Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Word


Hahaha, while I had just started typing this title, a pop up screen appeared on my computer with the dashed circle churning and the words, “Please wait” encouraging me to do a Windows update.  Do we always notice the “wait” messages in life? Do we cancel the prompt as I just did with Windows? Isn’t waiting against the American lifestyle?  Remember Burgess Meredith’s famous line from Rocky, “What are we waitin’ for?”

What ARE we waiting for?  A graduation, a wedding, a birth, a check, a trip, a raise, a healing ,a Powerball win, a break in the clouds, a sign in the stars…and what do we do WHILE we wait?

Back in January my pastors had been preaching on spirituals disciplines. Ewww, no one appreciates the word, dis-ci-pline.  But I listened.  And some ideas stuck with me.  One of the topics was meditation.  I had tried it before, never settling in to feeling right with the practice.  Always getting distracted, abandoning my set aside time.  Pastor John simply described some of his own & some of his known methods – use a candle, focus on a word or a scripture or a song.  A friend brought me a simple prayer candle from a church of healing in south Texas,  The Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan, Del Valle National Shrine.  She had paid a visit there with her father to give thanks for her own successful surgery, taking along a prayer card from me containing requests for my own healing and others. 

This candle became a useful object in my quest to meditate.  As I stared into the changing color glow of the lit wick I would think through Bible passages that I knew by heart – the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the 2 greatest commandments, Genesis 1:1.  Word by word.  Mixing in lyrics from hymns like Holy, Holy, Holy or How Great Thou Art.

Pastor Cindy had spoken in her sermon about spiritual journaling - writing down points of gratitude, questions, experiences, prayer list.  And here’s the kicker.  She asked God for a word!  A word of direction, guidance, comfort, etc.  I wanted that too but was terrified to ask.  What if it didn’t work for me?  Maybe I wasn’t worthy to receive a message from God.  Because, you know, Cindy is a pastor and is paid to receive and dish out these direct messages.  But I am just a regular person.  Would God send me a word?

It happened!  Every time I meditate and ask for a word, I am given one.  The latest word given was one I didn’t want – Wait! So what is that supposed to mean?  Wait a little longer for health to be restored.  Wait for the day to see my grandchildren again. Wait for the freedom to travel.  Wait to be able to drink at a celebration.  Wait, in this season of waiting, for the next stage of my life.  What is that next stage going to look like? And how do I even know that this is the word God wants me to know?  How do I assure that my puny brain did not just think this up myself?

One of my favorite contemporary writers, Margaret Feinberg, writes this on a recent blog post:  4 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Think You Hear From God.  1.  Does what I hear line up with scripture? 2.  Does what I hear line up with wise council?  3.  Does what I hear leave me with a sense of peace?  4.  Is what I hear blanketed in love?  Great.  Now all my questions meet more questions.  She wrote a whole book called Sacred Echoes.  In this she tells that God repeats himself to us.  When we doubt with, “no that can’t be”, he tells us again through a different source. 

So after my confrontation with the word, “Wait”, these are the repeated messages that came to me.  I did not seek them out.  They found me anyway.

In my devotional reading of Jesus Calling was this Bible verse:  But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7:7

My email inbox had a daily posting from Max Lucado:  To walk in the Spirit, respond to the promptings God gives you!  Don’t sense any nudging?  Just be patient and wait.  Jesus told his disciples “wait for the gift my Father promised – the Holy Spirit”.  Acts 1:4-5

A letter received from Linda, my supported orphan in Kenya, referenced these verses, Psalms 62:5-6, For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Another subscription blog appears in my inbox, Pearls of Promise, containing these words:  Waiting for his direction is one of the most difficult things God asks us to do, but there are blessings.

The next Sunday’s sermon was about the day of Pentecost where all the disciples were gathered together again following Jesus’ command to wait for the gift. This gift of the spirit did come to them as promised, causing them awe and wonder beyond what they could have imagined.

So in this season of waiting – for health, for energy, for birth of next grandchild, for travel, for celebrations – I prompt myself to be aware of moments of grace that will suck my breath away as I whisper, “Wow”!



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Arguments and Answers

Who argues with God?  Archie Bunker would judge me harshly because after all, "God is God!"  I am not proud of my admission but maybe it, at least, shows that we are in frequent communication.  That's what He wants, right?  Praise is known to be preferred in building this relationship rather than the whining, questioning, ignoring, distracting that too often comes from me.  Possibly I have missed out on some remarkable revelations due to my teenage like attitude.  FOMO, my loss!

There were some other well known characters in the history of time who have demoed my same humanity.  Remember the guy named Moses?  In Exodus Chapters 3-4 we find an account of a conversation between God and Moses.  God gives him a detailed description of how He plans to get his people, the oppressed Jewish tribe, out of slavery in Egypt.  Moses argues, "What if they don't believe me?"  Then God performs miraculous signs using Moses' shepherding staff. Moses' response is, " Pardon me, but I have never been good at speaking in front of people." (I bet a lot of us have used that one!). God reminds him who made the human mouths and promises to help him.  But Moses persists (can you believe he is still arguing with the supreme authority?) and asks him to please send someone else.  The audacity of this man!  As my grandmother would say, "Well I never!"  We all know how that story played out.  God will get his work done regardless of our human failings.  Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Remember Abraham's wife, Sarah?  How she laughed at God's messengers telling of her upcoming pregnancy at 90 years old?  Then God asked why she was laughing and she lied about it! "I wasn't laughing..."  Genesis 17-18 oh really!

Then there was a man named Jonah who was chosen to warn the people of Nineveh to turn from their evil ways.  We all know how he tried to run from this calling and ended up in the belly of a whale.  But that's not all the story.  Afterward Jonah did follow directions and give his speech in the wanton city and the people had a change of heart.  Good news, they repented and God decided to show mercy and forgive them, not sending calamity to the city as originally planned.  Guess who was then sulking about this plan of doom not being carried out?  Jonah was arguing with God about his compassion.  The nerve of this guy! Was Jonah disbarred from the kingdom? Well no. God gently guided him back to right thinking through the image of a plant that had grown at Jonah's sulking shelter. Check out this story in the Old Testament book of Jonah.

Fast forward to 2015-16.  There is this retired school teacher, a happy grandma who lives in Grapevine TX.  Part of her regular life is prayer, Bible study, devotional reading to kick start the days, along with good strong coffee.  Sometimes she doesn't particularly like what she reads, so it is put out of mind and replaced with distracting activity - household chores, TV, books, hanging out with people, etc., etc.  But the still, small voice does not leave her alone.

What I was trying to ignore was Jesus' message in Luke 14.  He was having dinner in the house of a prominent person (a Pharisee) and in watching the way guests chose their places at the banquet table he made it a teachable moment. The parable of the wedding feast urges people to go against the common custom of choosing the best seat possible, nearest to the hosts.  Jesus says in this context, "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." A message repeated many times throughout his ministry.

Jesus also goes on to challenge his host to reconsider who he invites when he plans a luncheon or dinner.  He tells him to skip inviting his friends, family and rich neighbors in favor of new guests - the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.  Even though those people could not pay, he would be blessed.  Wow.  How do I do that?

We have a particular event at church that I like called The Well.  It is a catered dinner for women that includes an inspirational speaker.  I have enjoyed bringing friends to attend with me.  When I was working I used to pay for a whole table and invite people - some paid for themselves and other let me bestow a gift.  Since I retired, my budget changed and during that same time the fee for these women's banquets went up, so before inviting people I started limiting who I called according to who I thought could afford to pay.  I know it says to bring in the poor but the only poor people I knew in my vicinity were ones who did not speak English well enough to relate to the speakers.  I argued with God that I did not know the right "poor" women to invite. "IF you really mean this parable message THEN show me !"

More wow.  The next week I went to my regular Thursday Bible study group settling in at my regular spot at the table.  Looking down to place my purse on the floor by my chair, then looking up to see two women who had filled the empty seats on either side of me.  I knew them both.  I knew the events of their lives that had worn in their wrinkles and colored their heads gray.  I had visited at their separate apartments, witnessed their separate lives.  By standards of many who live in north Tarrant county, they are poor. They don't regularly come to the Thursday morning Bible study but happenings in their lives made them show up that day.  I almost lost my breath!  Like Sarah, I almost laughed out loud at hearing/seeing God's message loud and clear! And they speak English!

We have not yet attended The Well together.  My treatments fall on the same day, limiting my participation in the women's dinner, one of them has dialysis on Thursdays and the other works the night shift.  It's going on tonight and I'm home resting, reflecting and writing instead of sharing the meal, socializing and listening to the speaker. The two of them have their own health issues that rule their calendars, and housing issues that trouble their minds, and family issues that twist their hearts - so it's not the literal banquet that is now my conviction.  Friendship relationships have developed with these two special women.  They have been prioritized in prayer, they have been moved to a "place of honor" in my list of people to call and regularly check in on their lives and their needs.  I am showered with hugs when I see them in person.  They call me out when they spot me at church and in places in the community.  They remind me constantly that they are praying for ME!  I am humbled to know them even better now and claim them as true friends. In our country of affluence they are poor, but they are rich in matters of faith and they are sharing that with me. I am blessed.

Did God get angry with my arguments?  No.  He was good and gentle and kind and patient with me.  He answered my demands with an "Alright, there it is!" in a way that I recognized the message.  God is so personal.  If you haven't' already, I challenge you to ask him a challenging question.  Go ahead and argue if you feel the urge. Can't wait to hear YOUR stories!

Btw, this is not my only argument with God.  Part 2 to come later...

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 They destroy arguments and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God.

James 4:1-2
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (NIV)