Birthday Blog

One year ago I started this blog. On my About this Blog page, I describe my intention to explore off the map if need be, in search of God sightings and venues where the Spirit is operating. Today I want to share a little of what I have found.

But let me back up for a minute. The bulk of my church and religious history includes a somewhat dispensational idea that this world is in a spiritual freefall; a spiral that can only end in a well-earned damnation of eternal, never ending lake of fire future for those who didn’t make the choice to serve God.

I won’t argue the merits or deficiencies in God’s strategy for dealing with his unbelievers. Quite frankly, I don’t plan to be in a place like that anyway so I’m not forced to deliberate the Fahrenheit of Hell.

Of course, for the faithful, a quick snatch away from the jaws of certain roasting-without-being-burned brings a sigh of relief. Again, I am not enticed into the debate about pre, mid, post or whenever deliverance will come. Do you know how many churches have blown up, how many believers have gone to the dark side of a life sans faith, how many sincere people have been mortally wounded because of polarization on the last two paragraphs?

My determined position is that I will invest my hungry heart in searching for how I can join with the activity of God and see His Kingdom Come in my lifetime. For me, a way to identify what that looks and feels like is the Hebrew term, Shalom. As I have researched the meaning it seems to include the concept of a peaceful, orderly environment where the will of Yahweh is not questioned but lived by all joyfully.

In short, our long-lasting tenure in that previous church culture concluded implicitly and explicitly that although we should preach the Gospel, not many would be converted. In fact, the “not fifty righteous” evaluation from God to Abraham about Sodom was juxtaposed over our culture and evil times to result in a resigned sigh that “maybe we were the only ones who would make it, and I’m not so sure about you” kind of mentality.

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket loaded on the bullet train. So why try to de-rail that certainty? Just get more holy and be sure you are ready” is the conclusion I came to. So why try? Why entertain the possibility that there may be an amazing move of God in this era of history?

Well, when I read “I will pour my Spirit out on all flesh,” it bothers me. When I read the Great Co-mission housing the command that I, one of his disciples, should be making other disciples, casting out devils and healing the sick, it bothers me. When I look at most church structures and communities today and I don’t see all five of the leadership gifts operating in concert like St. Paul insisted in his letter to the Ephesians, it bothers me. When I see that the problems in our world today and the slippery slope this nation is on, it bothers me. It bothers me because I believe it is because the church as a whole has no power.

We have powerful, moving entertainment. We have powerful moving, charismatic speakers. We have powerful, high quality coffee bars. What we lack is the power of God.

I firmly believe, and this is an adamant statement, that the reason we are so polarized as a nation, so divided on issues of rights, entitlements, and so full of hate is due to a lack of power in the church and out of the church. That bothers me. And when something is bothersome, like a sliver, we tend to do something about it.

So now, returning to my opening statement, how and where have I seen God activity? Some of what I am seeing is awareness in other folks of their own rising hunger. As I engage with others and build new relationships I am more sensitized to God activity in our conversation. At the core, material stuff and frivolous pursuits have lost color because of (as we know) that insatiable vacuum that only a connection with God can satisfy.

The second place I have seen God activity is in me. It has been very hard for God, I’m sure. In the last several months, as I have prayed for direction and clarity I have only heard his words of counsel to have faith. I have searched my memory archives for that one huge Word of promise that He would bring me into my place of destiny and it would look like . . . whatever, but I can’t recall that earth-shattering, bolt of lightning, undeniable, black and white Word that can never be doubted, kind of communication.

However, there is a faithful, steady stream of small words of favor, snippets of reassuring hymns, a sentence in scripture, a quick scene from a dream, a paragraph from a book, a gentle “Atta-boy” from a friend that has been my story and my journey.

Do I see the Spirit moving? Is there a moving in my spirit? Is there a shaking of the leaves on the trees in my social circles? Yes. Am I encouraged? Yes. Do I believe I can be a power tool moved by His Spirit? I must be. It is time to do my part and step into the position of authority that He has planned for me.

So when I read these words this morning, they resonated with my thirsty spirit. I can only post a short segment but this aptly and succinctly described my 40 year desert wandering.

“There are many of you who have received a word from the Father. Perhaps the heavens didn’t open up, but the Lord has spoken to you, called you His beloved, and His Spirit has alighted upon you. Many of you have received a word from God, but your life has never changed. You have felt God release you to set sail, but you remain moored at the dock—stuck in a particular phase of your life.” Faisal Malick: Positioned to Bless

For you and I, this is a pregnant moment. How will you; will I, move into the next thing God is doing? Friends, we are on the leading edge of an incredible shift that will usher us into a Kingdom reality like we have not seen in our lifetime. I am preparing my heart with a determination to not look back. Are you with me?

Advertisements

A Song I Can Sing

Music has always been my go to touchstone with God. Sometimes when the requisite reading of scripture doesn’t serve up the desired comfort/blessing/encouragement or (insert the current felt need here), worship music can usually connect with my spirit and bring a satisfactory satiation of that longing for contact with God.

That’s why the following experience rocked me in a way that caused me to evaluate my dependence on a song to make me feel good; to meet my needs.

It is so hard to face the fact that it’s not about me. It never has been but I act like it is. But can I go through the withdrawals and dependencies on a predictable formula for relationship with God without the hard work of investing time and honoring Him just because He is worthy. It is all about Him.


 

Church was nearly over. The pastor handed me songbook and asked me to find one to sing before dismissing the meeting. I opened the hymnal and proceeded to look for an appropriate closing song.

As I leafed through the pages I noticed that none of them were familiar to me. I didn’t know any of them! There were lots of songs. Many were old, old obscure hymns extolling the virtues of the faith. Some were deep theological truths set to music.

Others seemed to concentrate on the beauties of nature; how the robin’s song echoes the glories of God and creation shows His handiwork. But I couldn’t sing any of them because I didn’t know them.

By this time the pastor had slid onto the piano bench to accompany the singing. I turned to him. “I don’t know any of these songs; I can’t sing them,” I said.

“Oh, I know lots of songs from that book. There are some good ones,” he said.

“But I can’t sing them because I don’t know them,” I insisted. I looked again, but it was no use. Nothing was familiar;

I had no song that I could sing.

I woke up. A song that I knew well had been in my mind and heart for about a week. I found it on YouTube and played it.

Tears came quickly. This, this was a song I could sing. “To Him Who Sits on the Throne and Unto the Lamb, Be Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power Forever!”

My ability to find a song in life has usually been a process but never lost for long. With the ups and downs of typical spiritual struggles and victories, there have been those high, joyous experiences with God of emotional exuberance.

There have been times of wrestling with self and the dark night of the soul. In time though, the sun would break through and a song would lift me out of seeming despair.

Now here, at the ending of the service; perhaps a metaphor of the late summer of my life, I found myself unable to find a song. Except that the only song I can sing is one extolling His praises.

It is not one found in a codified hymnal disconnected from the realities of life. Not a song about God but a song to God.

It turns the attention away from me and the facts of what I know, or don’t know, and in spite of that gives praise to Him Who sits on the Throne.

Storied Past – 21

“Is Pastor Marlowe home?”

A distinguished man stood on the porch. He was dressed well and looked important.

“Uh, yes; yes he is. Please come in. I’ll tell him he has a visitor. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Mary Elizabeth queried awkwardly.

“Oh no, my apologies. Please tell him Judge Parker would like a few moments of his time, if at all possible. Thank you, miss.” He stepped into the small entry.

“Of course; I’ll be right back.”

“Dad, there’s a Judge Parker here. He said he’d like to see you for a few minutes.”

“Judge Parker? Oh my; I wonder what he wants. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. I will be right there.” Marlowe looked a bit rattled. “What in the . . . ?” he thought. He went out to greet the visitor.

“Judge, welcome. What brings you over today? I hope I don’t have an unpaid parking ticket.” Marlowe gave a nervous laugh. “Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. Could you give us a few minutes alone?”

“Pastor Marlowe! Great to see you again. It’s been a while. And is this Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, wife of Ed Hammberg?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Marlowe answered. “That is, she is married to him, yes. What does that . . .”

“Oh, good!” the judge interrupted. “I’d love to have her be part of this conversation, if you don’t mind, Marlowe.”

“Well, does it concern her?” Marlowe was puzzled at this request.

“Actually, I believe it does, and should. May we sit down and talk someplace?” They gathered in the pastor’s office with the two residents wondering what this was all about.

“Thank you Pastor for giving me a few moments. I’ll get right to the point.” He paused for emphasis. “I’m sure you are both aware that Ed was involved in an accident a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yes,” Pastor Marlowe said. “I had heard something about that. Is he OK or did he wind up in jail?”

“Well, he is fine. No injuries that I am aware of. I assigned him some community service in place of incarceration. He has started that already. What I want to talk about though is why you, young lady, are living here with your parents and not with your husband. Did he mistreat you in some way or is there some other reason?”

“No, he has never hurt me. My father said . . .” She apparently thought better of the direction she was headed. “Well, Ed started drinking some and my father thought he might hurt me. He insisted, er . . . suggested that I come back home for a while.”

Marlowe butted in; “Well, I felt like he was developing habits that could cause problems down the road for Mary Elizabeth, Judge, so I . . . suggested that she come home until he got straightened out, that’s all.”

“Mmmm,” Judge Parker intoned. “But he never physically or verbally abused you or caused you to feel afraid?”

“No, never, Judge. He came home after work a little late sometimes and I know he had been to the pub but when he came home he usually just went to bed. A few times he seemed angry and spoke rough to me but he wasn’t mad at me. Seems like there was something bothering him, like he was angry about something or someone.”

“What do you think was bothering him, Mary Elizabeth?” The Judge probed a little, hoping to get to the bottom of this. He had known Ed since he was a pipsqueak and his family as well, so the recent behavioral acting out wasn’t adding up.

“Well . . . I’m not really too sure, Judge. I noticed it a little while after our wedding. We do still love each other so I don’t think he was sorry we married or anything.”

“You know folks; I’ve known the Hammbergs for many years. They have lived in the Valley for more than thirty-five years and have been a good, solid Christian family. Ed’s dad and I went to college together and I have been in their home many, many times. I watched Ed grow up with his two sisters. I saw how he treated them and the way he honors his parents. He has always given my wife and me the utmost respect. So his behavior the last little while really puzzles me. And, it seems to have started not long after he and you, Mary Elizabeth, were married.”

“Well, I . . . I don’t know. Yes, he, or rather it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me either.”

“Well, people change you know, and sometimes they aren’t always who you think they are,” Marlowe interjected with a hint of sarcasm.

Judge Parker looked directly at the pastor.

“Yes, that is true, Pastor, but they don’t usually change overnight like that unless there is a motivating factor in their environment. In Ed’s case, it seems like what he has been doing is some kind of coping mechanism for, as you pointed out Mary Elizabeth, some pain or disappointment he has been experiencing. My years of judicial experience and psychology training years ago have taught me to look deeper than the presenting misbehavior. Usually, there is a reason.”

Marlowe could hardly sit still. “Well I had counseling training when I went to Seminary, too. These kinds of behavior are, at the root, sin. So when someone goes out and gets drunk there is a simple answer; he or she needs to get saved!”

“Pastor Marlowe, I don’t think every situation is quite that simplistic. And, in my court room, I try not to rush to judgment but try instead to look behind the behavior for a cause. Sometimes folks just need a little understanding or someone to take the time to help them process through a past or present issue. Seems like that would be how you would operate in your position too, don’t you think, Pastor? Kind of like how Jesus did with everyone, except the religious elite?”

“Er, yes, of course. Like Jesus did. Right.” Marlowe realized he had been set up.

“And, going one step further, aren’t we all glad we didn’t get immediate judgment for our past sins and “mistakes?” Judge Parker looked directly at Marlowe again, hoping he got the implicit reference.

“Oh, absolutely, Judge, absolutely. I completely agree; couldn’t agree more. In fact, Mary Elizabeth and I were discussing their getting back together again right before you came. Right, sweetheart? We were just saying that it might be good for them to have another go at it; that he was needing help with his recovery. Yes, I completely agree.”

“Well now, that is good news, Pastor. Let me know if there is anything I can do in addition to the community service piece. I am looking forward to reconciliation and recovery for this couple. I believe that’s what God would want, don’t you agree?”

“Yes, your honor, yes I do. That’s what God would want. Amen.”

“Wonderful! I will excuse myself then. I am hoping the best for you two, Mary Elizabeth. Oh yes; there’s no need to share our conversation with Ed. He has enough to worry about right now. Good day!”

“Thank you Judge, thank you very much,” she mumbled.

Mary Elizabeth couldn’t quite grasp what had just happened. Stunned at the influence the judge apparently had and her father’s sudden reversal she wondered how, or what could cause her father to change his hard views so quickly. Did the judge elicit that much respect from Marlowe, or . . . or did the judge have some kind of power over her father? Did he know something? What was it?

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 20

Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, Ed’s wife, had been thinking for several weeks about him. They had talked fairly often, but since her father had insisted she come back home until Ed straightened himself out, she had been confused about her role and her future. She did want to be a wife to her husband; after all she did love Ed, and she really didn’t want to live apart from him.

Ed was always kind to her; well, except when he was drinking. But deep inside, she believed that it was his way of escaping her father’s strong micromanagement of their marriage. There weren’t many places where Ed could make his own decisions so he seemed to choose to drink just to prove he had some control over something.

One time he shared with her that her father was so finicky about what they could and could not do that Ed found it impossible to find activities outside of the stringent church schedule. Everything seemed to be classified as a sin and he said he never really knew where he stood with God. At least when he was drinking, he and everyone else knew he was a sinner.

Like some other young girls and particularly those in her church, the ideal marriage was one in which she was a homemaker without an outside career; a good, loving wife and somewhere in the near future, a mother. How would that ever happen for her now? She respected her parents and all but she really wanted her own home, too. And this arrangement was not what she had dreamed about.

She wished she could have a conversation with her father and just talk about how she was feeling. But she didn’t really know how to do that. He was not that type of a father. Once he had made up his mind about something that was it. No negotiating or listening to reason.

Other kids at school used to talk about outings with their fathers; “daddy dates” and such. She didn’t recall ever doing something so fun and having her father’s love and attention focused on just her. Her father loved her; she was pretty sure about that. He loved her in a righteous, protective, responsible way; but not affection.

Affection. That’s what she got when she started hanging out with Ed. He was a gentleman; chivalrous even. He always opened the doors for her, smiled and paid attention to her exclusively when they were together. She loved getting the attention and feeling valued by this handsome guy. And, like often happens, that led to places they shouldn’t have gone. Thinking about it now she didn’t regret it necessarily, but she guessed should have waited.

Her heart longed for closeness with someone. She felt so disconnected; like she didn’t know where she belonged. Pastor Marlowe (why couldn’t he just be her dad?) always maintained his pastoral air even in front of his family.

“Set apart,” was what he would say. “I must be set apart unto God and not become entangled in the affairs of this world.”

Really? What about real life issues? What about real pain, like she was going through right now? After all, she reasoned, she did get her father’s permission to marry Ed and now she was pulled out from her home by the same man. She understood that Ed needed some help but she was willing to walk through treatment with him, or whatever.

It was mid-morning. Her father was no doubt in his office downstairs. Maybe she could try to talk with him. But what would she say to get through to him?

She knocked on the office door. “Come in,” her father called out.

“Good morning, Dad. I want to talk to you.”

“Of course; just a minute.”

Mary Elizabeth stood waiting for Marlowe to finish the sentence he was writing in some notes. He was editing a personal testimony story to be introduced next Sunday. There were many of these that members of the church could take and hand out to friends and family they wanted to invite.

“OK, Mary Elizabeth, what can I do for you?” He continued working.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking about Ed.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I . . . I kind of miss him,” she said.

“Oh, I’m sure you do?” He still seemed otherwise occupied.

“I am going to move back in with him,” she stated with uncharacteristic confidence.

This got the man’s attention. “I don’t think so, Mary Elizabeth. Don’t you remember the hell you went through? Is your memory that short?”

“I remember, Dad, I remember. I also remember that Ed couldn’t seem to do anything right either, according to your opinion. We never really had a chance to figure out for ourselves how to have a relationship with each other because you were always interfering.”

“What? Watch your mouth, young lady! I’m still your father.”

“Yes, but you are not my husband. I am married now and I intend to go back home and be the wife I need to be to a sick man that I still love.”

She got up, wheeled around, and quickly exited the room, slamming the door behind her.

Just then the front doorbell rang.

Storied Past – 19

“What’s that supposed to mean, sir? Here you are right now telling me something I know nothing about and asking me to own up. I’m not owning up to anything until I talk to that girl—your daughter I guess, and find out what’s going on.”

Mr. Beckett backed off for a minute. Realizing his confrontational approach was making Paul mad and wouldn’t get the information he wanted, he figured he would try a different tack.

“OK, I guess I came off a little intense, Paul. Suppose I start over.” Beckett breathed out slowly. “Ramona’s mother and I raised her to be a Christian, to go to church. We were very careful to make sure her friends were church friends. She wasn’t allowed to go to movies or wear pants and makeup. But she started rebelling against our rules and several months ago she quit coming to church.”

“Her mother, Sarah, passed away a couple years before and she must have blamed God or something. She started hanging out with kids I didn’t know and she got to dancing and partying and . . . and I’m guessing that’s when she met you.”

Paul thought for a moment before he spoke.

“I’m sorry but that sounds kinda weird to me, Mr. Beckett. I mean, you told her what to wear and stuff? Sounds a bit strong. It’s no wonder she kicked at that. I would have, too.” He started to say something about being glad his parents weren’t like that but thought better of it. After all, they weren’t really model parents anyway.

“Well, Paul, I know you’ll be talking to her very soon. I’m sure she has a lot to say to you. And, you can be sure the law will be involved at some point soon.”

Paul groaned.

 

Ramona walked toward the hospital very slowly after her chat with Becky. So much was going through her mind. Maybe she was wrong about church. Well, no, maybe not so much about church but about her understanding and experience with church.

Could it be that in walking away from the church she also walked away from God, throwing both in the same wastebasket.

Becky’s story intrigued her. She tried to imagine what it might be like to have faith in God without being forced to experience Him only through the eyes of a church and its demands on her. What did God demand? What did He really want from her? If what He wanted was to look like everyone else, sing the same kind of music, marry whoever the Pastor okayed and not enjoy life, then that would never work for her.

IF, however, and this was a big IF. If God could love her for the way she was created, the way she seemed to be wired; if God was more concerned about people simply loving Him and loving other people and doing the right things for the right reasons, then . . . then she was in.

 

The afternoon was cool but sunny. Spring was coming. She thought again about the baby’s due date. October seemed so far away. In Maple Valley, that time of year would start bringing the rainy, cold, blustery winter days. Brrrrrr! Summer would be a really different life this year. No stylish swimsuits for her.

She thought as she approached the front doors that she should stop at the desk and get a referral for a pediatrician. Now that she had mostly decided to keep the baby it was time to get that piece in place.

She also told herself that she wanted to come see her dad. But she hoped Paul would be awake. Now this might be awkward with her dad in the next bed but she figured he would be on her side and in spite of the situation, he would protect her.

 

The two men had conversed little since Beckett’s threat about bringing the Law around. Paul’s depression was not improved with the conversation anyway. He considered the morphine drip again.

“Hello Dad, how are you feeling this afternoon?”

Ramona tried to be cheerful, thinking she needed to contrast her attitude with her dad with the one she intended to use with Paul.

“Hi, pumpkin. Your day going alright?

“Ok so far, I think.”

Paul groaned again. Now, he figured; now he would face the music and he didn’t know what kind of tune Ramona would play. He braced himself.

“Looks like you are awake, too, Paul. Guess what? You are a father.”

“Ramona, I . . . I am so sorry I . . . I’m really embarrassed. I had no idea that . . .”

His voice trailed off.

“Do you know what kind of trouble you are in, mister? Do you know? Did you realize how long you could go to jail if you got caught in your little con game?”

Her voice had become strong and she clenched her teeth so that it caused her to literally quiver with anger.

“Did you even think about it before you . . . before you raped me? Before you charmed me and drugged me and raped me? Did you even think with your brain instead of . . . instead of . . .

She stopped abruptly, remembering her dad was in the room.

“. . . instead of thinking about your victim? Huh? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

“No; no I didn’t. Is that what you want me to say? I totally was thinking about myself; about what I wanted. I have always thought that; what I want in life. I never cared about anyone else but myself.”

Paul’s voice broke.

“Ramona, this, this baby is just way over the edge for me. I actually think I may know how you feel because I have had so much crap happen to me I think this must just be some kind of payback for the life I have lived. I have always been able to control my life and other people but now . . . now I think I’m in over my head. I don’t know what to do.

Paul looked at Ramona with a face that revealed he had met his match. “Can we just talk about stuff? Maybe; maybe you can help me, if you wanted to.”

That last comment disarmed her and partially diffused her anger. Why would he ask her for help? Did he mean it? What kind of help?

She turned so her back faced Paul.

“I . . . I have to think, Paul. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with that. I need to think.”

Walking past her dad, who was also taken aback by Paul’s request, she went out into the hall. This was not how she imagined the conversation would go. She intended to exert emotional pressure on him and demand some answers, but this . . . this idea of helping him get straightened out; this she didn’t expect.

“Oh God,” she prayed, “I don’t want to be manipulated. Please help me wrap my brain around this. I don’t want to help this man. He hurt me so badly.”