Wednesday, February 27, 2013

God With Us

Sometimes my awareness of God's presence is minimal. The sun rises and sets with too few hours in the day to accomplish my tasks. With a focus on my week's to do list instead of eternity, it is easy to scurry about, narrow my vision, and forget to hear Holiness. My daughters call each other "weird," trees sway in the breeze, time to feed the dogs, my husband folds a load of laundry, Jolee takes out the trash, stars twinkle, and I make yet another trip to the grocery store. Life, regular plain old life.

Yet all it takes for me to see the extraordinary, the supernatural in the everyday, is the realization that God was present in every moment. He didn't just show up for pastoral team meeting, Women's Bible Study, or during bedtime prayers. Nope, God was there when I hollered at the kids to set the table, when I made it home just seconds before the school bus (and on the days I didn't), and when I lay wide awake wondering how long it will be until sleep overcomes me as I listen to Alan's snoring. I love and serve Immanuel - the God who never sleeps or slumbers, who is just as present with my kids on the school bus as He is in the sanctuary.

This is the powerful and mighty God who tenderly reminds me I am loved even though sometimes I act like an idiot with those I love the most. This is the God who transforms my spirit from judgmental to compassionate. This is the God who finds ways to call out to me in the midst of my regular plain old life and says, "I AM here, I hear you."

God delights in delighting us. In Christ we don't live a life of random moments, interactions, and duties. Our experience is knit together by a Divine Trio that is able, in inexplicable ways, to create order out of chaos. Although I am unable to fully understand The Mystery, I choose to believe. The evidence of a loving, all-knowing God is clear to me when I stop, look, and listen. I think God even reads my blog! As I sat in worship service last Sunday night at Community, the phrases, words, and even scripture portions I've been writing about kept popping up. Honestly, it was so cool, it kinda freaked me out. I was stunned at how specifically God chose to affirm my heart. 

Tomorrow will be another tiny piece of eternity. We can choose the degree to which we will turn our attention to God. God has already chosen to attend to us.

O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. Psalm 89:8 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Fall

It's been a bumpy week. Tuesday night Alan and I went for a run. Less than a half mile in we were traversing some nasty broken sidewalks and I was jammin' to Summer Nights by Rascal Flatts. Feeling oh so energetic and a wee bit overconfident, I was clapping my heads over my head as we breezed along. And then I bit it big time. Bam, just like that I was on the ground. Thank goodness it was dark and the only person who witnessed my crumple was my beloved. We paused for a moment, he helped me to my feet, and asked if I could still run. Thankfully the answer was yes and we finished our 3 miler. The cold air soon numbed my scraped hands and knees. I was grateful that the fall hadn't injured me in any significant way. I took it as a sign of God's faithfulness to my process of training for a half marathon this summer. I felt tough knowing the crash and the "road rash" couldn't keep me down. I huffed and puffed triumphantly. I pretended I was a "real athlete" know the kind who get hurt all the time, shrug it off, and keep playing. Yep. Key word, pretended.

Then we got home. It was warm inside and my once frozen hands started to thaw. The abrasions began to sting unmercifully. The tough girl started to melt. I don't "do" physical pain. The shower was a stinging nightmare and for the next two days I couldn't keep bandaids in place more than a hour or two on the oozing sores all over the back of my swollen right hand. My knees were ok but sore when I knelt down. I started to notice a funny pain in my upper right chest, just below my clavicle. By Thursday it hurt a bit more when I bent over or breathed deeply but it wasn't anything bad enough to keep Alan and I from going on a four mile run that night.

Again I felt triumphant, no silly fall earlier in the week was going to keep me from my training schedule. After the run I felt the pain in my chest intensify. Getting into the shower that night I could see a raised bump in the part of my chest that felt bruised and sore. Breathing became more difficult. I wondered if I'd popped a rib out of place. I did a Google search. This seemed to be what I was experiencing:
Subluxation of the rib means that one or more of the ribs have been slightly displaced, which causes pain. The pain may come from your back around to the front and can get worse when you are breathing deeply. If you lean over, the pain will get worse. Usually this condition will resolve itself in a week or two.

Alan suggested some ibuprofen, but I went to bed too proud and too strong to give in to meds. Friday morning I woke up with pain so severe I was not just frustrated, I was scared. I could hardly move. Breathing, even normally hurt like H. E. double hockey sticks. Calling Alan, who was already on his way to work, I got weepy and asked what I should do. We decided it would be best for me to go into the ER. Fearing a punctured lung or fractured rib I drove my shaken self to the hospital. Two chest x-rays later the doc came in and said, "It's nothing." Because when you can hardly breath and it feels like someone just punched you in the chest with every move you make, you like it when the doctor tells you It's NOTHING. Ugghhh. I did appreciate hearing the morning prayer over the hospital loudspeaker. It kinda made up for the loneliness and fragility I felt while laying on the gurney. Basically the nurse instructed me to take 800mg of ibuprofen every four hours for a few days, don't run for a week, and get out. 

Friday morning, the hand healing, but now feeling like I can't breath...
Well, I have to admit the ibuprofen has helped, but this wasn't the week I had planned. Is it ever? I know that "the fall" will someday be a distant memory and in the bigger picture, this week's events are really very minor. This week people I know are dealing with the loss of loved ones, are afraid that their child may have cancer, and others worry about how they will pay for food, clothing, housing, etc. I sat in the ER very aware that I had a simple choice to make - go in to the hospital for peace of mind or don't. I didn't worry about health insurance or where to go for help. I can't pretend that my normal is really normal at all. The world tells me differently every single day. I have to appreciate my choices even when it hurts to know that others don't have them. 

The other "take away" from this week for me is the reminder that our pain, no matter the size, shape, or reason behind it, is ours. If we want to live translucent lives (thanks Beth Woolsey) then we have to be real about our pain. I could of put on a brave face, walked out of the ER and said nothing but "fine" to the people who asked how my day was going. But the truth is, I wasn't fine. I was angry, sad, and uncomfortable. I joked through a text with a friend that what I wanted to do was, "just go curl up in a ball and cry...but that would have hurt too bad." It's ok to be real about the stuff we are struggling with even if it doesn't seem to come close to the level of suffering others are experiencing. I pray that my vulnerability helps others have permission to share their pain... or at least join my pity party for a bit. I believe with all my heart that what God appreciates most is honesty. If we have to fall sometimes to get real, so be it. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Are We Ready for a Powerful God?

Last week I posted about God leading me to the word believe as my theme for 2013. I'm a connect-the-dots kinda gal, and it's a hoot to see how the Spirit is leading me to examine how American Christians, including myself, believe as followers of Christ.

I see the largest disconnect in what we proclaim and what we practice. There seems to be a gap between what we claim as truth in scripture and how we live our ordinary lives. Our expectations or understanding of God's power within us appears sadly lacking when we profess to worship the God of all creation. It's not that we don't see or believe in miracles happening in the present, but it does seem fair to say that in our everyday American culture, an instantaneous cure from cancer, paralysis, blindness, or deafness are not a part of our "normal" experience. We want to believe God can release us from the bondage of addictions, an evil spirit, or chronic pain, and yet this still seems a mighty big pill to swallow. Start talking about experiencing being raised from the dead, and for a lot of us, those stories have us feeling like we've entered a fairy tale more than the kingdom of heaven. It's just plain weird. Miraculous healing can make us wonder if we stepped over some imaginary line to the edge of fantasy and witchcraft versus the Holy mysterious supernatural power of an omnipotent God. Let me take this a step further and ask: Do you and I believe we have the power within us to cure, heal, and raise others from the dead? Are we willing to speak and act on that power with confidence? Do we rush over to a friend's house, a stranger on a street corner, or an aquaintence in the grocery store and offer a healing prayer or touch? If no, is it because we don't want to look silly, are we embarrassed, unsure, insecure, inhibited, afraid, etc? Do we believe we possess the power? Are we leaving this kind of work up to others? Are we more aware of how often God doesn't heal than than the times that He does? In order to not confuse, disappoint, or discourage, do we hold on to The Power and keep it to ourselves just in case healing is not God's will? Are we ready for a powerful God?

We live in a culture of doctors, nurses, counselors, hospitals, insurance companies, antibiotics, radiation, and medicare. We live where miracles take place through small groups and therapy sessions. We experience healing in the ER, ICU, outpatient clinics, and on sick leave from work. I believe these are some of the ways God works today and I'm grateful. I don't mean to limit miracles to the medical world. In my life, most miracles have been a process. They've taken place through prayer, patience, and practice. This doesn't cheapen the miracle. I've seen my marriage raised from the dead...and that my friends, saved at least four lives. I pray that I don't doubt God when it comes to physical healing or dramatic displays of power, but the truth is, I do. At least I doubt God's followers. Skeptically, I watch documentaries of those who proclaim to have seen a woman regain her sight. My hardened heart finds it almost impossible to believe that a lifelong paralytic could stand up and walk just because a Christian laid on hands and yells, "In the name of Jesus...." This is the stuff of the Gospels, Acts, and Paul. Is it really for today? Is it really for me and you?

God's been doing miracles since the beginning of time, and our Bible records only a portion of the Lord's work. From cover to cover God's power is on display. Most comforting, or perhaps most disheartening, is that that even people who were eyewitnesses to some of God's most incredible miracles in ancient days forgot time and time again what a faithful and powerful God we claim to believe. Over and over God's people have doubted, questioned, and disobeyed. We say we trust a mountain-moving, water-parting, demon-slaying, dead-man rising God, yet when we suffer we often suffer most from a lack of hope.

John 14:10-14 has me riled up so bear with me...
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Did Jesus just tell the disciples...Did Jesus just tell you and me that when we believe in Him, we are able to do what he does, that we're able to do even greater miracles than he did when he walked the earth? Whhhhaaaat?  Why don't we spend some time sitting in a spiritual jacuzzi on that one? That is crazy amazing stuff. John chapter 14 goes on to tell us about Jesus promising us the Holy Spirit. John 14:17 says, "The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. but you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." To this I shout, "I WANT TO KNOW HIM!" I want to be so steeped in the Holy Spirit that I throw off the hinderances of this world. I don't want miracles to be strange stories that give me shrivers or make me sneer, "Really?" I want miracles to become normal. Writing those words sounds greedy. As a follower of Christ, it seems to me that Jesus is telling me I should expect and experience God's power to fill me and flow through me everyday. Everyday. Are we ready for a powerful God?

Before you worry I'm power-trippin', let me share more "dots" God is connecting. There are few scriptures that come closer to the core of how I experience, or want to experience, Christianity than Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 4:14-21, and Mark 12:29-31.

Matthew 18:1-5 describes Jesus reminding his followers that a humble child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Pride and power don't make you great. A willing, trusting, heart brings you closest to Christ. A life of service and generosity ushers in the Kingdom.

Luke 4:14-21 defines the Good News. In this passage, Jesus, fresh from a 40 day fast in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and being cared for by angels, comes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads a bit from Isaiah. Speaking the words of the prophet, Christ defines his ministry and purpose. Jesus states that he's been anointed by the Holy Spirit, is ready to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and has the authority to release the oppressed.

Mark 12:29-31is just one of the places in the Bible where we learn what matters most to God. We must love God with all of who we are and we're commanded/expected/compelled to love others as we love ourselves. It is Christianity 101.

In service last Sunday I wanted to stand in Open heart was not clear to move forward. But here I am in what has become my place to "stand" and share and process what the Holy Spirit is placing on my heart. This blog allows me the time and space to make what I hope are coherent statements about my faith. All that to say, that these "dots," these little pieces of how God is working in my life, felt tangibly close Sunday morning.

Last Saturday night, after watching the documentary Finger of God about seeing and experiencing God's power, miracles, and healing in today's world, I began to look over the lesson for the 4th/5th grade girls Sunday school class I was to teach in the morning. The curriculum instructed me to share the story of Jesus calming the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee. What an awesome story about Jesus' incredible and almost unbelievable power! Are we ready for a powerful God? The disciples in the boat didn't seem to be as they asked, "who is this?" Sunday morning the girls and I read the story and talked about miracles. They were well versed in reciting Bible stories, but when I asked them if they'd ever seen or experienced any recently, there was quite a pause. Then one child remembered her mom talking about being able to speak publicly (something she wasn't comfortable doing) after a friend prayed for her. Another child had heard the story of a boy who needed to do well on a test, but hadn't studied or had severe test anxiety. The boy went to bed and dreamed that he held the teacher's answer key. The next day he took the test and remembering his dream, he was able to take the test while "looking" at the answer key in his mind.

The class agreed, miracles happen, and perhaps they happen more often than we realize. We also agreed that we weren't so sure about performing miracles ourselves. Here was a room of kids raised in the church, who would all claim to be followers of Christ, who know Bible story after Bible story, and yet they hadn't really heard the message of John 14:10-14 before. I read it to them three times. We marveled at how, as believers, we are called to do what Jesus did (and more). Jesus says, "follow me." If we follow Jesus, we too will perform miracles and be able to watch the Holy Spirit at work in and through us. I shared with the Sunday school girls about Finger of God and how captivating it was for me to see little African children living in severe poverty with such strong faith. The film described the children as instrumental in praying for miracles. The most humble of children helping blind adults to see.

Then it was time for service, the verses from Luke 4:16-21 were the basis for Gregg's excellent sermon. Once again I felt blessed to sit amongst a congregation who loves Jesus and justice and sees them as interconnected. Believing we serve a God who transforms individuals and the whole world energizes my spirit and fills me with hope. This transforming love is described in Mark 12:29-31. Loving God is of utmost importance and usually a major "duh!" for believers. The trickier part is loving your neighbor as yourself. How do we do this? Sunday morning I wondered if it had something to do with believing God. Are we ready for a powerful God? Do we accept and want to follow a Messiah that asks us to want healing for others as much as we want it for ourselves? Are we ready to take God out of an ancient text and make Immanuel real and relevant today? Are we ready to believe, to show love, by entering into God's power and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through us as we humbly trust the Creator of the universe with the faith of a child?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

God-Given Spirit

Last year's "word" was grace. Ahhh, grace. Everything about grace seems delightful, smooth, and lovely. Along with it being my daughter's middle name, grace has a very hope-filled tone. To my surprise, focusing on grace taught me about pride and forgiveness, and ended up being more difficult than I ever expected. That's alright, I like being surprised and dare I say, tested by God.

At the end of 2012 I waited and prayed for a new "word of the year" to emerge, some fresh vibrant theme, a grace-filled challenge, a virtue. I wanted an exciting word to center on and shape my thoughts and prayers for 2013. Nothing came to mind and I began to sense that perhaps this whole "word of the year" business was really more about my desire to have a focus than it being God's idea. No word God...ok. Then I saw it. BELIEVE. I have the word believe posted on my mantel and along the staircase. Umm, that can't be it. I already know that one. "Believe" is too obvious, too cliche, too boring. I already believe - don't I?

Day after day the word popped off the page in scripture, resounded in my ears during conversations, and my eyes kept glancing at those silly old signs adorning my home. It became clear that despite my negative reaction to the initial boringness of believe, this was it. I'd have to trust God that working on belief was my task for the year. As I closed out 2012 with the final books of the chronological Bible, this verse from 2 Timothy grabbed my heart.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Could I, would I, choose to BELIEVE these words? Is this truly the type of Spirit that God has give us? Has given me? So many times I feel my actions and reactions are ruled by fear instead of courage, out of weakness and doubt not strength and faith. I live wondering when I'll ever be ready to really do the things I say I want to do...but my willpower fails time and time again. And yet here's this amazing verse that claims the Spirit that God gives us is courageous, strong, loving, and full of all we need to be disciplined and intentional. Oh how I need to believe these truths. I need to soak in God's Holy Spirit. I want to take in and breath in and out this Spirit. This is Life.

As an advocate for children through Compassion  one of my desires is to help others see how child sponsorship can change lives; how knowing Christ brings Life. It's important for me to speak with assurance...with belief. I must proclaim without timidity and in love that sponsorship works as a tool to end poverty. I want to encourage sponsors that when they use the self discipline given to them by the Spirit to sit down and write to their sponsored child, they are engaging in a holy opportunity to place value, hope, and God's love in the spirit of a child.

As a children and family's pastor here in small town in Oregon, I am grateful to serve a community that I know well and who knows me. It's easy to keep my eyes focused right here. There are many needs, so much pain, and unlimited opportunities to share God's love. It's also comfortable and safe. The truth is we serve a global God. I believe as a follower of Christ we are asked to widen our vision to include the entire world. God has used the ministry of Compassion as a way for me to live out love to the ends of the earth. Jesus takes the blinders off and with grace gives me a heart for children and families who live in circumstances beyond my understanding. God comes crashing through my office door, spins my ergonomically correct chair so that I face Him eye to eye, and shows me that beyond my insulated walls are children that need to know they are worthy. The Holy Spirit makes my stomach flop at the words sex-trafficking, famine, malaria, drought, lack of education, sewage, unemployment, and suffering. Those words can be paralyzing. I can hear them and lose hope. It's too much God.

But God says, "No it's not too much for Me. So believe. I've given you a spirit not of timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline. Follow Jesus and together we will serve."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Forty Days

It's Fat Tuesday...Mardi Gras. Time to indulge before the fast, to consume and celebrate before walking into the wilderness and spending 40 days in a season of penitence. Or is it?

Today is Tuesday. A regular day when kids went to school, came home, watched TV, ate ice cream, and practiced cello. It's a regular day. Alan and I got up, went to work, and came home. A regular day. A regular day of fixing dinner, taking the dog out to potty, and folding laundry. A regular day on my tiny piece of the planet.

It's a special day. Tuesday has meaning, life, breath, and joy because the sun came up and the earth kept spinning. God created this day. It's a special day. In the midst of so much misery and doubt in our world it's easy to ask, "Why is it special?" I imagine God answering "Because I said so." Strangely, that's enough for me. Not so much when I was 12 and my mom used that ridiculous line.

Today I was able to join in prayer, to grieve, to laugh, to question. I didn't solve deep theological issues, cure cancer, or abolish poverty. Today I was able to hug my children. Today I made my bed and sent some emails. Today I felt thankful but forgot to say grace. Today I spent way too long on this blog post when I could have been on a run. Today I felt God tugging at my heart and whispering, "Get ready!" Today I am filled with anticipation and I admit, a little trepidation.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. This season can shut us down or open us up to transformation.  We can let the expectations to "give something up" rule and even ruin our experience with this opportunity. I don't want to "do" Lent.

Beginning tomorrow, and lasting for the next six weeks, I'm accepting the invitation. I'm planning on making space for God in my life in ways that don't always come easy for me. I have grand plans - and there is my first obstacle. Can I get out of the way enough for GOD to do the work and not me? Am I willing to wake up each regular special day inviting God to take control, believing that Christ is good, trusting the Holy Spirit to be enough? Today all I can do is hope.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5

These books will serve as guides for the journey: A Clearing Season by Sarah Parsons and A Place at the Table by Chris Seay.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Of Beans and Blessings

The Compassion Advocate and Sponsor Gathering has now past. I will look back at this weekend as a marker point in my education. I've been taught that a wobbly aluminum foil casserole pan cannot contain sloppy hot refried beans. They will sploosh and cover the interior of my van with the slightest turn of the wheel. I've learned that rushing to hold the door for my mother should always be my first priority...especially when she is carrying a pan of sloppy hot refried beans. Otherwise the blasted beans take great delight in covering her from shirt to sneaker, and the doors to the church, and the welcome mat. Welcome to Newberg Friends Church; it looks like a herd of cats just vomited.

Despite the very unwelcome arrival of spilled beans during our Saturday lunch break, this weekend was lesson after lesson on God's great blessings. A bullet point list isn't compelling reading, but perhaps it will provide a way for me to record the joy I experienced.

  • The coffee for the weekend was donated by friends who purchase/produce fair trade, fair wage coffee.
  • I enjoyed a relaxing trip to Costco on Friday morning...I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. Maybe I'm a moron, but I love Costco and I rarely get to go.
  • My friend and fellow pastor, Elizabeth, offered to brew coffee for the Friday night portion of our gathering...then they sponsored another child! Pure happiness!
  • My husband took Friday off and spent the entire weekend Advocating for Compassion by serving as AV/Techy man extraordinaire. I love being in ministry together.
  • There were traveling mercies for all presenters, Compassion staff, and attendees. 
  • A dear friend of mine, Teresa, who also cleans my house, was able to come over Friday and make my house sparkle just in time for our guests to arrive. 
  • The movie that I made of our Honduras Sponsor Tour trip turned out pretty well despite my lack of video editing skills and rush to finish in time for the Gathering. 

  • It turns out that when you're looking for a video from your Philippines Sponsor Tour to play during your intro to the weekend, you should do a search for "Compassion Sunday Video." Crisis averted. 
  • Yummy pizza...lots of yummy pizza thanks to Rick!
  • The cupcakes turned out just right and the blue tongues that resulted from the fondant blue squares on our "Compassion-branded" dessert made the evening extra fun. 
  • Hosting Maria and Paul was a treat. I'm sure they were probably exhausted by the time they left on Sunday, but how can I help it...They r e a l l y liked Bella. Bella learned how to "roll over" this weekend thanks to some late night puppy training by our guests. 
  • Gregg and Marta planned and presented a beautiful opening to our gathering on Saturday. Our last song was "You Have Me." Amen! I felt like God created that moment just for me. God is always faithful, always good. 
  • Every presentation (including Maria sharing her story) was rich with information, interactive, and engaging. Powerful lessons that brought us to tears and inspired us to action. 
  • Watching each advocate, trainer, and person on Compassion's staff use their gifts and share their passions, allowed us to see the body of Christ at work.
  • My mother has a servant's heart and spent her day in acts of service (my love language) by being a one-woman kitchen crew.
  • Brynn loved taking care of Jill's kids during the day. They loved Brynn!
  • Diana takes "let me help you" to another level. She de-beaned my van and joined the kitchen crew for the afternoon. 
  • Jill and Juli played beautiful music during lunch and soothed my nerves after the bean blow-out. 
  • Dinner with our "Compassion Family," as Brynn named them, gave us time to reflect, relax, and be really silly. Dinner was followed by a game of Nertz. 
  • Conversations with Maria and Paul gave me a greater appreciation for how God works and how He weaves lives together. Their love story has God all over it. 
  • Despite six children's ministry workers being out sick on Sunday, I was able to sit through both services and hear Maria with my NFC family. 
  • Gregg's short sermon on justice as evangelism wonderfully and wisely connected Maria's sharing and our upcoming series on the Good News. The service affirmed once again that God is using Compassion and Newberg Friends Church to stand up for the oppressed and to live Isaiah 58. 
  • 16 children were sponsored. Lives were changed! 

You'll just have to trust me that this lengthy list doesn't even come close to painting a complete picture of the blessings given to me and my family this weekend. Some are too private to share in such a public forum while others didn't make the list simply because I had to stop somewhere. By now you're probably seeing spots!