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?

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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 – 18

Ed eased up to the front door of City Reach.

“Oh brother,” he thought. “One of those soup kitchen places for homeless losers. I don’t belong here. Why did that stupid judge send me to work here? Why couldn’t it be working in the City Park or something?”

He opened the door slowly. The smell of breakfast made him hungry for real food. He remembered the last meal he had was topped with white foam.

Ed looked around for someone that seemed to be in charge. Spotting Becky, who was directing someone to retrieve the salt and pepper, he hesitatingly walked over to introduce himself.

“Hello Miss; my name is Ed Hammberg. I was asked by a local official to give you a hand for a few weeks.” Ed had this part down cold. “Do you need any help?”

“Oh hello, Mr. Hammberg. Yes, the judge called me. He told me you needed a place to do some community service. We’re happy to have you help us for a while.”

Ed flushed. He hadn’t counted on his whole life history being laid out so soon.

“We do have a couple of rules, Ed. May I call you Ed?”

“Uh, yes, of course.”

“Good! You must always respect anyone who comes in here and treat them with love. And, we will have no swearing, no smoking, no alcohol and your first half hour each day here is with the staff only. We will talk about the daily menu for a few minutes and then we all pray for a bit. Sound OK?”

“Oh, uh yeah, I guess so. Pray? Yeah, OK, I can be here.”

“Great! So, Wednesday at 7:30 in the morning? Thank you, see you then.”

The duty nurse came in to check on the patients in 314. Mr. Beckett was sitting up and playing with the TV remote again. Paul was awake but a bit groggy. She slid the curtain back so each could see the other.

She then said, “Well, since you are both awake I think I will let you get acquainted. Mr. Beckett, this is Mr. Weiser; Paul, this is Frank. Enjoy your morning!”

“Good morning, Frank,” Paul said as wakeful as he could, still under some influence of the sedative.

“Uh, HUH,” returned Mr. Beckett, unsure of how to make small conversation with a man he was just now meeting who was probably the father of his daughter’s child.

“So . . . looks like you were in an accident. What happened?”

“Truck; I got hit by a truck,” Paul explained.

“Looks like the truck won, Paul. Are you a Christian?”

“A what?”

“Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” Mr. Beckett inquired.

“As my what? Savior? I don’t know what you mean. I was saved from getting killed, if that’s what you mean. And, I don’t know anybody named Jesus. I know Jose’ who was the salesman in the next region, that’s all.” Paul was unsure about what this had to do with the accident. Maybe Frank Beckett had some brain damage, though his head wasn’t wrapped up.

“No, I meant have you been to church and found Jesus.”

“Oh that. Yes, I went to church. That’s why I’m here. I came out kind of stumped, crossed the street and got slammed. The only thing I found in church was a bunch of people doing some ceremony that didn’t seem to include me. I don’t know how they expect to get anybody to come back when they are so unfriendly.” Paul laid back on the pillow, tired after that rant.

“Yeah, they are like that at the Catholic Church. I don’t blame you.”

“It was that big church down on Main,” Paul revealed. “I’m never going there again!”

Ramona had seen Ed Hammberg come in to City Reach. He looked familiar and thought she should know him but couldn’t place him. As she thought about it, she recalled a few years back seeing him at church. He was just a little older than her and looked a lot scruffier than she remembered.

“What did he want?” she asked Becky.

“You’ll never believe it, but he’s the guy who was driving the truck that hit Paul. The judge sent him here to do Community Service.”

“I think I know him, Becky. He went to my church and married the Pastor’s daughter.”

“Well, that’s interesting. How did Pastor Marlowe allow that?”

Ramona told what she remembered about Ed as she helped Becky clean up. “He seemed to be a decent guy, not my type, but a decent guy. I’m not sure why he went sideways but I heard the pastor was in their personal lives too much.”

“Well that can happen with any parent and their children.”

“No, I mean TOO much. He expected them to be at church for everything and didn’t even let them take time off for a vacation. Ed must have felt he couldn’t—wouldn’t live that way and left.”

Becky sighed. “Sometimes people in leadership use their positions to control others, Ramona. Couple that with the idea that the pastor may have felt that his reputation hinged on the behavior of his children and you have a recipe for misery. It happens too often. I never told you but that’s one of the main reasons I quit being a church member and became a Jesus follower instead.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Well, the church I attended was similar to Main Street Church: friendly, like a big family, they said. But when I was there for a short while the youth leader came to me and wanted me to check in weekly with one of the other leaders. I asked why and he said that I needed to be accountable to those over me. I agreed to and for a while it seemed OK, but when the other leader said he needed to approve my social friends I couldn’t see it. I mean, I thought we were supposed to have friends that didn’t know Jesus so we could ‘be Jesus’ to them.”

“So what did you do?”

“I met a few other friends who felt the same way; Jeremy was one, and we started getting together, reading Jesus’ story and asking ourselves what it might look like in today’s culture to share His message with our friends and community. That’s why we started City Reach.”

“Cool!” Ramona said. “At first I thought you were just doing something to feel good about yourself; you know, giving back to the poor people. But I didn’t realize you had a deeper reason. I guess that makes sense. I remember now about Eben, the guy I met my first time here. That is cool, Becky. I like the idea of serving the poor so you can share His love.”

“Yep! After all, He did feed a bunch of them as He told them stories about God and His Kingdom.”

As Mr. Beckett lay there, he thought about the guy in the bed next to him. Anger crept up on his dark side. He was conflicted about how to bring up the topic but believed it was his parental duty to confront Paul.

Paul stirred; Beckett took this as an opening.

“So you know my daughter, Ramona, huh?”

Paul shot a nervous glance his way.

“I’ve met her, yes.”

“She said you’ve more than met. Are you prepared to be a father?”

“WHAT?” Paul reeled from this sudden revelation. “Whaaat?” he stammered again. “Damn, damn, damn!”

“Yeah, you will be,” Beckett returned, “if you don’t own up.”

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 16

“Do you know him?” Ramona whispered, not wanting the other bed to eavesdrop.

“Well he, I, I mean he was in the shop a few weeks ago and was hitting on me.”

“On you? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was him. Wait, do you know him too?”

“Honestly, I wish I didn’t, but he,” she lowered her voice to where she was only mouthing the words. “He’s the one who attacked me that night, Becky!”

Becky’s face lost color as the news sunk in. “Yikes! That changes a few things.”

Ramona took Becky’s arm and led her out of the room.

“I have not seen this guy since that night, Becky, and I’m not going to let him get away again until I’ve straightened out a few things. I mean it. I feel like pushing his gurney back out into the street and letting that truck have another try!”

“I’m sure you do, Ramona, but look at it this way. Maybe God allowed this to happen to him so he could stop and think about life for a change.”

“I don’t know. What he’s been doing might be pretty hard to change. I mean, look, he charms all these women, has his way and then disappears. He gets what he wants and escapes any consequences. Pretty good gig, from his perspective.”

“Ramona, I know you will remember that there are rules about life; rules that say whatever you sow, you will reap. In other words, at some point, you can’t escape those consequences. It may be that now is that time.”

“Are you saying that because I left church looking to have fun; because I wanted to enjoy my friends and party that I deserved what I got? I didn’t deserve getting pregnant the first time I was with a guy and it wasn’t even my own choice! I was raped, Becky and he needs to pay for that, not me!”

The girl slowed down for a minute to let a nurse pass. Becky spoke up first.

“I’m just saying that along with pursuing justice there is also a bigger picture here. None of this took God by surprise. Not your legalistic background, not the early death of your mother, not your exploring the fun side of life and not the rape. The fact is He still and always has loved you, Ramona. You have been handed a challenging situation now and how you work through it will set the tone for the rest of your life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this guy hurt you deeply, I know. Even though your choices put you in a vulnerable place, his actions were very wrong. The facts at this point are that you are pregnant and whether you choose to have the baby or not, it will change your life from what you probably thought it would be.”

“That’s for sure!” Ramona sighed.

“So when I said it didn’t take God by surprise I mean He can accommodate any detours you may take on the way to becoming who you already are.”

“I’m sorry. That sounded pretty confusing, Becky. Becoming who I am? If I already am then why do I need to become that?”

“Ramona, you were born with gifts, a calling and a destiny. You are a unique, one-of-a-kind creation. You have dreams, passions and needs like we all do. But it takes time and opportunity to realize that calling and actually become who we were wired to be.”

“OK,” Ramona replied. “I think I am starting to get that. But how do you know all this stuff? I never heard it in church. I think we mostly were taught we had to become holy, stay holy and then . . . and then, well I don’t know what because I never made it that far. To be a Pastor or a Pastor’s wife was the highest achievement anyone could hope for.”

“That is a calling, but it is not the calling for everyone. There are so many places to serve God and each other and none is better or worse than another. The key is to find that calling you are passionate about and do it with excellence.”

“I guess I did an excellent job of screwing up my life. I wonder if I can ever undo the mess.”

“Ramona, there are some things that can’t be undone. The good news is that there is hope. Hope that despite the mess we may have made, God doesn’t throw up his hands in despair and say something like, ‘There you’ve gone and done something even I can’t fix, Ramona. Good luck, you’re on your own!’ He wants to be in your life and help you become who He created you to be.”

Ramona stared at the still life print on the wall behind Becky. It was faded from so many years hanging in this one spot. At one time the colors were brilliant and happy, but now they were all some varying shade of lavender, bleached yellow and faded red. It struck her that what she had become was a still life image without vibrancy.

Just a few months ago she thought the church couldn’t stop her and the whole world was waiting to show her a rocking good time. Filled with excitement to open each prettily wrapped “Box of Chocolates,” she quickly admitted naivete when one of the first boxes she opened contained a snake; which bit her badly.

She closed her eyes. A tear stole out from one side. Becky noted this and immediately asked God for direction in her response.

“Let’s go home, Ramona. We both need some rest.”

 

Driven by the wind, a steady rain started hitting the window by Paul’s bed rather hard. Along with the darkness, it accentuated the isolation that Paul was feeling. Here he was in this hospital bed; no one he knew was anywhere close and not really able to call anyone just yet.

His parents were divorced and his father moved to the east coast with a new bride. Within a few months, he passed away leaving his mother still in the small town 30 miles away. Paul’s job in sales brought him through Maple Valley every few weeks, which is why he ran into Ramona that night in the roadhouse.

He had few friends since leaving high school due partly to an itinerant work schedule. Craving the popularity he once enjoyed, he replaced the hard work of building quality relationships with manipulative encounters. His inattention to a proper work ethic and several bouts with too much alcohol had resulted in dismissal from his job a few days before the accident.

Truth be known, he had slipped into a depression. That foray into church a few nights before, though he didn’t realize it, was a desperate cry for some kind of help. He had heard about Jesus somewhere in the past but really had hoped to talk to some friendly face. If only he had seen one!

– To Be Continued –