Monday, January 28, 2013

The Other Side

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. 
 Show me the wonders of your great love,
    you who save by your right hand
    those who take refuge in you from their foes. 
 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings.
 Ps 17:6-8b 

Words I've been digesting this week. Our church declared January as the month for encountering God. When we call and turn our ear to him, he answers and shows us the wonders of his great love. That we can even approach the Almighty One with this kind of boldness and sureness is beyond amazing, beyond awesome! 

The last three days have been a culmination of hearts turned towards him and preparation made to receive the rewards he offers to those who diligently seek him. Two visiting ministers with the gifts of a prophet came to share God's word very personally, candidly and even humorously at times with our church body. God did show the wonders of his great love as he declared love, worth, acceptance, and purpose to many individuals and to all of us who were listening. Men who didn't know us personally heard and spoke God's messages very specifically and passionately.

Heaven is open to us! Michael, one of the guest ministers drew our attention to a present day reality as he spoke this morning. Old Testament believers only longed for God to rend the heavens and come down; Jesus fulfilled that cry by his entrance into our world and his death that allowed God to tear the temple curtain from top to bottom. The Holiest place, closest to his presence is now available for us to enter 24/7. 

Just as Michael told his kids when they left home that they should never come home and knock on the door--  they were to walk right in because their status as his kids would never change and his house would always be their home--so we have the right (because of Jesus' sacrifice) to come into his presence.  This is true on days when we feel worthy and in love with him. AND it's true on the day we haven't read our Bible, failed to resist temptation,  or lived in anger towards God and/or others. With him is where we need to be to let him sort it all out, to grant us forgiveness, to declare how much he loves us--EVEN then, ESPECIALLY then.

There are two kinds of God encounters. The times he reaches out to us and surprises us when we aren't expecting it and the opportunity we have every day, ALL the time, to just go through the curtain, the passage Jesus made possible, and be with him and ask our petitions boldly, knowing our Papa is eager to give to us.

 Michael shared examples of God encounters of the second kind. On a recent trip to Hawaii, his wife, Gloria, suffered sciatic nerve pain. As they stepped into the bustle of the Atlanta airport for a layover flight, the distance between the arrival and departure gates looked formidable to Gloria. Michael paused and inwardly stepped  through the curtain, and asked Papa to provide wheels for his beloved Gloria. Just then a man came alongside them and offered Gloria a wheelchair ride. She explained how far they would need to go and he said, "no problem, I know the way". He wound them through streams of moving travelers, up and down elevators in out of way places, to their destination gate. 

Another time they stopped for lunch at a strip mall.  Wanting to experience a worthy Hawaiian cuisine they had no idea how to choose rightly between the 5 restaurants offered.  Michael thought, wait a minute, why not ask God and see which he would choose? As they stood waiting in front of the unfamiliar shops, a small bent woman passing by, lifted her elderly head and asked if they were looking for a good place to eat. They followed her suggestion, invited her to dine with them, enjoyed the food and later discovered they had experienced  one of the most recommended eateries on the island.

Our God isn't a genie in a bottle called up at our fancy or fascination. To those who don't know him as Father, he is still the thunder and lightening in a frightening dark cloud with a voice like the one that caused the people to run away from the holy mountain at Sinai. But as his kids we can always be at home with him, wanting to know him better, to encounter him more so that we might demonstrate to others how Papa takes care of his own and what a close relationship with him looks like.

I'm stepping through the curtain today, Father, and asking for wisdom to listen with your ears to a woman who wants to share with me, her story of wrong choices. I need words that bring your love and hope to her. 

Father, will you meet the needs of each of my kids and grand kids? Draw them into your presence, too, where there is never condemnation or judgment, but a Friend who knows exactly what they are feeling, fearing or fighting. You will provide what they  need, celebrate their successes and smile in their joy.

Remind me later today, tomorrow at work, when my mind is occupied with details of multiple kinds, and when I'm hearing other voices besides yours, that you love me, live in me and I can come sit with you anytime. I ask for encounters with you, not so I can boast of the encounter in itself, but learn what your heart desires to do with me and in me as you draw close to me. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This Week's Practices

Never too old to learn new tricks---but maybe new dance moves??

The brochure said to call this number to get signed up for classes starting in January. The call went through, the registration was completed and my husband and I stood nervously in the local park's carpeted community room. We checked out the other couples who were arriving, our classmates.

As instruction started, it was soon apparent which couples had more experience than we. But we were soon immersed in concentration, rarely watching anything but our own two feet.  One...Two...Three, then OneTwo...Three, and even One to Ten, eyes downward, listening to the beat. An hour later after counting steps and pointing toes, I had mixed feelings.  It was fun to try something new and do something physically motivating. And we weren't the only green horns. But oh, how far we had to go to even look like we were doing something you might be able to label as dancing!

We waited until the night before our next class to try some practice at home. Amazing how repetition grew confidence and the moves felt smoother. (Although we had no mirror to confirm this!) At class our small success seemed short-lived as some twirls were introduced into the dance routine. Dizzy, ditzy, clutzy we bumbled around the room, narrowly missing collisions with other twosomes and humbling taking tips from the instructor who interrupted our galumphing attempts at spinning.  Dreams of the two of us floating in effortless movement across some future dance floor, enjoying an evening of romantic revelry, was slowly fading.

But we will stick it out! And we will get better. If nothing else, our brains will benefit from learning something new!

Sharing Love and Truth---may my heart love others as He loves me!

This was visit number one. My husband's co-worker was dying from cancer. I had never met the man before my husband asked me to join him in making the house call.  Jim was pleasant, appeared to be coping with his diagnosis and his wife, Cindi, was a great hostess.  I enjoyed their company.  As we drove away we both wondered if they knew our God and how much he cared for them. Should we have said more? What and how?

It was time to go again.  I wrestled with feeling the weight of the urgency of imminent death for Jim, but not knowing how to transition the conversation into Godly things.  I resolved to at least pray for him before we left. That night the living room was lined with people I had never met: Jim's father-in-law, his step father-in-law, his mother-in-law, his 20 year old step daughter and her boyfriend, and his sweet wife who seemed so strong and very hospitable to all of us.  The conversation never came close to spiritual things and it was time for us to go. It was now or never, so I asked Jim, if I could pray for him.  Silence.  He responded with a nod and I sat down next to him and touched his arm.  (the father-in-law on the other side of him, reached out and laid his hand on Jim's shoulder!) I asked for God to strengthen him, let him know of God's love and for strength and peace for all in the room and to heal Jim.  I heard several mumbles of thank yous as I finished, and before we left, Cindi asked me to ask my church to pray for her sister's husband who also had cancer.

But what if Jim doesn't know you, Father? Give me another chance to ask him.

On the next visit I again asked at the end to pray for him, but first I asked if he knew whether he was ready to go. From earlier conversation I learned that Cindi's sister and husband, who she wanted prayer for, were very connected to a church. Cindi had even mentioned how her brother-in-law's illness was testing their faith, but that he knew he was ready to die when it was his time. I referenced that conversation when I asked Jim if he was ready.  He answered that he had been brought up Christian so he felt like he'd be ok.  I prayed again for God's presence, healing and peace. I had thought about leaving a Bible, but decided not to.

What was so difficult about this for me? I cared for Jim. I wanted him to be with Jesus when he died, but I also worried about saying too much or saying it the wrong way, or sounding religious. Very petty worries when someone's life hangs in the balance!

How out of practice I am, Father! I want these kind of opportunities to bring people into your presence, into your kingdom; please bring me more chances and teach me what to say and how to say it.

My husband and I continued to pray for Jim.  This week the word came that Jim was failing. Others from my husband's work place were anxious to pay their final respects. So we waited until last night when Cindi said we could come. It may be awhile yet before death, but it may be soon, too.  The day had been filled with visitors and when we arrived two others were there. We had a nice visit.  Jim was in and out of alertness, but sometimes joked and added to the conversation. The others left and God opened up a small window of time for prayer before another couple of friends were to come. Before I prayed, I asked two questions: whether Jim believed God had sent Jesus to die for his sins and if he had asked Jesus to forgive his sins.  He answered yes to both!

Thank you, Father, that Jim has called upon you.  May you be glorified in him. And thank you for being patient with me and good  in all of this. I don't know where Cindi stands with you, but I want to continue relating to her. Help me to know how to share friendship and support in the days ahead.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

This Crazy Lover!

Don't stop, Father,
Drawing me into this intimacy,
I'm giving in to your embrace.
Here I am, again
For more.

Train my ear to listen,
Your voice is sweetness.
Even when waiting is required.
You are the sureness
Of things hoped for.

Whether surrounded by cynics,
Or praying with an acquaintance,
Censured with the sentence of cancer,
Your power is great enough.
Residing in me, crazy, but true.

I saw you in the film,
Thursday night at church.
"Father of Lights", Love ablaze!
Coursing through the messengers,
Touching bodies, making creatures new.

I stopped on the way home,
To cry awhile, to tell you
How much I want my heart renewed.
Activate my longing with
Your Love passion.

Words linger, grow, germinate,
From the film, the pastor's mouth,
Whatever carrier you speak through.
I'm prone to forget, wilt-susceptible,
My Gardener, water, weed daily.

Choice plantings this week, seedlings.
That you are the only God who seeks for me
Spreads a table for me,
Unlike gods who demand I give first.
Harvest huge yield off this one, please!

I'm positioning to encounter you,
Desperate to know you, infuse more Love,
Reveal yourself in reading The Book, in others,
I'm cultivating receptivity,
Certain of things hoped for!

Trailer for the film mentioned, "Father or Lights".

Sunday, January 6, 2013

He Never Lets Us Go

Several of my posts over the last months express my desire to be close to the Father, and how vulnerable I feel to being distracted with things that take up my attention or interests that keep me from more focused times of prayer and reading his word. 

True to his nature, my Father has delivered messages recently to encourage me to keep seeking his face and to know he has not stopped looking for ways to draw me in or has not backed away from pursuing me. Abba's love is after you, also.  As I share some of the lures he's using to reel me back in, may you recognize the ways he's fishing for intimacy with you; be awakened by hearing how constant and intense His love is for me, and know it's the same degree towards you.

Reading his Word, in the times I did stop and respond to the Lover's Voice, opened my heart to promises that are just as true during this time as any time I may have felt more inflamed with passion.

I Peter 3:10-11 [Amp.]
For let him who wants to enjoy life and see good for peace (harmony; undisturbedness from fears, agitating passions, and moral conflicts) and seek it eagerly. [Do not merely desire peaceful relations with God, with your fellowmen, and with yourself, but pursue, go after them!]

I desire peaceful relations with God. Right now that means, no guilt or condemnation that I should be trying harder.  This verse assures me that my heart to pursue him is more than a mere desire.  Otherwise I would not care or even be aware that there is disharmony. 

James 4:8 [NLT]
Come close to God, and God will come close to you. 

There is no period of waiting until it's the right time, or until penitence for wandering away is served, for me to come into his presence. The closeness starts immediately.  My response to his overtures of love is nearness, now.

The pastor called attention to another promise this morning in church. 
John 14:21
Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.

I love him, therefore he has promised to reveal himself to me. It's happening; may my eyes and ears be always open to catch the revelation.

The Father inpires me with the lure of if-he-can-do-it-with-others-he-can-do-it-with-me.  Whether I hear the stories on the radio or a missions-minded friend tells me about non-western believers, the results reported from hearts fervent in prayer, are awesome and exciting. Setting aside more intentional times to pray is a privilege. He will use me to see his kingdom come.  My heart is increasingly willing. 

Perhaps my least favorite technique the Fisherman uses is the jerk on the line when I'm intent on swimming the opposite direction.  It hurts; discipline hurts. But it is also effective to motivate me towards closeness. It might be the realization that I missed an opportunity to help someone, because I was selfish with my time. Or it's a change of plans that I don't like.  I woke up one morning this week, feeling anxious and needy. That kind of wake-up finds me stopping in my tracks, desperately wanting his care and crying out for help. I become still and let him hold me close. 

Although, bad news of tragedies, illness of friends and difficult circumstances for others is not pleasant, it drives me to intercession and more time in prayer. It reminds me how insignificant the attractions of this world and pursuits of comfort or pleasure are.  There is a greater purpose in life and a God who is powerful and an ever present help in time of trouble. In the reality of the turbulent waters around me, I hold on to his line and keep trusting his leading for how to pray for the ones I love.

Don't you sense how much he loves us? We know what great lengths he went to to demonstrate his love to us. Won't he finish the good work he's started in each of us? Yes! In spite of us, in spite of our tendency to stray away.  I love these words from Romans 8.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?  Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.  Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love you, Abba.  I desperately need you.  Here's my heart, take and seal it. Seal it for your courts above!