Thursday, September 20, 2012

Speak for the Trees

Jeff and I just returned from a trip to California. It was absolutely perfect.  Zack was able to stay home with Nanny and Grampy and was very well taken care of and totally entertained.  Jeff and I were on our own, well, us and Tim Keller who preached to us for hours in our rented Jeep.  We went to see the Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park, King's Canyon National Park and Yosemite.   We saw a bunch of trees, really, really, big amazingly graceful and beautiful trees.  I am not usually the sort of girl to just stare at trees or want to drive 6 hours so we can see them, but this trip was different and these trees were different. These trees are ancient.  They began as saplings when Jesus was getting his feet dirty in a lake side fishing village.  They are over 2,000 years old. They tell a story.
They stand nearly 300 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of up to 40 feet.  The bark on the trees is up to 3 feet thick and filled with tannin to protect them from fire and insects. They are built to survive. They are built to reach to the top of the canopy and collect the sun, their roots reach out as much as 150 feet just 6 feet below the surface to collect as much of the precious rainfall these trees could possible gather in the arid Sierras.  They only grow in a narrow band on the Eastern Side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  

They are adapted for one purpose, and one place, and there is a surprisingly essential ingredient to their survival that humans nearly snuffed out for 100 years.  Here lies the lesson for our lives.  They need fire to propagate.  They need fire to thrive.  The forest service decided fire was dangerous (a no brainer to most of us) and so they extinguished the natural fires caused by lightning in the forest for nearly 100 years.  Then someone realised that new trees were not growing.  The forest floor had become grown up with white birch trees and debris.  The little seeds would not be able to find a home or compete for sunlight in such a grown up environment.  It was more than that though,  the trees themselves hold their pine cones hundreds of feet above the forest floor. They remain on their branches safe and green, until fire comes.  The heat from the fire causes the cones to dry up and to drop their seeds, millions of them.  These little seeds, about the size and appearance of an oatmeal flake fall from their high perch to a forest floor that is being fertilised by the ashes of the fire.  One forestry worker said the seeds fell like snow covering the forest floor.  Out of that fire will come thousands of saplings, some will make it to become a mature tree in 500 years, others will be choked out and go back to the earth.  But some will end up looking like this:
It challenges me to think of fire as being a necessary in life.  

Hebrews 12:29 "Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!"

God Himself is a fire.  The presence of God on Israel's journey through the wilderness was marked by fire.  The burning fire pot in Genesis 15 was God's presence.   In Acts, it was tongues of fire that came down on the church to show that the Holy Spirit had come to reside with them and in them.  God himself, the fire.  Fire burns, it purifies, it consumes the dross of our lives, the yucky sinful guck that has long weighed heavy on our hands and hearts. It cuts deep and close and leaves only what is worth having in the first place.  It hurts.  We want to shield ourselves from the close watch of the Holy Spirit's gaze. We want to insulate our hearts from really getting close enough to the hot blazing fire of God's presence. We keep our hearts from the closeness of God so we can hold on to the things that seem safe and comfortable.  
There is a danger in not letting God do continual refinement in our lives.  The Great Trees had to undergo intense fires because the forest was not cleaned out by smaller fires. The fuel for the fires accumulated on the forest floor and even their genetically designed fire resistance was compromised. Some lost the battle to fire, others bear the scares of the fires that did not have to be so hot, if only the fire was allowed to take the course of God's design... a little at a time... only what the trees could bear...   The tree above bears the marks of fire.  Over time, it will heal.

I started this blog thinking the fire in the forest symbolised trials.  My mind is changed. The fire is God.  Many churches have asked the Holy Spirit to not be active in their communities. It just felt so much safer and predictable to run it themselves without the interference of a God who is not so safe.  I am saying today, Lord come and be that consuming fire in the church. Come and clean the dross of our complacency and control freak nature. Come and burn up our pride so that all that remains is your Sweet, Powerful, Awesome Presence, and a church that loves like Jesus, lives like Jesus, knows Jesus.  A church that grows, that shares the gospel, where the seeds of truth just fall from our branches like snow on the world around us.

God you are worth it. You do all things well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A house full of stuffies

I keep having this precious picture in my mind of Zack laying in his bed with his Elmo on his left and Mickey and Pluto cuddled together on his right side. Sound asleep surrounded by his friends Zack looks content and peaceful. He really is sweet. The challenge I have been thinking about is the 3 friends he was sleeping with, his little bits of security because it is so hard to go to sleep by yourself. For Zack it is really sweet and precious that he values the friendship of his inanimate buddies, but for me it is not so cute. What are my little stuffies that I have surrounded myself with for a sense of security? What are the objects that I feel like I need to have in order to be at peace, to rest? It becomes challenging really quickly.

I have just started reading Jenn Hatmaker and I think I would just as soon put it down and forget all about it except that I told the ladies at my church that we would be studying it in our Tuesday Bible Study, so I am pretty much committed. I need to be careful in the future what I get myself into. Yesterday I was reading the first chapter of Interrupted and thinking about all the starving children in the world, very aware of my full cupboards. I probably have 20 boxes of cereal in there, are their kids in my city who have none? Probably, but I would rather not think about it because if I think too hard and long on it my comfortable life may not be so comfortable, and God may pull the stuffies right out from under me. I wonder how many things that are collecting dust in my house or are stored up in boxes could be sold and the money given to the poor. I wonder if we should have such a big house in the first place.

I wonder what God really desires for the church. Do we deserve all this stuff? My husband is an engineer, we make a comfortable living, but there is that word again.. comfortable, are we meant to be comfortable? For some reason the fact that Jesus had “no place to lay his head” is running through my mind this morning. He did not amass great riches in this world. He could have, He could have had a nice big house filled with gold; not interested. He was interested in bringing good news to the poor and healing the sick. He was interested in teaching a motley crew of men about the Kingdom of God and how they were going to help build it. He was too caught up in rebuking the rich and powerful to want to be one of them. He was on a mission and He didn't let the riches of this world keep him from the cross he was to die on, or the victory he would gain in his resurrection.

Luke 12:16-21

The Message (MSG)
16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

What if God has given you and me a terrific crop? I know that God has abundantly blessed me and Jeff. We have more than we need and we delight in giving much away, but I wonder if we should be giving more away. I wonder if we should stop buying whatever we want whenever we want. I am full of questions right now but I am fearful of what the answers may be. I don't want to be that fool who builds bigger barns to store his grain when he has neighbors who are starving. Jeff and I are joining Lincoln Academy as tutors once a week. I know God is going to open our eyes to the poor. We are going through adoption/foster care classes at DHR which has already pretty much shocked me in the depths of abuse and poverty these sweet babies endure. We are in a new season as a family. I am not sure what everything will look like when the dust settles, but I am sure of the God who blows the wind. Pray for us on our journey into loving on the poor and into opening our home to foster and adopt.
When Jesus comes calling I don't want him to find me fast asleep surrounded by stuffies. I want him to find that he is my comfort and peace.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Gift of Prayer

I just woke up from a dream in which I was praying for a group of ministry leaders.  At the end of my prayer one of them came up to me and told me that she does not have the gift of prayer.  In my dream I told her that prayer is a gift that we all have and in the unwrapping of it, we see it's beauty.  Profound dream. I have been thinking often about prayer in the past few days. I have been wondering how many of us actually engage in it, how many of us actually unwrap the gift of prayer and see God's beauty in it.  I have had people ask me to teach them to pray. I have had people just kind of look at me like I am totally nuts when I pray.   I love to pray. I love to pray because when I pray I feel like God reveals his heart to me. It isn't that I am going to change God with it, but I feel like He changes me by giving me a glimpse of what he is doing and what He is inviting me witness.

For some reason, the prayer that is sticking out in my mind right now is Hannah's prayer when she wept at the Temple for God to heal her baroness. She was a blubbering mess.  The Priest, Eli, thought she was drunk at only 9 in the morning. She wasn't drunk, she was heart broken, and she longed for a son.  Her prayer wasn't eloquent. She didn't stand on those steps and make proclamations about how God was going to give her a son.  She wept, sobbed them out, and with every painful tear that rolled down her face, and with every desperate "please", God heard her.  He gave her a message through Eli that she would have a son.  I know this kind of prayer. I have wept at the altar myself, and with the cries of my heart, God gave me an answer.  He brought comfort.  Go ahead and weep there until he brings peace, tell God you are not leaving until your heart is right.  You aren't leaving that place of weeping prayer until your mind is at peace.  He may not promise you what you are longing for, but He does promise a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Hannah's prayer was very personal but praying for some one else or for the church is also important.  God is inviting you into their journey through prayer. For a moment you get to pick up the mat they sit on and bring them to Jesus, or you get to join them in rejoicing for the miracle God will or has accomplished.  It is an invitation into their story.

James 5:16
The Message (MSG)
 16-18Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

Prayer is a very vulnerable thing because we may have little faith that it actually works.  You may be hesitant to pray for someone because you are afraid God is going to lose face.  If you pray this prayer and it doesn't happen then what?  Will this person go into a crisis of belief and run away from God?  Will I?  James 5:16 says we are to pray for others in their needs.  I say go for it!  God can handle his reputation.  I give one piece of advice as you pray:  Listen to God.  God will lead you to pray what He wants you to pray for the one who is hurting.  He knows what they need, He knows what their pain is like, He knows what is broken, He will tell you how to pray. 

Each time I go to pray for someone I feel a little bit vulnerable. I have this thought that if I pray what I believe God is asking me to pray this person will think I am out of my mind.  Last fall I prayed for a new friend. I went at it will all I had, I finally prayed that God would restore her son to her for his senior year of high school.  When I looked up from prayer I realised that she didn't think it possible.  Guess who moved home last week.  She has her son sleeping in his bed in her home for his senior year.  Another time recently I was praying for a sick friend. I knew that God had asked me to join Him in interceding for this friend but it was some thing I felt was out of my league. I yielded and went for it.  I felt like God was laying the word "hypothalamus" on my mind. While I was praying for my friend I was trying to ignore God's voice telling me to pray for her hypothalamus. I finally let go of my fear and prayed the blessings of God on my friend's brain. I didn't know what the hypothalamus did or where it was in her body. I was afraid I would look like an idiot.  When I went to my car, I looked it up on-line and it is a part of the brain that controls many of the systems with which my friend has trouble.  God does that in prayer. He shares His heart so we know what to pray.

I have seen many answers to prayer and I have seen God move in ways He has laid on my heart in prayer.  Please know that I am not just that girl who prays.  You can pray too. You can pray and when you pray listen to God's heart. Each Sunday when Jeff and I get up to pray we ask God to lead us. I don't want to go up there and make clever speeches disguised as prayer. I want to go up there and stand before God's beloved and pray God's heart for her.  I submit to God. I ask Him to do what only He can do. I ask Him to lead us in prayer according to His heart.  He shows up. He moves.  He leads.  When you pray ask God to lead you. Ask Him to show you His heart.

You are a part of a body so don't do all your praying alone.  Pray with your family.  Pray with people who have more practice than you. I have learned so much about prayer through praying in community.  Learn something from your brothers and sisters who pray, and pray, pray, pray. I often wonder what the church and the city would look like if all of God's people were really praying.  The walls of our churches would not be able to contain the fruit of those prayers.

And when you pray, feel free to pray for me too.