40 Days of Preparation

This post began with a simple observation from the other day: Goliath came to harass the Israelites every day for 40 days before David took his stand and defeated his enemy in one fell swoop, and the more I thought about it, I could see this 40 day testing and trying period occur over and over again throughout the Old and New Testament.  For instance:

Jesus was tempted and tested the desert for 40 days in preparation for his earthly ministry (Luke 4:1-12)
Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights up on Mt. Sinai with his second set of stone tablets while God explained to him exactly what he wanted for his people (Exodus 34: 28)
-It rained 40 days and 40 nights on Noah and his family while they were ensconced in dark, giant watercraft, waiting for the the annihilation of every living creature to come to completion (Genesis 7:12)
Elijah (I Kings 19: 8-9) had just had some very risky interactions with King Ahab and his prophets, basically he had challenged them to a my God vs. your god contest and once winning, took these false prophets and killed them.  King Ahab told Jezebel everything that had transpired and Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life.  Elijah was scared, so he ran: fast and far–and was exhausted.  The angel of the Lord came to him and refreshed him, gave him something to eat and drink and then he traveled 40 days and nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.  There he stayed in a cave and spent the night.  Then, comes one of the most powerful accounts in the O.T., God reassured Elijah of His presence. God was not in the wind, he was not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a gentle whisper. And then a commission: to assign a predecessor.

These individuals were in the middle of the desert, floating on a watery grave, exhausted, spent, hungry, frightened.  Invariably, it looked like there was no way out.  It was downright despair, discouragement, and darkness.

If you are in the midst of your own seemingly barren place, where it seems that nothing has happened, where there has been trial after trial, heartache, grief, stretching beyond your human comprehension that you could possibly endure any of it, this, my friends, is a time of preparation, a time of transformation.  You may think this is an overused analogy, but I want to say it works right now: that of the butterfly’s metamorphosis.  That worm, inside the chrysalis, has no earthly idea of what’s going on in the outside world, it’s dark, it’s scary and really and truly, without the help of an internal biological clock, they have no idea when they’re actually going to get out of there.

Truthfully, the last 3 1/2 years or so of my life have felt like that, in the dark, in preparation, drawing closer to the Lord, I know, but not without some grumbling, complaining, questioning.  Yes, God has revealed Himself to me in ways I never thought possible, but it hasn’t been in the most ideal of circumstances, loss of my marriage, my home, my identity as a  parent has been threatened, I have been persecuted and yet somehow, strengthened.  I can’t explain it, but it’s happening, God’s creating something better in me.  Some days I can see a glimmer of light seeping into the cocoon, but most days, it just feels like hibernation, like struggle, like nothing is progressing, but it is, God is creating these beautiful flecks of color that are starting to show through the cocoon, these, THINGS, wings–whatever you want to call them are being strengthened, and God is doing it.  He’s pressing but he’s also creating.

He Bids Us, Come

My lover spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread
their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one,

Song of Songs 2: 10-13

I’ve been struggling the last several days trying to put into words the thoughts and feelings of recent events, so I’ve decided just to link to a fellow blogger’s post who is a resident of Newtown, CT.
Please continue to be in prayer, as I’m sure this is the hardest Christmas season that this town, these people will ever face.
John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

How to Be Healed

I know, I know.  You’re squirming.

You don’t want to read this post.

You do, but you don’t.

I want to start off by saying, again, I’m not a biblical scholar, I’m just a woman who loves God and his Word and believes every bit of it to be true and I felt like I would be doing you all a disservice by not sharing some thoughts on Mark 6.

When you get a chance, read the whole chapter through a couple of times and just sit there and soak it in.  If you disagree with me on any point, please let me know, I don’t want this blogging thing to be one-sided.

Alright, we’re in thick of Jesus’s ministry: he has called his 12 disciples, has taught them, scolded them, trained them.  Jesus has been questioned about his healing and fasting practices by the Pharisees, has taught the crowds with parables, calmed a massive storm at sea while his disciples, gripped in fear, watched.  He has healed, cast out demons, over and over again.

His kingdom is advancing.

The disciples have started off on their own, in pairs, beginning to heal the sick and cast out demons themselves.  The crowds increase, they press in, they reach, they grab, they are hungry and they are needy.

We are so needy.

In this book, we are witnesses to miracles a long, long time ago, let’s be witnesses to some miracles today.  Let’s chose to see the miraculous, the sacred amidst the profane and the hope of healing behind many years of pain.  But how do we do it?

1) Run to Him: verses 32-33: So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.

God knows that we know that we need him, let’s go ahead and assume the posture.  Let’s be there to greet him in the morning and let us be the ones to tell Him goodnight.  Let us keep Him by our sides as our best friend.

2) Touch him: verse 56: They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Again, this involves our own activity, as leap of faith, that yes, if I reach out, if I step out, if I follow Him, things are going to be different.

3) Believe that he can do it: Verses 1-6 are so frustrating to me.  Jesus was in him hometown and he began to teach in the synagogue, they were amazed at first, questioning his wisdom, saying, “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph…?  Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.  Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.  

As hard as it is, as much as it goes against our sensibilities and the ones of those around us, we have to believe that the healing is going to take place, otherwise those opportunities may pass us by.

4) Allow yourself to be taught: I love this phrase in verse 34: When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

I’ll take this moment to say that God’s ways are much, much higher than our own.  He puts circumstances and thorns into our lives to shape us into his character.  Healing, especially mental and emotional healing, takes time.  Learning who God is and to trust him takes time, depending on how stubborn-headed you are (and I am very stubborn-headed).  

Please feel free to share any instance in which you put one or all of these steps into practice and the results it yielded.  Encourage us!

Evangelism. Where Did Jesus Start?

I was in our gym this morning and saw a lady that lives in our complex.  She and I make small talk every time we see each other.  I asked her, “So, are you ready for Christmas?”  She groaned a little and I laughed.  I said something about my stack of unsent Christmas cards and I asked her if they have a Christmas party at her work. And because she asked about what my daughter wanted for Christmas, I asked what her daughter wanted.  That’s when she told me that she was a Muslim.  I was slightly taken aback, you see, if you haven’t already picked up on it, living anywhere in the south, there’s this church culture, almost everyone you meet either attends church at least once a year, knows who Max Lucado is or at least has a Santa in their front yard in December (I know Santa has little to do with church, but somehow signifies a belief in Christmas).
“How long have you been a Muslim?” I asked.
“18 years,” she answered and went on to explain that she converted when she married a Muslim man.  I honestly didn’t know what else to say, so I didn’t say anything, but she explained a little bit more that her family was very accepting of her beliefs (as she came from a Christian home) and that they still celebrated Christmas when she was with them.  I clammed up, you see I’ve never been to seminary and frankly, whenever I hear the word “evangelism” I get shivers down my spine and I run the other way.   
It’s so in-your-face, right?
Judging from the New Testament, I think I’m not the only one who got cold feet about the “E” word, Simon Peter got more than a little nervous when people started asking him about his associations with a radical guy named Jesus.  When I had some more time to think about it, I realized that Jesus wasn’t a Bible scroll thumper either.  Over and over, we read about the Jesus healing the sick, casting out demons, making the lame walk, raising people from the dead.   Yes, he was unequivocal about what the Father was telling him and it oftentimes did rub people the wrong way, but he also made his whole life about being available to other people. 
Let me ask you something: If you have a toothache, what’s the only thing you can think about?  Getting help with the pain, right?  If your loved one is gravely sick or possibly dying what else can you think about?  Getting treatment for that person.  Yes, God can see the ugliness of our hearts and how sinful and selfish we are, but he has to start somewhere, he has to get our minds of this crippling physical condition so he can address our spiritual one.
I’ve had the opportunity this last year to visit and talk with these really incredible people and places that are helping individuals all over Atlanta:
Yes, each one of these is faith-based, but I have to say their philosophies work.  They are helping women in recovery, helping moms in recovery, providing mentorship and playing sports with kids, and a box of food for families who have fallen on really hard times.  They are meeting that need for comfort, guidance–for physical support and then they tell these men, women and children why they are able to do it.  It’s a really beautiful thing.
Where can you start?
Please feel free to share any other link in the comments sections that may be helpful to someone.

How To Be An Actor in the Best Story Ever Told–Part II of II

Luke 2: 36-38

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
So how, exactly, can we be players in this cast?  A scene that spans hundreds of generations?  How can we make sure that our role is significant?
1) Like Simeon, Mary, Joseph, and Anna, we are obedient.  We listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and we allow him to work in our lives, we do our jobs as ministers, parents, and carpenters and we wait to see how the Christ child will show up.  Sometimes we hold him in our arms like that sweet little bundle of joy and sometimes we wait to serve him at the dinner table or sometimes with pray with him when he is feeling down or discouraged. We listen and we show up where God wants us.
2) Faithfulness: both Simeon and Anna are older, experienced.  Simeon, because of his devotion to God and purity of heart, not only got to touch the Christ-child personally, but also had the opportunity to give a spirit-led prophecy to his mother.  And like Simeon, Anna had devoted her life to making sure she knew what God was saying to her.
I think it’s interesting that two of the major players in this little slice of the story are older.  They’ve seen a lot, had hoped to see the fulfillment of the law as predicted by Isaiah and others, and by God’s grace, they were able to physically see him.
My grandmother recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She’s amazing. So with it. We’re sitting at the Thanksgiving table together a few days ago and she’s talking about how unfailing God is.  
I want that part.
I want to be the grandmother, towards the end of her life, whatever the circumstances, can attest to God’s trustworthiness.
Sometimes we wonder why we get put into certain situations, why people reoccur in our lives and then disappear perhaps never to be heard from again, but God has all of this beautifully choreographed and His ways are much, much higher than our own. 
What part are you going to play?

How To Be An Actor in the Best Story Ever Told–Part I of II

 I hate to say it, but I was typecast from the start.
 I was always an angel in the Christmas play, never motherly enough to be Mary, never stocky enough to be a shepherd, I hated public speaking, so I usually wasn’t the narrator, unless they were really desperate.  And some years they were.
I was, however, a sheep one year and I have to say, the little hoodies they gave the kids to wear were pretty cute. 
Memorizing lines and songs to Christmas plays has always been quite nerve-wracking and I did have to sing a solo one year in school.  I’m so glad those years are over.
And yet, for some reason, we insist on placing our own children into the vicious play circle…
When you think about it, every minute of every day WE have the opportunity to play a part in God’s bigger story.  Sure, for a lot of us, the roles have already been assigned: mom, dad, banker, physician, accountant, grandma, but if you can for a minute just sit back and imagine your life as a play, sooner or later you’ll come to the conclusion that no good play is without conflict, joy, sadness, heartache, loss, triumph.
Let’s take a look at Luke 2: 21-36.
The characters:
-Simeon: a priest in Jerusalem who was righteous and devout
-Mary: a young mother, who had just finish her 40 day purification after the birth of her child trying to figure out: a) how to be a wife b)how to be a mother c) how to travel with a newborn baby
-Joseph: a man who was following the command of God, ever-listening to what God wanted next for the Savior of mankind, also trying to figure out how to be a husband and a father
-Anna: a prophetess and a widow, very old, completely devoted to God and spent every waking moment at the temple
The setting: The temple in Jerusalem
Enter: Mary and Joseph:
When their time of purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Spotlight on Simeon:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went in the temple courts.  When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
Can you picture it? Every parent knows how special their child is, that they are destined for great things, this child, this little light is different and set apart, but can you imagine hearing this prophecy with your own ears?
Is there a better word for speechless?
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Here it was, in one prophecy, the destiny of her child.  Wrapped up in a few sentences was His life story, which included the pain and agony of her own–his death predicted years later.
Come back tomorrow for more…