Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent: A Time of Prayers Answered

I was talking with a sister in the Lord the other day, and she was telling me about the goodness of God in her life. God had blessed her with gifts beyond her needs. Jealousy began fighting for the ground to which gratitude and God's glory is entitled. So I began thanking God for the many ways He'd revealed His goodness to us.

I'd always dreamt of a large family. Biologically, we've got a pretty good number, but our spiritual family? I am overcome when I think how much love exists between us -- all of us. I craved a romantic, "soulmate" kind of relationship; I've received that in my husband and the Redeemer who pursues me. Our earnings are meager, but necessary to sustain us, and always enough for the day, enabling me to homeschool, care for my mom, and write -- the things which are most important to me. Blessings completely different from the ones God has given others, but perfectly suited for us. Specific answers to specific prayers.

As I read the beginning of the Christmas story in Luke today, I read these words in Luke 1:5-7:
"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias... His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years."
In verse 13, we read the angel's words to Zacharias:
"Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John."
If you read on, you'll see that Zacharias was more than a little shocked; he did not believe. So this is my question: If Zacharias did not believe when the angel told him he and Elizabeth were going to have a child, what had been his prayer?  "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard..." I guess it's possible Zacharias had been praying, knowing God could accomplish such a thing, but not truly believing God would accomplish such a thing. But I tend to think the prayer of which the angel spoke was something Zacharias had long forgotten. A prayer that sprung so easily from the lips of a more youthful, more hopeful man. A man who had not yet given himself over to the routine of religion, and the safety of simply biding one's time. He was "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." But this prayer, the prayer for a son, was no doubt a prayer teeming with emotion, a tearful plea from the depths of a younger man's heart. It does not seem to be, the prayer of an elderly priest, one who would not believe or hope even in the presence of a heavenly herald.

The expectation of a Savior, was something the people of Israel had with them for thousands of years; they prayed for His coming. Some had abandoned hope over the years; some refused to believe when He arrived. But in the years leading up to the birth of this Babe in Bethlehem, God had not ever forgotten His promise or the prayers of His people. The same can be said of those of us awaiting Jesus' second appearing. Or awaiting permanent employment. Or awaiting the return of a loved one from overseas. Or awaiting healing after doctors have stopped trying. Or awaiting a spouse. Or awaiting the appearance of a "YES" on a little plastic strip. Or awaiting a parent to return from the despair of mental illness.

This is a season to remember God answers prayers. Even the ones we've chosen to forget.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Living a Resurrection Life!

I snuggled beneath the blanket in my favorite chair. The crisp smell of our freshly cut Christmas tree permeated the air. It was Sunday morning, less than three weeks before Christmas, and the only creatures stirring were Bishop and I. Heavenly.

When Scott and I were married, naturally we worked to combine the best of our families' traditions, and begin some of our own. One discussion focused on the things we were seeking in a church. Some things were important to both of us; others, more important to one than the other. Scott, for instance, has an issue with churches that look like auditoriums: "A church should look like a church." I would scoff, "A church is the people inside the building, not the building. Aesthetics come and go." We found a church that had most of the things we required and many elements we preferred. We celebrated many Christmases right there next to our friends and family, in that "churchy-looking" church; with the windows decked in holiday décor, the spacious halls and beautiful exterior; and the "un-churchy" smell of it that always pleased me. When we sadly left, the search began again, and so did the discussions. I believe God honored our desire to find a church that honored Him with their service as well as their speech; he gave us Resurrection Life Church -- an active church in the center of our community, and the "churchiest-looking" (Scott) most "un-religious" (Judi) church we have ever attended! But with that came old stained glass windows that block the view to the outdoors, crowded and multi-purposed halls, an exterior that reveals years of life on the corner of a busy street, and that "churchy" smell.

So, as I sat in my chair on Sunday morning, I began to notice the ache in my heart. I missed the holiday-dressed windows with the view of the changing seasons. I missed the spacious halls and the majestic stone façade. I missed the clean smells and the bright beams of sunlight streaming through open spaces. I missed a building.

God has been showing me over and over, month after month, that the folks at Resurrection Life are my family. Beyond the skin tones, the tax brackets, the backgrounds, and the collars that would separate us in this world, these beautiful folks are my family. I had actually felt a small degree of emptiness upon leaving church the Sunday before Thanksgiving: I was not going to be with any of them on the year's most important day for family. But here I was, less than two weeks later, only hours from spending time with them, and I was aching for a pile of stones and mortar. Sad the things we will allow to distract us.

Later that morning, as I sat amidst the noise and bustle that is Resurrection Life, I heard the voices of those I love. Singing praises to our Father. Shouting agreement in the Word. Corporately lifting voices in prayer for the needs of others. Speaking God's blessings to one another as we hugged in greeting. Laughing aloud as we teased and joked the way brothers and sisters do. The distractions of early morning gone, I celebrated with my family in our home. Not a home of stillness and solitude. Not a home of pristine décor and empty spaces. But a home full of love and family and busy-ness and service and diversity. A home just perfect for a resurrection kind of life!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Advent Is a Season of Gratitude

Gratitude. Yeah, I know. Thanksgiving is over; we've all moved on. Time for giving. Or getting. I can't much tell anymore. I don't believe gratitude ever goes out of season.

I'm gonna shift gears on you pretty quickly, so buckle up and try to hang on: parables are a great way to teach and reveal truth. God and godly people used them throughout history. For instance, when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, Nathan the Prophet told David a story in order to reveal a difficult truth to him: the truth of the king's own sin. It worked. David was incensed by the "main character's" evil, and even imposed punishment on this villain. When Nathan exposed David as the evildoer, David repented and accepted his punishment from God as just and merciful.

Ok. Now to tie this all together, my parable:

A man was dealing with the mania of an adult daughter caught in addiction. He begged her, pleaded with her, even held her hand as he prayed with her; she very reluctantly indulged him. She was, at the time, working in an industry which fed her addiction and encouraged her sinful behavior. He often would cry out, "God, if only You will change her." But more often he would cry, "I can't keep this up. I can't keep looking at her like this. I can't keep having this craziness in my life. I can no longer deal with the shame of this child I have. She has no consideration for me." His was preoccupied with the impact her actions had on him. He sought comfort and prayer in a local prayer group. They understood the difficulty of his situation, but based on his "self" centered complaints would occasionally suggest he begin praying for God to work in this situation, as well as specifically for his daughter's deliverance. They prayed that God would change this man's heart toward his daughter -- no matter how wrong she was -- that she might be moved by his love for her.

Months later, while attending prayer meeting, this man stood up. His daughter had quit her job weeks before, had been seeking help for her addiction, and had moved in with him in an attempt to get her life together; she was currently working part-time, for minimum wage at a bodega. By all indications, she was on the right track. Before his listeners were able to shout "Hallelujah!" at what they presumed was a praise update, he added, "Please pray she will be able to find a better paying job -- maybe in another pub; I can't go on supporting her this way." The prayer partners were stunned. 

Had they not just been praying his daughter would be cured of her addiction? Did God not provide her a way out? Had this man ever trusted God to handle the situation for his good, his daughter's good, and God's own glory? or had he simply rubbed a lamp and summoned some magic minion to work at his behest? Had he ever at all been grateful that God handled the situation with his daughter's health? or had he just gone straight to hating the way it imposed on him?

Gratitude. For every good thing. Even the ones that challenge us to change or to change the way we do things. For every pregnancy that makes our backs ache, or every child that wakes to be fed in the middle of the night. For every job that requires we venture out at 2 AM in below freezing temperatures, or takes our parents away from our Christmas recitals. For every spouse that hogs the remote, and the ones that hide it! For friends who do not believe as we do, and "foes" that do. For bills, and long lines, and delays at the airport. For every inconvenience and every trial, a blessing is revealed, if only we see things with eyes of gratitude.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent

"God,  You are my God."

The audacity to say that! The God of all the Universe! El Shaddai -- the Almighty God; the All-Sufficient God! El Elyon -- the Most High God! YHWH -- I AM! And I would dare to call Him "mine"? to call Him "Abba"? He is a paradox to me. He loves me deeply; as His beloved child. He desires to be all to me -- to me! But why? Why would the God of All, this Eternal One, the King of Kings care for me? Because that is who He is.

Dare I  attempt to wrap my head around this?

The nun who courageously risks her life for the prostitute on the filthy streets of a city. A rich -- incredibly rich couple who, for no apparent reason, take in a homeless drunk. A pastor who faithfully spends hours visiting the most hardened criminals -- and serves them, as they serve out life sentences. A young man who moves his equally young wife and their baby to the dark life in a land ruled by Communism, or the dangers of life under Sharia law. Why would these people care about whores, or drunks, or rapists, or enemies?

Because just a small part of God's being, of who God is, has gotten inside them; now lives within these jars of clay, and is weakening their walls in order to burst forth! It is such a powerful and magnificent goodness and love, it cannot be contained within them!

The same love that would have the God of All coming down to love and redeem me.