Advent Idea: A Prayer Closet

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“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Matthew 6:6,7

This morning I had to hastily arrange a different place to pray because “someone” has a secret project going on in the shop. First I tried my bedroom…..that didn’t work, it was too open. Then I tried another place in the living room and it didn’t feel right either. E said, “Why don’t you go in your closet?” Well, my closet had become a disaster zone since all the Christmas stuff had come out of hiding. But, as I traipsed from room to room feeling kind of disoriented I pushed open the door and entertained the possibility of my bedroom closet.

First, I got a chair out of what used to be Joyce’s room at the Care Home thinking that might work. I had forgotten they had a dog at the place for a while and there were smells, lots of them  on that chair. Briggs the cat wandered in the wouldn’t leave, those smells on that chair were just too intriguing. Remove chair. Sit on floor.

It was actually kind of cozy in there. I could still hear faint outside noises which I find an agreeable backdrop…..keeps me in touch with what’s going on outside. And when I took this picture I had to smile……the baby doll on the shelf in the background reminded me of the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Actually, it’s my very own baby blanket that my Mom wanted me to have. It’s the one they wrapped me in on the way out of the hospital. All 3 pounds of me. The doll is a Thumbelina. Those of us in the older range of middle-age will remember who she is. I just Googled her, she still comes up!

Anyway, here is the final result. It works……..

I find that any space will do as long as it provides an atmosphere of peace and quiet where you know you will not be distracted or interrupted.

I have been plagued by distraction and unease lately. I sense a big change coming in my life and my soul is not at rest, so I knew this morning it was expedient that I find a place to pour out my anxiety to the Lord. I realized that on some level I didn’t even want to pray because I didn’t necessarily want to hear what the Lord might place on my heart.

And you know what? That is the time you need prayer the most.

Run to Him friends. He will satisfy your every need and quiet every fear.

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 3:17

Because I can’t seem to forget her face……….

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Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven………Jesus

I sit here after listening, reading, fearing and going back and forth all morning on Facebook and the news. Part of me is so torn. Part of me wants to jump up and down in favor of Donald Trump’s great wall. The part of me that is patriot American wants to drop bombs and use military might to decimate isis (no caps for them). Part of me remembers some of my family who fought against Germany. I also remember my Mom saying they really didn’t know what was happening over there to the Jews. All they saw were trains filled with people on the movie newsreels while they waited for the movie to start.

There is such confusion in my heart and soul and in the heart and soul of the whole world right now. But one thing I know is always true. Certain things will always be right. Jesus lived out a life that said:

Just because it’s safe, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.

Today would have been my Grandmother’s Birthday. She had a story too, like this little girl. Her family was fleeing Russia and they came to America when she was only six months old. I even found the ship register where they signed in. I know, times were different then. They all went to Ellis Island and got screened and processed, and who knows what else.

And I hate the idea of that evil coming over here, I just hate it. 

But I can’t forget her face. Maybe because something about her reminds me of my niece. And her face is the face of pure innocence. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like her.

In a world where it’s hard to even know who or what to root for anymore, one thing remains. God calls us to love even those who persecute us. There is no wiggle room in that much as I try to get around it. As Pandora plays “Lead me to the Cross” I think of the converted Muslims I heard about in Germany. Churches are filling up, for the first time in years is what I heard. I hope it’s true but I don’t know. I can only assume they are tired of living under a dead religion, they are reaching out for the One who gives life.

But even if they stay Muslim and are in need of help and hope, food and shelter, as Christians can we turn our backs on them, their children in good conscience? Even if some even seek to do us harm? I am asking right along with you…….

Only God knows how this will all go, but one thing is for certain. He will make good come from it.

He always does somehow.

The face of isis is just a new face for an old evil and we don’t even have to pull his mask off to know who it is. As Christians we know how to face down the enemy, the one who only comes to kill, steal and destroy.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

The apostle Paul (when he was still Saul) was dragging Christians out of their homes until he was blinded on the road to Damascus.

Of such were some of you………

It’s time to pray for all of us, to ask God for wisdom. It’s the only place I know where to start.

If you want to put a face on some refugees and here their stories, go here. 

And pray for wisdom, along with me?

photo credit: via David Rupert

 

25 Days of Thankful Day #2: Freedom

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Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;  that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Colossians 4:2-4

I am most thankful today for the freedom that many courageous people over the years have fought and died for. The freedom to walk around in my own home in safety and peace. To do all the simple chores around the house that I do take for granted. The freedom to pray without fear of someone pounding on the door waiting to arrest me. Freedom to go to work….drive my car…..go to the gym.

Freedom from fear of being kicked out of my homeland.

All over the world there are people who were living and working and enjoying freedom just like me. They were prospering in all kinds of different jobs for which they were trained. They educated themselves to better their community. They enjoyed success. They were raising families. Today they are in refugee camps. Their homeland was wrestled away from them violently, their old freedoms are only a memory. They watched their churches and homes be bombed or torn down and some of their Pastors arrested or killed.

My blogger friend David Rupert answered God’s call and went over to those camps. He went into the danger zone and interviewed many of these people. You can read their stories here on his blog. What they have been through, I can scarcely imagine. And yet, in their eyes you can still see joy, and you can see the bond that can never be broken. Because even though they have lost everything, they have their faith and they have their God and each other.

I so appreciate his courage for going over there to bring back their stories because now when I am going about my day doing what I am still so free to do, I think of them. And I pray for them.

Now it’s not just something that is happening somewhere else, it’s something that’s happening to my brothers and sisters in Christ who someday I will meet in Heaven. I can only hope and pray I would be as courageous and strong as they have been if I were put in the same position.

I truly hope I never have to find out.

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What are You Waiting for?

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The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.] 1 Peter 4:7

As I sat this morning in the quiet, my thoughts traveled back through the years to a maroon pew and a summer night. It wasn’t any particular church night,  just a culmination of all of them I guess. I heard the melody of a hymn that I can’t quite place but I wish I knew what the title was. I may have to do a search later, it might be “Calling Today.”  I see the organist at the front, her name was Amy and I see her flowing robes spilling over the bench. I smile when I remember what my Grandma used to say after Amy got her divorce…….”She should be in the back of the church, not up there playing the organ.”

I remember those warm summer nights. The world seemed different then. Across the tracks on the east side, the gangs hadn’t moved in yet. There wasn’t much difference from the east side than the west. The local bakeries were still open. I hear the bell over the door. You could still buy German pastries and fresh sourdough bread that they would bring out in the mornings. The smell was overpowering. I can still see those loaves stacked in the baskets by the cash register, and the trays of long johns and crullers. That was before all the big grocery stores came in.

I long for the simplicity of those times. It seems everyone is waiting for something to get better. Or change. I can see it in the faces of the people. I see it in the faces of some of the refugees on the news. They are waiting to go home, waiting for peace. The world has gone askew. Everywhere, someone is waiting for something, for someone.

If I could just get out of this hospital bed……

If they would just die so I could get my life back…..

If they would just come back to me……

Waiting for birth, waiting for death. Waiting for financial freedom, waiting for the ship to come in. Deep down we sense that things have gone terribly wrong. The whole world is waiting, holding its breath. But here’s what I can tell you for sure. Whatever you are waiting for can be fulfilled in just One person. All of your deepest longings can be fulfilled in that same One person. He came once before and He’s coming again. This is the most important part:

Whatever or whoever you are waiting for doesn’t matter if you don’t know Him.

All the pieces are falling into place just the way He has arranged it. The stage is set in motion. It has been since the beginning of time. But the days are growing darker, even though there is still so much good in the world. Hope remains. Against the backdrop of world events and everything else we see in the news, Scripture speaks with a new authority. Unfortunately, just as many people aren’t listening. Listen to what Scripture says about our times:

Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people. 2 Timothy 3 (The Message)

It’s time to turn toward the Light folks.

For He says,

At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.”

Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— 2 Corinthians 6:2

Whatever you are longing for, He’s the God who can bring it. Eventually, He is coming to restore all things to what they were in the beginning, back before everything went to hell in a hand-basket. This is not a pipe dream, this is a promise. But until then, let God pitch a tent of peace in your heart and know that whatever you are waiting for will indeed come at the right time.

I have a deposit that’s already been put in my account, safer than any bank or savings and loan. And you can have it too.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13,14

The wait is over.

I believe what I believe…….

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I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

According to Wikipedia, the purpose of a creed is to provide a doctrinal statement of correct belief, or Orthodoxy.  The creeds of Christianity have been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. For that reason a creed was called in Greek a σύμβολον (Eng. symbolon), a word that meant half of a broken object which, when placed together with the other half, verified the bearer’s identity. The Greek word passed through Latin “symbolum” into English “symbol”, which only later took on the meaning of an outward sign of something.

In the year 325 AD a controversy arose whereby Arius, a Libyan presbyter in Alexandria, had declared that “although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not co-essential with the Father, and “there was when he was not,” This made Jesus less than the Father, which posed soteriological challenges for the nascent doctrine of the Trinity. Arius’s teaching provoked a serious crisis.”

The Nicene Creed of 325 explicitly affirms the co-essential divinity of the Son, applying to him the term “consubstantial”. The 381 version speaks of the Holy Spirit as worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son. The Athanasian Creed (not used in Eastern Christianity) describes in much greater detail the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed makes no explicit statements about the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but, in the view of many who use it, the doctrine is implicit in it.

On its own, this statement of belief would be only a collection of words, however, since it is rooted and grounded in the Holy Word of God it stands forever as a unifying standard that applies to all Christian Churches. I never recited this growing up as a Baptist but when I visited other churches and they would recite it, I always loved it though inwardly I cringed a bit with the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” because I thought I was being hypocritical saying that part when I wasn’t Catholic. But in this case, the word “catholic” is derived from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “general”, “universal. (Although some Catholics might disagree on that point)

This morning, millions of churches will gather together and break bread over these words. In this instance, we are totally unified despite our different denominations. I found myself saying these words this morning as a awoke, well really singing them. In the 1970s Rich Mullins wrote a tune to these very words and I played it on the way to work yesterday. Of these words he says:

And I believe what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
I did not make it, no it is making me
I said, “I did not make it, no it is making me”
It is the very truth of God
And not the invention of any man…….

Amen, dear Rich, you have been living that out with Jesus for years already. I can’t wait to meet you……..

My prayer for today:

“Oh Father, though the streams of culture and the world flow swiftly and changeably around us, Your words are like a mighty rock it swirls around. The world has its eyes turned elsewhere, but ours are forever turned to you. You are the first and the last, and your words were formed long before this world existed and they will stand for all eternity. We thank you that though everything else changes, you never do. In an unsettled world, we draw tremendous comfort from that. I pray that the church will continue be an open door for people coming in from the world battered and bruised and that we in the church might be a conduit for the great love and mercy you have shown to us. You are light in our darkness, without you, we have nothing.” Amen

The Why Question

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With God there are no coincidences, only divine direction and brushes with grace.

Saturday morning on the way to work was rough. My life doesn’t feel settled, the immediate future is murky and much of the time lately my life feels like a superhighway with an approaching an off-ramp and the need to choose one is pressing. I feel unsure of myself and circumstances feel like puzzle pieces thrown in the air, they could land any which way. Much of my prayer time lately is spent pushing all those puzzle pieces in God’s direction, hoping He will make the decision easy. Hoping He will get all the pieces to land just the right way.

I have come to understand that times such as these are divinely ordered, because it’s during these times in the dark that He directs our steps.

I have also learned that when we call on Him, He takes great pleasure in answering just when we need it most. I don’t always listen to Christian radio because sometimes I find the between song banter corny and irritating. But I also know that God has used it to speak to me in a powerful way,  so I keep it programmed just in case.

The first song I heard when I turned on the radio was this one by Phil Wickham.

To the one who’s dreams are falling all apart
And all you’re left with is a tired and broken heart
I can tell by your eyes you think your on your own
but you’re not all alone

Have you heard of the One who can calm the raging seas?
Give sight to the blind, pull the lame up to their feet
With a love so strong He’ll never let you go
oh you’re not alone

You will be safe in His arms
You will be safe in His arms
‘Cause the hands that hold the world are holding your heart
This is the promise He made
He will be with You always
When everything is falling apart
You will be safe in His arms

And right after that was this one by the Afters:

When I’m feeling all alone
With so far to go
The signs are no where on this road
Guiding me home
When the night is closing in
Is falling on my skin
Oh God, will you come close

You light, light, light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me that you are with me
And I, I, I can’t deny
No I can’t deny that you are right here with me
You’ve opened my eyes
So I can see you all around me
You light, light, light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me that you are with me…….

He carried me through the day and gave me a blessed evening that night. And if that weren’t enough assurance, we were late to our Chandler church so we decided to go where I said I would never go again. I found yesterday that God can use a place even after I have shaken the dust off my feet…….He has a sense of humor like that.

I found I was blessed, even as I did the communion in a manner I am not crazy about, drinking the cup “shot glass style” placing the empty back in the tray as it passes from person to person. The Holy Spirit doesn’t care how it is done, but only that it is done in a manner that honors Him. Sometimes I have to relearn that lesson. And it shouldn’t have surprised me when they played the exact song that had so blessed me on Saturday morning……..but it did.

And as we sat and heard the exact message that Elaine needed to give a friend who asked the “Why” question. Well, I was no longer surprised. God directs our steps in ways we can’t imagine. She filled in every word and delivered it in person to her friend at work today.

As we sat and listened to the testimony of a couple who carried their precious baby to term, even though the Doctors said she would not live long. Even as they struggled with the recommended terrible choice to terminate the pregnancy. They didn’t.  They had their angel 7 days before she went “home.” And they made the tough choice to be a conduit of God’s blessing to others, a way out of the dark to others who need hope.

 My savior moves mountains and hearts.

And every day He surprises me, even though by now I shouldn’t be.

 

Celebrating our Differences

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Yesterday on Facebook I made a statement and it was something to the effect of, “I am so glad Jesus didn’t try to put us in boxes and say, this is how you need to look to fit into my group.” Instead, He invites us to come just as we are and trust Him enough to let Him reassemble us from the inside out. We, on the other hand, like to section people off. Especially in church. Single people here, Marrieds here, 50 plus over here. It makes us feel safer I think. Maybe it’s easier than trying to figure out where they belong.

But why do we insist on “pigeon-holing” people if Jesus didn’t? When we try to put people in categories we’re comfortable with it only serves to make them feel bad when they don’t fit into the box we try to force them into. Certain men don’t know one tool from another but are made to feel like they have to volunteer for the “Habitat for Humanity” project. Certain women are great architects and designers but are made to feel like their only usefulness is baking cookies or working with children.

Jesus however, accepted people at face value, He approached people of all ages and walks of life; all different talents and abilities.  He was never put off by people’s differences, but rather met them where they were in every instance. The reason He was so effective was because when they looked into His eyes they immediately saw the depth of His compassion, His holiness, His goodness. And by contrast they saw their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves.

He gave them an immediate solution to their “sin problem.” He offered forgiveness, wholeness, reconciliation with a God they had fallen out of love with.

Last weekend I was playing my Brooklyn Tabernacle DVD…….it’s what I always reach for when I want to get a glimpse of what Heaven will be like. I see all those colors, all those ages, all those ethnicities, all those pasts. I see people, men and women in beautiful suits and dresses, all lifting their hands to the Lord because they remember what He brought them out of. Many have been homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some have been very successful in their careers and made a lot of money.

Some have the tattoos they got before they were saved, some have the tattoos they got after they were.

But the thing we all have in common is that each of us have a unique and beautiful redemption story.

It’s the life story that God records in each of our books. You know those baby books parents make when their kids are born? Well, God has one for you and me. He has kept record of our progress all through the years. And I think maybe He opens it and leafs through it because I know He makes the additions. And I think He smiles.

And when we get to Heaven, folks? I don’t think we will be prepared for what we are going to see. God is going to restore all things. That means every single animal that was part of His original design will be there. Colors we never even thought of and  beauty this world has never seen.

And every time I watch the news and catch myself saying, “Even so come, Lord Jesus?” I breathe a prayer and say, not just yet. There are still people who haven’t heard. Still more souls that need saving.