Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!

The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

PRAYERS and PRAY-ERS

From my 2011 journal. Yesterday I heard a report about a group prayer session for someone who is very sick with cancer. The reporter mentioned how a lady in the group could really pray—she really connected with God, a real prayer warrior. My reaction was multi-faceted:  I’d like to be like that; I’m not like that; I wonder what pain she’s been through; I wonder what her temperament type is.

In my mind, I saw a visual of this prayer warrior lady piloting a large ship while, in contrast, my prayers were akin to clinging onto the side of the vessel, just going along for the ride.

When I talked to God about it, He said to let go and drop into the water. Really?! Ok . . . so I did . . . and found I didn’t drown as expected because the water was shallow enough to wade in. Then He told me to go back to the dry land and enjoy watching the monkeys and playing on the beach, and just spend time with Him. That’s when I noticed the prayer warrior lady was sailing around and around the island, keeping the bad things away from the island.

We each have our own job to do. I’m glad mine is to play on the beach and watch monkeys! I’m no “prayer warrior.” I’m a stay-in-His-presence-and-enjoy-Him kind of pray-er. Is that okay?

MK_HANDS_LO-002Somewhere, somehow, I find myself believing that my puny prayers—I mean the intercessory kind where my heart and brain are only half engaged—make very little difference.

It’s like when my girls were little and I was focused on what I was doing and one of them would approach me with a question. If it was a simple question like “May I go outside to play?” I could answer her without breaking focus. But, if she asked a question that demanded some thought, I’d have to stop what I was doing and turn to her and think about it.

Which of those interactions was meaningful and connected? My first thought is—only the second one. In the first, my mind was elsewhere. And sometimes I think my prayers are like that—the words are spoken, but the mind is elsewhere. But—and here’s the point—is communication of information any less valid or effective for my child? She still got a response from me even if my attention wasn’t fully on her. God wants communication from me. He’s always fully focused on me. It’s me who has a hard time tuning in fully.

And so I’ve somehow come to believe that a quick “mindless” prayer isn’t fully valid. Maybe there’s some truth to that. But on the other hand, it is a connecting point. I have voluntarily connected with my child. I have not turned her away. And I wasn’t in relationship with the neighbor’s kid. I have relationship with my own. Is it okay not to fully engage?

I think of Bill Rudd, my former youth pastor. I’ve never met a man who was so focused on each person he spoke to. Total attention and eye focus. Is this how my prayers should be? Preferably, yes. But the question is, “What if they’re not?” Is the communication any less valid? Is God’s answer dependent on how long, hard, or deep my intensity in prayer is?

When my child asks, “May I play outside?” she doesn’t have to beg and plead and cry to get me to answer yes. It’s a no-brainer if I know it’s safe outside and she’s old enough to handle that much independence. But what if there’s a lightning storm out there? No matter how much she pleads, I’ll say no for her safety’s sake. Other times, it’s just a preference for me whether I say no or yes, and her begging might change or help me make up my mind. The more she pleads and gives me good rational arguments, the more I’ll be apt to change my mind. (Moses did that with God.)

So . . .  let’s say I pray for someone who’s sick. My prayers come from a different place in my heart if it’s “a friend of my co-worker’s cousin” who is ill versus my own child who’s in the hospital. One is a prayer “in passing” and the other is on my knees or face to the ground pleading for mercy.

What’s my question, then? Is it okay, effective, permissible, worth it, important, necessary, whatever, to pray for someone’s request if my whole focus, heart, and mind aren’t in it? The request is still valid. Perhaps the urgency isn’t there, but is it any less valid or effective? I don’t know. Is it ever a waste of time? Whew! How could that be? Surely any communication is better than none at all . . . .

The word I’m working on is “doubt.” If I ask in doubt, what’s the point in asking? It’s worth a try! There’s no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. So there you have it. Just ASK! And then surrender to whatever answer my Parent gives me. But ask!

What kind of pray-er are you?

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

Dry and Thirsty

O taste and see that the Lord is good . . . (Psalm 34:8).

From my 2010 journal. I had company here for a couple weeks, and my alone time with the Lord suffered as a result. Each day my spirit felt thirstier and thirstier. Strangely, I felt like I was sitting on the edge of a paved parking lot facing the road with no cars in sight.

I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do, and He said, “Go back inside the store.”

marketAnd when I turned around, I saw that it was one of those exotic Asian stores where everything smells pungent, but you have no clue how to cook with any of the ingredients. Jesus is with me, and I’m glad, but something else needs to be done.

Ahhh, at the far side of the store are endless supplies of samples to taste. Some things are tasty to me. Some things are tastier to others. It’s all good food, but I don’t have to like it all. I can eat my full and then it’s okay if I’m back in the parking lot for a while. I’m close to the food supply! My soul and spirit feel refreshed.

What do you do to refresh your soul?

Trembling at the Foot of the Mountain

From my 2010 journal. I realized today that I’m doubting my worth in Christ. I continually question whether or not I’m doing enough to please God. Why is it such a hard thing to believe? I’ve never doubted His love for me. Perhaps that’s because I felt my parents’ love. I do feel accepted by God. It’s not that.  Perhaps my feelings are born out of my childhood perception that God is watching: you better behave. I sense a fearsome reverence that doesn’t allow me to get too close.

mountainVisual:  I am the Israelite at the foot of the mountain who is forbidden from getting too close to the mountain. I’m never Moses and Joshua who climb the mountain and see God face-to-face. I stand at the foot and tremble at the smoke. Only the chosen one is permitted on the mountain. (The funny thing is, Moses had nothing to do with God choosing him. And besides that, he had a flawed character.)

In my visual, I realize that I want to be chosen.

As I surrender my feelings to God, I see myself as a little child, hanging onto the rope barrier at the foot of the mountain. The grownups have all returned to the camp to party, but I want to be close to God.

I see Jesus approach me from the mountain. He picks me up and carries me up the side of the mountain away from the noise of the camp, away from the revelry and the debauchery and sin. It’s quiet up here, silent and peaceful. And Jesus allays my fears that my parents will worry about my being gone.

Soon the sun begins to set and I shiver in the cold. He builds a fire and gives me a cloak for warmth as we sit down for an intimate conversation. In the end I understand that though I might not be chosen for Moses’ job or role,  I was chosen because “I sought the Lord and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4).

Now when the mountain trembles, I feel safe. Jesus will protect me. I’m His child. And He promises that He will “never leave me or forsake me.” He will not leave me on this mountainside by myself. When I pray to Him, He’s not far away anymore. He’s right there, close and intimate. We’re just having a conversation.

Does God feel far away to you? Or near?

Trial and Error

notebook 2From my 2010 Journal. In my counseling training, I heard one instructor say, “If something doesn’t work, try something else. Keep trying, keep working. Doing something is better than nothing, and it’s all good.”

I’m not sure how this fits theologically, but apparently even God practiced trial and error! Today I read Jeremiah 36 where God tells Jeremiah to write down all the words of doom, gloom, judgment, and disaster that He’d previously given him orally concerning the future of Israel, Judah, and the surrounding nations. And then these intriguing words:

Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin. (v. 3 NIV)

Perhaps? Maybe? God had tried out-loud preaching to get their attention. God had tried using metaphors. Now He’s going to try to reach the visual learners—those who need to see the words in writing. Try and try again.

It’s not the counselor’s fault if the client doesn’t find freedom or ends up in suicide. The client has a choice—always—to repent, to come out of hiding, to lay down bitterness, to lower walls of defense, to face the truth, to forgive and to accept forgiveness, to relinquish hate, to release pain. Each person has been given freewill to turn toward God and seek Him, to be healed of heart wounds and find peace—or not. But the counselor keeps on trying different methods to help the client discover what’s in his or her heart. God did!

What will it take for God to get through to my heart?

Syncretism

syn·cre·tism [ síngkrə tìzzəm ]   (n.) A combination of different beliefs: the combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice

Korazim Medusa Stone

Medusa stone in a synagogue in ancient Korazim, Israel

I can’t say I’ve ever heard preached from a pulpit the following Bible story found in Judges 17 and 18. And I certainly never heard it told in Sunday school! In brief, a lady curses when her money comes up missing. When her son Micah admits that he took it, she responds, “Blessed be you by the Lord”! Okay, so it’s not uncommon to curse when you’re disappointed, but to bless your son in God’s name when you find your son has deceived you!? Really? I suppose she was responding in relief that the money had been found. Maybe James had this lady in mind when he talked about “the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways” and “out of the same mouth come blessings and curses” (James 1:8; 3:10)

Now if that’s not strange enough, Micah’s mom says she’d had plans for the money: “I had dedicated the silver to the Lord for my son to make idols.” This Israelite woman is just a little mixed up, confused, deceived, double-minded, guilty of syncretism.

A confused mom yields a confused son. Micah sets up idols in his own house and then makes his own son his priest—until a Levite man comes along and consents to be his own private priest. Micah then claims, “Now I know that the Lord will favor me, since I have a Levite to be my priest.”  (By Mosaic Law, only Levites were supposed to be priests.) What a mixture of beliefs: Seeking God’s favor through disobedience to His commands!

Later, the Danite tribe, en route to conquer some new territory, discover Micah’s stash:  a carved image, an ephod, a teraphim, and a molten image. They persuade the Levite priest to join them instead—which he’s glad to do.

Here’s another mixed-up character. The priest’s place of service should have been solely at the tabernacle at Shiloh.  He’s supposed to represent and worship the one true God, but in actuality he’s only lord over sticks and stones. And when given the opportunity, he gladly follows greed.

Note: Beware the lone wolf, the one without accountability. “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Are there “servants of God” like this today? Yes, I think so. I was accosted by two Mormons yesterday—fully convinced they had the full truth. Just by reading the book of Mormon, they said, they had received blessings from God ten-fold. And wouldn’t I like to experience it too? And Jesus Christ figured prominently into their sentences. Mixed up? Joseph Smith vs. Jesus Christ. Hmmm.

As for the Danites, they set up those idols for themselves, led by  . . . guess who? Moses’ grandson Jonathan of all people! Can that be possible? A grandfather’s godliness does not guarantee piety for his children or grandchildren. We all have choices in life. Even with a most godly example, we can choose to follow a path of rebellion. Jon knew all the stories by heart, I’m sure. He’d heard them rehearsed around the dinner table, recounted, and reiterated. He knew the 10 Rules that his grandpa carried down Mt Sinai. How could he, dare he, fall so far from God’s path to follow after the enemy’s path?

Now you know why I pray daily for my grandchildren.

What If?

What if we could see our whole life at a glance from, say, age 10 onward, along with consequences for various choices we make? For example, you could see the results of choosing to attend College A or College B. Or what Husband A would be like in old age versus Husband B. Or how many kids you’d have if you chose Husband C? Or what career choices would lead you down which path and what state or country you’d choose to live in? Or what you’d look like or feel like according to various eating habits you maintain.

ChessInteresting thought: God CAN see it all—in an instant. He sees the end results of the poor and better choices I make right now. He has so much good planned for me, but I don’t see it. I can only see the here and now—what’s in front of my face. No wonder I need to trust God for every choice. I take comfort in the fact that He can weave even my poor choices into an outcome that brings Him glory.

We are not victims of our circumstances. We have choices to make regarding how we respond to our circumstances. Yes, there are consequences if I choose to attend College A and marry Husband B and eat Diet C, but I still get to choose how I make Decision D. I have concluded that I want to make wise choices based on peaceful emotions.

What keeps us from making better choices? Fear? Anger? Hopelessness? Regarding not wanting to change our habits, author John Assaraf observed this typical scenario: Baby throws a toy out of the crib and then cries. Mom retrieves the toy and returns it. Baby does it again. Why? His conclusion:

We would rather master disappointment than seek fulfillment.

It’s getting close to New Year’s resolution time. Do I like the trajectory of my life or do I need to make Decision D to change the outcome?

How God Sees Me

Remember that Gideon fellow and the fleece? (Judges 6:12) When we first meet him, he is sitting under an oak tree where there is a wine press and a rock when an angel of the Lord visits him and declares: The Lord is with you, you mighty man of courage.

Warrior

What a joke! Gideon was petrified! He responds with: If? Why? Where? Didn’t?

But God saw Gideon differently than Gideon saw himself. When the Lord declares it so, it is so!

How does God see me? What name has He given me that I cannot see or agree with? (Beautiful? Precious? Loved? Pure? Forgiven? Gifted? Full of worth?)

Gideon protests: But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hands of Midian.

It’s true that God had given the Israelites into the hands of the Midianites, but Gideon’s doubts and questions led him to a false conclusion. It FELT like God had forsaken them, but the truth was God had not forsaken Israel. He was disciplining them for the purpose of training and turning their hearts toward Him.

When we feel emotions that are not fruits of the Spirit, we are prone to believe lies.

Show me, Lord, how You see me, and give me courage to believe You with the eyes of faith. I want to cooperate with the Spirit of the Living God. Reveal to me, Lord, where my faith is weak and my doubts are strong. I want to be a mighty warrior for your kingdom.