Friday, November 18, 2016

Post Script

It has been pointed out to me that my last post might lead people to think that I am claiming that "God's side" won in the presidential election. I apologize for that, because it couldn't be further from what I intended to say. So to clarify...Trump's win does not mean God favors Republicans over Democrats, or that He favors white over black or brown. He doesn't love heterosexuals more than homosexuals. God's agenda has nothing to do with civil rights. A Republican administration can neither save nor keep us. 

My gladness at the election results has nothing to do with liking Donald Trump or believing that he is a godly man. Nor does it mean that he will be a good President (although he could surprise us all). I was simply expressing my relief at avoiding another four to eight years of liberal policies which had been growing more and more oppressive to Christians. I think Mr. Trump's win has less to do with political parties, or national and world affairs and more to do with preparing the church for whatever comes next.

God sets up and pulls down governments to further His plan for the people of the Earth—all people.  

So I hope that helps clear away any unintended confusion.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What now?

The Lord has been gracious to us. He heard our cry for help and sent relief to His people. He has stopped government overreach and given us a season of rest. I am grateful, so very grateful. God came down into our mess and intervened. I have been thanking Him all week, while fighting to keep my attitude right and my words kind. 

God has delivered us, but a greater deliverance is yet ahead. We have been given a moment, a pause, a cease-fire from the battle we face every day. The great battle to remain the beloved of God in a world grown dark and more anti-Christ moment by moment. So this is not ordinary time, it is extra-ordinary, a supernatural moment in which God has drawn near and is—like Aslan—on the move. When the long winter begins to break in Narnia, the animals know that is it because Aslan is on the move. The signs were unmistakable. I urge you, my friends, to consider that this political miracle is not so we might be free to return to our lives and live them as before. It is not so America can have high standing in the world. It is not so our rights are confirmed. It is not so we can blithely wander in our own way, paneling our own houses, gathering things to ourselves and building our own kingdoms. I believe that we are at a fork in the road moment of decision, a Joshua 'as for me and my house' season. 

God is always about the big picture...even in the smallest of details in the most individual of lives. He is working toward the conclusion He ordained from the beginning. A time so long ago that it nearly seems a fairy tale to us in the twenty-first century. God made Man and placed him in a garden that He might be with him. The earth is a garden made for us, but in a greater sense it was made for Him. It was made as a place in which we might discover our great purpose. It was made that we might know and love Him. A place in which we might learn what it means to belong to God and become prepared to live with Him forever. We've been given space to consider what that means to us and how we go forward from here. 

God works in our lives in seasons that come and go. Therefore this season of rest, however long it might be, is a blessing we must not waste. The election is a megaphone, reminding us that there is a God in heaven and He does whatever He wants, urging us to draw near and hear His voice, warning us to disentangle ourselves—not from the world, but from the love of it, inviting us to seek Him particularly, asking us to set our faces toward Him as a Bride coming down the aisle. Though the church be full of people, she has eyes only for her beloved. 


My heart longs that He might bless us once again with revival. Not so we can have great meetings and feel good about ourselves, but that He might fill us up with Him. That we might be equipped for the greater deliverance still before us, when we are stripped of our own way and baptized into His. A deliverance from ourselves that we might behold the fiery One, enthroned among the cherubim. That gazing at His inexpressible beauty, we might be changed. I want that for me. I want that for my friends. I want that for a world tearing itself apart chasing fulfillment it can never find, because it exists only in the place of surrender to the One who made it. I long for the transformation of the church into doorkeepers who cry out, "Here! Here is the way! What you most long for—the beauty and the satisfaction and the rest for your soul—it is in here! HE is in here!" Beholding Him and letting Him fill us will equip us to be His doorkeepers, His voice, His body on the earth doing the works of Jesus. His dealings in our lives will activate in us Jesus' calling to 'bring many sons to glory' (Hebrews 2:10). His love will empower us to overcome the world. He is worthy and we are privileged. Maranatha!




"May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering." 
John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman,the first Moravian missionaries in 1732 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Just say "Yes!"

The annual Torah reading schedule has just reset. It is appropriate that the recent portion in Genesis took me back to "in the beginning" in the Garden once again. That beautiful place God created especially for us so we could commune with Him. It's good to remember that His intention in creating the earth was not that we would make something great of it, but that we should have a place to be with Him, a place in which to know and love Him. That meditation is a comforting antidote to the maelstrom of election confusion and anger swirling around us.

We are being told that this is a season to make our stand...or retreat into prayer...or protest for our rights...or sit down and be silent. It's our Christian duty to vote. It's not Christian to vote this time. It's a mess, but a mess God is permitting—perhaps to drive us to Him that we would draw near and listen. Reading about our beginnings is reminding me that now, more than ever, we need to be with God, to remember who we are, to draw near in friendship, to listen for His voice, to let Him fill us up. There are lots of folks shouting about what is happening in our world (and what we should do about it), but the one voice we most need to hear does not shout. In John 10, Jesus our good shepherd says His sheep hear and know His voice. It whispers behind us, "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21). God has no dog in this fight. His loving concern is about people, not governments, systems or parties. Only He is sufficiently outside, beyond and above the clamor of the world to be objective, so we desperately need to hear from Him. His trustworthy voice can safely interpret and direct us. Make no mistake, there are things to be done, decisions to make—important decisions. But we must sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary before we rise and serve like Martha.

How terrified the Israelites in Goshen must have been when God was humbling the Egyptians and their gods. Death and terror surrounded them for days on end, though it did not come near them. When God said to put lamb's blood over their door posts, it must have seemed pointless. How in the world could that stop pestilence? But they trusted and obeyed, though they did not understand. In this hour He wants me to be so tuned to His voice that I will hear and obey, even when it doesn't make sense to me...especially when it doesn't make sense to me. That is faith, believing in His love, wisdom and ability, relying on His character, and His track record. If I listen for His voice, He will show me the way I should go. My part is to listen and obey. 

So I've been convicted to ask for mercy and help. I can't even desire more of Jesus without Jesus' intervention. The world is so loud and shiny and distracting, so I am asking for greater ability to focus. I am meditating on Scripture—not to get more information or prove a point—but to renew my mind and hone my listening ears. I am asking for a deeper desire for His will and His ways. More than anything else I’m asking for Jesus Himself--His presence is what I most need. That lovesick yearning that keeps me adoring at His feet produces the oil I'll need in my lamp going forward (Matthew 25). I can ride above the muck and the mire of current events, no matter who wins on Tuesday, when He holds my gaze. 

I am grateful that God still seeks those who will walk with Him in the cool of the Garden. He  peeks through the lattice of our hearts and urges us to come away with Him. He is asking us to say ‘yes’ to more of His presence, so His power and ability can lift us above our circumstances, above the crumbling world, above the impending election and its results, above...to where Jesus sits enthroned. Then we can fix our eyes confidently on Jesus, knowing that He has not left us forsaken, knowing that His love will keep and perfect His church—not in a weak-whimpering-barely crawling across the finish line kind of way—but blazing with light and sacrificial love. Oh that we would embrace His presence and be filled with more Jesus! Drink deeply of His love, His power, His peace, and His joy. Come away. Come away with Him. You won't be disappointed.



"O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!" Song of Songs 5:1b


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The %&@!$ election

This. Horrible. Election. Wherein I am offended daily at the nastiness, hypocrisy and bias clearly evident therein. Facebook is on fire with the stuff the mainstream media won't report, and I've been busily re-posting it—including some things that I suspect may not be quite strictly true but would take too much time to verify, and there are only so many hours in the day to read about the next outrage. I was Paul Revere, galloping pell mell down the information highway, shouting my warnings, until the Spirit whispered a warning of His own. Why are you so upset? Why does the media bias shock you? Why did you think politicians wouldn't stoop to dirty tricks? In what exactly, are you trusting? 

When I stop and think about these things, I know the answer immediately. I know better than to think that the American political system holds the key to my rights. I know that the government is not my provider. I know this world is not my home. I know these things, yet I've been upset, anxious, and offended at each new piece of evidence that the system is broken and corrupt. Did I really think something invented and run by sinners (just like me) would be any different? The world might rage, but the world has nothing else to rely on. What’s my excuse?
                  
So in my mad rush to spread the word that the system is imperfect and biased against conservatives in general and Christians in particular (shocking!), I've been pulled up short by the Spirit. I've always believed it my civic duty to vote and had been trying hard to figure out whether I could this time and then who the heck to vote for. Mostly I was resisting voting for Trump.* He's not presidential. He's not moral. He's not even very nice. How embarrassing would it be to admit to voting for him? And with that last thought, the Spirit connected a hard right to my jaw. I wasn't asking what God was doing in this election. I was trying to make sure that my vote demonstrated my intelligence and cool, as well as impeccable evangelical cred. God gently pointed out that every candidate looks basically the same to Him...broken sinners all. And the Bible has many examples of God using ungodly people as blunt instruments to hammer home a point. Sigh. Now I don't know why I was making such a fuss...God is well aware of the imperfections of both candidates, yet I'm pretty sure that one of them, warts and all, is going to be the next President anyway.

The reality is that Christians are in for trouble no matter who wins. Trouble has already come and will increase with a Clinton Presidency. But it would be a mistake to believe that a Trump victory will make America some sort of Christian paradise. I think one of the worst outcomes would be the church believing it’s dodged a bullet with a Trump win, heaving a sigh of relief and then returning to life as usual. We need God. We need revival. We need preparation for the end of the end times, which draws ever closer. How could life as usual do any of that?

We must become the church in deed as well as in word, loving our neighbors, aiding the poor, generally spending ourselves living out the gospel. I confess I find it easier to retreat into the Christian subculture, collecting stuff for myself and being glad to be left alone by a world that does not seem to want what I have. But that's not the assignment. And the world is increasingly unwilling to leave us alone. It is no longer enough to live by Christian principles and precepts. For the trouble yet ahead, we must have God's presence. We were meant to be vitally connected to our Father and King, through Jesus our Messiah. We were meant to interact with our nation as those who possess a precious resource they desperately need. They were supposed to look at us and beg to know why we were different. Instead we became pretty much just like them. So while I hate trouble and avoid it when possible, this trouble is actually good news. This is God gradually removing our ease and comfort, shaking us awake so we will seek Him as our greatest need.

The tide is moving ever more swiftly towards a post-Christian culture, in which no place has been reserved for us. But with God as our source and resource and recourse, what have we to fear? Our faith has always been counter-cultural—even revolutionary. Maybe if we stop trying to fit in, we can be free to be the believers we were always intended to be—strong in faith, humble in adversity, sacrificial in love and service, and full of joy that our God is knowable and has chosen intimate friendship with His people. Such a church would make the demons tremble.

Polls are inaccurate and both candidates are greatly disliked—even within their own parties. Despite over-sampled polls and media pronouncements, it is not at all clear which one will win on November 8. It is therefore encouraging to remember that God is not shocked by the shenanigans that are Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. He knew we would face this choice in 2016. He knows with absolute certainty how honest Hillary is and how selfless Donald is. So I’m voting for the platform I most agree with and leaving the results to God. He knows what He's doing. My rights are God's responsibility. My reputation is His to care for. When Jesus faced the cross, the impossibly difficult became possible because His heart was held safe by God. He trusted completely in his Father's love and wisdom and power. And we can do the same. 

Still hate this election though.


*This is not an admonishment to vote for any particular candidate. I trust that every Christian is praying and will vote as they believe they should. I am simply recounting my journey. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thank you, Father!

Each year observant Jews read through the first five books of the Bible, or Torah. This is done by reading through a specified portion each week, along with selections from the prophets. Each week at synagogue a large scroll is removed from its special cabinet or ark, rolled to the selected text and portions read aloud to the congregation. The liturgical year ends at the conclusion of the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), then the reading schedule resets for the new year in a celebration called Rejoicing in the Torah (Simchat Torah). It is celebrated by singing, dancing, eating and bringing the scrolls from their ark and carefully re-rolling them to the beginning, to start the cycle of readings once again. 

To our Gentile minds this holiday might almost seem like an odd little afterthought tagged onto the end of  Sukkot, but it definitely has something to teach us. The Bible is not just a book among many books, not a collection of pithy sayings, not a compendium of religious instruction, not a dry and dusty history, not a handbook of do's and don'ts. The Bible is unique among all books because it is alive, powerful, almost vibrating with the fervent love God has for us. His Word contains the power to re-order our thoughts, renewing our minds. Its blessing to us cannot be overstated and it is good to be reminded to thank God for this gift. 

Our Bible contains the story of God's interactions with Man. It outlines His plan to redeem the Earth--from the Garden to the Millennium. It is full of examples to help us walk our way to God. It is the means for learning who God is, how He feels about us, how He thinks and acts, how we should respond and most importantly how we may connect ourselves to the source of life and power and peace. We can encounter God in many ways, but the first and best way to learn about Him must be what He says about Himself. Without this direct revelation, we would be left blindly feeling our way toward God and missing Him more often than not. 

The Bible can be studied and enjoyed as fine literature, but that sadly misses the point. Even reading and giving mental assent is not sufficient. The Bible is meant to be our road map to God. Its purpose is to draw us to Him, finding at last the satisfaction of our souls. It's meant to illuminate His beauty, tune our ears to His voice, demonstrate the difference between good and evil, and warn us of pitfalls. The Word is His love letter to us, drawing our hearts to fall deeply in love with our Creator, the King of the universe.

God has given us a great treasure! We must drink deeply until we are sated and changed...until we behold His face and are dumbstruck at His beauty. Rejoicing in the Torah is not meant to elevate a book, but to acknowledge the wonderful provision of our amazing Creator. I love that God created a people and gave them His word and set about inviting the world entire to be blessed and included in His plan for them. 

Thank you Father for giving us Your  Word--a way to learn about You, find You, know You and love You. That is definitely something to celebrate!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

She flies through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring...old lady...on the flying trapeze?

(for all my fellow aerialists, especially Karen) 

I am routinely surprised at how quickly life has passed. Didn't I just finish high school? Wasn't it just yesterday that my children were babies? And who is that old lady I keep seeing in the mirror? In what seems like a blink, I went from a competent, full-functioning adult to—well, early-stage decomposition. At age 60, I find myself very high up in life’s circus without a net. And those who don’t think growing older is a high-risk, high-wire act simply haven’t grown old enough yet.

I used to be a fairly competent person. I was pretty good at organizing my life (and my family's). I managed a small law office and kept the house going and the kids fed. Not perfectly, mind you, but enough to keep our heads above the sea of dust bunnies and have clean underwear, mostly folded and in the dressers. I had good health and believed that that too, was somehow a sign of competent life management. But health and memory and stamina and ability are all fading as I grow older, and it's scaring the holy heck out of me. I now have issues: memory issues, joint issues, digestive issues, hair issues—everything seems to be slowing down, breaking down or sagging down. This is alarming, as I'm pretty sure I'll need my physical and mental abilities for some time yet.

I've been experiencing spiritual issues as well. I had assumed my youthful composure and contentment were the fruit of 'leaning on Jesus,' but now I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to suspect it's more that I was happy because things were going more or less the way I directed them. Don’t get me wrong, I did understand that middle age would be a new season…a time to accept I couldn’t do quite as much as I could when younger. The problem was that I understood what I thought that meant...which is not at all the same thing as actually understanding. I visualized myself gliding gracefully through those years—arm in arm with Jesus—my hair turning a distinguished silver; my gifts and talents coming to maturity as I finally gained victory over anxiety and besetting sins. Let's just say that reality has proved somewhat less romantic—more like an animal caught in a trap, chewing off its foot in an attempt to escape. I see now that it was easy to believe I trusted God when I had myself to fall back on. I discovered that I like fixing things myself. I like being in charge of me. I'm comfortable bringing my own resources to the table and making thing happen...or stop them from happening.

Now I sometimes feel I've become my grandmother, complaining with querulous voice that things aren't as they ought to be. What I didn't know—couldn't know until I got this old—is that God seems to have designed life so that we are forced to let go of every competency, every gift, every strength, until at last all we have is the breath in our lungs and dependence on Him. I know that sounds terribly depressing, and I confess I became cranky and morose. I began to look at younger people with envious eyes...their lives were still before them. Mine seemed, most unfairly, to be largely behind me. I mean, just about the time I gained a decent amount of wisdom, I forgot where I put it. My complaint levels were at an all-time high, and God seemed far, far away. But He wasn't really. He was just waiting for Queen Lynda to stop acting like a stubborn toddler and get her ample, middle-aged bottom off the throne. 

God wants all of me, even (or mostly) the parts I've been inexpertly handling on my own. So He is intent on removing those props I've relied on, even if that makes me fall...so He can pick me up. He is, after all, in the redemption business. And since there is no retirement in the kingdom, I have to let go of the old (hah!) and reach out for the new. I needed to stop looking at my life and toting up all the things I was losing and begin looking to God and asking Him what I was gaining. A new season more centered on the Lord and less centered on my own plans. A new wisdom, not my own but His. A new relationship based on my humble recognition that it's always been more about Him than it has been about me.

I'm not there yet. I'm still cycling through periods of discouraged resistance to this aging business, but I'm fighting to cross the line into acceptance. The alternative is not one I care to embrace. I’ve encountered older people eaten up with bitterness and regret—and it's becoming clear just how easy it is to join that chorus. I want my older years to be full of peace, strong in faith and growing in intimate friendship with Jesus. Old age is not some sort of cosmic punishment, it's an accomplishment not everyone gets to achieve. So I am asking for the ability to receive with gladness that the aging process is simply part of the race I must run...the course marked out for me. It is part of His plan to pry my white-knuckled grip off my life, teaching me swing out with abandon on the trapeze of life. I can let go, knowing deep in my knower that He will catch me—He has never yet failed. 




Since the day you were born,
    I have carried you along.

I will still be the same

when you are old and gray,
    and I will take care of you.
I created you. I will carry you
    and always keep you safe.
Isaiah 43:3b-4 CEV




For Karen, fellow aerialist and 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Confounding the satan

On Yom Teruah, the Day of the Trumpet Blast, shofars will sound in synagogues, messianic congregation and homes all over the world. The eerie, wavering notes will pierce the air, signaling the beginning of the High Holy days of the Fall feasts. The sages say that the sound of the shofar ‘confounds the satan,’ and I had always assumed that this is because it is a call to watchfulness or battle, something I had learned long ago in Christian circles. But I recently read an article which put the shofar in its original context, giving it an additional meaning I didn’t expect.*

The article’s subtitle is “There truly is a spiritual war taking place. It is not taking place in some heavenly realm; it is a battle for our hearts.” Its point is that the sound of the shofar confounds the satan, because it is the cry of repentance. When I read that, I felt a stab of recognition and agreement. As I grow older, I am indeed finding that my biggest battles aren’t with others, or society, or politics—not even with the devil. My biggest fight is with my unruly heart.

In my younger years it never occurred to me that I could grow so weary in well-doing that I would be tempted to give up. That I would say with the scoffers, “What good does it to do serve the Lord?” Unthinkable! Yet as I stand at the threshold of old age, that is the battle I’m fighting. The enemy points to my aching body, my fuzzy brain, injustice in the world and the myriad disappointments inherent in life to build a case against God. It’s subtle, because the things he says are true…I am aging. My physical form is wearing down. Life has not always turned out as I thought it would. Wickedness seems to run rampant in the world, with no rescue in sight. It is tempting to relax into habit and just go through the motions. But God does not want my duty. He does not need my reluctant devotion. He wants me, and He wants me to want Him. My battle then, is to choose to believe in, rely on and rest in the character of God. To find my way once more into the delight of the Lord; to make Him the joy of my heart and my portion forever. Which was a lot easier when I was young and strong and things were going the way I thought they should. The depth of my rebellion, as well as the astounding magnitude of what Jesus did for me have become breathtakingly clear. Now I’m battling to subdue my will, to choose God’s way over my own, to guard my heart and finish my race—not as a dutiful death march, but running with joy to meet my great Redeemer.

On Yom Teruah (also known as Rosh Hashanah) the shofar warns that there are only ten days left to reflect and repent before the most solemn day of the year, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). For the Jewish people these are days of reflection, repentance and restitution. For me these days are an opportunity to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m headed, days of gratitude and celebration, days to gather with friends and talk of the good things God has done for us, and days to acknowledge the staggering debt we owed and how marvelously and completely Jesus paid it. This is also a season of re-commitment, a sort of renewing our vows to our Bridegroom King, days to say, with greater understanding than ever before, “Not my will but thine be done.” I am encouraging myself—and you too—to lift my eyes above the false glamour (and horror) and this present age and remember that my hope is above, where I am seated with Christ my great Messiah.

So the sound of the shofar makes the demons tremble, because a repentant believer humbly returning to joyful, willing obedience to God is deadly dangerous. I want the sound of the shofar to be the sound of my choice—to continue to rest in God’s goodness, to refuse to give up, to reject the comfort and satisfaction of this world, relying instead on God’s faithful provision. I want my testimony to align with the Psalmist, “I won’t die—no, I will live and declare what the Lord has done.” God is good, despite the giants in the land.

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown tonight. I'll closing with my take on the traditional greeting. May you have a sweet and joyful new year, rejoicing that your name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.




*to read the article in full, go to http//ffoz.org/discover/messianic-jewish-calendar/rosh-chodesh-elul-confounding-the-satan.html  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Moving

In May we moved into a thirty-five year old house in an oak grove, just outside the Edmond city limits. I love the personality and quirky features found in older houses and I’m enjoying the quiet, the shady, mature trees and the wildlife. We have turkeys, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, rabbits and songbirds galore. Not going to mention the mice and the snakes. We also have old wiring, old pipes, unfortunate wall colors, cabinet doors that don’t close quite right, and design decisions made long, long ago that no longer make much sense.

DIY projects in older homes are legion, which is my cup of tea, but also a very great danger. I dive into projects with the zeal of an Olympic swimmer. The importance of meals, laundry and housework recede into a hazy fog as I focus singly on the task at hand. Alas, other things recede as well. Spending time with the Lord becomes sporadic, squeezed out by whatever latest fire needs extinguishing. I know God understands that moving means chaos and if you haven’t found your bedroom furniture yet, you might not know where your quiet time paraphernalia is either. I’m not talking about missing once or twice. I get into trouble when I’m so overwhelmed with my many projects that my neglect becomes a pattern. And I don’t usually recognize I’m in that pattern until I realize I'm exhausted and depressed. Amazingly, I am surprised every time this happens, as if I couldn’t anticipate the result of disconnecting my branch from the vine to embark on a walk about. It’s not until I’m drained—bereft of even the desire for God—that I realize that something is not quite right. I never claimed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but for crying out loud...you'd think I'd notice when I'm not even in the drawer!

I am reminded of the Israelites and the record our Father left us as an example. How they saw God’s power and provision again and again as He battled and provided for them; how they somehow forgot God when they became successful; how they fell into trouble and idolatry and bondage. I may not have a Canaanite army camped in my yard, but I can relate to that feeling of overwhelming dismay. How did I get in this mess? How can I be this old in the Lord and still be learning this? How could I forget to stay connected, when I’ve walked with the Lord, seen His provision, and known His presence? Gack! But the blessed remedy is written down for me as well—how the Israelites, poised for destruction, cried out to God for deliverance and He answered. He answered every time.

As I return, sheepish and ashamed, I know the Lover of my soul will receive me. He is good and loving and fiercely committed to getting me across my finish line. As I humbly admit that I am as dense and stiff-necked as my spiritual forefathers, grace is extended to me as it was to them. He's been waiting the whole time for me to awaken to my state and run to Him. So I am applying myself to believe His word, going to Him in faith for His forgiveness and forgetfulness. They are mine for the asking, because He says so. I am clumsily resetting the pattern of devotion and prayer and worship that are so much more vital than whether the bathrooms are painted or the curtains hung.

Of course my new-old house still needs work, lots of work...and there's the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning. Friendships need tending and I need accountability. Boy, do I need accountability! I am reminded afresh that just because my path seems familiar doesn’t mean I know where I’m going. Doing life by habit draws me off course and into a bramble patch every time. So I’m pulling the stickers out of my heinie and handing my compass back to Father. He’s helping me return to the right path, the one that keeps me close to Him. How I’ve missed Him! How I've missed who I am when I am with Him.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Joy resurrected!

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” Mark 16:9 NIV

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” John 20:6 NIV


For Mary Magdalene, the elation of Palm Sunday must have turned to shock and dismay as Jesus was arrested and condemned.  First the trial, then the terrible walk to the crucifixion, and finally the horror of watching one she loved die an agonizing death. For Mary, this was the end of a dream. 

Mary had been a prostitute, a woman utterly despised in her culture. Even the men who used her would have spit on her had she dared to approach them in public. We do not know how she came to live the life she did, but we do know that Jesus changed her life. He drove seven demons out of her and set her on a path going in a new direction. He gave her hope of a life without shame.

Jesus had become Mary’s rabbi, teaching her about God’s forgiveness and showing her the love she needed. At the foot of the cross, she must have thought that her former profession was now all that remained for her.  His death was also the death of her new life.

On Sunday, when Mary took spices to anoint the body of Jesus, she found the tomb empty Her last, loving tribute to Jesus was made impossible by the absence of His body. Weeping in despair, Mary answered the question, “why are you crying?” with a desolate “They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have put him.”   

Then Jesus spoke to her. All He said was, “Mary.” Just her name, that’s all. But it spoke volumes to Mary’s grief-stricken heart. Sorrow washed away as hope and joy came flooding back. All doubts about her future were permanently erased in one blindingly glorious flash of revelation. In an instant she recognized the face she knew and loved, now revealed as the face of her God. She knew with utmost assurance that all she had once dared believe was true. He calls you by name as well. This Easter, may God grant you such a “Mary” moment, when you recognize the face of God and your heart is pierced with fierce joy.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Fellowship of the Burning Heart

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to [offer] all the wealth of one's house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Songs 8:6-7


Forerunners. A word overflowing with meaning and emotion and memory. My heart was stirred and filled with the idea when I first heard it. Preparing a people for the coming of the Lord in the spirit of Elijah…what a mission! How could I not say “yes”? Then twenty-five years went by. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondered at times if God didn’t pull a little joke on me. I’m sixty years old, for crying out loud! I had come to the conclusion that the call had passed me by. Yet in all these years I never once heard that God had rescinded my draft notice.

Lately He has been reminding me of my long-ago commitment. I’ve had a strong sense that God is calling up the troops—putting us on active duty as it were. I have to confess that my first response was disappointment. If only this had happened twenty years ago, I thought, I could have participated! Then He showed me that I have been one of many 'sleeper cells,' scattered all over the world; waiting for the day He would activate us. Waiting for the role custom-made for us. We are experienced...seasoned by the long battle campaign that is life. We've gone through life’s grinder and come out the other side still walking with God. Our scars are badges of honor, marking us as veterans in the end-times army. 

His call is insistently militant, but it is the counter-cultural, revolutionary militancy of brokenness and humility; of patience and waiting; of loving Him and loving others in a sacrificial way; of being faithful to the end in a world grown selfish, shallow and fickle. It is the call of the Lover to the Beloved; the militancy of the love-sick. This call does not depend upon youth and vigor—only willingness. And I began to feel the excitement of the call, once again.

Remember what it was like? When He asked for forerunners and your heart burned with longing for Him? When your 'yes' was given...without real understanding... just the 'yes' of a love-sick heart. When all you longed for was to be in His presence; to give yourself more fully; to love and worship Him with all your being, confident that you were unconditionally loved. When you would have done anything you thought He wanted, just to be near Him. 

It's time to arise and strengthen ourselves in the Lord. Time to remind one another that we aren’t finished yet. Time to encourage and exhort one another. A time to lift our eyes to Jesus; look above and beyond our struggles and see, really see, His beauty, His all-sufficiency. A time to remember first love and make Jesus our everything; to drink deeply of the life-giving nourishment found in Him in order that we may receive strength to finish our race. He's calling us to come away and be with Him. Answer the call, forerunner. The call to the fellowship of the burning heart. It is time to reenlist. 



No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs,
but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
II Timothy 2:4






Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Allen Gewalten zum trotz, sich erhalten.

Despite all the powers, maintain yourself.

A Noble Treason is the true story of Sophie Scholl and a small group of like-minded friends and family who protested the Nazi onslaught against decency inside Germany during WWII. It's an insightful look into what life was like for average German citizens in the 30's and 40's, as well as a warning and encouragement to us today. The quote above is from Goethe and was a well-known saying at that time. It means maintain yourself; remember who you are; steady on. Keep your character when all those around you do not. Stand against the flow. Christians could add, cling to and focus on Jesus, to avoid being overwhelmed and overcome by the world. It's been a drum beating strong in my soul all week, this idea that I must stay the course; I must remember and remain who I am, even in the midst of powerful cultural forces seeking to distort me into someone else.  

The quote was something the Scholl family routinely invoked when pressure and stress threatened to become overwhelming. Germany in the 30's was tightly controlled. The only personal expression permitted was that which supported the National Socialist agenda. It was political correctness on steroids...where political correctness will ultimately run when unrestrained. It was heartening to learn that there were those in Germany who fought to stay true to the standards of decency they knew to be right. Regular people who tried to make a difference in any way they could, despite the constraints the German government placed upon its citizens. It became a society of betrayers and betrayed as the government spied on, jailed and executed many--mostly for the crime of not thinking or speaking as the Nazis said they should. It was a very dark time; Sophie and her brother Hans sought refuge from the horrors they witnessed and the stifling control under which they lived. They found light and strength and comfort in Christianity. God became the only constant upon which they could rely; a refuge of beauty from the ugliness of oppression and war.

Ours is a culture transforming from Judeo-Christian values into what we should expect when ethics vary according to situation and political correctness and values-neutral instruction have taught several generations that there is no such thing as objective right or wrong. We are reaping what we've sown, as every man does what is right in his own eyes. The upcoming election jangles discordantly. Like a rhythm out of sync or a wrong note played in a familiar song. It's uncomfortable watching those who wish to lead us resort to childish name calling—and worse—in pursuit of a political win. But the election itself is not the problem, it is only another symptom of a society growing seriously ill.

It has been instructive that the Republican party expects it is owed my vote; as if it is my life's calling to do my bit toward a conservative win. And of course I want to fulfill my civic responsibility and vote my conscience. But what a small, weak sort of calling that would be, when God calls me His family; an eternal being; a royal carrier of the glory of God; a world-changer; the Bride of Christ.   I Corinthians 6:2 says that one day we will judge the earth. We will rule and reign with Jesus. Makes this sad, tawdry political episode seem a bit beneath it all, doesn't it? 

We were made for so much more than arguing over which professional politician should be in charge. We've been told that fighting for the 'right' political outcome is imperative, but for Christians the real battle is to maintain our character, our salty flavor, our values—to continue "Christianing" in a world that screams there are more important things to worry about. But for us it must remain the vital, essential fight. To remain His, saved by grace; defined by love; branded by His Spirit, so utterly given to Jesus that we display His character no matter the powers arrayed against us. That we burn as torches in an increasingly darkening world.

This is a calling so beyond me and my small abilities that only He can fulfill it. Recurringly I find my heart, my inner man, shaken with fear over the storms darkening the far horizon. It seems to me that the cure for such thinking is to crowd it out by filling my heart and mind with Jesus. By meditating on His beauty; singing His praises and worshiping at His feet. By reading His words to me—hungrily, as a starving man sitting down to a long-anticipated meal. To maintain myself I need daily reminding that my identity and validation come from the highest source there is. So I remind myself that I belong to the King of all; that He remains serenely in control; that He is my anchor, my course and destination, and my portion forever.

Sophie and Hans Scholl and their friends made it their business to remind and exhort each other that God was sufficient—even in Nazi Germany. When they contended with martyrdom, they found Jesus fully adequate to the task. What an amazing encouragement! For He then must be sufficient for my trials and temptations as well. Those young people refused to let the culture of death all around them define who they were. For the joy set before them, they endured, they maintained themselves. Though they died more than 70 years ago, they continue to speak powerfully to us today.

Sophie Scholl said, "I will cling to the rope God has thrown me in Jesus Christ, even when my numb hands can no longer feel it." That is tremendously good advice to us in 2016. Our world has become vulgar, coarse, and violent, but Jesus is lovely and worthy. I must lean on, rely on, and desire Jesus as my absolute necessity. I must have Him, like air to breathe, like food to eat, like sanity in a crazy world. Our great King is high above and beyond it all and filled with light. Let Him fill you with hope and wonder at His goodness; His beauty; His intention to set things right. Let Him recenter you, reminding you of your identity, your destiny, and your calling. His beauty and goodness are greater than that which fills the world. By focusing on Him, we gain strength to maintain ourselves, against all powers. Maranatha!



For [you] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, 
but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, 
against mighty powers in this dark world, 
and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 
Ephesians 6:12 NLT




Friday, February 26, 2016

Very old wine

Dear ones, Followers of the Way, Fellow travelers in Christ:

I have watched the latest election cycle with a mixture of amazement, anxiety, anger and amusement. I have been voting for more than forty years and have never, ever in my life seen a cycle like this one. But my friends, as the rhetoric and hand-wringing rise to a crescendo, the time has come to encourage one another; to say some things that need saying.

First, we have to know that this election is about so much more than who will be elected President. I believe it is a test—not to pass or fail, but a test given to throw a light on what we're trusting. The world is in terror about the economy and our future, but this is not a time to let fear rule us. It’s time to take a breath…a step back and remember that God is in control, whether we end up with a distasteful Republican or a distasteful Democrat. Even if we elect the candidate we love, the problems America faces cannot be fixed through the political process. We must cry out for the remedy only God can bring, which is much bigger than a particular party proving victorious in November.

I don’t know that God is wanting to “Make America Great Again.” I don’t know that He is concerned about our comfort zone. I don’t know that He cares very much whether democracy triumphs or our pensions are intact. I do know that He cares deeply about the world…the world which only exists because of love. I know that a new heaven and a new earth are coming in which love reigns supreme…but first the old, broken world must go. I do know that God’s plan is to save as many people as will come to Him, before the end arrives. And the end will eventually arrive, because it would not be loving for God to allow evil to go on destroying forever.

Could it be that God is allowing this troubling election in order to shake us awake? To splash cold water on us? To break the soul-tie evangelical Christianity has forged with American politics? Is our allegiance to a political party, or to Democracy, or to the American economy, or to maintaining our comfortable lives? Or is our allegiance to God and His plan…even if that plan means the overturning of everything, everything with which we are familiar? What does “shaking everything that can be shaken” look like? That is not punishment; that is love and kindness. After all, what good does it do me to gain the whole world and lose my soul? If the American dream has become an idol to American Christians, what might God do about that?

Second, It is only a matter of time before our economy will suffer another calamity. That is not prophetic alarmism or negativity, it is a fact. Every rational adult knows that you cannot consistently spend more than you earn without ultimately facing a dire financial consequence. Yet we have an entire block of voters clamoring for free college, free healthcare, free whatever they can get. It matters not to them who will pay for it. And the other side is just as guilty…it has its own pet projects, its own play for power. America is going bankrupt, because no one on either side of the aisle has the moral fortitude to close the candy store. No one has the courage to tell the American people, “No.” No one, from the politicians in DC to the man on the street, wants to lose their goodies. So we continue down a political and bureaucratic path that cannot help but end in disaster for us all.

But friends, for Christians this is only a disaster in the ‘we like our lives to be as undisturbed as possible’ sort of way. For Christians, this is an exciting (though scary) chance to adjust our reliance from a government system to God’s provision. Zephaniah 1:12 speaks of a time in which men became complacent…so undisturbed that they grew dull and stopped believing that God was active in their daily lives either for good or evil. God compared them to old wine settled on its lees (dregs). Wine which sits too long becomes soured and bitter and undrinkable. To maintain its goodness, it must, from time to time, be poured off its lees and into a new container.

Could it be that God pouring us off our lees; preparing us for a new season for which we need new containers? It is very easy in a country that permits great freedom, to begin to trust and rely on that freedom, instead of God. It is easy to become comfortable and complacent and protective of our pleasant way of life, instead of accepting what God has for us. It is easy to expect that comfort to continue, instead of rejoicing whether in abundance or lack. It is easy to make plans for ourselves and ask God to rubber stamp them with His approval, forgetting that He may have something else in mind entirely. When we’re dependent on ourselves and regular paychecks and the rule of law it’s easy to see God more as a vague spiritual influence rather than a dynamic force, actively involved in every detail of our day to day lives. Like wine set aside to age, we have been settled, undisturbed for a long, long time.

If Jesus is my everything, that must affect my role in this election. A choice based on fear of ‘what ifs’ is an exercise in vain imagination. Especially if we worry that we might waste our vote by voting for someone “who can’t win.” If we glorify God with our choice in this election, leaving the consequences to Him, then our vote counts in the only court that matters.

I’ve been reading about a young girl named Sophie Scholl. Only 21 when she died, Sophie was a Christian, raised in the Nazi dominated society of Germany during WWII. She and her brother Hans and a small group of friends were troubled when they learned about the atrocities Hitler was committing. So they formed a group and, knowing the cost, created and mailed out protest pamphlets, which were passed from hand to hand at the University of Munich and many other places. Did their protest make a difference? Did the atrocities stop? Did everyone listen to them? No. Sophie, her brother and another friend were arrested and beheaded only five days later. Why did they bother? It seems such a waste. But not in God’s economy. They were seeds sown on our account, and her story has been reverberating in my soul for two solid days. Weeping, I ask that God raise up more like Sophie and Hans…that God make me like Sophie and Hans. So that when faced with any choice, I would not think of results or waste, but only what God is asking of me.

Whether or not my guy wins, It matters how I vote because it’s one more indicator that I am different than the world. It signals my choice to do what I believe is right, not what’s popular. It demonstrates my confidence that God is in charge, whether our government continues as before or becomes something else entirely. It declares that whether or not my rights are upheld, my finances increase or my faith is permitted by law, I stand with Jesus. If that stance brings me pain in this world, then I rejoice that I am in the company of a tremendous cloud of witnesses like Sophie, waving me on to the finish line.

So resist the whirlpool of fear and be encouraged! Run hard, my friends. Run hard after Jesus, our coming King. Focus on Him, knowing that He has conquered; trusting that He knows that we need shelter and clothes and food. Run hard, knowing that He is worthy, that He is better than all our worldly goods; better than Democracy; better than the American way. Whether this election ultimately makes you happy or horrified, God is on His throne and it will be well with those who call on His name. 





Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jesus Is Not Nice


Jesus isn’t nice. Isn’t nice?

This seems not only insulting, but untrue as well. Isn’t being nice a Christian imperative? Wouldn’t more niceness fix the nasty turn our society has taken these days? Especially in this election cycle? Those of us born in the 50’s were often told as children, play nicebe nice; and the ever popular if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. When I was growing up, being nice meant being courteous to those around you—not being rude or obnoxious. It meant being kind. But kind and nice are not synonyms.

If you think I'm splitting hairs, consider it this way. Kindness is others-focused. Niceness is ultimately self-focused. To be nice is to conform to the opinions and behaviors of those around you in order to gain their acceptance or approval. Being nice is a means of not rocking the boat, or stirring the pot, or making a fuss, which little girls especially were warned against as not ladylike. Niceness is a means of going along to get along, which might seem like a means of maintaining a certain level of civility in public discourse. But not in today’s world in which we’re being forced into a false, politically-correct civility. Today disagreement means disagreeable; unity means uniform and harmony means homogeneous. So niceness has become a tyrant, demanding that we all believe the same things and say the same things or be considered not only rude but hateful. Our world has somehow become a place in which disagreeing with someone is to cause them harm.

And the kicker is, we often attempt to behave ‘nicely,’ because we believe Jesus would want us to—to be peacemakers and all that. But Jesus didn’t always play well with others; He said what needed saying. He was not concerned with His reputation. He wasn't politically correct. He wasn’t worried about what others thought of him. He wasn’t trying to make every group of people His buddies. His self-esteem wasn’t chained to being the most likeable guy in the room. In every situation with each person He said or did what was needed, because of love. That is kindness—being more concerned with what is best for the other person, even if it causes an uproar.

Niceness seeks to keep the peace, but it’s only, ever, an artificial peace. To keep it, I must always agree with everyone else. And it doesn’t work. No matter how hard I monitor my speech, I will inevitably encounter a situation in which I will be forced to say what I really think and that’s the end of my carefully structured public image as a ‘nice person’. And why have we decided that peace is the ultimate goal anyway? Jesus told us, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:19). If I'm hated for being a jerk, I am getting what I deserve, but if I'm hated for being kind as Jesus was kind, I am getting what I should expect as His disciple. . 

Jesus isn’t nice, He’s kind. Jesus criticized the Pharisees not because He hated them, but to provoke them to repentance (resulting in their good). He told the Samaritan woman to her face that He knew she was sleeping around—not nice—to bring the message of His coming kingdom to an entire village. He insulted another woman, saying that she was no better than a dog, not because He had a nasty streak, but to provoke her to faith and heal her daughter. He identified Peter with Satan, not to put him down, but to raise him up to be a leading disciple.

So are we supposed to stomp around pointing the finger at everyone, shouting the devil down and exposing everyone’s sins? Of course not! Jesus wasn’t scoring points or winning arguments. He caused momentary pain designed to lead to restoration and wholeness. He knew very well that everything He said would not be accepted and approved. He knew some would hate Him for what He believed and taught. And He willingly accepted the consequences of his interactions with others. That is kindness, and it will cost us just as it did Jesus. Niceness will not, cannot, protect us from dislike, criticism or persecution. Responding to others with kindness, regardless of the cost, will place us squarely in the tradition of our rabbi Jesus.*

The world doesn’t need us all to be nicer, it needs the kindness of Christ. Kindness that gives into each situation what is needed, regardless of personal cost. The world is dying of thirst. Kindness offers water at the risk of being condemned for claiming ours is the only clean source. Niceness would have us pretend to be thirsty too—at least in the public square. If we truly carry within us the well of Living Water, how can we keep silent while the world burns?

I can see how far I have to go. As old as I am, I still find myself doing the self-protection shuffle at times when I want to be liked (or left alone). When niceness demands, “Agree or shut up,” I am having to decide all over again whether I want to be liked and admired, or serve as Christ did, laying down my life for the people I encounter. I must confess that true kindness often eludes me. I am busy; I am distracted; I am focused on retaining the comforts of my own life. But if I avoid true kindness so I can continue my way, undisturbed, then I am not loving people as Jesus commands. 

I think I would amend what our mothers told us as children. How about —If you don't have anything nice to say, don't remain silent—say something kind instead.






*And lest we think that being forced to play nice is something that happens only when Christians are hanging out with unbelievers, consider that niceness can also be the buffer we place between ourselves and others in order to avoid intimacy. We might ‘make nice’ to keep the conversation at the surface, in order to minimize the possibility that we might have to shoulder someone’s burden or confess a weakness of our own. Selah :)

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