Prayer Bench & MRI Update

Bench

Just a quick note today. The picture depicts an extraordinary spot to sit and pray, ponder and contemplate. It is a spring that pops out of the ground in the interior part of Black Butte Ranch near the Paulina Pool complex. The brook really does babble over moss covered rocks and winds its way down a slope lined with tall pines, firs and aspens. I can’t help but praise God in such a glorious setting.

The wind whispering through the trees reminds me of Jesus talking with Nicodemus in John chapter three about the Holy Spirit. ‘Nic’ was pondering the idea of being born from above when Jesus stated, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8). I’m sure that left Nic scratching his head.

The brook and its soothing noise reminds me of being washed by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26).  As I drink in the truth of Scripture I am being cleansed; sometimes the cleansing is through encouragement and sometimes through conviction.

Brook

I can go on, but I’ll wait to install other components of my “bench time” later.

To close, I want to say thank you for so much positive response on my MRI post last week. I was not expecting so much love and support. Reading through posts on my Facebook and blog site brought tears to my eyes—thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

The MRI results do show considerable spinal degeneration but none needing another surgical intervention, thank God. My surgeon has said I need right elbow surgery to fix nerve impingement; but an elbow, while important, is not the spine!

Thank you again my friends and family, may God bless you with more of himself in your lives.

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Church Fires and Ducks

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“Our church is on fire,” read the text. Janey got the same message. Incredulous, she went to the fount of breaking news, Facebook. There it was, posts from staff and even a reference to the local paper. Our church was indeed on fire. It had already been confirmed there were no injuries—praise God—but it was a three-alarm fire with firefighters from two different municipal jurisdictions, Salem and Keizer. When the smoke cleared, it was determined an upstairs wall-heater in a storage room had accidentally been turned on.

Just Hours Later

The insurance adjuster responded quickly and within hours of the blaze a professional cleaning company was on site with a swarm of workers and equipment. The building was not a total loss, but damage, especially from smoke, is extensive. The final tally is still undetermined, even after a week. Evidently smoke, when mixed with water vapor, turns into an acid and permeates any surface it possible can, drywall, carpeting, paint, computers, everything. Just cleaning up is a massive enterprise.

Yet we persevere. We recall God’s sovereignty and praise Him that passersby pounded on the church doors and called 9-1-1. We are thankful for quick and competent emergency responders. We pray blessing over their lives. We also start reflecting on what we need to learn though this.

Why? No, What!

Most of us are not asking God the ‘why’ question but the ‘what’ question: “What are we to learn from this?” Have we become too complacent? Too comfortable? To worldly? Maybe, maybe not.

What we do know, however, is that God is our refuge:

God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear.

—Psalms 46:1-2a

We also know that our families, church and immediate, are intact and we are reminded that church is not a building or even a specific locale; church is people and relationships seeking Jesus together.

Ducks

Then the Ducks lost, actually, got thumped, in the national championship game. But what’s interesting is days before the game, their offensive coordinator, Scott Frost, told Fellowship of Christian Athletes something to the effect that when you are “all-in for God,” even if you lose, you won’t be shaken because your life is built on the Rock, Christ Jesus. Amen! (http://savingourfuture.com/2015/01/oregon-offensive-coordinator-scott-frost-god-first-video/).

I have been a life-long Duck fan (class of ‘84) and so was my father (class of ’58). We used to go to a lot of games in the ‘70s; we didn’t do much else together, but we did share Duck sports. So sometimes when I see them lose I also start to miss my dad a bit. Oh well, God is still God.

What’s the Point?

The point I’m rambling on about is God is the point, He is sovereign, He is trustworthy, and He will always be there through big stuff (church fires) and the little stuff (favorite teams losing and lost memories). Yes, we shouldn’t get too comfortable this side of Heaven, so maybe the disruption of these events are really to shake the dust off worshipping Jesus to then spark greater desire to move closer to Him.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

—James 4:8

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.

Prayer Struggle

Romans 8_26

Lately I’ve been struggling with prayer. Oh, I can go through my lists of requests as well as the next person, but the struggle is the deeper prayer; the soaking in the Spirit prayer. Maybe it’s my age or the season of life I’m in; maybe it’s the listening part or all of the distractions. Maybe it’s something else entirely; even so, I find it both interesting and disturbing. It’s interesting because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time; disturbing because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time.

Struggle and Soil

Perhaps the struggle is part of God’s plan for me. Instead of fretting over the struggle I need to be okay with it and recognize it as a normal part of growing in my walk with Jesus. The struggle is where the refining of my faith occurs. Outward struggles are obvious opportunities for faith-building, but the interior struggles are invisible to the material world but are every bit as real, maybe even more so.

It is in the unseen where the Holy Spirit does his best work; that is, if the person in the midst of the struggle leans deeper into God rather than turning away. The struggle is where the soil of my soul is being tilled for the deeper things of God.

Painful Reveal and the Crucible

The struggle also reveals weak areas of my faith. Such as being too focused on today’s list of to-dos, or tomorrow’s dreams, or my worrying over the “what ifs” of life, “what ifs” that may never come to pass. It is revealing to me that my mind is not quiet, my soul is not settled and I am not waiting patiently.

The struggle then is honing the discipline of waiting; waiting on God to speak, or not to speak. The quiet is the crucible that is forging the fragile yet precious patience required to truly hear from God.

The struggle helps me better understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 8: “And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children … And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (verses 23 and 26, New Living Translation).

So struggle goes on, but at least I know I’m not struggling alone.

Odd Feeling

hawkLately I’ve been feeling odd; it’s a longing in my soul I can’t identify. I’m not sad, nor am I depressed; I’m just…longing. Longing for what I don’t know. It isn’t really a sentimental emotion nor am I anxious about anything, at least not anything that’s at the surface of my thinking.

A Pastor Friend

A pastor friend of mine said he feels that way sometimes. He said maybe there is some latent sadness lurking under the surface of my consciousness. Maybe I’m struggling with completely accepting a mom that is slowly slipping deeper into dementia; the mother of my childhood no longer exists, but the shell of what used to be withers before my eyes and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Maybe it’s a longing for solitude. I find myself looking out the window more than I used to, thinking about wilderness trails, mountain views, and rustling wind through tall firs. On one of my lunchtime walks the other day I stopped in front of a big church building watching a young hawk soaring effortlessly above it. It was beautiful even as traffic buzzed around me and exhaust fumes filled my nostrils this hawk was still surviving, still reminding me that God’s creation is much more than concrete, asphalt and noise.

Holy Spirit Flow

Maybe I’m longing to be freer in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God’s tugging at me to realize I am blocking his flow in my life somehow, somewhere; but where?

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

—Jesus, John 3:8

Do I have the fresh air of the Holy Spirit flowing out of me? I hope so, but I don’t know; maybe this is what I’m longing for, maybe this is what the world is longing for.

Getting Back to Joy

hose

I am fascinated by the idea of joy. Actually, truth be known, I’m more chagrined by the lack of it. Joy, by definition, means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (Dictionary.com). Jesus says that “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

What things did He speak to them and subsequently to us about? He spoke that He was the way to the Father and about the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He spoke about His peace being given to us and about abiding in the Father. Then after He speaks of us having joy He then calls us friends.

First John speaks to joy as well: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jo. 1:4). This encouragement comes after he has reminded us that we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But notice that in both verses God desires our joy to be full; not half full, not a whiff of being full, but fully full!

Stepping on the Hose

It is also interesting to note that the word ‘joy’ occurs over 150 times in the Bible. God desires us to have joy; so much so that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). ‘Joy’ sits between ‘love’ and ‘peace.’ God wants us to have joy. And since joy is part of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it can just flow through us if we leave the Holy Spirit unquenched. However, if we are always downcast or morose, then joy is obviously not being manifested in our lives. This should lead us to ask, why? Somewhere, somehow, we are quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is as if we are stepping on the garden hose supplying the refreshing water to the soil of our hearts; we are somehow resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Are we harboring some secret sin, hatred, or fear? Are we overworked, overbooked or overwhelmed? Where are we stepping on the hose of God’s refreshing?

If we live joylessly, then is it any wonder we’re not winning others to Christ? Who wants to become part of a dark cloud society when Jesus Himself is light and life?  And how do we get back to joy?

Unquench

Prayer, that’s how. We need to honestly approach God in prayer and plead for him to search our anxious hearts to reveal all that is contrary to his light in our lives (see Psalms 51:7-12 and 139:23-24). If in raw sincerity of our will we approach God with this request he will honor it even if it hurts a little. But the end result is the restoration of the joy we have in our salvation that will seep out of our lives to draw others into the same joy of the same salvation (Psalm 51:12-13).

Proverbs 3 and Prayer, Scripture and Counsel

Bible stackProverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” This verses are also reiterated in Proverbs 16:3 and Psalms 37:3-4. Trusting in God is seeking his guidance via prayer, Scripture, and sound counsel from mature believers. This process (prayer, Scripture, counsel) is preferable over merely making key decisions in isolation. In other words, as Scripture says, pray about everything (cf. Ph. 4:6-7) then trust God to guide in the planning and responding to whatever is at hand. If we are still unsure then seek wise counsel from those that are biblically mature.

Prayer, Scripture, Counsel

This demonstrates humility and dependence on God and the cycle of prayer, Scripture, counsel is something we can incorporate into our lives and even teach to our children and grandchildren. However, not trusting in God is relying solely on the self which produces questionable, if not disastrous, results. Over the years I’ve seen this play out in poor relationship decisions that caused years of contentions, legal entanglements and damaged children. I’ve also seen this play out in poor purchasing decisions that resulted in years of debt; such as using credit cards to buy material things that wear out long before the bills are paid. These are two significant examples that result in great emotional and financial damage over long periods of time.

A Little Exercise

How much simpler and more fulfilling would our lives be if we reigned in our impatience, got quiet before the Lord and sought his counsel and then the counsel of other wise, mature Christ-followers? Maybe it would help to think of times when you made rash decisions without seeking counsel and then answer these three questions: How did it effective your life? What could you have done differently then? How are you doing things differently now?

Blood Moons, Division and Jesus

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

—Jesus, John 13:35

Blood_moon

There was a blood moon a couple of nights ago. It was quite a stunning sight as we were standing in our backyard at 3:27 AM. It is an event caused by the earth slipping between the sun and moon. Many considered it significant because it is the second of four consecutive blood moons occurring on Jewish feast days, what people are calling a tetrad. This particular day was the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot. Typically, though, blood moons unto themselves are fairly common occurrences.

This blood moon tetrad is generating a lot of discussion around various biblical prophesies and predictions of the end times. Opinions are all over the map for all sorts of different reasons. The problem, however, is how hostile so-called Christians are against other Christians that have differing views on what the tetrad means, if anything, and how it relates or doesn’t relate to the end times. All of this anger proves nothing except that no one has a definitive lock on what will happen when and that a bunch of so-called Christians look foolish and are making a mockery of the faith. Frankly, it’s pathetic and highly un-Christ-like. I again draw your attention to the verse at the top of this column; Jesus’ disciples are to love one another and when they don’t love one another, well…maybe people need to lay their cyber bombs to the side, look in the mirror and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse them.

Perhaps what the blood moons ought to do is remind us that we are not sovereign; but are instead broken and fallible people desperately in need of a Savior. Maybe we should look at the ‘blood’ as a reminder of Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross. Maybe we also need a reminder that what will happen will happen regardless of your opinion or mine. The one thing we do know is that if we have faith in Jesus we will eventually be with him forevermore, amen!

So let the skies do what they will while we remain focused on Jesus and His call for us to love others.

Conditional Words and Proverbs 2

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The key phrase in Proverbs 2 are verses 10-12: “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things.”

Definitions and Application

Discretion and understanding mean that a person has “the ability to make responsible decisions” (from Logos Bible Software) coupled with intelligence and insight (from Strong’s Concordance). Thus, when led by the indwelling Holy Spirit we have the ability to make sound decisions while also being able to discern something to be of little to no value or even evil.

These are important traits for us regardless of what roles we have in life—employee, parent, spouse, single, etc. We often need to make decisions that can impact not just our lives but other people’s lives as well. Plus some decisions will have lasting impacts that can reverberate positively or negatively for days, weeks, or even years to come. Such decisions can become even more complex or impactful if you are the head of your family or are in ministry or in some other leadership role—or you aspire to be in one of these roles someday. With so many decision points in our lives it is blessing to be able to lean into God’s guidance and comfort through these decision making processes.

Conditional Response

However, an interesting statement about accessing this guidance from God comes in verse one by way of two little conditional words: “IF you receive my words, AND treasure my commands within you” (emphasis mine). These are conditional words that indicate we are to make an intentional decision to not just receive God’s Word, but to also treasure it. God is not going to force us to receive his Word and most certainly won’t force us to treasure it, we have to decide these things for ourselves whether we will or won’t receive and treasure the things God has freely given to us.

To treasure what we receive means, of course, that we treat the received object as an item of great value, something to be cherished and protected. We protect Scripture by hiding it in our hearts, committing it to memory and doing our best to live out its teachings.

So as we desire God’s wisdom, knowledge and discretion, may we first willingly receive and treasure what God has already given us in Scripture and in Jesus.