Lent Day #36: Prayer Matters

Christ our Passover.....

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted……..” 2 Timothy 3:12

In the light of the massive amounts of persecution we see around the world just about every day now, this verse comes vividly to life from our computer screens and TV’s. In fact, all those Bible verses have come to life for me as I am reading the accounts of the beginnings of the Chinese house church movement. In the book, “The Heavenly Man,” the autobiographical story of Liu Zhenying, also known as Brother Yun I read vivid accounts of heartbreaking persecution and unbelievable suffering for the cause of Christ.
What does this mean for me here in America, the land of the free. Despite the fact that I believe our freedoms even here are eroding daily, we can still worship in the public sector without worrying about prison, death, or excommunication from our communities and families. We are extremely blessed to be living in a democracy that allows us to worship just about anywhere freely. I say “just about anywhere” because I feel the landscape is changing just as the Bible says in the last days it will.
I feel saddened when I see all the dusty expensive Bibles on my bookshelf. I have two I use regularly,  but I have others I’ve collected over the years, expensive reference Bibles with leather covers. I think of how precious just one verse or page would be to any of these persecuted groups even today. I think of the accounts of how the Chinese Christians hid and smuggled the Word, placing pages in loaves of bread; tucking pages under their coats and shoes. How they eagerly studied it, cherish it, memorizing whole chapters.
You might ask what one can do over here? There is much……we can financially support, but most of all we can pray. God says prayer matters. He says those mornings I spend out in my shop make a difference, and I believe they do. They change me for one thing. For another, I believe those prayers reach the very Throne of God. Over and over, there are accounts of miracles happening with no other explanation other than someone was praying and those prayers were felt.
I leave you today with one excerpt from the book that touched my heart. It takes place as some of he house churches were meeting after having some disputes over doctrine and teaching. The meeting was almost a failure until this:
The atmosphere deteriorated until it became like a business meeting, with everyone talking at once about different subjects. Many old wounds resurfaced and it became apparent the two groups were as far apart as they’d ever been. It looked as if Brother Zu had missed his chance to wash their feet (which God had spoken to his heart and told him to do) Suddenly Zhang slapped his knee and announced, “All this talk is a waste of time. Let’s pray and then we’ll leave.” Brother Fan pushed Brother Zu in the back and instructed him, “Quick! Get some water and do what the Lord told you to do!”
Zhang was praying with his eyes closed when Xu knelt down in front of him and started gently to take his shoes and socks off. Zhang opened his eyes and was amazed. He couldn’t believe the great Xu Yongze, leader of the largest house church movement in China, would ever kneel down and wash his feet! Zhang cried out and wrapped his arms around Brother Xu in a warm embrace.
Deborah Xu then brought out a bucket of warm water and started to wash the feet of Zhang’s co-worker, Sister Ding. The two of them knelt down on the floor and hugged and wept. “The Heavenly Man,”  Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway

Lent Day #13: What is Truth?

girl swing

Pilate seemed to be haunted with the question: “What is truth?”  He was in fact standing right in front of the embodiment of “Truth,” Jesus Himself, and he still missed the mark. Pilate’s wife, however, had a brush with truth and it terrified her: “While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”

I was asking myself this morning, why is it that so many young people have become disillusioned with the churches of their youth? Why are they so willing to grab at any other counterfeit philosophy, religion or way of life this world has to offer? Even ISIS, God forbid. What have they found so very attractive in the world?

What makes a seven-year old stand in front of a congregation, face alight with truth and knowledge and love of God, to declare their faith and plunge under the waters of Baptism only to abandon that same faith 14 years later?

I don’t think there is any one answer, but a combination of many things, but right now I would like to write a letter to all those young adults out there who think God no longer has any relevance in their daily life.

 

Dear Twentysomethings:

This is Jesus, remember me?

I’m still here. I remember you, even if you no longer remember me. First of all, I just want to say that I miss you, and so does my Father. We see you going about your daily life, with all its joys and heartaches and lost loves. We see how you smile and laugh with your friends, how you are learning so much. We see how you are burning the candle at both ends; falling asleep in class and working that part-time job.

We are deeply interested in all your comings and goings. Each day we try to get your attention in thousands of little ways. Did you see that sunset last night? I saw you look up briefly but I didn’t hear a prayer of thanks. In fact, I haven’t heard any prayers at all. I miss our talks. And remember that heavy rain storm last fall? Those were our tears as we watched you wrestle with that terrible decision. We wanted to help, to guide you. We could have offered a way out but you didn’t ask us. We stood aside as we felt the agony in our own Spirit, even as you told all your friends and family you were fine.

Let me remind you of something about my Father. He is less interested in telling you what to do and much more interested in infusing your life with meaning and truth and total fulfillment. He knows all have fallen short but He loves you anyway. We see your heartache and deep loneliness. We see the tears that fall when no one else is watching.

We know that the world is doing its best to make you believe that everything that looks good to you is truth. That whatever you feel in your heart must be right and that all those things you grew up learning in church were nothing but empty lies and fairy tales written by old men. Things that have no or impact or relevance in your life now.

Let me remind you that the Bible is my love letter to you, inspired by My own Spirit and written in my own blood and the blood of others who died for it. My Word will never steer you wrong, the world always will. There is an enemy out there who would like nothing better than to destroy your soul.

The soul I died to save.

You might think that your life is really exciting right now, but I promise if you really get to know me I can give you excitement and power and meaning like you never dreamed possible. More than you could ever ask or think. I am that kind of God. I am the One who calmed the waves with a word, the One that put this whole thing into motion. I long to take you to the far corners of the universe to hear the stars sing.

But only if you come back to the truth. To the only love that will never let you down. You may feel that your are free right now, but you have made yourself a prison of your own wants, needs and desires. Those can never give you true fulfillment or the peace and rest your soul so desperately craves. We can. It’s never too late to come home.

Our arms are always open. The Lover of your soul, Jesus.

“For although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.”

Open your eyes……

IMG_4957

I don’t know about you, but the news lately has left me feeling fatigued, stressed, disturbed.

Sometimes I wonder why I even feel the need first thing in the morning to go look at what happened overnight.

It’s always more of the same. The truth is: The world will never change because the world never did understand the love Jesus came to give it.

But more of the same is never a bad thing when you have the Hope of Jesus.

These times, I pray, will cause us to reflect on what truly matters.

I pray our faith will get real.

IMG_4716

I pray we will become closer to our Heavenly Father than ever before.

And I pray that when it all gets to be too much.

That we will remember to go outside……

IMG_4741

and remember again that God is behind and around and through it all.

He’s never stopped speaking.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5

IMG_3946

I hope it bombs (but it probably won’t)

Gratitude for Grace

I’m talking about that movie that’s coming out in a few days. You’ve seen the previews. Maybe you’ve read the book. I won’t even post the name here or use any image from it because I don’t want to highlight it in any way. I am using it as an opener because it’s movies like this that are a barometer of just how morally sick our society has become. Last night I was at the gym and I was parked on the elliptical catty-corner to one of those shows where men and women were doing all sorts of things with very little clothing. There were all kinds of sexual situations, some of which were women with other women. And this was in a public place at six o’ clock in the evening.

I remember when Ricky and Lucy had to have separate beds, and they were married! (I think that is a little extreme, especially since they were really married)

You might wonder why my views are so extreme. Well, I guess because God has some pretty extreme views about when sex is appropriate. When two people: (one man, one woman) are married. This is what I believe: God is the creator of sex. Part of his purpose in creating sex was for our pleasure. But God also set limits for the enjoyment of sex, for our protection. When we go outside those boundaries, we enter into sexual sin. God even goes one step further than that, He says that sex between a married couple is actually Holy.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13:4

People say, “God is love, He wants you to be happy, well no not really. Mostly He wants me to be Holy, and that in turn brings something far deeper than happiness. It brings lasting joy and peace of mind. I believe that as a Christian, God calls me to sacrifice a few things, because Jesus sacrificed everything. I was bought with a price, the Bible says. And that price tag was hefty. So if God tells me no to something I know it’s for my own good. All I have to do is look to the Word to find out what He expects.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Ephesians 5:3

Here’s where we are today:

Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. Ephesians 4:19

And God is not a cruel God, He is a loving God. He would never expect us to do something that wasn’t entirely possible for us to do, with His help.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

The best way I can describe the Christian life is how a Pastor illustrated it one Sunday. He stood in front of us with a long rope spread out across the stage. About 2 inches worth on the end was painted bright red. That represented our life on earth. The rest represented eternity, well the rope would have had to be endless, but we got the point. This life is short, friends and if you believe in Jesus and trusted Him for your eternal salvation then you have a future filled with hope. If not, there is still hope.

There is nothing we can ever do under the sun that could cause God to withdraw His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. There in no place we could ever go where His love could not reach us. We have all fallen short, we all sin, yet each day there is a fresh supply of Grace manna, at every point during the day He stands ready to forgive and forget.

Finding our place in the Son

 IMG_3740

New Year’s weekend was spent at the beach. It was 4 glorious days of chilly evenings and mornings and brilliant sunshine during the day. We didn’t want to leave so four days turned into five. It was walking for miles looking for sea glass and eating seafood fresh off the boat. It was breathing sea air facing the surf and letting go of 2014. It was putting off stress and anxiety for another day.

Before that,  we had all gathered around a table and celebrated my folks 63rd wedding Anniversary. It was a week of celebrations.

2015 hit me full force on the morning of January 4th. The night before we had pulled into Bakersfield RV park where we have always had a wonderful stay. It was dark. I chose the backside of the park thinking it would be quieter, but it was a bad spot and the hookups were situated in an awkward place. We were both irritable and hungry. We had dinner and missed the season premiere of Downton Abbey because of bad cable in the park.

I tossed and turned all night and awoke with a feeling of dread such as I hadn’t had in a long time. It surrounded me like a cloak. Happy New Year.

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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

That feeling stayed with me off and on for the entire week. I prayed, I did battle. I also kept thanking God for each new day, which is always a gift we don’t deserve, no matter how we may be feeling. I also spent some sleepless nights trying to map out the coming year. I solved unsolvable puzzles in my mind at 2:00 AM awaiting the alarm at 4:00 AM. Finally, the last part of my week ended. I felt like Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God all night.

The truth is, all of us are walking around with our hips out of joint. All of us are in a battle of some kind or another.

Sunday January 10th, I decided to put dread and fear on hold. It was a wonderful day. E had rigged up an ingenious antenna so that we could get all four PBS stations and I watched them off and on all day just because I could. We had a wonderful dinner and I made scones for dessert which we ate with lemon curd and blackcurrant jam. We lifted our glasses as we watched two episodes of Downton, the one we missed and the new one.

This morning the dread threatened to come back, I was awake at 2 again and prayed for merciless sleep. I envisioned the still pond, the diamonds on the water, I recalled the sounds of the waves, and the foghorn in the night. I asked Jesus to send me some sleep and after about an hour He did.

This morning I beat back the darkness by opening the Word. For God has given us a promise, that if we open His word with expectation of receiving what it has the power to give; He will provide us with light on our path, if only just for the few steps we must walk today.

I remembered Lady Galadriel’s parting gift to Frodo in Lord of the Rings, the glass vial filled with the light from the star of Earendil. She tells him, ” I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Jesus said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” There will be days in this life when we wake filled with fear, dread, even despair, but we can always take hope and take heart, if we are believers.

Do you see it? It’s right there just off the trail. A sunny spot with a log perfect for sitting so that we can turn our faces to the Son and the sun, so we can warm enough to go on again.

This morning I have already laughed and cried reading Anne Lamott’s new book “Small Victories.” She is one of my little patches of sun today. In her book I read these lines by Wendell Berry:

“it may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

Take heart and take hope today with me friends. I have never done this before on my blog, though other bloggers do it each year. My word for this year which the Holy Spirit dropped into my heart this morning is “Stand.” Because before you walk or run, you need to stand. And stand strongly.

 

 

Time to wake up.

IMG_3214

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.……Romans 13:11

And each day we wake up it will be even closer. It’s so easy to be filled with dread looking at the news. Looking around, it might be easy to forget that Jesus already won the victory over this place, but He did. Each day we wake up we have another opportunity to wake up in the newness of remembering that victory, or wallowing in the defeat we see in the world. No doubt, events in the world are daunting today. Sometimes we get numb in the face of it all. Desensitized. How else can we deal with it? We can’t stop living after all.

But there is one thing we can do. We can wake up to our victory.

Sometimes awakening to the victory around us is as simple as fighting the battle in our own minds. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting on some Praise music with great lyrics…..before we know it we are moving about, going forward with our day, brimming with the joy we found elusive just an hour ago. You see, we are in the daily Presence of a King who sits on the throne. The one in our hearts, and the one in Heaven. We don’t serve a dead King but a risen Savior. When we take in His words, He rejoices with us!

While Easter is all about remembering that victory and looking forward to a glorious future. Christmas is about remembering how He came to an earth riddled with strife, violence and political unrest, just like it is today. He came as Prince of Peace. He came as what the world needed most, but most didn’t recognize Him then either. That didn’t stop Him from doing what He came to do.

One of the best scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (in my opinion) was when Gandalf, Aragorn and company arrive in Edoras to summon help from King Theoden. They find him slumped on his throne, a shadow of the King he has once been due to listening to the dark words of defeat whispered by Grima Wormtongue.

Gandalf faces down ‘ol Wormtongue and, then a spiritual battle ensues where Gandalf throws the spirit of Saruman out of King Theoden. In the film, you see the battle take place in the heart and mind of the King and the resulting transformation  as he rises to answer the summons for help. Gandalf helped him remember who he was.

It’s a stunning piece of work.

The hour is late. Over and over again the Bible tells us to wake up from our slumber.

The hour is late, but it’s still not too late.

“But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5: 13,14

 

Listening to my life…….

IMG_4741

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. Isaiah 42:3

I have abstained from writing about all the current events because I wanted to let my thoughts settle. Listening to all the recent events my mind has felt like an unsettled pond and at the end of a long work week I feel like I can finally take a deep breath and let it settle somewhat. Between the horrific events involving the Islamic militants, Robin Williams, and Ferguson, Mo. it was like my mind just couldn’t keep up. There were plenty of other better writers and bloggers editorializing and I didn’t feel like I wanted to throw my voice into the ring. The ring was noisy and crowded and so was my mind.

Sometimes a writer has to know when it’s right to jump into the ring of fire or stay on the perimeter looking in for a while.

Last night we had one of our summer storms that are common for Arizona but never common for me. Storms are natures way of breaking loose, of showing us we are not in control. I went out to the freeway just before it hit and took a few shots and felt rewarded. I found the Superstitions veiled in a cloak of dust and clouds and God’s promise.

On the other side of the overpass, the sun was making her exit amidst the backdrop of clouds………

IMG_4732

When I got home my Dad called, “I was reading Listening to Your Life, he said, do you have it?” I said yes……..then he paused and said, “I wonder if any of us really understands the Bible? We think we do, but sometimes I don’t think we have a clue what it means.” He went on the describe the passage he had read from the entry on February 8 and when I hung up I read it. Here is a partial reading:

When you find something in a human face that calls out to you, not just for help but in some sense for yourself, how far do you go in answering that call, how far can you go, seeing that you have your own life to get on with as much as he has his?

I thought of the sermon by Charles Stanley that I listened to that morning. He was talking about missed opportunities and how many pass us by each day. Then he went on to talk about Peter and how he could easily have said no thank you to Jesus offer to follow Him. After all, he had a livelihood, he had a life, he had a family to support. But something about Jesus made him realize that this offer was not like any other. As a result, Peter is one we recognize as being one of Jesus closest friends and followers. The rock on which the Church was built.

Parallel his life to that of the rich young ruler who had everything. He clung to his life and turned down Jesus’ offer. We never hear what happened to him but the Bible never says anything more about his life.

I believe it pays to listen to those closest to Heaven, children and old people. It pays to listen to your life and those around you. I am listening to mine today as I ask myself how far I am willing to go for Jesus. I give my allotted time and money and sometimes not even that. I don’t always focus on Him while I pray, I miss the Holy moments far too often and I tend to avoid people if I have a choice.

I am that weakest reed, that flickering candle. But my prayer today is “Thank you God, for not letting me go.”

Despite everything, He loves me. He strives with me. He sees me, the girl who gazes on His world with wonder and it makes Him smile that I notice.

God keeps a tally, the scales of justice are in His hands. He’s the one who will set things right ultimately, and that’s a promise. It doesn’t mean we stand back and do nothing, but it does mean that we can’t fix everything. Maybe we just fight the injustice in our own little corners for a start.

As for me, I went as far as that windy street corner up around 120th street and Broadway, and I can see him standing there as in some way he is standing there still. He is alone and making the best of it with his thin, church rummage overcoat flapping around his legs. His one free hand is raised in the air to wave goodbye. It was the last time. “Here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves,” Tillich said, “is a new Creation.” This side of glory, maybe that is the best we can hope for. Frederich Buechner, Listening to Your Life.