Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

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There Once was a Nice Couple from the Burbs

Bride and Groom lived in the suburbs. She was a happy medical biller and he a content bureaucrat. Then one day while in the shower, Groom noticed a lump where there shouldn’t be a lump.
“Hmm,” thought Groom, “wonder what that is.” He pushed in on it. It was squishy. “Eww,” he said. “Well, maybe it will go away,” he thought happily.
As time went on, not only did the lump not go away, it got bigger and started to hurt. “I’ll ask Siri what this is,” he said to himself. The ever-subservient Siri complied with a host of possibilities. Some were disturbing; Groom ignored those. Instead, he thought that a hernia was the likely culprit; an inguinal hernia to be exact. In fact, the lumpiness looked like it could be two hernias, “Oh, yippee,” he thought. “Better go see my doctor.”
After dropping his drawers and being poked and prodded by the doctor, she looked him in the eye.
“Yep, it’s a hernia. Looks like two in fact. You’ll need surgery.”
Groom gasped! “Surgery,” he exclaimed. “Don’t these things heal themselves?”
Looking at him pitifully, she delicately said “no. You have a hole in your abdominal wall and your intestines are sticking out.”
“Eww,” thought Groom. “Is that the squishy bit?”
“Yep. It needs to be stuffed back in and the hole needs to be closed. Your body can’t do that. But a surgeon can. I’ll get you a referral.”
“Oh, yippee.”
After a few more visits with the surgeon, some painful tests, more drawer dropping and poking and prodding; the fateful day was set. A double inguinal hernia repair was on its way. It would be done by laparoscopy through three small incisions in the abdomen.
Meanwhile, Bride was having to pick up some of the household chores Groom could not do because of pain and possible further injury. The evening before Groom’s surgery, Bride was dutifully rolling the packed-full garbage bin to the curb. She was contemplating the logistics of the next morning when she tripped; rolling over the outside of her left foot she fell down. Just at that time, a neighbor was walking by, but she politely looked the other way and acted like nothing happened. Bride then had to hobble to the curb then half hobble, half lurch back into the house.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Groom, sitting up with a yelp. “What happened?”
Bride explained the whole thing to him, he felt terrible; it was all his fault. He then sprang into action getting ice and ibuprofen.
“Probably just popped a ligament,” he said unreassuringly.
Well, in the fullness of time, both Bride and Groom drove to the hospital in the wee earlyHospital check in morning hours so Groom could check in with the surgery folks and get his groins repaired. After dropping Groom off, Bride, with tears of pain in her eyes, drove the short distance to the hospital’s Emergency Room. And wouldn’t you know it, that as Groom was being prepped for surgery, Bride was being diagnosed with a broken foot. Now both Bride and Groom could be laid up together at the same time; hopefully Youngest Son would be able to step up and do more household chores than usual.
Broken foot.pngThankfully, Bride’s family came to aid of Bride and Groom. Shuttling their injured cargo home, picking up prescriptions and doing some heavy lifting, quite literally, around the house for Bride and Groom they then rode off into the sunset.
Now Bride and Groom are quite a pair. One on crutches hardly able to walk, and the other with three holes in his abdomen looking a bit like the Michelin Man. He can walk, albeit painfully, but he can’t lift or twist. But together, persevering in love, and with a lot of help from Youngest Son, they are making it through; at least they’ve made it through three days, they only 45 more to go.

You Figured it Out

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out this about Janey and I. Needless to say, we’ve had a rough week, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier. However, I can’t even imagine being in this sort of condition and being in the path of hurricane Harvey. Even as I lament with a little tongue-in-cheek about our situation, I pray for the victims in Texas; God be with them.
We are definitely tempted to ask God why this happening to us? But as MercyMe states in the song The Hurt and the Healer, “healing doesn’t come from asking why.” Instead, we are asking what are we to learn from this. We are both beginning to discern the lessons we’re to learn. I won’t reveal her lessons, but mine are in the areas of resting, slowness, and taking a lesson from 1 Corinthians 12:23 about learning to “bestow greater honor” to the things I’m tempted to regard as “less honorable.”
I’ll be exploring these in a little more detail as I stay home from work for a few days on medical leave. I’ll tease it by stating that it’s funny how we can learn lessons from major body systems that shut down and wake up slowly after having a couple of hours of general anesthesia and pain meds. No, I’m not talking about the cardiovascular or neurological systems; I’m talking about systems that we may be tempted to think are “less honorable.” Stay tuned, I’m hoping it’ll be a fun discussion!

 

Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

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.