Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Where's Your Meeting Tent?

Dear Friends,

I was born an introvert. Given a choice between spending the evening at a loud, high-energy party or in a quiet room with a comfortable chair and a book, I’ll take the book every time. When I was a small boy, I loved it when my mom set up the card table in the living room and covered it with a bed sheet. Like a cat crawling under the bed coverlet to shut out the world’s distractions, I’d crawl into my living room “tent” and find a restful peace. I’m now too big to fit under a card table but I still crave that sacred peace. 

I know God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He’s in the boisterous party, the Sunday service and He’s in the squalor and poverty of the homeless encampment. He’s in the busy workplace, the crowded mall and the chaotic hospital emergency room. Never in my life have I been to a place where God was not present, but I connect with Him best when I meet Him in my “tent.”

As the people of God wandered through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, every time they came to a place and set up their camp, Moses pitched a tent that he called the “tabernacle of meeting.” The word tabernacle comes from the Hebrew that describes a dwelling and in this context it’s the dwelling place of God. Exodus 33:7 tells us that Moses set up the meeting tent far outside the camp. Away from the bedlam and noise. Far from the distractions of the day-to-day. This was where the people could go and meet God. And when Moses went to the tent, the “Shekinah” – the glory of God – His divine presence, would descend on the meeting tent and “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:9; Exodus 33:11 And when Moses left the tent, God told him, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

The way through the wilderness was uncharted and the people had no idea where they were or how they were going to get to the promised land. Their leader was Moses who was just as clueless as the rest of them. But Moses didn’t need a roadmap as long as he stayed close to God. Our own journey through the wilderness of life can be confusing and in the middle of overwhelming circumstances we can feel hopelessly lost. As did Moses, we need to meet frequently with God and stay close to Him. We may not know the way, but God does, and when we follow Him, we will be on the path to where He wants us to be. Whether you’re struggling today or just need more time with God, maybe it’s time to establish your “meeting tent” and create your own sacred space.

Your meeting tent can be pitched anyplace and at anytime. But creating a sacred space where it’s quiet and restful is helpful for us introverts as well as you extroverts. As Moses set up the “tabernacle of meeting” far away from distractions, perhaps we should do the same and find our own quiet place. Does having a sacred place in your home dedicated to the worship of God seem a little extreme to you? We have a special room in our house in which we prepare our food. A special dedicated space for us to sleep in.. A room used only for our personal hygiene.. We even have a special place in our house where we store the clothing that we are not wearing. But with all these special dedicated spaces, how many of us have a unique place just set aside in our house for God? Where we worship and pray? Do you have a sacred space that quiets your spirit and brings you into a sense of anticipation that you will be meeting God at that place and at that moment? 

If you were to consecrate, sanctify and set apart a sacred place in your home, what symbols can you think of that would designate this as sacred space? Many of you know that there’s a place in my house that looks like a church. There is an altar, a cross and candles. One of the earliest ancient icons of Jesus is on the wall. It’s where I worship and pray. It’s my sacred space. My “meeting tent.” God meets me there every time. Twelve years ago, God told me to turn my home into a “monastery” and to live a lifestyle that keeps me in the presence of God. 

But you don’t have to turn your house into a monastery or a church to have a sacred space in your home. You may not be able to have, or want to have, an actual altar in your home. You may or may not have a table with a cross and candles. Your sacred place will look different than mine. I have a friend who has landscaped his entire backyard into a sacred space. When you sit out there, you see the cross on the hill and you’re in church. Your sacred space may be the chair overlooking the garden. Or it may simply be the chair in the bedroom facing the cross on the wall. When we establish our sacred space – our “meeting tent” – wherever it is and whatever it looks like, that’s the place where we always meet a holy God.  Amen?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Do You Love God Enough To Look Weird?

Dear Friends,

A few years ago I was having lunch with a co-worker at a family restaurant. He's a Fire Captain and at that time was in charge of his department's Chaplaincy Program. The food arrived and we both just automatically bowed our heads while one of us said grace to bless the meal and our conversation.

But before we could dig into our lunch, a thirty-something woman sitting alone across the room, bounded over to us and enthusiastically gushed about how wonderful it was to see two men praying together in public. I'm normally receptive to women telling me how awesome I am, but she was going on and on and my fries were getting cold and I wished she would just get going. 

She paused and I saw the big smile on her face begin to falter as her eyes glanced quickly away from us and back again. In that instant, I saw pain flicker across her face and knew that she had not come over just to compliment us on our public piety. She was trying to say something and wrestling with how to get it out. I slid over on the bench seat and said, “Why don't you sit down and tell us why God sent you over to us. Tell us how we can pray for you.” Her demeanor instantly changed and the giggling was gone. She sat and begin to weep as she told us a horrific story. 

Our burgers and fries were getting cold as we ministered to her and prayed for her. But we didn't mind a bit. God had providentially brought us into this particular restaurant at this particular time so that we would intersect this woman's life just as she was running out of hope. At a time when she didn't know if she should still hang on to life or just let go.. At a time when she had just lost both her parents to a violent death and had no one to turn to.. At a time when she was desperately searching for the God she vaguely remembered from Sunday School... And now at the time when she knew that she needed to reconnect with her Heavenly Father and she was unsure how to do that, God brought her into a restaurant and sat her down between a Fire Department Chaplain and a Pastor.

We both thought that our conversation with the woman would have gone unnoticed by anyone else in the restaurant. But as soon as she left our booth, the waitress appeared at our table with her own eyes moistened by what had just taken place and she silently took our untouched food back to the kitchen to warm everything up for us.

It was not until much later as I thought about that day that I realized it was not the prayer that had earmarked us both as Christians to the young woman. It was the posture of prayer. Heads bowed in reverence before God. Eyes closed to momentarily shut out the world and come into His presence. An unhurried moment of giving thanks to God for His provision and asking for His blessing. But had we not been willing to assume the risk of disapproval of others by praying in public view, God's plan for that woman would have been thwarted that day.

Of the 83% of Americans who identify as Christians, only 44% pray before a meal and less than 20% would say grace in a restaurant. Some of the best church-goin' Christians I know have told me that they would be mortified to pray in public and said that they wouldn’t want to "offend" those who were not religious.

But a former atheist writes: “Even when I was an atheist, I recall being quite moved on the rare occasions that I saw people pray before meals in public. I thought it was interesting that God was real enough to these people that they were willing to stand out and look weird to acknowledge him. In general, I had a low opinion of anyone who believed in God - Christians especially - but it was touching to see people pray before meals, and I respected the gesture in spite of my cynicism. In fact, those were some of the few occasions that I thought about God with an open mind.”  

I love the way this former atheist put that because it becomes a thought-provoking challenge. The next time we’re eating in a restaurant, we have to ask ourselves: Is God real enough to me that I would be willing to stand out and look weird in order to acknowledge Him and thank Him for all that He’s given me?

From the AMEN Corner Archives

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Jehovah's Witness Finds God

Dear Friends,

She worked as our division secretary for five years and she was a Jehovah’s Witness. It was during that time in my own life when God seized me and converted me from a nominal Christian to an “on-fire-for-God,” Spirit-filled believer and she and I began to have some interesting conversations. Witnesses are taught to avoid talking to a Christian about religion unless there’s another Witness present so that if they begin to believe our “lies,” the other Witness will intervene and pull them back to the “truth” of their own teachings. The doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness is drilled into their minds and each adult must attend three to five mandatory meetings a week to reinforce those beliefs. It is nearly impossible to reach a Jehovah’s Witness by arguing doctrine, but God can always create circumstances in which we have opportunities to witness the truth of God and the love of Jesus. 

After I received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, God performed a number of “mini-miracles” in my life as He began to rapidly knock off some of my rough edges. When I shared these experiences with my secretary, she would think about it for a moment and often say in a quiet voice, “That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to a Witness.” We never argued the Bible or theology. Instead, I simply told her what Jesus was doing in my life. About a year later, she said to me, “I think your God and my God is the same!” This was a huge breakthrough for a Witness! They are taught that a Christian has an incorrect concept of who God is and that we do not worship the true God Jehovah. 

She had been married for just a few short months when her new husband, a well-respected leader in their Kingdom Hall, severely beat her. At work she dressed in a manner which could hide the bruises and the abrasions, but she couldn’t hide the emotional pain and we began to speak often about what was going on in her personal life. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no ordained clergy and she told me that she had asked the church elders to help. She told them about her husband’s uncontrollable rage and they reminded her about her commitment to him through the marriage vows. She told them about the physical brutality and they told her the beatings were her godly punishment for not being fully submittive to her husband. After six long months of physical abuse, she moved out. This was an unthinkable act of rebellion for a Jehovah’s Witness and the elders started coming by her apartment in groups of two or three to counsel her. “Jehovah was angry!” they shouted at her. She was told that, for breaking her marriage vows, the Mighty Hand of Jehovah would strike her down. She now had two persons who were directing their violent rage toward her. Her husband and God! 

The Lord gave me some wonderful opportunities to speak to her about a Jehovah God who loved her more then she could ever possibly imagine. A God who loved her so much that He sent his Son to suffer with beatings, humiliation, and pain and then to finally die for her. I told her that using the Bible to justify physical abuse in a marriage was a perversion of the Word of God. I told her about God’s grace and His compassion. Whenever she would walk into my office teary-eyed and with a box of Kleenex in hand, I knew she wanted to talk about God. She made the decision to divorce her husband and then six months later went on to work for another employer. Before she left, she said to me, “Remember when I told you that I realized my God and your God were the same?” I nodded. “Well now I realize that they are different... and I like your God better.” 

A year later she stopped by my office to say hello and to let me know it had been a year since she had attended any Jehovah’s Witness meetings. But she had never forgotten the God of the Bible that I had told her about and she was now attending a Spirit-filled Christian church. She told me that she really liked the praise and worship music, was learning from the pastor’s messages, and she had found that church was a place of joy and celebration, not discipline and condemnation. But she wasn’t yet used to the people raising up their hands as they were singing...

She had been well acquainted with the wrath of God but it wasn’t until she was introduced to a loving and compassionate God that she could allow His light to penetrate the cult’s legalistic teachings. Here’s what I learned. First we have to be yielded to the Holy Spirit for we are powerless to affect the lives of others without Him. And we will often be frustrated if we try to argue doctrine with the person. But they can’t argue with our experience. When we tell them what God is doing in our lives, they will be attracted to the God who is changing us. And when we show God’s love in a manner which compels the person to seek what we have, the most deeply embedded unchristian doctrine can be broken and healing can take place. I never tried to “convert” her. God simply called me to reveal the truth of His love for her and then He did the rest... 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Why Am I Here?

Dear Friends,

“Why am I here?” cried Minnie as she looked around her room in the assisted-living facility. It was a nicely furnished room and her family had carefully and lovingly surrounded her with family photos and the mementos most important to her. But it was not home. It was not her house that she so loved and cherished. “Why am I here..?”

It was a small family-run facility with only six bedrooms and Minnie shared the house with five male residents. No women except for the two attendants. She craved a hamburger and her sweet potato fries but the food served was healthy, Mediterranean-style, very low sodium and, worst of all, no sweets. “Why am I here..?”

The care-givers were kind and attentive but there was really no one there to talk to, and the frequent visits from family and friends were not enough to dispel the loneliness she felt when they were not there. The older male residents in various stages of physical illness and dementia were not good company. One who suffered from schizophrenia growled demonic, animal-like noises when he saw the cross near her door as he passed by her room. “Why am I here..?” 

Minnie was becoming just plain sick and tired of her mortal body. The emphysema making it more and more difficult to breathe. The congestive heart failure causing weakening and fatigue making it difficult to even move. Emergency trips to the hospital to stabilize her condition were becoming more frequent. Minnie was just tired of this mortal life. She had the assurance that all was well with her soul and knew that the time was near for her to walk through that veil and into eternal life with Jesus. Her prayers were no longer, “Restore my health, Jesus” but had become, “Take me home Jesus to be with You.” “Why am I still here..?” 

Then one evening she was sitting in the living room talking with a 72 year old recent arrival. His son had come to visit. Minnie began to talk with the man about Jesus and she learned that he was a “Christian” by his ethnicity and culture but had never accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. She spoke to him about the promise of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

She asked the man if he would like to receive Jesus in his heart and he said, “Yes.” Minnie prayed a prayer of salvation and asked him to repeat the words after her. As Minnie prayed with her eyes closed, she heard him repeat the words but she also heard another voice. The man’s son was also praying the words asking Jesus into his life. The next day Minnie was having difficulty with her breathing and was taken to Kaiser Hospital. While she was there in the emergency room, she saw the paramedics bring in the man who had received Jesus the night before. He was again accompanied by his son. Shortly thereafter, Minnie left the hospital and went back to the home. The man did not. He died that night. This brand-new Christian believer took his last breath on earth and his next breath in heaven in the arms of Jesus. At that moment, Minnie’s question was answered. She told me that her daughter, Annette, said to her, “If you were here for only just one reason, that was it..”

“Why am I here..?” we cry. Why am I in this place, in this job, in this situation? Why am I here in this relationship? Why am I in this old, sick body? It is in our human nature to search for the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life itself. We were created by God. The very hands of God formed us in our mother’s womb and skillfully knit us together. Psalm 139:13-16 NLT And on all who are redeemed, the Creator has set His Name and we are created for the glory of God. Isaiah 43:7 That’s why we exist and that’s why we are here in this place. Our purpose on earth is to praise and worship God. We are to proclaim His goodness and accomplish His will for our lives. That was what Minnie did the night she spoke to the man. She simply did what she had always done. She didn’t sit down with an evangelistic gleam in her eye to save a sinner. She just praised God and proclaimed His goodness. And God did the rest. 

Wherever “here” is for you, God has placed you there to glorify Him and accomplish His will for your life. Minnie showed us how to do that. She loved and glorified the Lord not just by her words but by her lifestyle. She followed Jesus and faithfully prayed every day for her family and friends. If Minnie knew you, that meant she was praying for you! On August 2, 2016, Minnie went home to be with Jesus and I can only believe that the first words she heard from her Lord were, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Now Minnie can finally say, “Thank God I’m here!”  Amen?