Here God is again …

IMG_1778God surely knows how much I/we need Him, His Presence,  His affirmation,  His love in my life/our lives.Today again, perfect timing in the midst of a “goof” I made in the time of an  appointment. Being over an hour early, I decided to run to the bank to take care of something I’ve needed to.First the map app on my phone directed me toward  the wrong bank (and my duh, when I didn’t see the first entry was an ad, not the search I’d  put into my phone). I did a quick course correction, found a branch of my bank, and met with a friendly, positive banker, then had to leave the bank while the request was being processed to go back to the appointment, which was a great connection with an accountant who is a man of faith.

An hour there, then back to the bank, but the banker I’d worked with was at lunch. Okay, pop across the street to Taco Bell, and oh look at that: the second bank I needed to visit had a branch right on the  same corner!  Check off that from my list, hop across the street, meet quickly with the banker with the change all finished.

Hmm… now can I go to the county offices to see about getting a new passport? I slip right in, find out what I need, and the clerk tells me that there’s a Costco just down the street where I can get my necessary photos at one-third the price of the drug store. Super! Drive down to Costco, have the (why are they always so unflattering?) photo taken, and then I dutifully stand at the corner of the counter, right at the entrance to the store, while I wait for the pictures to be processed. Less than five minutes into my waiting time, who should come pushing a cart  right past me but Kate, a friend from a Christian singles group and Sunday School class whom I haven’t seen in three years!

Coincidence?  All of those other errands and timing, my mistakes included, had to happen in exactly the  right timing for me to be there when Kate came into the store!

Yes, it was wonderful to see Kate, catch up with her, share a hug and how tightly we’ve both had to hang onto Jesus through troubled times. but the deeper message to me was God’s reassuring message, “I’m still here beside you, with you, still in control, and I still love you deeply! And yes, I  am able to lead you even in what you think  are your ‘mistakes!’”

Oh, thank you Jeremiah for speaking the truth: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

And thank you, David:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!  Psalm 32: 8-11 NIV

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground.  Psalm 143:8-910 NIV

I take to heart today the acronym I heard on the radio yesterday: I truly am a DORK –  Daughter Of the Risen King!

God Almighty, good Holy Spirit, again and again shows me he’s doing exactly what he says he will do. God keeps his promises, and his Word IS his true and faithful promises!

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, Holy Spirit, sometimes I think I must be the biggest  goofball on the planet, and often I  don’t feel your presence or your love, BUT you promise to lead me, so help me FEEL you in my heart, because you know how much I need that reassurance, help me trust you even when I don’t trust myself and can’t feel you beside me, and help me know you keep your Word and ___________________ _________________________________________________________________________________________, In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, today HELP me to listen and hear you _______________ ____________________________________________________________________________________.

 

 

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Bougainbiscus, Butterflies, Silly Songs and Jesus Loves Me

He shows up where and when I don’t expect Him!

It turned out to be just Sandy and me  yesterday, off to “hike” (definition: walking leisurely, talking about the Lord, and interacting with docents and people on the trails) at the botanical gardens and then the zoo, taking advantage of our respective memberships. We walked unintentional circles at the garden, enjoying some funny pumpkin “sculptures” like the poor guy painfully covered in cholla and a couple of gourd-os sitting at a logs only  campfire  toasting s’mores. One of the docents who struck up a conversation with us didn’t even know  the pumpkins were there, so we pointed her to, it turned out, the tail end of the pumpkin walk.

In our conversation there I shared a possibly too true insight a friend made in a Bible study group several years ago. He suspected one of the things that went unobserved and unwritten about all the times Jesus went off by himself to pray was (no disrespect intended) Jesus slapping himself on the forehead and crying out, “Oy vey,  these yutzes! Father, how am I supposed to work with these yutzes??!!” The fact that we’d steered the docent in the wrong direction only emphasized the likelihood of the Lord’s possible prayer …..

We  passed a beautiful red-flowered plant unknown to either Sandy or me. It looked like a cross between a Bougainvillea and a hibiscus, and though I don’t remember it’s scientific name, we decided it must be a bougainbiscus.  We listened to another docent manning a table of blooms, and he pointed us in the right direction to go see the butterfly pavilion, which was wonderful. Fluttering, flitting beautiful wings were all around us, and I state publicly that the fact it  takes four generations of monarch butterflies to make the round-trip migratory journey, and the great-grandparents of the returning lepidoptera aren’t around to tell their great-grandoptera where “home” is, clearly tells me there IS a Creator,Intelligent Designer, and Architect of all the wonders in the world. We wandered around trying to find our way out of the wildflower loop and drove down the road to the zoo.

More natural wonders awaited us on trails there: Komodo dragons, whose bite is venomous, so all they have to do is bite their prey  and wait for it to die; orangutans strong  enough to rip your arm off, but who spend their lives in the wild high up in trees and make “nests” in the  branches for sleeping; giraffes, and enough said about their incredible design. I truly enjoyed my two years of  working at the real zoo, after thirteen years of  substitute teaching in a very different ”zoo” setting. We encountered Hannah, one of Sandy’s friends from her church who works at the zoo while she’s attending seminary,  and since  she was being trained to drive  the  train (yes, pun intended) I told her about the songs I wrote for about ten animals the train passes. She said she’s be glad for me to send them to her.

We bought sandwiches for lunch, sat down on the benches around a shaded table, and continued sharing about some of the”God-incidences” in our lives., when an older woman pushing a young child in a stroller politely asked if she could shar our table, and we replied we were happy to share the shade.Since I know personally about the early childhood programs there, I asked if the boy was her grandson, and then told her about the wonderful breakfast programs that are an adult’s “ticket” to get up close to  some  of the animals in the zoo’s collection. I asked Paul, who’sfour, if I could sing a song for him, and commenced into, ”Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ in your muddy hole ’n’  keep your body rollin,’ warthog ….” to a tune only older adults always laughed at.

Being a bit humorous and silly seems to break the ice. Noting the cross necklace the grandma wore, I asked,”Are you a Believer?”

“Believer in what?” she replied.

I held up my own cross necklace and said,”In this.”

“I sure am!” she smiled, and a new door opened up for us to share about our  faith. Even though we are in different denominations, Jesus’ sarificial death on the cross – God Himself paying the horrendous penalty for humanity’s rebellion against God’s Holy authority and Righteousness AND love for us all – unites Christians of every “flavor.” So together we said the opening line, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible  tells me so!”

And here’s what it says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23

BUT “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And expanding on Romans:23 “Forallhave sinnedandfall short of the glory of God, AND  ARE JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He (God) did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have  faith in Jesus.” Romans 3”23-26

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  Romans 5: 5-11 NIV

God is Just, AND God is Love. Neither cancels the other. Only one unites them both perfectly: Jesus,Y’shua, however you say his name in your language. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23 And after a long passage of “Woes,” Jesus cried out to Jerusalem with fierce love and longing to  bring everyone there into his loving, sheltering arms.

It’s BOTH Justice AND Mercy, in one perfect person to satisfy both. And how utterly amazing, relentless, selfless, pure and passionate is the heart of God who Himself teaches, leads, forgives, heals, bleeds, rises from death, justifies and redeems us!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace  with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need… because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God  through him, because he  always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 4:15-16, 7: 24-25 NIV

In Jesus we can drop the censure we hear and feel from ourselves and from others, and become, in praising and thanking God for his incredible gift of love, the incense in the censer held by our Great High Priest Jesus, rising up in a fragrant offering to the One who makes us pure, loved, and joyfully pleasing to God.

The pumpkins and butterflies and orangutans  and squirrel monkeys were fun, but sharing with “Mimi” and little Paul was pure joy!

My/your/our takeaway?  Jesus is wherever I/you/we go, and all I/you/we need to do is be open to him walking, sitting, driving, golfing, working, eating. being with us to share him with others.  That’s HIS joy! Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God! And when Jesus drops into my life with connections like this, I feel the intense, outrageous love  that he IS! Love alive, love present, love embracing, love forgiving (oy vey!) and love overcoming.

a”…BUT…” to pray today: Father God, loving Lord jesus, sometimes I  don’t  sense your love for me. Sometimes I feel all too much my “yutz-ness” and all I sense is the censure of others, BUT you promise that your love never fails and you will never, ever leave me, ,so I’m asking you to show me your love, and you get to decide how, when and where. Feel welcomed into my life to surprise me,  Jesus! In your name I pray, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening, waiting AND watching __________________________________________________________

 

 

 

Silly Me, Short Question, Strong Answer

 

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On  Monday’s  for two years, I’ve been blessed to be part of a group of people from about a dozen different  churches who meet (and have met for fourteen years) in a home for three hours to sing worship songs and speak scripture, as they sense inspiration to read it, as intercession for  the salvation – true reverent, thankful relationship with Jesus as Savior, Redeemer and Lord of their lives – of loved ones, friends, organizations, governments, nations, and even terrorists. These very ordinary people are amazing, and we feel God’s Presence every week,powerfully. I know His heart is to see the lost brought into God’s great love and forgiveness through Jesus, so  it’s not surprising, I guess, when we share God’s heart and love what He loves, that He shows up.

Some days we are mostly about intercession. some day’s it’s mostly worship, and some days, God’s Holy Spirit makes it  about us and the changes and  truths we need to embrace. These people  are transparent,  openly admitting where we blow it, and the bond we feel with each other, as well as with Jesus,  is amazing. Last  Monday the morning flowed into the word that God wants to do something new in each of us. Several shared about “God-incidences” in their lives, with one woman saying with a  laugh that she knew what  she said to another person HAD to be God speaking through  her, ”Because I’m not that smart!”

While we were in a time of  silence and listening, I “heard” a brief thought, prefaced by  the difficulty I had that morning of getting an earring through the shrinking hole in my left  earlobe, while thinking how ridiculous (even though widely accepted as common sense) it is to think  I/we make myself/ourselves more beautiful by poking holes in parts of our bodies and hanging  jewelry in or from them. Does that make me more  beautiful to God? If it doesn’t, what does our Heavenly (and relentlessly patient) Father think is true beauty? Hmmm…. this is offered as a “whadayathink.” I heard it for me and share it with you for your own reflection:

The most beautifying “thing” I can put on is
complete reliance on Jesus to be my acceptance before God–
yes, my covering, but not just my covering for sin,
He is my cleansing from sin.
Just As I Am in Him,
renewed into the creation God intended all along in me;
I am beautiful to God.
My face is washed clean from shame BY the  Father’s Love.
am delighted in; I am chosen.
HIS  beauty becomes the radiance in me,
a mirror polished to reflect Jesus,
like a still pool,  a cup holding Living Water reflecting ABBA’s Glory. 
Lord God, Father, help  me  remember and believe who You say I am to you and what  You see and You place within me, so I know my true identity and what truly matters, in Jesus’ name, amen!

This bears repeating: The Tree Swing

Ruth's Blessing

Grandma Ruth Miner,  and boy, did she  spread the love around on us!

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.’” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

Gott Sei Dank

One  thing almost intrinsic in me that Daniel and I do NOT share is a fondness for German music. I’m guessing I began appreciating it, and the country, the year my family spent in the small town of Enkenbach when I was ten, my father’s company sending us over there. In my fifth grade class in the Army school my brother and I attended, we had German language instruction. I don’t honestly remember if Frau Schultz came in daily or once a week to teach us, but, perhaps incredibly, I do clearly remember a song  and a poem I learned that year. (And why, I wonder, can’t I remember how to differentiate and integrate sines and cosines, something I learned much later?)

My memory  actually was useful two weeks ago, when I was getting up to move from the lateral machine to another in the recreation center. I started  toward the supply of disinfecting wipes, but the woman approaching the lateral machine told me not to bother, as she had her wipe handy. I detected an accent in her voice and asked where she was from. When she replied German, I said , “Vielen Danke. Voraus stammen Sie?” That began a conversation – auf Englisch –  and we quickly found in common that we’d both worked at a zoo, cared about the environment, and loved God! I gave her a copy of my book that I “coincidentally” (as if there are coincidences with God!) had in the bag I’d brought with me.

Earlier this week I saw Ilse at the rec center again, walked over, said hello, and again began a conversation. That silly song I’d learned in fifth  grade came into my head, and I began singing, “Fuchs du hast die Gans gestholen, gib Sie wieder her …” and Ilse joined in the song. The song about a fox  that stole a  goose isn’t important, except to lead into the truth today that all around you are absolute gems on two legs,  treasures in the people around you.

Ilse has been a gymnast, dancer, model, actress, music instructor, composer, and zookeeper! On Friday I called her and popped over to her house  for a short visit. That’s when I discovered so much inside this amazing woman.Most importantly,though, we shared our hearts and from  our  spirits, connecting at a personal level so quickly because we both knew God had been instrumental in our meeting.

Though the precious people of Zion were like fine gold, how they are valued like clay vessels, the handiwork of a potter!  Lamentations 4:2 NAS

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 2 Corinthians 4: 5-14 NIV

Money and power or influence seem to be the things we value and treasure in contemporary American culture. Too often we view other people for what they can do for us, how they can help us get ahead. If I see someone on the street who’s dressed poorly,  do I automatically assume that person has no worth? Conversely, if I see someone dressed in nice clothing, and for women, with dangling earrings and fingernails and toenails painted to match her outfit, do I attribute more worth and value  to her as a person? How clearly I see the rampant narcissism in our society, see how easily I myself am prone to make value judgments based on appearances! Lord God, deliver me from such materialism!

Two weeks ago Ilse was dressed in ordinary exercise clothes, just as I was, just as everyone else in the rec center. If I hadn’t thanked her and asked her a question, I would have “robbed”myself of a great blessing in getting to know her as a unique person created in God’s  image, created with gifting and talents and kindness and a longing, as we all have, to be known,valued, and to know and value others.

What value does God place upon us?

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29-31 NIV

You are treasured by God your Father in Heaven! And – perhaps amazingly to you – so is that person next to you on the bus or at school or at work or in the grocery store. Treasured not for their net worth, but treasured because they, and you, are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared to be part of your purpose before you were even a glimmer in your father’s eye, for good works, for  advancing God’s Kingdom, for sharing the Good News about  Jesus, for being a reflection of HIS love and mercy and caring and forgiveness, healing, deliverance,  and HIS grace and HIS Truth on Earth. Ephesians 2: 10 Rose’s Paraphrased Version

Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3: 14-17 NIV

Gott Sei Dank! Thank God that he opens our eyes to each other, and to the treasure He  has deposited in each one of us. YOU are a treasure, and if you take time to open a conversation, so, I’ll bet, is that person next to you! Use things, LOVE people!

A”…BUT…” to pray: God,yes, I admit  I’m shy, or afraid, or not caring enough to really notice the people around me and consider that You’ve deposited something priceless into them – not something for me to USE,  but some treasure within who they are for me to discover and value. Even the ones not dressed like me, not driving a car, not  in the same church I attend, from another country or neighborhood or ethnicity. Help me,LORD, to see others as YOU see them, and help me overcome my own _____________________________ to know that YOU value me just because I’m Yours! Holy Spirit, who do I need to notice in a new way today?” Lord, I’m listening _________________________________________

 

No fog machies,no lights, no drums, no amplifiers, BUT God …

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Sunday morning, Kokomo, Indiana, driving back to Indianapolis, 1700+ miles of driving ahead of us, but we wanted to go to church, so we looked online to see if there were any Evangelical Free churches in Kokomo. Grace Fellowship popped up, so we fairly technologically savvy old timers put the address into our map search and navigated our way to the church.

We arrived early, in time to hear the trio (plus one young girl) warming up before the service. Small sanctuary, no fog machines, no high-tech lighting, just sunshine warmly pouring in through the marbled glass windows, reminding me of the church my family attended up north of Kokomo in my early childhood. No pianist that day, either (on vacation) and no electric or acoustic guitar, no drummer, just voices.

A few regular attenders were scattered throughout the building, so we walked up and took a pew near the front, a respectful few pews from the front row, and enjoyed the music. This church certainly didn’t look like, or have the “vibes” of the 10,000-member church I’d belonged to for ten years, or the 5,000-member church I belonged to for twelve years. It didn’t even look like the lively 60-member church I’d belonged to that met every Sunday in the town library. I could fully imagine that most contemporary American church-shoppers, er, -goers would be “underwhelmed” by the lack of “atmosphere,” but we were there to hopefully hear God’s Word and worship, so we stayed, and boy, were we GLAD we did!

No, the band didn’t suddenly show up, and in fact, the PowerPoint wasn’t working properly that day and we had to rely on our memories for many of the worship songs BUT GOD WAS THERE! Imagine that: the Almighty, The Holy One of Israel, the LORD on High, entered into that little building through the Holy Spirit rising up out of grateful, thankful, worshipful hearts of  maybe 30 people and God DID truly inhabit the praises of His people! We sang and sang, worshiped and worshiped, praised and praised, raised a few hands, and deep joy and warm love filled the room! Then God’s Word and Heart poured out through the obvious passion in the pastor’s heart. I’ve been part of a small group where the same thing happens in a living room every Monday morning, and talk about a paradigm shift!

What? You mean we don’t need the fog machines? We don’t need the dramatic changing colored lighting? We don’t need a darkened sanctuary and projected thrilling landscapes  on three screens up front?  We don’t need a thundering drummer? We don’t need amplified guitars and violins? WHAT KIND OF A SHOW IS THAT??????

Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying: I’m not condemning drums, lights, or amplifiers, because I have truly worshiped with all of those present. I am raising a question, though: what do we think worship is, and where is it directed? Is worship the externals that stimulate our senses,  or is worship grateful connection and communication from our spirit and heart and being with our Father’s, God’s, own Spirit and Heart and Being?

Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.  1 Chronicles 16: 23-29 NIV

 

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

 

The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.

Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy. The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. Psalm 99: 1-4 NIV

 

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Isaiah 29:13 NIV

 

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22 NIV

 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV

 

So what I Am saying is that a handful of very ordinary people with nothing but their hearts and humility and voices CAN worship the LORD  in the beauty of His holiness in  simplicity and truth to such a degree that God delights in descending right there in their midst with His Presence – maybe not visibly, but perceptibly nevertheless –  and trust me, GOD is ENOUGH to make simple songs raised by normal voices into a conduit that brings Heaven to Earth.

Would you like to experience THAT on Sunday morning? Have you ever TRULY wanted to see His Kingdom come, and God’s will done on Earth as it is in Heaven, wanted it so much and desperately that your heart would break if it didn’t happen?

Then can I encourage you, next Sunday, or gosh, today in your own house or apartment, to bring an offering of your grateful heart, the certainty that HE is God and you are not,  and humble, glad thanks to God for loving and WANTING relationship with you?  Smoke and lights and drums or just your voice, trust Him to show up and see what He’ll do with your sacrifice of praise!

I’m daring you – and boy, going out on a limb asking God Almighty to prove Himself to you when you do –  to try it right now, wherever you are as youre’ reading this!

 (and yes, lift your hands and see how it feels!)

A”…BUT…”to pray: Father, Holy Lord, Almighty Everlasting God, all I have to give you right now is myself, grace-fully broken, BUT here goes, my words of thanks to you, and I’m trusting You, Holy Spirit, to come inhabit my praises ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And thanks, Grace Fellowship Kokomo!

 

Don’t Bite the Bait of Offense! Stranger Danger! Grow Up, People!

 

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This black pot is key to a story of oppression, slavery, God’s providence, and miracle reconciliation! God wants to heal our land!

Satan peddles his baited hook of offense and self-righteousness, contempt and bitterness as “candy on a stick,” but IT IS POISON to your heart! Didn’t your parents tell you not to take candy from a stranger???!!! Satan is the Stranger Danger, the enemy of every one of us.! Wake up, wake up,to the true enemy of your soul!

The Armor of God
11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.…  Ephesians 6: 11-13

In the face of the insanity going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, I lift up The God of Providence, happening across the country, and if you want to be riveted and changed by a story of Almighty God bringing miraculous reconciliation after over a hundred years, go to the website of The God of Providence and by all means, invite Matt Lockett and Will Ford to your church! What happened in Cleveland, Ohio in this photo happened at Victory Worship Center in Tucson last year, and I testify to it because I was there in the throng that, after hearing this incredible story, rushed the altar, weeping, shoes thrown off, kneeling, hands raised, crying out for God’s Divine Intervention in our nation to bring true CLEANSING AND HEALING of these ancient wounds from the enemy of ALL of our souls! Lord God help us let God’s righteous, merciful, forgiving love overcome hate! “RED and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight!” Let’s grow up into Jesus who loves the WHOLE world!

Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea, a Great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is graven on his hand, my name is written on his heart; I know that while in Heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.