Friday, January 29, 2010

Waiting on the Ice Storm

All week our region has been distracted by anticipating an ice storm. I'm sure part of the reason is that it was a year ago this week that we were hit by "the storm of the century"; almost everyone I know has a story about the 2009 Ice Storm. Being without power and unable to go anywhere brought neighbors closer, revealed the hearts of co-workers, allowed us to learn to laugh and grow through challenges, and made us appreciate simply surviving.

So, as the forecasters predicted a near-repeat, we all watched carefully. The empty store shelves at WalMart made national news. I half-joked that the way out of a recession is bad weather. As the week progressed, the storm slowed and increased in power. The arrival time was pushed back, and back, and back. Ice totals decreased, snow totals increased. By Thursday everyone was on pins and needles, ready for ... something.

As it turned out, so far it hasn't been nearly as bad as anticipated. Where I live we had enough ice to make driving dangerous, but we still have power. I watched it sleet all morning and am watching it snow all afternoon. Some areas still face a lot of ice, and I'll be praying for them. But the storm has allowed me time for reflection - something I always appreciate. What has surfaced is how much waiting on the ice storm parallels the waiting we do in the Christian life.

We do a lot of waiting. Waiting on answered prayers. Waiting on direction. Waiting on a word from the Lord. Waiting on transformation in our hearts. All the waiting, shadows of the ultimate waiting - waiting on His return. What have I learned from waiting on the ice storm that can help me in the spiritual discipline of waiting?
  • Prepare. A season of waiting is not a season of inactivity. We can prepare in many ways. We prepare for answered prayer by moving forward with things we'll need to do if the prayer is answered. One of my favorite examples of this is from a book I read. A character was trying to purchase a bookstore. She decided to spend the days waiting on the response preparing by doing things she would have to do if the prayer was answered, things that would need to be done regardless of whether God said yes or no. She packed her apartment (she would have to move whether the answer was yes or no); she cleared out the bookstore's storage room (which would have to be cleared regardless); she decided to be ready with her business plan. When the yes came, she was able to move forward quickly. When we're waiting on direction, it's a similar type of preparation. If we are asking God which job to take, we can still prepare by learning about both companies. Sometimes God guides through the process itself. If we're waiting on a word from the Lord we can spend extra time in the Word. And of course, Scripture teaches us the best way to prepare for return of the Lord is by living holy lives and being about our Father's business. 
  • Maintain a sense of anticipation. We can enjoy a season of waiting by enjoying the anticipation. I don't enjoy surprises because I feel I've lost the opportunity to look forward to something. Currently my husband and I are planning a mini-vacation. I anticipate that trip every day. We talk about it, research it, think about it. That's what we can do in a season of waiting on God. We can anticipate the answer; we can get excited about what He might reveal; we can eagerly look forward to spending eternity with Him. Have you heard the song "Fingerprints and Noses"? It talks about a group of developmentally challenged kids who, when they are taught about the return of Christ, run to the window and press their fingerprints and noses against the pane, looking for Him to come. We can maintain that sense through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Involve others. Our time of waiting on the ice storm hasn't been kept to ourselves. All week people have shared what they've seen and heard. Our city started a Twitter feed to keep people informed if the power went out. When something like this is coming, we want others to know about it. So I asked myself - why not let others know when I'm anticipating answered prayers, needing direction, hoping for a word from God? Why not tell those who have never heard about the joys of anticipating Christ's return? This week has been a good reminder to get outside myself. 
  • Function as a community. Closely related is the importance of being a community. Last year's ice storm brought neighbors together who rarely communicated. People relied on each other because we had too. Fayetteville is extremely eclectic, and full of opinionated people (guilty!). But during the ice storm, differences didn't matter. We were one community with one problem and one goal - to survive! In a season of waiting, we can bond with the body of Christ like no other time. We can help each other and pray for each other and move forward with God-honoring plans together. Waiting is a great time to remind ourselves that we were created to be in community. 
  • Don't let down your guard. It's so easy when something doesn't happen quickly, or in the way we anticipated, to let down our guard. Prior to last year's storm, we had a lot of "false alarms" in Fayetteville. We have this "bubble" of Ozark Mountains that often deflects the worst of weather. So people didn't take the warnings as seriously as they should have, and many were unprepared. This year, that didn't happen. Although it wasn't as bad as anticipated, people learned not to let down their guard. When we are in a time of waiting, God may not answer as we anticipate, guide as soon as we hoped, speak the word we preferred. Don't give up. He is still there, and knows what is best for all involved and that timing that is perfect. Throughout the centuries Christians have wondered about His coming, since it hasn't happened yet. 1 Peter reminds us that His waiting is not because He's slow about His promises. He waits because all have not had the opportunity to believe in Him. One of the best ways to stay excited about His return is to be on mission with Him. Every people group that is reached with the Gospel takes us one step closer to His promised return. Whatever you're waiting on - don't let down your guard if it doesn't happen. 
Personally, I'm glad things weren't as bad, and I'm enjoying a day to just watch it snow. It's fun to have a day off and have a house that's already cleaned because I didn't want to have to clean without electricity. I'm going to enjoy today greatly. But I'm glad for the week we've had, because I had a lot to learn while waiting on the ice storm.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Surrender

Tell them, ‘The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to give your masters this message. 27:5 “I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit. 27:6 I have at this time placed all these nations of yours under the power of my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have even made all the wild animals subject to him. 27:7 All nations must serve him and his son and grandson until the time comes for his own nation to fall. Then many nations and great kings will in turn subjugate Babylon. 27:8 But suppose a nation or a kingdom will not be subject to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Suppose it will not submit to the yoke of servitude to him. I, the Lord, affirm that I will punish that nation. I will use the king of Babylon to punish it with war, starvation, and disease until I have destroyed it. 27:9 So do not listen to your prophets or to those who claim to predict the future by divination, by dreams, by consulting the dead, or by practicing magic. They keep telling you, ‘You do not need to be subject to the king of Babylon.’ 27:10 Do not listen to them, because their prophecies are lies. Listening to them will only cause you to be taken far away from your native land. I will drive you out of your country and you will die in exile. 27:11 Things will go better for the nation that submits to the yoke of servitude to the king of Babylon and is subject to him. I will leave that nation in its native land. Its people can continue to farm it and live in it. I, the Lord, affirm it!”’” (Jeremiah 27:4b-11)
Forgive me for not sounding very spiritual, but I think I would have had a problem with this word if I lived in Zedekiah's day. I'm not sure whether it's my American independent spirit, my opinionated personality, or human instinct - or a combination of all three - but I would have seriously questioned the source of any prophecy that required me to surrender.

And I think that's the point.

As I reflected on that tendency this morning in my quiet time - sincerely asking God about my reaction - I realized that while the circumstances of this story are about Israel's judgment for sins by the captivity of Babylon, the transferable principle to my own life is that surrender is always going to be against my natural instincts. It's never going to feel warm and fuzzy. And it will more than likely involve a struggle.

Nature reflects the truth that growth and transformation often require struggle. The caterpillar that struggles out of the cocoon, the infant that struggles through the birth canal, even the "growing pains" children experience, and the sore muscles that come with exercise, all testify that it isn't easy to go to the next level. At some point in the process, it's necessary to surrender to the struggle in order to see the benefits on the other side. If I constantly fight against the struggles I face in my daily workouts, I'll never advance beyond 10 minutes at level one. If I yield to the struggle, press in and endure, then I reap the benefits and find myself chugging along for a half hour.

The same is true in the things of the Spirit. When we commit to allowing God to develop and sanctify us, we encounter struggles. Those struggles may be internal, or they may involve external sources. It's especially hard to surrender to a growth opportunity that involves emotional hurt, challenges to our comfort level, or disrupted dreams. But if the struggle is truly God's instrument in our lives, we don't grow by going over, around, or under it, nor by fighting against it. We only grow by going through it. We only grow through surrender.

Sometimes the challenge of surrender involves God allowing us to be part of someone else's growth. When we're committed to being on mission with God, we are going to be in relationship with other believers. That means that misunderstandings, conflicts, and disappointments can easily arise. When they do, we have to surrender to allowing God to develop and sanctify us as well as the other person (or people) involved. None of us are asked to fully "arrive" before God uses us. That means there are a lot of imperfect people on the field, in our pulpits, on prayer teams and support teams and kitchen committees. And God is up to something in every single life. When we walk in humility and love, we will have many opportunities to surrender to His work. That might mean forgiving an oversight that the offender never realizes enough to ask forgiveness about. It might mean choosing to forge a different path and lead by example rather than lash out when someone acts immaturely. Sometimes it might require a forthright conversation that is challenging to those who dislike confrontation. Other times it might require biting our tongue - an even more challenging proposition for some of us. Through it all, we have to remember that we're all growing together - our growth and that of others is at stake.

That's doesn't make surrender any easier. I fear my first reaction to a Jeremiah 27-type experience will always be to fight back. Sometimes that's necessary - spiritual warfare is a very real part of being on mission with God. That's why walking in the Spirit, staying in God's Word, and having a strong network of prayer partners who can give us wisdom and help us discern the spirits is so important. I want to always be willing to fight the battles God asks me to fight ... and to drop my weapons and surrender when He makes it clear that the struggle is His instrument for growth in my life.

The lyrics of this song by Lincoln Brewster express well the process and pain of surrender. I hope they bless you as much as they bless me. The bottom line of what God has been showing me today is that He made me the way I am, and He uses my very willingness to fight for His purposes. What I have to learn is that sometimes the battle He calls me to is surrender.

I'm giving you my heart, and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King
I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights
I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life

And I surrender all to you, all to you
And I surrender all to you, all to you

I'm singing You this song, I'm waiting at the cross
And all the world holds dear, I count it all as loss
For the sake of knowing You for the glory of Your name
To know the lasting joy, even sharing in Your pain
© 2005 Integrity Music

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fame, Honor, and Praise - and Haiti

"...I intended for them to be my special people and to bring me fame, honor, and praise...." (Jer. 13:11b, NET)

For a couple of weeks now, it's been on my heart to blog about this verse. Its words ring in my ears and challenge my heart. Yet the morning I read it, the news began to unfold out of Haiti that the earthquake the night before had been more than powerful and severe - it had been devastating. Like many of you, I've spent the last 11 days with one word hovering over all my interactions, thoughts, and prayers: Haiti. I didn't take time to blog, partly because my computer was being updated (a special gift from my dear husband) but partly because my mind was 200 miles off the coast of the US with a people I've never met.

Over the past couple of days I felt the familiar tug growing stronger. I knew I needed to write - had to write - and intended to write two blogs ... the original one about the Jeremiah verse and a second one about Haiti. However, as I prayed and carved out the time to write God does what He is so good at doing in my life: He interrupted my intentions with a lesson:

God's fame, honor, and praise are not threatened by the situation in Haiti. He is being glorified and will be glorified through this undeniably hard-to-explain disaster. The question for each of us - and each believer in Haiti - is whether we will respond as His "special people" should and be a part of bringing Him the fame, honor, and praise that He deserves as much today as on Jan. 11.

I don't claim to be the most mature or experienced Christian on the block. But I have lived enough to know that God is not glorified apart from the circumstances of our lives. God's glory isn't an abstract concept. It's what happens when our theology meets our reality. The Greek for "glory" comes from a word referring to an accurate weight or measure. It's an accurate reflection of what we know something to be. When we glorify God, we reflect who He is in our lives. We reflect the image of Christ in the "stuff" of life.

Sometimes that "stuff" can be pretty challenging. Sometimes it can be downright hard. And occasionally, as in Haiti, it can be humanly impossible. Ah, that qualifier is so important. Humanly. For all things are possible with God.

What's the difference between fame, honor, and praise, and how have we seen each these past 11 days?  
  •  "Fame" refers to God's reputation, His "name". When we make God famous, we are glorifying who He says He is to others. "Fame" can't happen when we are in isolation. To make God famous, someone has to see Him at work in our lives. This is what God said would happen as Israel obeyed His commands - people would say "what other nation has a god so near to them like the LORD" (see Deuteronomy 4:1-8). How has God been made famous in Haiti? I have seen so many news reports referencing how resilient the people are as they rely on God, how they are happy to have escaped with their Bibles, how their faith is their bulwark these days. God is all over the place on CNN and other networks, and I'll bet that wasn't on their agenda a month ago. 

  • "Honor" is adoration and praise related to God's deeds and attributes. To honor someone means to give them a preferred place. For example, a man will often honor a woman by holding a door open for her, giving her the preferred place of walking through the doorway first. In many cultures elders are honored by being provided the best room in the house, the best seat at the table, and the best piece of meat. When we honor God, we use our praise to give Him a preferred place in our lives. Honor can happen one-on-one with Him, as we quietly whisper "Oh God, I wouldn't have made it through that meeting without You". It can also take place when we deflect praise given to us heavenward. Corrie Ten Boom used to lift any flowers she received at a speaking engagement toward the ceiling, honoring the One whose message she proclaimed. How has God been honored in Haiti? Survivor after survivor has said, "God rescued me" or "It doesn't matter, I still have God." He is being given the preferred place of preeminance based on His deeds and attributes.
  • "Praise" refers to "beauty, splendor, glory, excellence." It's what happens when God shines through. Like fame, praise can't take place in isolation. Someone has to see Him shining for praise to occur. Certainly we as individuals can praise God, but the context of this passage refers to God's people's obedience bringing Him praise from those who watch. Deuteronomy 4 makes it clear that God had the onlookers in mind - He wanted the nations to worship Him as well as Israel. When you see someone handle a situation with such grace and beauty that you can say, "I see Jesus in you", then He is being praised in the sense intended by this passage. How has God been praised in Haiti? One of the best examples I have seen is the impromptu establishment of interdenominational, open-air churches. Pastors, church members, and others report that unity has come through this - a beautiful unity they had prayed for but had been unable to achieve. Today's National Day of Repentance brought many of these mini-churches together for a larger-scale worship and prayer service. That's beautiful - and that's God. 
No, God's fame, honor, and praise are not challenged in the least by Haiti. Instead that tragedy is simply a path over which His people walk to glorify Him even more. I'm not wasting any energy trying to figure out "why". Sometimes things happen just because we live in a fallen world. I'll let God assign cause. I'm just going to enjoy watching Him receive all the fame, honor, and praise. And I'll look away from Haiti to my own life, and focus on the fame, honor, and praise He wants to bring from my life - whatever the circumstances.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wow what a month

Wow, what a start to January! I posted here Jan. 1, entered a fun season of rest, turned my computer over to my husband for repair, and looked up and it was Jan. 20! Wow. The good news is that I have my computer back and will be blogging again soon. My computer is faster than ever and I'm enjoying that. The bad news is I'm too tired to write tonight! Just wanted you all to know I haven't fallen off the map!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Active Rest

I'm in week 3 of an exercise program and have learned a lot about a concept called "Active Rest". Basically, Active Rest means that you do something other than lay on the couch like a slug, but you don't have to engage in strenuous activity, raise your heart rate, or otherwise do anything that appears like a workout. A nice walk in the neighborhood, cleaning house, taking the stairs instead of the elevator - all these count as "Active Rest" in my exercise plan.

I've found more than one analogy to my spiritual life in my renewed effort to lose weight and pursue total body health. You'll probably hear more on that to come ... but maybe not. Because after a very full, intense year which capped off a solidly busy decade, God is calling me to a season of Active Rest. And I'm so grateful.

As I began to pray near the end of my major project and to wonder what God had for me next, I pulled out my list of ministry dreams and things on my heart. I wondered if now would be the time to pursue one of those items. I even had a very specific plan for one particular interest. As I prayed over it all, I sensed God whisper something very different to me.

Rest.

At first it was just a thought ... something I could easily have shrugged off as one too many late nights talking. After learning so much about the unfinished work of missions, it would have been so easy to think that was the voice of the enemy or my flesh, and to justify a continued full court press.

Rest.

As I continued to dialogue with God, I found myself drawn to the idea. I began wondering, then hoping He was calling me to rest. I wondered how long it would be. A weekend? A week? Maybe even a month?

A season of rest, restoration, reflection, refreshment, and relationship.


The more I prayed, the more specific He became. And the more I sought confirmation, the more He brought to mind the past decade. Let me share a bit of my story because I want to encourage you in the reality that God takes us through seasons - and every year doesn't look like the one before it.



After I started walking with the Lord, He and I spent about 3-4 years getting a lot of things straight (that would be Him, straightening ME out, just for the record). Once I unlearned a lot of wrong things I'd thought all my life and developed some consistency in my relationship with Him, He began revealing spiritual gifts to me and opening doors of service. That season was capped off with a devotional that I wrote in 1999 which helped me process my journey to that point.


Then 10 years ago, during 2000, God first opened a door for me to teach weekly. First my husband and I together taught couples, then I taught a women's group. I loved every minute of it. In 2002 when my step-daughter came to live with us, God answered my prayer to give me a mother's love for her by making her the child of my heart. He also asked me to lay down the women's group, which I gladly did. Through those parenting years, I tried to answer His call to minister to the one with His love. He alone is the judge of that effort.


As that season ended in 2005 with her graduation from high school (though of course, parenting doesn't end as you all know very well), God opened a door for me to pursue a Master's degree in Global Civilization. I could hardly believe it at first ... that God would actually call me to study and read. Wow, a bookworm's dream. He did it in the way He knew I would receive it the best ... from my husband. And Bob went on to be my biggest cheerleader and strongest supporter. Without his encouragement when I wondered if I should continue, and without the prayer support from friends and family on my prayer team, I don't think I could have made it. This program has been an estimated 1600 hours of labor over 4 1/2 years ... with almost 20% of the entire program completed during the past 4 months. But it has been so worth it. I have learned so much about God and His kingdom purposes.


During the first part of my "school season" my husband and I were SO privileged to be caretakers for my mother-in-law in her last years. Such a blessing ... I learned so much during that time. I've written about her legacy on this blog previously, so I won't repeat the details here except to say that caretaking, while challenging, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.


Over the past 8 years since I obeyed God and dropped the women's group from my plate, He has opened lots of ministry doors ... teaching, writing, helping ... in so many ways He has kept fanning into flames the gifts He's given me. But those "big 3" - parenting, caretaking, and school - have been near the top of my list of priorities all along during their respective seasons. They have been the things that I fit everything else around, after God and my husband and, of course, my job.


Now, though, for the first time since I was newly walking with Him, God is asking me not to be busy. That doesn't mean I'll do nothing, of course - that's where the Active Rest concept becomes helpful. Of course I'll continue to work, to fulfill my roles as a wife and parent and daughter and sister and friend, to care for the home God has given us, to be part of the community at church. There will be times we host and practice hospitality together; times when God gives me something to write and I blog; opportunities to encourage others; occasions when I substitute teach for Bible study. But I won't be going at a hectic pace. I won't be a slug on the couch, but I won't be trying to see how far I can pedal in half an hour either.

As I've sought God for clarification, He has spoken two additional words to my heart so far: healthy and balance. He wants me to be as healthy as possible physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. He wants me to have some balance restored to life ... balance that was lost at times over the past decade. Most of all, He wants me to pursue HIM with a passion.

I'm so happy because He is being proactive in this ... calling me to this season before I drift away from my first love (that would be HIM). I've been around enough to know that it's easier to be healthy if you have a good starting place. While people become healthy all the time after cancer or a heart attack, it's much harder than if they had been healthy before the problem struck. Preventing weight gain is easier than losing weight. And so on...you get the point.

I don't know everything that this season will hold. I don't know how long it will last. I told God yesterday that I sure hope it lasts a while. I'm realizing more and more how much I need it. The first day of this season of rest, Dec. 30, I was anxious and tearful. I realized that I was putting pressure on myself to get everything done in one day that I'd put off during the most intense phase of my final project for school. I was trying to get every errand done AND clean house AND blog AND begin a season of rest. HA! What an irony ... but how much it showed this Martha that I really need a Mary season.

So, I enter it with gladness. I'll blog as God puts things on my heart, but don't worry if you don't hear from me for days or even weeks at a time. You'll know where to find me ... right over there by the chair, sitting at His feet.