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?

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 –

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!

Shalom Revisited – 2

Can I share a sequel to last week’s post? Thank you. I knew you would (smile).

I am feeling that the air, the atmosphere, is pregnant with promise. I have hope for the future. Do you?

Is there a breath-holding anticipation for what is imminent?

Is your spirit incubating a word from God, a desire or a dream that has yet to realize maturity? I mean a personal word or promise God gave you. A call or assignment that you do not yet possess?

I believe we are coming into a large place, a season, where the Kingdom is budding into a very real manifestation. It has always been here since Jesus brought it but he intended that it would flourish and develop into rule, not exception.

“Well, I don’t know,” you say. “I don’t see the world headed that way. It’s running a million miles an hour away from God,” you say; and you would be right. However, the spirit that now controls this world is resisting vehemently because it is in the death throes of final demise.

I think we will witness a change in the world systems and governance very soon. But there are some qualifiers to our ability to see and participate. If you have read this far, you probably have met the first one. This clip unpacks it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5 NLT)

Here, I think, Jesus is saying that to “see” the Kingdom of God he is not necessarily referring to someday in the future. The Kingdom is here and now, as he says in another place. Therefore, we will see and enter the Kingdom of God only if and when, we are born again. But that is exactly when we can see it, when we are born again; if we know how to look for it and what to look for.

Seeing the Kingdom will open our eyes to God’s activity in the present world, of which we are a part. Nick and his friends saw the miraculous signs but that was not the Kingdom of God, only signs that the kingdom was present.

Jesus showed signs and miracles all through his life as evidence that the kingdom was present but there is another dimension to the kingdom that only “born again” people can see.

One may enter the Kingdom of God and enjoy its blessings and experience the movement and spirit of the King of that Kingdom when they are born into that Kingdom.

The next step is to participate in the advent of the Kingdom; to facilitate, to partner with; to position our lives by aligning with God in this advance to Shalom.

What is the deepest, hidden, most impossible dream of yours; to win the Powerball lottery, to have the girl or man in your fantasy, to be a huge philanthropist, to see poverty erased in your lifetime? Maybe it is to witness a major move of Holy Spirit?

May I share mine? I realize this makes me quite vulnerable but I can’t acquiesce anymore about my heart cry. I long to live under an open Heaven, to have His wisdom and Presence with and in me and touch the sick and bring healing. I want to live in purity and use my gifts to assist my community of faith to witness and participate in His Kingdom coming into our local world.

It happened, you know, a few years back, not long after Jesus was talking to Nick. Jesus went back to be with his Father. He showed his apprentices the ropes and then, like all good teachers, left them to actualize the mission.

Picture the new, improved, made-over Peter strolling to the House of Worship to pray. The sun is bright that day as he walks past some of the many beggars, the sick and diseased folk. Suddenly, after he passes, his shadow has fallen across many of them and they jump up completely healed! Luke says it this way:

As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭5‬:‭15-16‬ NLT)‬‬‬

Then there are the stories of Paul building tents on his days off from preaching or writing epistles. People sneak up (or just ask him) for his sweatband or a piece of his workshop apron and “unusual miracles” happen.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭19‬:‭11-12‬ NLT) ‬‬‬

Right! That was then and this is now. I forgot.

Oh wait! His Kingdom is returning to invade and saturate this very realm!

Throughout centuries of periodic showings; sometimes more, (Great Awakening, G.A. II, Wales Revival, Azusa Street Revival and others) sometimes less, (Dark Ages, Inquisition, corrupt churches, Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, Mars Hill debacle, etc., etc.) God still loves people and conveys His Spirit and power to and through willing, pure hearted, imperfect believers.

So, does anticipating such a visitation arouse your mind? When last was your heart moved at its core; your spirit quickened with the scent of His Presence?

We all must become engaged in the place we are so that we may influence and steward our call; be it the Church, the political sphere, business, community events, whatever.

If you haven’t yet come into what you feel is your ultimate assignment, then join me in preparing your heart. Let go of lesser values. Release others from your expectations. Live by faith and the living promise of your personal Word, not doubting its validity or its certain realization.

You know, you can’t win if you don’t play.