Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Need More God?

Dear Friends,

What would be the one single thing for you to have that would most improve the quality of your life? Check one:  ❑ More money? ❑ Better job? ❑ Nicer house? ❑ Healthier body? ❑ More God? While some of those may be difficult to obtain, if you picked “More God,” you can have that one right now. Guaranteed! Coming into the presence of God is to come into a place that we long for. Psalm 42:1-2 NLT But how do we do that? When our life is filled with worries, troubles and doubts – maybe even some doubts about God Himself – how do we go about living in God’s presence? 

The spiritual concept of living a life in the presence of God is rooted in the early Eastern (Orthodox) church Fathers and the monastic life where one was taught to be still and come into the presence of God. In our modern church, instead of simply being, our emphasis is on doing. We have formulas on how to pray, Bible reading plans, instructions for sustained fasting and a 12 lesson Bible study program guaranteed to show us how to follow Jesus Christ and grow our Christian faith! Nothing wrong with any of that. But what brings me into God’s presence is more often not what I “do” but what I stop doing. If I want “More God,” instead of trying harder to do more, I often find that it’s more helpful to take a break and do less. Sometimes I need to lay aside all the Christian “disciplines” and just take a vacation!

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God..” We read that and hear that as meaning: Be quiet. Be at peace. But the original Hebrew used here means to “quit struggling.” An expanded translation might sound like this: “Stop your striving and just kick back for awhile. Let go of trying to make something happen, and instead, just relax to see what I am doing here in your life. Forget the religious rules and take a break. If your spiritual wheels are spinning and you’re skidding off that pathway to righteousness, just stop and hang loose for awhile. Take a load off. Settle down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, quit struggling. Stop your fussing. Cut it out. Be still. Know that I am God. Relax. I will restore and refresh you, says the Lord.” 

The Latin word translated as “be still” is the word “vacate” and it means the same in Latin and English. It means to vacate – to leave behind – the things we wrestle with and be free of those struggles. “Vacate” is the root word for our word vacation. When we are taking a “vacation,” we have “vacated,” or left behind any worrisome work and home obligations and refocused our thoughts on a pleasurable getaway. Paul tells us we must “work out our salvation” Philippians 2:12–13 and some of us become Christian workaholics fearful that unless we follow our own religious rules our soul will become dangerously backslidden. Yes, there is a time to read our Bible and know God through His Word but there’s a time to take a vacation with God and know Him through His presence. We need to empty out the clutter from our mind and set aside our worries and troubles. Relax before God and fully enjoy being in His presence. It’s as if God is saying: “Be still. Let’s you and Me take a vacation together.”

That’s what I need. When things get busy.. When the battle makes me weary.. When I’m discouraged.. When the scripture that tells me to “Rejoice always” 1 Thess 5:16 is lost in a sea of stress.. When my feelings got hurt, or even worse, when I just realized that I hurt someone else’s feelings.. When my day gets tough.. That’s when I need a break.

And a spiritual timeout with God doesn’t automatically mean it’s a time to become all religious and fervently pray. Prayer is appropriate for all  circumstances, but we must be careful to not just simply exchange a frantic secular activity for a frantic spiritual activity. That’s not taking a vacation. It’s just substituting a different type of work at the same obsessively dysfunctional pace. That’s when God might say to you: “Be still. Quit your struggling. Stop fretting and fussing. Let’s you and Me take a break together.” 

Sometimes we need to just be content to sit beside God and be with Him. No agenda. No non-stop prayer conversation. Just to sit-a-spell with our Father and be still. The early church and the monastics called this “contemplation.” To just be there. Centering all your attention and desire on God and letting Him be the sole concern of your mind and heart. We desire to come into God’s presence not for what He can do for us but simply for who He is. And in His presence, we find His peace. Life can get tough and if you’re like me, you may need a bunch of mini-vacations with God throughout your day. That’s when you’ll be walking alongside those deep Living Waters. You feel those stirrings of love in your heart for God. You feel His presence and His peace. He is restoring your soul. Your spirit is refreshed. You are on a vacation with God. Amen?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Got A Sin Sticker?

Dear Friends,

I had stepped on a “goat’s head sticker” in my dining room. I was wearing just socks and the sharp pain took my breath away. As I extracted the quarter-inch sticker as sharp as a hypodermic needle, I sent a silent thank you to God that it embedded itself in my foot and not in one of the soft paws of my cats. This time of year I have thousands on my property and because they stick to shoes and clothes it’s easy for them to accidentally get tracked indoors if you’re not careful. If a cat ingests one while trying to remove it from a paw with their teeth, it can kill them.

Years ago when my dog Elysee was alive and she and I were outside, if I saw her freeze in place and not take another step, I knew that she’d picked up a sticker. I’d immediately go to help her, but she’d limp away from me as fast as she could. A sticker in your paw is painful, but she knew how much it would hurt when the sticker was being pulled out. And she associated me with the pain of its removal and not with the absence of pain that would occur as soon as the sticker was gone. She’d be terrified and would tremble as I lifted her paw. But she eventually learned that when she had a sticker, I could make that pain go away. She learned that when the sticker embedded itself in her paw, she needed to just stop, lift her paw, stand there on three legs and wait for me. I’d grab the sticker and it would be gone. One second she could hardly move because of the pain and in the next, she’d be running and dancing around the yard again, instantly healed. I was her miracle worker!

Kind of like the process of sanctification. So many times we are limping around with sin stickers stuck in our soul. We can’t avoid them. We are imperfect humans falling well short of the glory in this life that will be ours in the next. So one moment we’re running joyfully through life and the next moment we’ve succumbed to a temptation, picked up a sin sticker and we’re skidding to a stop. If we fear the painful removal of that sin sticker, we will find ourselves settling for a flawed and compromised relationship with God. The process of sanctification can be uncomfortable. It can be confrontational. In fact, many of our real encounters with God are somewhat painful. And knowing that the Holy Spirit will confront us and convict us of our sins, we too often limp away as fast as we can to avoid Him.

Many of us just pretend the sin stickers aren’t there and we’ve learned to limp so artistically that none of our friends have noticed. And some of the best “church-going” Christians have become experts in “sin management.” We walk painfully through life and know that we’ve fooled others. And, we can only hope that we’ve fooled God as well. So in our whispered nighttime prayers, we hide the sins that our lips tremble to name because we cannot bear to bring them before Him.

We find ourselves running from God instead of running toward Him. We tremble at the approach of the Lord and fear the pain of removal when He reaches down and pulls those sharp little sin stickers out of our soul. But when we submit to God and allow Him to do so, as soon as we have been cleansed of our sin, we are now running and dancing and joyfully thanking God for pulling out our sin stickers.

The word “Sanctify” means to be set apart and made holy. Sanctification is the process of growing in Christ through divine grace following salvation. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to spiritually grow as we learn how to live and love like Jesus. And in our humanness we stumble, fall and pick up a sin sticker and once they’re there, they don’t fall out on their own. They have to be pulled out. Sanctification is the process where both you and the Holy Spirit are working to remove the sin stickers. That’s the on-going process of our repentance and His forgiveness. But you can’t be pretending the sin stickers don’t exist or try to run away from God. You’re going to have to stand still and lift your paw so that He can get to it.

Be honest with God. Remember, you’re not telling Him anything about you He doesn’t already know! Don’t ever be afraid of deep and abiding intimacy with God. When your Heavenly Father looks at you, He sees right through your mask. Psalm 139:1-7 He knows who you are. He can see each one of your sin stickers, and He loves you too much for you to have to carry those around and limp through life. 

At the end of each day, ask Him to show you where you’ve missed the mark. Psalm 139:23-24 Name the sin. Take responsibility for it. Own it. Confess it. Then ask Him to show you what you need to do to change that habit or avoid that temptation. John 14:13-14 And finally, receive His forgiveness Isaiah 43:25 and thank Him for His mercy and grace. Feel the peace of God. That sin sticker’s gone.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Praying For Mass Shooting Survivors

Taylor Sharpe Schumann
Dear Friends,

For most of us who are Christians, as soon as we heard the news, we prayed. For those killed, we can only pray, “May God have mercy on their souls” because we know they are now where they were destined to be, and those who need our prayers the most are the loved ones left behind. And then perhaps we pray the longest and hardest for the seriously wounded, knowing that for some, the severity of their injuries will cause suffering for the rest of their lives. 

Taylor Schumann was an employee at New River Community College in Christiansburg, Virginia when a student walked in and shot her and another student with a shotgun. That was six years ago and after four surgeries, Taylor has only about 30% use of her hand. She writes, “I believe in the power of prayer. I know firsthand what living through a shooting does to a mind and what a bullet does to a body, and I believe that my recovery and healing is a direct result of prayers that were prayed for me.” If you would like to know how to pray for those wounded in the recent mass shootings, the following was an online post that she wrote. 

Pray for physical wounds, pain, and future treatments.
Managing bullet wounds is often a process of trial and error, where it can take days for doctors to figure out how to provide comfort. Many survivors face years of recovery, including surgeries and physical rehabilitation. Pray that they would experience a relief from the physical pain, that the lasting effects of the wounds would be minimal, and they would have the strength to persevere through the treatments to come.

Pray for invisible wounds. 
Survivors have witnessed the unimaginable, oftentimes seeing people they love also wounded or killed. These are images that will never leave their minds. Whether or not they were wounded, they are processing their near-death experience and wondering what their new reality will be. Many survivors will deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Pray for the emotional trauma they are dealing with. Pray that they would have access to counseling, therapy, and whatever type of mental health treatment that they need.

Pray for wisdom for doctors, nurses, and medical specialists. 
Pray for wisdom as they make medical decisions, steady hands as they perform surgeries and kindness as they care for their patients.

Pray against nightmares and for the ability to sleep and rest
For me, one of the hardest things in the days following the shooting was sleeping. I was terrified to close my eyes, and when I did, I suffered through nightmares. After a significant trauma, the body needs sleep. Pray that the survivors are able to able to rest without fear.  

Pray for financial provision for medical costs and other needs. 
The financial impact of being shot is devastating for families, especially if the person hurt was the family wage-earner or will live with a lifelong disability. Please pray for financial provision for hospital bills, ongoing care, materials needed to function well, and ongoing mental health treatment.

Pray for guidance and support during the legal process.
In incidents where the shooters are taken into custody, survivors face a long and tedious legal process full of court proceedings. They will be asked to testify about the worst day of their lives and forced to listen to the traumatizing details. I know firsthand how overwhelming this process can be. Pray they would have support and guidance as authorities work to bring shooters to justice.

Pray they would have a strong support system for the long haul. 
Supporting a shooting survivor is not a short-term endeavor. Please pray that each survivor will have an unbreakable support system, full of people who will love them and care for them and not abandon them if it gets difficult.

Pray against re-traumatization after other shootings. 
For a survivor, it can feel impossible to experience healing when we are constantly having to relive our experience with each new mass shooting that happens. Every time we are flooded with the memories of our experience. For a lot of us, this includes things like PTSD symptoms and panic attacks. Pray that God would provide a peace that surpasses all understanding and strength when they are weak.

Keep praying. 
If I can convince you to do just one thing on this list, I hope it is this one. Keep praying. For many survivors, including myself, the day of the shooting is not the hardest day. The hardest day comes later, when you are confronted with your new reality in the aftermath. When the cards stop coming, when people stop asking how you are, and when the news cycle changes, you begin to feel forgotten and isolated. People praying for you months and years after the shooting is a significant way to show support.

God knows the needs of survivors, so I don’t believe it is necessary to know exactly what to pray for in order to pray. However, when we acknowledge the specific needs of others, we are better able to empathize with them, love them, and serve them. We are also better able to recognize the deep and ongoing trauma of gun violence that lasts long after the news cameras are gone.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Spiritual Batteries Low?

Dear Friends,

Something in my house was calling to me. Something was trying to tell me that it was in trouble but I couldn’t find it. I could hear it crying out for help but I didn’t know what or where it was. In the quiet times in my house I could hear it. It was a high-pitched “beep” but it was so faint and infrequent I couldn’t place its location. And sadly it was losing strength. The low battery alert beep was getting weaker. Its power ebbing away. Pretty soon it would be too late for this little electronic device. The batteries would soon die and  become corroded. If the leaking acid corrupted the inside of the device, it would be too late to install new batteries and bring it back to life.

Sometimes, when I’m home alone.. When I'm far from the din and chaos of life.. When everything is quiet.. I’ll sense a quiet warning beep in my spirit. And just like the electronic device sending out the low battery alert, the “warning beep” in my spirit, tells me that something’s wrong. The power that God has graced me with through the Holy Spirit is ebbing away. My spirit is losing strength. There's a shallowness to my soul. I find myself spiritually dry and thirsty and feeling as if something life-sustaining is missing. That’s when I need to go on a hunt for the cause of my spiritual warning beep.

Can one slip so far away from God that their spiritual power completely dies and their soul becomes so corroded with the world that a line has been crossed and there's no going back? Different church traditions disagree about that, but here's what I know. That's nothing I want to experiment with. God is a patient God and He has been far more merciful to me than I deserve, but I don't want to stray so far away from Him that I can’t find my way back.

A father and his son were walking far from home. On each side of the path was a dark and dense forest. The little boy asked his father if he could go off the path to explore in the woods. The father said he could but told him that once he stepped off the path he would be unable to see his father and could easily become lost. The little boy became worried and told his father that he wouldn't want to leave the path if he could get lost. The father said, “That's okay, son.  It'll be safe for you to leave the path. I'll just keep calling out to you and as long as you can hear the sound of my voice, you'll be able to make your way back to me.” The little boy thought about that and said, “How will I know if I've gone too far?” And his father replied, “You'll know you've gone too far when you can no longer hear the sound of my voice.”

When my soul becomes dry and thirsty and I begin to feel distanced from God, I respond immediately. I don't want to go too far. One of the convicting passages of scripture is Hebrews 6:4-6. It is unlikely any one of us will ever fall away to the extent that we lose our relationship with God, but we can easily fall away to become spiritually sluggish. And that spiritual sloth creates a distance between us and God. That’s why, when we sense those “warning beeps” in our spirit, we need to respond immediately to examine our spiritual lives and begin our relentless search for the cause.

If you feel your spiritual energies draining away, you need to act quickly. Reach around to the point on your back, right between the shoulder blades, and open up the little plastic door. You’ll find three batteries in a small compartment. One battery is marked “GOD'S WORD.” The second battery is labeled “WORSHIP” and the third one is marked, “PRAYER.” And those three batteries need to be kept charged up at all times. If you’re feeling spiritually sluggish, which one of those needs recharging the most right now?

God’s promise is that He will be with us until the end of time so if we are feeling distanced from Him, we need to look within. A husband and his wife were driving home from their 25th wedding anniversary celebration. He was driving the car and she was sitting in the passenger seat, leaning against the door and looking out the window. As they drove on home, she started to weep. The husband asked her what was wrong. She said, “Do you remember when we were first married that we used to sit close together and cuddle whenever we went driving somewhere?” The husband looked at her from behind the stirring wheel and said, “Dear... I never moved.”

Do you remember that time in your Christian walk when you were so close to God that you could just feel the intimacy of His presence in your life? Well dear friend... God never moved. And He's waiting for you to recharge your spiritual batteries and move back to Him.  Amen?