..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas, 2020

It's hard to believe that we are at the end of 2020.  Whoever we were at the beginning of it, we are not that at the end of it. What we have done with it, and will do with it, is up to us. It's been a year to see what we are made of. Does our faith go down deep into our roots or is it just good enough for fair winds? Is God who we saw Him to be last year or have we discovered that He is quite a bit wilder and less predictable than the cliched boxes we have put Him in?

The  biblical prophets, the true ones anyway, lived with and before a God who was afire with love, with justice,  with mercy and truth.  Their encounters with Him left them speechless but transformed. God's purposes are always what they have been: to show Himself the Father of a people who would reflect His Glory.  The amazing and hard part, even for God, was that He gave people free choice, and with that, inevitably, came choices both good and bad. Realize, dear one, that your ability to choose is something holy, it is something that you yourself possess as a gift from God and with it, you will, by your choices, determine your destiny.  Of course God is sovereign but He has offered you a choice when you came into being. Choose well.  

This year showed us that earthly life can be shorter than we think and more out of our control than we hoped.  Eternal life is what we all are really about and so we should be looking in that direction, looking for what is to come and what it will be like. We have to decide if we like that and want to live forever under the direction of One in whom there is no darkness nor shadow of turning.  It is a fearsome choice. But how do I choose? pray the sinner's prayer? live an austere life? do good works? none of these completely suffice. 

God is looking for relationship with us. He is looking for us to be deeply united with Him, even one with Him--to see His goodness and His good purposes and to work with Him to accomplish them. My life is not about doing more, or feeling I've succeeded or whatever goal the world tries to put on us, my goal is to be more and more connected to Christ and know what absolute safety that Love is all about.  What if you were always jumping with a safety net? What if nothing separated us from God if we didnt want it to? The Apostle Paul said , ""For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

Again and again I have seen that our union with God begins with surrender--not as a threatened knave, but as a free agent who can only unite with God by choice and compatibility. Our sense of aloneness stems from our unawareness of what blissful unity is possible with our Creator, and even with His people. What if we were safe? What if when Jesus said that He keeps all that have been given unto Him and no one can snatch them from His Hands that that was true? (John 10:28). What if you were free to be a child of God and to live from that protected place in the hand of God?  There is the old expression, "safer than being tucked into God's pocket with the flap tucked down" --what if we were that safe, even if darkness raged against us and appeared to win? 

There are, no doubt, more life storms out ahead of us. But let us put them to work for us, so that we are able to run our race with great faith and confidence in the One who keeps us safe even if our bodies fail. Each minute, in good times and bad, I am making decisions that affect my eternity. Look at the choices with adventure and curiosity and not fear! Choose well and choose wisely, dear ones! Surrender more and fear less! Godspeed!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Learning Grace

The more we walk in grace, and understand the ways of God, the less we will be rigid and legalistic. The Apostle Paul says that "The Law is a tutor that leads us to Christ." (Galatians 3:24). 

When we navigate by the letter of the Law, we are still learning that all of God's ways are steeped in a bath of grace. We have yet to learn that we could fulfill what God desires without unduly strict reinforcements. True authority is very gentle but very effective and powerful. Budding prophets can prophesy too harshly without the undergirding of grace. 

Budding evangelists can scare people with talk of hellfire rather than the love and grace of God. Budding teachers can give you lots of principles but not the seasoned life experience to show how that works out in real life. Budding leaders can see those they lead as a pack of wild stallions and pull back too hard on the reigns and hit too hard with the crop. They may focus on the task rather than the relational co-operation part that makes working as a team with a lot of strong members go forward as a joy rather than a job reminiscent of a chain gang!. We do not mature to a more detailed rulebook, but to the knowledge of who Jesus is. 

 As we move toward grace we begin to act out of deep patience and self-control, we see the ways of God and are not focused so much on the success or failure of the task at hand but on the relationship being built between us and God and between us and each other. Each of us, to mature in our callings, has to move from the legality of the rulebook to the grace of what is intended by the heart of God. Put down the rulebook today and ask God, "What are you trying to teach me?" Part of that will be greater grace and less rigidity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hope for Life and the Scent of Water

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. 8Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; 9Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. Job 14:7-9
This morning, in the prayer meeting I was in, this verse was read. I’ve recently started to try to sprout some things hydroponically that I would have normally thought of as dead, done, or incapable of new life. I put an onion, rather mushy, in a cup of water and overnight it sprouted roots so long it took me aback. I did that with shriveled garlic bulbs, and now celery. I transplanted some motherwort yesterday and it drooped hopelessly until I watered it well. There is an important lesson here.
Think about the life that God has put in every living thing. We all need water to survive. We all like watching the sea, we like sitting next to water, we like to drink cold glasses of water on a cold day. Roots of plants gravitate toward water. In these verses from Job it speaks of a tree that is cut down and yet when it catches the scent of water it starts to bud. The scent of water. Not even water itself, but the mere smell of it gives hope.
I keep thinking about the onion though, it had been picked from a field somewhere in America, traveled in a truck or plane, sat at the store, then sat in my storage drawer til it probably almost lost hope, and then I put it in water and it showed its life springing from up from its depths. It’s continuing to put forth green onion shoots-- I don’t know how it makes them, but at night when I trim the shoots, by the next day, they grow back. Profound. Disturbingly, wonderfully profound: the strength of life.
I think I resonate with this because I can identify with the onion. Sometimes it seems like walking across a dry desert with no water in sight, and feeling like any hope of water is gone, but then encountering, first, the scent of Water from heaven, and then the Water of Life itself and suddenly coming back to life and feeling whole again. How powerful an experience! Animals in the desert know the scent of water, they know how to find their way to its life-giving place. We, too, have instincts for God. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The prophet Isaiah also says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1). In the Book of Revelation a River of Life flows through the city of God.
There are things that cannot be quenched in our souls until we drink of that water.
And how shall we drink? How is this not just some kind of religious phrase that sounds good but doesn’t connect with reality? Jesus addresses this when the pharisee, Nicodemus comes to him at night to discuss spiritual things (John 3:3-13). Jesus tells him he must be born of water and the Spirit and Nick doesnt get it. He says, “What? Go into my mother’s womb again?” Jesus, he had to be shaking his head, “You are a spiritual leader in Israel and you don’t understand this?” 
We drink of that heavenly water through relationship with Jesus Christ. When we call out to Him, to quench our thirst, something in us is enlivened. Our spirit comes to life, like an onion responding to water, and we smell the scent of water, then drink of it. It is a spiritual process. I can’t explain how it happens just like I can’t explain how plants grow using just water. But the difference between drinking and not drinking is life and death. You know that. So go take a drink. And if you don’t know how, tell God about your thirst and let Him lead you to water. It will be then up to you to drink of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Is it I, Lord?

We are approaching the end of Passover and Matthew’s gospel gives us the chilling account of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Judas had been out and about making preparations to betray Jesus but he sits down with all the other disciples at the Passover supper. Jesus is aware of what is happening, and I can’t imagine how painful this is to Him.
The text says, “As they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me” (Matt. 26:21). The disciples are extremely shocked and sad, after all, it's not something you want to hear after living day and night with Jesus for three years. It’s not something you bring up during the middle of a holy meal, yet Jesus did just that. He did it in the middle of His community, because its not just His betrayal, it is the community’s betrayal. He is aware of who the betrayer is, aware of all that will happen later that evening, and yet here He sits in the middle of His family, of which one is the betrayer.
I think Jesus did this prophetic act so that later when the disciples thought of it, they would know that Jesus knew and that His death did not come by chance, but was something that Jesus knew He was headed for and destined for. There is something disconcerting about following a leader who doesn’t see it coming. There is something incredibly inspiring about following a leader who does see it coming and stands up into His destiny despite what it costs.
Jesus does nothing to try and talk Judas out of it, but he does say that it would have been better for HIs betrayer not to have been born. I can only imagine the face of Judas going white then going red with increased blood pressure as he realizes that Jesus knows. I can only imagine. I can’t imagine.
Jesus extends the question to all the disciples and it hangs in the air like a heavy cloud darkening the atmosphere of the celebration of the Lord’s saving act to His people so long ago. But here is my point. As He looks at each of His disciples, they one by one ask, “Lord, is it I?” Each of them had the heart to find out if it was they themselves that would betray Him.
I’m sure their hearts were not completely pure and like a searchlight, this announcement by the Lord would bring up any times when they doubted that Jesus was who He said He was or anytime they had been pushed past their ability to understand and had thought to leave Him. I’m sure they quickly began to wager a guess as to who it was as they pushed aside any sense of their own guilt. Yet in that moment, suspended in some sort of eternal moment of decision, they had the courage to ask “Is it I?”
What a penetrating question that struck deep into their hearts, separating soul and spirit. For whatever reason, even Judas asks this of Him. Perhaps it was to cover his guilt, to appear surprised, even to test Jesus, perhaps all those things. His question springs as a cover for guilt and not as a genuine inquiry.
It is a time to allow the Lord to ask us tough questions. He asks these questions so the deepest things in our hearts can rise to the surface to be helped. He did this from start to finish in His ministry and He was doing it there and then--but He is also doing it here and now. His questions are never because He doesn’t know the answer but because He does know the answer all too well and we do not. Our hearts are expert at hiding the truth, the real reason, the actual cause. Jesus!
Let us let You search our hearts, dear Lord! Look deep, ask us the hard questions, reveal, uncover, expose so that You might make us true and straight as an arrow shot from the quiver of God. Let every pretense, every hiding place, be searched. We needn’t be afraid to admit we need help. So, Lord, Help us! Make us “pure and holy, tried and true.” Please.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Easter When Everything Changed

I personally think that I will remember this Easter for many years to come. It was the Easter we spent isolated in our houses while the world changed. True story! But it needed to change. So much of life is waiting. The biblical tradition has a long history of waiting in it. Abraham and Sarah waiting for a baby; Noah waiting for the rain to start; Elijah waiting on a mountain; Daniel waiting for the exile to be over; Anna waiting for the Messiah to be born; John waiting on Patmos for Jesus; the list is much longer.

 I’ve been waiting for a long time for what I sense I’m seeing. There are destined times and epochs in the “kairos” time of God. “When the fullness of time had come…” Just when time is about to burst with waiting, it explodes into the purpose of God. The preparation for a servant of God takes a long time, again, I can give you a longlist: Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus, Himself, Paul, Timothy, John the Beloved. God can do what He wants without us, but He has chosen to work with and through us, so He has to polish, temper, and strengthen us so that we don’t snap out of pressure or lose our faith in the process.

Let’s face it, it's been cloudy for a good, long while. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of a “cloudy and dark day” when the sheep are scattered and the Shepherd has to go out and gather them. I have seen that look of fierceness on the Face of the Great Shepherd in these last days, I have seen His determination to gather those that are lost. The clouds of false belief; man-made religion; lethargy induced apathy; confusion, dismay, and inability to endure have clouded the Face of the Living God from those that need most desperately to see Him. So He is going to rise up and go looking for the lost sheep. He is going to blow the hindering clouds away. He is going to go into every last highway and byway looking for those stuck in the thorny bushes of hopelessness, despair, and shame. He asks us to go with Him. He asks us to gather with Him for He has told us, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Matthew 12:30.

 I have seen people who know God and walk with God come back to life in the last week. I have seen hope born, courage arise, purpose return. I’ve seen the glaze disappear from the eyes of the believers who have looked for Him so long, more than they who wait in the cold, dark night for morning. A cloud the size of man’s hand appears overhead. The Lord is standing up to move. Don’t miss it. Prepare your heart, shake off your slumber, fill your lamp with oil, trim your wick. Stand up with Him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's Easy to Hear God

Did you know that it's easy to hear God? I'll bet that surprised you since you might not think so. I've encouraged my home group to write down a few things they have been seeking God about but with the expectation and the proclamation that it's easy to hear God and that they will obey when they hear.
A few weeks ago I was praying at the altar at church and God showed me that He clearly speaks to me but that I then take what He says and kind of put it through a test, passing it back and forth between "yes, I think its God" and "no, I'm not sure." I then run it through some kind of spiritual counterfeit machine and then i wait to see how i feel about it! All so that I can be sure I'm "hearing God" and not the voice of my own soul or the voice of the enemy. You could say its me trying to be careful and it is but it really ends up being kind of an insult to God and my relationship with Him.
What if you did that with your closest friends? What if they said something to you and you said, "Be right back, I've got to figure out if its really you saying this. " For the most part we know what our closest friends would say in any given situation, so why don't we feel confident in trusting that we can hear God? Do we know Him that well? If not, His Word is calling to be read and known! "His sheep hear His Voice, the voice of another they will not hearken to!"
Are we trusting the part of us that is flesh and wants its own way more than the part of us that loves God and is born of His Spirit and wants to hear God, indeed lives on every word that God speaks?
What if our daily proclamation was "I easily hear and confidently obey what God speaks to me!" I dare you to try this. You see, what happens is that we get so bogged down into questioning the hearing that we do not end up doing much at all. You would soon find out that if the enemy of our soul knows that you are going to act on what God says then he will no longer be able to use this stalling tactic on you.
Do you think Jesus had a hard time knowing the will of God? He said, "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing" (John 5:19)... It was easy because it was his first and only priority! Any hindrance was pushed out of the way. He HAD to hear what His Father was saying.
Will you occasionally get it wrong because of your humanity? It is a possibility, but a self-correcting one. Isaiah writes, "If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the right way. ·You should go this way" (Isaiah 30:21). And the thing is one thing has changed to make it even easier since Isaiah's day: now that Voice is within you if you are a believer! Obviously, the voice of God never tells you to do anything contrary to the Word of God. God is not going to tell us to hurt someone, to hurt ourselves, to go against His commandments, to act against the nature of who God is, etc.
When we live to do the will of God, we will know very quickly when we have gone off the path because the Holy Spirit, in our spirit, will warn us. "Danger! Will Robinson, Danger!" God wants us to tighten up our ability to not only hear God but to obey Him in this hour. Please start to walk in the place where you expect to hear God easily "for as many are led by the Spirit of God are the sons and daughters of God" (Romans 8:14) and "all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
God is speaking clearly today, have a listen! and then obey!
P.S. I hear God saying that someone will read this and think they are so far away from hearing God. OK, so, no matter where you are at, how far away you feel from being able to hear God's voice, if you will ask Him, you will know the next simple step you must take. That is all you need. Take that step, and the next one will be given to you. Step by step, we can walk out of the darkness into light.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Nurturing Your Circle of Influence as Spiritual Parents and Grandparents

In our older years we can have much to give as spiritual parents or grandparents in the faith.  Perhaps we have a bit more time as we retire, or perhaps our priorities in using our time change.  The thing we can offer our circle of influence, especially those younger than us, is the wisdom learned from hard won lessons, but, more importantly, the loving presence that only comes with being able to nurture others with the same nurture that God has loved and nurtured you with.

There is a role of nurture and influence that no one can take from us in our older years if we remain faithful to God. There is a substantial dearth in the church for seasoned mothers and father in the faith who model the characteristics of Jesus. Or perhaps they are just a sleeping army! You can step forward and help fill that vacuum!  

Paul writes, "though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have you not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have become your father through the gospel" (1 Cor 4:15). Paul recognizes that many people can teach you things about Jesus, but not that many can protect, watch over, and make you feel the safety that a Father’s love gives.  We get that sense of how to father (and mother) from having been fathered by God throughout our lives. 

We know that people don’t just need truth, they need to feel our compassion, they need someone to bind up the scrapes, someone to cry with and run to when the way seems lost and hopeless.  They need a strong figure that they can watch when it feels like they are drowning: one that stands head and shoulders above the storm and are themselves, watching and being Fathered by God.  They need someone whose gives them the reassurance of a loving gaze when they feel lost or incapable. These love subtleties we simply do not have when we are younger.

 Do you remember Radar O’Reilly, the company clerk from MASH? He knew exactly what was needed by some kind of “intuitive” radar. That kind of radar takes awhile to grow in us.

So you can see how rare and how precious being a spiritual father and mother is.  This does not
come in our youth--it blossoms, if it is going to blossom, in later decades.  You can be an outstanding example, a brother, a sister, but you can not be a father or mother, even a grandparent in the faith, until at least a few grey hairs show!

Jesus said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” (Luke 13:18,19).  Be a place that is safe enough for “birds” to decide that it is a wonderful place to raise their young! Be a place where people can come in out of the world and stand under your branches and be sheltered. Be like a tree, firmly planted, that stays in its place for decade upon decade, giving shade in the summer and steadfast beauty in all seasons.

I can remember being a very young believer who felt she knew virtually nothing about God. An older couple, who lived near me, who had been Christians for decades upon decades, would give me a ride to church. I was thrilled because I saw the value of being mentored by someone who had been a believer for a long while and hoped they would mentor me. Unfortunately, these dear people had not been taught and encouraged to do that and thus my young heart went without their nurture.  

So I am encouraging you, decades later, to be that person to the younger people God will bring to you. Notice people. Ask about them, Check in on them. Be a safe place for them. Listen to their fears, encourage their dreams. Bring soup to them when they are sick. Rejoice with them when they win!  Tell them, humbly,  how you pray but more importantly why you pray. Be real. Be transparent. Tell them that our Father in always there and will always be there and you know that for sure. Lots of people are falling through the cracks, lots of young people have absolutely no knowledge of God and no one to show them the way. Watch over the flock of God in such a way that others feel the Father’s love flowing through your bespectacled eyes, and your wrinkled hands.

God will love it. So will you.