Lent Day #38: The heart opens from the inside

 

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“To the angel of the church inLaodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:15-19

I am just finishing up the book, “Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun and I feel the kind of awe and stillness that comes as a result of seeing a people, a church, fully yielded and committed to their Lord and the miraculous things He does through them as a result. When you finish a book like that there is really nothing you can say, except that I felt like I got a glimpse of the real church in action.

Right now, the world is watching real Christianity as its marched across the global stage in its purest and most self-sacrificing form, by following the example that Jesus Himself set. All my life I have been taught that Jesus is standing at the door knoocking on the heart of the unsaved sinner. Brother Yun reminded me in his book that the door that Jesus is standing in front of is none other than the church door. And hearts, like doors, open from the inside. Sobering thoughts on this 38th day of Lent.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Revelation 3:20-22

All I can do is watch in awe as my brothers and sisters all over the world, and many right here on our own soil, are stepping up one by one and saying, “We won’t turn back, no matter how hard it gets, even if we have to pay with our very own lives.”

Sometimes the sacrifices others make seem all but impossible to me, settled as I am in my comfortable corner of life. Other times, the sacrifices are played out in the smaller, more ordinary ways; the everyday choices to do the right thing over and over again, even in extremely challenging circumstances. I guess it’s easy for me to think of Jesus being really impressed with the “Big” ones and chide me for my pithy offerings, but the truth is, He notices things like cold cups of water given in love.

All I can do is peer into my own heart in humble gratitude that He still loves me, regardless of how far too often, my hands still clutch at the world and my eyes are still dazzled by all it has to offer.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

Lent Day 37#: Waiting for our Salvation

 

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I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:24-26

When I started this Lent writing it was with the distinct purpose of not writing anything without first having a quiet time in prayer focused on seeking the Lord with an attitude of expectation of what words He would give me. It has been a richly rewarding experience I won’t soon forget. Many times I struggled and heard nothing until very late in the day, but I always received something. 

I have written before how this blog was birthed when I start having these times alone with God in the mornings out in the little shop. Those times have become an integral part of my life. I guess you could say they’ve become a necessary habit. It’s important though, that it doesn’t become something stale, or just something I do to check off my list. Instead, God has rewarded my small faithfulness with something completely different.

Those times have become treasured moments spent with a Friend who longs to hear from me.

Sometimes, however, there are no quiet times to be had. That makes it all the more cherished when I do get it. When I was in California, there was little quiet time, instead there was lots of noise and activity. But in between all that there were little snatches of quiet time here and there.

There was my Mom asking me to come with her to see some trees she thought were incredible.

There was time spent at the park with my Dad and my niece, swinging on the swings.

There was my niece screaming my name over and over in excitement when she saw me at her swim practice.

There was the joyful expression on my Mom’s face when she saw her clean car.

I find that now that those quiet times have been permanently sewn into the fabric of my being, that they sometimes happen even when I don’t expect them to, even in the times that are anything but quiet.

Today I looked forward to spending a little time outside on my break where I could pray and meditate in the beautiful Arizona weather. But the landscapers had a different idea. In Between the birdsong and soft music I heard the chainsaw trimming the giant Palm trees at the entrance to our building. Thankfully it was sporadic.

It’s Spring-time here in the desert and right now it’s easy to glory in God’s creation. The thorn-yielding cacti are giving way to blooms that scream “notice me!!!” in brilliant prisms of color. The cactus wrens, doves and red-tailed hawks are all courting and building nests. Like the palm waving crowd lining the road when Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, the desert is crying out in praise to its Creator.

Picture yourself as this butterfly resting on the lilac branch. Life, work, family, and the world are all hovering around you but everything you need is right there on that flower.

You won’t go far without it.

Photo taken by my brother: Ron L. Cook

Lent Day #35: Relationship……why He came.

Love one another

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-37

Without a doubt, relationships can be the most challenging part or the most rewarding part of life. It’s those really close relationships that can really put our hearts through the wringer. We brush past people everyday barely skimming the surface of each others lives. We can smile while in line at the store, offer to let someone go in front of us, practice grace with those rude drivers, hold the door for a Mom laden down with strollers and packages, or an elderly person struggling with a walker. These are easy. It’s the ones we are closest to that are the hardest.

What do you do when a relationship you’ve always counted on is broken? It always seems like it’s one person who hurts worse than the other. How do you handle the indifference of someone you thought was so close? How can they not see your suffering in silence? How can they turn away and not care?

I believe God gave us family and friends to teach us the hardest lessons about practicing grace and love in the midst of pain. Sometimes pain so severe you think you might not live through it. But when we think about Jesus life, we see someone who loved perfectly so that we would never ever have to be alone in this life. He came to create a bond with us that would never be broken. Ever.

It’s true, we need each other. God created us to live in relationships. But the truth is, we need God more. There is only One relationship we can’t live without, either in this life or the life to come. When we put our trust in Him each day, He surrounds us with the strength and peace we need to keep going, even in the midst of turmoil in the people around us. I know that to be true from experience. Sometimes, all we can do is release our loved one to God’s care and know that as the King and Healer of hearts, He has the power to turn it around for ultimate good. But it’s so tough to do this. Jesus knows this, He was betrayed by one of his closest friends.

And I look at my own life, how I have failed Him so many times, sometimes barely skimming the surface of our relationship, even though it cost Him everything. His love continues to amaze me. He’s promised to never leave me or forsake me. That’s a guarantee that just doesn’t happen in this life.

Please know…………if you are going through heartache with a relationship today, be assured that there are people you don’t even know praying for you right now.

On earth and Heaven. Take heart, and take hope my friends.

 

Lent Day 23: Ashes to Ashes

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It’s hard to know what to post today on this 23rd day of Lent. It was a whirlwind trip and a promise fulfilled.

Vernon Curtis Dupree is back in his beloved homeland of Texas…….here with his folks.

We know that death is not the end, and it’s in this spirit that we must live each and every day.

There’s not a better way we can honor each other after we’re gone…….

In the end, it always people that matter, and of course the stories.

The stories will keep these memories alive from generation to generation.

We heard so many this trip, and they were each and every one, as precious as the lives centered around them.

We will remember.

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For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Day #18: In the desert with Jesus: Traveling

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Right now, I am sitting in an office center at the Clarion Hotel in San Angelo Texas. There is a party going on, I think it may be a “Quinceanera” in the ballroom. All I hear is the “thump, thump, thump” of the base and Beyoncé’s voice saying “If you liked it then you should a put a ring on it……….” The day of traveling was like the movie, “Planes, trains and automobiles.” We had to run from Terminal 8 to Terminal 92 (no joke) at the Denver airport. We had to spend a little extra time with TSA with E’s Dad’s remains though the checkpoint. Then when we got to Midland/Odessa the luggage was already off the carousel. There was another guy on the same flight and they sent his bags to some other town. We went back to ticketing/check-in and handed over our baggage claim ticket to the smiling lady behind the counter and then she disappeared behind the double doors. We held our breath and said a prayer. Both bags were there. Thank you Jesus!

Then, when we got into our rental car we noticed there was a crack across the entire windshield. So back I went. We got another car and headed down the road. Around 100 miles east to San Angelo to take Elaine’s Dad’s ashes to his final resting place here on earth, the place he loved. A mission of love and a promise……his only request. So tomorrow we will take him there and say another goodbye.

Tonight the three cousins shared stories and I listened and laughed along with them, and somehow, it all fits. This mission we are on fits with this journey of Lent. Sometimes its good to go back to your roots, the place you grew up and had your first memories. And sometimes it’s fun to come along while others revisit old times, old memories, old stories.

The stories are what hold us all together after all. I am thinking that Jesus was probably doing some reflecting about His own growing up years during those 40 days in the desert. It touches me that Jesus went back to where His own cousin John the Baptist preached after he was thrown in prison. I wonder if he was thinking about growing up, and cousins, and family and his hometown.

I didn’t have much quiet time today, we were on the move from 5 AM until just about an hour ago. Tonight, I will reflect on today’s events and be thankful I have clothes.

And the beat goes on in the ballroom. They have switched to Spanish music now.

Blessings from the road……………San Angelo, Texas tonight.

Fact: San Angelo was once the biggest producer of wool in the world. (In case you were wondering why the sheep picture)

Day 17 in the Desert

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It’s always easy when you’re striding along that wide sunlit road and things are going well. It’s easy to sit sanctimoniously here in my safe place when everything’s going just fine and shout encouragement up to you as you’re desperately scrambling on the rocks. I shout, “Hey you there, I’ll bring you some water when you come down! You can do it, I know you can, keep up the good work, bro!  You barely glance my direction for you’re too busy concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other.

But I have been through enough to remember that hard path, and for that I am thankful. And so I scramble up to you and side by side, we make it together. I hand you a canteen and I can see you are grateful.

There have been too many times I have passed people by, too intent on my own story to find out about theirs.

I’m wondering, on this 17th day in the desert with Jesus, if I’ve ever really sacrificed anything for the sake of the cross.

My heart goes out to those today in the persecuted church. The list grows long…….China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Africa, Ukraine. All over the globe people are losing their lives, and not just for the cross. In some cases, just for being different brand of religion or people group.

And right here in America…..it’s getting more unpopular isn’t it, to call yourself a Christian. I like what they went by in the early church, “Followers of the Way.” Yes I like that very much. Every day here in this land, people are waking up with flickering candles, trying desperately to keep them lit no matter what. They cup their hands pretectively around them, against all odds.

I see people, brave ones in difficult situations; making the right choices when it’s neither easy or popular. I see the worry on their faces, wondering how far the paycheck is going to stretch and still not hesitating to give when they see someone else in need. Taking care of sick kids, sick parents, sick friends. Everyday they light their candle of hope and set out again courageously on paths that are steep and getting steeper.

We may not always be exempt from real persecution or threat here in America and I can only hope and pray that we will be good stewards of our safe shores.

And help me, Lord, be one to blow a little breath of encouragement to keep my neighbor’s candle lit instead of being one who snuffs it out with negative attitudes and cynicism. Or grumbling and complaining. I want to be one who flickers the flame to life.

A hope bringer to a world that needs it desperately.

There can be no faith without doubt, no hope without anxiety, and no trust without worry. These shadow us from dawn to dusk, indeed, they appear even in our dreams. As long as we withhold internal consent to these varied faces of fear, they are no cause for alarm, because they are not voluntary. When they threaten to consume us, we can overpower them with a simple and deliberate act of trust: “Jesus, by your grace I grow still for a moment and I hear you say, ‘Courage, It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’ I Place my trust in your presence and your love. Thank you.

Brennan Manning

 

This next week will be interesting since I will be traveling and access will be hit and miss. Posts may be a bit “different” So I thank you in advance for your patience. Lori

photo: google images

Lent Day #16: “Thou shalt nots” in an age of Grace

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By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you my friends…………

to agree in what you say

 so that there will be no divisions among you.

Be completely united,

with only one thought

and one purpose.

1 Corinthians 1:10 

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 If one part of the body suffers,

all the other parts suffer with it;

if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.

All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. 

Is it really possible for the Church to be totally unified?  I believe so, because God doesn’t ask us to do things that aren’t possible.  When Jesus prayed, He prayed for this one thing more than any other, that the church would be unified and united in love. I believe He still is. But as important as love is,  love alone is not enough. According to the Beatles, it’s all we need. According to the Bible, love means obedience too. Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Just the love without the obedience or Holiness and you just have a big commune.

Everyone does whatever they think is right in their own eyes and lives happily ever after.

There were lots of those in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They didn’t last.

My words are few today and I struggled with them. In this age of Grace we have been immersed in for over 2000 years, we don’t always like “Thou shalt nots.” But I do believe they are necessary. Just like the “Shalts” are.

I think the best thing the Church can do, expecially during this season of Lent, is pray for one another. And one day, we can be sure……God will bring about this promise if not here, then in Heaven.

Let’s get a head start.

Lent Day #13: What is Truth?

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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.”

Lent Day #11: Putting my heart through the wash cycle

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I head out to my car, again for some quiet time. And today I really have nothing, nada, no idea what “word manna” will come down if any. All I have is my inner assurance that something will. I have never done anything like this. It’s like a Holy experiment because I have determined that I will not write anything just for the sake of ticking one more post off the list, but to be silent until I receive something from the Holy Spirit. And like the manna that fell like snow for the Israelites in the desert, words can’t be left over. And neither can they be written ahead.

I open the sunroof and the sound of birdsong drifts in. A mockingbird is singing his heart out from a nearby Mesquite tree and clouds are blowing in. A change is in the air. The wind in the trees somehow mimics the sounds of ocean waves. Imagine that, here in the desert! God brings me the ocean even here. He loves to give us little surprises to see if we will notice.

Slowly I scroll through the Bloglists on Facebook until I get to one that leads further in to this site: www.21martyrs.com and I hear Jesus words and they stop me in my tracks and then it hits me. This is my message for today:

Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” Luke 12:4
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!

“Surely not these atrocious acts, Lord.” Then I remembered how Saul looked in approval on as Stephen was stoned to death, before the Lord called him and he was renamed Paul. Ever since I have seen those 21 paraded out before the world, I have felt a searing hate for those with the knives. After all, I am an American patriot. We go after our enemies don’t we? Yes, part of me would love to see them wiped off the face of the earth. And yet.

Don’t I call myself a disciple of Jesus? A follower of the Way?

To forgive the unforgivable, that’s what Jesus did. Even while He was still hanging on the cross. And He calls us to do the same, impossible as it may seem. One thing I do know, everyone who dies for the sake of the Gospel and for Jesus will never die in vain. I believe God is calling us to pray, more now than ever before.

And I believe that these horrific acts that continue to color the ground red will lead to Heaven’s gates swinging open to others that may never have entered in otherwise.

As I sat there in my car listening to the trees that sounded like waves, I felt like my heart was being washed clean. I felt convicted. I felt the tide of hate in me recede just a little bit. I still hate what those people did, and God does too. But Jesus had to go to the cross because of my sin too, not just theirs. For there is no “little sin” or “big sin” in God’s eyes. It’s all the same.

And I know the only way I can possibly hope to forgive the unforgivable is to do it with His power and not my own. And by believing that anyone can be redeemed.

Because I was.

Let’s all pray. Join me over the next 40 days. For further reading please check out what Ann Voskamp has to say below.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2015/02/the-call-for-the-next-40-days-to-the-nations-people-of-the-cross/

 

 

Lent Day 8: When we tell God He’s not enough

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Each day I choose to give in to fear and anxiety, I am telling God He is not enough. It all begins with a choice doesn’t it? Faith is an everyday active choice of opening our eyes to what’s right in front of us and actively saying:

Despite the circumstances, the uncertain road ahead, the panic and indecision that threatens to smother my soul, I am choosing right now this day to open my eyes to the gifts you have given me today. I am making a conscious choice to live a life that says, “You God, are more than enough.”

When we are preoccupied with everything that might happen if we make a wrong choice we make ourselves God. We are telling God that He’s not big enough to make something wonderful come out of it. When we wake up under a cloak of fear, we rob the people around us. We are less than God wants us to be. The people I care about deserve more than that. I don’t want to rob them or myself of being less than what they deserve: A conduit of God’s love and grace. I don’t want to miss what God has for me today.

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The Christian life more than any other, should be full of optimism, hope, life, joy…….laughter should come easy. (Thankfully most of the time, that is one thing that does come easy for me.) Lent for me this year is becoming a process of emptying myself of all the junk that threatens to pollute my spirit and replacing it with what God wants to put there.

When I started this 40 day journey I didn’t know where it would lead. I still don’t know if I have enough words to do this 40 days straight. It’s a process of waiting each day until the Holy Spirit moves me to write. Honestly, today I felt pretty empty. But God showed me how incredibly vast my fortune was. I couldn’t ignore it.

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But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:33,34

 

And thank you Elaine, for the “Mini-Daffys” they make me smile……..