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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Life’ Category

Yesterday was one of those days of interesting juxtaposition (I love that word!)…

Driving home from taking Michael to work, I heard these Casting Crowns lyrics on the radio:

I’m the man with all I’ve ever wanted
All the toys and playing games
I am the one who pours your coffee, corner booth each Saturday
I am your daughter’s favorite teacher
I am the leader of the band
I sit behind you in the bleachers
I am every man

I’m the coach of every winning team and still a loser in my mind
I am the soldier in the airport facing giants one more time
I am the woman shamed and haunted by the cry of unborn life
I’m every broken man, nervous child, lonely wife

CHORUS:
Is there hope for every man–
A solid place where we can stand
In this dry and weary land–
Is there hope for every man?
Is there love that never dies?
Is there peace in troubled times?
Someone help me understand–
Is there hope for every man?

Seems there’s just so many roads to travel
It’s hard to tell where they will lead
My life is scarred and my dreams unraveled
Now I’m scared to take the leap
If I could find someone to follow
Who knows my pain and feels the weight
The uncertainty of my tomorrow
The guilt and pain of yesterday

There is hope for every man–
A solid place where we can stand
In this dry and weary land–
There is hope for every man!
There is Love that never dies!
There is peace in troubled times!
Will we help them understand
Jesus is hope for every man?

I realized that this is what meets me every time I step out my front door–the question is all around me.  Whether it is spoken or unspoken, it is there.  Whether it is realized or unacknowledged, it needs an answer.  And sometimes, that can feel overwhelming.

Prior to the taking-Michael-to-work run, I had read Day 5 in a little book called Why Pray?  40 Days from Words to Relationship by John DeVries.  The author reminds us that prayer is not so much for getting answers as for having a relationship with the Answerer.  Yesterday’s reading was based on a story Jesus told about prayer (Luke11:5-13).

A man’s friend has come to him, apparently in the middle of the night, hungry from journeying.  Wishing to show the traveler hospitality, he wants to feed him.  The problem is–the bread box is empty.  Wanting to see his friend’s need met, the first man asks his neighbor for bread.  The neighbor, being wakened in the middle of the night to answer the call for bread, at first reminds his caller of the awkward and inconvenient timing of his request.  But, faced with the sheer persistence of his friend’s request, the neighbor with bread responds and the first friend’s need is met. 

DeVries says that, when I pray, I am like that friend in the middle.  Jesus’ story “tells of our position in relation to the needs of the world, our inability to meet those needs, and our link to the One who can meet them.”

The author further caught my attention:  “People who pray have developed not only a relationship with the Father, but also a deep sense of the needs in their Father’s world.  They see these needs with broken and compassionate hearts.”  Last week, one of our pastors challenged a group of us to begin asking God to help us see our neighbors, people in the circles where we live and work and play, as God sees them.  I see now what happens as I pray in this way.  It is like the child who is star gazing with his dad.  Dad says, “Look at that!” and the child, not seeing, asks “Where?”  He moves closer to his father’s side and lets his sight follow the path traced out by the dad’s pointing finger.  As he looks from the same vantage point and in the same direction the father is looking, all at once he sees what the father is seeing.

Devries goes on to meddle with my heart, probing the possibility that I may often look away from needs around me because I know within that I am unable to meet those needs.  He reminds us of the time in the Bible (Acts 3:1-10) when the apostles Peter and John were confronted with the needs of a lame beggar.  Instead of looking away–Have you ever done that?  I have–we are told they “looked straight at him.”  I’ve read this passage many times and that phrase always struck me as odd–the fact that it was noted so specifically that they looked straight at the man.  DeVries interprets, “…they could look at his need because they knew what to do about it.  They knew that in themselves they couldn’t meet the man’s need.  But they knew they could take it to God and that the power of Jesus’ name could heal him.”

I was grabbed by DeVries’ closing illustration, that of seven elderly ladies who began to pray for an inner-city housing complex near them, one where fifteen police calls a day was the norm.  After two year of praying and of God hearing and working in that place, there came a time when things had so changed that only fifteen police calls were recorded for the entire summer!  DeVries says of the senior ladies, “They could never minister on-site in such a situation, but they could pray.”  They had identified the strategic position of middleman in the face of that need.

I am challenged and will be changed–and Everyman’s questions will be answered with a resounding “Yes!”–as I take to heart the definition of prayer that puts me as the “friend in the middle”:  “Prayer is a dependent relationship in which we are empowered and enfolded into God and in which we link our needs to God’s infinite resources.”

Wow!

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I did not eat Wheaties for breakfast.  That is breakfast OF champions.

Instead, I shared breakfast WITH champions yesterday morning.  I shared coffee cake and baked eggs and orange juice with seven other men and women who spend the months of September through March coaching children’s Bible quiz teams in our churches.  We met together for a couple of hours to share ideas and experiences and to think about the upcoming quiz season.

It was rich.

I love coaching quizzing.  I love getting to work toward a goal with the same kids week after week, focusing on something that matters to all of us.  I love the funny stuff that happens, the “aha!” moments, the victories, and the challenges of defeat.

But most of all I love to think about the outcome in these kids’ lives.

In our denomination, I am constantly amazed to learn how many of the leaders among us–pastors, teachers, lay leaders, missionaries–have Bible quizzing somewhere in their background.  The Bible, God’s Word to those who follow Him–the map for life He gives them–is unlike any other book.  Because it is spirit-breathed (inspired by God, who is spirit), it has power to shape and change those who read it.  Other books can do that, but in them the power is in the words, not in the person who wrote it.  The Author of the Bible is the true life-giver, the Creator God of the universe who is unlimited in power.  That is why those who devote themselves to learning what that Word says will be changed–it is impossible for that not to happen.  And that makes a person who is ready to be sent on a mission.

So, yes, I had breakfast with champions Saturday.  They are winners in the race because the outcome of their faithfulness to their calling is sure.  And, come September, I will be spending every Wednesday night in the company of champions too–those kids who may or may not win medals or trophies for their achievements on the quiz bench but who will all, inasmuch as they have immersed themselves in God’s Word, come to possess trophies of the heart. 

 

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I used this word today to describe to someone the components of our family financial picture.  (Lest you worry, I’ll go on to say that the hodgepodge in that area of life is more like a patchwork quilt than a junk drawer variety of hodgepodge.)

The word has its origins in a word that can mean “stew”.  I love stew, especially the kind of beef stew which my mom always made for company at my request when I was a kid and which, as an adult and the chief cook of our household, I think I have just about managed to duplicate.  The thing I love about stew is how the disparate ingredients–carrots, potatoes, beef chunks, dry onion soup, and cream of mushroom soup, plus a few splashes and shakes of catsup, worcestershire sauce, and pepper–meld together in their flavors and textures to create a thoroughly satisfying whole.

We spent the evening with friends whose sights are set on summer departure for work in an international school in Europe.  Their financial support for the endeavor must all come from individual friends and family members who share their vision–there are no big church entities supporting them.  It is slow going, to piece together the team of people who will give wings to their dream, their calling.  It will be a hodgepodge in the end.  But, as the quilter orders the varied pieces of cloth into a purposeful, useful whole, and as the cook blends the flavors to create her best stew, so the God who has called our friends will put together those who will form their supporting team, their network.

Let no one speak ill of hodgepodge.   

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I heard news this week of a Christian brother of my acquaintance who has been given just months to live.  Since he is close to my age, the news gives one pause. 

As I was thinking about what it must be like to know you will be leaving this life on earth and as I wondered how you prioritize all that you want to say and do to compact it into whatever days remain for you before saying good-bye to those here who are dear, it brought a vivid memory to the forefront of my thinking.

When I was a little girl, Mr. Baird was our Rural Bible Mission man.  He and his sweet, but frail, wife spent their adult ministry years conducting vacation Bible schools in the summers and release-time Bible classes for school children during the school years.  The Bairds owned a “near and dear” spot in the heart of my church family.  In addition to supporting them through prayers and finances, every fall our church had a big “harvest dinner” for the express purpose of thanking the Bairds and gifting them with an above-and-beyond financial donation.  This annual event was a major occasion–I can remember a number of years when my mom made me a new dress for that night; one year, she even sewed matching clothes for my brother and me–a blue calico vest for him, a dress for me from the same fabric.

There came a time when our church marked the Bairds’ retirement with a special event.  People got up in front and shared the various ways their lives had been impacted by this humble husband and wife.  At last, it was time for Mr. Baird (we always called him “Mr.” even though he was a full-fledged “Reverend”) to say a few words.  He didn’t have a huge eloquent speech.  Instead, in typical Mr. Baird style, he said he preferred to say thanks and good-bye (I believe they were moving to Florida in their retirement) in the Vacation Bible School way.  Thus he proceded to walk down the steps of the platform, down the aisle, and (this part of the recollection is a little fuzzy) either right out of the building or at the very least back to his seat, all the while singing, and inviting his friends to sing, a chlldren’s song he must have sung hundreds of times over the years:

We’ll never say good-bye in glory,
In the morning, over yonder.
We’ll never say good-bye in glory,
We’ll never say good-bye up there.

It was not as though a door was slamming shut.  It was simply a farewell, a “See you later” moment and, even though I’m sure it made my tears trickle because they always do in such tender moments, it was not the final, gut wrenching of a “the end” kind of good-bye.  I don’t know if I ever did see Mr. Baird after that, but I look forward to some great chats in heaven.  (I wonder if he remembers the time I got up in front and sang, “Jesus said there’s flies down here (the real words were “Jesus said it’s fine down here…”) but Heaven is better than this.”?  I don’t remember that, but my mom tells me it happened in VBS when I was a little girl.)   

Farewell…fare-thee-well…It’s just a parting for a little while…that is our hope.  I pray my friends can grip the thought of it tightly today even as they are in the grip of the One who is our eternal Hope.

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“Is the party today?”

“When is the party going to be?”

These are questions from the little people who have appeared at my door the past couple of days.  The “little people” are my neighbor kids.  The “party” is the backyard Bible club (5-Day Club) that my neighbor Amy and I will be hosting later in the summer for the kids who live near us.

“Party” came up in a backyard conversation Saturday.  Elana, from two doors down, asked when we were going to have another one.  She remembers a year ago at Christmas when I threw a birthday party for Jesus for the neighbor kids and she was one of two girls who came…We had fun!

I explained that we were going to be doing something else fun later on in the summer-a club for five days in a row in my backyard where we will have a Bible story, and some songs, and do some other fun things, and have a snack.  Not a party exactly, I emphasized, but we’ll have fun.

So, the party question has come up the past two days.  Two notes with the dates for the 5-Day Club have gone home to two families, with a jotted note promising “official” invitations to come a little later. 

Will you pray for my neighbor kids if God brings them to your heart and mind?  Elana, Christian, Tre, Diontre, Staci, Neveah, Jacob, and probably a few others, plus kids from two or three families who live near my friend Amy–these are the children we’ll be inviting to what truly could become the best party of their lives.  And pray, too, for me to a good neighbor every day in the meantime.

Thanks. 

“…or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one.  Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it?  And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors:  ‘Celebrate with me!  I found my lost coin!’ Count on it–that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”  (Luke 15:8-10, The Message)

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”  (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

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I live in a neighborhood that, in many ways, is not like me.

I’m happily married to the man who is the father of all three of my children.  I am middle aged and have a college degree plus a little bit more.  I am, more-or-less, a stay-at-home mom.  My husband and I own our home (or, at least the part the mortgage company doesn’t still own).  Smoking, drinking, or doing illegal drugs are not part of my daily regimen. I am of white European descent. 

In the majority of the homes I can see from where I sit, some combination of the opposite of the above is reality.

Yesterday, I attended a morning gathering of people who want to know how relationships within a small group will help people find out that Jesus loves them and is inviting them to the adventure of loving Him back.

At the end of what was a very enlightening and challenging few hours, an opportunity for asking questions was given.  I didn’t ask the one that was on the brink of my brain because it was having trouble arriving at the tip of my tongue. 

If I’d asked my question, it would have gone something like this (another reason I didn’t say it aloud–couldn’t make it concise enough for that setting):  I have lived in my neighborhood for 18 years.  There are a few neighbors who have lived here just as long.  There are many more who have come and gone.  No matter who has lived here, we have generally gotten to know the children–we have a swing set in our back yard, so it is a “park” and I am the “Park Lady” and the children come.  But, in all that time, other than our long-term next-door and across-the-street neighbors, we have not connected with the other adults in our immediate neighborhood.  We can deliver a plate of cookies at holiday time, or say “hi” when we walk by, but there is seldom if ever any kind of relational reciprocation and, for our part, things always seem to end right there.  I suspect it is for the same reason from that side that we find true from ours:  there is little apparent common ground in our lives. 

It occurred to me yesterday that maybe the children ARE the common ground.  And, graciously, we have had some neat opportunities over the years, formally and informally, to love the kids in Jesus’ name…more chances are on the horizon through the summer and as the school year starts.  But, it still nags at me that those adult connections are challenging at best and non-existent at worst. 

If you lived in my neighborhood, where/how would you “walk” to find/come to common ground?  (Even as I write this, I know that part of that “walk” needs to be on my knees to an all-wise God who loves my neighborhood not-yet-friends and doesn’t waste anything, including where His children land in life.) 

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“I’m going to be adopted!”

I heard those words from a complete, but obviously gleefully happy, stranger this morning. 

I stepped out my door to get the car out of the garage so I could take Michael to work.  As I did, a student passed by my house on foot.  I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl–I think, though, it was the latter–since the burgundy hoodie hood was pulled tight around the bespectacled face.  I would judge by the somewhat lanky and gawky stature that this child was late elementary or early middle school age.

As we made eye contact, I said, “Good morning!” and she waved.  Immediately her newsy words about adoption tumbled out of her mouth, accompanied by a wide grin. 

“How exciting!” was my reply.

“I’m so-o-o excited!” was hers.

“Good for you!”  and that was the end of it.

I know nothing of what this child’s life has been heretofore.  But the joyful anticipation of what is going to change with her “Adopted” status clearly possesses her entire being.

My sidewalk encounter turned my mind to these words that, in my Bible, are followed by the penciled-in exclamation “Overwhelming!”:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Christ Jesus, in accordance with His pleasure and will–to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.  And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.  (Ephesians 1:3-10) 

 

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