October 24, 2016

You, Me & the Sea

We are a week away from time falling back so my feet hit the floor this morning in darkness. I slipped on my robe and walked in my rut to the kitchen, pulled one of the porcelain mugs from the middle drawer of the dishwasher because I’m partial to its thin rim with the slight curve perfect for sipping the beans roasted dark but not burned. I think about how heat changes things, makes them hard and beautiful, like the white clay that made my cup, or the bitter and sweet ground beans surrendered yet again to being scorched for the benefit of others.

Yesterday, after church I made some slaw for supper then slipped out to the porch with my books. It was the Sabbath and I was resting on the wicker couch on a golden autumn afternoon. I turned on music— movie scores and opened Mary Oliver’s new book, a collection of essays, a book titled, Upstream. It wasn’t long until I was in tears. I swallowed them, tasted their salt, accepted that swallowing tears always makes me thirsty.

It’s taken a lifetime to accept who I am rather than who I wish I was. Like so many, I thought I might be able to minimize the depraved state I am in—apart from Jesus. I think this is the deceiver’s foremost lie— that we aren’t that bad. When we believe his twist on truth, the bible says we choose disobedience, rebellion, which puts us under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). But there is something worse than just being under God’s wrath as crazy as that sounds. To believe the twisted thought that we are bad, but not that bad, keeps us from desiring the life God has for us in Jesus.  “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes C.S. Lewis in the “Weight of Glory”, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

We ate leftover red beans and the slaw for supper. Warm banana pudding filled bowls for dessert, but the bananas weren’t ripe. They could have stood a few more days sitting on the counter coming into their own, sweeter, just before death.

Mary Oliver ponders the creative life as the third way of life, what seems to the world a reckless way of living—which she hopes it is. Reluctantly, I believe she’s onto something. The creatives gather along the edges of life, gather the chaos into something beautiful. It seems reckless to those who are ordering their lives around productivity—making the world go ‘round. It seems frivolous to be picking wildflower bouquets along the road and arranging them in a minnow bucket.

“The clock is still ticking…Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought.” (Mary Oliver, Upstream)

 We are living in time, but living for eternity.

Ray Stedman said the third way of life is that of a Christian who is not conformed to this world. We can reject conforming to the patterns in the world, refusing to wear the clothes of the world and using its words, resist fitting in, if you will. We can reject the culture’s magnetism but backing away from the world, we Christians, with intention, are tempted to form our own tribe with its own cultural norms, its own outer garb, and to speak in a language "outsiders" can not translate easily. As a Christian and a creative, I know this tension. We live between two worlds.

“Genuine Christians belong to neither of the extremes which are always present in society. They have to contrast with both. And therefore they get attacked from both sides, if they are really standing where Christ stands. One of the indications of whether your Christianity is genuine or not is whether you do get attacked from both sides, because Christianity is a third way of life.” (www.raystedman.com, Ephesians 2:1-3, The Human Dilemma) 

We are not to be creators of chaos. A Christian creative is never called to make chaos. We are called to set chaos right—to be reconcilers. This reflects the heart of the One who has called us to this third life, this vocation with eternal dividends.

To stir up the chaos, to gather it for the purpose of disseminating it, is the work of the enemy of the eternal soul. It is the kind of creative activity that fills the air, the sin-polluted air of the world’s rulers, who lust to keep the sons of man under the judgment of God’s wrath.

Living in the chaos without hope is torturous. So much of the world knows this pain well. The good news is Hope sits in the wings ready to take flight if we’ll accept and be real about our depravity---our need; if we'll receive God’s grace. Pride says don’t do it—you’ll give up your options, you’ll lose your life.

Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)

We cannot grab hold of what will preserve our lives if we don’t let go of our desire to save ourselves— which is, of course, the biggest lie of all. We must give up our membership in the fellowship of the walking dead.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-6)
“But God…in mercy…in love…even when we were dead…raised us up with him and seated us with him…” This is our reversal of fortunes, but I’m afraid the words have become too familiar that we scant take notice. What a shame, for they hold the “weight of glory,” our hope, seated with Christ now and for all of eternity.

A friend asked me in a text why I thought Jesus saved us? Was it because He wanted us to love him and follow him? She’s been feeling the fire, the in-between with its pain and its gifts.

My reply was simple, an attempt to reconcile the chaos: “He loved and saved us because He wanted us to be able to sit next to Him ….” 

We should take him up on the offer, take our seat. It’s was costly, but it's free. I've always loved a holiday at the sea.

Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee's Community.

October 16, 2016

Why I'm not Surprised and Why You shouldn’t be Either

I don’t want to be one of those prophets who shouts, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace, but I wonder at how many Christians have become unglued because times are uncertain.

“I notice that the Bible gives a decidedly unromantic picture of life on earth. God doesn’t censor the soul-raw moments of His best men (and women). He refuses to airbrush fear, despair, failure, and discouragement. I wonder if He included these spiritually X-rated parts to deflower my distorted picture of what it means to walk with Him.” (Jean Fleming, Pursue the Intentional Life, italics mine)

I’ve been reading what people are saying on their social feeds about the election. I have been reading their words realizing there are motivations behind the words. 

I see a lot of despair, some discouragement, and a whole load of fear. 

The words from one of the Apostle Peter’s letters came to mind as I considered the pleas for right thinking and the shame talk running through the feeds and comment threads, many of them directed to Christians by Christians.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
(1 Peter 4:12-18)

It’s interesting that in the Gospels Peter is portrayed as the one who wanted things to be a certain way (under God) and seemed intent on going down fighting when circumstances were contrary to his expectation. He wasn’t into hearing anything about Jesus dying. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. He cut off the soldier’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden. Then he lurked around feeling sorry for himself and denying his association with Jesus when things turned grim. 

It’s a wonder that Peter didn’t jump ship altogether. There was something in him that believed there would be a reversal of fortunes and he was going to be the first in line when things turned toward his point of view. Peter had hope.

I think all of us have been like Peter at one time or another in our walk of faith.

The reversal of fortunes happened, of course, but it looked nothing like Peter had envisioned the few years before when the disciple laid down his fishing nets and followed after the unorthodox rabbi, who in his mind, was going to set things straight for the nation of Israel.

I wonder exactly when it was that Peter decided to live by faith?

Was it a morning after the resurrection when Peter and his buddies had fished in the dark and caught nothing? Was it after the sun rose on their discouragement when Jesus filled their nets?

Was it after the breakfast Jesus’ cooked for the fishermen when he pulled him aside and asked Peter if he loved him---three times? Was that the day Peter let go of his need for a painless path through life?

Jesus told Peter the truth-- that things were going to be difficult:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18)

I picture the scene as emotionally charged. I imagine Peter’s mouth falling open with Jesus’ forthright declaration about the future of his disciple. The reality hangs in the air for a pregnant pause, and then Jesus says, “Follow me.” (v. 19)

If you read the account in John 21, you will see that Peter doesn’t accept his lot without protest. He turns around and points at John and says, “What about him?” (v. 21)

Peter seems so familiar.

By the time he writes the words in what the Bible numbers his first epistle, he has grown up in his faith. He has matured. He’s no longer overtaken by circumstances.

Instead of being surprised by the “fiery trials,” Peter has these admonitions:
  • rejoice that you are sharing in Christ’s suffering (that’s a big turn-around since his night of denials)
  • consider insults as blessings (but don’t bring them on  because you are a meddler)
  • praise God for suffering when it is because you bear the name of Christ
  • remember God’s judgment doesn’t begin with the pagan but with those who are in the household of God
  • have compassion for those living without Christ (and remember they are reading your comments too)

And then this, the last verse in 1 Peter 4:

 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (v. 19)

It doesn’t say be right.

Peter had come a long way since that day on the dusty road when he answered Jesus’ revelation of His death and resurrection with these words,

"Never, Lord!" ... "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22)

It is time to let go of fear and grab hold of faith, to look up rather than around.The mission has not changed. The News is still good and we should live in light of it.

These are days of opportunity to grow up in Christ, to let the truth of the Bible speak into our lives and give us hope. He is the anchor for our soul in troubled times.

October 6, 2016

How my Prayer Life Transformed when I Ditched the List

A Facebook friend of mine, a guy I went to college with who is a preacher, asked a question online—“What do you love about prayer? How do you struggle with prayer?”

Almost everyone answered the second question with something having to do with staying focused. I understand, because I've been there.

I don’t think I answered his questions very well, but this is how I commented— 
“I once made long lists of prayer requests but now I listen for the Holy Spirit to bring to mind those He has for me to pray about---which of course is a great mystery but also a great comfort. He has taken over my prayer life and has transformed it. The hardest thing for me to get my head around is how he loves us all the same---his everywhere presence. It's just too wonderful for me.”
I struggle sometimes with the personal nature of God and the fact that he is personal with everyone. How can he keep all our chattering straight? And what about those heart cries, those groanings from the depths that have no words but are prayers all the same? It's a lot to wrap the brain around.

I believe God has challenged me to a lifestyle of prayer that is dependent on him. I wasn’t good at praying through lists. I rattled them off and then I forgot many of them. Now, when the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind, especially someone who has a need or is hurting, I take it as an opportunity to pray. I believe each prompting is “what is mine to do.” Those who come to mind are my prayer assignments. It amazes me how God has orchestrated the things I pray about all through my day. Sometimes, I pray for my people, those very close to me; sometimes, I hardly know them.

Does prayer change the mind of God? I don’t think so, though there are stories in the Bible that show that God responded to requests to change circumstances. I do think He, in his wisdom, can change the course of things as He looks at his greater purposes to bring about his kingdom upon the earth. He knows there is more than one trail up the mountain.

The example that comes to mind was when God was going to step back from leading Israel to the Promised Land. He was concerned that He might kill them. (Exodus 33 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible in my opinion.) God was being merciful and gracious when He told Moses he would send an angel with them instead. Moses would have none of it. He would rather risk death for all than to go forward without God. 

God promised He would go with them and give them rest. He wasn’t going to snap his fingers or twitch his nose and put them in the land. They would move toward their destiny and He would be there with them as they stumbled along toward the promise.

I’m beginning to understand prayer as a way of life, a way of communion with God who loves me and who loves others through me. As I express the longings of my heart to God and ask Him to show mercy, give healing and hope, or to give direction to those he brings to my conscience mind, I'm amazed at his desire for me to be part of this cosmic mystery to influence the unseen world with the power of prayer. I am humbled at the restraint God has toward me as often I stumble along. On days when I am discouraged and want to give up, He touches my heart with longing and I move forward as He leads me in his grace.

There’s no doubt that prayer is a conversation. The Lord knows we need this connection in a world that rages against him and is intent on distracting us. Knowing God cares about the things we care about is a great comfort. Nothing is happening apart from his sovereignty. Instead of worrying about things too big for me, I turn my concerns back to God and release them.

This prayer approach has transformed my prayer life. As I’ve heard the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as I have listened, my confidence has been boosted, my faith has been strengthened and my fear has been squelched. I remember that God is in control. I trust him for my needs and the needs of others. I remember his plans are good. I fall in love with people he loves as He allows me to carry their burdens.

Today, I am humbled and grateful that God has entrusted me with this little bit of understanding concerning prayer. It is transforming my relationship with him and helping me to understand his love for me and others. Instead of hating the longing that often grips my soul, I accept those heart pangs as “cords of kindness” that tie me to the heart of God.

I’ll still make lists when prayer request time comes around, but I'll not likely look back on them. Writing the request down keeps me engaged at the moment and gives me the opportunity to acknowledge God’s activity in the presence of others. Then and there, I submit to God to give me “what is mine.” 

And when someone asks me directly to pray for them, you might be asking? That request "is mine to do." It's a no-brainer. 

If you have a prayer request, I want to know about it. Would you share with me in a comment or message me in private on Facebook or Instagram? 

Be encouraged. God cares about the things concerning you.