Advent: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

Advent 2: Seek and Find

Yesterday we made reference to the childhood game of Hide and Seek as we considered the phrase: Ready or Not.

Is finding God like the childhood game?

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I don’t think so, and here’s why.

When I began my faith journey, two Bible references were laid into my foundation.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6, NIV).

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27, NIV).

Our being able to find God is of primary importance to him. We were created for relationship with him–and with each other.

It’s so important, we’re so important, that the often quoted verse from John’s gospel tells us he gave his son for us to not only know who he is and how he is, but so that we could have that relationship–now and forever.

Jesus wanted us to understand this principle and made it clear in his teaching we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount: Seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7).

So in these season of focus, what are you seeking? Who are you seeking? If you are seeking God, you will find him.

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Advent Begins

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Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

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Do No Harm

First, do no harm.

Quick! Where’s that from?

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Hippocratic Oath? That’s what I thought.

Nope. After doing a little online reading, I found it’s not in the original Greek version. There’s a phrase in the Latin that might come close. It is believed the phrase came into acceptance somewhere in the 17th century.

Why does this matter? What drove me to even look?

I’m glad you asked.

Yesterday, on my drive to visit some folks who are completing a drug rehab program, I had a heart to heart with God.

At first I was trying to anticipate conversations and how I would respond. Okay, I confess I think these kinds of thing through for all kinds of encounters. I’m an old Girl Scout: I tried to always be prepared.

But the rehearsals in my mind were going nowhere.

So I stopped—talking not driving.

And I confessed how foolish I felt and I asked God what I needed to do.

Yes, I’m a trained pastor (two different Masters degrees for that) and a trained counselor (Masters degree and all kinds of continuing education), but we’re facing a giant of an enemy in this heroin epidemic.

This must be how David felt when he faced Goliath. (Okay, go ahead think current Pepsi commercials. See video below if you’re unfamiliar.)

God, I don’t know what to say. I want to offer your kind of lasting, life-changing, life-giving help. How do I do that?

 I know, not a very eloquent prayer—didn’t even say Amen at the end.

But God heard. And God spoke: Do No Harm.

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This is a huge request for an ESFP with ADD. I am not like my introverted friends who think and then overthink and maybe think some more before they open their mouths to speak. I think out loud. Words tumble out of my mouth faster than I can check them.

How do I do that?

Here’s what I did:

I listened. A challenging thing for an ESFP with ADD.

Listening requires intentional focus. Trust me: this requires more energy than a 30 minute workout at CURVES.

But I did it.

And I shared what I knew to be true.

This included some of my own struggle, but also a couple of my foundation scripture promises and fundamental counseling truths.

I’m not sure if we slayed the giant…but we did some serious damage. I left those appointments whoopin’ and hollerin’ for Jesus.

These were divine appointments and I was just along for the ride.

Check back for the next post where I’ll share one of those fundamental counseling truths.  (How’s that for a teaser?!)

 

**ESFP is a Myers-Brigs Trait Inventory designation (MBTI). When I take the inventory I identify as an Extrovert who takes in my surroundings through my Senses, makes judgments through my Feelings, and organizes Perceptively (which is kind of like no organization at all—think scattered).

If you want to check out the test just google it. You can take it online and receive your information.

**ADD is a psychiatric identification, Attention Deficit Disorder. My brain typically runs in scatter mode. I act before thinking. I get overwhelmed by too many instructions. I am highly distracted…squirrel!

 

 

Book Review: Listen, Love, Repeat

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I get  opportunities to read and recommend books. It’s been a long time since I was this excited about a book. It is a rare thing to find a nonfiction book that  blends and balances “how to”, biblical resources, and personal testimony–Karen Ehman does that in this book!

Honest. Practical. Needed. These are the things this book offers, page after page after page. Author, Karen Ehman, packs so much into this book. The chapters identify different groups and individuals who need to receive the practical experience of God’s grace—and the specific ways we can extend His love to them. The timeliness of this book is matched beautifully by the timelessness of message: moving from self-centered me-ness to being focused on others.

As a pastor of a church in the heart of a small town, I believe this book offers tools my people can use to be encouraged in new and refreshed ways. One of the chapters I read through tears was “The Lonely and Unloved.” One of the questions found near the end of this chapter were an arrow to my heart: Can you create one more space at your table this week? Yes, I can…but will I?

This book is like a box of seeds. Plant these seeds (ideas and principles), and watch what grows! I am looking forward to sharing this book in my church and seeing the amazing things God has in store for us as we step up to new ways of listening and loving.

(I received a free copy of this book to provide an honest review.)

Resting

(This is a reposting of a Facebook Note from November 1, 2009)

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Where I work I spend most of my time in two rooms, the kitchen and dining room. They are open to each other. In those two rooms there are four clocks. Should I venture into either bathroom there’s a clock there, too. I never have to wonder or worry about what time it is.

Time. When we think about it we wonder what time it is. We wonder if we’re late or early. How much time do we have? What do we do with our time? We’re accused of wasting time, marking time, stretching time, and watching time fly by.

I used to rush through my days. I was proud of how much I could cram into a day. More was always better and therefore, resulted in a better me. When I gave up sleep to focus on saving the world (or at least my little corner), I made some of the stupidest and most dangerous decisions, decisions that nearly cost me everything, including my life. I finally came to the conclusion that there is a reason that God rested and a reason that he commands it of us, as well.

This morning was the time to change our clocks. It was time to “fall back.” While others were relishing an extra hour of sleep, I was awake and at my computer. I was reveling in the quiet. All I could hear was the rhythm of the clocks ticking around me. Now maybe if I only had that to listen to 24/7, it would become tortuous, but sitting here this morning, it was a Centering Symphony.

I was up “early” because someone imposed a time change on me. Isn’t that just how life seems to go? We grouse and complain because our time is not our own. Someone always seems to be demanding our time.

Recently, I was a t a retreat where the leaders took the watches and phones of the participants. The surrender was to free those attending from the tyranny of time. The thinking was/is to let the staff “worry” about time and schedule. Good as it was, the staff always had someplace for the participants to go or something for them to do, so there was no sense of “free time.”

Compare that to the experience of our house guest. We have a couple unoccupied rooms in our home, so we opened our space to a pastor friend who was between jobs with no place to stay. The first couple weeks she was with us, all she did was sleep, eat, and watch TV. Our interactions were minimal. Slowly, opportunities and necessities began to reenter her life and she began to go out with friends and go to some meetings. One day she came through the living room where I was reading. She sat and we chatted for a while. At the end of our talking, she shared how much she appreciated the opportunity to just be there with no expectations, just able to rest. It was the refreshing that she needed at every level of her being: heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In the great Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23), we find so much of the care provided to and for us. One of the things we may overlook is that he who knows us and our needs makes us lie down. Thinking of this reminded me of my grandson. I can always tell when Asher needs a nap. Some days so can he. Don’t make the Shepherd bop you on the head with his crook to get you to rest. We were not created to go 24/7.

One day as Jesus was ministering, he looked out at the crowd and was moved to compassion when he saw how weary and out of synch they were. He offered them rest, to restore their rhythm. To receive this gift they needed to come to him and learn from him. Don’t you think it’s time to listen, to learn, to rest?

Tracing and Anticipating

I wrote this in 2009 and posted it as a note on Facebook–it came up as “memories” reminder. I’m reposting it and will edit it later. I needed the message.

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Our three year old grandson, Asher, started pre-school this fall. From the get go, we knew he was a bright child. He even came on his due date. We watched Baby Einstein videos with him until we all knew them by heart. Very early, he knew his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

At Pre-school they are teaching the kids their letters and numbers and having them trace them. Asher walks around with his left hand in the air, at the ready for the next thing to trace. If he isn’t tracing the letters, he’s counting how many characters or letters are in the word or string of words. He traces letters on the TV, on boxes, on books, from the newspaper, or on the shirt someone has on. One day, I found him sitting on the floor in the dining room. We have a shelf there with accident/spare clothes for him. He had all his spare shirts lying out and his own shirt off. When I asked what he was doing he looked at me with that “isn’t it obvious, Mema” look. Then, as matter of factly as he could, he informed me that he was tracing. Every letter around him screams to be traced!

Reflecting on Asher’s tracing, I began to see three components that made Asher such a good tracer. First, he walked through his day, minute by minute and room by room, anticipating, no expecting, that there would be letters to trace or count. What do you eagerly anticipate? A quick read of Romans 8 paints a clear picture of what we need to be anticipating.

Anticipating that God is at work, that he has a plan and it includes us, drives us, spurs us, motivates us to be ready. Asher walks around expecting to find something to trace. His little hand is often in the air, making circles, like an airplane getting ready to land. The word tells us we are to be ready, to always have an answer when someone asks us what are hope is about.

Could you do that? I’m not asking if you know some specific plan or canned presentation. I don’t care if you have scripture memorized, but can you (from a sincere heart) tell someone, “This is where I was. This is what God in Christ did for me. And this is where I’m headed.” It’s your story, are you ready to tell it?

And finally, I have been so impressed by Asher’s focus. His questions reveal his passion to learn more. He listens to all our conversations. I know this because often my words come back to me through him. It has caused me to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it. We’ve even had to resort to spelling things we want to keep above his head. Everything he sees is an item to trace. If he’s not tracing letters, then his finger runs around the circumference or perimeter of an item. Some days he carries his step stool from room to room so that he can be sure to catch whatever you’re doing.

Right now Asher seems to be practicing the fine art of learning. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence’s continual practice of the awareness of God. And I started to wonder: what keeps me from anticipating God at every turn? Do I have preconceived and limiting notions about who God is and what he can do? What keeps me from being ready? Is it fear, or busyness, or ignorance of the urgency, or God help us: lack of love? What keeps me from being focused? The enemy is the expert at divide and conquer. If he can get us to thinking in terms of sacred and secular, he knows it’s just a short distance disconnecting our head and heart.

When I was in seminary the second time around, a Sunday School teacher asked our younger daughter, Beth (Asher’s mom), what she wanted to be when she grew up. Beth’s answer struck the teacher enough that she made sure to tell me. Beth’s answer was, “a student like my mom.” There is always a need for us to put into practice what we know, but oh, that God would rekindle in each of us the insatiable desire to learn.

Then we would, like Asher, be anticipating, ready, and focused.

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