Thursday, March 29, 2012

One of the Saddest Lover Scenes

It was like the ultimate lover betrayal. 

He walked through their rooms, seeing evidence of the Other Lover – of him who had grabbed her heart—everywhere.  

At the North entrance to their home stood a sculpture carved with the Other’s face. “This was my yard! How could it be here?” It felt like a slap in the face. 

Inside the courtyard, there was more. Plastered all over the walls were pictures of the Other, and of their activities together. There was more evidence further in: just inside the doorway, in rooms deeper in, and finally in the most intimate room of the house…

He asked Zeke in his sadness, “Do you see this? Do you see what she has done?” 

That day, he moved out. It was September 17, 592 BC, and God moved out of his house, the temple. It is one of the saddest lover scenes in the Bible. Spread over three chapters, God’s glory moves sadly, slowly out of his temple, and away from his people, his bride. You can see him lingering at each threshold, each new boundary. 

8:4 “And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain.” 

9:3 “Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been and moved to the threshold of the temple.” 

10:18,19 “Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. …They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.” 

11:23 “The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountains east of it.”

Can you just see a lingering Lover slowly tracing his steps out of an empty house? From deep within the Holy of Holies room, to the outer courts, to the far entrance, through the city – his city—to the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, where he pauses for a final lingering look. In his final eastward departure, he stopped over the Mount of Olives. 

“I will gather you up. I will bring you back and restore you… I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. …I will be their God,” he tells Zeke, but he’s talking to his Beloved. 

There are about four hundred years of silence that follow these prophets’ books. The Old Testament ends, but there are rumors and prophecies of God returning someday, and of a new way to have reconciliation with their God in the future. 

History hangs in the balance. Ancient emperors and conquerors rise and fall, their exploits documented before and after. Persians, Greeks, and Romans dash across the screen. 

Then in a quiet cave-stable, around 6/5 BC, a man-child is born and grows up. Thirty-some years later, the Carpenter’s Son – Jesus the God-Man—stood up in the temple, read his job description out of a passage in ancient Isaiah, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

John 1:14 sums it up perfectly. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

Colossians 1:19 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself…” 

A Lover with a plan, with reconciliation on his heart. In 592 BC, he left, but he was biding his time. In the early AD’s he returned to announce his plan and again declare his love. Then he left to prepare a new home for his Bride. 

When he returns again, guess where he will first step down? On the Mount of Olives, to gather up and restore. 

Hi friend. Thank you for joining me as I study through these chapters in Ezekiel. Seeing God’s passionate, determined heart for his Creation rekindles a flame in me. What does it do in you right now?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lightning Storms and Drafting Zeke

Photo credits

He was thirty years old. 

Well-educated, articulate, up-to-date with history and current events, well-versed in foreign affairs, he was nonetheless an oddity. Forced into exile by a conquering nation, he lived thousands of miles from home and everything was unfamiliar – the language, cultures, and religion were all different. Still, he married and settled down, trying to make the best of circumstances. 

Four years into it, everything changed. Standing by the banks of the Kebar River with other exiles, he suddenly spotted a towering windstorm to the north, with an immense cloud, scattering lightning bolts. 

In amazingly vivid prose, Ezekiel went on to describe a vision of heaven and a conversation he had with God. It is wild and crazy, and hard to even imagine. What caught me this week were some lines in chapter 2 of Ezekiel. The first thing God said to this exiled man was: “Son of man (human), stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 

Wow! Imagine the Creator telling you to “Stand up and I will speak to you.” 

Next the Creator told Ezekiel that he was sending him with a message to his fellow Israelites. “And whether they listen or fail to listen –for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.” 

God went on to tell Ezekiel three times, “do not be afraid…” ending with “Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them…”   … “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen… But you, son of man (human), listen to what I say to you.” 

The conversation between Ezekiel and the Creator of the world continued for several more chapters, but I am still processing the first part of this interaction. 

It intrigues me that Ezekiel – can I call him Zeke? It intrigues me that Zeke is a God-follower, but hasn’t been in ministry or anything up until now. 

To recap… at age twenty-six he was swept away to a new land, uprooted to a new, unfamiliar situation. Out of his element, he strived still to follow his God in a foreign land, surrounded by people of different beliefs and ways. Praying alongside other exiles at the river, he suddenly encountered God in a brand new way. Loud, audible, visible with unimaginable creatures, lights, colors, and storms, Zeke heard his God speaking to him, drafting him into a wild assignment with his God. 

Earmarks of this were:
-four years into living in an unfamiliar area, God started something big and different with Zeke, calling him into service
-it might seem scary
-don’t listen to what naysayers would tell him; only listen to God’s words
-speak God’s words
-their response was not his responsibility; his obedience was
-a result: they would know that a prophet of God had been among them

While God hasn’t spoken to me out of a windstorm, this still convicts me. Am I taking in God’s words to me (the Bible, prayer, etc.)? Am I speaking out his truths even if the results could be scary? More convicting still, do people see God’s voice and presence in me, knowing that a God-follower was among them? 

I’m linking with Ann and Michelle today in thanking God that:
-he speaks!
-his Word (the Bible) is captivating and alive
-that he can use all of us to speak his words to the world around us, to share his love for them
-that he can grab us out of whatever setting he finds us in and draft us into wild assignments

So, what surroundings have you been in for the last four years? Is it odd to think of God calling out to you during a normal prayer time with him and giving you a vivid assignment? Do you sense him doing that now or have you felt that before?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dilapidated Barns (Praying Scripture for Your Children: A Week's Guide -- free printable)

Alongside rolling corn fields with the soil still dark and wet, and small rural towns where dilapidated wooden barns crumbled slowly inward, I drove. 

Greeted by a young school age girl who shyly, graciously, met me at the door and ushered me into the unfamiliar church building, I met her mom and the other coordinators of the Building 31 (formerly MOPS) group that meets at Rochester Assemblies of God church. The women in this group were wonderful and we connected over our love for Jesus, and our desire to dig into God's word. 

Thank you to my new friends there. Together we are going to be praying God's words back to him, for our kids, for our families and friends, and to the One Who Sits Enthroned on the rim of the earth. (If you are interested in joining us, here is a free printable for you! "Praying Scripture for Our Children: A Week's Guide.")

This evening, as my husband practiced drums for worship team, our family enjoyed listening to this song over and over again by the Jesus Culture band. Take a moment to listen with us. The words to "Your Love Never Fails" are beautiful! (All credit to Youtube for letting us use this.)

Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails

I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me every day
Your love never fails

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

Verse 2:
The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone here in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails

The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails

You make all things work together for my good

Hello friend, what have you been listening to this week? 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Robins and Sunny Afternoons

Pale green blades of grass poked a half inch tall out of black pavement on the street beneath our feet. Determined to make healthy choices, my man and I alternated between jogging and walking on a hot Sunday afternoon. Walking was definitely more frequent than jogging, my rythmic breathing embarrassingly loud in the sunny suburban streets. Husband nobly paced his long-legged strides to my shorter frame and made one-sided conversation. I responded in short one-word answers and focused on breathing and stubborn perseverance. The beauty distracted me and I soaked it in.
Microsoft clip art.

Thank you, God, for: 
-wind-chimes in a five-toned melody
-dangling foot-long pods from a mysterious tree
-the scuffling of blowing leaves on a sunny street
-fabulous, record-breaking warmth for a Minnesota March
-health, strength, stubbornness, laughter
-robins, chicadees
-blushing red buds appearing on trees
-the lilac bushes in gentle new green leaves
-children's laughter on the breeze
-neighbors asking about God, and conversations that stretch long
-praying while panting
-Your glory and mercies new every morning

Linking with Ann and Michelle today, counting God's gifts.

Hello, dear friend. Count three gifts with me today, will you? Name them below and rejoice with me. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Life and Death Intertwined

A cloud of caramel-colored cattail fluff flew towards me. Waving his cattail sword gleefully against the red slide and grey drawbridge, Daniel laughed as each swat emitted another fairy-tale cloud of fluff. It clung to his navy and red-striped pants, and tickled his neck near the blue hoodie. Wrinkling my nose unconsciously at the tiny fibers brushing past my nose, I didn’t even try to avoid the stream of air-borne particles glinting in the sunlight. 

The air smelled damp and earthy after yesterday’s rain which had melted the snow back to small resistant patches. We’ve had several days of sixty degree weather and forecasters have predicted a week of low seventies actually. All of Minnesota is giddy. Accustomed to slush in March and possible snow in April, this weather has bewitched us. Trees tentatively bud, daffodils stand tall against all dire warnings, and Minnesotans of all ages put on shorts, grab running shoes or strollers, and head outside. 

Lying on a damp park bench and taking deep breaths of the spring air, I lazily watched my preschooler explore the woods beside me.  Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and red-winged blackbirds called. Robins chattered and warned of passers-by. With blue skies and sunshine, it is so much easier to count God’s gifts. They roll off the tongue with each new bird I identify and breath of spring. 

But the hard gifts? Those are harder to name and count, especially when they happen to those close to me. Three of my friends wrestle with cancer. One friend marks a year since her tiny three year old has battled cancer, lost strawberry-blonde hair, and bravely taken toxins via a port. Two other friends have just made Cancer’s acquaintance, and already he demanded heavy fees. Surgery sliced the chest. Femininity isn’t dependent on that. Chemotherapy stole another’s red locks.  I read, and prayed and wept. 

On the park bench dampness was seeping into my jeans now. The sun had moved slightly, and preschooler explored further in the woods. Life and death lay entwined beneath him, old grasses, bare trees, and twisted brambles that scratched his tiny hands as he climbed doggedly over fallen trunks. 

This week a dear friend gave birth to a beautiful baby with a head of hair! This lovely baby stares steadily out at us all from her photos, amazingly alert, and already planning adventures. We rejoice and delight in each photo. 

In my Bible this morning I read the NIV study note’s introduction to Lamentations. One scholar said: In the middle of the book, the theology of Lamentations reaches its apex as it focuses on the goodness of God. He is the Lord of hope, of love, of faithfulness, of salvation. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam.3:22,23)

What is amazing to me today about this well-known verse and song lyric is noticing where this verse is said, and when. 

The ancient city of Jerusalem had been besieged, destroyed, and burned. Most of its peoples had been carried off to a foreign land that was over 543 miles away. Only the weak or the very old were still left in the city. Famine had been horrendous and people had eaten the unimaginable. 

In between weeping and grieving for their families, cities, and home, the survivors and remnant said: “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed…for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” 

Over 543 miles from home, surrounded by a new language, grieving the life they thought they would be living, they say, “his mercies are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.”  I have so much to learn.

Life and death interwoven. Toxins, toddlers, and floating caramel-colored cattail tufts, glinting in the sun. Climbing doggedly over fallen trunks and scratched by brambles, Daniel emerged from the tangled undergrowth. Holding hands, we ambled home, counting gifts, and breathing deeply.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About God (School-age Edition)

Walking past her doorway, we could hear booming actors talking inside about a woman desperately looking for her tenth coin, or about blind men chasing down a carpenter renowned for his miracles. Other days, a loud orator would discuss breaking seals and pouring out bowls, and Revelation soon became her favorite book of the Bible. Elementary-aged Morgan would emerge from her room and ask deep questions about end times. Reading was harder for her at times in her younger elementary years, but listening to the Bible on tape/cd was perfect. She loved hearing the dramatic renditions of the Bible and amazed us with her near-memory recall of some familiar passages.  Now, as a middle schooler, she grabs her Bible and a highlighter, disappearing onto her top bunk. “Mom, can you grab Daniel please? I want some time alone with my Bible.” 

Most of us want to talk to our kids about God, our faith, and what’s important to us. Many parents wonder where to start, though, and what to say. Other parents have expressed fear of not knowing how to answer the theological questions that may arise. With stories of prostitutes, murder, and dysfunctional families interspersed throughout the Bible next to more familiar stories, parents can wonder how to address these topics.

While I don’t have all the answers, several ways have worked for our family as we raise our sixteen-, thirteen- and almost four-year old. Our seventeen years of church and family ministry have been helpful as well. (Did you see the Talking to Your Preschooler About God post?)

Talking to Your School-Ager about God
  1. The Bible honestly tells it as it is. God shows us a person’s bad choices as well as their good choices. Just because an action is done in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s condoned or a good choice, or God’s way of doing things. The Bible shows when people mess up badly. Ask your kids: what should this person have done instead? What were the consequences here of their bad choice? We can witness the fall-out of generational cycles of deception, favoritism, and pride, for instance, in Genesis. In Judges, we see families and a nation spiral out of control when they forget what God’s word says about life and only do “what seems right in their own eyes.” Wow, can that get ghastly fast. That’s one whole point of the book of Judges, in fact, and by the end, there is no clear good guy or right choice in each story. What a dark, sad chronicle. God is an honest God.
  2. God is a master Restorer! He can take broken people, families and pasts and use them for his glory. He can take murderers, cheaters, liars, stuttering, fearful and broken people and work through them to talk to powerful world leaders and change history! He can use YOU.
  3. God loves YOU and wants to spend time with YOU. He is seeking you out, calling you by name, and has great adventures in store for you. Spend time with him, listening, talking with him, and reading his letters.
  4. It’s not Kid-sized! Students, you have a full-size Holy Spirit in you. The same Holy Spirit that was in the apostle Paul, that’s in Billy Graham and Brother Yun is in you. You don’t have to wait until you are grown up to do big things for God. He can do them in you today. Are you listening to Him, and tuned in? Practice hearing his voice, which will never contradict his spoken word.
  5. Recognize, parents, that you are not choosing a faith for your child. That is between them and God. But as a parent you definitely have something of value to pass on to them. Pray for them, love them, and enjoy times of sharing something that is of extreme value with them. 
The school-age years in our kids’ lives are pivotal and life-changing years! Jump into these exciting times. Ask questions, spend a lot of time listening, and savor these years. 

What about you? What was instrumental in your journey with God during the elementary and middle school years?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Suburban Ninjas and a Peach Pie

The doorbell rang. Before we could get to the door, there was a clatter, the sound of running feet, and a car door slamming. Descending our flight of stairs and opening the front door, we could only perceive blurry details of some people and a car disappearing out of sight. On the wooden porch step lay a pie. 
Microsoft clip art for all photos in this post.

It had been a hard Sunday to be at church earlier that day. Sunshine poured down that spring day six or seven years ago, but ministry life felt discouraging that week. Our efforts seemed to be fruitless, and our time accomplishing nothing.  Youth pastor husband and I had sang and smiled sincerely, but then hurried home. A Sunday afternoon nap, some desultory conversation, and time in God’s word was needed to cure this discouragement. 

That afternoon, suburban teen ninjas slipped a peach pie onto our front steps. It came just when we were talking to God, and he was answering back, “Do not grow weary of doing good for at the proper time you will reap a harvest, if you will not give up.” Knowing we needed tangible encouragement that day, though, he sent a peach pie through mysterious ninja humans. 

We now refer back to that time as God giving us a peach pie, and it is but one example to us of God’s loving gifts and faithfulness. He speaks his love to us in daily gifts-- life, breath, family, His presence, and joy – and every once in a while when we silently need encouragement, he sends a "peach pie."

This story sprang to my mind this week as I was finishing up the book of Jeremiah. God plays such a huge, powerful role in this book, but it was a quiet tender scene that grabbed my attention actually. The prophet Jeremiah had been the bearer of bad news too often and ticked off the authorities. Thrown into a cistern, he was sitting in mud and abandoned in the elements to die. Securing his release, a godly Egyptian man by the name of Ebed-Melech took extra care in pulling the old prophet out of the well by affixing padded cloths to the arm harness of the ropes (Jer. 28).

I love that God sees this and remembers it. In the next chapter we hear God actually speaking out a message for Ebed personally and by name. Tell Ebed that (I saw him and that) I will rescue him from the coming danger in this besieged city at war. 
Our God is watching. He saw a kind Egyptian gentleman pad ropes to lift out an old man of God from a well in the middle of a besieged, war-torn city. It is easy to think of God as being more occupied with the front lines of world conflicts and national leaders, but it blows me away to hear him recording instances of individuals being tender and considerate, simply affixing torn rags to a rope harness for an old man in a well. 

God saw that and addressed Ebed by name. That same God saw suburban ninja teens slip a peach pie onto our steps one summer day years ago, and he knows them by name. That God is watching now, and sees our actions today. In God’s wonderful radical economy, she who refreshes others will be refreshed, and our loving acts towards others are quiet worship to Him. 

Want some joy today? Whisperingly confer with God, and be a suburban ninja with a peach pie, or old rags on a rope harness. 

What about you? What random acts of kindness have you seen done, or have you been excited to be part of? What do you like to do with your kids?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About God (Preschool Edition)

“But I want to SEE Jesus!" he insisted. "Where is he? Can he come play at my house?”

“Well, you can’t see him right now.” 

“Why? Is he hiding?” My preschooler craned his neck to peer into the bathroom closet. 

“No, you just can’t see him right now,” I explained. “He’s here; but we can’t see him. He’s invisible!”

Most of us want to talk to our kids about God, our faith, and what’s important to us. Many parents wonder where to start, though, and what to say. Other parents have expressed fear of not knowing how to answer the theological questions that may arise. 

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, several ways have worked for our family as we raise our sixteen-, thirteen- and almost four-year old. Our seventeen years of church and family ministry have been helpful as well. 

Talking to Your Preschooler about God
  1. As You Go. As you walk, talk, eat, drive, breathe, play, and prepare to sleep, share joyfully and naturally about Jesus. Walks in the woods can explore God’s creation, and marvel at his artistry. “Look at these cool raccoon tracks! Did you know…?” My kids and I have made up worship songs as we walked in the woods and across prairie grasslands. “Thank you for the trees, thank you for the birds…” There is nothing sweeter than hearing a lilting preschooler lisp songs to God.    
  2. Practice and Encourage Natural Prayers. While liturgical prayers can be meaningful and helpful, don’t underestimate the power of encouraging children to speak their heart as well. In simple plain terms, talk to Jesus aloud with your child. Thank him for the sunshine; pray for safety for passing siren-waling emergency vehicles; thank him for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the orange slices for lunch. Invite your kids to take turns praying too. “Who’d like to pray?” 
  3. Intentionally Share Jesus Stories. Preschoolers are drawn to stories with adventure,  superheroes, and excitement. The Bible is full of wild and exciting true accounts. With sincere excitement, cuddle up with your child and start the narration. “One day when Jesus and his friends were out walking…” Or “Did you know? There was one day when Jesus was on a boat…” “Jesus helped people! He …” The tales are endless and as the true picture of who Jesus was and is surfaces, our children will be entranced by how delightful and strong Jesus is. 
  4. Keep it short and simple. A toddler’s attention span is brief. Enjoy conversations with them, and grin when they race off to their next train of thought or toy. 
  5. Recognize that you are not choosing a faith for them. That is between them and God someday. But you definitely have something of value to pass on to them. Pray for them, love them, and enjoy times of sharing something that is of extreme value with them. 
Preschoolers are delightful, full of curiosity, and always learning. Enjoy talking to them about God in this time too.

What about you? How have people talked about their faith with you over the years? What has been meaningful to you? What do you want to carryover into your own life and pass on to others?