Monthly Archives: July 2015

Summer Spell

Late in the day

The summer has lulled me

Into dreaminess

And I sit on the porch and read

Caught in a spell of lethargy

Until I finally rise

And sleepwalk outside

To trim hedges

In the warm bath of dusk.

I shear branches

In a futile endeavor

To contain July

Its growth as profuse

As the swelling buzz of cicadas.

I take in the pink smears of sky

Pastels spreading in dampness

Birds flapping

Cleaving the heavy air

Wasps hovering and lingering

Like the heat

That stretches into tomorrow

While the half moon winks at me

Playing tricks

Like the summer.

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Small Prayers, Powerful Acts!

withered fig tree

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” 

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.  “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:20-24

Sometimes we can ask for something small.

Here, Jesus didn’t ask God for something monumental.  He just asked that the fig tree would not bear fruit anymore.  It wasn’t about serving someone else, or saving the world.

It seemed like a personal whim.  One that he actually expected God to address.

Even when he gave an example of what we can ask for in prayer, it wasn’t something productive.  What would be accomplished by a mountain being thrown into the sea?

Maybe sometimes we can trouble God with the little, seemingly insignificant things we want.

Yes, we need to resist egocentricity in our prayers, thinking it’s all about us and what we want.  Yes, our requests must be in line with God’s will.

But as a Father, God wants to give us what we ask for.

Last week I was talking to my son, Max, and he asked for an early birthday present — he needs a couple of shirts because the dress code for his master’s program is business casual.  Now Max is grown.  He seldom asks me for anything.  Do you think, as a mother, I resented or belittled this request?  No, I got online that evening and bought him what he wanted!  I was eager to do so.  That’s what moms love to do.

And I think God’s the same way.

The other thing about this passage that really got me thinking this week is how POWERFULLY Jesus expects us to live as God’s children.

It’s a continuation of a theme that runs through the whole Bible.  God is passionate about His people.  He stands behind them one hundred percent, and wants them to go forward boldly, confident that He is with them.

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Joshua 1:5

Do you not know have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.   Isa 40:21

From into the earth from its farthest corners I called you. I said you are my servant I have chosen you and have not rejected you.  So do not fear for I am with you do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced, for I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you.  Isa 41:9-10

And now WE are the chosen people of God!

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his site in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ . . . Eph 1:4

You did not choose me but I chose you . . .  John 15:16

. . .  the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Romans 8:16

God is behind us just as fiercely as he was for the Israelites — even more so!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him have been called according to his purpose. . . Those he justified he also glorified . . . He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things. . . And all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Selections from Romans 8)

So I’ve started to act more more confidently.

And I have sought to ask God for things and believe that He is my Father, and wants to give me what I ask.

This past Saturday, I spilled water on my laptop keyboard.  At first, I hoped that I could just wipe it off and all would be fine.  But then I saw the white screen of death.  I quickly turned the computer off, and Ken wrestled to get the screws out of my computer so we could dry it out.   They next day I tried to power the computer up.  Nothing.  I took it to the shop.

Did I dare to pray to God to restore my computer, when I had been foolish enough to spill water on it?  Could I believe God would answer this paltry prayer?  That’s what I did.

And two days later, the guy from the shop said he was able to boot my computer up, and it was fine!  It was resurrected from the dead!

So I am fired up with this challenge to be like Jesus, and pray and act powerfully!  I’m starting conversations with people, pushing past obstacles, saying more what’s on my heart.  God made me the way I am for a reason, and it’s time to be the best version of myself!  No shrinking back!

We are God’s children, the apple of His eye, and we need to believe this, and walk with strength.  He is behind us one hundred percent.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13:6

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Clearing the Inner Courts

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17

It is challenging enough to think that Jesus was zealous for the integrity of the temple, and we need to be the same way with the church.  I could choose to write a great blog on this.

But what is on my heart is a deeper application.

Because today, WE are the temple.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?   I Cor 6:19

And thus we see the zeal of Jesus as a call to fight for the integrity of the inner temple — our hearts, where the Holy Spirit resides.

Whatever we allow in our hearts, we allow into the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We talked about this verse last week in our house church:  “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? ‘” Acts 5:3

Simply by the act of lying, Ananias lied to the Spirit, because the Spirit was inside of him.

The Spirit experiences our sin.  This is so convicting!  If I am grumpy or angry, I am imposing this on the Spirit.  It’s like taking the Spirit and forcing Him to dwell with a repulsive unsavory character.

I mean, look at this passage —

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Bad attitudes towards others grieve the Spirit.  And why wouldn’t this be true?  God is love.  These attitudes are the antithesis of love!  And we expose the Spirit to our unloving attitudes all the time.

So I’ve been speaking generally, but I want to confess that this idea has been kicking MY booty.  I’ve realized how much bad attitudes dominate my inner self.

I’ve tried many times to get rid of it, but I have at times self hatred.  It seems not so bad, because I’m not hating anyone else, or even God.

But when I realize that the Spirit has to live in the midst of this, I see how bad it is.

I’ve also been resentful a lot lately.  Again, it doesn’t seem like something outside of normal struggles.  Until I think of how my resentment is crowding out what the Spirit is and what He wants to do inside of me.

Because the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  These things should be multiplying inside of me.  The Spirit’s trying to make my inner self a wonderful, ever expanding oasis of God’s goodness.

Instead, like the thorny soil, I choke out goodness with worry and grumpiness.

Really, upon deep reflection, I’m appalled to realize that I’m actually a spoiled child who keeps stomping her foot because she’s not getting her way.  So much of the time, if I’m honest, I have this strong uneasy feeling that things are going wrong, that they should go differently.  In my pride I feel there’s a better way for them to go.

And I realize that my self hatred and resentment stem from this feeling that things aren’t what I think they should be.  It’s really just a temper tantrum.  No wonder the Spirit gets grieved.  He’s trying to do what’s best for me, best for those around me, and instead I rage against Him.

If I am the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, I’m making the Spirit live with a whiny surly teenager! I’ve been a parent and I know that’s  miserable!  If I’m going to be like Jesus, and clear the temple of impurity,  the grumpy arrogant teen has to move out!

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? . . . What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?  James 4:4-5

 Jesus was zealous for the whole space of the temple to be dedicated to God, not crowded with those who sought worldly gain.  In the same way, the Spirit is zealous for the whole space of our heart, and jealous when we let anything else crowd Him out.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Col 3:15

The awesome thing I am finding is when I respect and cherish the Spirit within me, when I stave off the bad attitudes and let Christ’s peace rule, I can feel the Spirit swelling within me.  It’s like the Spirit can finally act!  There’s a bounty I’ve only begun to discover and experience!

Let’s listen to the Spirit and NOT SELF!  Let’s drive out the worry, the resentment, the insecurity, the anger, and so on, and make God’s house — our hearts — a place of prayer.  He has so many blessings He wants to lavish on us, if we’ll clear the way.

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. . . .

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. . . .

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere  Ps 84

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Producing Organic Fruit

005

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.  Mark 11

Like Jesus, I REALLY want to see fruit.

I love productivity.  I love accomplishing things.

And I hate feeling like I am spinning my wheels.  The boon and bane of not having a paid job is being able to be “flexible,” which, for me, really means distractable. (Ok, spell check says that’s not a word, but it needs to be.)   I live a life of getting sidetracked.  And when I’m feeling tired, it’s even worse.  I’m sucked into a vortex of puttering.  Ack!

So after vacation, I wanted a new start.  Time to be more productive!  I became more intentional about scheduling my time.

And it worked.  I had d times, coffee with friends, a hospital visit, a Bible study, lunch in Montgomery, someone over for dinner. I wrote the newsletter, wrote an article, did the books, ran errands, organized kingdom kids, oh, and got my toes done.

But later in the week, as I prayed during my quiet time, I was reminded that all of this is nothing if it isn’t accompanied by the sweet soft voice of the Spirit.

It’s like Paul asserts in I Cor 13:1 — “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

We can do great things, but if we don’t do them out of love, they’re just empty efforts.  Love is what turns the cacophonous notes of our actions into music.

And love is only one of the fruits of the Spirit.  This is true for them all.  When we work without the Spirit, it’s like laboring in a garden all day without planting anything.   It’s like running around in a silent movie.  The vibrancy is missing.

Because God created life to be more than empty actions.  It’s a dance.  God plays the music and our souls respond.  Life is the personal experience of God’s art taking shape.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:10

For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God.  Heb 6:7

There’s a beauty in soaking up the grace God gives us and producing a crop.

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And perhaps the best grace He gives is His Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  Luke 11:13

This, I believe, is the fruit that Jesus looks for — not just good deeds, but actions that well up from the fruit of the Spirit in us.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.”  John 15:5

Today we live in an age where we can live in Christ, and he can live in us.  THAT is the source of fruit.

And back then, even though Jesus’ followers didn’t all have the indwelling of the Spirit, they had the Word, and they still could act out of a heart of love, reverence and gratitude.  That is fruitful.

Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.  Ps 1:1-3

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Hos 6:6

But we have more.  When we walk in the Spirit, we have this amazing power of life within us.

. . . life is at work in you.  II Cor 4:12b

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  Eph 3:20

And with this power we can GENERATE.  The fruits of the Spirit do not come back empty.

Love never ends.  I Cor 13:1

We’re productive.

And it’s not this burdensome labor.  It flows.  It’s organic.

To me it’s the most beautiful thing.  God’s glory shining here on earth.

Campus weekend at AU

 

 

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Blessed Be the Name

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,  “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Mark 11:7b-10

It’s so easy to be a fair weather worshiper.  Just like these people at the triumphal entry, when things are going well, we’ll happily give glory to God.

But of course, very soon after this, these same people did an about face and shouted for Jesus to be crucified.

When things aren’t going as expected, how quickly we turn.

I’ve realized something lately.  God is most truly glorified when He is praised in the midst of life’s trials.

I feel like it’s the same principle as goodness.  How can someone be “good” unless they have a choice?    True goodness is displayed when, although they could do bad, they CHOOSE to do good.

In the same way, how is it impressive to praise God when things are going well?  At least we aren’t taking credit for the good things, but giving it to God.  And we should thank Him for the good things.  But when we declare that God is real and good in our darkest times, THAT has impact.

Nothing illustrates this better than the story of Job.  Satan accuses Job before God of being a fair weather worshiper, snidely suggesting, “But now stretch out your hand and strike everything (Job) has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  Job 1:11

And so God gives Satan permission, and Job loses everything he has.  But when this happens, Job doesn’t curse God, he says, “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”  (Job 1:21)

This is so powerful!

In the end, God indignantly demands, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?  Job 38:2. 

And Job replies, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  Job 42:3

The wonderfulness of God surpasses everything.  It trumps all our ills and complaints.  No matter what, He is still the I AM, the ALPHA and OMEGA, the CREATOR of the vast universe.

He is always, in every circumstance, to be praised.

The Bible is full of examples of people who bring true glory to God, who worship him in the valley — like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua and Daniel.  And how about Paul, who sung while in chains, and said while in prison, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!”  (Phil 4:4)

So now, while I see ebbing in the church, while I decline with age, while I see things go wrong around me, I PRAISE the Lord with everything in me!

It is but what I am created to do.   It is what He is due.  It unequivocally declares to the world the He is real and He is good.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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Expecting Providence

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”  They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  (Mark 11:1-6)

I love here that Jesus EXPECTS that God will provide the colt.

Yes, it could be that Jesus had it set up ahead of time for the colt to be tied up and ready for him.  But I think if he had done that, he would have had his disciples tell that to the people who questioned them.

No, I think this is purely a faith issue.  Jesus has read the scripture in Zech 9:9 that says, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

And he knows that God is the PROVIDER.  As it says in Genesis 24:14, “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means ‘the LORD will provide’). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'”

Jesus knows that God will provide what he needs to fulfill his mission. 

Because God DOES orchestrate life so the right thing is in the right place at the right time.

This has certainly been true in my life.  One day, about four years ago, Liz Chang and I decided to go out sharing.  We met someone in the dairy department at Kroger and had a good conversation with them and invited them to church.  This person is now our wonderful sister in Christ, Markeya.  I believe God put her in Kroger at just the right place and time so she would be met. And I could cite so many more examples of the same thing.

Markeya and me

Markeya and me

We have to believe that Jehovah Jireh, the PROVIDER, will provide us with what we need to carry out our mission, just as he did for Jesus.

After all, God is the good father.  Just like it says in Matthew 7, He’s not going to give us a stone if we ask for bread.  He gives GOOD GIFTS to those who ask!  So if we ask for open people, or for workers, how will He not put them in the right place at the right time?

So I started thinking about this passage on Saturday, and wondered if I could put it into action in regards to my prayer to meet married people.   Ken and I went out for coffee at Mama Mocha’s, as is our Saturday morning habit.  As I was waiting in line, I saw a mature couple sitting at the coffee bar.  “They could be the answer to my prayer,” I told myself.  I caught the woman’s eye and mentioned that my husband and I have coffee together, just like they were doing.  We got to talking about all sorts of things.  (The line was slow that day!)  At the end, she asked me to be her friend on Facebook, and gave me her name!  I had made a new friend!

Now the challenge is for me to act more and more like God is going to provide.

After all, I realized this morning as I was praying,  the challenge isn’t to DO MORE, it’s to HAVE MORE FAITH.  “Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.'”  John 6:29

This verse says the same thing:  “Does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you because you do the actions of the Law or because you believe what you heard?”  Gal 3:5

It’s HARD work, to believe!  But even when we feel like we don’t have it in us, God is still the provider.  He gives us the Spirit. (Luke 11:13)  He gives us wisdom.  (James 1:5)  We just need to ask.

And God set it up that we would need to ask.

Because here is the crazy thing about carrying out a mission.  We can only do it if we are totally depending on God’s providence.

I mean, look how Jesus sent his disciples out: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.”  Mark 6:8

God wants us to do His work through faith, through Him, not through our own strength.

And He WILL provide what we need to do His work.  We can believe it.  We can EXPECT it.

In that, my soul finds rest.

Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow.  II Cor 9:10

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A Cure for “Can’t”

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.  The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  Mark 10:46-52

In this passage, Jesus encounters a man who has an impossible problem.  He’s blind.  He CAN’T see, and hasn’t had any hope of being able to do so.

Until Jesus walks across his path.

And then he realizes there is ONE THING that CAN change his situation.  He has ONE HOPE.  Jesus, Son of David.

So what does he do next?  He doesn’t fumble about in uncertainty.  He shouts out.  He goes for it.

I can relate to the hopelessness of CAN’T.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that living like Jesus is pretty much impossible.  It intimidates me.  And how about the apostles in the book of Acts?  They seem super human, traveling everywhere, making disciples everywhere, going through persecutions?  How can I be like that?

And then I realized that the apostles were normal people, just like I am, and the only way they did what they did is through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was fully human.  The only way he did what he did was with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The same is true for us.  The Spirit every day will give us THE STRENGTH TO DO MORE than we think we can do.

… the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  I John 4:4

But every day we will have to intentionally GIVE UP OUR OWN power.  We will have to shout out our need to God, not waffle about in insecurity.

“But wait,” I say.   “I’ve tried to do that, and so many times I’ve still failed.  On top of that, over the years, all kinds of wacko things have gone wrong in my life.  Things are too messed up.  I’m too messed up.”

I love this passage from “Healing for Damaged Emotions” by David Seamands —

“God is the great Alchemist who, if you will let Him, will turn all into spiritual gold.  He is the master Weaver who can take every damage, every hurt, every crippling infirmity and weave them all into His design — yes, even though their threads were spun by evil, ignorant and foolish hands!”

Even through failure, even through apparent chaos, God works His good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2)

It’s like this puzzle my daughter gave me.  There’s a way to put all the pieces together to make something beautiful.

Putting together the puzzle vase

Putting together the puzzle vase

Completed puzzle vase

Completed puzzle vase

God knows how to make something beautiful with our lives.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.  . . For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.  Romans 8:28

We are being pieced together into something holy,

And God isn’t fazed by our failures.  He who can transform the dead can certainly take the garbage of our lives and make it into something good.

So here is the thing.  Today, we CAN.  And in the times we can’t, God CAN.

Our part is to admit our need, remember our ONE HOPE and GO FOR IT!

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Rev 3:17-18

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