Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pressed together, shaken down, and running over into your lap

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

Sometimes around Paul I feel like that young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, who sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer, and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.  Sometimes I feel like Paul’s words and sentences go around and around and I can’t really make heads or tails of them, like what is the point, and what really do these big fancy theology words mean in real life?  And sometimes, like for instance the entirety of 2 Corinthians, Paul goes on and on about all that he is and all that he has done, and I sorta wish that I could fall out of the window as well.  

But then I look between the lines and see an offering poured out.  Up early, down late, making tents to support himself and his friends.  I bet tentmaking is long hours scrunched over tough fabric and involves lots of poking and stabbing and other uncomfortable tasks.  And other than I wince a bit when people stress how humble they are because doesn’t that sort of negate the deed, he did indeed spend a lot of time encouraging and crying (lots of tears) and praying and kneeling and kissing, so there you have it.  And when it was all said and done, Paul was able to sum it up with “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

And I just left old Mike Birrer sitting on the white wall bench down at the Vineyard.  Mike with his prayer sheets and sweet breads and orange juice and sunscreen, all set for a day of prayer.  Another in a long line of days of prayer, and fence building and meetings with principals and student council advisors and janitors and gathering heavy boxes of food and carrying around extra tools in the back of his pickup truck just in case anyone needs them and walking around and around and around; I bet that guy knows every trash can in every alley for a five mile radius he has walked around so much praying for the city.  As I left him sitting there all by himself under the olive trees, I thanked him for his faithfulness.  And he said, “It is my joy, it is my joy.”  

And I believe him.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat

But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.  Acts 19:15-17

A lot of ugly stuff is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, that’s for sure.  We sure don’t take the third commandment very seriously, and I think that it has a lot more depth than forbidding the occasional explosive expletive when one’s finger is smashed.  

I suspect that this has a lot more to do with salt that has lost its flavor.  No longer valuable for enriching the savorless or preserving goodness and wholeness or cleansing open, aching wounds, it is worthless, and should be thrown underfoot.  

Jesus spent a lot of time reaching out to the outcast lepers and the hopeless water drawers and curious tree-climbers, but he had little patience for those who muttered, “Thank God I am not like those” in their prayers.  He warned, “Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself standing outside knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will start saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets,” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all evil doers!”

With fear and trembling, re: humility, we name-bearers need to stay untangled from the madding crowd, such as the confused city of Ephesus, with some crying out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

The dividing line between the sheep and goats is pretty clear, if we keep a sharp lookout.  May the name of the Lord Jesus be extolled above all.   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dangling from the tree of life

And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.  Acts 18:25

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Romans 12:11

Sloths are an amazement. I am quite familiar with them after our trip to the coastal jungles of Costa Rica.  They drape from many an unexpecting branch, chomping mouthful after gentle mouthful, blinking their heavily lash-laden lids a bit dazed at the swirling world around them.  Certainly not actors in their world, beyond that of depositing their nutrient-filled feces at the base of the home tree, some tiny offering towards a symbiotic relationship. Creatures of habit, they are bound both by comfort and by fear, the unknown.  

So my quick-breathed prayer before I dug into this chapter was: what does the Spirit look like at work in lives, in me?  The Spirit is fervent.

This is not a directive to get up at 4:15 a.m. every morning, run, run, run all day, and collapse into bed just as Jay Leno hits the monologue.  This is foolishness, and I am missing the brain cells to prove it.

This is fervent in spirit.  My attitude.  Not so much quantity, but quality.  How and not what.    Not sloppy, living with accuracy, with an eye for detail.  

Poor Zach.  Every Thursday for a long, long time, I have been asking that he be filled with a fervent spirit, “awestruck by Your holiness.”  Sort of shades how one studies for that next microbiology test.  I wonder.  I remember my prayer for his entire eighth grade class, posted on the bulletin board behind my desk; I wonder if they ever noticed.  The now part of urban-myth Googleable diary entry of a Zimbabwe preacher, the day before he was martyred for his faith:
I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear.
A decent way to die, since we all have to go.  

And as I walk through these last years of my father’s life with him, there are a lot of things that I do not particularly wish for in my waning moments: the shuffling steps, the sometimes bleary eyes, the tripping up and tangling of words into strings of meaninglessness, the utter weariness of it all.  But, ya gotta admit, the spirit is still burning fervently, as he brightens with the request to lead us in grace, “Father, we are yours.”

They are precious in His sight

And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:26

Marco is busy posting pictures on Facebook of his journeys across the face of the earth.  He has a particular eye for the distinguishing detail, the twisted dreadlock, the lone flower pushing its way through the weeds, and especially the small and yellow black and white.  
Inline image 1

He has one album entitled “Story at the temple” in which a child is being instructed carefully how to hold his incense and how to kneel and bow down by his loving parents.

So here Paul is proclaiming the “God-shaped hole in our hearts,” the purpose for which we were created, to seek His face, to a people worshipping the unknown. 

And it is not always a clear and easy journey.  Job, a blameless and upright man who feared God complained, “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive Him; on the left hand when He is working, I do not behold Him; He turns to the right hand, but I do not see Him. Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!”

And God knew this from the beginning of time.  He knew that He would create very good, and yet it would get broken, and that the journey back to restoration would be painful, costly, especially to Himself.  But the intentionality is built into the very subatomic fiber of matter, the balance of brokenness and repentance, of destruction and renewal, of death and life.  It is the story.  

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.

The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lift a finger to the wind

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.  Acts 16: 1-3

So, while it shows dedication on Timothy’s part to undergo circumcision in order to “be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel,” it is interesting that this step was taken after the Council at Jerusalem when it was firmly decided that the act of circumcision could diminish the power and beauty of Christ’s death.

And for a section of Scripture where Paul prays for guidance for each and every step in this journey it is curious that this rather dramatic decision was not noted to be bathed in prayer.  So was it human fear that drove it, as Paul was working through his understanding of these new wineskins, or was it a deliberately wise decision not to allow circumcision to be a distractor factor (cute, huh?) to the Jews to whom they were witnessing, and later on refusing to allow Titus to be circumcised as another sort of clear statement to the Jesus-is-not-enough crowd.  Who knows?

And my takeaway?  I am reminded that my steps forward are clouded by many things, not always the quiet steady light of Truth.  It is clear that I cannot depend on nice neat rules or policies that worked once, I cannot depend on what is comfortable and seems pretty good, I cannot depend on my good humor and grace (um, later on in this chapter Paul cast out a demon because “he was annoyed,” which seems a little odd), I cannot depend on logic or reason which can be used to defend anything as we all know from listening to lawyers dribble on and on and that I very carefully taught generations of middle school students, so what then?

So it is a journey, full of banged-up knees and bumps and false steps in the wrong direction and noses sore from doors slamming on them, in complete humility and gentleness; patience, bearing with each other in love. 

Blessed are those whose strength is in You, 
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Bitterness,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

And suddenly the assembly fell silent

And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us,  and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Acts 15:8-9

It is so very difficult for us to be stripped of our cultural and personality baggage; things that are not bad in and of themselves, but simply the way we see life and God- through a mirror darkly.  

It is very difficult for me, for example, to truly release my judgement of night owls- surely people who rise before dawn are simply more spiritual than those other sorts.  Our Friday night Bible study explored this too, with each of us sharing stories of when God pulled something surprising.  And really, it was all about him saying, “You had me in this small, neat box.  Well, I am much bigger than that, which is not only a good thing, but it is simply true.”  Amy sent in a devotional last night on this verse: “But Naaman went away angry and said, ’I thought that...” 2 Kings 5:11

That is why it is so instructive to thoughtfully examine these early disciples drinking from new wineskins.  God was doing big new things and it kept them up late at night and a little upset and ironically enough, they put it back together again with four neat bullet points, which later have to be clarified by Paul.   

The main thing is to watch where the Spirit moves.  He is not bound by our humanity, but is free to move through as a burning flame where He wills.  That was the thing about the signs, “Hey, look over here– I am at work!  Release your prejudices and cease you yoke-placing.  This is My work, not yours, lest anyone should boast.”

And secondly, much as Jesus pointed out, is like unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Paul clarified James' points in Galatians: My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love.  And once again He clarifies, watch the Spirit– and the fruit of the Spirit... this is Me at work.  

Holy Fire burn away, 
My desire for anything
That is not of you and is of me.
I want more of you and less of me.

the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with each other in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3

Basically my excuse for glancing through the newspaper every morning before my quiet reflective time is that I am bringing these events into my meditations and prayers.  So today, as I am flipping throughs stories about refugee camps full of Syrians, drug tests for middle school athletes, concealed gun permits on the University of Colorado and 140 million dollar salaries for CEOs of nonprofit organizations, I read about Ralph Reed. 

“God’s right-hand man,” plans to unleash a sophisticated, microtargeted get-out-the-evangelical-vote operation that he believes could nudge open a margin of victory if Mr. Romney can keep the race close. In the coming weeks, he says, each of those 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states will receive three phone calls and at least three pieces of mail. Seven million of them will get e-mail and text messages. Two million will be visited by one of more than 5,000 volunteers. Over 25 million voter guides will be distributed in 117,000 churches. He admits what seems an audacious prediction: that record numbers of socially conservative evangelical Protestants will turn out for the first presidential election in history without a Protestant on the Republican ticket. “God,” he said with a laugh, “has a sense of humor.” That may be, but Mr. Reed has a plan. And he has the money to back it up: an estimated $10 million to $12 million from contributors across the Republican spectrum, according to a partial list of donors and people with direct knowledge of his operation.

His two big focal points is the President’s health care overall which requires all insurance companies, even religious ones, to provide free contraceptives and outlawing gay marriage.  

And beyond the fact that it breaks my heart that not only all the money and the power in our political systems says that these are the two top issues that binds the hearts of followers of Christ, even more so it is frightfully humbling to identify myself publicly as a follower of Jesus Christ when this is the crowd in which I make my pilgrimage.

And cannot this money be spent on low-income prenatal counseling or after-school tutoring or providing a few more Child Protection Services workers or people who process papers at Veteran's Affairs or mosquito netting in the Sudan or even billions and billions of little red Bibles in five different languages.  But rather “God’s Right-hand man” is called to bother people at dinner time and provide a few more cents to the folks at the United States Post Office, which isn’t entirely a bad thing.

I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around how my fellow filled-with-the-Holy-Spirit others see this as following Jesus, someone who assiduously avoided politics as being “horses and chariots” in whom man puts his trust, but even more clearly spoke against aligning oneself with wealth and power.  Not even to begin to find a place for his clearly delineated How Then Shall We Live Sermon on the Mount.  Now I can argue logic and consistency and organize long lines of Scriptures triple referenced with my brothers.  All day long, and probably long into the night as well.  

But rather, I am told to bear with each other in love, striving for unity through the bond of peace.  

But what about them, I sputter, what about the logs and trunks and branches poking out of their eyes?

What is that to you?  

Maybe it’s time for a long walk in the desert.    

And as I examine my own right hand, starting to crumple and twist a bit with arthritis and nicely bespeckled with too-much-sun spots, I can raise it.  I can stand up, raise my hand and join Ananias and say, “Here I am, LORD.”  Completely humble and gentle, but with a fire in my belly.  Here I am, LORD.

Holy Spirit, help my heart to be soft and malleable and full of courage. Help me to
remember who I really am. Help me to overflow with genuine love, and act out of that
love, rather than just adding “one more thing.” Fill me with yourself.

Friday, September 21, 2012

And then I don't feel so bad

...with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:23

I heard from Kate yesterday.  Kateryna?  Oh yes, ballroom dancer who spent long hours painting beautiful designs on her fingernails so very long ago.  And we watched Everything is Illuminatedabout a jillion times because she would laugh until it hurt because it was exactly like Ukraine.  

Dear Christy and the rest of the Voelkel family!!)) You are among my best memories and I hope to visit you some day just to tell you how grateful I am for that wonderful time you've presented to me. In my best dreams I eat lovely breakfasts with xoxo cards, walk Daisy in the desert, bake cookies with grandma and listen to guitar at Friday dinners...I wish you to stay as open-minded and caring as you are and be happy!

And there you have it.  Paul and Barnabas were whipping through Asia Minor, one city after another, until he was stoned or beaten or worse and then they would roll on over to the next city.  But.  There is a line here, in chapter fourteen, ...and they remained no little time.  And that reminds me how Paul starts all of his letters, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, and I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, and I give thanks to my God always for you.

Something I never particularly noticed before but my, taken in context, grips me profoundly.  What beloved people have passed through my life.  José and Guadelupe sitting on the broken-block step of their church pieced together with bits of cardboard and flattened metal sheets.  Ramoncita and I wandering through the barrio with stacks of clean diapers balanced on our heads laughing so hard we could barely stagger forward.  Why I do not know, but it happened.  There was some misconceived camping trip over Easter once and it was pouring rain and cold and so very unhappy and then someone, was it the Mustoviches, pulled up into a motorhome and we all piled in smooshed together and were warm all the way down to the weary bones.  Hunching over a small smoky fire with a microscopic expresso pot just a few steps from the most glorious golden Grand Canyon and how could one hold so much beauty? Oh yes, and then there was THAT trip when we bundled two-week old Heather into the old green Camp Hy Lake truck and the tent fell down in the middle of the night with snow and Alene was hopping around in her sleeping bag trying to set it up again because it was too dark to find her shoes.  And the memories are not just from the long string of poorly planned camping trips that strike dread in my husband’s heart, but ah, those pile upon pile gatherings around the table with mismatched chairs and chipped dishes and heaps of crockpot meat and loaves of bread and God is good and stretched out on white sandy beaches with cold coconuts and horizons reaching far into the sunset and a song and dance at the bottom of the Tucson International Airport escalator about I love you and games of Salad Bowl and lots of fireplaces and glasses of wine and stories that grow and stretch over time into heroic epics but that’s ok because really that is what life is.

And I realize that times have changed and now there are emails and Skype dates and Facebook but not really that much.  Really they are the same hearts strung together with tight string and strong moments and a little bit of sad sighs but mostly prayers of thanks and joy and... always.  

Shaking the dust off of my... soul

But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He appeared to those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people. Acts 13:30-31

This is of course the true crux of Christianity.  Anyone can die, but to come back to life, there’s the rub.  And it’s not so much that when the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Prove you are who you say you are,” He told them that they were going to kill him and that He was going to rise from the dead.  

It’s the impact His resurrection had on His followers.  They did not want to believe in His resurrection.  Peter and John did not believe Mary.  Thomas certainly did not want to believe.  It was the truly inconvenient truth.  All of them were shocked and scared and wanted to hide and return to the way that things had been.  But what they had seen and heard and thrust their hand into wouldn’t let them.  

And sometimes I forget that this is not some murky tale that I am choosing to believe, because, well, it’s there.  This is a story of real people who struggled with fear and doubt and emotions and what they had always thought and what turned out to be.  This is Peter who didn’t have the well, huevos to confront a cleaning maid by a flickering bonfire but somehow managed to stand up in front of a Pentecost multitude of Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians and lift his voice and say, “No we are not drunk.  It is only nine in the morning.”

And may I be once again caught by the freshness of the story, passed down throughout history, one transformed life after one transformed life, and the drama and intensity and very tangibility of it all.  May I, like the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, be astounded by the teaching of the LORD.  

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And the chains fell off

Recognizing Peter's voice, her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” Acts 12:14

So I am a checklist person.  And one of the many parts of my life that are all tidily organized is my “fixed prayers” list.  Really.  That is its little label on my laptop, where I click every morning.  And it is entirely possible that I could get so fixed on my prayers that I might not even notice when the answer to my prayer is outside pounding on the door.  

Some of these names hopped on my list a long time ago.  I remember one Thursday afternoon when a student came to my classroom door, peered in and said, “Mrs. Voelkel, I need prayer.”  We prayed, and I added him to my Thursday list.  Goodness, that was seven, eight, nine... I do not know how many years ago.  And last week, he was casting his version of Romeo and Juliet in a beautiful place, both literally and figuratively.  I need to pause and be amazed.  And praise our Faithful God.  

Last night Alan and I Skyped with another name on the fixed prayer list.  And I cannot even begin to explain the joy that bubbled up in both of our hearts as we savored the wisdom and grace and beauty of this life, and the journey he has led.  Stand back and be amazed.  

Or the hearfelt prayers about wings of eagles as Nicole headed out last night in her little beater banged up car to cross a long desert all by herself.  And she will never forget the feeling of flying through the night in an ocean of stars, cresting over desert mountains & plains, just the rushing sound of the road beside me.

And Ali is meeting with his father in Canada next week to help him arrange his emigration, on his way to the Foreign Desk at CBS in New York City.  Ali, who arrived for an after-church lunch at Pollo Feliz so very long ago.  

And the requests come pell mell: fill their home with joy and tenderness, strengthen her resolve, quicken the Spirit within, be the fire in his soul, stir them up and unsettle them.  And another one of those around-the-water-jug discussions yesterday at work with Sue, on both the beauty and strength of liturgy and disciplines that can sometimes slide into stale emptiness.  No place for the sword piercing spirit and soul.    

Thus oh LORD, I will continue to gather myself and pray, but please quicken my ear to the tapping from the outside alleyway ....and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  

With steadfast purpose

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.  Acts 11:25

Let me take the time and effort to be a Barnabas.  Barnabas didn’t just make good decisions of reconciliation and encouragement when things happened around him, which would be pretty cool.

He noticed who was missing and sought them out.  It’s one thing to notice the people sitting alongside the edge of the party by themselves.  It’s another to remember who isn’t even there.  

Paul wasn’t there.  He had fled to Tarsus because people were trying to kill him.  Pretty much his whole life: his training, his family connections, his purpose, was in tatters.  And although Tarsus is a lovely town nestled in sea cliffs, things could seem pretty bleak.

And Barnabas, a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, went to Tarsus and looked for Saul.  And then hung out with him for a year, discipling him, walking through this new faith with him, even though surely he could not have been everyone’s favorite person.  But Barnabas stuck it out.  And then he gave Paul a good project for making friends, gathering together gifts to take to the Christians in Jerusalem, who were suffering from famine.

So this are the sort of things a good and faithful person is doing.  And he was the go-to guy when the Gentiles needed to be included into the body.  Up until now, for their whole entire lives, the Jews had been trained to not even talk to Gentiles.  This was the shocking behavior of Jesus though, like when he hung out with the woman at the well.  But when the Gentiles received the word of God, old Barnabas included them as well, and encouraged them, and urged them to be steadfast.  And of course, there’s John Mark.  I guess he was sort of a goofball and messed around and was unreliable and a piece of work.  But that was ok for Barnabas.  He invited him along on the adventure and led him into strength and maturity.  

May I be Barnabas today, looking for who is not seen.  Who is in the highways and byways and seek them out for rebuilding and restoration to calling.   

hopping right off of the flannel graph

Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day, he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

And the voice came to him again a second time,“What God has made clean, do not call common.”This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. Acts 10

It never ceases to amaze me, these childhood Sunday School stories that I have heard and seen illustrated by so many flannel graph paper cut-outs.  And now the words are the same, but my heart is different.  

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

And it is clear that prayers and alms can rise as a sweet offering to the LORD God, and it’s not so much about making sure that every Law is obeyed since childhood.  In fact, God was pretty clear on this: Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting--they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.

And what does He call for instead: Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.  But His right is not what food we eat or how we wash. Lest we be confused, The LORD God goes on to specifically define right:Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

I too am weary of pious meetings.  It is time for action.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sometimes it is not a bright light or a loud voice that everyone hears

The Lord said to him in a vision,“Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” Acts 9:10

So I got a letter from a friend yesterday, asking about all of this Holy Spirit stuff, I mean, how do you know that it is His voice?  “I truly desire the experience and influence of the Spirit but many things hold me back.” There has been so much abuse in His name: emotional manipulation, political positioning, and self-glorification or self-delusion that we want no part of.

I have no ready answers.  It was basically these same questions that drove me to Acts this season, trying to understand what lives empowered by the Holy Spirit look like.  And I am coming up with some adjectives: humble, wise, generous, and... bold.  Ah, bold. Somehow the boldness tagged the disciples as “having been with Jesus.”  And that is not so much where I live.  But that is what I see in these lives full of the Spirit.

But the Lord said to him, “Go...” So Ananias departed. Right into the path of the man breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.

And there’s the other marker... joy.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

That was the list Paul gave us.... love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And perhaps it is a little simplistic to frame the question with, “Who gets the glory?” But that is what Jesus left us with, “He will glorify me.”  

And as I look back over my life, particularly noticing the Ebenezer moments, the Joshua stones of when He called and I leapt, I can say without hesitation that was His voice and I have no regrets.  The spectrum is broad- from the voice in a cornfield, a vision unrolling full color on a dining room wall, to the light shining behind a young man’s head when he walked through the front door, and answering yes when a very annoying person asked if a German could stay with us a day or two or when Kathy said, “You need to quit your job.”


That doesn’t mean that I have not moaned and fussed and murmured, but that is certainly not of the Spirit, and certainly does not glorify Him. And doubtlessly there have been many, many, “Well, maybe not’s” or too distracted to even hear’s.  And lots of dashing about with my own wisdom grasped tightly in my fists.

And sometimes, sometimes I look up and question.  Was that His voice?  Was that His power and might at work?  What just happened?

But then I know.


And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is that a pool of water that I see here by the road?

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went.  Acts 8: 26-27

And he rose up and went.  From my true-to-life experience, this is the sweet spot.  It’s not about weighing options or writing pro / con lists or even so much, “Well, I’ll pray about it,” which is often used as a conversation stopper and not a declarative statement.  

Because of course there was nothing particularly attractive about this option, heading out at noon to a desert place.  But because Philip was a man full of the Spirit and of wisdom, he was positioned to obey the still, quiet voice.  In the midst of the church being ravaged by the Establishment, in the midst of being scattered, in the midst of signs and great miracles being performed, he heard The Voice.

And he rose and went.  

And changed the story of generations.  

The question that glints from every decision: Who knows, but for such a time as this?

Grasping the leeks with both hands

...At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight...And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. Acts 6:20, 22

Well, Stephen’s fly-by summary of the history of God’s dealings with man sure underscores two things, one of which is that God’s plans and timing are not in any way, shape, or form my plans and timing.  Take Moses, for example.  He was one of the big actors in the plan, very clearly marked since infanthood to be someone of heft and importance, and yet he spent forty years fiddling around in the courts of the heathen king before it even “came into his heart,” to visit his oppressed brothers, the Israelites.  Then in about five passion-driven moments he messes everything up, and spends another forty years wandering around the desert in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of sheep.  Mr. Beautiful, mighty in word and deed.

So with hindsight, we might say things like he was being trained in classical leadership and governance and historical perspective and then he got another forty years figuring out how to look at clouds and tell if it was going to rain and where he could possibly find any pasture or springs in the heaps of boulders for his flock, which with hindsight seem like helpful skills, but let me repeat the word “hindsight.”  Hindsight is God sight.  Forwards and backwards and very present, omniscient.  And I am not He.

Which is the other big thing underscored in Stephen’s summary: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  Circumcision is cutting away all the unnecessary excess, all the fleshy stuff.  What I long for with my heart, what “wisdom” I fill my head with.  Again and again, I pull back, resisting the Holy Spirit, no matter how powerfully He reveals His glory.  

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Now Moses was very humble--more humble than any other person on earth.  Guess all those eighty years wandering around showed him what is good.  And it seems like he finally paid attention.  Which really, when everything else is sifted out, is the point of it all, noticing what we see.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God.

The frayed wires of my brain

But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Acts 6:10

And His Spirit is one of wisdom.  

I am seeking wisdom.  So many cluttery thoughts from so many sources, some respectable and credible, some not so much. Check your sources.  And how do we sort through it all?  How many times a day am I directed to read through reams of fine print and sign here.   Flip, flip, flip, click.  

It is difficult not to live life with a simple shrug and a leap.  How can I possibly make sense of it anyway?  I guess that’s what all the jillions of advertising money is betting, that our lives are completely impulse-driven.  And politics.  Looking for that one four-to-seven word soundbite that will direct thousands upon millions of punch card ballots on November 12.  The fate of the world depends on the haphazard whims of a distracted populace.

Or does it?  

Are the myriad decisions only important in that it is a dance with the One, step in, lean in, to the side, back.  The light on the path?  And in the big, big picture, the one viewed from the universe held in the palm of His nail-pierced hand, He has my back, each of our backs?  And once again, love wins.  “Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:11 

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

Against such is no law.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tumbling walls

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Acts 5:19-21

So Friday was the first gathering of our new community group around the now-stained and sadly faded orange and pink striped tablecloth.  As we settled in after the drippy cheese dip and black stone bowls of soup we turned to the time-tried community-building tradition of answering questions and telling stories.  One of Alan’s questions was, “What keeps you from sharing the gospel of Jesus?”

And the answers were all the sorts of answers lying in my heart: not wanting to be confused with political stridency, not knowing how to translate spiritual concepts into modern language and culture, sensing in myself shifts in understanding of Scriptures and Truth, opening up festering wounds of my listeners, desiring to be a listener and not a talker.  Yep, yep, yep.

However, upon reflection, one has to question the source of these, well, let’s be honest: fears.  Fear is a prison, man-made.  Hard bars constructed of lies, lies from the father of lies.  Because we darn well know that it doesn’t come from Him.  His Spirit is one of joy and boldness.  And the very foundation of this wobbly prison can be smashed with the understanding that we are not preaching a religion, or a prayer, or rules.  We are speaking words of Life.  The one life.  Jesus.  What He did and what He said and what happened in the lives around Him.  Of what have I seen in my life.  It’s all about stories.  A narrative from the beginning of time until now.  And stretching into eternity.  

Let me join Peter as a witness.  Speaking simply and straightforward, obeying God rather than fearing man.  Because if it be of God, it will not be overthrown, but if it is of man, it will fail.  And I need to choose where I will be found standing.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

A candle burning in the windowsill while it's still dark outside

Grant me, O Lord, to trust in you with all my heart; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Help maintain in me an attitude of quietness today.  Help me to be centered on You and to be aware of who I am in You. 

Holy Spirit, let me be an instrument of Your peace today. A steady candle of Your light, unflickering, silently illuminating Your grace and mercy.  

Holy Fire burn away, 
My desire for anything 
That is not of you and is of me.
I want more of you and less of me. 
Holy Fire burn away, 
My desire for anything 
That is not of you and is of me, 
I want more of you and less of me, yeah.

Swatting gnats

We appeal to you, my brothers, to be considerate to those who work so hard among you as your leaders in the Lord and those who admonish you. Have the greatest respect and affection for them because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. We urge you, brothers, to admonish those who are undisciplined, encourage the apprehensive, support the weak and be patient with everyone. Make sure that people do not try to repay evil for evil; always aim for what is best for each other and for everyone. Always be joyful; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:12–18

I have certainly been struggling with judging and impatience with those who are leaders in the LORD.  Here we are told to esteem them very abundantly in love because of their work.  

And really and truly, there is plenty of things here to keep me so busy I don’t have time to fuss about whether someone else is doing his job properly, albeit that some of my activity could be considered admonishing the undisciplined.  But the key word is “admonish.”  Do something about it, not just fretting, fussing, and complaining.  Be clear, be specific, and then drop it.  It now not my responsibility, but that of the leader.  I did my part and I need to move on to encouraging, supporting and being patient.  With an overarching canopy of peace to protect us from the outside blasts.  

And then there’s a few more things on my to do list.  Funny how it isn’t so much a lists of Thou Shall Nots but something else is supposed to mark the brotherhood: joy, prayer and a thankful heart.  

The beams in my own eye, while I am fretting about the schedules and follow-through gnats in the eyes of others.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

En los enfanes

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

But you, O LORD my God, oh, deal with me according to your Name; for your tender mercy’s sake, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.  Psalm 109:20

Every night, after all the chores are settled, I read Zorro by Isabel Allende out loud in the attempt to build up my Spanish fluency and comprehension which has sadly faded over the years.  

There is a mysterious Indian woman who arrives without warning whenever there is overwhelming hurt or pain or impeding death.  She arrives, opens up her bags of spices and ointments and dried leaves and in silence goes about her business, ignoring all wailing and fussing and hopelessness.  One, two, three, one, two, three.  

The priest Mendoza is a good man who tries to do right.  He prays, he gardens, he takes care of his neófitos, but it’s never quite enough.  The termites devour the wood and the cathedral roof caves in.  But Dios hizo un milagro, y cuando por fin lo extrajeron de las ruinas, todavía respiraba.  And once again, He proves trustworthy.  

And yesterday Sue and I reminded ourselves of the truth.  That joy is the measurement of trust.  There is a direct correlation between release of life’s burden to Him who is able, and the lightness in our footstep.  

Therefore, Holy Spirit, I release my burdens.  You alone have the perspective of love and power to bear them.  Cause me to rest in You and You alone.  Help me to live lightly, knowing that from You comes laughter and freedom and compassion.  

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams Of the beautiful Annabel Lee

 I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 16-19

I know this prayer.  There was a year, Andrea and Dustin’s seventh grade year at Grace, that I prayed it every single morning over each of those names printed in the green spiral gradebook.  One by one.  

And the verse was tacked up on the bulletin board behind my desk, so as I strode and leapt through that beige-carpeted, beige-walled shaky trailer-room, I could glance at it from the corner of my eye and remember what was important.  

What does it mean to be rooted and established in love?  And can a prayer stretch into a lifetime, this being able to grasp the deep, deep love of Christ?

And every morning I drive by that same trailer-room, parked next to an empty lot.   It’s boarded up now, the windows, with plywood.  Weeds flourish underneath its shade.  The outside walls are weather-stained and it probably leaks.  It is clear that some things do not have lasting value. And beyond memorizing 54 prepositions and diagramming sentences and learning that “a lot” is two words and the Highwayman came riding, riding and Injun Joe bounding out of the closet at poor old Tom and Becky holding a lit candlestick even though it broke fire code because I made sure that it didn't set off the alarm what happened that year?  Do those kids bound up in the throes of middle-school angst know how tightly my heart was twisted up with theirs?

I know.  

And the seed was sown in soil well-tilled by many loving hands.  And I AM the LORD of the harvest.  And My will shall prevail, though wind and drought and pestilence do seek to destroy, My love wins, this love that surpasses knowledge, so wide, so long, so high, and so deep.


Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

Wholiness.  Above all, in all and through all.  Worthy of complete unadulterated attention.  I AM.

I confess that so very often I put my thoughts before Your thoughts. My anxious, self-centric fretting before Your understanding that can be grasped in the tiniest way by images of vast swirling space… being but in the palm of your hand.  My ways before Your ways.  My petty grumbling quick-to-accuse means and methods before Your from-before-the-beginning of time understanding of mercy and redemption being lifted up. 

Repentance is to release and to turn.  And in that release and turn, there is rest.  And once again You save me from myself, for Yourself.  

Quietly trusting in You.  And You alone.  Step by step, my heart set to release and to turn after You. 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Bitterness,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

Once again I repent.  May I not be counted with the foolish ass who takes the bit between the teeth and bolts in her own direction.  Let me rest in Your salvation, under the shadow of Your wing in quietness and trust.

Resting by the place of springs.  The bubbling comfort much like the St. Francis fountain in the greenhouse.  Shimmering, yet with crisp clarity reaching down deep beyond sight and mind.  The autumn rains streaming down around me, so many mercy drops with which to slake my thirst.  And the scent of creosote hangs heavy in the air.  A pungent reminder of Your grace. 

My heart set, let me step forth in joy.  A new day. 

Same old, same old

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.  And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  Luke 4: 31-33

I guess I am weary of compromise being used as the baseline. It’s pretty heart wrenching to set down a book documenting “hundreds of thousands of Muslims falling in love with Jesus” and in my backyard there are excuses and cancelled meetings to give us “another week to slack off and be irresponsible” and this is the way we do things and we already tried that. 

Dear LORD shake us.  And if it is just I, I offer myself to be shaken.  Whatever it takes. 

Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.  Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

One thing is needful

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:19

There is the boldness of what is man, that he can harm me-the free and easy confidence of one whose heart is fixed, rather than the Aesop’s unhappy Miller, his Son and his Donkey, who, vexed and ashamed, returned from market after his donkey tumbled off the bridge convinced that by attempting to please everybody, he had pleased no one, and lost his donkey besides.    

And yet grace and humility marks old foot-in-his-mouth Peter- there is a gentleness that guides his conversation. Can it be that at last he understands what it means to “Feed my sheep”?  His priorities reshuffled by Love and some of the cards drop underfoot, where they belong.  There is only one thing worth being concerned about, and like Mary, he has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from him.

Oh that when I spoke, people would recognize that I had been with Jesus.