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.

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.

Storied Past – 9

Becky called the names Marlowe had given her. The second girl, Rachel, answered.

“Oh, I don’t really know where she could be. I haven’t talked to her since, well since she left church and kinda went into sin. She could be anyplace. Did you check that saloon, or whatever?” Rachel said.

“No, I haven’t, but thank you for the lead.” No answer on the third girl’s phone either.

“I’m not sure what to do now, Jeremy.”

“How about asking someone who does know?” he suggested.

“I’m sorry. You are so right! I’ve been a bit consumed by the crisis here and I forgot what I really should be doing first.” She bowed her head slightly. “Father, we really need some help here. Would you please show us, or lead us to Ramona? Whatever she decides to do next could impact her life forever and she needs some friends with her.”

“Thank you, Lord,” Jeremy finished.

“Duh!” Becky suddenly exclaimed. “Why don’t I just call her?” Her voice rose a bit in pitch at the end in a rhetorical question. Jeremy’s eyes rolled back in his head.

“I can’t believe we didn’t think of that already!” She scrolled down to Ramona’s number and tapped it.

 

Ramona nervously paced back and forth across the large waiting area at the bus station. The room was empty except for a sleeping pan-handler or two, and an older, sweet looking lady carrying a small bag.

A few minutes earlier she had purchased a ticket to some California town, Rancho something-or-other. She didn’t really care where she went. She just thought that any place in California would be safe and far enough away that she could start over. With the few hundred dollars or so she had saved, at least she could get a room somewhere, pay for the procedure and hopefully find a job before she ran out of money. If only she could stop this insistent, naggy voice deep down inside that was disagreeing with this whole line of reasoning!

She felt her phone vibrate and then ring. She looked at the number that popped up; Becky Moore!

“No, I just can’t talk to her right now,” she thought as she let it go to voicemail. “She will just try to talk me out of this.”

The monotone loudspeaker voice sounded bored as it announced the arrival of her ride south. She walked to the door indicated by the voice and waited. The sweet, old lady approached and smiled at her.

“Hello. You must be going on my bus, too.” Her smile was disarming and friendly to the point that Ramona couldn’t ignore her.

“Uh, yes, I guess so.” She kind of reminded her of her grandmother. She died when Ramona was only six years old but left such a wonderful memory.

“My name is Edith. Would you care to share a seat with me? I could use some company.”

Ramona really didn’t want conversation with anyone but maybe she would be kind and gentle, like her grandmother. She decided to take a risk anyway. Maybe “Edith” would go to sleep.

“OK, sure.”

 

Becky hung up her phone.

“No answer, Jeremy. Well, I can try again later. I don’t have any other ideas, do you?”

“Do you think she might leave town?” he posited.

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t heard of any doctors who do that sort of surgery here in Maple Valley. Maybe she would leave. Let’s drop by the bus station before we head home. It’s only a few blocks away.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jeremy said.

They left the coffee shop and walked toward the Pub-Trans station. As they approached the block where the station was, they had to pause while a big interstate bus turned in front of them.

“Oh, I hope she’s not on that one!” Jeremy moaned. They tried looking in the windows but they were all darkened by the tint and couldn’t make out any faces.

 

At that moment, Ramona looked out past Edith. Her heart nearly stopped as she recognized Becky waiting to cross the street. As the blood drained from her face, which must have had a look of horror as well, Edith asked, “Are you alright dear? You look worried about something.”

“I’m OK; I just . . . may have forgotten to turn the iron off. Well, no worries, it goes off after thirty minutes. I’m fine.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Well, where are you going; to visit some relatives?” Edith asked.

“No. I don’t know anyone where I’m going.” She suddenly realized what she had said and knew that statement made her vulnerable to more lines of questioning from this Edith lady. But Edith didn’t pursue the unintentional blunder.

“Oh, that’s lovely!” Edith said. “What a great adventure you must be looking forward to!”

The statement sounded like her grandmother, too. Come to think of it; she had a slight resemblance to Grandma Beckett. She was short, plumpish and smelled of lavender.

“Yes. It will be an adventure, I’m sure.” Ramona returned. The way she said it, she was sure she didn’t sound very convincing.

“I’m off on an adventure, too!” Edith shared. “It is completely new territory for me. I’m going to a retirement village down near the Oregon border. All of my things are there already and I am excited to meet my new friends.”

“Meet . . . your . . . new . . . friends?” Ramona asked haltingly. “How can they be friends and you haven’t met them yet? Doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, you ARE right. I don’t know them yet but I am sure I will like them. I have peace about my future and I know everything that happens to me will be special. I am so blessed!”

This sounded a little too disconnected from experience for her taste. She felt special all right; like, specially taken for an idiot and especially in trouble now! But blessed? All she felt was cursed; cursed to a life controlled by everyone but her.

“How can you feel so confident about your future? I’m not sure about tomorrow but I intend to take control of my future and do what I want to do.”

“Oh no, my dear. I didn’t mean I am in control. Usually it’s quite the opposite. I just mean that I am alright with what is coming tomorrow because I trust the process and who is actually in control. Every day is challenging but I am grateful for it. I meet new people; like you for instance, and I only want to try to be kind and love people because I know I am loved and valued.”

“Hmmm. I thought I was loved but it seemed like it was only when I obeyed rules; not just loved for who I am. And, I was not valued after I was taken advantage of, for sure!” She ended with an edge of venom in her voice.

This did not go unnoticed by her seat companion. “We have all been taken advantage of at some time or other,” Edith shared. “I married young. My husband was a charmer but he had a drinking problem. He used to come home and physically abuse me and the children. Then . . . well, he would fall asleep after he had his way with me. I had quite a painful time for several years.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Ramona was sincerely moved. “What happened then?”

“Well, he met with an accident on his way home one night. I was so bitter. Not that he was gone but that I let him abuse me and the children for so long.”

“You don’t seem bitter now,” Ramona said. “How did you get over it?”

“Well dear, I don’t know whether you can ever “get over” an experience like that. The scars are so deep. But I met someone who helped me learn to forgive him and myself. That was the best thing that could have happened. The memories are painful but they are in the past. I try to live each day with a joyful spirit while being at peace with the future.”

“Wow! I wish I could be at peace with the future. I mean, I’m going to make my own future and it will be what I want but I don’t know about the peaceful part yet. There will be some trouble and hard times before I get there, no doubt.”

Edith looked directly at her. “Yes . . . there will be some trouble and hard times. But you will come through all of that just fine. Just remember how you felt when you were a little girl. Remember how your faith and trust was so strong in Jesus? Get back to that place and you will be peaceful.”

Ramona teared up. She glanced away out the opposite window to keep Edith from seeing her cry. Yes! She remembered a time when life seemed simpler. Her faith was strong and she used to talk to God a lot! How she missed those times, but they seemed so long ago and far from reality now. How many bridges had she crossed and how many were burned that might be keeping her from getting back to that place?

She discreetly wiped her eyes and turned back to Edith. “I just don’t know if I can . . .”

She froze in mid-sentence. No one was sitting next to her.

– To Be Continued –