Thursday, March 29, 2012

About Those Contests

If you're interested in writing, I'm over here today with a post on the American Christian Fiction Writers blog about entering contests and how it can facilitate your writing journey.

Happy writing!

"Write the vision, and make it plain..."(Habakkuk 2:2).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trouble, trust and camping out

Off the grid for a few days at Jerry’s milestone class reunion. Won’t tell you which one, but we had loads of fun.

We returned to the news of a sad loss for a family friend.

Once more, I conclude that life is a mixed bag of joy and sorrow, sometimes one on the heels of another. For those going through devastating heartache like our friend, it can feel as if the joy will never come again. However if we allow the sorrow to overwhelm, we miss the joy that’s certain to follow in time. “In this world you have trouble…” Jesus said. The heartache and pain are a given, but he also said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in the Message beginning with John 16:33, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world, you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I ‘ve conquered the world.”

Jesus spoke these words in the Upper Room that night seeing the immediacy of the cross, the thorns, and the nails and just before the ultimate betrayal. “But take heart!" he said, "I’ve conquered the world.”

We’re not going to reach a place on this earth where the skies suddenly clear, and we enter a permanent storm free zone. God gives us those seasons at times, but always just on the horizon, difficulties lurk. However, if that’s where we keep our eyes, we’re going to miss so much.

Here, because of our early spring, the petals from the trees have been falling and dusting the ground like snow. To step outside is to be immersed in a swirl of color. Wish I'd taken a video.

As I’m spinning in the seeming fairy dust, instead of just having joy in the moment, I could miss all this loveliness by thinking how we might lose the old pear and peach trees next winter to another crushing ice storm.

As I fight the fears of a far more serious nature concerning those I love, I could forego the joy of being with them now by worrying about looming uncertainties.

Jesus said to trust in him is to be “unshakable and assured, deeply at peace.”

So, by faith, I set my tent pegs of trust firmly in God and camp out there.
Please join me. There’s plenty of room around the fire.
Related: All in the Same Bottle

Thursday, March 22, 2012

If you just can’t quit blaming yourself…

We all do it at one time or another.

The child blames himself when parents divorce. “If I hadn’t messed up and been a better kid, maybe Mom and Dad wouldn’t have…”

Moms and Dads blame themselves when a child chooses poorly. “Oh, if we’d only prayed a little harder, talked about faith in Jesus more…”

All kinds of different circumstances gone awry can cause us to lay the blame at our own feet again and again and again, until this fruitless self-blame is almost an addiction.

I know. I’ve done it.

I came across an excellent article recently by an author who writes anonymously in order to protect a family member. She says “…if we are to extend grace, as Christ did, we must also experience death. As parents, we need to die to our dreams, our desires, and our expectations for our children. We need to love them unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. “

We need to die to extend grace.

Die to believing it should be different. Die to wondering where we went wrong. Die to thinking we’re owed something for all we’ve invested.

“In death he (Jesus) glorified Him: through death He was glorified with Him. It is by dying, being dead to self, and living to God, that we can glorify Him. And this--this death to self, this life to the glory of God—is what Jesus gives and lives in each one who can trust Him for it. Let nothing less than these—the desire, the decision to live only for the glory of the Father, even as Christ did; the acceptance of Him with His life and strength working it in us; the joyful assurance that we can live to the glory of God, because Christ lives in us; --let this be the spirit of our daily life.” With Christ in the School of Prayer, Lesson Twenty, Andrew Murray

When we can’t stop blaming ourselves, Christ in us can. He gives us the strength to stop making it all about us and refocus our lives for His glory.

“…Christ in you, the hope of glory"(Colossians 1:27).

 "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"(Galatians 2:20).


Monday, March 19, 2012

If you're waiting...

I’d been meditating on Andrew Murray’s sixteenth lesson about Persevering Prayer in With Christ in the School of Prayer, as I headed out to spend a retreat day with precious clergy spouses.

Murray said, “It (real faith) knows for certain that not a single believing prayer can fail of its effect in heaven, but has its influence, and is treasured up to work out an answer in due time to him who persevereth to the end. It knows that it has to do not with human thoughts or possibilities, but with the word of the living God.”

My “real faith” shook as it struggled to believe that indeed God was acting in a matter over which I had long prayed.

When I left home, the sun shone, but as I turned the car to the west, the sky grew increasingly dark, almost ominous. It seemed an illustration of my inner struggle.

On the radio, this song about waiting played. Waiting. Waiting. Days, Weeks, Months, Years.

Then, against the sky’s gloomy backdrop, God provided this reminder of his unbroken promises.

As I watched, the arc grew from ninety to a full one hundred and eighty degrees, the promise spanning from horizon to horizon

“Faith takes and holds the answer in the promise, as an unseen spiritual possession, rejoices in it, and praises for it. “ Andrew Murray

Here I was literally wrapped in God’s promise. Thank you, God. Thank you.

At the retreat, each table of clergy spouses presented a skit; one of Lazarus being raised was so timely because of the seeming impossibility of it all. Then later, a sweet sister sang the faithfulness of God through this song  about Lazarus, which says that even though it may sometimes seem God is delayed in his responding, he’s never late.

In addition, our lovely speaker pointed out that Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth,” specifically because if he hadn’t singled him out by name, the entire cemetery would have risen from the dead because of his powerful words. Another reminder of how mighty the God we serve really is.

I almost didn’t go to this retreat, because of other conflicts, but I left knowing God had woven a golden thread throughout the day’s events tying them together to bring assurance of his faithfulness and encouragement to persevere in prayer.

If you’re waiting, wrap yourself in the promises of God, keep praying, and watch for Him. He will not be late.

“Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit” (Luke 18:1 The Message).

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Creative Allee

The French call it an allée. Merriam Webster says it is a “walkway lined with trees or small shrubs.”
I’d love to be back at this low country location again, running the broad length of the path between tall watchful oaks as filtered sunlight sifts through wisps of moss. An allée draws one forward toward whatever lies beyond, usually a home.
Madeleine L‘Engle wrote in Walking on Water, her wonderful reflection on faith and art, that “the chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist—the purpose of the work, be it story or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us aware of our status as children of God, and to turn our feet toward home.”
I can see us all lined up now across the ages, all who attempt to be God's conduits for whatever big or small talents we have, forming an allée to help the wanderer. “This way,” we say, “run this way to home.”
So many through their work have done this for me:  of course, the writers of the Bible, and C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L‘Engle, and a gazillion other artists, writers, and musicians.
In whatever ways you create, think about how you may use your gifts to “further his kingdom,” so that others may put their hearts wholly in the hands of the Father, and find their feet firmly on the path toward home.
Take your place in the creative allée.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting the whine out…

“It is in the dying to self which much prayer implies, in closer union to Jesus, that the spirit of faith will come in power. Faith needs prayer for its full growth.

And prayer needs fasting for its full growth… Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible; fasting, the other, with which we let loose and cast away the visible.” Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer

Many years ago, when I’d just surrendered my life to the Lord, I was involved in a relationship that I knew I needed to leave. Somehow, I just couldn’t. For the first time, I heard about fasting as a spiritual discipline in a new church I was attending and determined to fast two days a week until dinner.

“Lord,” I prayed early one morning as I bowed over the tear stained pages of my Bible. I'd spent so much time the past few months crying in repentance over the words on those pages.  “I want you to know I’m serious. I need your power to break this off.”

 Within a week, the relationship dissolved with very little back lash. I suppose the Lord was allowing me to see just how powerful fasting could be. It was a lasting lesson.

One of the things that happens to me now when I don’t fast is I become whiney. I complain about little things that don’t go my way, and forget to be thankful.

Somehow, fasting cures that. It helps get the whine out, and awakens me to the ways I am blessed. It helps me be less critical and helps me refocus on what is true, right, just, pure, lovely, and of a good report (Philippians 4:8). Fasting helps me keep my eyes on Jesus.

God uses the physical weakness that fasting brings to make me stronger in my faith.

I can look back in my life and see so many times when God used prayer and fasting to make inroads into situations, which had before seemed impossible. And sometimes, the situations don't change, but I'm empowered to live beyond the circumstances

 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from you own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

If you’ve never fasted, an excellent resource, and now a classic in Christian literature is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prayer, faith, and being a lover

For those of you who are also studying With Christ in the School of Prayer this month, is it just me, or could we spend weeks on just one lesson?

I find myself reading, rereading, and rereading again. To cover one lesson a day seems almost an injustice to the material, but perhaps later we can spend time soaking in the truths God speaks through Andrew Murray.

In the tenth lesson on praying definite prayers: “It is only when the child has yielded his own will in entire surrender to the Father, that he receives from the Father liberty and power to will what he would have.” These words reminded me of Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As we submit to God, we find our will more and more aligns with his, and that he fills our hearts so that his desires become our desires.

The true beauty of this is that when we ask, we may have confidence that we will receive as Murray writes in lesson eleven, “And He is our life: all he was on earth He is in us now; all he teaches He really gives. He is Himself the Author and Perfecter of our faith: He gives the spirit of faith; let us not be afraid that such faith is not meant for us. It is meant for every child of the Father; it is within reach of each one who will be child like, yielding himself to the Father’s Will and Love, trusting the Father’s Word and Power.”

And in lesson twelve on having faith, Murray writes, “Listen to the lesson, Jesus teaches us this day; have faith in God, the Living God: let faith look to God more than the thing promised:  it is love, His power, His living presence will waken and work the faith.”

He writes that the cure for weak faith is for our whole spiritual lives to be strengthened, to walk continually in fellowship with the Lord.

Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, has written that the Lord has made clear to him, “that He does not want ministry or financial success to be our primary reward. He wants His Son to be our magnificent obsession…” He also writes of “a people lost in the passion of holy romance.”

Brent Curtis wrote in The Sacred Romance that, “We don’t go from being strangers to lovers in an instant.”

So true. If God seems a distant landlord, Lent is a season to set aside time to be with Him, even a few minutes a day is a beginning. We won’t have the faith we desire until we yield to Him, until we spend time with Him, until we become a lover of God.

Take a moment, and listen to melodic words here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hello, is this poison control?

Had to call them twice in one day. That’s a record. Even at our house.

I’ve had to dial poison control several times when the kids were little: when someone ate Nandina berries, and someone ate an earthworm, and well, you get the picture. But never twice in one day.

On Saturday, the dazzling sun warmed, buds swelled, and the sounds of children’s laughter echoed throughout our neighborhood.


A great day for home improvements here.

But, for some reason, domestic endeavors rarely turn out well for us. I’ve often thought God must dispatch a few angels every time he sees us venture forth with a lawn mower or paintbrush.

First time we called was when Lucy licked spackling compound. I used it puttying some holes in a project I was repainting. I’d put the container down and didn’t realize Lucy grabbed it. I turned and found it in her mouth. After calling the company who made it, we discovered it contained one percent of a chemical similar to anti-freeze. Trying to contain our panic, we did some quick calculations and realized she’d have to eat two containers of the stuff to get a lethal dose.

Big relief.

Later, my beloved Jerry, who  hates yard work worse than anyone I know, sprayed weeds. In an earlier part of his life when he was a lawyer and had the financial resources, he hired a gardener to do the dreaded outside chores. Lacking the resources now as a preacher, he does it himself. Since he makes it his business not to know asters from Astroturf, he’s killed a nursery full of plants I’ve labored over with his wandering wand. I usually go into high alert when I see him mixing the tank of chemicals.

He had some problems getting the spraying tank to work. It leaked, spewed, something. He wound up with herbicide in his mouth.

He tried to minimize the problem when he told me. “Just a little,” he said. My heart raced. Poison control again.

Thanks to God, once more, it turned out not to be a problem.

My mind keeps going back to the word grace. The tone of this post would have been different if either of those situations had turned out differently. Especially the second one.

But grace.

His all-encompassing grace surrounds us. I’ve had enough heartache in my life to know that even when things don’t turn out well, and it seems God has stepped out of the room, he hasn’t. His grace, his favor, his love, his mercy saturate our lives.

We need his grace.

 We have a whole spring and summer ahead. I really don’t want to put Poison Control on my speed dial, so we’d appreciate your prayers.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Tomorrow: thoughts on the last few days of With Christ in the School of Prayer. If you're just joining us, you may download or read for free. Just click link in upper right corner.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The least idle and an orange and blue reminder

 It must be our prayer that the Lord would so fill all His people with the spirit of devotion that not one may be found standing idle in the vineyard. Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer

One of the least idle people I’ve ever known in my lifetime and one who has been used by God to bring in a great harvest for Him is Dr. Warren Lathem. Dr. Lathem and his wife Jane have been instrumental in my own spiritual development (One Ringing Bell, Rock of Remembrance), and I consider it a privilege to know them.

Please take a few moments and read a post here by Dr. Lathem of how God birthed a tremendous work in a dark place out of horrific tragedy, the death of the Lathem’s own son.

My friend Marni put this collage bright with blazing color together many years ago. I keep it near me as a reminder of the world beyond these office walls.

"When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!" (Matthew 9:37-38 Message).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If you're in a dark place...

At times, the promise seems merely a crack in otherwise leaden skies…

This morning, words from lesson eight in With Christ in the School of Prayer:

“There is a faith that sees the promise, and embraces it, and yet does not receive it. It is when the answer to prayer does not come, and the promise we are most firmly trusting appears to be of none effort, that the trial of faith, more precious than of gold, takes place. It is in this trial that the faith that has embraced the promise is purified and strengthened and prepared in personal, holy fellowship with the living God, to see the glory of God. It takes and holds the promise until it has received the fulfillment of what is has claimed in a loving truth in the unseen but living God.”

These words reminded me of a Charles Wesley hymn which refers to God’s ability to raise us up just as he raised Christ:

Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, “It shall be done!”

The truth is when storm clouds gather; sometimes it’s hard to keep believing.

Let me rephrase, it’s hard for me to keep believing.

But it’s just then in that shadowy  place, the miracle happens. God enables our frail faith to grow strong and grasp His promise as though we‘d already received it. And in time as we hold on…

The clouds begin to disperse and the glory of God appears, his promises fulfilled.

So latch onto faith. I’m holding on with you, friends, for the transcendent promises of God.

"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see" (Heberews 11:1 Message).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Grace, gifts, and asking

Heart heavy over seeming unanswered prayer…


And more waiting.

God sent a devotion through Marilyn Meberg in which she quoted the lovely words of FrederickBuechner, “A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace and somebody loving you is grace.”

She concluded her article with these verses from Matthew 7:11, “And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?”

I closed the devotion, and the phrase, “…good gifts to those who ask…” lingered in my head as I opened the fifth lesson in With Christ in the School of Prayer.  

The title?

“Ask, and it shall be given you.”

The scripture verse?

The same one I’d just read, Matthew 7:11.

But I thought I had asked.

God’s good gifts do await those who ask. Sometimes, the answer seems delayed, but God is in the process as well, refining our asking. I’ve often had the situation of crying out to God in prayer, and for example, I’m asking “What color is it? I need to know what color.” I receive the answer from God, and he says, “Jell-o.” I know I’ve heard from him, but I have no idea what he means. I think that sometimes he’s answering a question he’s still refining in me. But at some point in the future, I have an a-ha moment and realize how he’s been leading.

Murray writes near the end of the fifth lesson about praying in faith. “Let us not make the feeble experiences of our unbelief the measure of what our faith may expect. Let us seek, not only just in our seasons of prayer, but at all times, to hold fast the joyful assurance; man’s prayer on earth and God’s answer in heaven are meant for each other. “

God longs to give us those gifts of grace to which Buechner refers: things like good sleep, and good dreams, and tears, and the smell of rain, and love. And more besides.

His good gifts.

Simply ask.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

If You Have Spiritual Pneumonia

The word pneumonia comes from the Greek pneuma, which means wind or breath. Pneumonia is a disorder of the breath.

Sometimes we almost stop breathing.

The spiritual lungs become infected with busyness, with the good instead of the best, with oozing wounds from the past and with burdens too heavy for any one person to bear.

The breaths become more and more shallow.

Wheezing through our days.

Then almost still, we rasp out the words over blue lips, “Where is the joy and power we once knew?”

Lent is a time to begin breathing deeply again.

To take in the very presence of God.

“…true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

It’s time to seek Him, to breathe in the very breath of God.

Oh, to allow His Spirit to invade the far-flung reaches of our soul and to cleanse us from the bacterial plagues, which displace the life giving power of His Spirit.

Here we are daily seeking to have our lungs inflated with Him. We kneel in adoration. We breathe.

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