Bonus Question

The question that I didn’t post yesterday was, “What truth can we help you remember?” Think about that for a while. What do you know to be true but when difficulty, stress, loneliness, etc comes you default to a lie?

The most common response to that at our family weekend was some form of, “I need help remembering God will show up or come through at the right moment.”

At the heart of our worry that God won’t show up or come through is the fear that he either untrustworthy, he has lost track of us, or he just doesn’t care.

Even in spite of marrying my best friend and favorite person in the world, the move to Bentonville has been challenging. My first job was at the Parks & Recreation Dept. I liked it but it was only part time. As savings dwindled, and I mean really dwindled, I was stressed and wasn’t sure what to do vocationally.

For the last 3-4 years my ultimate desire has been to work with pastors and leaders. Most of the coaching out there is church growth driven. There is a need for that but I’m more suited for and passionate about spiritual direction and developing the heart within the leader. So Krista and I began to pray, “Is this the time to keep the part time parks job and launch out into consulting adventure by faith? Or is this a season when I do something completely different? You have to make this clear!”

That sounds good and was the right way to pray, but honestly, I was also saying, “God, I feel like Joseph. Everybody has forgotten me and so have you!” Basically saying, “You’ve lost track of me.”  After a couple weeks of praying together specifically and systematically about this, Krista got a text from someone in town about my interest in a job. That was on a Friday. Saturday I reviewed my resume. Sunday I emailed it. Monday I interviewed. Tuesday I was offered the job. Just like we’d asked, God made it clear that for now ministry would look different. Weekend retreats, a handful of spiritual direction/consulting clients, and one camp next summer is about all I can handle.

Please don’t hear me saying that if you just pray correctly, with the right words, in a certain way everything will turn out rosey. If you know me at all you know I’ve had very non-rosey periods of life. What I am saying is God is trustworthy, he knows where you are, and he does care.

Isaiah said it much better:
Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “ God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG)

Suggestions for fighting the “Where are You” fight:

  • Tell God exactly what you think and how you feel about his silence, he can take it
  • Put his assurances from scripture (like the one above) back on him
  • Find ways to remind yourself that God is trustworthy he knows where you are, and he does care (post-it notes are underrated)
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Chernobyl: Tragedy, Anniversary, Memories

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 1986 I was 24 years old and Ukraine was just a far away corner of the USSR. But last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, got to know some of its people and visited the Chernobyl museum among other things.

Our tour guide at the museum skillfully guided us through the exhibits and imagery. There were city signs hanging from the ceiling. As you entered you see the white signs with black letters that are similar to our “Welcome to…” signs. But when you are inside the museum and turn around the signs are black with white letters and red slashes through them. He explained these were all the cities, towns and villages that do not exist any more. They and their people are completely gone.

We stopped at a case that had two newspapers. One was the soviet paper. It was from April 29, three days later. On page three there was a small paragraph that said there was an accident at Chernobyl but they had it under control. Next to it was the New York Times from April 27, the day after. Its front page highlighted the disaster. The guide said while there were other forces at work (economic and political) this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The people realized that the government did not care about them.

There was a monitor that displayed how the radioactive cloud drifted.

Mostly I will remember a woman named Galina that we had dinner with. She lost her husband because of the meltdown
and continues to care for her daughter who was effected by the radiation. She told us her story of struggle, loss and faith. It can be found here.

Today I am reminded of what happens when we can attach faces to things. It brings disaster close to home. It keeps us from making sweeping generalizations. It gives us pause before we pronounce judgement on a people or issue or cause. Today I am reminded of how easy it is to forget or dismiss the tragedies that happen far away from us, but how they become part of us when we attach faces to them.

Oswald Chambers Weighs In

I had lunch with a good friend yesterday. He is honest and straightforward. He has the ability to give me his opinion without being judgmental. We talked about a lot of stuff including what I posted yesterday. During our conversation he sited a quote that he loved. This morning he sent it to me. It was from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers and too good to keep to myself.

“Faith is the heroic effort in your life. You fling yourself in reckless confidence on God. God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us, now he wants us to venture our all in abandoned confidence in Him…..the real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything without wavering.”

“Again and again you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time you will turn back when it comes to the point, until you abandon resolutely.  “Yes, but supposing I do obey God in this matter, what about……?”  “Yes I will obey God if He will let me use my common sense, but don’t ask me to take a step in the dark….”  If a man is going to do anything worthwhile, there are times when he has to risk everything on his leap, and in the spiritual domain Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense and leap into what he says….Trust entirely in God, and when He brings you to the venture, see that you take it.  We act like pagans in a crisis, only one out of a crowd is daring enough to bank his faith on the character of God.”

So it sounds like ol’ Oswald would say most of our moments are Jordan River moments.

 

Prayer and Posture: kneel or stand, eyes open or closed, hands up or down and if up one hand or two, and what about labyrinths?

My earliest memory of a corporate prayer time was at my home church. On Wednesday nights the faithful gathered to pray, and once you graduated from the nursery you were in the prayer meeting with everybody else. The picture is a little fuzzy but I remember my parents kneeling at their pew like all the other grownups…a position I would begin in…but I’d soon slither to the floor. It was much more interesting to look through the tunnel of benches trying to guess who was who by the bottom of their shoes.

Some people make a big deal out of the correct position from which to talk to God. I’ll admit, some postures are more appropriate for certain types of prayer but I don’t think any are more spiritual than the others. I can’t imagine requiring my children to take a particular stance to get my attention. I’m just thrilled they want to have a conversation, share their heart, ask for help, or tell me something that’s on their mind.

When I was in Portland a couple weeks ago our class participated in a half day prayer retreat. We had time to pray while we walked the grounds, a lot of time of silence, time set aside to pray with our formation group, and time to walk in a prayer labyrinth.

Sadly with that last admission some have stopped reading and rushed to put me on the heretics list. So for those of you who are still with me here’s what happened. As I began the Spirit drew my attention to a passage of scripture that had been very important to me when I moved to Flushing 14 years ago.

  • “Then the Lord told me: I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to read at a glance. At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting – it will happen! I the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.” (Hab. 2:2-4 The Promise Version)

I hadn’t thought about that passage in a long time. I had filed it away as a particular word for a specific time. But as I walked and quoted and prayed I believe God was speaking to me through it. Maybe these verses weren’t just for the waiting, dreaming, and preparing I was doing in 1997. Maybe God wants to reassure me in this season that I have caught a glimpse of His idea for me and I need to pursue it in bold faith. Maybe this passage is directed at the overall trajectory of my life…a life familiar with waiting (which can be a blessing and a curse)…a life lived by faith (which thrills me and frightens me).

I cherish those memories of army crawling under the pews and I don’t think people from my era missed much by not having age appropriate programming. I was learning something down there: if you’re quiet God will reveal Himself to you.

Planes, Prayers and Parents

Yesterday I had a very small window between connecting flights and on top of that we were late. Really late. So sitting on the plane I texted a friend to pray with me that I’d make my next flight. As I literally ran from one end of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to the other I prayed, “God pleeeeeeze help me make my connection.” God must have been chuckling about the contrast between that simple urgent cry for help and my lofty last post. I don’t hear God audibly but I had a clear sense of God ‘saying’ “I thought you wanted more than that from prayer.”

I continued to run toward gate E11, but inside I began to slow down. If I didn’t make it – it would be ok. God was with me. God was near. If I had to wait for the next plane or make alternate arrangements He would be with me there. I don’t know if that sounds silly or simplistic to you but that was my experience Saturday.

The entire episode jogged my memory of something I read in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer. He described the prayer of petition not as a lower form of prayer but as “a staple in our diet.” I think God likes to be asked. I think asking brings us closer to Him. It’s like when children ask their parents for help and handouts, puppies and ponies. Who doesn’t love when their child climbs up on their lap and simply asks, no matter how outlandish the request.

I made my next flight and even ended up in an exit row. And think God chuckled some more as a 5 year old boy kicked the back of my seat for the next two hours.

Wading through what I think about prayer

I very rarely write in series unless it is a sequence of reflections on a trip, but today I want to begin some very honest posts about prayer. You may disagree – that’s ok. I just need to put some things out there…some are confession, some are conviction, some are concepts I’m trying to get a better handle on. I am certainly no expert. I’m not trying to fix you, so feel free to comment but refrain from trying to fix me. Rather…think with me…pray with me…consider what prayer is and isn’t with me.

This semester I have a course on prayer. Maybe that sounds strange, but it has come at a very good time for me. You see, I think I have an odd relationship with prayer. While I have drawn close to God through prayer and know I’ve been blessed by His activity through prayerful people, I get frustrated with what prayer can become.

Augustine said, “True whole prayer is nothing but love.” But there is a dark side to prayer. It can be used. Used as a coverup. (we don’t need to pray about whether to be forgiving or generous or compassionate – He’s already answered that) Used to keep things superficial. (how many times can we pray for aunt Bertha’s bunions) Used to distract from what’s going on at a deeper level. (remember Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector) Used to establish a pecking order. (long prayers filled with fancy language flourish as much today as they did in the 1st Century)

At a young age I was told to pray and I believed I should. Then when I got older I was told I should pray more and I believed I could. Now at middle age having been a Christian most of my life…I refuse to reduce prayer to a good luck charm; getting the things I want, having life go smoothly, and finding a parking place near the door. I recoil at the notion that the pinnacle of prayer is sitting in a circle repeating the list of requests again, only this time with our eyes closed and our voices sounding louder and more religious.

In Binding the Strong Man, Ched Meyers said, “To pray is to learn to believe in a transformation of self and world, which seems, empirically, impossible – as in moving mountains.” This is the type of prayer that I’m interested in. Something that transforms my life not simply something that is tagged onto the rest of my life.