Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Storm Warnings

When dangerous storms threaten Oklahoma, regular network programming is suspended and we're glued to the TV as weather is reported non-stop. Because of our sophisticated radar and computer systems, meteorologists can pinpoint not only where the greatest danger is but where it’s heading. But all the warnings in the world mean nothing, if I’m not paying attention. When the tornado siren goes off, I would be foolish to dismiss it as irrelevant, or shake my fist at the interruption. When an alarm sounds, I look to my news source to get the information I need to protect myself and my family.

I confess I am a typical American. I love my undisturbed life. I tend to be a happy camper as long as I have cheap gas, good coffee, interesting books, church on Sunday and my life left alone. When things are going well and according to (my) plan, I can become so focused on doing life that God must interrupt my routine in order to get my attention. I need shaking from time to time to remind me that I am part of God’s story, unfolding from Genesis to Revelation…something way bigger than America and my little life.

All too often, when life interruptions occur I am impatiently waiting for the spiritual “all clear” signal. Kind of like the old TV announcement, “…and now we return to your regularly scheduled program.” But when my regular program is interrupted by a special bulletin from God I have to do more than give a cursory listen, for God’s bulletins are never casual FYI’s. They are always given because they are needed; when they are needed; and directed to those who need them. 

It doesn’t take much to see that over the past fifteen years, the world has changed in frightening ways. We are seeing increases in natural disasters, terror attacks, societal upheaval, dangerous disease, war, and economic failure. And the alarmingly rapid increase of distain, disapproval and persecution of Christians. The latest is the civil unrest and violence in Ferguson, MO, which makes me wonder how soon America will choose security over freedom (but that's a topic for another time). 

One event taken alone is distressing, but taken as a whole, a trend of increasing trouble emerges. Are these random events, or a forecast, a la Matthew 24, that a bigger storm is coming? The reality is that my perspective is too limited to see accurately. I need someone with the big picture, so I must check in with God for a helpful interpretation of current events.

Jesus told his disciples that before He came back, the world would become a dangerous place, in which his people would shine brightly in the darkness. He told us, not to scare us, but to give us confidence and strength. He told us so we would know when it was time to prepare. Time to build deeper relationship with Him; to love and learn to lean more completely on Him. Time to listen to His voice and practice joyful obedience. Time to yearn and watch for His return.

Ever since God put the ones He loved in a Garden, He has been working toward a conclusion to history that brings us back together with Him. Far from being a scare tactic, His storm warnings are designed to make us aware of our need for Him, to call us closer to Him; to remind us that, for the friends of Jesus, there is no such thing as life as usual. Though we are in the world, we are built to live above—in joyful friendship with Jesus. 

Since we are not interchangeable units, there is no formula for preparing. When storm sirens sound, ask the One you love what it means and what you should do. Jesus is our safe harbor, a refuge of peace from the coming storm.. We can run to Him and rest secure even in the midst of a frightening world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Setting an ambush for God

"When the Lord saw that [Moses] turned aside. God called to him from the bush." (Exodus 3:4)  Moses' relationship with God was powerfully changed when he took time to wait on Him at the burning bush. The verse implies that God spoke to Moses, because he turned aside...chose to make time for God. We don't know what might have happened had Moses strolled by, giving the burning bush a casual, "Hmmm that's weird" and kept going. But he didn't. He stopped what he was doing, turning from his shepherdly duties in order to give his complete focus to the supernatural fire. God always provides glimpses of Himself, but only those who turn aside to wait for Him will see more than that. Relationship with God is what you were made for, and waiting is a way of drawing near so He will in turn draw near to you.

There are several Hebrew words for waiting. Qavah is an interesting one, translated 'to eagerly wait for with anticipation,' but it also means 'lying in wait, as in ambush.'  We're accustomed to thinking of waiting as killing time until something meaningful waiting for an appointment at the doctor's office. But waiting for God is different. A hunter must go where he thinks the deer might be and watch and wait attentively. He doesn't expect a deer to wander through the living room while he's watching his shows. This waiting is active. It takes focus and intention to still myself, quiet my mind, set aside my to-do list and anticipate God drawing near and communing with me.

So because I know this, my spiritual walk must be one continuous high, right? One moving encounter after another. Probably have to wear a veil to keep the reflected glory from blinding folks over at the Walmart.

Sorry. Had to pick myself up from the floor where I lay, hysterically laughing. As with most of the Christian life, it's one thing to know something and quite another to do it. So I'm grateful that our life of faith is a long distance journey. And the longer I travel, the more I realize that I will be a beginner all my life. I am once again learning to wait; setting aside times to spend with Him, just as I would a friend with skin on. I am reading the Bible and asking Him to illuminate my reading; allowing His lovely, living words to reorder my thinking along biblical lines. I am playing worship music and singing the words as prayer to Him. When I pray, I purpose to put thanks and worship at the beginning, saving my list of needs and wants for the end. I am taking time for silence, so there is room for Him to speak to me. I am shushing my busy, anxious, caffeinated brain, which is way harder than just shutting my mouth. And I am cutting myself major slack. Giving myself grace is often the hardest thing I do, for I fail so often it can seem impossible to have faith to begin again.

The hardest part of any journey is the beginning, when the road stretches endlessly before you and the destination is unseen. That's when you're tempted to give up, because nothing seems to be happening. But knowing that appearances can be deceiving and the devil is a liar, I keep moving forward, trusting in the love and character of Jesus—and isn’t that what faith is? Intimacy with Jesus grows bit by bit, nurtured by all the little steps you take in the dark; then finding that He was there waiting to make Himself known to you all along. While your encounters may not be the audible voice of God from flaming shrubbery sort, I guarantee that they will be life changing. Because encounters with the Fiery One cannot be otherwise. Ambush God and be changed.

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Luke 24:32

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Who does she think she is?

I have spent most of my adult life trying to get myself together enough to be qualified to be used by God. Subconsciously I've believed the lie that there was some invisible, unknowable standard I needed to attain before I could really start using my gifts. There are at least two problems with that sort of thinking. One is that all the things I've done thus far then fall into the category of 'just killing time while waiting for my ministry to begin.' The other is that I've resisted stepping out in those areas I feel called to. Even to publically identify what I felt called to was often a threat too great, opening myself to scrutiny I was unsure I could withstand.

The funny thing is, I thought I was waiting on the Lord. I thought I was being humble--resisting the sin of presumption. I was waiting until I sensed it was time or received a sign. The reality is that I was afraid. Afraid to take a chance. Afraid I wasn't capable. Afraid I wouldn't be received or approved. As a perfectionist, I've feared doing anything that I couldn't do extremely well. Excellence is a worthy goal, but perfectionism is a paralyzer. I've hated my weaknesses and hated my seeming inability to overcome them. It seemed outside the bounds of propriety that God would call me to exhort people about Jesus when I'm such a poor example of a disciple. I'm sarcastic, sometimes angry, and a bit of a know-it-all. I can't lose weight, can't stop chewing my nails when I'm anxious, and can't stop being anxious. I mean, who do I think I am? I clearly don't have it together enough to tell others anything about anything!

And every time I encountered someone who stepped outside their comfort zone and did something they felt God asked them to--even though they didn't feel qualified--I became a little more envious. Until finally every time I saw a new avenue of ministry that had apparently fallen magically into someone's lap I was angry. Angry at myself and angry at God--as if there were a finite number of opportunities out there and those people were taking them, leaving me with one less. I know--very childish. But I am so grateful God is big enough to wait patiently while I throw tantrums. He just kept me bumping into people who shouldn't have been able to do what they were doing--but they were doing it anyway. When I would ask Him why (usually in a whiney tone), He'd say, "because they love me and were willing." My abilities or lack thereof were never the issue, because perfection is not a qualifier--willingness is.

So it has finally sunk in that waiting for perfection to overtake me is a fool's errand. Duh! It seems to me I read somewhere God uses clay jars so we don't get the idea that we've had anything to do with His work. So who do I think I am? Nobody, I'm simply attempting to do what He tells me without trying to figure out whether He's made a mistake asking me. Because I love Him and belong to Him, what else can I do?

What holds you back? Do you think you're too old, too young, too broken, too misunderstood, not spiritual enough, not educated enough, or don't have enough connections--STOP IT! If you feel God is identifying areas in which you might use your gifts and talents, start taking baby steps to use them. You will make mistakes. You will sometimes be misunderstood. But if you remain teachable and step forward with humility, God will make a way for your abilities to be expressed and used. You will mature in God, being who He made you to be. Don't waste time walking a rut in your rug, worried that you aren't good enough for God to use. one is, so everyone can. That's one of the wonderful paradoxes God is so fond of. 

And though it makes me chew my nails to confess it in writing...I am a writer. And holy cow, I've erased and re-written that sentence three times already!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

War of Attrition

Those of us who’ve served the Lord for many years have pretty much seen it all. I’ve been there, done that, bought the tee-shirts, made a quilt of all the tee shirts and then burned the quilt. And then buried the ashes in the backyard. And then refused to go in the backyard. You get the picture. I am convinced that one of the enemy's best strategies against older believers is a war of attrition--just pick, pick, picking at us about what's wrong with ourselves, everyone and everything else until we're completely demoralized and give up.  I confess that more than once I have worn down into bitter agreement with the scoffers in Malachi, "it is futile to serve God." (Mal. 3:14)

It's incredibly easy to get over-focused on the never ending parade of unmet expectations, personal and church issues, as well as general discontent bred by our 'me first' culture. Not to mention the daily news. By the time you're my age, mainly we're seeing that the world doesn't work so well. Nor my eyesight, hearing, memory and digestion. In the face of so many issues demanding attention, we can lose sight of the Lord and lose hope.

And then there's the church. As we age, youthful optimism fades and a number of different churches have been attended. One can definitely lose faith in the church as an institution--or come to believe the church is an a nut house. Sorry, but if you've been a practicing believer for a long time, there is no way you haven't seen the ugly side of church life. But because the church is made up of broken, fallen people (Me! Me! It's me!), how could I expect it to be anything other than a broken institution? 

But I recently read something that has sparked hope in me. My disappointment with the way things are may actually be a reflection of longing for the heavenly reality--the way things ought to be. God has promised that one day things will be set straight. We will be without spot or blemish. He will purify the church into a glorious bride dressed in white linen as for her husband. And we get new bodies (Yay!). So instead of weariness and depression at the long, long siege warfare waged against us, I can see my dismay at the gap between what is and what should be differently. I can allow it to jar me into remembering that God intends to close that gap. That puts everything in a different light, because what God intends is not only possible, it will happen. But to keep despair at bay, I must remember to keep my eyes focused on Him. Not on the mess all around me. 

Ultimately, the relentless onslaught the enemy uses to wear me down is like a cloud of gnats buzzing around my head. Irritating, but not dangerous. The danger is taking my focus from the Lord. That I actually come to believe that the enemy is winning. That there is no hope. That I may as well retire from the battle, lay down and wait for God. No! When the tension of 'now, but not yet' disturbs me, I want to long for the coming greater reality, while remembering that we are still in process. And then look with faith to God to receive strength to go on.

I am pleased that hope is growing once more, as I refocus on Jesus and choose to remember that what I see all around me is not the final answer. Though the process is not pretty, what we have yet to see will be more marvelous than our wildest imaginings. 

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26  Amen.

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