Faith

SUMO-2

Faith is a lot like a muscle.  And like a muscle, strengthening it takes time, effort and showing up.  It’s a discipline to strengthen in the sense that you can’t measure it by feelings or what you are seeing or not seeing – but only by the amount of resistance it is able to withstand.

When we decided to start a prayer meeting for our busy, kids-hanging-off-of-both hips, already-serving-twice-a-week church community, we kind of understood it wouldn’t be the most attended thing at church.  Believe me, we get it. And for me and my husband, we’re at a really sweet spot with our own kids.  Their old enough to entertain themselves during our prayer meeting and we no longer have to worry about finding them a baby-sitter.  If they were, say, 4 – 5 years younger – I doubt the prayer meeting would be happening at the frequency it’s happening now.

That said, we’ve had weeks go by where no one came and I aint going to lie – it got to me. I spent many a prayer meeting alone at the church.  Times where all I felt was doubt and discouragement. I got resentful, self-pitying and self-righteous.  Times where prayer felt like I was just awkwardly talking to the air.  Evenings being distracting by the crows outside squawking at me from the pine trees, and where I just said, ‘Screw it,’ found some old taco shells and entertained myself with feeding them.  There were plenty of times where I didn’t ‘feel’ his presence but had to rely solely on the promise that Jesus was there, he was hearing me and he was doing something.

To be a person of prayer, my faith needed to free from spiritual sensuality where I defined  the effectiveness of my prayers by only what I could feel, see, hear or taste (or not feel, see, hear or taste, for that matter); He was teaching me to to define my faith on who He is, not on what I was able to discern through my rational mind. (1 Cor. 2:13)

If faith is a measurement of something of the Spirit, and can only be detected by the Spirit, then using our rational minds to get us to a place of faith is like trying to consume a meal by merely knowing the nutritional data of the food.

My journey through prayer has revealed to me a lot of unpleasant things about myself; but mostly it’s revealed my unbelief.  And I got lots of it.  Jesus talked about a mountain of unbelief – well, I got mountain ranges – and not just those hills in Palestine that they casually call Mt. this-or-that.

When Jesus encountered unbelief in his disciples, he rebuked them.  He told them if faith was a measurement, they would need a certain amount of it (a mustard seed, for example) to move those mountains of unbelief that stood in the way of the Kingdom of God.

The strongest person in the world is incapable of moving a mountain all at once.  The only way we know how to do it in our modern era with all it’s technology, is one rock at a time.

Approaching a mountain of unbelief with weak or unpracticed faith is similar. You start with the pebbles first, then rocks, on to boulders, etc.  The more people who join in to help, the better.  At the same time, using faith requires that we reach for the thing that feels impossible and if we are only lifting the the things we are certain can be done, we aren’t growing.

Look at the science behind muscle building – the parallels to faith are fitting, in my opinion.

      “The process starts with what is known as the ‘stimulus’ – this is the training itself. We stimulate the muscles, which causes ‘trauma’. This is the term for muscle damage – it is the breakdown of the skeletal muscle tissue. This breakdown forces the muscle to restructure and grow, returning bigger and stronger under the correct nutritional and recovery conditions.”
      ~totalfit.wordpress.com

Faith is also grown through trauma and through the process of restructuring through the Holy Spirit.  But many of us have suffered an injury or a brokenness in our faith where our faith in a certain area has been immobilized – and that too needs a healing touch by the Holy Spirit if we are willing to submit to the healing process.

Now all this talk about faith being a muscle can easily lead to us flexing our muscles in the mirror and judging who has the biggest biceps. And yes, it’s a danger, but at the same time, that kind of judging should be unnatural among the body of Christ.  The fact that it isn’t, is a problem within the church that needs to be addressed, not accepted as a way of life. If we have been born again and are believers in Jesus Christ, our old man (the one that demands to be the center of attention all the time) has been nailed to the cross. (Gal. 2:20)  To brag about one’s faith or to judge others for their lack or abundance of it should be as ridiculous as crucified people flexing and preening in front of a mirror and worrying about what each other looks like.  Trust us guys, it looks grotesque.

Here’s the deal, we are all growing in this thing! We all have different areas of strengths and weaknesses.  Where one has faith for finances and giving sacrificially, another has faith for deliverance of a sibling addicted to heroin.   Where one has faith to pray for the sick, another has faith to open their home to fostering.  (Eph. 4:16)

For example, my faith is weakest when it comes to finances.  When it comes down giving to someone in need or paying my phone bill – I’ll readily admit, most of my atheist friends have more compassion than me in this area.  I desperately need to grow! When it comes to finances, I’m going to need to lean on you guys who have faith in this area until I grow up into it myself.  I’m going to need your testimonies to give me hope and smother the lies of the enemy that whisper God isn’t going to come through for me this month.

We all have varying degrees of mountains and varying degrees of faith.  With Christ and with growing together, we can command them to move.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

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Seeking the Presence of God: Hindmilk

I’ve been asked recently to talk about the way I approach prayer.  Not the philosophy or theology behind it, but just the mechanics.  How do you pray?

It was a surprisingly refreshing and yet difficult question to try to answer.  My main concern being, I’d hate for someone to take what I do and make a formula out of it.

For example, a famous Christian author firmly believes that one must be on their knees in prayer as a sign of reverence and humility.  My friend who had tried this position lamented at how distracting it was – she kept smelling the carpet which made her wonder which kid spilled what beverage and how to get it cleaned.

Others sit quietly in silence for a period of time to settle their minds, others confess sins to cleanse their conscious, others pray quietly in ‘tongues’ to lift them up into a place where they feel they hear from God and sense his will.

Entering into prayer is as varied as our denominations and all are valid in my opinion – as long as we don’t prescribe what works for us personally to the rest of humanity, demanding our way is the best way.

That said, Jesus did prescribe at least one thing when entering into prayer – always approach God with the expectation of a child approaching a loving Father, acknowledging he isn’t at all like your earthly Dad – in that he’s Holy and perfect in how he parents us.

But, for those who are curious of what a typical prayer meeting looks, here’s some of the steps we usually take:

1.) We embrace silence.  We are coming out of a instant, push button, hand-held, information all-the-time, entertain-me, kind of world and in the practical sense – we just need to settle the heck down and take a time out.

2.) We acknowledge, thank, and praise all persons of the Trinity.  We ask the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers and to help us to pray when we don’t have words or wisdom on how to pray and to also bring to our minds things that He wants us to pray for.

3.) We then, depending on how the Holy Spirit is leading, try to cover some things while we pray, things like interceding for our church, city, leaders, friends, family, neighbors, schools etc…,

4.) After interceding, we then take up our prayer request list and lay those requests before him.  Holy Spirit also often comes and guides us here too.

Ideally, I’d love to end prayer with a time of just listening and waiting.  I feel like some of the sweetest times of prayer comes at the end.  I read a beautiful quote on the idea of waiting on God during a time of prayer by Laura Harris Smith,

“I am reminded of mother’s milk and of how doctors say the longer an infant nurses, the sweeter the milk becomes.  They call it hind milk, and it is the richest and best. Most of us settle for the foremilk –  if we come to feed at all.” img0.etsystatic.com

For those of us who are venturing into intentional times of prayer for the first time or trying to get back into it but find the idea exhausting, pointless, hopeless, difficult, or hard to manage, I hope this brings a you a little good news; it’s okay to just come to God and sit and drink in who he is.

Though it may take 45 minutes to get to that sweet place of intimacy, most likely it’s not because he’s making you wait to teach you patience, it’s mostly because it just takes us that long to get there!

For us to become a fountain of living water for God to refresh the world through, we need to acknowledge our thirst and drink from that fountain ourselves.  I would encourage those of you trying to get back into a place of prayer to toss the ‘prayer list’ for now and come to prayer with only one agenda – to seek his presence.  If no words come – it’s okay.  If many words come, it’s okay.  Be open, honest and humble – nothing surprises him and he, believe it or not, is blessed by your effort to seek him, as feeble as that effort may seem to you, it pleases him.

I remember one particular time when I was praying for a family member, I had to admit to God that I didn’t want to pray for them, “God, I have no faith that you can save this person.  It’s gone. Too many dissapointments. I don’t even know how to pray.  Forgive my unbelief, but please help me pray.” A few minutes later, things I had never even thought of to ask for this person came pouring out of me and my faith as feeble as it was for this person was strengthened afterwards. It’s still not where it should be, but it’s getting better.  So, just be honest with him! He’ll meet you where you are.

After a time we’ll find, as we get filled up, ‘prayer lists’ and intercession for others becomes much easier and even a joy as we begin to see and participate in the will of God as he guides and answers those prayers. But first things first, drink.

 Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:37-38

Cheers! R

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A reflection on Prayer: Part 1

praying-together-2

Over a year ago my friend Valerie and I decided to go on a journey together.

We both found prayer in our lives to be sorely lacking, and as Christians, if prayer was supposed to be like breathing, we were barely taking a breath every 24 hours. We both felt that this needed to change, but we needed help to do it.  So, we partnered up and began meeting once a week with the goal of praying together for an hour.  (A whole hour! haha) When Valerie and I made it past a month of meeting together,  I distinctly remember sharing a few high-fives over that accomplishment!

So, a year has passed now.  Am I more disciplined in prayer than I was a year ago?

Yes.

But I can’t say that I ever felt I had to work for it.  There was no agony of effort involved, other than setting aside some time, showing up and being faithful.  There was no sense of it being draining – more like a sweet release and a filling of something I had been hungry for this whole time, but had been trying to satisfy with other things or by checking out altogether.

To our surprise, one of the things we discovered is even though we went in with the desire to be more ‘disciplined’, we actually felt more freedom and less burdened than when we went in. The sense of peace and centeredness we felt afterwards was enough to want more, and though we were friends before, our praying together deepened that friendship into a sisterhood that I have found rare in my own life.

Probably the biggest change that Valerie and I have experienced in praying together is our perspective on prayer in general.  We both feel sad when we can’t make it to a prayer meeting – feeling as though we are missing out on something special.  And when I teasingly asked Valerie, who is an accomplished musician and a leader on our church worship team, what she would rather miss – a prayer meeting or leading worship, she actually admitted she would have a really tough time making a decision.  If I would have asked her the same question a year ago, she would have said, hands down, she would have rather be playing music.

And for me, if someone were to ask me what would I rather do, write stories or go to prayer, I would have to admit that now I’d rather go to prayer.  A year ago I would have balked at such an answer.

So, how does one change from avoiding prayer to not being able to live without it?

It’s simple. It’s being in the presence of Jesus.

He shows up, faithfully, and it’s remarkable.  What’s even more remarkable is that I’m surprised by this. The promise is written in bright red letters!

(Matthew 18:19-20 – “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”)

If I told you next week on Friday night at 6:00 pm, Jesus would be visiting a local church for an hour and you were invited to have a closed door meeting with him with a small group of other curious people, wouldn’t you want to go? Or if he was going to show up at your house and meet you in the living room over a cup of coffee and a warm blanket? Wouldn’t you find that a life-giving, refreshing, encouraging, perspective-changing, encounter you wouldn’t dare pass up?

Or maybe you were like I was over a year ago – that waffling, unsure person, who at the prospect of meeting with Jesus felt terrified, ashamed and braced for a rebuke. A person who if God were to ask, “Where are you?” they would reply, “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  (Gen. 3:10)

“Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11)

If you’re constantly being reminded of how bad you are to the point you are avoiding God and not running to him, and where you regularly feel naked and ashamed, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty  it’s not God doing the reminding.

If you’re being reminded how you are selfish by taking so much time to pray when everyone else is so busy, and how unproductive you are when you could be out feeding the poor or working in a soup kitchen, it’s not God.

If you believe that you have to get cleaned up first before getting into God’s presence, you are believing a lie. What the enemy is trying to sell you, that somehow letting the love of God change you would mean torturous agony, or that spending time with him is a waste and unproductive – it’s a bald-faced lie.

The only way any Christian can ever change is by being in his presence through Holy Spirit.  The only way a Christian can have any impact on the world through works without quickly burning out, is by spending time in his presence and letting him rub off on you.

Our enemy knows this and prayer is where the battle is fought and won.  His strategy has been pretty simple, so far. Demoralize the enemy and keep them off the battlefield.

Jesus isn’t in a bad mood, my friends.  He is in a really, really good mood and he wants you to spend time with him – not to chastise you, or scold you, but to love you.

If you’re afraid of correction – don’t be.  The times when he has corrected me, (and it happens more often than I would like to admit) it has been surrounded by so much love and encouragement that it felt more like a caress than anything else.  In fact, whether it’s correction or caresses, I’m usually just floored that he notices me! haha

If you’re being ‘corrected’ in such a way that drives you from his presence, that brings up past mistakes, that consistently reminds you of things you have asked forgiveness for and are in the process of growing in – it isn’t God.  It’s not correction, it’s accusation.  Our enemy is an accuser.  When those thoughts scamper across your mind and try to distract you from drawing close to God, you are free to stamp DENIED on them with a big red stamp.

I will never change.

whomp!

DENIED!

I’m being unproductive. So and so wouldn’t approve…

whomp!

DENIED!

God doesn’t want to spend time with me.

whomp!

DENIED!

I don’t deserve his love.

whomp!

DENIED!

God doesn’t answer my prayers.   I’m not like so and so…

whomp!

DENIED!

Jesus loves you and he wants to let you know in a way you will only discover by spending time with him.

I’ve been at a place where I had been so out of practice with prayer that I had nearly lost my vocabulary when it came to talking with God.  But, I found a little help with books of written prayers that I would pray to him when I couldn’t get the words out.  I also would do the same and pray my way through the Psalms.  But if you are unsure how to open up to the Lord, you could start with this:

“Lord, I’m here and I want to know you.  I’m not here to ask for anything other than more of you in my life.  Teach me to pray, teach me to listen, help me to understand and do your will.”

And then listen.  Give it time.  Be patient.

There are all kinds of promises for those who draw near to God and wait on him. He is faithful.

Looking back, I have sympathy for the person I was before I started praying more. But if I had a chance to go back in time and talk to myself, I’d probably tell her to stop being so dramatic! Reflecting on my attitude I had back then, it’s a bit like watching a person hemming and hawing over whether they should try a slice of warm, homemade (insert something wonderful that you enjoy eating and couldn’t imagine living without) pie.  I imagine this is Jesus’ reaction over most of my hemming and hawing about simply walking with him.  “Really?  Your afraid you won’t like pie?”

Prayer:

Jesus, make us into a people who can’t get enough of you.

Amen.

Cheers!

~R.

(P.S. Forgive me if it’s a little rough to read.  I’ve been out of practice!)

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Scipio

 This is the second installment of The Lord’s Prayer series.  I wrote these little parables in an effort to help my kids understand some of the precepts of the Lord’s Prayer.  Turns out writing these have helped me probably more than my kids!  

This one Focuses on, ‘Hallowed be thy name.’

 

Scipio

 

Scipio sat in a patch of sunlight on the bear skin rug in his new bedroom, burying his fingers in the thick fur of the hide and absorbing the warmth of the morning sun.

It was the softest and warmest and safest he had ever felt in his 9 short years, and he wanted it to last forever.

“Scipio?” a friendly voice called.
Scipio grinned, it was Marcus, his advocate, the one who found him nearly dead in a rubbish strewn back alley only a month ago.

“Marcus!”  Scipio leapt up and ran to Marcus, throwing his arms around his torso.  Scipio loved Marcus more than anyone in the world.  Not only did he save his life and had shown him compassion that he had never known, but he advocated for him to the King, asking that the King would adopt him like he done for other children Marcus had found on the streets.  Marcus was also kind, wise, and strong – but most of all, he made Scipio feel safe.

He was patient with him too, always making extra time to help him adjust to his new life.  He often accompanied Scipio to his lessons where he was taught with the other adopted children how to read, learn sums and ancient history.  Marcus knew that Scipio was frightened of meeting new people, especially adults, and would stay with him until his fears subsided – which was getting less and less these days.

Marcus, simply, was the best friend he had ever had.

“Is it time for my lessons, Marcus?”

Marcus’ eyes twinkled with a secret, “Not today, Scipi.”

Scipio tilted his head, wondering what he meant.

“Today we are going to finally meet the King,”  Marcus added.

Scipio’s mouth went dry.  He was terrified of meeting the King.  He knew he should be thankful to the King for adopting him, and he was.  But his fear of him had outgrown his thankfulness.

The older children of the King often told stories of how the King had a hidden lever on his throne and if anyone offended him in the slightest, he would pull the lever and the floor would open into a giant pit of venomous king cobras, dropping the offending person into the snakes before closing over them and sealing their doom.  What if the King didn’t like him?  What if he offended him on accident? He didn’t want to meet the King.  The thought of meeting the King terrified him more than the thought of having to go live out on the streets again.

Scipio moaned.

Marcus bent a little to look him in the eye.  “What is it, Scipi? Don’t you feel well?”

Scipio shook his head.  He didn’t feel good at all.  The porridge he had for breakfast suddenly wasn’t sitting so well.

Marcus put a cool hand on his forehead.  “You don’t feel feverish, what else could it be?”

Scipio swallowed, hesitating.  He and Marcus had always told each other the truth and there were no secrets between them – which was why they were best friends. Finally, he decided to tell Marcus what was really bothering him.

“I’m afraid of the King and I don’t want to meet him.”

“What are you afraid of, Scipi?  Aren’t you thankful for all the things the King has done for you?”

“I am thankful, but I’m afraid that he wont like me and I’ll displease him somehow and that…,”  Scipio swallowed, ‘And that he’ll throw me to the snakes.”

Marcus blinked and turned his head quickly as if trying to hide a chuckle.  “Throw you to the snakes!  Wherever did you get that idea?”

“When I was playing in the courtyard some of the older children told us how the King had a secret lever on his throne and if anyone displeased him he would pull the lever and a pit of snakes would open up and the person would fall in never to be seen again.”

Marcus scratched his nose thoughtfully.  “Well, I could see why you would be afraid after hearing a story like that.  But why would the King go to all the trouble of adopting you only to throw you into a pit of snakes?”

Scipio shrugged.  Who knew why adults did anything, all they seemed to be capable of doing in Scipio’s short life was astounding acts of cruelty – except for Marcus, of course.  And the only father he had ever known was a drunk who beat him before finally abandoning him to the streets when he was only four years old.

Marcus sighed, bending low and setting his hands on the boy’s shoulders, “I assure you, the King isn’t like all the other adults you met.”

Chewing his lip, he returned Marcus’s look.  He wanted to believe him with all his heart, but his instincts wouldn’t let him.  He wistfully thought what it would be like if Marcus adopted him.  He imagined he would be happier than any boy in the whole world.  He didn’t care if Marcus was only a poor servant of the King, all he wanted was to be safe and to be loved.  The joy of the thought swelled within him, to the point it misted his eyes and he couldn’t keep it in any longer.

“Marcus, couldn’t you adopt me?”

For the first time he saw his friend at a loss for words and the room became terribly quiet.  Had he said the wrong thing?  Did Marcus not want to adopt him?  Maybe he misunderstood Marcus kindness and Marcus didn’t really love him as much as he assumed he did.  Scipio felt his bottom lip tremble at this unbearable thought.  He couldn’t bring himself to look up a Marcus now and instead stared at the floor as the silence grew.

“Scipio,”  Marcus finally said, his voice a little thicker than before, “It’s time to meet the King.  I promise, you have nothing to fear. I won’t leave you alone and I’ll be in the room with you the whole time.”

Scipio nodded, assured that Marcus would be there, but terrified of this distant, newly adopted father.

Marcus put an assuring arm around Scipio’s shoulder and led him to the King’s apartments.  Once inside, they were met by two of the King’s servants who greeted them with warm smiles.

“Welcome, Scipio,” one of them said, “are you ready to meet the King?”

Scipio found Marcus’ hand and gripped it tightly.  He nodded.

Marcus smiled at the boy before letting go of his hand and stepping in front of him to join the King’s servants.

Scipio’s breathing quickened, this was it, he would finally have to face the King.

One of the servants produced a long flowing robe of scarlet and placed it on Marcus’ shoulders, and bowed. The other took a laurel wreath made of pure gold and placed it on Marcus’ head and bowed before stepping away.

The boy blinked, confused. What were they doing?  And why was Marcus letting them put the King’s robe and crown on him?  Wasn’t that treason?

As Scipio stared at Marcus, he noticed something about his friend he had never noticed before.  He was…regal.  He seemed taller, and bigger than before, his presence almost filling the room.  He looked just like a King, but it was still Marcus, too.

Then he finally understood.  Marcus was the King.

Scipio fell on his knees before him, not out of reverence or fear, but out of something better –  indescribable love.

Marcus rushed to the boy and pulled him close in an embrace.  Scipio felt the King’s  bearded cheek against his and he noticed it was damp with tears.  The King whispered in the boy’s ear with a thick voice, “Yes, Scipi, I will adopt you.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Scipio embraced his advocate, his best friend, his King and now, amazingly, his Father as tight as he could, afraid somehow that Marcus would slip out of his grip if he didn’t hold him tight enough.  Then he found himself crying and laughing all at the same time.

“You tricked me,” he finally said, wiping the tears streaming from his face.

“I did, didn’t I?” Marcus, the King chuckled. “But do you understand why?”

Scipio nodded.  He did understand, and it made him love his Father that much more.

~~~

 

Our Father in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

This story was an effort to explain the type of Holiness that Jesus is ascribing to the Father.  I had always had the impression that it meant, begrudgingly, ‘Yes, God is your Father – BUT, watch it! don’t get too comfortable! He is still SUPER holy, you know!’

But is that what it really means?   As if upon launching ourselves happily into the lap of God only to realize we’re about to land on a glowing hot bed of coals!

Hallowed or Holy, also means something else besides a consuming fire.  In the Hebrew, the word for Holy is “Qadosh” which literally means “to be set apart for a special purpose.”

And according to Webster’s, Holy also means,  “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.”

So, when we read, ‘Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name,’ I think the precept Jesus was trying to get across was –

“He is your Dad, holy, set apart, worthy of your love and devotion, unlike earthly dads because He is perfect in goodness and righteousness.”

It is meant to assure our welcome into the throne room of God, not make us second guess it.

For many of you this is nothing new – but, it turns out I’m thick-headed, and it took God some time to get this through to me! 🙂

Cheers!

~R

Next post,

‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.’

 

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The Senator, The King and The Child

I wrote this little story in an effort to explain the some of principles of The Lord’s Prayer to my kids and thought I’d share.  Hopefully, this will be an ongoing series.  God bless!

~R

Et Tu  27

Justus rubbed his hands together in an effort to warm them. They were cold and clammy with nerves. He had waited over a year for an audience with the King, and finally his day had come.

He quickly shuffled through his parchments making sure they were in the proper order when he heard someone enter the room with a polite cough.
It was his personal attendant for the day, a servant named Gaius, who’s job was to make sure that those who had audience with the King were properly prepared.
Gaius began to adjust Justus’s robes, brushing off specks of lint from his shoulders until he was satisfied.
“How much longer?” Justus asked.
“Not long. Are you prepared? Do you remember the procedure for addressing the King?”
“Yes.”
“Are you sure? One misstep and it could result in you being expelled from the throne room and never invited back.”

Justus let out a nervous breath, “Perhaps, I should go over it one more time?”

“I agree, Senator,” Gaius nodded.

Justus began to pace as he tried to recall the proper procedure for having audience with the King. “First, I must wait in the privy chamber until called by the King’s guard.  I then must stand at the entrance until either called by name by the King, or waved in by his hand.  I take six steps, then kneel.  When the King calls me forward I take six more steps and wait until the King stands up from his throne.”

Justus hesitated, struggling to try and remember the last part.

“And then?” Gaius asked.

“I kiss his hand?”

The servant gasped, “God forbid, No!  You may only kiss the hem of his robe.  When he touches your shoulder you may stand, but don’t look him in the eye! Only look at his feet. Unless of course he bids you look in his eyes, then you may do so.”

Senator Justus sighed, wondering if he would ever get it right.  “Of course.  Thank you for the reminder.”

A bell was rung from the hall and the servant Gaius clapped his hands together, “It is time.  Don’t worry, you’re ready.  Be sharp, don’t mumble your words, follow procedure, don’t look him in the eye, or displease the King in any way and stir up his wrath and I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

“Thanks,” Justus said dryly as he gathered his parchments and hurried after Gaius who was already out the door and making his way down the hall towards the privy chamber.

***

“Now seeking audience with the King,  Senator Justus Saturius Libo!”  called the legionnaire guarding the entrance of the throne room with a six and a half foot spear.

Justus tried to see the eyes behind the helmet, hoping for some assuring glance from the guard, but the guard only stared straight ahead, uninterested in easing the nerves of yet one more Senator seeking a private audience with the King.

“Enter,” came the voice of the King, not loud but commanding just the same. The quality of his voice was of velvet wrapped steel.  Justus felt a shiver run down his spine at the thought of the velvet sheath being removed from that voice.

Justus almost faltered in his steps, forgetting to count each one.  He panicked, he didn’t know when he should stop.  Then, to his relief he noticed a metal plate on the floor where it was written in stark letters the word, ‘KNEEL.’

He knelt, glad for the plate.

“Come forward,” the King said, sounding somewhat bored of all the ritual.

Justus rose, took six more steps to the next plate on the floor, which was written, ‘KNEEL  AND WAIT.’

Justus knelt, and waited, keeping his head down.  He heard the rustle of robes as the King stood and the soft padding of sandaled feet coming down the steps of the throne.  The King stopped and stood before him and Justus tentatively reached out for the hem of the King’s robe and kissed it.

He then felt a hand on his shoulder, which gave him him a strong squeeze.  “Welcome,  Justus. You many rise and state your business.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Justus said as he rose to his feet, still careful to keep his eyes on the floor.  Though, he did steal a glance of the back of the King as he made his way up to the throne.

Justus was about to turn behind him to receive his parchments from the guard who had followed him when he suddenly heard the pattering of little feet come running down the carpeted aisle of the throne room.  He marveled that the little feet didn’t stop and kneel at the proper places like he did.

“Daddy! Daddy!”  a little voice cried with excitement.

The King stood from his throne, startled.

Good, Justus thought, perhaps the King himself would silence the child, since obviously the guards hadn’t.

The child, a little girl of about four with long wavy raven curls ran past Justus and right up the steps of the throne, unhindered.

The King laughed and scooped up the little girl and tossed her into the air playfully as she squealed in delight.  “Daughter, Im so glad to see you!” The King laughed again as she began to plant little kisses all over his face.

No rules for only kissing the hem for this child, Justus mused bitterly.

“Daddy?” the girl asked in her bright piping voice.

“Yes, child.”

“Can we go to the garden, today?  I want to show you the butterfly.

The King gasped, “The butterfly?”

“Yes! It’s going to break free of it’s cocoon! I’m sure this will be the day it will fly. Please, Daddy?”

The King set his daughter on the throne, and she stood to on her tippy-toes to be as eye-level as she could with him.  He stared at her, rubbing his chin with furrowed brow.

“Hmm.  Well, I do love it when butterflies just leave their cocoons and spread their wings for the first time…,”  the King said.

“Come, please Daddy?”  she asked, grabbing one of the King’s hands with both of her little ones.  The King’s eyes sparkled with mirth as she hopped off his throne and began to try and drag him down the throne steps.

He laughed, “Okay, little one.  Let’s go see this butterfly of yours.”  He then scooped up his daughter and set her on his shoulders.  As he passed Justus, the King stopped and said, “I apologize Justus, but I have very important business to attend to.  Please reschedule with my servant Gauis for another appointment.”

Justus just barely kept himself from blurting out, ‘But that may take a whole other year of waiting!’  Thank God, he managed to snap his mouth shut in time.  Instead, he swallowed and bowed as graciously as he could.  “Yes, your highness, I completely understand. Give my regards to the Butterfly.”

The King chuckled, “We will.”

***

As Justus walked down the hall from the throne room, Gaius joined him.

“Just my luck, Gaius!” Justus fumed as they walked along.

“Oh, don’t be dismayed, Senator. It happens quite often.  The King always has time for his children and they are always welcome into his throne room – and he has a houseful since he has made it a habit to adopt many of them.”

“Adopted! And with no appointment, no formal ceremony and no hesitation whatsoever?”

“The many privileges of being a child of the King.”

Justus sighed, “Indeed, it is. One wonders how to get adopted.”

“Well, I suppose that you must be a child who is poor and needy.”

“A bit too late for me it seems.  Do see that I get on his calendar at the earliest date, would you Gaius.”  Justus reached into his coin purse, grabbed a Denarius and slipped it into the servants hand.

“Ah, yes.  I think a spot just opened up for you next month.  I’ll send you word as soon as I know.”

“See that you do,” Justus replied as he walked away and left for home.

Our Father in Heaven…

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.”  Galatians 4:6

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:4 

As a child of God, we don’t need formality or appointments to meet with our Father, because of the work of Christ we can run right up into the lap of the King. Enter into prayer with the confidence and expectation of a child deeply loved by their Father, because, simply, that is who you are!

Cheers!

Next blog: Hallowed be Your Name…

~R

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Ripping Through the Roof

Ripping Through the Roof

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Last Sunday, my pastor was able to solidify something that had been slowly bubbling up from the shallow sludge of my mind for the past couple of weeks.

He taught on Luke 5:17-26 – Jesus Heals a Paralytic

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.  Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

There are many wonderful things to glean from this passage – one of them being the deity of Christ – which is important, but that wasn’t the focus of the sermon.

The focus of the sermon was the boldness of the paralytic man’s friends and how it was the faith of his friends that eventually caused Jesus to heal him.

He also brought out that the word ‘paralyzed’ in the Greek, the language that the passage was originally written in, was a common medical term used in the first century Roman world.  This word didn’t necessarily mean only physical paralysis – but could also mean, a stroke, or a type of shock, or debilitating mental state brought on by trauma – much like PTSD.

For the past couple of weeks I’d been wrestling with what to do for a dear friend of mine who suffers excruciating pain constantly yet is unable to properly metabolize any form of pain medication.  She’s tried every possible pain medication you can think of and at best it doesn’t work at all – and at worst it causes severe reactions that are more devastating than the acute pain she suffers. She’s even tried cannabis in various forms and potency’s and nothing seems to work.

I and other friends have watched as this illness has slowly taken her away from us and a lot of other people that love her.  This friend, who is known by her joy, sense of humor, beautiful haunting singing voice, and the way she lights up a room, is now often so overcome by pain that it takes a tremendous amount of strength and willpower just to make it through each hour of the day.  It breaks my heart – it breaks everyone’s heart that knows her.

As a Christian, we draw strength from our community and when one suffers or is separated from us, we’re all affected whether we fully realize it or not.

The story of the paralytic man also reminds me of myself.  It reminds me of when I was stuck in spiritual darkness and depression, where my faith was so paralyzed that I couldn’t even pray for help, I couldn’t read the bible – in fact I hated it. I could barely make it to church – and when I did, I felt so separated from God and people that I didn’t have the strength to reach out for help.

I had food, clothes, a roof over our head and a working car – praise God! The needs I had were emotional, spiritual and psychological and were much harder to help in a practical or physical way.

But, imagine having friends like the paralytic man, who could come alongside and say, “You know what? I understand.  You’re in a really weakened state right now and that’s okay.  You don’t have faith? I’ll share mine with you. You can’t pray right now?  I’ll pray for you.  You can’t read your bible right now – don’t worry – I’ll read it for you, believe it for you and send you the verses I think God wants to speak to you. I’ll do whatever it takes to help you right now and get you back with us because, you know what? We need you and when you hurt, we all hurt.

Or to have friends that would pray for healing and if God didn’t answer it right away, they wouldn’t give up and just think, “Oh, it must not be God’s will.”  We want a friend like those of the paralytic who saw the obstacle of a crowded house and they didn’t just give up and go home.  They said, “Okay, listen guys, new plan. We’re going to climb up on this roof, tear it open and drop our friend on this Jesus’ lap. We are not going home until he gets to Jesus.”

You know, maybe God’s will is to get us to fight for one another, to come together in unity for our hurting members.

Can you imagine a church full of people who ripped off the roofs for each other? Who loved each other so much, they would do whatever it took to help those of them that were hurting? Imagine if they took that love into their community, their workplaces, schools, or out on the street?

People would be begging to hear more about the God we serve if we did those kinds of things.

We have so much material wealth as Christians in America, but we have very, very little love for those around us.  And I’m the first to admit this.  If I’m going to be really, truly honest – I have very little love for anyone other than myself.  And when I do manage to do something completely un-selfish – oh, how tired I am the next day! How I groan about how unselfish I was! Oh, let me just (gasp) take a seat for a minute! It’s really ****ing sad, actually.

So, to sum this all up – I want God to make me into a friend that doesn’t stop at the first obstacle that gets in my way.  I want to be a friend that doesn’t give up after just a few prayers, a friend that’s willing to rip off the roof in prayer when there’s nothing else to do but set them before God and basically say, “Lord, Please! Do something!”

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”  John 15:15-17

 

Cheers!

~R

 

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Waking up love

 According to Websters Dictionary: To be in love: A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.

I had a strange experience for the first time in my life a few weeks ago.  I was at church, and I caught a glimpse of a sister in Christ very humbly just serving, and my heart skipped a beat.  It felt almost like a crush.  I know ‘crush’ is a loaded term, it’s just the closest word I can think of to describe it.  The feeling didn’t confuse me, it actually confirmed a prayer of mine.

I’ve been praying for quite a while that God would give me his heart to love the people around me, and that he would give me his eyes to see them the way he sees them.

What I didn’t expect was how that prayer was going to be answered, how long it would take to understand the intensity of that love, or the immeasurable beauty of how he sees us.

You people are gorgeous – inside and out, and it literally takes his breath away.

But, but, but…(I can hear the objections) I know, I objected to this for a long time, too.  My physical figure is far from what God originally intended, but worse is the condition of my own heart.  How? How can he love me, let alone ‘be overwhelmed’ by what he sees?

Imagine your spouse (or pretend you have one) on the eve of your wedding night, and they were suddenly given the ability to travel back in time to visit you during a really rough time in your life.  Maybe it was your awkward teenage years, or when you were depressed over a break-up or when you were deeply disillusioned with life.

You open the door and you see this person, nervous, attractive – certainly, but strangely familiar.  They apologize for the intrusion and how strange this will all seem, but they really need you to know something.  They awkwardly begin by saying, “You don’t know me yet, as a matter of fact we wont know each other for some time, but I just want you to know that what you are going through now, is shaping you into the person I fall in love with and want to spend the rest of my life with.  Just hang in there.  I know it’s so hard, but it’s going to be so worth it.  Your so beautiful, even now, because I know who you really are inside and I love you.”  Then they smile, politely say goodbye and leave.

Maybe that’s how Jesus can look past our current condition and have his breath taken away by our feeble attempts at loving others, serving simply or just trying to get to know him better.  He sees us as we truly are – and truly will one day be.

Lysa Terykeurst, also reiterates this idea in her book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, as she told a wonderful story of a trip she took to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.

“I stood in the shadow of one of the unfinished sculptures that’s part of this collection aptly titled, Prisoners.  And I stared.  I tilted my head and let it soak in. I didn’t want this experience to be a gentle breeze that passed through me and was quickly forgotten.  I wanted it to be a rush of a mighty wind, not enough to take me down but enough to rip loose the labels wrapped so tightly around my soul.  I felt it way down deep.  This less-noticed sculpture was me – an unfinished prisoner locked away in a hard place, labeled and on prominent display in a hallway leading to greatness.  Then I turned and looked down the corridor a the David, the statue fully chiseled by a master artist.  And as I walked toward it, I whispered, “O God, chisel me. I don’t want to be locked in my hard places forever. I want to be free.  I want to be all that You have in mind for me to be.”

We’re all unfinished sculptures, but God sees us as finished and your beauty takes our Lord’s breath away.

You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
    as lovely as Jerusalem,
    as majestic as troops with banners.
 Turn your eyes from me;
    they overwhelm me.

Song of Songs 6:4-5

He goes on to say that your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead, but we’ll just assume that was a compliment in agrarian societies. (haha!) But hopefully, you get the picture. You are loved and desired more than you can emotionally, intellectually or physically embrace.

 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3: 17-19

I’m very excited that our church is teaching through the Gospel of Luke on Sundays.  Mostly because I’m anticipating what’s going to happen.  Many of us are going to start falling in love with Jesus, some for the first time, and some all over again, and that is going to change our lives and the world around us.

Because, when we discover that Jesus is in love with the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginal, the ‘sinners’ and most importantly is in love with us, it becomes increasingly difficult not to fall in love with him in return.

And once we fall in love with him, soon it will be increasingly difficult to not fall in love with the people around us – from our closest circle of family and friends, to our relatives, our enemies, our bosses, our co-workers and little by little, the rest of the world, all the way down to people who we thought we would never associate with.

It may not be in that order – it’s different for everybody, but the result is the same.  The love of Jesus empowers us to love fall in love with the world.

Here’s a video of Maya Angelou.  Doctrine aside, I wish more of us (including myself) grasped this revelation as firmly as she has.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Bonus vid for those of you practicing Lent this year!  (I’m not – but I love this video anyway…)

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