prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

known

I value friendship. A lot. I value trust. A lot. I value being known. A lot. I value grace. A lot. And all of these things fold together for me when it comes to my best friends.

However…I am a complete asshole when it comes to maintaining long distance friendships. I hate talking on the phone. No, really…with a passion, I hate talking on the phone.

I don’t have a ton of extra rubles to spend on getting to the places they live. And it’s not that I don’t consider it a priority, it’s that time gets away from me. Completely dissipates.

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Before landing in Chicago on Wednesday, it had been two and a half years since I’d seen my college roommate in person. That’s just wrong. I am a complete asshole!

It’s horrible, because I value our friendship more than my actions show. But if the actions are lacking, and your voice isn’t communicating…how do they know we actually put value in their friendship?

We’ve come to a place in this world when Facebook trolling for information equals a ‘friendship.’ That’s not friendship! Friendship is messy. Friendship is knowing how I take my coffee…or other liquids of choice. Friendship is knowing what my response will most likely be about things I am passionate about. Friendship is conversation, actual dialogue about real life things. Its hard. It entails trust, and putting yourself out there. Sometimes it goes sideways and you have to work through crap together. But honestly the friendships that endure are the ones that last. And thankfully I have several!

But that’s also where the grace comes in…and no matter how much time has passed the jokes are still present. The ease of hanging out is still comfortable, and we are still known by someone who counts. Someone who can appreciate the path God has taken you on just as much as you can. Someone who knows the stupid shit you did, completely sober!

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The Bible talks about being known by God in Psalm 139…it’s a beautiful Psalm, and it came to my attention through one of my best friends in one of the biggest struggles my life. As intimately as God knows each one of us, its that bond that runs through the truest friendships we have. And once that bond is engaged…there’s not much you can do to cut it. Because through that bond runs God’s mercy…grace…love.. compassion and community.

Sometimes that bond has to help carry a friend when they feel beaten up by life. The don’t know what to believe. When faith has become exhausting. I’ve always loved the story when Jesus is teaching to a very crowded room, and a paralyzed man is lowered through a roof by his friends. In that moment, Jesus doesn’t say why are you breaking someone’s home. No, Jesus says HIS faith has saved him. The Bible says Jesus saw THEIR (his friends) faith…forgives the man. If you can’t lean on your friends, who can you lean on!?!?

I cherish being known, and my best friends are the ones that know my good, bad and ugly…and love me anyway! And I do my best for that to be a two-way road…but we all epically fail sometimes and grace jumps in to say, ‘It’s OK!’

Today I am so incredibly grateful for time spent with friends, long and short distances, this Spring. Go tell AND show a friend you care! And just to recap…Facebook does NOT count!

contagious

I made it until I was about 11 until I had chicken pox. Itchy, splotchy and nasty. I contracted it through my extremely contagious little brother, who conveniently had it at a young age since he is 9 years younger than me. Thanks, bro. (sarcasm intended)

We learn about contagious things from our childhood. Wash your hands. Use sanitizer. Don’t cough on me. Don’t wipe that there. Don’t touch that. No, you can’t share my drink…I don’t want to catch what you have!

With all of those negative commands about things that are contagious, and the order to stay away from them, what happens when we want someone to catch what we have? When we want our passion to be contagious for a mission? A ministry? A country? For our Savior…

It’s no secret that I am a Paul junkie…if I’d lived in Bible times, there’s no doubt I would have been one of his groupies. Of course, only after I got over the fact he wasn’t killing Christians anymore. But you see, that’s the story. The contagious part. He was a transformed man on that road to Damascus, and his words came out of that transformation.

Then they couldn’t get him to shut up.

Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?” But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah. [Acts 9:19-22 MSG]

Now somewhere there is an old-school, cynical believer who would think, “That’s how it always happens with ‘new believers’ they catch that Gospel fire and won’t ever let up. It fades eventually.”

I remember getting told that when I was a new believer. And it pissed me off.

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As I sit here writing this…I find myself confronted by that young woman who was so passionate about her Savior that she made some radical choices to follow him. She definitely made some choices that didn’t sit well with people in her life. And the sad part? I think she’d sit across this desk from me and say, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Do I need to come give you a kick in the ass? What the hell are you fighting for? We have more fight than this…’

Then the 14-years-older version of me says, ‘You are going to get worn out. Eventually too many people get into your head…and then you start giving credence to some of those voices that you probably shouldn’t.”

When the only voice you should be listening to is that of the One who created you. The One who calls you. The One who you answer to.

The same Paul they couldn’t get to shut up wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:13, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.”

Here are the contagious truths I am choosing to believe and speak…

God’s word should be contagious. Be in it. If your Bible has a layer of dust, there’s a problem. Get started now, and no one will notice you had a layer of dust.

God’s story should be contagious. Tell it. If you don’t know how to talk about God’s story, start practicing. His message was spread by the disciples only because they were passionate about telling what they had LEARNED from Jesus and what they had SEEN in him. Tell those around you how your story merges with God’s story. If you don’t know, figure it out, because I guarantee it merges.

God’s community should be contagious. I once heard Michael Frost talk about movie trailers and Christianity. How in the theatre, before the actual movie starts there are these teasers. By the reaction of those around you to the trailer you know immediately if they ‘HAVE TO GO SEE THAT MOVIE’ or ‘wouldn’t be caught dead seeing that.’ Which version of Christian community do others see in you, your family & the people you are with?

God’s people should be contagious. This is where we all need to channel a bit of that new believer enthusiasm, and not be afraid of it. Do you love others with that newborn Spirit-filled love? Does your voice inflection channel wonder and excitement for who God is? Do your words speak to the heart of God, or do they berate, belittle and judge those around you? People are not drawn to  judgers…but they do want to be around those handing out God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace.

People are drawn to the purest form of the Gospel…we just tend to dilute it and unintentionally make it ugly through our own sin. Shame on us.

Every single one of these makes God something that others want to catch and be infected with. And before you know it…you are spreading the Gospel in ways that you never imagined. Go be contagious…in a good, non-hand sanitizer way.

acts

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A photo I snapped March 21 in Utah.

I can’t help it. It has been rattling around my brain all day. I wish I could shut it off, because it would be easier. But no…

I am addicted to Lent.

There I said it. Now what?

This Lent season I committed to writing a blog every day and today all I can think about is…I don’t HAVE to write anything. I can let it go.

Maybe I just found a good outlet for my thoughts here and I don’t want to lose that freedom. But I sense there is more going on…

I can’t let the practices I picked up during Lent go. I loved meditating on scripture, or the word of the day or mulling over what angle I would take on something. Or what everyone else would write. I’ve never had this problem before, and am at a loss to explain it. Maybe there is something God wanted me to learn from this Lenten season I haven’t learned yet. Maybe he was just trying to change me…mold me.

However, I also can’t bring myself to hit up Mumford & Sons, Lumineers or Imagine Dragons. I really want to…really want to…but even as I type, I’m still worshipping.

I’m going to waste it all on you, I’m going to pour my hearts’ perfume, I don’t care if I’m called a fool, I’m wasting it all on you… [Kim Walker, ‘Waste It All’]

As I reflect on the Bible story after Jesus was risen…I have always been intoxicated by the disciples and how they spread the Gospel.

After I became a Christian in college God ignited a thirst for scripture in me, but I’d never hit Acts. I’ll never forget the first time I read it. I started it about a week after I got back from spending a summer doing mission work in China, and it just felt like the right time. Once I got to the end, my friends and I were at a fall conference with Intervarsity so I asked one of the staff there why Acts just stopped so suddenly.

I’d written this in my Bible: ’10-21-01, I finished this book today and it is the first book I’ve read that I turned the page and was HUGELY disappointed that there was no more. I do not want to move on to another book – I want this one…I love Paul!’  Needless to say, Acts is my favorite book of the Bible…but that’s about 5 different blog posts.

Next to my notes I’d also written the IV staffer’s response: ‘Steve Lind says this book is still being written.’

Mind blown. Fireworks exploding in the sky. Mouth dropped open.

And I’ve held onto that thought ever since.

Last night as I was watching The Bible series, I was remembering this coupled with a new thought. What if Paul, or any of the other disciples, hadn’t written it all down? What if I’d never had a book of Acts to read?

God would have figured it out, but in the moment my brain was digesting that thought, I was incredibly grateful for their courage to write things down in times of severe persecution. I’m sure I wouldn’t have made writing it down a priority while my brothers and sisters were getting beheaded, crucified and exiled. But they knew what was at stake. They knew they had to tell the story of the death, the resurrection and the large fact that Jesus would never die again to everyone.

As we sink into the week after Easter, and as I fumble with how to merge my Lent experience with the rest of the year, my sincere prayer is that people will ask themselves how they are living out Acts. What are they doing to proclaim that Jesus reigns? How are they spreading the Gospel message of love, hope, grace and compassion? Because the book is still being written…but will we participate in the rest of the story?

roots

CLEARING CANON 009There is a stunning, tangled web of beauty at the base of each tree that stretches to the ocean of blue above. But the most beautiful part we can’t even see. It’s hidden beneath the surface, going so deep that if you tried to pry it out it would take hours, if not heavy machinery, depending on size.

Once on a mission trip to Galveston, we were tasked to dig out the root system of a tree that had been taken down by the hurricane. I worked on one section of the root system all morning. It did NOT want to come out. I dug, I pulled, I dug some more…then pulled some more. I even got ‘blessed’ with a large cockroach in my pants for all my efforts. That was not a beautiful surprise when I used the bathroom. Texas does grow them biggest. Several more hours after lunch, I was starting to think the roots were really not coming out.

All of a sudden I was on my ass with a root as tall as I am, and about 3 inches in diameter. It had a dirty dampness to it’s rough surface, and if it could talk, probably pretty angry. I looked at that thing in amazement. I’d put so much time into digging it out, and it had put so much time in growing in that one place. I wouldn’t have wanted to come out either!

A bit later, I heard a roar of celebration…a group of students had successfully gotten out a massive root system from the front of the house.

There we were, all celebrating in our own ways…our vicories over roots. Ironic, right? They had invested so much time in that one place, allowing their tree to have a stubbornly, strong base and we took it from them.

As the crappy caretakers of this world, we think we know all about what should be where, and how long it should be there. What if those root systems were supposed to stay? What if they were going to sprout a new tree, more beautiful and stronger than the last that succumbed to a hurricane?

We dig roots up and throw them out, or we dig roots out to transplant somewhere else with much authority. But we are not the ones who planted them in the first place…

Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” [Matthew 15:12-14]

No surprise that Jesus wasn’t really talking about roots. Also, no surprise that I wasn’t trying to stick with a earthy theme, either.

Right before the disciples asked Jesus if he knew the Pharisees were offended, Jesus had just quoted the prophet Isaiah:

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” [Matthew 15:8-9]

Read that again…conflicted anywhere?

Honor me with their lips. It is so easy to be that Christian around Easter. Do what is expected. Dress nice. Be nice. But if your actions are not matching what is coming out of your mouth…you are doing an incredible disservice to Christ’s sacrifice…and his resurrection. You never know who is overhearing you, and you never know how you actions will be perceived by that person. Which is why you heart should be aligned with…

Their hearts are far from me. Sometimes it’s amazing the show we put on so people see what you want them to see. But you cannot force yourself to be close to God. You have to make an effort, and put work into it. And that takes time. I know I’ve grown a lot closer to my heart being more like his in the last few years, but some days I am absolutely guilty of being consumed by this world and not in the ‘I am a missionary to this world’-consumed. So many distractions to separate my heart from his, and I allow them let my heart drift away from him.

They worship me in vain. I love worship. I feel very connected to my Savior through worship. But the idea that worship HAS to be in a sanctuary, or on Sunday morning, or even in a building is complete crap. Make your worship true. Seek your Abba. Break out of the worship ideas that shackle you to what people have ‘always’ done. Sadly, some worship experiences are so consumed by tradition and performance I have trouble feeling the Holy Spirit. I’m not judging, but that seems pretty in vain to me.

Their teachings are merely human rules. Do you live by the Spirit, or do you live by mandates? Do you live by faith, or restriction? Do you expect the laws of this world to enhance the laws of God’s Kingdom? They are not meant to. We are a set apart people, and we are not held to human rules and regulations. Kingdom rules lay groundwork for love, not hate. For acceptance, not exclusion. For grace, not guilt and judgement. For transformation, not status quo. Kingdom teachings cannot be contained…they are meant to be shard.

What Bible are you reading? Has God planted you? Do you cling to his roots? His roots are trustworthy, and strong.

We are a stunning, tangled web of roots when planted by God…made into beautiful trees. Will you live as though you are planted by him, or will you be a blind guide? If  I am only a blind guide, I am doing a garganuan disservice to the Gospel message. So I better damn well make sure I am planted correctly, and that no one tries to tear me up as I cling to his even deeper roots.

cup

Recently in a couple Bible study groups we’ve been looking at the Last Supper and Garden of Gethseme. A question came up Sunday night…from a sixth grader…why does Jesus talk about God taking his ‘cup’? Here is what they were looking at:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” [Matthew 26:39]

Without a tool to geek out (Greek/Hebrew concordance) I am left to my own devices, which saves you from scanning over geek-out paragraphs!

From the perspective of a Christian many thousands of years removed from the cross. It is tempting to say, ‘What? What? Jesus didn’t want to died for our sins!?!?’

Folks, he was human…does it sound fun to YOU? The ultimate sacrifice that still stands for ALL of our sins was…excruciating, at the least. It had to be. If it were anything less it would never have launched beyond a miraculous rabbi who told some stories.

Frankly, I love the honesty in Jesus’ humaness during the Garden passages. I am comforted that Jesus knew what was coming, didn’t want to…and still did it.

The passage right before the garden is the Last Supper where he has just explained to the disciples, drink my ‘blood’ out of this cup to remember him.

There is the thought that his blood pouring out of his cup/body on the cross was the cup that he wanted his Father to take away.

But then there is a earlier reference in Matthew that adds another element. James and John have just asked Jesus to be seated at his right and left hand in his kingdom…

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” [Matthew 20:22]

Which lends to the thought that the cup symbolizes his suffering.

Each of the four Gospel writers all reference Jesus referring to the cup his Father had given him.

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” [John 11:13]

With so many things to sit under in scripture…why am I stuck on this verbiage? Jesus always taught in parables and symbolism. It’s not surprising. Sometimes it was a dizzying logic that we are not ever meant to understand on earth.

Still…that cup. I also think I am stuck on it because I’d never paid attention until a sixth grader asked me. I function on faith, and sometimes I chalk things too easily up to being content not knowing. I tend to put things in salvation issue and not salvation issue boxes.

But maybe…just maybe…there is something to learn here in this Lenten moment of examination and practice of drawing closer to our Abba.

So I turn it over to you…when we are at such a pivotal point in scripture, the defining points of our salvation and belief…what do you think Jesus means when he asked for this ‘cup to pass from me’?

silence

**Forewarning: this blog post completely changed from ‘Silence is beautiful and we need more of it…’ following a really ‘happy’ blog post, to what you read here. Beware, it wasn’t me…it was the one I serve. If you are looking for beautiful silence, probably find a different blog…because the silence you read here is a bit dangerous.**

Amos. He’s in the Bible, I checked. It helps when God keeps bringing scripture forward from this obscure book everywhere. His name in Hebrew also means ‘burden’ as in lifting or carrying a burden. Appropriate for a prophet I think, because with the words they are burdened with from God…they cannot rest in silence.

Amos is the book of the Bible right after Joel and before Obadiah.

Who the hell is Obadiah?!?! I said the same thing, and he only had a page in my Bible, so I felt a better about not quickly recollecting his words. Bible fact of the day: Obadiah is the shortest book in the Bible with 21 verses.

Have you heard of minor prophets? Well, they weren’t minor because they were less important…they are just smaller books. Isaiah had to be wordier, he was predicting Jesus…a lot!

We blogged about prophets earlier in our Lent journey, but it is important to note that God called prophets to speak, and to not follow the beliefs and ways of the nations they were calling out. Then they had the beautiful opportunity to proclaim the message of salvation and coming glory…the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Amos’ carried a message for God’s people to return to his ways…instead of their current perverted sense of religion and complete lack of justice.

Amaziah, priest at the shrine at Bethel, sent a message to Jeroboam, king of Israel: “Amos is plotting to get rid of you; and he’s doing it as an insider, working from within Israel. His talk will destroy the country. He’s got to be silenced. Do you know what Amos is saying? ‘Jeroboam will be killed. Israel is headed for exile.’

Then Amaziah confronted Amos: “Seer, be on your way! Get out of here and go back to Judah where you came from! Hang out there. Do your preaching there. But no more preaching at Bethel! Don’t show your face here again. This is the king’s chapel. This is a royal shrine.”

But Amos stood up to Amaziah: “I never set up to be a preacher, never had plans to be a preacher. I raised cattle and I pruned trees. Then God took me off the farm and said, ‘Go preach to my people Israel.’ [Amos 7:10-15 MSG]

Acts 18They wanted to silence Amos’ message against greed, injustice and self-righteousness.  Their society was incredibly materialistic to the point that the wealthy were setting themselves way above the peasant class, and only using their wealth to improve their own gain.

Amos gave a message with absolute clarity that God hated evil and was going to punish injustice.

Thinking of anything familiar?

Our culture has pigeon-holed us into a corner that makes us feel like our beliefs might offend someone. That we should be quiet and that we have no business forcing our beliefs on others. Even when those beliefs include setting right the wrongs in this world.

I had lunch with some students today, and one was sharing that she wasn’t going to Tweet during the showing of the Bible Series anymore. When we pushed her for why, she said, ‘I lost 4 followers because I was tweeting about the Bible.’

If we live in a world where God’s message and conversation are no longer welcome, are we really okay with not push against those enforced boundaries? Do we let it slide and decide we shouldn’t use social media to spread the message and truth of God? Do we sit in our buildings, our homes…in silence?

Let me just say, it’s against my nature to let it slide. It is, however, in my nature to push against boundaries and has been since I was a toddler. Just didn’t grow out of it, I guess.

And I am definitely not perfect, by any stretch of the word.

But when it comes to my beliefs, who I serve and why I serve Him…I’m sure as hell going to push back on anyone who says I shouldn’t be sharing.

I believe in being in relationships with others, and that God created us for community.

To learn from one another. To share our stories with one another.

I am not intrusive with my beliefs. (At least I don’t think I am…maybe I really am one of the crazy ones others find intimidating.) But you could say I am intrusive with my actions, because I am going to care about people that no one cares about. I am going to love people that some say I have no business loving. I am going to talk about the reality of God’s Kingdom. I choose to embrace my God given missional impulse. And I am going to fight against the injustice in this world, because things in this world are really screwed up and God never intended it to be this way.

Stand up. Do not be content with silence. Speak God’s message through relationships that matter. Choose to see the world through God’s eyes, instead of the eyes that are conditioned to our culture.

Amos called out God’s people for not caring about the things that mattered and I think we can learn from his lack of silence.

Care to join? Think wisely…you might just be told you shouldn’t.