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Asking, Seeking, Knocking

askSo I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Luke 11:9-10] 

I think I used to think of these three terms as sequential. But today, as I read this passage, I wonder if it’s not a reminder that any of these will work, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, it’s best to simply ask for for what is needed, but in other cases, I may need to go looking for the answer, and still another time may require me to face an obstacle with stubborn persistence.

Perhaps, if I thought about it, I would need to confess that I do a lot more asking than seeking or knocking. Asking is the drop back and punt position. I know I am not alone in that kind of prayer life, filling the space with ask after ask after ask.

But, when the answer is elusive, do I seek and search. Do I prowl the scriptures for an answer or a direction? Do I speak with others more knowledgeable than me? Do I go into my prayer closet with an open mind to hear something new?

And knocking, well, I’m quite sure that’s the last of my choices. I’ll simply cave in and say, this must not be for me. If it doesn’t come easily or right away, I don’t really persist like I could.

Just taking this time to study a bit through the Hillsong Ministry School, is a beginning of seeking; getting back into a small group; meeting with other widows through Modern Widows Club; reading and writing again. It’s a start.

My circumstances have made me somewhat weary, I know. It’s been a tough year and a half, so many changes and challenges. But moving to the next level means I must begin to work my spiritual muscles again, to get back to the “gym” of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Voice of the Shepherd

John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

Why the Lord’s Prayer?

lords-prayer-lukeI don’t know. Just sayin’ and I really mean it. First of all, it’s slightly different in Matthew and Luke. And for so so many years, I was like the rest of the Western Christian world and was speaking it in King James English. For heaven’s sake, what is that all about? It renders the thing beautiful but archaic. It became a rote kind of thing with little understanding or meaning.

But then, for a long season, about a year and a half, I practiced a lay version of “Praying the Hours” and the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Gloria Patri and they always played a key part of those days. I became somewhat entranced by the power of the Lord’s Prayer and spoke it often and daily. Since that time, I have lost its potency, nor is it practiced much in my current church home.

So what is God saying to me today?

If it is true, as I understand it, that Luke’s version of the gospel was always geared to the non-Jewish believers. In essence, the same people we are trying to reach in our local church. Then we should be teaching them to pray this simple prayer:

Father, hallowed be your name (God – your name is holy and sacred)
Your kingdom come (Bring your domain to us, we surrender)
Give us each day our daily bread  (Feed us when we are hungry, just enough)
Forgive us our sins (Give us amnesty for our mistakes)
For we forgive everyone who sins against us (We understand we have to do the same for other people)
And lead us not into temptation (Block the way when we try to go down the wrong road.)
Amen. That’s it.

And there’s one other key here which I picked up during that year and a half. This prayer has always been and will always be a WE prayer, not an I prayer. When we prayer this prayer, we’re doing it together with a lot of other folks and we’re praying for them just like they are praying for us. This is a humanity prayer. Dogs don’t pray it and trees don’t pray it. Just us. Humans. And each and every human needs it. No strings attached.

I’m coming back to this prayer. You should too.

Lifestyle and the Church

lifestyleSo here’s a few questions for you and my answers. Feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

  • What is the kind of lifestyle your local church is encouraging you to live?
    • This is an easy answer in my church, that is Restore Church, because they advertise their lifestyle “code” throughout the building and on the website. It is the church’s desire that each and every person would discover what it means to live a faith-filled life, to take risks for God (outside the box as it were), reach people with the message of God’s grace, to live in a judgment-free zone, to give generously of our time and resources, to bless others when they least expect it, to be spiritual contributors instead of consumers, and to be united under one vision, just to name a few.
  • Secondly, how does the church demonstrate this lifestyle?
    • Because there is a strong vision for this church, most of the activities and ministries of the church are vetted in relationship to the code. Like a personal goal, the question is asked, does this activity move us closer to reaching people far away from God and bringing them closer to a new life in Christ.
    • So what are these activities? There is a lot of emphasis on outreach in the community from the largest egg hunt in the MidAtlantic (100,000 filled eggs) to movies in the park in various communities throughout the area. The church partners with a sister non-profit called Good Cause Foundation to give generously to those in need such as Drop & Swap for families (free clothing and child equipment) as well as Single Moms’ Spa Day in addition to other fundraisers to have funds available for needy families.
    • Within the church, there is an effort to draw people together in the quest for reaching outliers because serving together is more powerful than serving alone: Small groups, women’s & men’s ministries, children’s ministry during services, Awana, and a variety of volunteer teams that bring folks together (AV, greeters, parking lots, food, teachers, etc.)
  • But the third question is more critical: How do I demonstrate this lifestyle?
    • And there’s the rub. Do I? In some ways yes, I do. I am committed to the church and the church mission. I serve faithfully each week in one or more services as a host and prayer intercessor. But it is only on occasion that people come up and ask for prayer. I feel underused in this capacity. Do they not come because of the flow of the service and people are ready to leave, or do they not trust me, in particular, with their prayer needs? Have I shown myself worthy to intercede? Perhaps not.
    • I am in the Hillsong Ministry School because I believe my designated role as lay pastor demands a commitment to this process as well. I get that.
    • Historically, I have been in small groups, some more successful than others. So far, I have not had much consistency with a group here. I have been invited to attend a group (first time), and am hoping to attend, but there is the reality of my work schedule in which I must often work 1-2 nights per week. How many nights out are too many? I struggle with this all the time.
    • Sometimes, I just push back. I want to stop and just be still. But even that is somewhat unrealistic. My home is not merely my own but shared with a single daughter and her infant son. If I am not busy outside the house, then I am expected to be helping inside the house.
    • Summary: I don’t serve as much as I could. When I do serve, it is with a heart full of faith, which over the last year, I know, my heart has truly been tested and I know that I know that my faith is indeed built on rock. In that way, I am all in. And that is probably the core of it for me.

murphyThat’s me. I’m a bit sheepish to say I started acting like one of the disciples yesterday. And why? Because nothing went the way I thought it would or should. As others might say, Murphy was busy. (If there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of the adage, Murphy’s Law, it goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy was not a believer, for sure.) Wikipedia says this attitude has to do with a belief in the perversity of the Universe.

And although it may be true that a fallen world may be a challenge, my response to my circumstances is supposed to be different. I should have learned by now. I could have been grateful and expectant; I could have been trusting and at peace in the now. I could have pulled out this scripture:

rejoice“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [Philippians 4:4-7, NIV]

But I didn’t. Oh, maybe I tried for a little while. The first several hours, I put up a pretty good face, but by Midnight, the perverse universe scored.

So, what did the universe hand me that was so dreadful? Nothing serious, more like a constant buzzing bee. At 9:30 am, I started out on a much needed vacation to a long awaited destination (Alaska). I was driving to the airport and realized I did not have my phonephone. For those who know me, the missing phone is one of my beleaguering habits. My mantra: “Have you seen my phone?” I had to go back home to get it and I lost 30 minutes of a 1.5 hour trip to the airport. It would be close.

I was traveling on a buddy pass. It’s also called “non-rev” by the airline industry (meaning non-revenue), which a dear friend gave me. We would meet halfway and go the rest of the way together to Anchorage. But the hour was not enough. The Philly economy parking lot was maxed out and the bus picked me up at “A” and traveled the entire alphabet. At ticketing, I was shuttled from one line to the other to get someone to print my “quasi-boarding-pass” also known as a seat request for standby. Too late. Too late. I missed the plane.

I could still make it if I could get on the next flight, a couple of hours later. Listed, waited, but missed a seat by one, a captain needed the hop.

The next plane to Minneapolis was scheduled for 6 hours later, there was some hope I could pick up the last flight to Anchorage, or try another connection. My friend suggested I switch to Salt Lake City and then go to Anchorage from there.

Then the weather hit. Somewhere. Not in Philadelphia, but somewhere and as a result, every flight was delayed by one to two hours. Not one flight could connect me in time to Anchorage. Which way to go? Back to the Minneapolis plan or stay with Salt Lake plan?

minneapolis airportAfter several phone calls, we opted for me to head to Minneapolis. I could possibly stay with a friend, not so bad, and just accept the loss of the day. So, I changed and got hit with the fee for re-booking. Then that flight was delayed further. By the time I got to Minneapolis, it was after midnight. And my friend, it turned out, was vacationing in, of all places, Maryland.

Should I stay on the airport floor (they offer mattresses and blankets in plastic, like one might find in an emergency shelter) or bite the bullet and pay to stay in a hotel/motel (are there any motels anymore?) But of course, as one would expect, all nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a town 15 miles away. Whatever money I saved on my buddy pass was consumed by a night’s stay and a $50 cab ride.

My friend made it to Anchorage fine. And off they have gone to their first moose adventure today. Or whatever it is that people do for fun there.

Rejoice in all things.

I’m at the airport now, waiting for the next flight, the next day and 36 hours after leaving home. Will I make it on the flight? Who knows? Does it matter? In the bigger scheme of things? Not so much. As my pastor says, a lot of my anxiety is caused by FORO (Fear of Running Out . . . of money).

letting goRejoice. Trust. Breathe. It’s all out of my hands. Pretty much, all of it was and is. Except for the phone. That doggone device has got us all hopping doesn’t it? I wonder now, could I have lived without it? If I had gone forward instead of back, could I have done vacation without being “connected?” Was that the real lesson? I think maybe it is so.

That is a lesson that will probably come around again.

 

 

 

 

Overwhelmed

Here’s what scripture has to say to me today:

rock withinWhen my heart is weak,
    I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am. [Psalm 61:2, CEB] 

I asked the Lord for a word as I feel so overwhelmed this morning. At work, we are moving into a new building and there is not a moment I am there that I am not pulled from one question to another, one concern to another, one dropped task to another, one solution to another. At home, a renovation project of the house I moved into last February has already presented some old house surprises like rotted wood and archaic wiring. My young adult children are entering the phase of adult problems (welcome to my world). My volunteering is asking for more of my hours and I’ve taken on a year commitment to the Hillsong Ministry School classes. I’m co-sharing a support group for widows and I’m supporting my daughter through the trials of single motherhood, her 6-month old living with me, and a deadbeat baby-daddy.

And so I sought the Lord for balance and was a little embarrassed by the references to “overwhelmed.” It’s not used lightly in biblical stories, it’s much more about life or death, it’s being crushed, it’s about fear and pain. My little life is self-imposed. My lack of balance has crept up onto me again and again by my own choice.

I tease my pastor about being A.D.D. and quite honestly, I’m not much better. I so enjoy novelty and new experiences, too often not counting the cost of living out those interests, pursuits, or circumstances for the distance. I tend to look at my calendar for white space, and fill it with obligation. Nothing new here.

I need to be overwhelmed by the Presence of God. Only then will I breathe easier, choose wisely, trust in the Now of Christ to sustain me in the daily.

 

There is no place to run except within.

 

Devotion

Devotional writing is a state of mind, heart, and soul. It’s not something that can be drummed up out of a dry hole. And so it has been with me. Like Hezekiah, I cry out to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” [Isaiah 38:3, NIV], But what was before is not enough. Devotion to God is daily and present. Like mindfulness, it is in the now.

god-is-nature

Oh my soul, sing again in the place of praise to God alone.

Today is not the kind of day I’d expect a rekindled desire to be with God to overwhelm me. My day ahead is a busy day, a hot steamy day, with a pile of responsibilities. And yet, God broke through the mind clutter. Come to me.

My prayer, a simple one. Keep me in the light of your Presence oh God. Speak into my inmost being, Christ Jesus. Fill me with endurance and promise, Holiest Spirit. Breathe on me and in me.

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