Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

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“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

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A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

My Father’s Sweater

Spin Me Around the StarsI’m not sure how old I was when I claimed and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style dollhouse for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.” I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

Today I bought three pair of shoes for the church “Kicks for Kids” fall shoe drive for children in impoverished school districts. On learning I why I was buying the shoes, the clerk at the sporting goods store gave me an extra discount. Knowing my ABBA and what he likes to do in people’s lives, I asked the clerk how I could pray for her, and if she knew Jesus. ”Well, yes… but…” she replied, and then told me she’d ask prayers for her young daughter Sharon with Type 1 Diabetes. Aha! My Father God handed me a ”board” of his word and prayer to sand, and I jumped at the chance to pray for this woman, her daughter and whole family, and share how cherished, chosen and beloved this woman is and how much she means to God. I believe God intended our meeting to do more than put shoes on three children; he also wanted to put his love in the heart of someone who needs to run back to her Father and needs to know he welcomes her.

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth…. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 2: 14-15; 4:1-2 NIV

How many days, how many times, does God my Father hand me some work from his heart to help him build into the life of another person? Hmm, how many times do I completely miss seeing hammer placed in my hand, the opportunity to work beside my Father in building his Kingdom in hearts and lives?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:6012 NIV

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” Zechariah 4:1-7 NIV

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mathew 5:13-14 NI

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, restoring, and creating today and every day. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ____________________________________________________ beside you and I know you’ll guide me as I ___________________________________________________. Tap me on the shoulder in my spirit every time you have an opportunity for me to tell someone or show someone how much you love and care for them, and give me the courage to know that, even if my words are simple, limited or halting, or not as fancy as some others might say, and even if I don’t know where in the Bible the words come from, they are still your words sent to strengthen, build up, encourage, correct in love, restore, repair, and create a place for YOUR hands to work in another life. I give you permission to destroy my excuses right now, and here they are ___________________________________________________________Help me to remember it’s YOUR work, not mine, and YOUR Spirit, not mine, truly at work in my encounters with others; you jut need me to open my mouth and open my heart so YOUR words and love can come out. I hope others see YOU in me! In Jesus’ name, amen! Holy Spirit, I‘m listening ___________________________________________________

God is NOT a good idea!

IMG_1401God is not a good idea. I took that thought apart when I helped Dr. Walt Kallestad write a book on understanding the basics of Christian faith. If God were simply an idea, a mental construct, a convenient way of thinking to explain the Universe or the sense of moral order, right and wrong, that exists in most people –at least the emotionally and mentally healthy – then we’re all in big trouble. I think of how many “good ideas” I’ve had that failed, but more terrifying, I think of the “good ideas” men have had over history that have wiped out entire villages and decimated nations. No, if God is only a mental abstraction, then there is no help or hope for any of us, no existence beyond seven or eight decades of getting up every morning, raising children or going to a job, to what end?

I vividly remember taking a shower one Saturday night when I was seventeen, when the thought of a universe without God struck me. The bleak emptiness and total senselessness of a universe, a dark lifeless vacuum, void of God sank me to my knees on the wet tile, my head in my hands. The moment of terror passed, and the next morning I was singing in the choir about the great love that’s ours in Jesus. I worshiped, reaching in my heart with thanks and gratitude that God is very much alive, real, and a Being of indescribable power, love, creative splendor and intimate relationship far beyond any “thing” I can imagine!

We were Methodists, of the traditional John Wesley “heart strangely warmed” variety who acknowledged God’s Spirit as a very real and immanent, personal presence in our lives. Perhaps my love of worship stems from the fact I was born, after a long labor, late on a Sunday morning. My father rang the bell in the steeple of the church in our tiny town every Sunday morning, and that January 22, after a tedious night with my mom in the hospital in the County Seat quite a few miles away, Dad drove back to church, rang the bell, then drove back to the hospital in time for my long-awaited debut.

I recall some of the very traditional liturgy, or form/pattern/ingredients of worship, I grew up hearing in the services every Sunday with a grateful heart that somehow the Responsive Readings, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and weekly singing of the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…”) after the Bible reading and the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) after the offering never became mindless repetition to me. In fact, I look back on those elements of worship with a warm glow in my heart and do miss them in the Sunday services of the non-denominational church I attend now, where lively and deep praise songs take center stage in worship.

I miss them, but I don’t worship them. I don’t worship the old structure, but at the same time I don’t worship the absence of the ”traditional” structure and presence of “tradition-free” services. I agree with the comment I heard one Sunday that the only difference between a rut and a grave is how far down you dig. God never meant real worship to be a rut or a grave, mindless and heartless routine completing a required ritual, like checking off boxes on a to-do list. I strongly suspect God created worship as a vehicle to carry us right into God’s love for us, the Holy of Holies itself: God’s heart. In true worship my heart meets His and becomes the room, the space for the Holy of Holies. How can I bring an angry, judgmental,selfish thought into That Presence?

I enter the Holy of Holies;I enter through the blood of the Lamb.

I Enter to worship you only; I enter to honor I AM.

Instruments or voice only? Sitting or standing, arms raised or decorously in laps? Oh, please, what’s the difference, if truly loving hearts are encountering the fiery heart of God and praising his love for them? Enjoy the beauty, forget condemnation, and see the splendor in the Lord, not the “faults” in each other’s styles and forms! I need moments of silent, wordless reverent awed awareness down on my knees, and I need  the exultation of laughing and dancing in the midst of unconditional love.

Worship isn’t about what or how; it’s about Whom! I don’t worship a form, style, tradition, or experience; I invite God into my life by running into his presence to be lifted and honored and revered and enjoyed. God inhabits, lives in, the praises of His people, and yes, I dance right in the ”pew’ when I feel overjoyed by my Father God’s love for me. Look away if love disturbs you, or join me in a happy dance if you don’t care what anyone but your Daddy thinks.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV

Worship in its truest and most satisfying is real heart-felt, in the present and Presence praise, recognizing God is God and we are not, God is good, God is real, alive, personal as well as holy, God is here wherever here is, approachable as well as completely lofty and apart, and wants intimate relationship with us, with ME, with YOU! Whether I worship in my own house, worship while I walk the dogs, or worship in a church with others, it’s healing, comforting, depression-countering, en-couraging, and powerful as a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. Psalm 96: 1-9 NKJV

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. Psalm 47: 1-2 NKJV

I don’t cling to tradition and disdain contemporary, but I don’t disdain tradition as irrelevant. There is beauty to find in it all, every expression because our God is beautiful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100_ 4-5 NIV

Hearts sang with passion when Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” erupted as radical praise and worship in 1719, and we feel that when we sing it today. I find such freedom in worship, such delight in connecting with God and praising, even when I attend a different church or different denomination. In one church I loved being part of, the arts school affiliated with the church regularly brought dancers, singers, artists and even aerialists to add beauty, awe, wonder, joy and life to our worship. I keep my hands at a respectable height yet raised about mid-body in more conservative churches, raise them high in others, kneel on kneelers in some fellowships, kneel right on the floor in the row of chairs in others when I feel the weight of God’s holiness and goodness, repeat the written prayer along with the priest or pastor and everybody in some churches and offer up my own words along with everyone else after a particularly moving “7-11” contemporary song in others, seven words sung eleven times and nobody gets tired of singing!

Our family spent two months in Beijing, China in 1984, and “church” there meant meeting with Christians from literally all over the world in one of the embassies. The International Fellowship had no pastor that summer, so individuals from the congregation took turns leading worship and giving a message. If one of the Africans was preaching, you could count on being there for two hours. If a European or American spoke, we were likely to be out sharing lunch within an hour. What fun to meet and enjoy being God’s kids together, singing songs that might be unfamiliar, praying silently or out loud, in unison or each in our own words, but recognizing and drawing close to the same Lord, Father, Savior.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18 NIV

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It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92: 1-4 NIV

The truth is that I don’t worship God because I’m required to, or because a narcissistic God demands praise and worship. Honestly, I worship God because I NEED to! I need to connect with the reality and person of God, to encounter His love for me as I reach toward him, some days to dance ”in His arms,” some days curled up in His lap in my wing chair, some days with my feet splashing in a stream, some days flat on my face on the floor in my bedroom, but as often as I can in the company of other Christ Followers, whatever their denomination, tradition, or “flavor,” in the power and joy and reverence of our combined love, gratitude, and communal vision and passionate purposes before our mutual Father God.

To You belongs silence [the submissive wonder of reverence], and [it bursts into] praise in Zion, O God; And to You the vow shall be performed.

O You who hear prayer, To You all mankind comes. Wickedness and guilt prevail against me; Yet as for our transgressions, You forgive them [removing them from Your sight]. Blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near To dwell in Your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. Psalm 65:1-2, 4 AMP

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Palm 42:1-5 NIV

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, help me look inside myself and see if and where I’ve been rigid, mindless, heartless, judgmental, relegating worship to some archaic practice out of touch with today, or decrying the freedom of expression in other churches. Show me where I’ve been judgmental about Believers who enjoy tradition for the richness they feel. Where do I need to re-think worship, Holy Spirit? _____________________________________________________________________I truly want to worship and praise you, God, but some days it’s hard. Some days I feel dry as a bone and no praise can give life to me. BUT on days when I’m dry, and feeling empty, Holy Spirit, come and refresh me. Remind me WHO you are, God, remind me of your love, Jesus, and broaden my vision of praise and worship. I want to be alive in you, God! I know you want that, too, so as I say amen in Jesus’ name, Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and I’m willing to __________________________________________________________________________ as you stir me, whether I think I might look silly or not! Come, Father God in the power of your Presence and let’s together _____________________________________________________________________________

Cotton Candy Daddy

Rose on swing image1Family in Salt River Canyon 1956In motel pool in Phoenix 56

My big brother and I walked with Daddy in the deepening twilight. I was four, Dave was eleven, and Dad had taken us to the small carnival in our little town for some fun after dinner. Tongue out, I happily lapped in the pink strands of cotton candy from the cone held in my right hand, my eyes more on the sticky confection than where I was walking. Suddenly Dad stopped, and I ran – SMACK – pink sugar and all, into his gray wool dress pants. With horror I saw the wet wad of candy sticking to Dad’s trousers and felt instant pangs of accountability – yes, even four-year-olds can feel responsible for their actions.

Dad turned as tears sprang into my eyes, but the only words from his gentle heart were, “Uh-oh! We’ll have to clean that when we get home. Are you okay, Rosie?” My giant of a hero was heroically there for me again. I have absolutely no memory of any ridiculing, blaming, or invalidating words ever coming from my father (or my mother, for that matter). Dad never bubbled over with affection, either – he was a quiet man by nature – but he was always quietly, warmly present and welcoming.

I don’t remember if I ran into Dad and Mom’s bedroom in the mornings or in the evenings, but I do remember climbing up on their bed when I was five with the jolly request, “Make a hill, Daddy!” He’d bend his knees in bed and obligingly let me slide down his legs. I wish in later years I’d asked him what he thought of this silly game; his answer might have surprised me with what it meant to him. And I wish I’d had the insight to tell him how much he influenced my understanding and perception of God as Father.

I see God as approachable, kind, listening, welcoming, valuing, approval-giving, merciful, dependable, honest, gentle when we fail. Rarely have I thought of God as a mean, hard master just waiting for this child to mess up so he could denigrate me and put me in my place. Frankly, only the insults and blame from a person whose opinion I valued and integrity I trusted, out of an emotionally absent father in his young life, have pushed me into shame and cries to God for his mercy for my mistakes. Did God tell me, “You’re just not doing it for me?” No, but a man with a huge Father Wound did, and in recent years I’ve seen what damage the Father Wound does in young hearts, spirits, and even literally in developing young brains.

Gordon Dalbey on the website abbbafather.com, writes: “No pain strikes more deeply into a man’s heart than being abandoned emotionally and/or physically by Dad. No pain, therefore, more directly beckons the saving power of Father God.”

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4:5-6 NIV

Because the Father Wound is so destructive, Satan, the enemy of our soul, the father of lies – our mind, will, and emotions – is “Hell-bent” to hide the truth of this destructive wound and twist, pervert, deny the Fatherhood of God and leave a man, as Dalbey states, “divorced from his destiny.”

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44 NIV

Crushing criticism kills; dismissing identity and value kills; abandonment kills. Attachment disorders, narcissism, personality disorders, anger, abuse, abandonment, all trackable to Father Wounding. Epidemic in our culture today, the Father Wound impacts daughters as well as sons, depriving girls of their inherent dignity, beauty and value, robs boys of their integrity, courage, strength and awareness of Father God’s call to servant-hearted brave leadership and true manhood in their lives.

Because I knew my father admired me and loved me, no way would I allow a boy to take advantage of me. To a man who asked why I didn’t immediately hold his hand and give him a kiss, I replied that holding a man’s hand, and even more so, giving a kiss, meant something to me and I didn’t give either expression of affection and trust casually. A man had to show me his character to receive the gift of my proffered hand. My lips were – and are –sacred ground.

Where I did sadly cave in to ungodly demands was actually in my marriage to a man with a huge, unrecognized and denied Father Wound in his life. Neglect and callous comments from his mentally-ill father short-circuited the emotional wiring in his developing brain and sent signals of insecurity and invalidation that set up such static in his spirit that he said he’d never heard, felt, seen or experienced God as he saw others had. The empty heart he held up in his hands to his earthly father left him mistrusting his Heavenly Father’s intentions toward him. No amount of my affirming that God did love him and value him, that he was a creative and capable person I admired and God cherished, could make up for the hurt in his heart and spirit. The wound from his emotionally absent father put a distorted filter over the eyes of his understanding, and he began to view God as a big disappointment.

We can’t fill that hole in us that destroys our own and other’s lives out of our own weaknesses; we can only go to the source of unconditional, unmerited, healing love in God found through Jesus.

I saw God’s hand evident in my life nearly every day. God wasn’t in the trees, but trees bore God’s fingerprints, trees were OF God, just as the dollhouse my father made for me was OF my earthly father’s love, and the train layout he made for my brother was OF his love. How many hours did my Dad put into carving “bricks” in the block of wood that became a “fireplace”, wiring my dollhouse so the lights truly worked, cutting real shingles into tiny squares to roof my dollhouse. How many hours did he spend laying track and making plaster mountains and tunnels for my brother’s train?

How many hours did my Heavenly Father, Abba, your Father and Abba too, spend creating me and creating you in your mother’s womb? How deeply was he grieved when your earthly father wounded you?  How gentle has he been when we “run into his pants” with our sticky messes, simply inviting us into relationship while he cleans up the messes we make, or helping us as we gather up the courage to admit our wrongs and mistakes to the people we’ve wounded and ask for their forgiveness?How deeply, passionately, fervently does he want to heal your wounds? Will you let him?

The most profound memory I have of my mother was the evening she bent down by my bedside to ask my forgiveness for unjustly accusing me of lying. The most profound memory I have of my father, even beyond all the wonderful times I spent with him in childhood, was the evening when I was thirty when Dad came out of a church service and quietly, simply, broadly smiling, said, “Rosie, I love you.”

Perhaps you know someone with a deep Father Wound. Perhaps you carry a deep Father Wound that you’ve never been able to honestly admit before. Perhaps you’re a man and realize now that you unknowingly, out of your own wounding, created Father Wounds in your children and don’t know how to clean up that mess. Perhaps you view Father God through a distorted lens of that disappointment, mistrust, and deep longing for unconditional love. The wonderful thing about our Father God is that, when we lift our sticky hands and messes to him, he turns and bends down to embrace us with his smiling, approving, limitless, healing, joyful love.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 14-19 NIV

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure…  This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 1 John 3:1-3, 4:13-16 NIV

A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God, may I call you Daddy? I know sometimes I’ve pushed you off and held you at arms’ length because I though you were/would ______________________________________________________________________ if I did what I wanted to do and run into your arms. My own father ______________________________________________________________ out of his own humanity and woundings OR thank you that my own earthly father __________________________________________________________ out of his human love. Abba, I “ran into your pants” when I __________________________________________________________________. Thank you that you walk me home to simply clean up the mess. I made an even bigger mess when I ____________________________________________________________________________ and I confess that I thought that would end your acceptance and love for me. I was wrong. You can’t deny your nature, and your nature and character are love, so Father, Daddy, I run to you today and say _________________________________________________________________. You call me your beloved, period! Help me walk in the security of your love as I ___________________________________________________________. In the name of your beloved Son, my Savior, the lover of my soul, Jesus, who made me clean to be your very own cherished child, Amen!

Fire burns in the ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Fire in the AshesSome journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. The idea was to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out.

Long ago I had sat beside a boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend Sharon described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart.

Crossing imagined polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. Sharon’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering through an empty mansion, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and as I pushed open a worn, green wooden screen door, I smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden swing hanging from the tree and felt someone pushing me. Oh, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor Sharon was seeing now. Simply so simple. So free. So familiar in family love.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged.

Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. Amy explained some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home: Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus, and seals it daily – if I let Him – with the oil of the Holy spirit. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love.

Your experience of the love of Jesus doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. He loves you too much to let you be less than the unique person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than a superhighway to ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of empty tradition on you when what God wants to do with all of the you that you are and in all the you He created you to be is conform YOU to a reflection of the likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I hadn’t worn in many years, hanging beside a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.”  Hanging on the chain, the opal pin looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________ and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway! Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!

Conformity? Really? Really!Sitting on the front steps of Grandma’s  house. My mother Helen, her sister Bonnie who died tragically in her early 20’s,  and my Grandma Ruth, whose garden was the place of this  wonderful encounter with Jesus

Armor-Bearer, Heart and Soul

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Friday my Bible fell open to 1 Samuel 14, and in an odd place I  read some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever found. The set-up is during Philistine domination of Israel at the time of King Saul. There wasn’t a weapon in Israel and not a single blacksmith to even sharpen their plows and sickles; the only weapons were the swords of Saul and Jonathan. One day Jonathan decided to go after a detachment of Philistine soldiers who had gone to a pass at Micmash. Saul had six hundred men, but Jonathan secretly went out alone with his armor-bearer.

Jonathan said, “Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

What faith and courage! His armor-bearer answered with words that, to me, should be in the heart of every one of us and every woman in particular , because I sense from the way God created us that our original design was to be the “ezer kenegdo,” the one who comes alongside. “Do all you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said, “Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.”

Honestly I have known a handful of “modern American” women who feel that way. I am not saying that women shouldn’t work if they want to or if they need to, nor am I saying we were meant to be simply “barefoot and pregnant.” What I do see in this story, though,  is the heart attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer.  Brenda, Patty,  Eva, Sharon, Sara, Karen, Viola, my “God’s Chicks” buddies from my church in Mesa are armor bearers. My dear friend Debbie feel and think this way, too. The Lord literally brought Debbie and me together as kindred spirits in trial and sorrow in very similar situations in our marriages, though Debbie was further down the road than I when God connected us. We prayed together and praised God together in the early stages, crying out for God to make himself real to our guys who’d gone down the slippery slope of infidelity. Debbie has a sweet, gentle spirit and we share a deep, passionate love for Jesus that I think perhaps only comes when you’ve shared in his sorrow. At any rate, she and I think alike, counter-culturally it seems, that the coolest thing to be is an “armor bearer” beside a Jonathan.

I’ve never heard a pastor preach on the faithfulness, humility, God-honoring and loyalty in Jonathan. All the “press” has been on David, his like-a-brother friend. Jonathan was in line to be the next king, but he knew God had anointed his friend David. What humility as the son of a king to bow to and consider equal to himself the son of a sheep farmer! And what courage Jonathan showed in 1 Samuel 14!

“One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father ….’Do all you have in mind,’ his armor-bearer said, ‘Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.’ … Jonathan  climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.”

Men are called to be Jonathans beside Jesus, and that’s an incredible commission handed to you. You guys need more than a pretty face, sweet words, hot body and healthy bank account in a woman: you need an armor-bearer, because when the heat is on and you have to go alone to take down the “Philistines” marauding the people and causes you love, you need a woman with the heart to carry your armor, be with you heart and soul, go beside you and take down a few behind you.

And yes, women are called to champion causes as well. In truth we all should have the attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer toward each other, the attitude Jonathan had toward David.  Climbing over, getting ahead of, and standing on top of other people, particularly our family, friends, and colleagues,  will never give us the deep reward found in standing beside each other “with all my heart and soul.”

It takes two people and four hands to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano. It sometimes only takes two people and four hands, two hearts and souls, to bring down twenty of the “enemies” like offense, division in families, oppression,  you fill in the list.

Who needs you to go with them and put your hands, heart and soul beside theirs today?

No At-a-Distance Relationship

I simply can’t sit on my hands to worship or want an at-a-distance relationship with God.I have no criticism or judgment of people who feel comfortable in very traditional liturgical churches – and I do in fact come from a “Call to Worship, Responsive Reading, first-third-and-fifth verses of traditional hymns” faith background, but my deepening intimacy with Jesus puts such a passionate desire to connect with Him into my worship that I can’t sit down to sing or fold my hands in my lap. Out of town at a conference this morning, I attended a congregation of the denomination I grew up in. As familiar as it all was, and as wonderful as the people are, I couldn’t ignore the tugging in my heart to really receive from God in a powerfully personal way.

I cannot keep God at a distance, and I hope God isn’t comfortable with that kind of relationship with me, either. It hit me at a second service I attended today in a Full Gospel church, cut loose to get real and a bit wild with Jesus: I WANT a God who “gets in my face” and “messes with my business.” How else can I be changed, challenged to grow, transformed into the ME God created me to be and the ME I desperately want to be if He doesn’t get intimately involved in my life? Intimacy is messy and boundary-crossing and comfort-zone rattling. Frankly, I pray that the Lover of my soul loves me enough to not WANT me to remain less than the best and greatest I’m meant and created to be. I’ve touched the relentless longing and heard the passionate beat of God’s heart for me. Oh, to be loved by a jealous God who desires a vibrant relationship with me!

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear. Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.”  Psalm 45:10-11

“Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when i rise;you perceive my thoughts from afar . . . you are familiar with all my ways. . . You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139; 1-5

And why would I want to? This is the God who spilled his own blood in agony to secure my relationship with Him forever!  Early last Sunday morning I was sitting wrapped in a comforter in a chair in the loft of my older son’s house, leaning into the dim light to read the Bible in my morning quiet time. Suddenly my six-year-old granddaughter crept up, crawled under the comforter with me, took my small travel Bible in her hands and began reading from Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple, for in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his ta . .. .” She stumbled with the word, and I guessed “Tabernacle?”

“Yes,”Elsa replied. “Tabernacle.”

“Do you know what a tabernacle is?” I mused.

She did. “It’s the place where God lived.”

“The tent where the people worshipped Him in the desert,” I added.

“And,” she went on, not missing a beat, “I learned in chapel that it’s like God’s wings. God’s wings are soft and strong.” Those beautiful blue eyes looked up into mine and she snuggled closer.

“Hey Elsa, do you remember the shawl that you and Evan and I hid under the last time I was here?” I asked.  And what she said next so sincerely, innocently, frankly, took my breath away, the Word of God out of the mouth of a child: “Yes, and those knots on your shawl are so tight that nobody could untie them.”

The knots, representing every promise God made to His people, extended to us: so tightly promised that no way will God ever “untie” them!

“Hey, Elsa, you’re right, God is tight with us! You and I are ‘tight.’ ” I drew her closer in a fun wiggling hug. “Do you know what it means to be ‘tight’ with someone?” She shook her head, and I whispered,”It means nothing can ever come between our love.”

Why on earth would I want to keep a “respectful” emotional and liturgical distance from the God who wants to be so “tight” with me that His promises will NEVER fail: he’ll NEVER untie them!

So this morning I figuratively leaped into the lap of the King of Kings, held His hands and danced a little Salsa with him (Wasn’t that exactly what we were singing?) and invited Him – heck, implored Him –  to be”tight” with me, get in my face and mess with my business as much as He wants to and needs to, even when it’s uncomfortable like the ways He’s causing me to recognize and face my fear and impatience and submission issues, to grow me into everything He wants in me, for me, and through me.

So fair warning: even if I’m holding a hymnal and standing still next to you to respect the traditions in your worship . . . I’ll be dancing on the inside. A little Salsa on Sunday is a very good thing, so mess with me, Holy Spirit!

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:   Oh, God, really I’d like to hide my issues of ____________________________ from You, BUT deeper still I don’t want to be held back and crippled by ______________________, made less than the best You want for me. So I give you permission to get in my face and mess with my ____________________________________.