How Would I respond?

From my 2016 Journal.

As I read Acts 5:16-6:15, I note a progression of violence, stemming from the Pharisees’ sin of unbelief, jealousy, and hard hearts. And the apostles’ responses are astonishing.

  • The apostles are imprisoned.
    • An angel frees them, and they return to preaching.
  • Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, beaten and let go.
    • They continue preaching.
  • Stephen is arrested, preaches to his audience, and is stoned.
    • His last words are, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Obviously, I wasn’t in their shoes, driven by God’s command and with the Holy Spirit propelling me forward, but . . . if I were in their situation, my first response would most likely have been fear, hiding, and kowtowing to the Pharisees’ bullying to avoid further pain. Flogging can be rather incapacitating, don’t you think! I wonder if God healed them instantly? Or did they go through a month of recovery with no antibiotics and their wounds miraculously not becoming infected?

In the flesh, I would have struggled for being unjustly treated. I would have cried unfair and prayed for justice, a staying of the abusers’ hands, a change to my circumstances . . .

Instead, they rejoiced! Extremely counter-intuitive!

I could claim I, too, would have responded in a godly way, but I’ve never been put to the test like this. God prepared the Apostles for this hour. I can trust God to prepare me as well for anything I must endure.

P.S. In Acts 7, Stephen boldly told the Sanhedrin to their faces that they were stiff-necked, stubborn murderers. When is it appropriate to call someone out for their sin? Obviously, the Holy Spirit guided his words, but I cannot even begin to imagine talking that way—to anyone! It’s not my temperament or personality. I’d be asking them all, “What are you feeling? How does it feel to hear me preaching? Why are you jealous?” I guess that’s why God didn’t call me to be a prophet!

Random Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2013 Journal.

I need a fresh start with prayer. I’m beginning to do the grocery list thing again. I’m glad God can focus on more than one thing at a time. I can’t. My mind wanders. And God understands because He made my brain this way. But I know I have to do my part and have a little self-discipline. Journaling slows my brain down and helps me focus, but even while I’m writing out my prayer, my mind skitters off onto a tangent. Sigh. What if I quit using the word pray and start using talk instead? “God, I want to talk to You about . . . .”

. . .

My perspective on intercessory prayer has shifted from “ought to” or “spiritual discipline” to “ministry opportunity.” Prayer is as much kingdom work as teaching Sunday School or taking a meal to someone who’s sick. The key is the word ministry I think. I love “doing ministry.” It appeals to my task-oriented mind. Intercessory prayer is different from gratitude or praise or confession. I feel like I’m such a beginner in this.

. . .

Come into His presence, said King David. That was fine for him to say, because God’s presence was located in a place. There’s something missing in this statement for me. How can I “come into” when I’m always there?

I sat down to have my Quiet Time this morning and immediately began to intercede for someone—no preliminary formula of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I hear some preacher’s voice in my head admonishing me, and it occurs to me that God is not on a timetable of morning, noon, and night. Maybe I thanked him last night, confessed at noon two days ago, and now I’m ready to intercede. I understand the mindset of focusing my attention on Him and quieting my heart, and some days I have to do that. But if His presence is there for me at all times, there’s nothing wrong with galloping into requests on others’ behalf. I think God can handle that!

. . .

I heard on the Barna report that the average person prays only 8 minutes a day. They compared that person to someone who was living in a dangerous community who prays continually. Well . . . yes . . . that makes sense. But it felt like shame and condemnation for lack of prayer on the part of those who live in peaceful places. But how does one quantify prayer? If one is continually in God’s presence, one’s very breath is prayer. Am I more spiritual because I say 50 words in prayer instead of 5—and that takes longer? Strange that we should equate time (minutes) with relationship. But I suppose there is some truth to that in the earthly realm.

Prayer is also listening. How do you quantify that? I listen all day long. Why is it so hard to let go of the rules and focus on relationship? Peter struggled with it when he went to visit Paul in Antioch and quit eating with the Gentiles. Not all rules are bad. We need them. But they are bumper guards in a child’s bowling game—helpful at first, but unnecessary when you get the hang of living the Christian life. You get into the groove of right living and obedience and you find the sweet spot of love for the game. Of course there’re always adjustments and self-corrections to be made.

. . .

I find that my prayers are directly tied to my emotions. Words flow when I’m feeling sentimental. I pray most deeply and earnestly when my emotions run deep and more cerebral when feeling flat. But my emotions are not what create results. It’s not the words I say, but rather, I believe, God reads the heart and the motive. I can invoke His name in a loud cry or a soft whisper. The power is in His name, not in my poor attempts to get His attention.

Sabbath Rest

From my 2016 Journal. Every Sunday, my missionary parents practiced Sabbath rules according to their own definition. We did not enter a restaurant or store, travel, cook, play table games, or indulge in handwork on that day. I began to question this logic when I discovered that Jewish Sabbath occurred from sundown to sundown Friday to Saturday, and never mind that we didn’t keep the rest of the Levitical laws.

Mosaic Law gave general rules for Sabbath (Shabbat) observance: no lighting fires in your house or cooking (Exodus 35:3) and limited traveling (Joshua 3:4-5). The ancient Pharisees interpreted and refined Sabbath rules according to their own parameters, and today their legalism extends to not pushing elevator buttons, turning on electric lights, or using any device-driven means of transportation.*

Jewish law prohibits work on Shabbat, but while resting is implied, the word Shabbat literally means “to cease” or “to sit.” God didn’t need rest after creating for six days. He simply ceased.

Reform Judaism says, “One should avoid one’s normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day.”

With this in mind, if I were trying to “keep the Sabbath” I would avoid housework, computer work, and the business end of my ministry. It would not preclude ministry itself according to Jesus’ example. He preached and healed all week long. You’d think He’d refrain on the seventh day and take this day off, but apparently His work wasn’t classified as labor.

I may not be Jewish, and yes, Jesus is my Sabbath rest, but I do need to “cease.” I need the change of pace, the chance to recoup, refresh, and recharge my body, mind, and soul.

So . . . once a week, I often turn off my computer, refrain from cleaning house, and occupy myself with things I enjoy doing—guilt-free, such as reading, doing a puzzle, or golfing with my husband (after church of course!)

What does your Shabbat look like?

*How far am I allowed to walk on Shabbat? – Shabbat (chabad.org)

*Laws of Shabbat for Beginners (aish.com)

Prejudgment

From my 2013 Journal.

I stood in line at the Wal-Mart return counter behind a beautiful, young black lady linked arm-in-arm with a white man. From my view of their backs, it appeared to be an unlikely pairing. His head tilted a little to the left as if in affection. In my right periphery, another strange couple appeared—a white man with a very obese woman. Though there were two employees behind the counter, we all lined up single file so we could approach whichever clerk became available next.

I tsked under my breath when the couple to my right inched their way forward and nudged into line beside me. Though inwardly indignant, I remained outwardly gracious. If they wanted to be rude and ignore protocol, that was their problem.

The couple in front of me advanced to the counter, and I stepped forward to take their spot. At that moment, the couple on the right pushed past me to get in line directly behind the first couple. Astonished at their brazenness, I turned to the lady behind me to observe her reaction and mirrored her surprise. I shrugged and rolled my eyes as if to say, “Some people! Whatever!”

When the first couple finished their transaction, both couples turned and exited the room together. That’s when realization dawned. These were two special-needs people with their caretakers. The second couple was simply trying to stay close to their group. I felt duly ashamed of myself for my prejudgment. God forgive me!

Be Prepared!

From my 2014 Journal. For our tour in Israel, our leader, Charlie Dyer, supplied each of us with headphone devices so he could speak to us in crowded places. Each time we arrived at a site, we’d leave our personal belongings on the bus and carry only minimal necessities—camera, notebook and pen, and of course the headphones. Because of their weight, I opted to leave behind the provided spare batteries.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, the climax of our journey, the bus driver dropped us off on the top of the Mount of Olives. It was crucial to have our listening devices with us if we didn’t want to lose our way among the elbow-to-elbow crowds.

To my chagrin, my headphone batteries died just as we began to descend the mountain. I felt like one of the virgins in the wedding parable who had neglected to bring extra oil for her lamp. I learned a powerful and humbling experiential lesson!

But all turned out well. Someone in our group graciously let me borrow his extra batteries. The God of second chances!

Unbalanced

From my 2015 Journal.

I have been working at breakneck speed for too long. I neglected to rest after an Intensive Retreat with a client, and when I finally found half a day to myself, instead of relaxing, I trudged right up to bedtime. Drowning in over-commitment and pulled in too many directions, my stressed body and chaotic mind won’t shut down. I keep writing lists and the lists keep growing. My mind’s hard drive is full and, with no margin, I’m afraid it will crash. Meanwhile, any quality time with family and God suffers.

Currently, I’m planning two reunions, five trips, editing a magazine, teaching Sunday school, and preparing for two Bible study groups. And in the midst of these commitments, the floodgates for ministry opportunities opened wide. I crave peace and quiet, but drama reigns. I must cease striving and be still, put down my calendar and to-do list, set aside my goals (for now) and return to my priorities.

Visual: I see a picture of me as a teacher with her pupils (i.e. my to-do list). I delight in seeing a room full of wiggly children, but I have tolerated an unruly, chaotic classroom for too long. I place each child in her own cubicle—a cylindrical tube with a lid. I can keep the lids latched, but that takes away the fun away of watching little fingers waving in the air for attention. I instruct them to raise their hands for permission to stand and be recognized before speaking. The others must sit still and wait their turn. Okay . . . which child wants to go first?

Oh! Now I see Jesus behind me, directing their order. I don’t even have to worry about choosing.

Suddenly, a curtain descends in front of the group, the noise in my head stops, and I am alone with Jesus. Whew! I needed this. Refresh, refocus, return.

Be still before the Lord (Zechariah 2:13).

Unripe Fruit

From my 2013 Journal.

Recently, I broached a subject with a friend about an issue I’d noticed in her life. Her steely hard, plant-the-feet-in-the-ground, defensive posture, and irrational response all told me this subject was a trigger, and I needed to back off. She’s obviously not ready to receive my input, and so I have to let it go.

I know her heart desires truth, but she’s not ready to face her pain. And that’s okay. It’s God’s job to gently woo her to Himself and prepare her heart to be willing.

Don’t pick unripe fruit!

Overwhelmed

From my 2015 Journal.

If I let it, the news this week could leave me feeling overwhelmed:

  • Earthquake in Nepal
  • Flooding and tornadoes in Texas
  • Riots in Baltimore
  • Beheadings in Syria
  • Shootings on campuses
  • Starvation in India

Meanwhile, I go about my sheltered, stress-free, cushy life. Catastrophes in other parts of the world don’t affect my daily life and decisions. If they did, I’d be the one in crisis and I couldn’t function. If I don’t feel pain when you’re in pain, that’s a good thing. I don’t want a doctor operating on me when he has a broken arm. I need him to be healthy and well.

For two full days this week I listened to three abuse victims’ agonizing sobs. They weren’t in any physical danger, but they believed they could not go on living. Was I compassionate? Yes, of course. But I did not absorb their pain. It’s not healthy or productive for me to do so. That’s Jesus’ job.

Whose pain have you taken on that doesn’t belong to you?

Joy Killers

From my 2015 Journal. I voluntarily spend time around joy killers—people complaining of emotional pain. It’s my calling and my ministry to listen for hours to stories of horrendous abuse and its effects . . . but I’m tired.

And I remember the before . . .

I’m a little girl, twirling with the swirling leaves, shouting delight as wind flings its rain smells, ready to cool the parched earth. Hair tousled, uninhibited, unselfconscious, no to-do list, living in the moment. Exuberant. Carefree.

And then I’m an energized young woman, flinging laughter to the wind, racing down the beach, warm sand between my toes and water lapping at my feet. Collapsing to the ground to watch clouds and birds, sandy-haired, relaxed. Carefree.

I’m a middle-aged woman, slower now. I can’t run and jump as well, but my spirit and soul soar free above the earth. Enjoying the ethereal, shimmering expanse of the ocean. Carefree.

I watch as my body turns sluggish, age spots appear, mind slips away from the present, and my soul settles into tired places. How do I recapture my exuberance when a stale wind hangs thick around me? I can’t sustain the energy of joy. I’m too tired, too distracted, too full of that R word responsibility, heavy weights in my shoes pinning me to the earth.

And I remember I am the one who controls my own joy-killing.

Like young David, I must shed King Saul’s heavy armor and travel light. I detach the weights from my wrists and ankles, kick off my shoes, inhale fresh air, and feel warm sand once more. I’ve been carrying stuff that isn’t mine to bear. Forgive me, Lord.

Enjoy the journey. Joy, joy, joy!

Big Pants, Small Heart

From my 2013 Journal.

As I passed near the men’s clothing aisle of a new Goodwill store in town, I noticed a large woman, weight mostly distributed around her waist and thighs, holding up an enormous pair of pants that would have fit someone one-and-a-half times her size. “Can you believe this?” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen pants so big! I’ve never seen anyone who could actually fit these! Wow! These are huge! Look at this!” she reiterated to her shopping companion.

Several thoughts raced through my mind:

  1. Why did she disbelieve that someone could actually fit them? I’ve seen people this large in person and on TV.
  2. She, herself, was (ahem) larger than average.
  3. Why was she making such a big deal about it—loudly—in public?
  4. Did comparing her large frame with someone larger make her feel better about herself?
  5. I felt more compassion for the large-pants man and less compassion for the lady. Why?

And then it hit me. I recognize myself in her. I do the same thing (sigh)—I make the biggest fuss about what triggers me the most. When I roll my eyes at someone else’s words or deeds, I recognize some unfinished business in my heart—some lack of compassion, some unresolved hurt, or some judgmentalism. The woman’s words simply revealed what was already in her heart. I don’t judge this woman—because I am too much like her. Perhaps I need to practice more grace . . . toward myself!

For out of the overflow of his heart he [a person] speaks. Matt. 7:15-23; Luke 6:43-45