I have been blessed, encouraged and strengthened.

Our community couldn’t do without one of these churches! Size doesn’t really matter as long as each believing, worshipping group is strengthened in their faith and they respond by reaching out, bringing a daily numbers increase in the Kingdom.

Six down thirty-nine to go!

Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Rain down Your blessings on these Your people!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Want of Prayer

Little different format today - you'll have to actually get out your Bibles! Blessings!

Suggested Readings: Psalm 107:28-31, 2 Kings 4:8-10, Mark 6:30-31

Why is there so little anxiety to get time to pray? Why is there so little forethought in the laying out of time and employments so as to secure a large portion of each day for prayer?

Why is there so much speaking, yet so little prayer? Why is there so much running to and fro, yet so little prayer? Why so much bustle and business, yet so little prayer? Why so many meetings with our fellow-men, yet so few meetings with God?

Why so little being alone, so little thirsting of the soul for the calm, sweet hours of unbroken solitude, when God and His child hold fellowship together as if they could never part?

It is the want of these solitary hours that not only injures our own growth in grace but makes us such unprofitable members of the church of Christ, and that renders our lives useless.

Horatius Bonar

Jesus, I am praying that You
will teach me how to pray
all day, every day, no matter the
place or time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do Not Leave Early

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

John 17:18

A man who mentored my husband during seminary was fond to say, “We will be held accountable for all the God given things that we refused to enjoy.” His wisdom came to mind as I heard a thirty-five year old say recently, “I just want to go and be with Jesus.” I get uncomfortable with those words. They sound righteous, noble but truth be told, I believe they are selfish.

Through the years I learned much from this wise man. He recently passed away, having enjoyed his God given life for over 90 years. His life was a constant pursuit of God’s best in the world, in people, in events. Even in his nineties young people flocked around him eager to suck from the marrow of his wisdom. He was the essence of enjoying everything that God had given him. Shortening life wasn’t in his vocabulary.

If Jesus learned how to live in the world then surely I can embrace this life with the same energy! I’m not done with this life! It is difficult to imagine Jesus whining about “just wanting to go home and be with his Father.” With the disciples there were times when he turned his eyes towards heaven in inquiry and the Pharisees’ continual badgering surely gave him a headache. But he never requests to leave His life before His work is done.

Don’t get me wrong! I want to go to see Jesus too – someday. But I don’t want to go before he can honestly say, “well done daughter!”

Jesus, I need Your wisdom to learn
how to live in this world in a way
that honors all the gifts You have given.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fan or Follower

If anyone serves me, he must follow me. .  .

John 12:18

It was a small country church with big ambitions – to live into the plan that God had for them in 2011. As I sat in the pew watching the DVD that presented their coming six week study that would help them realize this goal, the words “are you a fan or a follower” repeatedly flashed across the screen. I remember bits of the message, the people were friendly, but the gift I received was the question: Are you a fan or follower of Jesus Christ?

Having been in a larger church with a significant number of what I believed to be “fans”, I was moved by the honest, earnest desires of the 40 plus people gathered on this particular Sunday morning. There wasn’t a “fan” in the place! With one exception – there was some debate as to who would get into the Super Bowl!

Even in sports there is a difference between a “fan” and a “follower.” In a TV interview I heard a man boasting that he had never missed attending a Super Bowl – “I have missed weddings, births, family events. I will never miss the Super Bowl.” Now he was a fan – a fan of the Super Bowl.

Other people have one team that they follow, through winning and losing seasons. They can recite the stats of particular players, know where they went to school, who they’re married to and how many children they have. They know the team, inside and out.

Fans of Jesus go and sit in church every Sunday because that is what a “good” person does. Sadly, much of the time their behavior doesn’t live up to their church going. A follower of Jesus wants something much more intimate. A follower wants a life change and that demands a deep knowing of Jesus.

“Following” is an active word. “Fan” is sedentary. Walking out of the sanctuary that morning I knew that following Jesus was how I wanted to keep going!

Jesus, You have said, Follow Me.
As difficult as it may be, I am following!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Habit Making

Therefore encourage one another. . .

I Thessalonians 5:11

Like a thirsty plant I soaked up encouraging words this week. They came from my past and present. They arrived unexpectedly. They watered my soul soil and I was rejuvenated. They came with a person attached to them.

I have now lived long enough to know that encouraging words are difficult to come by for the reason they are hard to give. Envy, insecurity, hardness, ego, thoughtlessness, anger are just a few of the enemies of encouraging words. But when the enemies are put down, destroyed, a vibrant, engaging, lively life is realized by both the giver and the receiver.

Commenting on the bracelet worn by a post office worker recently I discover that he is a budding silversmith. “You are very talented,” I said. Those four words produced a smile and the sincerest “thank you” I have heard. And I realized that I had been able to give out of a supply that had been given to me. It had been a chain reaction.

So here’s a challenge to myself. Every day, alert to God’s prompting, I want to give an encouraging word to someone. They say it takes forty days to establish a habit - it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me!

Anyone else up to the habit?

Jesus, I have been blessed with encouraging words.
Help me to have the words to spread the blessing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Standing True

The Lord stands true at your side.

Psalm 110:5 (The Message)

In the past several weeks I’ve heard from friends who have lost their jobs, another one is living on social security and food stamps. There was a phone call from a mother who had just buried her 28 year old son - he had died of cancer. Another mom was saying goodbye to a son headed to Afghanistan. Then there was a wife who moments before had heard a cancer diagnosis for her husband. They felt like they were standing alone.

I’m not sure how to affirm that God is present in times of difficulty except to speak from experience. My challenges pale in the shadows of the stories I’ve heard but I know that I am alive because God has stood by my side.

How I wish life could be easier! It would be just super if I could have gotten to where I am today without the pain! But on the flip when I hear the voices telling me their stories I have a visceral reaction – I hurt. And I hurt for them only because I have been hurt myself.

I trust that Jesus is standing beside each storyteller. I trust that although they may stand still for awhile in the hollowness of fear, sorrow, shame and despair Jesus will lead them out. I know this because he's done the same for me time after time after time.

Jesus, thank you.
Help me to open myself up
to your always present nature.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Intrusive Moments

And he went with him.

Mark 5:24

No one was around when I first entered the church but then, spotting an open door, I rapped lightly on the window. I could see the pastor sitting at his desk but he didn’t respond. Certain he hadn’t heard, I knocked more firmly; still no acknowledgement. It was then that I saw his hands folded in prayer and I walked back out the door.

Climbing back into my car I wondered what Jesus would have done if he had heard a knock on his door. His schedule was continually interrupted by people needing attention. Even when he goes home some guys tear up his roof in order to get their friend to him! Jesus always responds, always meets, always attends. When he prays he takes himself completely out of sight.

As I drove back to work, mulling over the WWJD moment, I was reminded of encounters that I had deemed an intrusion because I had “Jesus work.” Instead of pushing aside the papers while a person was talking I continued to shuffle. Instead of inviting someone to sit I kept us standing, eager to get on. What had I missed in those moments of “intrusion?”

The pastor was doing a good thing. But I believe Jesus probably would have answered my knock.

Jesus, help me to see moments
of “intrusion” as opportunities from You.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Working Overtime

Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.”

Mark 6:31 (The Message)

As an executive director I am paid on a salary basis. Yet daily I keep track of what I have accomplished and the hours I worked. Recently I figured out my hours and realized that in a little over two months I had worked over 40 hours of “overtime.” And I had wondered why I was so tired! This extra work has been compounded by three previous years of a difficult and painful congregational ministry which has now come to a close. My body hurts.

No one understands a hectic, demanding, out of control life like Jesus. Many of his greatest moments come after he has taken a break. His effectiveness was greatest when accompanied by periods of rest.

“God, what would you have me do” needs to be my daily prayer. I know people who feel guilty for taking a nap or cutting out early to go to bed. Their accomplishments are impressive but they always seem to come with a cost. Their health becomes tenuous; relationships strained.

Often I feel as though my life is an ultra-marathon. Phone calls, schedules, appointments, voices keep me running and my foot pounding dulls the sound of His Voice, “take a break and get a little rest.” But, soon I will put it all aside to go on spiritual retreat with my husband. I am praying for some great moments afterwards!

Jesus, help me to hear your voicereminding me to take a break.
My heart, my soul, my body needs to rest with you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Who is Good?

There’s nobody living right, not even one,
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.

Romans 3:11 (The Message)

In our family everything is open for debate. That’s what happens when you live with one philosopher and one in bloom. Given the environment it was natural to recently talk about whether man was basically “good” or basically “evil.” My response was a resounding “evil!” I am the one in the family that likes things black and white. My husband and daughter turned the question over and over looking at it through facets galore. They like to think that man is basically “good” and circumstances make him "evil." We let the question hang.

Upon returning to college, within the first week my daughter’s purse was stolen out of a friend’s car, leaving a smashed window. “I can’t believe that there are people out there like this,” was her Facebook message. Chuckling I typed, “So, is man basically evil or basically good?”

In my conscious effort to do and be “good” my alertness to God reminds me of my failings. And it’s in the little things that I fail most miserably. Even though I know the “score” it’s my thoughts that repeatedly hook me away from all that is true, honorable, pure, lovely and commendable (Philippians 4:8).

Jesus forgive me!
In knowing You I know I am not good.
Help me to think on only what pleases You.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Never Changing

I the Lord do not change.

Malachi 3:6a

In my lifetime I have seen black and white television turn into a HD flat screen high pixel picture. A man walked on the moon when I was in grade school and now there are regular excursions into space. Roe vs. Wade changed the future of the unborn when I was in high school and continues to change how society “sees” life. I didn’t take a computer to college. The college had a computer – it fit into a large classroom. Today we have two laptops and an “old” computer sitting in the garage. And what about phones! The list of changes in my “brief” life could go on and on.

In a changing world isn’t it good to know that there is One who has never changed and no change is on the horizon?

Of course, there is something else that has never changed and that is human nature. When I read through the Bible or the writings of the early Christians it is startling just how constant is our humanness. From Eve’s conversation with the snake to today the battle for our souls, our lives, our thoughts, has been on a never ending loop. Over and over the same battle has been waged, perhaps on different battlegrounds, but the battle is the same.

Into my human sameness steps the holy sameness of God. He calms the chaos, breaks the loop and sets me free to live a life of peace in the midst of this swirling changing world that I presently call home.

I praise the LORD who does not change!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I am a Redwood

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and
a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Isaiah 11:1

California redwood trees are magnificent. Towering the stratosphere, their massive trunks wider than an arm’s reach, one can’t help but be awed when standing among their roots. Some trees have survived hundreds of years and it’s for this reason that the environmentalists persevere. Nevertheless, the redwood remains one of the most resilient trees. If cut down, within the year new shoots will pop up around its base. It’s a survival tree. Massive amounts of digging are required to completely destroy the life of a redwood.

The people of Israel spent years at the hands of ruthless powers determined to dig out their life. Isaiah’s words have weight when considered in this context. They feared they would become extinct, having been cut down with only a remnant, a stump, showing. Into this desolation and destruction Isaiah makes a promise that the stump is not dead. God will shoot up a living, fruit bearing branch!

In the midst of life’s challenges and the feeling of sometimes being cut down to the roots Jesus comes promising new life, restored life, redeemed life. Nothing is dead or hopeless in the eyes of God. What is seen only from the outside is not considered by God. He is not distracted or discouraged by what looks like utter destruction. Instead he sees only what is underneath, at the root and begins the life restoring process.

Out of the stump of Jesse, a remnant of a nation, came the Hope of the world. Imagine what God wants and can do with our stumps!

Jesus, your humble beginnings give me hope.
Help me to see not the stump of my life but the shoots you are causing to grow.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Judgement Day

But I say to you that everyone
who is angry with his brother will be
liable to judgment.

Matthew 5:22

I just turned off the television. Over and over the headline story of the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona looped with everyone speculating about why the suspect, Jared Loughner, was so angry. The father of the little girl who died is encouraging the death penalty. I don’t blame him. His sorrow was palpable when seen on the screen!

In the silence I flopped opened my Bible and my eyes fell to this verse. I stopped looking any farther because I was convicted. Have I ever been angry enough to kill, absolutely not! Have I been angry with “my brother”, shamefully yes.

It has given me pause to consider if God sees my anger differently than that of Jared. Jared’s erratic, imbalanced, sick behavior was out for all to see and experience. His anger scared people. My anger I keep well hidden and even those with whom I have been angry probably don’t know. Nevertheless God has seen and felt it.

Mentally I believe I’m pretty balanced, stable and healthy! But the line becomes thin if I let anger set up residence in my soul. And I wonder just how I will be judged before my Father. Jared Loughner will be judged, now, by a jury of his peers. At some point in the future he and I will both be judged by our Maker.

God, forgive us!

Jesus, I think of myself as different.
But you have said that whoever hates
his brother is a murderer.
Help me to never allow anger to take control.

Monday, January 10, 2011


In those days Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country. . .

Luke 1:39

In the beginning, Mary was a contemplative. But when her conversation with Gabriel sank in and her “condition” became reality, she fled to the only person who would understand. Elizabeth was familiar with the outcome of a Gabriel visit and for six months she had been living with her growing body. No one could have possibly helped Mary understand what lay ahead like Elizabeth.

Difficult times demand that I find empathetic companions. Finding someone who is experiencing or has experienced a similar situation is to discover hope. Knowing that I’m not alone allows me to see the way out where once I saw only barriers.

God promises that with every difficulty he allows a way out is also on the horizon. Mary’s world wasn’t turned upside down without God providing someone who could be in the experience with her. Of course, after Mary’s three month stay in the hill country Elizabeth gives birth and Mary is once again left alone. But the companionship she shared during those three months must have helped her through the ensuing months of aloneness.

With Gabriel gone and Mary not able to prove his visit she needed at least one person who could understand. God provided just what she needed when she needed it.

Thank you God for not leaving me helpless when difficulties come.
Help me to see the horizon and the help you always provide.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Spiritual Frontal Lobes

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking.
Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

I Corinthians 14:20

Smack in the middle of my daughter’s teenage years, a psychologist gave me a crucial piece of information – the reasoning part of the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Of course he finished by telling me that teenagers primarily rely on the smallest part of the brain – the implusive part! I My initial relief was short-lived, my daughter was a long way from 25!

The psychologist’s message still resonates with me all these years later. Reasoning vs. impulsivity. My religious education didn’t particularly encourage “thinking” about my faith. Blind acceptance was more what was called for. It left me exploding onto the college scene believing primarily what I had been told to believe. It was, however, the perfect collision – my faith grew just as my frontal lobe was maturing!

“Unless you’re like children. . .” wasn’t permission to be immature Christians. It’s true, the defining child-like qualities of trust, love and openness are critical to the sacred life but ultimately God demands a stronger, more intimate knowledge of Himself. It is a demand that is demanding of my time, energy and focus. It is a demand that requires my thinking to move beyond an impulsive faith; maturing instead into a faith that isn’t afraid to reason and live into the uncertainties of the Who and Why.

Jesus, forgive me for putting limits
on my knowledge of Who You are.
Help me to grow my spiritual frontal lobes!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


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

Malika Oufkir lived a daily life of privilege and luxury as the adopted daughter of the king. She had been chosen at an early age to grow up with the princess as a companion. She was afforded the same rights of the monarchy. She missed her birth family but she never imagined that her opulent life would change. But a failed coup by her birth father, the king’s general, upended her world, dumping her into prison along with her mother and five siblings. The king, whom she considered as a second father, became her jailer for twenty years.

I have discovered that betrayal and injury by people who are close to me has left me with very painful wounds. Here were people who knew me and used that knowledge as a weapon. There is no point of return. Forgiveness is improbable.

When in the vortex of emotional pain, thinking about forgiveness is impossible. Humanly speaking it is. Left to my own devices I’m tempted to keep the wound fresh, opening myself to further infection. While unable to forgive, the life of Jesus and his friendly wounds become my inspiration. The gift of Jesus’ humanity gives me a “how to forgive” guide for the wounds inflicted by those who know me best.

Jesus accepted his friendly wounds as proof that the wound inflictor had a greater need--His Father’s love. Learning to accept my friendly wounds in this same spirit I am confronted with the truth that living in the Kingdom requires giving the gift 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 guides me to a life of forgiveness.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A No Posting Day

After having a fabulous semester in London and a wonderful, refreshing Christmas together my husband and daughter are driving to California today to get her set up back at college. That means I was otherwise occupied last night and this morning. My apologies! Check back in tomorrow.

Have a beautiful day!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Faith in Practice

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned….

Isaiah 43:2

Once while squeezed in a waiting area of Chicago's O'Hare Airport I heard enthusiastic singing. Twisting around I caught a glimpse of the TV showing singing, clapping, joyous Haitians. The streamer at the bottom of the screen read,  "Haitians find their faith gives them strength." It seemed absurd. An earthquake had devastated their lives, the death toll was staggering and yet they sang songs of praise. I was witnessing their faith in practice. They were praising the presence of God even as they breathed death.

Experience has told me that life is painful. I didn’t learn to walk without falling down or mountain bike without getting a concussion! So, why should I expect my spiritual growth to be any different?

Eugene Peterson says, "growing up and growing up in Christ are the same thing."

When I first heard his sage advice twenty-five years ago I left the room completely confused. How could they possibly be the same? Well with each passing year I keep falling down! But it seems that with each "flood" and "fire"  my body, soul, mind and heart have been strengthened.

When I embrace God's presence, within each "fire" or "flood", the possibility of becoming more like Jesus increases. After a history of struggle, the singing Haitians understood  that "fires" were inevitable. But they sang for joy that God's presence was with the living and the dead. They could not be consumed.

Jesus, you have power over water and fire!
With head bowed, I accept my floods and fires
 that will keep me growing up in You.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thought for the New Year

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!

Psalm 143:10a

Doing the will of someone is allowing them to have control over either your whole life or at the very least portions of your life. In day to day reality,I find that poses a tremendous struggle. There's a certain amount of security when I "control" the sequence of my life, keeping the will of others on the other side of the fence.

Allowing God to teach me his will won't and isn't any less of an inward struggle. Relinquishing myself wholly and completely to the unknown seems, well, out of control! And yet, that is exactly what God wants--for me to be out of control in order for him to be in control.

I just wish being out of control felt more controlled!

Jesus, I want to be out of control
in being controlled by you.