Friday, December 3, 2010

The Right to Be Bitter. The Power to Let Go.

My first exposure to the story of Michal, daughter of Saul, wife of David, was in a Sunday school class. I don’t remember much about the lesson, but I do remember the poster-art that was presented with the lesson. A beautiful woman, dressed in royal clothing stands at a window, watching a parade scene on the street below. A man, wearing nothing but a white towel around his waist, is center-stage, mid-leap-and-spin. But what I remember most is the expression on the beautiful woman’s face; in contrast to her beauty and the richness of her clothing and the very room she stands in, her face is contorted into a horribly ugly grimace. Truthfully, I found the picture disturbing, so disturbing that I missed the lesson. The impression I got was that Michal was an evil, wicked woman who hated David, hated God, and hated worship. It was years before I got a fuller picture of who this woman was, and who she was not.

The story of Michal and David really reads more like an epic love story than anything else. She was the daughter of the king of Israel; he was her brother’s best friend, and oh, there was that little matter of being a giant-killer and the next anointed king of Israel. She loved him, and when she heard that her father was going to give one of his daughter’s to David as a wife, she volunteered enthusiastically. She loved him. Did she know that her father, King Saul, was using her as a pawn in a political game, the ultimate goal of which was David’s death? Did she know that ultimately David would use her as a political pawn as well? There is no way to know that with certainty, but with what I know about young girls . . . no. She just loved David, and she believed that love was enough.

Must have been a grand wedding, this match of a palace favorite and beautiful King’s daughter. Like Kate Middleton and Prince William, they would have been a golden couple, but what of Saul? He saw how much God loved David. He saw how much Michal loved David, and he got scared, and he determined then and there that David had to die.

The newlyweds didn’t have long to celebrate. In a Romeo & Juliet like encounter, they are alone in their bedroom when Michal warns her beloved husband that her father the King wants him dead. He doesn’t believe it at first – after all, even Jonathan doesn’t know for sure about Saul’s plot – but she tells him urgently, you must go. If you don’t, you will die. Can you imagine those last moments? The promises – I’ll wait for you. I’ll send for you. Young and in love, Michal would have promised him everything, and David would have wanted to be her hero. They made vows, and then he climbed down the wall and was gone, and she left behind to explain.

David moved on. He was on the run for a while, eluding Saul’s henchmen at every turn. And while running, he fell in love again. Twice. Two wives for the future king, plus loads of adventure and intrigue. And where was Michal? She’d been “pawned” off again, this time to Phaltiel. Ripped away from her first love, David, she had been given to a man she had never met to be his wife. It’s a really ugly end to any love story, but . . .

Apparently, she was the kind of girl who could make the best of a bad situation. While the Bible is silent about the details of Michal’s life with Phaltiel, the emotional connection between Michal and her new husband cannot be doubted. We know that because of what happened next.

When he is approached by Abner’s representatives, David sees the benefit of a political alliance, and he also knew how to seal that political alliance – bring back wife number 1. Again, the Bible is silent in anything but cold facts. Not once is it mentioned that David “loves” Michal, only that he wants the wife he earned as a prize in battle.

Back to Bahurim, Michal’s new home. The messengers arrive, and by the royal decree of Israel’s current ruler, she must leave her life and her husband for a second time. Not at the mercy of her father the King, but at the mercy of the husband who had forgotten her. Her new husband, Phaltiel, follows the procession all the way to its destination, crying and weeping behind her. Can you imagine the feeling? The forgotten woman, watching the man who loves her weeping and walking behind her, begging her captors to return her, and then at a single sentence, he must leave, and she must take her place as one of David’s wives. Not a person with feelings. She’s like property, or at least that’s the way he’s treated her. And that’s where the bitterness begins . . .

I know how Michal feels. She got dealt a really bad hand in life – it wasn’t fair. And yet in spite of all the bad stuff, she built a pretty good life for herself. She became content in exile, and she created happiness in captivity. Then, just when she works hard enough to build herself a safe place, up shows the “man after God’s own heart” to drag her back to a place she really doesn’t want to return to, and best of all, she gets to be one of his three wives. David’s not asking for her out of love and longing, and she knows it. She’s watched love and longing follow her all the way from Bahurim, and she saw it dismissed without a thought.

And then comes that famous moment at the window. She’s dressed in the clothes of the palace. She beautiful, but she’s also incredibly alone. And seared in her memory is Phaltiel, weeping with an outstretched hand. Down below on the street? Well, there’s the one who caused it all. Leaping and dancing for the Lord as if he’d never done a thing wrong. Well, what about what he’s done to HER? To Phaltiel? Don’t they matter? How can he worship like that – how can people believe in his sincerity – when they have all seen what he did to her?

2Sa 6:16 It was so, as the ark of Yahweh came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart.

I’ve read all the commentaries, and I know that conventional wisdom says that she despised worship in general, but I want to offer an alternative. My question isn’t why she’s bitter, but rather, who wouldn’t be? Can anyone really doubt the fact that Michal had every right to be BOTH angry AND bitter? I don’t. She had every right. What David did to her wasn’t fair. Her entire life was unfair. She was a human being with feelings, with a heart that had been broken many times, with dreams and ambitions that had all been beaten down to nothing. I would be angry. Wouldn’t you?

Haven’t we all been there? Life’s been unfair, but we’ve rebuilt. We’ve worked hard to make the best out of bad situations, and then, we see them. The very people that hurt us so badly, and they are prospering. Others that we admire congratulate them on their good works and good fortune, and somewhere in our minds, we say it too: “How can they congratulate him? Don’t they know what he did to me? How can he lift his hands and worship like that in church? Don’t they remember how badly he hurt me?” It’s our moment at the window, when, like Michal, we are looking down on the parade below. Then we have a choice: To be bitter, like Michal, or to let it go.

Yes, Michal had the right to be bitter, but in the end her bitterness destroyed her. Her anger boiled over, and she went on the offensive:

2Sa 6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!

2Sa 6:21 David said to Michal, [It was] before Yahweh, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Yahweh, over Israel: therefore will I play before Yahweh.

2Sa 6:22 I will be yet more vile than this, and will be base in my own sight: but of the handmaids of whom you have spoken, they shall honor me.

2Sa 6:23 Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Worse than a death sentence for a woman of her time, having no children and no legacy was the worst thing that could happen to Michal. The Bible only mentions Michal once more, in connection with Rizpah. Michal had made another attempt to rebuild – she’s raised five sons not her own. They were executed by a ruler as part of a political game. Once again, Michal’s attempt to love was destroyed.

So, back to the basic statement: Michal had the right to be bitter. You probably do to. But what did bitterness do for Michal? It destroyed her. What will you do with your bitterness?

Here’s the ugly truth about bitterness: it feels good for a moment. In the moment of anger and pain, it is so incredibly satisfying to lash out and to show everyone that you were wronged. To reach for revenge is sweet, but only for a moment. The fallout of bitterness is so very costly. It costs you everything. You cannot love and be bitter. You cannot move forward and be bitter. Bitterness gets you stuck in the pain, unable to get out. Oh, my friend, you have the right to be bitter, but you have the power to let it go.

Close your eyes for a moment. Are you like Michal, standing at the window watching those who have hurt you prosper? Can you relate to that pain? I can. I know what it is to have someone treat me in a way that no human being should ever be treated and walk away with no consequences, only congratulations. I know how it feels to want to lash out and wallow in the bitterness and pain. But I have also learned that there is a better choice. Turning that pain inward makes you bitter. Turning the bitterness outward destroys you. That means there is only one place to put the pain – in His hands.

If you are like Michal, choose to give Him your pain. He will take it, and I know from experience that He will redeem your life. You have the right to be bitter, but there is a better choice. You can choose to give your pain to God and move on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving is a state of mind . . .

It's been an interesting kaleidoscope of a week for me.  For those who know me, you know that dates are pretty important to me.  I count forward and backward quite a bit:  "This time last year, I was . . . "   For that reason, while I have been completely enjoying my present, as sun sets and the kids are asleep and the house becomes quiet, the old "date-counter" kicks in and I start to think about where I've been.

Four years ago . . . I was expecting a baby, I knew that something was desperately wrong in my home, and I had no idea what the future might hold.  I spent lots of time in prayer, trying in a true Rapunzel-like fashion, to weave fear and worry into faith.

Three years ago . . . I was a single mother, working really hard to bring up my two children and help them enjoy the holiday.  I was one month cancer-free and celebrating the fact that God had brought healing into my life. 

Two years ago . . . I was settling into a new life, thinking that God had come in and sealed my future.  At the same time, I felt some "cracks" around the edges and was wondering why my miracle felt a little less than perfect.  Back to the Rapunzel-like spinning . . .

Today . . . I am celebrating where I am.  I am a confident mother of two gorgeous, exceptional children who make my life beautiful and full.  While I don't know the details of the future God has planned, I KNOW that He has a definite, complete plan for my life, and I am walking confidently toward it, focusing on Him.  (The spinning finally worked.)

Over the past four years, I've taken a journey of Thanksgiving.  I've learned to life the truth of the verse:  In whatsoever state you are, be therefore content, for this is the will of God concerning your life.  Things aren't perfect.  They aren't even easy.  But I'm not alone - He's with me!  And I am thankful that He is holding my hand. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait . . .

So much of my life has been about waiting - seems like I attend everyone else's life -events while patiently (and okay, sometimes not so patiently) waiting for my own.  Waiting is tiresome.  It is wearying.  It will wear you down.  And it is so much a part of what we must do as Christians.  

The Bible has a long track record of people waiting.  Matter of fact, it seems to be a requirement for anyone who wants to serve Him.  First instruction:  Leave where you're comfortable.  Second instruction:  Go where you aren't comfortable.  Third instruction:  Obey.  Fourth instruction:  Wait.  A lot.  Why all the waiting?  What purpose could there possibly by?  Why not just go ahead and move forward?

This morning, I was reading in James and came across this verse:

 Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord, Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. - James 5:7

Living for God IS like a race, but it's also a lot like growing precious fruit.  It takes time.  So often, what we want we aren't quite ready for.  What we need we wouldn't accept if it were presented to us . . . yet.  We see the early rain, and we jump - "Finally, this is the CHANCE!"  Instead of jumping, we should be waiting - for that latter rain.  It's not just the first blush of excitement and hope.  It's the promise of the fulfillment of something more:  latter rain.

While I know the overall verse is talking about the ultimate return of Christ, I think it applies to our lives and everyday situations as well:  whatever our current situation, we must "wait for the coming of the Lord."  Attempting to modify, change, fix, or otherwise alter our position without His guidance and help will result in abysmal failure.  We MUST learn to WAIT on Him. 

So, like the husbandman, we wait, we pray for the rain of His presence to wash over us, we endure until the time that he comes through.   Waiting isn't just part of living for the Lord, it is part of growing and maturing into the person He wants us to become.   So, learn the lesson so you won't have to keep repeating the class:  wait with joy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Revival Satan Allows

As someone who has been on a Pentecostal pew since birth or so, I've seen a lot of “revivals.” I grew up attending the church pastored by Bro. Jerry Dillon, which meant that at least two weeks out of the month, you would be attending revival services. It was a great way to live, and it taught me a thing or two about what revival really is – I lived it, saw it, and witnessed the changing power of God flow out on many lives. As a result, I think I am also familiar with what revival is NOT. There are some “revivals” that Satan won't stop – in fact he will encourage them – because they fit quite nicely within his purpose: keeping the Church as a body from reaching the lost.

“My what a service we had!”

“Did the power of God fall?”

“That was an awesome move of the Holy Ghost!”

“You weren't even IN church if you weren't at MY church last night.”

OK, so we've all said those things. And most of the time they are meant to convey that the presence of the Lord was in a service. What concerns me, however, is a growing tendency I've seen among some churches. As long as there are “good services” where “God moves” and people “feel the power”, they think everything is great in their assemblies. And yet . . . hearts are not changed, the lost are not won; outward appearances may line up, but there is no true victory in the lives of the people who are attending these regularly “powerful” services. They attended Holy Ghost blow-out after Holy Ghost hoe-down, and yet when the smallest problem came into their life, they were distraught and giving up on God. And their lives are not impacting the lives of the lost and the hurting around them. I asked myself, “What is going on?” That didn't do much good, so I asked God. And this is what I got.

Satan doesn't care about our “powerful services” . . . he doesn't care if we “shout the walls down” . . . he doesn't care if you can't see the carpet for the hairpins . . . IF those powerful services are just that. If they don't lead us to greater dedication, deeper commitment, a more burning desire to help others. If we are unchanged, if we don't impact our world, Satan is perfectly content to let us dance all over church on Sunday, because he knows that when we leave the building, it's over.

You've seen these churches. You've probably been envious when they've talked about how the power falls. Especially when you compare their experiences to your own (not a good idea, but difficult to avoid) – their lives don't experience much trouble, and yet it is a Pentecostal Power Hour every time they show up. What gives?

Simply this: it is possible to bask in the presence of the Lord, enjoy the “feel good” that His anointing allows, and leave completely and utterly unchanged. A lot of people like a church like that. They feel good while they are there, but they feel absolutely no compunction to change anything about their lives or share Jesus with others. They simply use God's presence as an anti-depressant – they get just enough of a “fix” to make it to the next service – but they don't allow the changing power of His spirit to penetrate their hearts and lives. As a result, they cannot handle difficulties, and they don't reach out to the lost.

Why would Satan object? As long as he lets them be comfortable, complacent – sleeping, really – he has little to worry about. They'll continue feeling good in church. But they won't spread the word. (Somebody might sit on their pew or, God forbid, take their solo.) They'll show up faithfully to every service. But they will leave unchanged. (That would require sacrifice and searching themselves for sins that are not quite as obvious as others.) It's a quarantined virus, in Satan's eyes, and I'm convinced he allows it, encourages it, and hopes other churches will emulate it. Gives him freedom to take the rest of the city to hell while that congregation of 30, 50, or 150 gets their “fix” and moves on to another week. And then later, when they don't expect it, he can hit them with a big problem, and it will destroy what faith they have. This kind of revival is a win-win for him.

Think I'm talking out of school? Check God's word:

20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
Matthew 13:20-21

    12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. . . . And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18 Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? 19 When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. 20 And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. 21 And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?
Mark 8:10-21

    1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. 9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.
II Timothy 3:1-9

 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
James 1: 22-24

It is vital that we understand that we must have a relationship with Christ that goes beyond feeling good, shouting, and worshiping. Those things are good; they are vital. But if you are not seeing the fruit of the spirit in your church, in your life – it's time for an inventory. You are either a weapon in the kingdom, or you have been given your pacifier (Hebrews 5:12-13). Good services where you feel the power are not enough. If souls are not being born into the kingdom, are you really fulfilling your purpose? If not, whose purpose are you fulfilling? Dangerous question, if you dare to ask it. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Doing Time on the C-List

(This starts a little slowly, but I promise it gets to the point.) Last winter, I was in the midst of a really nasty divorce, so I packed my bags and moved myself and my kids in with my parents to recuperate. The move wasn't THAT big a deal, since it was just up the driveway, but it gave me some peace of mind. Over the course of a month or so, however, quarters started getting a little tight at mom and dad's, so I knew the time had come to go back to IT – my house. But the thought of going back into the same house looking the same way it had before, well that was more than I could bear. Suddenly, the proverbial light bulb went off: I could sell the furniture. But how? Craigslist, of course. I had heard a lot about it. No time like the present to give it a try.

(Stay with me. I promise we are getting there.) So, I wrote up my ad, complete with the heading “Divorce Sale Extravaganza”, and started posting everything that wasn't nailed down. Over three weekends, I sold the entire contents of my 4 bedroom house AND refurnished it. All on Craigslist! But that isn't why I'm writing. The truth is that I learned a whole lot about what I HADN'T been doing to reach the lost from my time on the C-list. And THAT'S why I'm writing here.

First Things First: Being open wins people over.

Simply put, my divorce was an excrutiatingly public experience that brought me to depths of humiliation I had never previously fathomed. By the time I was blithely listing my furniture for sale, I figured I had nothing to lose by telling the three people in the entire county who hadn't heard about the whole thing. So, I put it right out there. “If you are wondering why I am offering this fabulous deal, it's because I'm in the middle of a divorce. My loss can literally be your gain.” What happened in return? People were really open with me. Suddenly, their guard was down. If this total stranger was throwing her life out there, what could they possibly have to lose? Mark and Lisa arrived to pick up my sofa and began to tell me that they were hoping to get married that weekend. Lisa had a two year old daughter, and Mark was stepping in to be a “dad.” Before they left, Lisa pulled me to the side and said, “I can tell you are one of those, oh you know, religious people. Can you pray for me? I want to build the right kind of home for my baby, but I don't know how.”

Second Helpings: Listen, and listen actively.

People are aching for an opportunity to open up. Tanya called me about a couple of bedroom sets. Mine were priced right. She had recently separated from her husband and was starting over from scratch. Could I hold them until the weekend? She and her dad arrived on Saturday morning, and while her Dad and mine took the beds apart and loaded the truck, she just looked like she had something to say, so I asked a few questions. And Tanya began to cry, revealing a story of being abandoned and betrayed. I shared a little of my story, and she looked at me stunned, “Your story is probably worse than mine. And you are standing here smiling at me, comforting ME. I ought to be comforting you. What's the secret? How can you SMILE?” It felt so much like a made-for-tv moment that I almost looked for cameras. Instead, I shared the gospel. Tanya is a hungry soul, and I'm determined to show her where real strength comes from – Christ.

Three Strikes and You're Out: My One Negative Experience.

One afternoon a young apostolic couple showed up to buy my monstrous dining room set. I was pretty excited when I saw them – people of like faith! I greeted them enthusiastically, asking where they were from and making a few “churchy” comments that we apostolics like to exchange. They shut me down pretty quickly. My elbows were showing (egads!), and since I was in the middle of a D-vorce, we were clearly not of like faith. Wasn't much to say but, “ok”. They took the table, but only after trying to get me to discount it into regions unheard of and convincing me that they were completely incapable of humor on any level. (Ever heard the phrase, “His face would crack if he smiled”? It would fit these two.) Lesson learned – Be aware of how you present yourself. If I ran into this couple, I definitely wouldn't want what they had. It looked more like a disease than the Holy Ghost.

Go Fourth: Washing Machines and Sharing the Good News.

Corinne called me at 10:18 pm on a Tuesday night. She started by apologizing profusely for calling so late, but she didn't want to chance missing out on the washer and dryer I had listed. See, her son was in desperate need and this looked like a good set they could afford. I said that the call wasn't any trouble and asked if she had any questions about the set. She didn't, but it turned out she needed to talk. She told me about the bad luck that seemed to follow her son around, about how he was starting over with his kids, and how she felt so inadequate to help him. Well, I saw an opening I couldn't resist. I shared my story, and how God was helping ME. With Him, it did get better and joy came again. Corinne started crying. Her grandma had that kind of faith, but she went to the crazy church where people swung from chandeliers and such. Most of the family thought Granny was a little crazy, but they knew to call her for prayer. I told Corinne that while no one has swung from our chandelier lately, I attend one of those “crazy” churches, and I'd be more than happy to pray for her family.

She showed up a few days later to pick up the washer and dryer, and with a bunch of questions about what her Granny used to tell her. I've got answers, and she asked for my number. I'm hoping that will be a Home Bible Study in the making.

Fifth Wheels – What's the point?

I've barely scratched the surface of my Craigslist encounters, but do you see the trend? It's simple – once I started reaching out, I found hungry people searching for answers. As apostolics, we have become so wound up in our culture that we have forgotten the words of the Great Commission.

It is, “Go ye, therefore . . .”, not “If you build it, they will come.”

We aren't going. We are passing out flyers. We aren't listening. We are talking about our “great services” where the “power of God moves.” Those words are fine, but someone who is lost has no idea what that means. If we are going to reach this world, we must be bold. We must be open. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And we must go to where they are. Even if that is Craigslist . . . now, I must return to the storage shed. There's some more stuff out there that I think I can sell.   

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hiding Behind the Baggage

Hiding Behind the Baggage
Alesha Leveritt

In reading I Samuel this morning, I was a little disappointed. I always count on my morning scripture reading for inspiration and an “idea” that sparks my mind for the rest of the day. And this morning, I just didn't get it – at least not at first.

The scriptures were I Samuel 9-12: the story of Saul's selection as king. Interesting passages, but nothing jumped out at me until I started writing out some prayer and reflection about my own life. I was talking (whining, really) to God about the fact that I would never achieve what I wanted to in my walk with Christ because of all my baggage. And then suddenly, my memory triggered back to this:

I Samuel 10:20-22 (NIV)

      1. When Samuel gathered all the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin was picked.

      2. Samuel had them pass by in family groups, and Matri's family was picked. Then he had each man of Matri's family pass by, and Saul son of Kish was picked. But when they looked for Saul, they could not find him.

      3. They asked the Lord, “Has Saul come here yet?”
        The Lord said, “Yes. He's hiding behind the baggage.

Yep, there it was. Perhaps the greatest excuse for lost Christian potential. The BAGGAGE. We all have it. Of course, some of our baggage is prettier than others. You may have floral baggage with filigrees (something beautiful that you have a hard time leaving behind). My baggage looks a little more like the gym bag that got left in the back of the pick up truck in the rain (story for another time, but trust me, it's UGLY). I have it. You have it. He has it. She has it. We've all got BAGGAGE! And it creates a very convenient little place to hide when we are afraid of what God is calling us to do.

Saul didn't think he could be king. He'd started out that day searching for Daddy's lost donkeys. Donkey-hunter to king is a pretty big leap for anybody, much less with no preparation. Yes, Saul had prophesied, but only once. Yes, his heart had been changed, but that did NOT mean an absence of fear. Here was Saul, donkey-hunter, tall to the point of being awkward, and after one training session, he was to be king? Saul counted every failure he had ever experienced, every time he had made the wrong choice, every time he had spoken too soon and appeared foolish, every time someone had told him he wouldn't amount to much. He packed them in some bags and camped out behind them. The baggage was real, but more importantly, so was Saul's fear. He used the baggage to build a wall to keep him away from the destiny God had planned.

How many of us are guilty of that same thing? God calls you to do something, and you say, “Oh, no Lord. I can't possibly do that. I'm a failure. I've messed up too many times. Nobody will give me any credibility. I'm an ex-con. I'm divorced. I'm not well-educated. I'm too educated. I can't speak well. My mother dressed me funny. No, not me. These bags here will hold me back. Just move on and find someone who doesn't have all this . . . this . . . STUFF.” Do any of us realize (preaching to myself again) that when we do that, we are placing our baggage in front of God's greatness? We are basically making the statement that GOD who created heaven and earth pales in comparison to STUFF , BAGGAGE?

Today, stop hiding behind your past failures. Stop hiding behind your insecurities. Take the step of faith. Step out from behind the baggage and into the future God has promised you! 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Review of *Boy Meets Girl" by Joshua Harris

Review of Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris

As a reader in my mid-thirties, I really wasn't sure what this book would have to offer. I never really intended to read it, but since I missed the book I was aiming for on the shelf as I dashed out of my classroom heading to a doctor's appointment, I was stuck.

Looking at the waiting room, I knew there would be a two or three hour wait, at least, so I could either read a Food and Family magazine (circa 2004), or I could dive into this book that had very little to offer me, the twice divorced single mother of two.

I can now admit that I was wrong. While the intended audience of this book is in the 20-something age bracket looking for a "forever spouse", it has much to offer for those of us who are a little more . . . ahem . . . mature, and scarred as well. 

Specifically, I was able to identify patterns that would have sent a "red flat alert" that something was wrong in my previous courtships. I was also able to unload a great deal of shame. Some of the very hurtful claims others had made against me were refuted by the author through scripture AND practical examples. 

Finally, as I find myself single again, the book offers very practical advice about what to do to protect yourself from disaster. It is never too late to learn how NOT to make a mistake. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone, of any age, who is single, or single again. While it is most useful to that target audience, there is rich material there for all of us, no matter what mistakes we have already made. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What It Takes to Be Called - Part 3

Part III – The cleansing of the lips

So far, there has been a terrible loss, the foundation of the temple has been shaken, and Isaiah has realized that he is undone and bereft in his sin.  What more could be required?  Well, this is the part  of the story we all know – a cleansing by fire.

That realization comes to us all at some point.  We are undone; we are “unclean”.  Sometimes that's a result of things that we DO actively.  Other times that feeling is a result of the actions of those who surround our lives.; their bad decisions affect us, and though we are not guilty, we still feel the burden of shame.  Purification comes, but always at a cost.

Isaiah 6:6 – Then flew on of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:  (7) And he laid it upon my mouth and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged.”

Simple truth:  burning hurts.  Bad.  I remember being around 10 and walking into the kitchen.  I could smell the fresh cornbread in the air, and just as I expected, there it sat, on the stove.  In the cast iron skillet, looking so inviting and ready for me to cut into.  Since I was a short 10, I thought it would be a great idea to move it to the table, so that I could more easily reach and cut the cornbread.  So, I reached out and grabbed the handle of the cast iron skillet with a firm grip . . . you can guess the rest.  It had been out of the oven for barely a minute, and my hand was COOKED.  Many memories will fade, but the pain of that burn on my right hand?  Not any time soon.  Pain like that you remember – pain from a burn.

The purification of the called is like that.  It hurts.  There is a modern myth that when you bring your sins to Christ and begin to follow Him, things will go smoothly.  Life will be kind.  The  birds will sing with you as you do housework and little mice will appear to help you with your chores.  I know that sounds a lot like Cinderella, but truthfully that's how a lot of Christians think.  “Hey, I love God now.  He will make my life easy.”  No dice.  If you are going to work for Him, you will suffer.  He will cleanse you for free, but moving forward into deeper waters of purification for service?  That doesn't come without paying the price.

Before you pray for God to use you as never before, to open the doors of opportunity and help you to grow into your abilities, be sure that you have counted the cost.  Looking back through my journals, I started praying that prayer six years ago.  These past five years have been Job-like in the intensity of suffering and loss.  Am I sorry I prayed the prayer?  No, not at all.  But I'm very glad that I did not know six years ago how much I would have to sacrifice, how much I would have to lose, the price I would have to pay, the burning of purification that I would have to endure.  I'm not sure that, knowing what would come, I would have been brave enough to take the plunge.

Somewhere within the last few weeks, I've come to this realization about myself:  I have been refined by fire.  I am ready to be used, for the first time in my life.  I am ready to step into the place He wants me to go.  Where is that?  At this point, your guess is as good as mine.  But I'm ready to go.  Just waiting on the marching instructions.  Of course, if they are like Isaiah's . . . but hey, that's the next entry . . .

What It Takes to be Called - Part 2

Part II:  Then Comes the Glory, but It Doesn't Seem Too Glorious . . .

The break has been a longer than expected due to Project Reclamation (which included such smaller gems as Operation Bunkbeds, Operation Keyboard, Operation Bye-Bye Teal . . .), but as I was puttering around the house this evening, the Lord said that it was once again time to write.  So here I am . . .

The last part of the examination of Isaiah's calling was about what had to happen first – the death of the King.  What came next was the glory.  We like that word a lot, at least I did growing up.  I can distinctly remember a sappy, sugary Peter Cetera song about “The Glory of Love” . . . “I am a man who will fight for your honor, I'll be the hero you've been dreaming of.  We'll live forever knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love.”  Sweet song, and that was my concept of glory – feels good, looks good, is nice to snuggle up with and cuddle.  That, folks, is NOT Biblical glory.  Not even a little bit.

My first glimpse of what Biblical glory was really about came through one of Tommy Tenney's Godchaser books.  He said (to paraphrase) that modern Christians confuse the anointing and the glory of the Lord.  The anointing puts you in the zone, feels warm and wonderful, and generally just makes the world feel right.  The glory, though, knocks you on your face.  That's just what happened to Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:3 – And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts:  the whole earth is full of his glory.

The glory of the Lord has arrived at Isaiah's doorstep.  His train is filling the temple.  Watch what happens next:

Isaiah 6:4  And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound really warm and wonderful to me – more like an earthquake combined with a tornado.  The very foundations of the temple trembled; it became difficult to see clearly.  There was a haze about the place that blended with Isaiah's grief.  And what was Isaiah thinking about?

Isaiah 6:5 – Then said I, “Woe is me!  For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips:  for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

In the midst of this majestic and quite frankly terrifying display of power, in the midst of his intense grief over loss, Isaiah realizes that he, who has faithfully worked for the kingdom, is still woefully unworthy to be in the presence of a holy God.  He realizes that he is part of a people with unclean lips living in a fallen condition, still undeserving.  Even now.  How humbling for him that must have been.  And to have seen the King – to want to approach Him so badly – and to know that you were completely undone in His presence.

Thus far, we know this, if you want to be called,
You will experience great loss as things that are not compatible with the promise are stripped away.
You will experience a tearing and a shaking in your life, as the very foundations of your faith are shaken, just as the foundations of the temple were shaken in Isaiah's time.
You will become aware that you are NOT who you need to be . . . yet.

Have you seen your foundation shaken?  Have you felt your world tremble in doubt as you faced a loss?  Have you been left unable to see the direction that you need to take?  Does your world seem hazy and full of pain?  Do you feel unworthy to do what God has called you to do because of these things?  Then look up, God may be calling . . .

There is a cleansing that must take place if you are going to fulfill His call.  And that cleansing may just lead to more pain.  Makes you wonder, when someone says that they want to be used of God, do they really understand what that means?  And as for the pain, more on that later . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What It Takes to be Called - Part 1

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, there was something that appeared so - magical – about ministers. They arrived at church in a nice suit, with a well-dressed wife who played at least one instrument while coordinating the nursery, the ladies committee and the dinner on the ground at the same time. (Or like Sis. Dillon, they would play the organ with one hand and write down names of anybody who wasn't in service with the other!) They were so . . . together. And it all seemed glamorous in a way.

But as all children learn, appearances are very deceiving. There is little glamor in the life of those who carry the gospel to the world. In fact, preparing to preach, minister, or carry the gospel in any form requires a process that is anything but glamorous. A process outlined in Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

The obvious reason for including “In the year king Uzziah died . . .” is to date Isaiah's vision in time, and that is what I found in most of the commentaries. However, I wondered if there might be something more significant – something beyond just the equivalent of “In the year that Ronald Reagan died . . .” So, I looked up Uzziah.

Apparently, Uzziah was a very successful king. He had a lengthy reign, he ushered in a period of great success for Israel, he fortified towers, his name was “spread abroad.” He was a man called of God, and influenced by Godly men (Zechariah). (II Chronicles 26; II Kings 15:3) But all that success – the fact that God was using him mightily – led Uzziah to become proud. And in his pride, he stepped beyond the reaches of his authority.

II Chronicles 26:16 – But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.

Our ever present adversary – pride – got the better of Uzziah, and it led to a long slow destruction. He went into the temple determined to offer incense. A group of priests stood against him, telling him that it was wrong. He became angry (How dare THEY tell ME what to do . . . God has used ME, not them.), and in the heat of his anger, he was stricken with leprosy. The historian Flavius reports that this occurred at the same time as a great earthquake that caused damage to the temple. So, the great king – the promise of Israel, he whose name had been told even unto Egypt – lived out 11 years in a leper's house, apart from the kingdom until his painful end.

Looking at that, there is certainly a lesson about pride to be learned from Uzziah, but the purpose here is to examine it in the context of what is happening to Isaiah, who is being called.

Imagine for a moment that you ARE this guy. He has been calling out to the people about their waywardness. Jotham, who is governing along with Uzziah (still the defacto “head of state”, even as a leper) isn't all bad, but he's no Uzziah, and he steers completely clear of the temple. Things weren't all bad, but the glory days of Israel had lost their sheen and the people were behaving like heathens. I imagine it was similar to the American yearning for “Camelot” in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, only perhaps worse because the King – the one that was so unbelievably awesome – lived on in a pathetic condition.

And then the day comes that the King – and the dream – finally dies. Must have been a dark day. I'm sure that there were some that hoped for the miraculous restoration of Uzziah. Isaiah was longing for a miraculous restoration of God within his people. And then all of it – died. Just died. Put a lid on it. Put a fork in it. Put a period at the end of it. It's done.

Haven't we all experienced that moment – the moment when something that we have prayed for, hoped for, fasted for – has just died. That terrible, awful moment when we realize that the picture perfect miracle we have constructed in our minds is just not going to happen? I know I've been there. Recently. Not so long ago, I had to bury a dream that was my miraculous second chance. And as I stared at the figurative grave of my hope, I spent weeks wondering where exactly the Lord was. I can only imagine that Isaiah felt something like that. And probably asked the same question: Lord, are you there? And if you are, where?

And yet, the loss had to come. Uzziah had to die if God was going to call Isaiah. Might it have been different if Uzziah hadn't gotten so arrogant over the offering of incense? Maybe. But arrogance in human beings always leads to destruction. And for the message to go forth, Uzziah had to die.

And that is the first principle of the calling: we must lose anything that is not compatible with the message. If you are going to seek the calling of God in your life, prepare yourself. You WILL experience a loss. The Lord will have to tear some things away from you that keep you from going, being, saying, and doing what He wants. In my own life, I have begun to see the outlines of what He might want me to do in the wake of the death of my personal “king.” I've wondered – if I knew what it was going to require, would I have prayed to be used this way? Honestly, I don't know. If I knew the price, I might not have wanted to pay it. Guess there are definite advantages to NOT knowing the future.

Seeking to be used of Him is dangerous for that reason: salvation is free. But to carry the message? That requires a cross.

And after the cross comes the glory, but in reading Isaiah, the glory might not be what you think! More on that later!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I think that God must owe me a resurrection

Anybody who knows me knows that my identity is pretty bound up in three things: faith, family, and literature. Pretty much in that order.

In my English I classes (which are pretty lively as a general rule), I am going to finish up Romeo & Juliet in the next few weeks. We've had so much fun with it! But it is not time to begin to turn my planning attention to another one of my favorite plays of all time: The Miracle Worker by William Gibson.

The first year I taught high school, my daughter was just learning to talk, and Gibson's play fascinated me because it showed me such a window into the way that we human beings learn language. I instantly fell in love with Helen, Annie, and the dedication of one young woman to work a miracle in the life of another. The story was captivating, in so many ways, and truthfully, each year I look forward to going back over the old ground. And each year, I learn something new.

There is a point in the play where Annie, haunted by the voice of her long dead brother, squares her shoulders and faces down her benefactor with the title line: "I think that God must owe me a resurrection . . ." He instantly takes her as being impardonably sacrilegious. I on the other hand find her statement one of unrestrained faith. She, while perhaps not devout, understood some of the principles that God holds so dear. And one of them is this - He has promised us a resurrection in His word.

I don't just mean the resurrection at the end of this walk of life, but a resurrection of our souls each and every time we look to Him in the midst of a trial. He says it, over and over. Bro. Allen preached tonight from James - Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh unto you. It is that "resurrection" of hope, of faith, of joy, that we can cling to in dark times.

Like, Annie, I too feel like making a bold statement of faith. God owes me a resurrection too. Not because I deserve it. Not because I've done anything to earn it. Because His word promised it, and the Word cannot lie.

So, I will wait on the Lord, knowing that my help comes from Him, and if I hold on, He will rebuild for me. He will resurrect, and He will redeem.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In my quest not to bury myself in the hole and hide, I was praying earlier this week for 'something' constructive to do this weekend while my kids were away. Honestly the prayer was tinged with just a little desperation. The thought of having to face an empty weekend was a little more than I could handle.

And what do you know? In the mailbox, there is a card announcing a Vicki Yohe concert. I actually attended one of her concerts before - 20 years ago to be exact, in Carthage, Mississippi. I called my friend Kim, for whom this was also going to be a difficult weekend, and she agreed to go with me. Not exactly a party, but it sure beats being at home alone.

Not sure what I was expecting - a few songs. A night out. But in the midst of the concert, the Lord truly spoke something to my heart. As Vicki Yohe was singing, she also made a statement about prayer - instead of begging God, speak your desires into existence.

Now, I know that is not a novel concept, and I'm quite sure that in 34 years of church attendance, I've heard it many times. But what I realized was that for the longest time, that's not been the way I pray. I have groveled, begged, and gotten frustrated because God didn't give me the blue lollipop instead of the red one. (You know what I mean . . . )

So I left the concert with a whole new attitude. I want a different kind of life than the one I have lived for the past 16 years. I want the Lord to use my gifts for His glory. I want to develop friendships. I want a strong family. And, in a very practical sense, I need my current house to sell so that I can start over. If I truly want those things (and groveling hasn't worked), perhaps I had best try praying the prayer of faith and speaking those desires into existence.

It's time for faith - not just begging God for something to happen, but believing that HE WILL DO IT. Anyone want to join me?