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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

ListensCome close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66:16-20]

It’s not always easy to listen. If you are anything like me, you are forming an answer or comment to whatever the other person is saying while he/she is saying it. How often do I only hear a portion of what is being said. How often I react to one phrase and miss the second. How often I miss the point. And in short order, it’s no longer a conversation but a debate, or worse, an argument, or worse still, a screaming match. All because one or both of us didn’t really listen. Maybe we heard words but we didn’t listen. We didn’t attend to one another.

God, on the other hand, is always ready and willing to listen. And through God’s listening, I have an opportunity to learn from God about listening. God hears intent. God hears motive. God hears between the lines. God listens to the heart.

Oh, I suppose, God also listens to the dribble of my complaints and my shoulda, coulda, woulda. But these, I believe, he merely collects in a bowl and sets aside. What God is waiting to hear is a deeper self, of confession and repentance, of forgiveness and help.

onionsLike a layered onion, the outer layers aren’t much good for anything but protection of what is within. I am asked to peel those layers away. Sometimes, it takes a conscious effort to do so. For this reason, Lent becomes such a perfect time to strip away the chaff, to starve that part of me that normally consumes so much of my time and energy (like the preparation and eating of meals or going out to restaurants or snacking on sugars and guzzling sodas).

It’s a good time to fast. To prepare to fast. To peel. To strip. To offer God some truth.

God listens.

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ashesThere is something to be said about the Church calendar. Or any calendar, I guess. There is a turning of the pages and steady pace to the days and weeks and months. Some people mark the time with Christmas or the first day of school (what used to be the day after Labor Day), but for me, it’s Ash Wednesday.

Usually, when this day comes along, I have been thinking and praying and pondering how I will engage my God more deeply. This year, the day descended like roller coaster. What? When did the year pass? How is it possible that this year hellish sorrows and losses and change could be done and I am back to Ash Wednesday again. I’m not ready. I don’t have a plan.

And yet, I made it to church and I worked through the little activities of introspection and I promised to look again, to search again, to confess again, and to write again about the journey.

The ashes remind us of our mortality. I have been reminded of that every day since Mike died. It could have been me instead of him. I could have had the heart attack. It could have been different. And it still could be.

But now is now and today is what is and it’s Ash Wednesday. Lent begins and God is calling me back into the bosom of the Spirit. “Indwell. Abide. Hang out with Me, for I, Yahweh, am faithful.” Hear the voice of God.

Come prodigal daughter, it’s time to confess the truth of your vacuumed soul. Empty now. Full later.

Let go of those things that crowd out the Presence. It’s time. Make room, one step at a time.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:5]

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FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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sit walk standOn becoming commissioned as a lay minister, I have to confess, I had some doubts. In fact, it reminded me of the moments right before walking down the aisle. That voice, “Are you out of your mind? This is not for you! Go back!” But of course, whether for courage or stubbornness, I went forward. I walked it.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called . . . [Ephesians 4:1, NKJV]

On Wednesday last, I had the privilege of sharing my commissioning with five other fellow travelers at Restore Church Campus in Havre de Grace.  We were challenged (and entertained) by Don Cox, one of the church mentors and overseers (don’t particularly like that word, but the thesaurus wasn’t much help. Other choice was “head honcho.”) Anyway, his message was powerful and touched on the very heart of my peek into the future: sit, walk, stand. Don promised to speak on the entire book of Ephesians, and so he did, having put a great portion of it to memory.

The three words are echoed in the title of Watchman Nee’s book, but it is not a book for the faint-hearted. Written in the mid-seventies, the book still resonates today.

So what is this odd sequence of sitting and then walking before standing? Sitting is establishing one’s location. Here, and presumably, in Christ. I have written about this myself and find that phrase to be one of the great mysteries. Before anything else can happen or before any “going,” one has to accept the Christ truth and surrender to it. This is primary to faith.

Now, the assumption might be that standing would be next. After all, once in Christ, let me stand and stretch and experience the feeling. Ha Ha. Not so. It’s a go word: walk! And take Christ with you.

It is in this section that I really appreciated Don’s words as he illuminated Ephesians 4:1: not just to walk but to walk worthy. The newer translations say it a little differently, but this particular phrase will be clanging around my spirit for a while. And it’s not about rules or “do’s” or “do not’s.” Instead, we are asked to make decisions along the way, “is this action or this choice worthy of the One who lives within me, the One with whom I share spiritual space?”

And then finally, the moments of standing. Each and every journey has stopping points. Sometimes, they are places to rest, have a drink, eat a bite, and then take up the hike again. Other times, it’s a great wall of unexpected sorrow or diverloss (actually, joy can stop an expedition in its tracks too). These times are the ones where we are encouraged to suit up for the next leg of the journey. In Ephesians, Paul uses the metaphor of a suit of armor. That’s probably not the best one for a 21st century audience, but we get the idea.

So, in a way, there is a resting as we stand, but there is also prepping. And in some cases, we may need to sit again in order to remember how we have come so far and ultimately, why.

I am no different today really than I was a few days ago except for this one truth. I get it. I am in the process of suiting up. Perhaps a better image would be a wet suit before the big plunge. So be it. Let’s roll.

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rainbow in havTeach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, NIV]
Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, Living Translation]

Get it? Pay attention. That’s the beginning of wisdom. Our lives are flying by and most of the time, we are missing it. I know I have allowed time to flee without marking its passing. The reason I know this? Because I remember so little. The days fly and the memories with them.

I cannot tell you the number of times, while hanging out with old friends, one of them will say, “Remember when we–” and he or she tells the story. I play along, but sadly, I really don’t remember. A part of me even thinks, was that me in the story? It’s a loss for the event might have been a source of growing and learning. Instead, it drifted into the ether of time.

Yesterday, I was blessed with a coincidental moment of witnessing a most amazing rainbow. The weather gave no warning of its appearance, but I just happened to be outside with the dogs for their morning duties in the back yard. I ran back into the house and got a shot or two off and I was glad I managed to capture it. If only my mind with use more due diligence for other moments.

It’s a rather futile sorrow, that which has been lost to memory. I know that. But I cannot help but think that God has brought this verse to me today for a specific reason. Count the time. Mark it. Live fully. Embrace the moment and take a picture with the mind. Be in it.

Today is my birthday. And like all birthdays that come to us as we move into our senior years, I am reminded of the brevity of life but encouraged by what can still happen. It has been a year of losses but also a year of renewal and re-invention.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life. [Psalm 143:8, NIV]

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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laying on of handsThere are times when a church or body of believers wants to raise up people among their own to take up some of the tasks and ministries that have been traditionally done by the pastor alone. And although many cannot go back to school or attend seminary, many faithful can and do pursue God and God’s Word privately. For this reason, through the laying on of hands and public prayer, both outward expressions of blessing and trust, I will, along with a few others, be so invested soon. I am humbled.

The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith. [Acts 6:6-7, CEB]

With this designation will come some enjoyable opportunities like conducting weddings, blessing babies & families, and helping others navigate grief and coordinate memorial services. I expect to do some additional short term coursework again in counseling and hopefully, do more devotional writing. Feels right.

I have to confess, initially, I was rather cavalier about this idea, even thinking of it solely as a side job and a little extra income. But it has not taken long for God to show me that “ministering” or caring for others is not a lightweight mission but carries the burden of keeping them in the heart, praying for them, and diligently seeking God for what is best in that moment. Marriage, birth, and death are milestones of a life.

When the New Testament church expanded the responsibilities of its own people and publicly commissioned them, the believing community experienced exponential growth, enfolding some of the most “religiously” bound traditionalists as well as the lost and hurting into the koinonia of faith.

May my own faith be an authentic reflection of the God in whom I believe and entrust my life. And perhaps, as with so many Christian paradoxes, through reaching out to others in this capacity, my own healing with continue.

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