Thursday, May 30, 2013

Peggy's Story

The informational sign plastered at the end of the long hallway intrigued her: "Things to do for Healthy Living."
She pondered it over and over as she walked the hospital corridors trying to reach her goal of a mile a day—an ambitious trek for someone recovering from lung cancer.
Scattered among the advice you would expect were two surprises: ten minutes of quiet each day and a daily Bible reading time.
A daily Bible reading time (Peggy called it her quiet time) was an ingrained part of her life. But this sign differentiated between 'quiet' and her 'quiet time'. It caused her to pause.
Quietness (not just a quiet time) – a key for physical health.
A year and a half later, Peggy and her husband Randy were on home leave from their responsibilities with TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) at the Black Forest Academy where they had been serving for the last 13 years. They attended a retreat sponsored by Barnabas, a missionary care organization. Again, the Lord challenged her with the concept of quiet.
One morning the participants were invited to enjoy a morning of quiet starting  when they woke up, no talking with their spouse, no visiting around the breakfast table. After eating they would go by themselves to rest their minds and listen for the voice of God. For Peggy it was a bit weird, but refreshing at the same time as she sat by the water, just she and God.
In the quietness of the morning two things came into focus.
1.   She realized to enjoy the quiet she needed to be confident of her security in   Christ. She clung to Romans 11:29.
2.   God illustrated this security for her with the memory of the CT scans she experienced because of her lung cancer. The technicians doing the scans and the doctors reading them know everything about her physically. Her interior body is naked before their eyes.
Being quiet before God is like being naked, exposed before Him, similar to Eve in the garden, she was naked and not ashamed. Genesis 2:25.  
Quietness – also a key for spiritual health.
I too have learned to start my quiet time with a time of quiet: I love to be still and enjoy God's creation, resting with Him before opening my Bible. I want to be  present to the one who is present with me. It is good.
“People expect too much from speaking, and too little from silence.”                Henri J.M. Nouwen.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’” Isaiah 30:15

Thursday, May 23, 2013

As God Enters

“And so we are transformed much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
II Corinthians 3:18, The Message translation
As God enters--those three words toward the end of the verse caused me to pause, to ponder, to question.

As God enters—how does that happen; how does God enter my life? I want to be transformed; I want to become brighter and more beautiful; I want to become like him; I want God to enter.
I prayed, God, I don’t want to miss your voice here, your message for me. How do you enter my life? I sat; I listened. Three pictures emerged.
The first picture was a door barely open; it was really just cracked. I heard God’s still small voice say, Sue entry begins when you learn Truth. For you, scripture memory is an important key to cracking the door, starting you on the road to becoming more like me.

I remembered memorizing II Corinthians 4:7 some time ago. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay …” (some translations say “unadorned clay pots”). I memorized Truth, God's treasure lives in my clay pot; it was a beginning. God cracked the door to my heart.
In the second picture, God pushes the door open a bit farther. I become aware
of certain things—OK, lies—I’ve come to believe consciously or sub-consciously that define how I react to life. Digging out the Truth that sets the lie on its head is an important step for me.

The lie I believed was to have significant ministry I need a role, a title, you know … the stuff that make business cards worth their money. He showed me that I had a ways to go in believing the Truth that it is the unadorned clay pot that holds His treasure, not the role I'm filling, or the title I hold. I began praying II Corinthainas 4:7. I really wanted it to characterize my life.

The last picture is one of God opening the door wide—a very grand gesture, like a parent welcoming a prodigal. This is when God uses a real life situation to illustrate His Truth. (Sometimes this welcome is a hard welcome.)
The door blew wide open; God’s answer evident. Three times over the course of two days, three female friends approached and shared how my words ministered to them.
The description of my encouragement toward them had nothing to do with a Bible study I led; a talk I gave; a retreat I facilitated; each was in the context of everyday conversation. You are kidding! That encouraged? YES!
I think I’m getting it. God wants to use me, an ordinary clay pot without a title to print on a business card, to let His light shine.
“Knowledge of the Truth doesn’t transform you; you need to trust the Truth. When you trust the Truth, you experience the Truth. When you experience the Truth, you are transformed.” Bill Thrall
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

PS. These are pictures of our front door. I would love to have you enter too. We could share a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy each other's friendship.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Busy ~ Too Busy

It was early January when I phoned a colleague to invite her for coffee.
An idea was percolating in me and I thought she might like to be part of it. I shared briefly. She responded with three rapid-fire questions: “Do you need more things to do?” “Are you looking for ministry?” “Do you have room on your calendar?”
In a split second, inside my head and with a bit of defensiveness, I responded: no, yes and no, yes. Her questions raised feelings of guilt. Shouldn't there be room on my calendar? I don’t remember my verbal responses.

The questions seemed like accusations. All at once I felt guilty, discouraged, frustrated, and unimportant. Later my husband listened and bore the brunt of my complaining words.

God listened too and reminded me of a personal susceptibility. I live with a lie that was planted in me as a child.

The lie—ministry is activity. The activity creates worth.  All lies are not equally dangerous. There is a modicum of truth in those words. Much ministry does involve activity; leading a Bible study is an activity. The lie piece of the equation results from believing ministry is only the things that I do.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

"And God blessed them ... "Be fruitful..." Genesis 1:28
The truth of these words from John 15 and Genesis 1 contradict my lie. They teach me that ministry is the fruit that results from abiding. God desires for me to be something; to live out my creation.

Cynthia Heald, author and speaker, recently reminded me: my worth to God in public is who I am in private. All who observe me should perceive I have been with Jesus.
My lie caused me to judge my colleague. Maybe her full calendar resulted from her abiding. I don’t know.
Busyness is not a fruit of the spirit; faithfulness is. I saw her as busy; perhaps she was being faithful to that which God called her. After all Proverbs 31:27 teaches to not eat the bread of idleness. Idleness would not describe her life.
I want to maintain white space on my calendar. I also want to be busy doing that to which the Lord has called me. And I want to be a woman who gives freedom to others to define how they follow the Lord. I also need to remember that ministry is abiding and that leads to my activity. Busyness is not a fruit of the spirit.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Spring Snowstorm and God's Voice

Historically March and April deliver the most Colorado snow. The weather gives no heed to the calendar declaring the first day of spring in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Spring snow extends the season for the ski resorts; it provides necessary moisture for our dry, and in some areas, fire-scorched earth. But my friends and I grumble. We want crocuses, and daffodils, and tulips, and the warm days that speak of spring. God, who created and delivered the snow, also speaks through it.
May 1, 2013 – I wake to a gray sky. Snow has been sprinkled over my deck like salt from a salt shaker. The forecast calls for a much heavier sprinkling before the day is gone.
Mid-morning – the snowy-rain (or is it rainy-snow) is falling in earnest.  My deck glistens with the wetness of the moisture.
Mid-afternoon – all snow. It accumulates on the deck and the grassy areas, not the roads.
Late-afternoon – The roads are slick; the snow blankets; temperatures fall; ice warnings.
May 2, 2013 – The brilliant blue sky so common in Colorado is the backdrop for the heavy snow- laden branches of the pines. The beauty quiets the grumblings.

About 6"

It melts and evaporates quickly.

God speaks. As I page through my Bible looking for the familiar scripture about rain and snow falling down from heaven, I come upon another familiar, memorized, but long-forgotten scripture,
“May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like the gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like the showers upon the herb.” Deuteronomy 32:2
I cease my search; I am stopped. Why this scripture? Why now? I listen. God speaks. The lives of your friends are like tender grass and delicate herbs. What about your words? Are they gentle? Tender and gentle, I ponder these words; I remember the recent past. Ouch. Deuteronomy 32:2 becomes part of my personal prayers, God, please help me. Help me remember how tender my friends are. Help me to keep my words gentle. Amen.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving see to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55: 10 and 11

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upside Down

My friend Louise has a unique way of celebrating her birthday. Every year on her special day, she stands on her head while the rest of the family cheers her on. In March Louise turned 76.

Her entire way of seeing things, her perspective for the small amount of time she is upside down is all changed. I wonder if she sees things in her living room that she wants to switch around, or finds the lost earring that somehow rolled under the sofa. New ideas might surface; problems might be solved.

Upside-down seeing is helpful, insightful, and, I'm finding, a wise spiritual practice.

I often pose questions to myself during my time with God in the mornings. What would it look like to trust you today God? Or, how can I live out my child-of-God identity today? This often helps set my trajectory.

Sometimes my questions are more specific based on my reading. Colossians 1:19 says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” The Message translation clarifies these words for me, “So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.” I might pray, God, where is my proper place today? As I sit silently and wait, often I hear His answer.

What if I turned that question upside down? My mind wanders down the trail of, God, I don’t fit anywhere; there is no proper place for me. I know this thinking is not truth; it is not what the scripture says. But by turning the words upside down I realize I sometimes live like there is no place for me. Very sad.

I find it helpful as well to think about the characteristics of God from an upside-down viewpoint. God is all-knowing—omniscient. I might ask what it looks like to trust God who knows everything. Or, turning it upside down, God, if I don’t believe you are omniscient, what do I believe about this? My hopelessness stares at me; I know I need (and want) to believe truth. The upside-down question clarifies my choices.

Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: "The first question the priest and the Levite asked was, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But the good samaritan reversed the question,[turned the question upside down]  'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" 

These upside-down questions are a good practice for me. My belief system becomes clearer. I need to keep growing. How about you?

“… I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24.