Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thank God For Answered Prayers

(Lent Devotion, 2010)

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” John 15:7 (NKJ)

Through the years, one of my most peculiar pleasures has been to try to decipher this particular scripture. If I desire a pony, do I get a pony? Or, on a more serious note, how ‘bout a pair of this season’s hottest boots? Certainly Jesus intended for me to have loftier goals than these!

The concept of answered prayer has been beautifully illustrated in recent years by song lyrics and movie scenes. If I pray for patience, does God give me patience or an opportunity to sit it out? If I pray for courage, does God give me courage or an opportunity to do battle? If I pray for my family to be closer, how might He answer?

In the days that followed (my husband) Terry’s heart attack at the beginning of ‘09, a strange and wondrous thing was revealed to us. During the previous year, Terry had worked hard to lose some weight and, in general, had begun to take better care of himself. However, in those last few months before his heart attack, he had been praying that God would “get him back on track” as he’d started slipping back into some of his old habits.

Terry didn’t know that I had also been praying for something. In those same few months, I’d been realizing that I wasn’t always putting Terry ahead of other commitments in my life. Quite unintentionally, I’d allowed the world around us to slip in-between us. And so, I had been praying that God would help me to appreciate my husband more.

The key to John 15:7 is understanding that when Jesus is our dwelling place, what we desire is what He desires. And when you add to that, “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 18:19 NIV), then you can expect your prayers to be answered in a very big way ... though maybe not quite the way you expected.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You not just for hearing our prayers, but also for answering them so generously! I pray that each of our hearts has a renewed sense of wonder for the miracle of Your Risen Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we may truly align ourselves with Your will.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Loose Lips Sink Ships

(August 2010)

Written quickly, before I work myself out of the conviction...

Quite a few years back, our church did a message series about the prayer of Jabez. For those who haven’t heard it before, 1 Chronicles 4:10 says, ‘And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested.” The “big picture” lesson of the overall series, as I took it, was that we should pray to increase our sphere of influence. But there was one particular part of one particular message that turned out to be quite a life-changer for me.

Rurel, our Senior Pastor, told a story about a lady he’d known years before in some other time and church. He explained that this lady always, always knew your name. The story was relative to the meaning and importance of names, and Rurel was illustrating something that we all know is true - we feel valued when we’re called by name. I thought about his story for days and days after that and came to the very clear conclusion that I wanted to be that kind of lady. I wanted to be able to remember people by name - to illuminate for people, very personally, the value that they have and are in life.

So I prayed that I would become a name-caller and God has granted my request.

We are again in the midst of a series, a good one about “putting off the old self and putting on the new.” And this morning there was a particular part of today’s particular message that I can’t stop thinking about. Jeremy, our new Teaching Pastor, referred to the kind of people “who never say anything negative about other people.” He implied something that must be true for everyone - that we are just enamored with such people ... that we wish we were such people.

So I’ve been thinking ... I could just pray to be that kind of person. But this is where the story takes a twist. I feel some kind of reluctance - some kind of absurd hesitation about asking for such a thing! The real meditation is not about what it would mean to be a non-negative person but about why I would even hesitate to pray to become one.

Here is my conclusion: on count one, I asked God to give me something; on count two, I’m asking Him to take something from me. So I was good with the getting ... but with the giving up, maybe not so much.

Maybe I oughta be shocked by this realization. Maybe, at least, I should feel reluctant to share this information. However, I feel obligated to share this. I’ve heard too many messages, had too many conversations with friends, been corrected too many times about the need for transparency not to share it. The sad truth of the matter is that I am still clinging to my “old self” ways.

Please understand that I would not define myself by habits such as gossip, or foul language, or hateful, negative talk. But I also cannot claim an absence of these things from my life. And the clearest conviction I’m having here is that, when I get a hold of something upsetting, I’m like Gollum with his precious ring, turning it over and over and over - unwilling to let it go, albeit my ultimate demise.

I’m talking about asking God to make me into the kind of person who never says a negative thing about another person. The kind of person who never says a negative thing. The kind of person who does not “let any unwholesome talk come out of [her mouth], but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)


“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 John 4:20 (NKJ.) If I call one person by name, claiming this as an example of God’s love, but speak harshly about someone else, do I really carry the Truth?

“The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Matthew 12:34b (NASB) To become a wholly wholesome-speaking person, the change must begin in my heart. I will pray for God to change my heart.

And for my own will to die, as I must pray every morning that I wake up, remembering that “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJ)

What If I'm Wrong?

(May 21, 2011)

Okay, I’ve gotta write this very quickly. I hear that time is running out so I wanna play with my g'baby and clean the house before Jesus gets here.

But seriously.

One of my pastors likes to employ a certain, simple kind of logic when he’s presenting the questions that matter in life. You know, when you think, "there’s no God," or "the Bible is just a fairytale," or "it doesn’t matter as long as I’m a good person." Logic asks, "what if you’re wrong?" So I’ve been thinking...

I do not believe the rapture will occur today at 6:00. But what if I’m wrong?

If I believed it, how would my day look? Would I really be acting criminal (as I’ve seen suggested via certain social enviro’s)? Or might I concentrate on expressing genuine love and care for my fellow humankind? Picture it for a second. For real.

If I believed it, then it shouldn’t have been just today but every preceding day that I lived this way. Have I done it? It may be time to switch some gears...assuming that time enough remains.

And I’ve been thinking on a few other ‘what ifs.’ What if what’s-his-face is not entirely wrong? What if there’s some other (presently undeciphered) event (code) he’s uncovered? Just sayin’. After all, Jesus filled something like a gazillion of the Old Testament prophesies. Underline: prophesies. It was right there in the Book that the big dogs knew so, so well...but they flat overlooked Him. It’s in the hindsight that we’re saying, "well, duh."

At the end of it all, (wink, wink) somebody has to be right and somebody has to be wrong. Right?

Humility

I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what He does for us, not by what we are and what we do for Him.  Romans 12:3 (MSG)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't Call Me Daughter

alone... listless...
breakfast table in an otherwise empty room
young girl... violence... center of her own attention
mother reads aloud, child tries to understand it
tries to make her proud

the shades go down, it's in her head
painted room... can't deny there's something wrong...

don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me...

she holds the hand that holds her down
she will... rise above...

don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me...

the shades go down
the shades go, go, go...



These are the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s Daughter, originally released in 1993.

If it’s playing, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I stop and join the battle cry.

It’s been an anthem since the very first time I heard it. Don’t you call me daughter.

It’s not about my mother. Or about my father.

It’s the retaliatory word-strike against the blows that life has dealt and the oppressions that I’ve known, whatever their source. These are the words I’ve never mustered on my own.

Don’t you do it.

At church this morning, I was reminded of the woman who was sick for twelve years and was finally healed by touching Jesus’s robe. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Mark 5:34 (NIV)

I know this story.  I’ve read / heard it countless times.  But when my pastor said, "Do you know this is the only time that Jesus ever called someone "daughter"?" ...

I stopped.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Am His Beloved?

(December 2010)

I’m just gonna skip all the artsy-fartsy footwork and tell you straight up what’s happening.

First, you need to know that I’m a hater. I don’t hate you, or the Muslims, or the wife-beaters. It is my own pitiful self whom I am happy to loathe. It’s been my make-up, my m.o. from as far back as I can remember. "Jesus loves me." (does He?) "This I know." (are you sure?)

Tic toc. Tic toc, the pendulum swings.

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream (tune in a little Pink Floyd here,) difficult to describe. In it, for what seemed like endless hours, I bounced back and forth from the ceiling of my bedroom toward the window on the opposite wall. The only thing I’ve ever understood about that dream - and I know it for certain - is that I wanted to escape that room ... but I never did. The last time I had the dream, in fact, a darkness covered the window, possibly meaning I was trapped forever.

Welcome to my own prison. These words are my diary screaming out loud. And all that jazz. In here, I am a trained killer. I am Gollum, Dorian Gray, Dick Whitman. I am amanda. I am His Beloved?

Maybe this is a little bit artsy-fartsy after all. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Here are the guts of the story, the part you’re no doubt waiting for me to get around to. At some point in the recent past, it came to mind that I wanted to have "Beloved" tattooed on my wrist. I’ll just stream out my line of thought here: 1)(I have believed since I was young that) my name means "Beloved"; 2)Look at Biblical history. When God claims someone, He changes their name. 3)"and another will write on his hand, ‘belonging to the LORD’" Isaiah 44:5 (NASB); 4)I have hoped that a constant, visual reminder might quiet the negative thoughts.

It’s a strategic battle-plan, really. I will show the enemy of my soul that I am, in fact, worthy of God’s love and that He has claimed me. (are you sure?)

Now this mustn’t become some kind of tattoo business. "Ohhh, that girl’s goin’ to hell if she writes on herself," business. I already have a tattoo. It is, in a sense, an altar to God, marking the end of one treacherous journey. It is also a message: we all, "within the family" and "outside the family," are on a level playing field. It also says that I won’t go to hell for having it.

Do y’all know there’s a Bible story about an angel coming to answer one of Daniel’s prayers but, as the angel explains, he’d had to fight for three weeks against a dark angel in order to reach Daniel? (I’m re-telling a re-telling by John Eldredge as told in Waking the Dead and you need to employ all your senses here.) In essence, the bad guy had placed a force-field around an entire region and it took real warfare to break through it. Dude. The bad guys have force-fields.

The bad guys actually employ all sorts of tactics and, particularly as I’ve journeyed through the 12-step valley, the battles have been especially gruesome. I’ll spare you the violence and share a few of the victories.

I listened to Waking The Dead on cd as I traveled recently. At one point, John Eldredge told a story about his desire to know that God had called him to something, that he had been created to be and do something special. In his telling, John said, "God had His own name for me and I wanted to know what it was, the name elemental to my being." (I paraphrase.) I stopped the cd, amazed and wondering if God was communicating with me somehow. We (Terry and I) happened to be at a stopping point so, as I wandered for a few moments, I was thinking, "Okay. God must be telling me that He has, in fact, claimed me. He has a name for me. ... But it can’t be ‘Beloved.’ That’s just what I want it to be. That’s just me trying to impose my personal desires over God’s will." I resolved myself to the usual state of being. But when I re-started the cd, John said, "As I hiked the trail and pondered the possibility, I decided that the name God had for me could not possibly be [what he had hoped.] That’s just me trying to impose my personal desires..." I paraphrase again but it was a dead-on hit. John went on to tell how God set him undeniably straight. (Buy the book.) I divulged a little of it to Terry then. Through tears, of course.

Now I’ve got to have it straight with God before I go inking myself. But I must also have Terry’s permission and blessing, something I’ve been without since that first tattoo, mind you. Recently, however, perhaps feeling a little of the Christmas spirit, he told me that he would drive me to a parlor, sit with me to watch, and even pay for me to have "Beloved" tattooed on my wrist. I couldn’t even actually respond to his offer. I had to hang my head in resignation as I left the room. I was back to toc.

Several days later, I logged onto Facebook to see a picture of a friend’s wrist with a new tattoo ... an altar to God, I believe. A message to others, certainly. That’s when I called Terry at work to tell him that I couldn’t get my tattoo ... but I didn’t tell him why. How do you tell people - especially people who love you, whom you love in return - that you are not certain that God finds you worthy of His love?

After making that call, it occurred to me that I should listen to the Christmas eve sermon that I’d missed. There were a couple to choose from so I chose randomly. That message, the one I blindly chose, ended with a story about a man who changes his name as he answers God’s call on his life. As he ponders whether the name he chooses is the correct one, (I’m editing and inferring a little), he asks, "did he (the one whose name he’s chosen) really love me?" The response he’s given is, "What more could he possibly have done to demonstrate his love for you?"

I don’t know if anyone actually reads this stuff or if my words just drift away into the cosmos, losing weight as they exit the earth’s atmosphere, eroding to mist in its shadow. But I woke up this morning with a compelling, soul-deep need to share all of this. So I started to write, and I reconsidered, and I re-wrote. But what I’m about to tell you - well, it changed the whole arrangement.

And just in case I don’t compose this part with enough clarity to raise your back-hairs, then I’m instructing you: after you read it, stop for a second and just trip out.

I’d been awake for only minutes this morning when pieces of this came to me, for only minutes more before I was at my computer, recording them. Back and forth I went, from quiet time to word processor. As habit, I had a peek at Facebook. Three emails but no time for that. Back and forth. More phrases. A remembered piece from another book. I should share that right away. Back to Facebook and, as I was typing, the ‘three’ changed to ‘four’ so I clicked. The "just arrived" email was from a childhood friend who began with this, "Hey! I have NO IDEA why I am writing you about this. Something just told me to!" Without reading on - because I was somewhat aware of what was happening and I was freaked out of my gourd!, I sat back and took the screen in as a whole, seeing the words "tattoo," and "God," and "dark times." I had to walk away and come back to read it. Her words were encouraging, did you guess?, and ended with, "like I said, I have NO FRIGGIN IDEA why I had to stop what I was doing and write that, but maybe now I can finish my coffee!"

What more could He possibly do?

But the real question now is this: will I share this, my burden and my blessing? ... tic... or will it remain mine, alone? ... toc...

I mourned like a dove;
My eyes fail from looking upward.
O LORD,
I am oppressed;
Undertake for me!
Isaiah 38:14