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.

Do I Really Need a Grocery List?

Grocery store

I’ve been a life-long student of the subject of intercessory prayer. I’ve read all the books I can find on the subject, tried all the methods suggested, and read biographies of great prayer warriors. But like the majority of us, I still struggle with my inner prayer life. Here’s a journal entry from 2009.

I have a list of people I pray for—but it’s just that—a list, for the purpose of jogging my memory. It serves the same purpose as a grocery list—it’s a reminder so I don’t forget the items at the store. The list doesn’t do much good though until it becomes fulfilled—that is, the item is taken off the shelf, paid for, taken home, and consumed.

There’s no spiritual magic for listing names of people or organizations on a piece of paper. But when I take those names with me to “the store” (the throne room of grace), I can hand the list to God and ask Him to fill the request for me, and then my soul is satisfied. In the process, I give Him permission to make substitutes—perhaps what I put on the list isn’t good for me (or for the person I’m praying for). Maybe there’s a better selection. I ask for generic and He wants to give me the brand name. Sometimes I specify a brand name, and He gives me generic because it’s a better value for my money. And then I need to ask Him to help me remember the people or things I forgot to put on my list. He’s good at that!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “The word for ‘praying’ in Mark 1:35 does not primarily refer to intercession for others but to the outpouring of His own soul to the Father for renewal and refreshment.”

Thrasher also said, “God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations. The Holy Spirit knows. . . .” He related the story of Augustine, a leader in the early church, who lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

Maybe next time I go to the grocery store, it’s okay if I forget my list. Maybe I should just take time to chat with the “Grocer”!

Do you use a prayer list? Why or why not?

Jesus, the Gentle

When two people meet, there is an exchange of energy. There are life-givers who release energy into your soul, and others who receive energy from you. (Blessing the Spirit, by Gunter and Burk, p. 7)

Hug

From my 2007 Journal. I have experienced a gentle touch and an encouraging word from a friend. It feels good, comforts, calms, soothes, draws me in, relaxes, releases tension. It’s lightweight. Jesus’ touch is like that. You want more. You want to stay there where it’s smooth and soft.

In my grief today Jesus told me, “I’m a gentle lover.”

The opposite does not feel good. Harsh, hard, repelling, forceful, pushy, annoying, irritating, pesky, jangling, heavy, recoiling, repulsive, hurts, makes you steel your nerves. That’s what hate-filled words feel like. They are a physical force and a spiritual attack.

Jesus the Gentle. Lover of my soul. I want to be more like Him.

Perception Correction

When I was a little girl growing up in Africa, all of the Sunday school papers that arrived from the U.S. depicted Jesus as white, Caucasian. That seemed quite normal to me till one day my white friend’s mom handed me a stack of black-and-white Bible story photos to color for her children’s class. The flesh-colored crayon just didn’t seem right for Jesus’ face, and so I chose brown.

How do you perceive Jesus? What does He look like to you? We know HJesuse was Jewish and probably had dark skin and dark eyes (darker than I am, lighter than the Nigerians). Do Africans see Him as black? Do Asians picture Him as having their skin tone? In our prejudices and comfort, do we view Him as being culturally the same as we are? Would I identify with or be drawn to a black Jesus? An Asian Jesus? Would a Hispanic view Him as a God of love if He were Caucasian?

Does it matter how I picture Him? In heaven will we all see Him as He really is? Or will we each see Him differently through our own eyes? Personally, I think we’ll all see Him the same—because we will know the truth. Race will no longer be an issue. And we’ll all share a heavenly culture.

Visual: On earth, it looks like each culture is separated into different rooms or cubicles. We can visit each others’ rooms if we like. We can even marry or be adopted into different rooms. But the groups continue to remain segregated for the most part by race or culture.

But in heaven? There will be no partitions, no walls, rooms or cubicles. Just unity. Why? Our focus will no longer be on each other. Our focus will all be on Him. Why not start practicing that now?

He Restoreth My Soul

From my 2007 Journal. I seem to be in a rut, a slump, a feeling of monotony, sameness. Where’s the excitement in life? I long for fellowship without the work of making it happen. I want things to get stirred up a bit!

Jesus whispers in my ear, “Come on an adventure with Me.”

I’m intrigued.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Trust Me,” He replies. “I have all the necessary supplies for the journey. You’re dressed just fine. If the weather changes, I brought rain gear. Will you come?”

Of course! How could I resist such an invitation?!

I see a valley spread out before me, and a long, long line of tables filled with a feast fit for a king. When I get closer, I see both sides filled with people—hungry, poor, ragged. They’re so absorbed in their meal, they hardly acknowledge me. I’m disappointed.

food

“I thought this feast was just for You and me,” I say. It feels like a trick. “Now I suppose You expect me to help feed the ones without arms, wash their feet, wipe their runny noses . . .” I’m tired just thinking about it. I feel peevish.

“Sit down,” He invites. “I’ve reserved a spot just for you.”

“For me? Whom do I get to sit by?” I ask suspiciously. “Am I going to get stuck next to one of those chatty people? Or a silent one? Everyone seems so self-absorbed.”

I sit. He sits beside me.

“What would you like to talk about?” He asks.

“Oh, stuff . . . like how come You made snow cold? Or how’d You dream up a rainbow or a sunset? Did you really have to create fleas and flies and snakes?”

He laughs. I made Him smile, I think.

“Had enough to eat?” He asks. I’ve barely touched my food. I’m too fascinated by His face—the way His eyes twinkle, the lines, the crinkles. He has restored my soul just by being in His presence.