Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Today's Menu: Soup and Sandwich...or Banquet?

A warm bowl of soup.  A turkey and cheese sandwich.  A sweet apple, tangy orange, chewy cookies and something refreshing to drink.  It doesn't take much to fill the stomach and warm the soul.  Today I worked with a number of people who cooked and baked, prepped and served to provide a meal - and a pair of warm socks - for about 80 or so people who live on the streets and in the shelters of my city.

I prayed for this outreach on my way to the church.  Prayed that there would be enough food for everyone - and as usual, God made sure there was enough for all and enough to serve them again tomorrow.  I'm always amazed at how whatever we bring stretches far beyond what we anticipate.

I also prayed for the people we would come in contact with.  So often, I see the same faces at different programs and outreaches around the city.  I thought about what it must be like to exist from meal to meal, program to program.  I prayed that God would help them break the cycle and habits that held so many in the bondage of poverty.  There are many reasons people find themselves on the streets...the ones we 'typically' think of  that tend to afflict the chronically homeless - drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, lack of education keeping them from finding a job to sustain a decent level of living, even a poverty mindset that can hold a family captive for generations.  Then there are some reasons that don't jump as easily to mind - the mom and kids who have fled an abusive situation, vets who come back from service to find they are unable to hold a job because of physical or mental disabilities from their time overseas.  Or maybe they just can't find a job...period.  And with the economy in such a bad state, people who never thought they would have to find a way to survive on a daily basis find themselves without a job, and ultimately, without a home.  Believe it or not, there are even some who have become so used to living in this transient state, that even when offered housing, they decline, content to roam the streets because it's their comfort zone.

It was this last group that had me thinking today while I was praying about breaking harmful patterns.  I wondered how it could be that someone would refuse stability.  A house to go home to.  A bed to sleep in every night.  But then it dawned on me.  God offers to feed our soul.  To fill our spirits.  To warm our hearts.  But often, we decline.  Why would we decline the stability of Peace that passes understanding or a Love so great it would sacrifice something precious like an only Son to rescue us?  Are we afraid of the responsibility that might place on us?  If we accept God's gift, then will we be required to do something in return?  Our fear of the unknown is so great that we settle for the scraps that we know - or think we know - we can depend on.  We settle for a sandwich when He says He's prepared a banquet.
Are we so different in our thinking from our brothers and sisters living on the street?  Are we not also caught in habits and cycles that hold us prisoner?  I too have been guilty of falling back into unhealthy patterns and settling for less.  Have you?  We may not be a slave to drugs or alcohol, but what has a hold of you today that is keeping you from living a life of plenty rather than want?  Are you a poor steward of your finances?  Filled with worry?  Bound by feelings of anger, regret, insecurity?

Poverty is not just a financial state of being.  You can be poor in spirit - settling for less of a life than God intends you to live.  Christ said in John 10:10  "The thief comes on in order to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). (Amplified Bible). 

Poverty of finances is easy to see, therefore, it is easy to assume we are 'better off' than those without.  But I submit to you today that if you are not living life to the full, accepting God's gift of salvation and relying fully on Him for ALL your needs, you are homeless in the worst sense...eternally homeless.  Don't decline the offer of mansion housing.  Don't settle for less than the full meal He's prepared for you.  Don't allow a mindset of poverty to keep you from the riches of His love and mercy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Last Sunday's Chicken

In my first post of the new year, I talked about the Prayer Walk at my church and mentioned that there were several speakers.  One of them was my friend Renata Barnes-Ade.  Renata is quite a character.  She shies from the camera with cries of "I've got felonies out on me, what are you doing??" and affectionately calls me "T-bone".   She is also a woman of God who has a strong faith, is a prayer warrior and has a real way with words.  I asked her for her notes from the walk in order to share some of her thoughts with all of you.  With the promise of giving her "propers", she's informed me that she won't charge for sharing her intellectual property lol.  What follows is an abbreviated version of some of the challenging thoughts she shared on prayer...

"This is a difficult topic, for me, and us, to talk about and to hear. Anyone who has sat in church or been to a woman’s conference, small group, youth group, prayer conference, read “Our Daily Bread”, read any popular Bible study by any number of people over the past 2 decades, seen or worn a t-shirt sporting a catchy blurb of Christian jargon, i.e. “Prayer Changes Things”…can no doubt attest to the prevailing topic of prayer and its importance.   I tried to think of a slick acronym that would help us remember to pray and how make it “productive”.   I thought that I would come up with some 5 point plan that could lead us all to another “Ah-Ha” moment about prayer. Then I was suddenly, or not so suddenly, struck with the stark, blunt, ugly truth that many of us know but would never cop to. It sat like bad taste in my mouth and a horrible thought I couldn’t shake. We don’t pray. We don’t pray. We. Don’t. Pray

Why is it that we don’t pray? We don’t pray individually and we seldom pray corporately and when we do, the unfamiliarity is almost palpable. 

I have found in life that you make time for the things you want to make time for and you make excuses for everything else.   That includes people and things.   When we've spent 3 hours on Facebook or in mindless activities and see the day passing, and then think of prayer, we either clump it in with "bless the kids in Biafra" or tact it on to “Now I lay me down to sleep".  Too often we give God last Sunday’s chicken on Wednesday…refrigerator-dried, with sauce and fat all congealed in the most “tor up” 20 year old Tupperware containers.  

Ya know…no one likes to be an afterthought, invited after all the invitations have been sent.  Think of how you've felt when someone said “Oh dear, I forgot all about you”.  Imagine doing that to God?  Jeremiah 2:32 says “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?  Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number."  They forgot so long that even God no longer counted the days...are you guilty of that?
 I believe that God is not as caught up with where we pray, but that we pray and how we pray.   Although prayer on the run is necessary at times, it is not the prayer that tends to drive us closer.  
Obviously, the enemy wants to impede this crucial communication. This, too, we know.  In prayer we are open, or should be, to not only disrobing in front of God ,showing ourselves as we truly are, but having God reveal more of himself to us…which draws us closer to Him. If our relationship with God is based on knowing Him, why is it that we neglect to actually, “converse”, with him?   Why have we allowed ourselves to submit our request to Him and then get up and leave, never considering that perhaps He may have a request of us?

If we indeed believe that “Prayer Changes Things” and we can look around at the hell that is in our world, in some of our homes, and undoubtedly in some of our hearts, why do we not fight harder to not only build but maintain this crucial contact?    Does the prospect of change in our situation seem so unattainable that we choose to stay stagnant?   Or is it that we are afraid that the most needed change is in us? We all know that, as Paul says, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”   But that is not a 'pass' to relinquish trying. There is power in prayer…in the doing of it and the having it done on your behalf. There is a product that comes from the act of prayer and that is a growing fellowship with our Father who equips us. It takes our knowledge of God out of the realm of past glories and brings it into the presence of what His spirit is doing now - in this world , in our hearts and lives, and in the lives of others.  If we want to see change, we need to be willing to engage in a deliberate prayer relationship with God, and not be so easily willing to be usurped by the life we have been given. If we are being honest, we are not as busy as we say we are, or we use our busyness as an excuse." 

Renata asks a really good question right up front...why don't we pray?  Prayer changes things - around us and inside of us - and we grow in relationship with our Father when we take the time. But time isn't really the issue if we're honest - as she also said, we find the time to do the things we want to do.  

So you've got to ask yourself...is there a reason I don't want to speak to God?  Are you afraid?  Afraid he won't hear you or know you or care about you?  Isaiah 41:10 says "Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."  Are you ashamed?  Micah 7:18-19 says "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."  God wants us to speak with him...he desires that we bring our concerns and hurts to him...and he delights in our praises.  He gives us peace, strength and wisdom.  Why would you not want to tap into that power source?  The song "On My Knees" by Jaci Velasquez talks about that power we experience when we're "before the love that changes" us. 

I've written about prayer before.  How to pray isn't some great cosmic secret.  It involves a conversation.  No need to even introduce yourself - He knows who you are.  He created you. 

So stop what you're doing right now. There's no time like the present.   You took the time to read this post...before you do another thing, spend a few more minutes talking to a Friend - He's waiting to hear from you, He's ready to forgive and empower you, and He has things He wants to share with you too.  Things really do change  through prayer...but first, you've gotta pray.  As Jeremiah 29:12-13 says "In those days when you pray,  I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me."  Toss that old, dried out, chicken leg.  No more leftovers for God.  Go find Him first...and with your whole heart - everything else can wait.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Life, Death and Birthdays

Saturday is my 51st birthday.  I can say that without too much crying these days, but I had a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around that big 'ol 50 number last year.  Perhaps people are being kind, but I'm generally told I don't look it.  I don't think I act like it, and my daughter often buys me clothes to make sure I don't dress like it ("No mom jeans, mom!").  Most days I don't feel like it - although I've noticed that it takes longer to heal from a strained muscle and I'm a little more tired than I used to be after a full day on my feet.  Rainy weather also brings out a few more aches and pains than it used to. 

The optimists say "it's just a number!"  The pessimists say "you think 50's bad...wait til you hit MY age!"  But most often, when I think about my age, I can't help but think that the number is 5...now almost 6... years more than the age my mom was when she departed this life.

I've been thinking about life and death and the years we're given a lot this week.  Two years ago, my mother's sister, my beloved "Aunt Ro", died on my birthday.  Ro had been gifted with 74 years.  Yesterday, I attended the celebration of life for a friend of mine who passed away last Thursday. Daveida had been gifted just 41.  While my aunt was far too young to die in my humble opinion, losing my mom and Daveida in their 40's was and is extremely difficult.  I took Daveida's passing hard, in part because it rocketed me back 25 years to when I said goodbye to my mom.  Like my mom, Daveida valiantly fought breast cancer for a number of years, even as it infiltrated other parts of her body.  Like my mom, she left behind 3 children and a grandchild.  Like my mom, she left this world far too soon for those who loved her.  And like my mom, she loved Jesus with everything in her, never wallowing in self pity over what she was going through, but rather spent her time encouraging others despite her own pain.

When we're young, we're contantly wishing we were older.  We want to reach those milestones of "double-digits", "sweet 16", "17 and driving", "18 and considered an 'adult'", 21 and "legal".  We're in such a rush to age we add fractions to the number...I'm 10...and a half, 12...and three quarters.  Then we hit 29 and we want it all to slow down.  Now we're 29 with a years' experience.   Why are we never satisfied to enjoy where we are in life? 

Job 14:5 says "Man's days are determined, you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed."  And Psalm 90:12 says "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". 

We are given...gifted...a certain number of hours, days, months, years.  They are determined and we cannot exceed them.  I don't know why some are given more on this side of heaven than others, but that is the way it is, and the way it will always be.  BUT...no matter how many we have, we should "number our days aright - that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  We need to live knowing that they are numbered - not in fear of their coming to a close, but in consciously living them to the fullest, doing what we are called to do, and gaining a heart of wisdom.

My mom, my aunt, my friend...they got that.  Those who came in contact with them left in better spirits than when they came.  They left encouraged by the faith these women had, by their love for their Lord, by the knowledge - the wisdom - they had in knowing they were fulfilling God's purpose for their lives for as long as they drew breath on this earth...and that they would hear 'well done, good and faithful servent' when they finished this race and crossed into eternity. 

You may have heard the about "the dash".  There's the year you are born, and the year you die on your gravestone...and between them is the dash.  It's all the time you've spent here on earth in between those 2 dates.  It's the lives you've touched, the difference you've made, the legacy you've created.  We need to live each one of our years in the dash to the full. 

The day after Daveida went home to be with the Lord, I read this in my devotional, Jesus Calling:  "Try to view each day as an adventure, carefuly planned out by your Guide.  Instead of staring into the day that is ahead of you, attempting to program it according to your will, be attentive to Me and to all I have prepared for you.  Thank Me for this day of life, recognizing that it is a precious, unrepeatable gift."  Daveida is living the ultimate adventure today.  She, along with my mom and aunt are face to face with their precious Lord and Savior.  But for now, I still have days gifted to me here.  God's work in me is not yet done, and to bemoan the time I've been given, to complain about 'my age', is not a good use of my time.

So as I reflect on life and death and the time we're given inbetween, I'm learning a few things - don't be in a rush - don't tack on halfs and three quarters.  Don't live in the past thinking of what might have been - you will miss today's adventure.  Be grateful for the age you are - it is a gift - whether the years are 41, 74, 45 or 51.  Your days are numbered, and they are to be used 'aright'.   Love God, love others, make a difference, and gain a heart of wisdom.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Prayer, Snacks, Legos, Stones, Armor, a Walk and Resolutions

Yesterday I joined dozens of other women on the 3rd Annual Prayer Walk at my church.  It's a time to hear some words of inspiration, then visit a number of stations throughout the church assembled to create places to search our hearts, reflect, pray, surrender, and fellowship with God.

The Walk is something I've looked forward to for awhile.  You see, the busyness of outreach during the holidays and the holidays themselves kept me, well, busy.  Then after burning the candle at both ends, running my body down and being surrounded by sickies, I succumbed to a bad cold.  And it wasn't pretty.  12 days later, I'm just starting to feel better.  Pretty sure last week's vision of no makeup on my puffy face, swollen eyes, and red nose is something my office mates pray they never have to see again!  Anyway, I'm ashamed to say my time with God has been limited at best these past few weeks. 

From the beginning of the Walk, it was obvious that God was speaking to me.   The first speaker got up and told a story of a woman who shared with a friend that she needed to sit down to a meal with God.  Her friend encouraged her that sometimes, it's okay when life is crazy, to at least grab 'snacks' along the way.  I believe it was also this speaker who said, "take the time you can, and always shoot for more."

I hadn't had so much as a cereal bar in days.  I think sometimes when we desire that meal, we don't take advantage of the snacks because we adopt an 'all or nothing' mindset.  I had been feeling too tired to sit up and read my Bible let alone spend a concentrated time in prayer, so instead of reading a verse, or even a minute-long devotional, I'd done nothing but stare at a TV screen in between cough medicine induced nap times.

As a friend and I discussed speaker content last night, I found myself saying "yeah, if you even take the time to read that devotional or verse, at least you have a morsel to gnaw on throughout the day...something to meditate on and gain strength from as you have time."  I've got 20/20 hindsight.  Of course, I'm sure the situation will present itself again, so I need to remember my own wisdom!

The second speaker talked about praying in the now.  Not saying "I'll pray for you" knowing full well life will get busy and, even if you have the best intentions, you're likely to forget that request by bedtime.  So she suggested doing something that has been a habit of mine for awhile...when someone asks for prayer, don't say you will, stop and do it.  Right then.  As she put it, it doesn't have to be of the depth and length of an Oswald Chambers writing, but it shows the person that you care enough about them to carve out a few minutes in your day for them.  Another suggestion which I also subscribe to is to type out that prayer.  I've done it on chat screens on Facebook, through text or via email.  I simply type what I'd say out loud.  Now that person has something they can go back to and draw strength from too.

The last speaker spoke of a man who wrote about hitting a dry spell.  He went to a counselor and confessed one of the problems he experienced was that he often grew tired as he was praying, sometimes nodding off.  The counselor suggested that he was looking at prayer as a 'need to' and not a 'want to' and told him not to deliberately go to prayer for a week, but rather, do things that he enjoyed and invite Jesus along.  As that man walked along the shoreline, he suddenly realized he was having discussions with God about what he saw and things that came to mind - he called them walking prayers.  There were other 'types' of prayers too, like 'paper prayers'.  When he hit a sermon roadblock, received an unkind email, anything like that, he'd spread the papers out before God and pray over them asking for guidance. 

After the speakers shared, we set out.  With a visual using a map and Lego blocks, the first station encouraged us to excel in the gifts God has given us to build each other up. 

The second station contained 3 part instructions.  The first was to read Matthew 7:23-27 which is the story of the wise man who built his house on the rock, and the foolish man who built his on sand.  When the storms came, the house on the rock stood firm while the house on the sand fell "and great was its fall."  

We were told to ask God where our foundation with him was faulty and how it needed to be fixed.  We then took a stone, wrote those faults, and surrendered them to God as we lay the stone in a sand pit.  

The second part was to read 2 Samuel 22:3 "My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Savior - from violent men you save me."  We were to reflect on how God has shown His strength in our life.  We took a small rock with us to remind us to build our house on Him.

The third part was to read Psalm 127:1 "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."  This one was really convicting...the directions said 'just because God is the foundation, doesn't give us the right to build our 'house' (our life) to look however we want it to.  Often we start to draw our own blueprint of expectations, dreams, and desires.  Pray about what those things are in your life.  What have you started to build on your own?'  We took a piece of blueprint paper, folded it in half and wrote on one side, all that we had planned, dreamt and desired for our house, and on the other side, the things we believed God was calling us to do - his plans for our house.  We then needed to compare to see where they matched and where there were differences - then surrender our blueprint to God.

Those who know me best, know for the last two years, there has been a word that has come to me over and over...one I sometimes wish was struck from the English language.  Surrender.  Why is it so hard to take our hands off things?  Even after we've messed things up?  Even when we know surrender brings peace and the lack thereof brings pain?  Yes, I'm saying 'we' and not 'me' because I know I'm not alone in this, am I.

The third station was based on Ephesians 6 - putting on the full armor of God.  A worksheet encouraged us to think of a recent situation that had challenged us and how we could apply each of the pieces of armor to it as well as create a 'personal shield of armor' that contained a scripture about God's protection, things in our life that we wanted protection for and from, and an image or symbol to think of when we need protecting.  

The fourth and final station was our Worship Center.  There was praise music playing, people to pray with you if you had a specific request, and a table at which to take communion.  There is something incredibly moving as you see people carve out a private place to speak with God.  Some on their knees, some bowed in prayer in their seats, some prostrate at the alter.  It is holy ground.
Once I left these ‘snack stations’ I was really hungry for that meal.  It’s been weeks since it’s been warm enough to brave a walk by the lake, but yesterday was perfect – warm and in the mid 60's.  I headed there as quickly as I could.  For the next hour, I gloried in the warmth of the sunshine.  Now that the leaves were all gone, I noticed things in the woods surrounding the lake that had been obscured when the foliage was full.  Even during this 'barren' season, there was beauty when I took the time to see it.  I haven't made a New Year's resolution in a long time, usually responding to the question of what mine are with "I can't break what I don't make."  But, I think this year I'll make an exception.  I will 'snack' every day.  I will live and operate and pray in the now.  I will invite Jesus along everywhere I go.  I will sit down to full meals with Him...extended times of prayer and study...at least once a month, and always shoot for more.  I will make a concentrated effort to build others up and not tear them down, I will keep an eye on my foundation and check it often to make sure my blueprint stays true to the original by the Master Builder.  I will dress in armor (I'm sure my fashionista daughter can help me accessorize!) and keep my knees close to the floor.