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?

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 – 17

The pain had slowly stolen back into Paul’s consciousness. He remembered the morphine drip and he pushed the button a couple of times.

Then he thought, “Maybe I could push it about twenty times; might solve a few other problems, too.”

That line of thinking caused him recall the confrontation with Ramona. She was right, he supposed. He had been a jerk, though that was so hard to admit for a man with an ego as big as his. He hoped that she would agree to listen to his . . . well; he didn’t quite know what to call it; confession was just too humbling a word.

The next morning, Ed Hammberg, the truck driver, was sitting in court waiting to talk to the judge about his version of the accident. He had “fortified” his courage with an adult beverage prior to arriving, contrary to his lawyer’s advice, but with his record, he figured was going to need all the help he could get.

Ed was Pastor Marlowe’s son-in-law and a long-time church attendee. Of course, there was a time when he was a Sunday school boy and knew all the Bible stories. He was fascinated by the flannel graph cutouts and loved the songs. Nobody else could sing I’m in the Lord’s Army and do all the motions as vigorously as he. But, like Ramona, he had rebelled against the pastor’s strong directives and his constant intervention in the smallest details of the lives of his congregation.

He was deeply struck by Marlowe’s daughter, however, and he played along with the whole system just so he could win Mary Elizabeth’s heart. Though a very pretty girl, no one ever suspected she had any thoughts of her own. She dressed very conservatively and tended to be introverted. With a strongly opinionated father, how else could she be?

Not very long after they were married, Ed started to miss church and within a year he had joined his work buddies at the nightly bar stop before going home. Mary Elizabeth, on the advice of her father, left him and moved back in with her parents. That only served to give Ed permission to engage in whatever he wanted. After a DUI last January, he slowed down for a while but resumed the plunge into self-destruction soon after probation.

Now, as his name was called, he moved to the front of the courtroom.

“Edward Hammberg?” The bailiff called out.

“Yes sir.”

“Well young man, you look familiar. When were you before me last?” the judge inquired.

“Uh, last January, sir,” Ed stated.

“Yes, I believe that’s right, and my record states that we had a conversation about alcohol abuse. How have you been doing with that? Are you attending those classes I sent you to?”

“Oh yes, sir. I went to all of them, sir. All ten weeks.”

Ed was a bit nervous about the question but had attended the AA classes faithfully through the probationary time.

“So then, tell me what happened on the 25th; last Wednesday evening.” Judge Parker prompted.

 

Becky and Ramona stood next to each other serving in the meal line at City Reach. As each person passed in front of her she placed a generous portion of scrambled eggs on their plate and gave them a smile. She also noticed that as the morning flew by she recognized the feeling of joy at participating in this act of kindness and that it energized her. In fact, it became a genuine, fulfilling activity that affirmed her in ways that little else had for a long time. This must be what Becky had referred to last night about becoming who she was wired to be.

She was also to be something else. Morning sickness seemed to be passing more easily but now she had noticed her body starting to exhibit physical signs of pregnancy. Standing that morning in front of Becky’s mirror she could see her profile was changing. The idea of motherhood was settling in to a certain degree and unlike her initial rejection, acceptance of this idea was truly a miracle.

“I don’t know Becky, but I’m thinking I might be able to do this mothering thing; that is, I think I might want to try.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Ramona. I’ll help but I believe you have the self-confidence inside you to raise a child once you’ve made that decision. You are a strong person, you know. Just look at how your conversation went with Paul. You showed your strong side!”

“Yeah, I kind of surprised myself there. But I was ticked and he needed to hear the truth. Of course, I guess I need to hear the truth about my own actions, too.”

Marona; I mean Ra-mo-na,” Marcy had just moved into view. “How’s your Dad doin’ today; how’s he doin’ I mean?”

“Good morning, Marcy! Well, I saw him last night and he fell asleep on me so I plan to get back after I’m done here. Thank you for asking.”

“Awright, that sounds good. Tell him I’m prayin’ for him, OK, I’m prayin’.”

Then Ramona said something she wouldn’t have dreamed of proposing six months ago.

“Would you like to go with me, Marcy, to see my Dad?”

“Yup, I would. Then I can pray for him myself! I’ll be waitin’; whenever you’re ready! I’m goin’ to the hospital to pray for her dad,” she told the man in line next to her. “He’s real sick!”

 

Ed finished his rehearsal of the night of the accident. The responding officer that night gave his report, which largely matched what Ed said. To the judge, the facts were pretty clear that Ed really was not at fault. However, since the judge knew Ed and his propensity for alcohol addiction, he decided an additional rehabilitation effort might be helpful. The judge knew Pastor Marlowe and a little of the home life situation of the Hammbergs and in his wisdom he had a brilliant idea.

“Mr. Hammberg,” he started, “your story and the officer’s story are close enough that I feel like this Mr. Paul Wieser, the victim in this incident, was primarily at fault here, even though you should have maintained control of your vehicle. I also believe that with your record and tendency to want to drive when you have had more alcohol than you should, you need a little accountability in your life. I will call your employer and have a conversation with him but I am assigning you some community service.”

Ed shifted on his feet.

“I am going to have you show up three days a week for three hours a day for a total of six weeks at the service organization, City Reach, down on Main. You can find it. Report back to me in six weeks and we will debrief. Understood?”

“Yes sir, your honor!” Ed replied.

“Next?” the judge queried.

Ed paused for a minute before shuffling off. What was this place? Six weeks? Talk to his boss? Little did he know what was in store for his and Mary Elizabeth’s future.

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 –

Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.