Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rebellion Is Not Freedom

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3.17

When I am obedient, I have the most freedom.  When I listen and do what Holy Spirit leads, life goes a lot smoother. For years, I had the view of God as a quick to anger, hard to please Dad.  So there were many times I just did what I thought was best and asked Jesus to bless what I had going on.  And on those few occasions when I did 'wait' on God, I looked for or even created the confirmation I needed so I could still get my way.

Eventually, this sorta faith failed me too many times.  I wanted to stop learning things the hard way.  I was sick of repeating the same mistakes over and over, in private and in public.  I was exhausted from my sin that would reveal itself at the most embarrassing times.

Do I still live obediently? Unfortunately, no.  Do I trust God more? Definitely, yes!  It took a few years of abusing the Grace that had been given to me and dealing with the consequences of my selfishness and stupidity.  After a few years of justifying my disobedience as Liberty and surrendering Peace and Joy for fleeting moments of pleasure, I was empty and broken.

I finally realized that rebellion is not Freedom.

So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.  So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then.  But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 
1 Peter 1.13-15

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Choose this day... freedom or bondage

I am writing this blog from a place I've never been before. I am in a dorm room. No I'm not getting a child into college for summer school. I'm not visiting one of my children on a college campus either. I'm living in the dorm.

Now before you worry that I escaped South Dakota or left my husband, rumors can spread so fast. Let me explain. I am here because I have begun a doctoral program. In three years, with God's help, grace and a lot of hard work, I will be Dr. Joyce A. Lighari. I've even been thinking about changing my name for professional purposes. When I write my book I may want to change not only the names of some of those who are in the book but my own.

It's a strange experience. It's sort of like camp without the pool and free time. No late night campfires where we toast marshmallows and all come to Jesus either. I am in a rather stark dorm room all by myself. I share a bathroom with some one else. Other than that, it's just me. Breakfast at 7 a.m. - short breaks for lunch and supper between classes that start at 8 a.m. and end at 9, 10, or somethings 11 p.m.

So what does this have to do with freedom? Actually it has a lot to do with freedom. I'm not talking about that feeling of freedom that a college student has when they first leave home. I am taking about a freedom to pursue the calling of God on my life.

God has been doing a lot of rearranging in me. I feel a bit like Moses. God sent me to the backside of the desert (South Dakota). Now in my old age, I'm back in school. I'm back in a dorm. I'm being further changed and rearranged so that I can walk in a freedom I've never know before.

As part of this process, we've been reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Okay, I know, you must have read it. Just like you, I read it in the 90's too. It sounded good. Doesn't conflict with Biblical principles - doesn't particularly emphasize them as such either... Unfortunately, life got chaotic again for me right after I read it - the bottom of everything fell out. When I picked it up this time, I realized the only thing I clearly remembered was that picture of the woman.

Perhaps because of the all the calamities, chaos and such of my life, I was finally really ready to read this book. You know God uses everything, including Stephen Covey's 7 habits. I'd heard it before but when I read, between stimulus and response there is choice, I think I had an epiphany. Every since then, ever since it got deep down in my spirit, I realized I was free to chose.

Obviously the most important thing in life we ever chose is our response to God. That brings the greatest freedom. However, if we don't exercise our now re-born freewill to chose for ourselves how we are going to react, we are never free. We never know freedom. We destructively follow false Gods and false patterns. We never know the wonderful person God made us to be; we never let Him finish His work in us. We just react to everything. Crisis hits, and we react - we could respond by listening to the voice of God who will tell us what our response should be.

I feel more free than I have in a long time. This Independence Day, I am celebrating my independence from the dictates of other people, their attitudes, their opinions, their judgments and my own false beliefs. I may be too old to live in a dorm, but here I am. I'm older than almost anyone, but I'm here. I had the freedom to chose to live my life for God's glory and service.

We've been asked to write our personal mission statement. I didn't want to... still don't. But as I've thought about it, I discovered that I desire more than anything to have a legacy of faithfulness so that I may hear some day, Well done, good and faithful servant.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Politics, Religion and the Devil

"I can do whatever I want!" I shouted. "I'm 18 and you can't tell me what to do! My mother glared back.

There I stood, old enough to vote, drive a car that could kill someone, smoke cigarettes, gamble, own a gun, fight a war, run for state office, travel the world, get married, get drunk (age was once 18 in my state), change my name, get a pilots license, take out a loan, and be charged as an adult.

This week the faithful will be blogging about freedom in honor of Independence Day. The idea of freedom means something different to everyone - so enjoy the fireworks.

Like many teenagers, I was looking forward to not having anyone tell me what to do. I wanted FREEDOM! Living in a single-parent home, I had some baggage that made it hard for me to see that anyone cared. I only heard from the "authorities" when I did something wrong. I ran up a pretty good tab financially with two cars, and two motorcycles. I felt that I deserved it because I worked hard at two jobs.

At work there were always conflicts, some due to my bad attitude - okay, many. So, I would quit before I got fired - well, most of the time. I loved the printing trade; of course I thought I should be farther up the line than I was.

My personal life was a mess, as I was drinking very heavily. I had fair-weather friends who showed up when I had the booze. Otherwise no one called me.

Emotionally I was bankrupt. I wanted to die, I felt unloved, and happiness was a long way off - so far in fact that it seemed unachievable.

Finally I was so sick of everyone telling me what to do, I joined the Army. How stupid is it to give up all your freedom to do push-ups in 98 degree/98% humidity weather in Alabama in the middle of August?

And probably the saddest situation of all, spiritually I was an atheist, without any hope, for anything. HERE is how the story ends - or should I say begins.

I heard all kinds of views on freedom. The freedom to pursue happiness, the freedom to choose, freedom from government meddling in my life, and yes, the Bible quote, John 8:36 "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." I really did not understand freedom at all. Certainly, I was free to sin. Everything I chose seemed to turn into disaster. How was it in all my rebelling against authority, I did not see the spiritual principal of "truth." John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The truth about freedom for me was simply this. John 8:34 "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

I confess, I had an amazing encounter with God and his love. HERE is what happened so long ago. It did, however; take many years for me to finally understand the concept of sin and it's ability to take away my freedom.

Not getting caught, is not real freedom. Striving to be better, and trying to be good was not freedom at all.

The real freedom for me, was in the simple revelation that in order for the perfectly "new man" to be free, David had to die. For years, I tried to fix David, do better, try harder, hang on, let go, repent, ask for forgiveness and strive some more. Until I had a deep encounter with my friend, Holy Spirit, I failed over and over and over. Because I lacked a deeper "totally abandon" relationship with Jesus, I was desensitized to sin and the Devil had me fooled into thinking that I wasn't as bad as someone else, and that because of religious things I did, God would "overlook" my shortcomings. What a lie!

Freedom is in dying to self - whatever that means - for me it is reckless abandon to a relationship with my God. It is in recognizing His mercy every day - after all, they are new every morning. It is in fighting th battle redemption vs. shame, and letting God win it. If we are in communion with God throughout the day - in prayer, in thought, in enjoyment of His presence, then we have a chance to enjoy real freedom. It won't matter who is president, who our boss is, what our spouse says, if we got a speeding ticket, or if the people in our lives measure up to some perceived standard we've set.

The fruit of real freedom is joy.

How about you, are you enjoying your freedom?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Love lifted me...Praise God!

Although tolerance is not one of the three virtues listed by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, I still believe it to be a very important attribute for the mature Christian. Tolerance should, however, be closely balanced with discernment for the Christian to avoid the every present danger we find ourselves in today called apathy.

Aristotle put forth four virtues necessary for a good person to have: temperance, wisdom, justice and courage. While temperance goes a few steps beyond just tolerance, there is also a danger with the balance emphasis of temperance to forget there is One above all else and not all in the world is in balance.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NIV)

11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love

The church I attend recently went through a little tiff. Who really knows where these crazy things start. I guess it's just human nature for us to occasionally want to quarrel...even in matters of faith. Ha! Especially in matters of faith! Everything eventually died down (for the most part), and hopefully we are refocused on our part in the Kingdom.

I really never allowed myself to be pulled into the fray, although one of my fellow members tried to drag me in any way. I guess I was an easy target in his machine-gunner style character assassinations...being just one of the many. Refusing to come unglued and fire back in defensive anger, I adopted the attitude that who I am today is not who I was many years ago, and I owe that completely to God. I live for Him now...not for what other people think of me. As long as I'm being a true light for His love, well sticks an stones...sticks and stones.

It's truly amazing how much peace God has granted me when I can walk up to a man I know has tried to drum up trouble in a church family I hold very dear in my heart and shake his hand. Not in hypocrisy either but in genuine love and concern. That's God folks...not Tony. No, the old me would have tossed and turned at nights plotting a way to fire/get back at him or worse...just belted him in the mouth one day in anger. Not very WWJD.

God has granted me maturity that contains tolerance, love and discernment. And thanks to that last one, I can love my trouble-making brother and still keep an eye on him...just in case.

I'll keep the other eye on my beautiful, loving wife who's still working on the tolerance issue. Her fortitude for defending the ones she loves looms large, and he never receives an acknowledgement of being alive from her. He should probably count his blessings on that fact too.

She's still way ahead of me in most other areas though. Thank You Father for Your tolerance we call grace.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Wardrobe of Forbearance

Do people ever bug you?

I feel guilty about this, but the truth of the matter is that sometimes I find people exasperating!

It's so easy for me to be hurt by my fellow Believers in a local church who I think seem cliquish or unfriendly, or to become annoyed by a sister in Christ with whom I'm working on a project and she is consistently unclear about what we need. It's no wonder that I see the admonition repeatedly in the New Testament for Christ's followers to bear with one another.

One of my favorite Bible passages with regard to this whole issue is Colossians 3:12-14 (MSG):

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Perhaps I like this passage in The Message paraphrase so much because I like clothes. Whenever I'm planning to go someplace, I take a few moments to consider what outfit that I have in my closet is most appropriate for the event. If I'm at an event and realize that I've totally misjudged the situation and am either over, or under, dressed for the occasion, I feel less than comfortable. I really appreciated it when I was at my oldest son, Devon's, college for the weekend of his graduation because his school clearly spelled out if a particular event was to be casual, informal, or formal (they also even defined what each of these meant for both civilians and service personnel).

I think it's cool that God's Word clues me in on the best clothes for life within the body of Believers. That love is THE all-purpose garment. That God's picked out compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline for me to put on. He not only tells me how to dress, but he even fills me in on what my deportment should be - even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.

But what really gets me in this passage is when it says: "Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you." I've messed up a LOT in my life and God has never told me - no more, I've had enough, I'm going to just leave you and forsake you for that one! Instead, He has always forgiven me, cleansed me, and the Holy Spirit continues to work in me so I don't have to continue in my sins.

What about you, do you find it easy to be forgiving and over look the offenses of others in the body of Christ? What do you do when you have someone who really "rubs you the wrong way"?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Strong Getting Stronger

Even the strongest weight lifters need a spot. Sometimes the spot is precautionary, just for safety, with no effort exerted at all. Other times a spotter merely uses words to encourage the weight lifter. Sometimes words aren't enough and a spotter will use a very soft touch to help get the weight through a sticking point. And then there may be times when a spotter needs to pull the bar off the neck of the weight lifter.

As Christians, there are times in our Walk that we need a spot. There are times in our walk where we need to spot others. Admitting to a need or a weakness is not a lack of Faith. There is no Faith in being a prideful knucklehead. It actually takes more Faith to put trust in another Brother or Sister in Christ than it does to deny or cover up a weakness.

Paul recognized the importance of admitting to his weaknesses. It is a Christian's time of weakness that Jesus can be His strongest. It is when a person's pride is at its smallest that the Compassion of Jesus will be its biggest.

Sometimes Believers find themselves lifting a weight that too heavy or is just not of God. This is when the Body can grow in Love and strength and serve each other by placing greater importance upon other people and their needs. Maybe just a few words are needed to help out someone struggling.  Maybe it is just a little push that gets them through the 'workout'.  Maybe you are the only one that is there to pull the bar off their neck.

Asking for prayer isn'ta sign of weakness. Asking for prayer is a sign strong person wanting to get stronger!

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Packing a Heavy Load

I missed last week my turn to contribute on friends. This week, talking about bearing one another’s burdens fits along that same line. I’ll sort of combine the two and hope I don’t get too long with it.

I’ve been blessed with many good friends throughout my life. There are my childhood friends like Barbara who I wrote about here. She’s the best. After all these years she still says I’d do anything for you. And she did! My daughter’s van was stranded in Georgia a few miles from their house. She and her husband went and got the van, had it repaired, paid the repairs and waited for my daughter to come back and get it. Money was tight for them, but friendship was tighter. She helped bear that burden.

I’ve had other friends throughout my life who I knew really prayed for me. They saw my struggles and knew the best thing to do for me was to pray. I come from a traditional Pentecostal background. We have this tradition of altar time. Nothing quite like kneeling at a altar pouring your heart out to God and have someone come beside you putting their arms around and crying with you. While God heard my prayer, it seems when two of you cry together before God, it just helps.

I have two very special friends in my life right now that bear my burdens. One is relatively new in my life and the other goes back to my youth – which was a VERY long time ago.

Both of these friends live far away from me. While I have a few people I’d call friends in South Dakota. Some of that are quite wonderful. There the fellow pastor who I have lunch with – there are some wonderful people from the church where I serve as pulpit fill from time to time. I’ve taken them into my heart and some of them seem to have take me into their hearts as well.

Then there is my coffee buddy and dear friend. We meet at McDonalds even though it’s not my favorite and chat for hours, literally hours. She listened with a deep loving heart to my angst and pain about living in South Dakota. Sometimes I have friends who are overly positive but I guess they are good because they balance out my sometimes negativity – she’s one of those friends. She certainly has born a lot of my burdens.

Then there is a new friends, young, passionate about causes and so much like me in her ideas and thoughts. I want to have more time with her but we both are busy. It seems odd to have a friend who is young enough to be your daughter. She challenges me to like where I live and invest in this community. She’s right. This friend says there are burdens we can bear together here in South Dakota and challenges me to join her.

But these other two long distance friends are extra special when it comes to helping bear my burdens. One lives in Connecticut. We met by divine appointment I believe. She’s prayed with me and held me as I cried many times. One time she arranged for a few of her prayer partners to minister to me and pray for me when I still lived in Connecticut. The day was so powerful that I will never forget as I heard that God wanted me. That I was planned from the start. Oh, I knew those things in my head, but my heart didn’t know. That day my heart knew.

Now we live far away from each other and we email. It is always with great delight I open her emails. She shares her heart with me. She shares her struggles in life. I share mine. We try to encourage each other but I think more than that we just care and listen to each other with no judgment. That’s a gift.

Then there is a new old friend. We went to high school together but didn’t know each other. We became friends when I was a single mother trying to raise three small children and go to school. My abusive husband had recently abandoned me. I lived on welfare and food stamps. I lived in a trailer. I was a needy friend in so many ways. Talk about burdens to bear!

She and her roommate helped bear my burdens with love and friendship along with tangible things – like food and a telephone. Imagine living in a trailer in a not so great trailer court with three small children and have no telephone. One day, this friend told me that she and her roommate had decided to pay for a telephone. I’ve never forgotten how I felt that day. No more pay phones.

I lost touch with this friend for probably 30 years. I never forgot her but I never knew where she was either. Recently, thanks to the internet we’ve reconnected. I may not need a telephone any more or some of the other tangible things I needed back then. Now, I need loving support and prayer. My burden is loneliness and depression. Just as she swung into action to get a telephone for me, she has swung into action to pray, listen, and care. She’s bearing this burden now.

I hope that there are people who say these things about me – that I help bear their burdens. I want to pay it back or pay it forward or something. Whose burden can you bear?

Monday, June 21, 2010

IMNSHO! (In my not so humble opinion)

I sat across the desk from the new pastor. "How do you feel about authority?" he asked, flipping open to one of many bookmarks in his Bible.

I was sort of on the hot seat, and I dug deep into my spirit for an answer. "It's good if it is from God." I replied in my most humble tone.

Jaw dropping silence.

Getting along with others in the Body of Christ can be most taxing at times. There are all sorts of personalities, levels of redemption and a bit of dysfunction in the church. Having the expectation of "grace" and "love" - err, "sloppy agape," can make relationship even tougher than those with the lost  - where truthfully, we don't have much in the way of expectation. So sit back and prepare for your weekly Kingdom Blogger Extravaganza - a bonanza of ways to, and examples of, bearing with one another in love.

As a disillusioned young Christian man (read that adult child, milk sipping, believer of Christ), I was so impressed with Jesus, that I thought everyone had a similar experience to mine. I was wrong. I based my expectations of others on the example I received from the folks that brought me to Christ. I started to have my own ideas about church, thought up some more programs and believed whatever I heard from the pulpit. It's a recipe for disaster - and that I became.

The honeymoon was over, and the warm fuzzy feeling faded away after about three years. I had fought with the Devil, tried to study the Bible, and made some wrong decisions. I headed out into the desert and stayed there for nearly 7 years. I tried to keep my own brand of faith, but it wasn't working for me.

Winding the clock ahead, past seminary and Bible school, mission trips and hundreds of services and conferences, there I sat in the green leather chair looking at the new pastor. How could this happen again? I had desperately tried to get along, to obey the rules, and participate as a member. I even wore a suit and tie on Easter!

Just a week before I was pacing the back of the church praying, pressing in, sensing I would be used somehow. (I had a prophetic word about pastors calling me up to pray for others - even ones that didn't know me.) It had already happened a few times before. The entire service, both during the worship, the word and the announcements, I prayed. The sermon was on breakthrough and the old pastor got to the altar call when he invited the elders up to pray, and "you too" he said as he pointed at me.

I prayed for a bunch of folks and the power of God was really quite awesome that morning. I was listening to the instructions of my friend Holy Spirit, and the fruit was amazing. I finally came to one guy and his wife, and I saw this wonderful worship gift "on" him. "You play an instrument I asked?"

He nodded yes.

"Keyboard, right?" I continued. (No sense going on with an impression if your are out to lunch.)

"Yes, I just bought one and I haven't played in many years." He said. His wife seemed a little surprised at the conversation.

"Well, I believe that the Lord wants you to lead worship sometime." I continued. "And I know you think this is a coincidence, but the Lord told me that you drive a dark green Dodge pick-up truck with some silver or gray on the door. It has a cassette player that is broken, but you wanted a CD player when you bought it, and you listen to worldly radio - rock and roll even - not that rock is bad, but God would like you to praise him too."

OK, I am way out of my comfort zone and his wife thinks I was checking them out in the parking lot. I swear on a million Bibles, I had never met them, and didn't know a thing about them - especially that they were recently saved. He had never told anyone in church that he played keyboard, as he was thinking about writing movie scores, not playing worship on Sunday mornings.

That is what I love about God. He addresses the secret us, our longings and desires.

The man looked at his wife and said, "How would he know what type of music I listen to, and that I tried to order a CD player when the truck was new?"

Another trip to another pastor's office. There he had nothing to say about my response about authority. It was left there and he never picked his Bible up one more time during the meeting.

He sort of got into how the couple felt about the "word" I had for the husband. He was unclear of the above details.They thought maybe he had told me all about them, but actually, I never really talked to him before our little authority gathering..

At the end of the meeting, the pastor asked me to apologize to the man and his wife. And I did the very next time I saw them. I told him that is was presumptuous to have told him that God was going to use him in worship, and that I was sorry if I created a false hope in him, or his wife. Case closed.

It was a tough lesson for me - I thought I was right, but the pastor asked, and to bear with him, I did exactly as he asked.

Another time they were praying for a man in the hospital during the service. They took turns in leading tearful prayers. "Oh poor so-and-so" The leaders continued on thanking God for the life he had lived. LIVED!? I stood up and proclaimed, "He will live and not die!" I saw a picture of his aorta with a healing flash of light in my spirit.

The pastor fired back, "You better be right!" He was mad. Even though the man's family had been summoned to the hospital to say their goodbyes. He lived.

I apologized for my exuberance - especially in front of the congregation.

One Sunday we had some visitors from Iceland. I asked the pastor if I could share a word with them - one that he would be a witness for. He agreed - at least if I went off the deep end, he'd be right there to slap me. ;o) I didn't say "God said," or anything like that. I simply said, I see - "I see you teaching other pastors. He was nodding yes.(Turns out he was the leader of the Icelandic Evangelical Pastor's Association) I continued: "And working with your wife, I see you in a prison, like a prison ministry. It is a place in your life that goes virtually unnoticed."

The pastor stopped me - "He means like you are setting the captives free from the prison of sin."

The Icelandic man, said, "No pastor, I minister with my wife in the prison every week. Just the two of us."

We left the pastor's office that morning to go back to the sanctuary, and there on stage, was the man playing keyboards and singing praises to the Lord. It was awesome! A few months later he was asked to be the worship leader.

Wow! God is amazing!

This particular pastor is one of the most difficult people that I have ever worked with. Over and over we locked horns. I often thought of leaving, but the Lord would not release me. And so I stayed, watched people get healed, had a chance to prophesy, to teach, go on mission trips, lead home groups, play worship, worked with the youth and young adults - and grew up a lot. In the end, they blessed me and my wife and we left about 6 years ago.

Every so often, I visit the old church web site and I see that this keyboard player is still the worship leader.

God knows what He is doing.

How about you, do yo have someone at church that is tough to get along with? How do you deal with them?

Friday, June 18, 2010

You just never know who's paying attention...

Can you think of a story from your past that involves a friend who left a lasting, positive impression just because of who they were? You probably thought of several, like me. A story came to mind today that happened while I was in college (a long time ago). My freshman year, I lived on an upper-classman floor of a dorm due to overcrowding. It was an uninviting situation at first, but I quickly adapted and started making friends within a few days due in large part to one of my new friends named Marlin, a true Southern gentleman from Alabama. He must have been from a pretty influential family, since they shared the same last name as the county where he lived. Marlin was about as laid back as a person comes, especially for a business major. His demeanor was deceptive and made Marlin seem less sophisticated than he was actually. Looking back, I believe his humility played a big part in his popularity. Marlin was just a good person, and it showed not only in his attitude but also in his actions.

Now to the story. Marlin owned one of 'the cars' of the time, a 1979 Firebird Trans Am. That's right old timers…right out of Smokey and the Bandit fame. Unfortunately, he had a minor accident that had disfigured the classic car's signature hood decal. Not to be discouraged, Marlin completed most of the car's body repairs himself over a couple of weeks, and then he had a beautiful paint job done on the car that restored the Trans Am to near mint condition…except for one detail. The firebird emblem that made the difference between another nice muscle car and 'the car to have' was still missing. Marlin's plan to fix this was sound. He purchased the decalcomania through a mail-order catalog, saving nearly a hundred dollars (keep in mind college students are always broke), and he would put the decal on himself with help from his friends. I need to insert an important detail at this point. You see, Marlin may have come from a family with money, but he had worked in a rock quarry for several years to pay for the car and his education. It was important to Marlin that he did his own part.

The day came that the famous foul was to reclaim its distinguished place on the hood. For those of you too young to remember the distinctive decor, the decal nearly covered the entire hood, which greatly added to its 'way cool' appeal. Several of Marlin's friends went along to help with the task. First, we washed the car and dried it. Then Marlin applied a special solution (okay, rubbing alcohol) to prepare the hood. Moving to a shady spot, he carefully unfolded the decal, meticulously marked the location of each wing tip, and then double-checked everything again. At this point, we are at least two hours into the process. Next came the point of no return. While two people held the decal taut, Marlin removed the stickers backing. In order to do this, the decal was lying face down on the hood making it necessary to flip the whole thing over once the backing was off. As the flip occurs, just enough wind starts to wrinkle the decal sending Marlin into an uncharacteristic panic, and his attempt to stabilize from beneath the giant sticker cause the whole thing to fold in on itself…you guessed it, sticky sides together.

For the first and only time in the three years that I knew Marlin, I heard him utter a single profanity.

Marlin didn't curse, even though he lived in a men's dorm full of guys who did. But, I certainly didn't think any less of Marlin that day, not in the least. He lived a Christian lifestyle each and every day while staying one of the guys. He didn't drink, do drugs, tell dirty jokes or give in to any of the negative peer pressures that high school and college kids face. And, he was still a great guy. We really rode Marlin hard about the whole incident, but he took it in stride as he did everything else. I think the fact that such a big deal was made about his slip of the tongue bothered him way more than the $77.48 wad of sticky mess he now owned. The whole incident spoke to his true character. Marlin was a representative of his savior, Jesus Christ. Was he perfect? He never claimed to be, but he followed the example in his daily life of someone who is perfect. Marlin made everyone around him…well…just better people.

Christians slip up too. We all fall short of God's glory. When you do make a mistake, don't dwell so much on the mistake, but how you handle yourself after the mistake. Ultimately, that's what people are going to remember and be influence by for the glory of God.

Marlin was an excellent influence on me. I sure miss my friend from Alabama...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The blessing of Being and Having

I think one of the greatest blessings of God in my life is to both get to be and to have friends.

When it comes to being a friend, I think about the apostle Paul. I never cease to be amazed at the level of love and intimacy present when I read the apostle Paul’s words in passages like 2 Timothy 1:3-4, Philippians 1:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, Ephesians 1:16, and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.. Paul's life was all about loving, hanging out with, praying for, and investing his life into people. I see a depth of love here that goes way beyond what frequently passes for friendship in our culture.

As I've read, and re-read, Bible passages like these over the years I'm challenged to live a different kind of lifestyle. One where people count way more than possessions, homes, or cars. A life style where my own needs, shyness, social anxiety, and comfort level are not what it's all about. A life style that's about cultivating an ability to hear God's voice and see people the way He does, to really hear what's going on with someone else, and to be constantly reaching out. More and more as time goes by, this is the life I'm seeking.

I've been thinking about this since I knew we were writing about friendship this week. I've been thinking about how to be a friend. Then yesterday I had the opportunity to go visit a close friend of mine from where I used to live; and I received the blessing of having a friend.

This friend, Paula, only lives about a 1 1/2 hour drive from me, but we don't get to see each other all that often. There's few things in life that can compare to spending time with a good friend. To have someone with whom I can totally be myself and just say whatever I want because she already knows me and loves me anyway. Someone who I find interesting and we can enjoy the same things - like a 2 hour walk on the beach while talking, talking and talking some more. Then it was extra wonderful because she loves to cook and she made dinner and invited two other friends, Carol and Olga, who I rarely get to see anymore, to share dinner with us. For me, I felt like I was basking in their presence, it just felt so good to be together with them again. These are people who we have history together, and, because of this history, when we share something that's currently happening in our lives, we all have a full appreciation because we know the background. These are women who I've seen God work so mightily in their lives and when I'm looking at them, I feel such immense joy just knowing the wondrous things God has done for them. These are women who I know the painful stuff that's in their lives and I sincerely care, and have invested hours in tears and prayers for, and who we're still believing together for God to work in some specific situations.

As I'm here thinking about friendship the predominant feeling I have is gratitude. Gratitude that God has blessed me with such wonderful friends. Gratitude that He lets me be a friend to others.

What about you, what comes to your mind when you think about friendship?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iron Men

I have been walking in my Faith since 1995 after Jesus saved me from myself and my alcoholism. I quickly became involved with the church where I was baptized in water and Spirit. It was awesome to learn about Jesus and to be a part of a group of Spirit filled believers.
It was at this church in Iowa City that I met a handful of guys that have blessed me to this day.
Larry, Jim, Ray, Chuck and Mike have all been instrumental in my Faith.

Larry is my Spiritual dad and mentored me for a year almost immediately. It was with Larry that I learned a real man of Faith does not have all the answers and will be honest enough to tell me so. I also learned to receive compassion and Grace as Larry and I met regularly to pray for each other and to hold each other accountable in our Faith.

Jim is a man that once you meet him, you will never forget him. Built like a tank, with a commanding voice and an awesome mind. When Jim quoted Scripture, it seemed to me that he was scanning the Bible in his mind searching for a verse. It was like he was speed reading each column and flipping the pages until he found the passage he was looking for. Jim has Faith that is beyond anything I have walked in. This man has grabbed a hold of Jesus and has hung on with everything he has, even when he was the only person that believed in himself.

Ray is my Spiritual big brother and just as a big brother will bring correction and 'show affection' with rough words or actions, Ray did the same in the Spirit. He has beat me up plenty of times with his version of encouragement, not because he was mean spirited but that's what was needed at the time. He always encouraged me to look to Jesus, even if it meant he had to pick me up off the ground and grab me by the neck and force me to look up. And just like any big brother he was there to help and to have my back whenever necessary. Spiritually, Ray knew when to put his arm around my shoulder and to say "I love you, Bro!" and when to slug me in the arm and to say "Get over it and get with Jesus!"

Chuck is a big guy who is great to have as a prayer partner but not so great to have as a lifting partner. You see, when lifting weights with Chuck when we would switch sets, we would take off more weight after Chuck's set than I would do for my set. I think Chuck would curl my bench press. Chuck is the first guy that I got together to pray with. We would go down to the University of Iowa and prayer walk around the campus. I learned a lot about hearing Holy Spirit's voice during these times of prayer.

Mike is a former roommate and an awesome friend. Mike was a great roomie, he was laid back and soft spoken and he never once threatened to demonstrate his 3rd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do on me. He also would randomly pay my half of a utility or treat me to supper at Village Inn as he earned bonuses from work. The times of praying together and discussing the Word were great and I learned a lot about hearing Holy Spirit's voice.

None of us attend that church anymore. All but Chuck has moved out of Iowa City, but I believe that even if we all were still in that area, we wouldn't be attending there anyways. I am not bad mouthing the fellowship, I just believe that each one of us was called to follow Jesus elsewhere.

Whenever I get together or chat with any one of these guys, we wind up talking about the other dudes I have written about. I have been hanging with one Brutha when one of the others would call me. And before every good bye we wind up praying.

There were times where I had lost all contact with one of these guys, yet somehow I would get connected with them after a year or so. There even was a time so weak in my faith that I told Larry I was giving up on Jesus. I never did, because God is bigger than that, but also because I know Larry was praying for me. I don't know if any of my Bruthas could directly recall a time when Holy Spirit lead them to pray for me, but I am pretty sure that it has happened throughout the years.

But what was most important, with each one of these men of Faith, was whenever our paths crossed intentionally or unintentionally, I always, I mean it, every single time I encountered Larry, Jim, Ray, Chuck or Mike, these guys were seeking Jesus. No matter where I was at in my Faith, passionate or bitter, strong or weak, faithful or faithless, when I came into contact with one of these guys I came into a contact with a Righteous man, a man that was wanting more of Jesus.

I am in awe of how God placed these guys in my life back in the mid nineties, but I most in awe of no matter where anyone of these friends were in their Faith, they were still looking for more of Jesus in their life.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17

Monday, June 14, 2010

Softening the Fall - A Real Friend

Friendship is such a vague term in many ways. The Bible often makes a distinction between the shallowness of the world, and the "real deal" from Heaven. For example, happiness is not used in the Bible, but joy is. They are different. The word Tolerance is not in the Bible, but sacrifice is and loving service is. The term friendship, on the other hand, seems to mean any type of relationship from someone that you see at the gas station every few days, to a spouse which you have committed your life to. Heck, it's even a verb now on Facebook!

Last week my friends at Kingdom Bloggers wrote about the vertical relationship with God through prayer. This week they are going to write about the horizontal relationship they have with the people of God. That's what the cross is a symbol of: relationship with God and man.

I have written about friendship many times over at Fire & Grace. I have covered topics from "how many friends do we need," to "what it means to be a friend." I wrote about the "types of friends we can have." I have written about Jesus, the friend that sticks closer than a brother. I even taught friendship to 3 men's group at a church I beleonged to. Interestingly, I didn't pick the topic.

If we look in the Bible we can see many different relationships that one might call a friendship: The Good Samaritan, Paul and Barnabas, Timothy and Paul, and of course, David and Jonathan.

As much as I love my online friends here at Kingdom Bloggers - and I do know a lot about them, their struggles, their joys, their successes, their heart, and in some cases their spouses - I have only met Joyce. Dave and I talk on the phone a lot - we pray a lot too. Tony and I talk once or twice a week in addition to chatting online about everything from the Celtics winning the World Championship over the Lakers this year, to prayer for things we struggle with. I do love these folks. Each week we have a private Facebook message with a few prayer requests, topics for the blog, and some wise cracking.

In life I have had all sorts of friends - levels and depths of friendship - that are too numerous to count. I had neighborhood friends, school friends, family friends, friends of my spouse, people I met on missions, college friends, church friends, work friends, and acquaintances I called friends. My Facebook page is filled with friends from every era of my life; even the virtual one.

I do have real flesh and blood friends. Every few months my family and I get together with Gigi. I have known her since I was in Kindergarten (1964). We reconnected on Facebook, and the rest is good history. I have another friend Scott, we met on a construction site in 1986, and we've been friends over the years and the miles ever since. We see each other every year when his wife runs the Boston Marathon. We have prayed for each other, watched kids be born, grow up, go to college, get married, and have kids. It's a lot of history.

Four years ago, I moved to greater Boston for a job. I had previously lived on Cape Cod, MA for 21 years. That was home - where my friends were. It was also a place where my girls were born, where I failed more than once, was betrayed, was attacked by the Devil, walked the beach, and made the most important friendship outside of my marriage. Instead of telling you what a good friend is, or what the Bible says about friendship, I want to tell you the story of my friend Antonio Carlos. He is my Jonathan, and I am his David.

In 1998 I had a prophetic word about going to the nations - flying here, flying there. It was crazy to me at the time. HERE is how that turned out. One day in 1999 I was at a Salvation Army chapel service. It was me and my family, the pastor and his wife, a man in a wheelchair and a homeless Brazilian gal. The pastor sent his wife down the block to see if there was someone that could interpret for the Brazilian woman so they could help her.

Pastor Mike and I prayed for the man in the wheelchair. My wife took the girls home, and I arranged a ride home with Mike and Carol. She returned with one of the Brazilian pastors from the Baptist Church. He interpreted for the woman, and when he was done we all started to leave.

Then I heard the voice of God. "Pray for him."

"I'm going home Lord." I replied.

I relented, and asked Mike and Carol if I could have a few minutes to pray for the Brazilian Pastor. I approached this man and said, "Could I share a few things with you?"

"Yes, brother." he said in his Portuguese accent.

I prayed for him, and God showed up so powerfully that we were both amazed - surprised even. It was so exciting that I agreed to meet him the next day for lunch. Over the next few weeks he introduced me to lots of folks in his community and also arranged ministry engagements all over southern New England and then Brazil. Wow!

We prayed together, laughed together, confessed our sins to each other, told some off color jokes, ate together, ministered side-by-side as he interpreted for me. It was really amazing! I introduced him to some of my ministry friends, and he was invited to preach, and eventually join an American church as an associate pastor. He took missionaries to Brazil, Columbia and Israel as well leading local outreaches.

When I returned from Brazil in 1999, my ex-wife filed for divorce. I'll skip the gory parts, but there are no winners in a divorce - ever. The church abandon me, and so did most of my friends. My place in the front row seat became a seat in the back row. At my own church, it was suggested that I don't come back until everything was resolved.

Within weeks, I had one Christian friend left - Antonio Carlos.

Eventually I met Mary Anne, and he was the best man at the wedding and is now a long time family friend.

Our relationship is tougher now that I live so far away. He also travels a lot. He has come on some hard times; the church he was at closed, trouble with INS, his dad died in Brazil a few weeks ago, and now he has a citizenship hearing in May of 2011. I spoke to him last night, we are getting together this weekend to enjoy to reminisce, eat sushi, and pray.

The depth of our freindship is best described in the following words. One day as he and I were talking about the crucible I had been through. (He was in Brazil for the worst part of it.) I asked him, "Where was Jonathan when David fell?" He said, "I was in Brazil, but I am here now."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paul could have charged Timothy a fortune for all that great advice.

I hope you don't consider this lazy, but I really want to repost from last year something from Tony C Today on the subject matter of prayer. I could rewrite the post, but the points would only remain the same. From August 2009:

Hey...I'll be praying for you.

When you tell someone you'll be praying for them or someone ask you to pray for them, do you actually take the time to remember the person in prayer?

That's a tough one. Being a prayer warrior is a true calling, and doing it right requires a degree of discipline and humility not many of us come by easily. Humility? Yes, I believe presenting the needs of others to God ahead of your own needs requires a great deal of humility. We live in a self-absorbed world that tries to drive us to a narcissistic point of view...But what's in it for me?

Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy that praying for others is the key to a clear conscience, so in fact, praying on the behalf of someone else provides a direct benefit to the person praying. Now, I'm not saying you should focus on the benefit you receive from praying for others...that's not the point. But if you're inclined to need additional motivation to pray for others...there you have it.

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

A familiar verse to most Christians that we hear a lot following Presidential Elections...but did you ever notice the word 'then' in verse 1 (the word 'therefore' appears in the KJV)? The presence of that word reminds me that Paul didn't lay his letter to Timothy out in the chapter/verse format we're used to reading, and there must be something significant in the previous verse he is bringing to a conclusion. Let's take a look:

18Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 2:18-20

So when you read the context of Paul's point through all seven verses, you see the importance (I urge...) of praying for others in the sight of God, but also as a matter of doing a little personal inventory. Let me tie that up a little better...

My experience tells me that it's very difficult to pray for someone else when you have something bad weighing on your conscience. No matter how hard I try to focus on the person or need I'm praying for, I keep going back to...But what about this (sin) in your life? Do you thing God's listening to you with that albatross hanging around your neck? What good are you doing for this person you're trying to help if you can't deal with (sin)?

Ouch. Paul charges Timothy to hold onto faith and good conscience so not to shipwreck his own faith. A good conscience is a conscience that does not condemn you for the things you do or don't do. So, what Paul is saying is that in order for your ship of faith to stay need to see to it that you don't do the things your conscience condemns or leave undone the things which your conscience demands.

Tony C...what the heck does this have to do with praying for others? Wrap it up for me.

Okay, I'll paraphrase Paul with all due respect given...since you must keep a good conscience in order not to make shipwreck of your faith, I urge you first of all to pray for all men. At the top of Paul's list of things that we must do in order to keep a clear conscience is to pray for other people. In order to see why failing to pray for people leads to a bad conscience and so jeopardize our faith, we have to ask... What is it that will nudge a Christian's conscience in his relationship to other people?

The answer to that question is clear from the direction of the entire Bible... all God's instruction is summed up in this... Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, anything we do to people that is unloving will prick our conscience and threaten our faith. With that as a foundation, we can start to see why prayer for other people is at the top of Paul's list of things we must do in order to keep a clear conscience.

Now that we've worked on having a clear conscience, there's a lot of prayer request that need lifting up. I hope you will keep me in your's the least I can do to help you stay guilt-free...

In Christ Love

Thursday, June 10, 2010

God works

I feel so fortunate that the Creator of the Universe lets me talk to Him, that He wants to talk with me. I have so much I could say about prayer that it would take a whole bunch of posts.

So I decided to focus on just one specific area that God's worked in my life, much to my amazement, through prayer during these last few years. It's in the area of marriage.

You may not be at all like me. You may be an optimistic, outgoing, self-secure individual who came from a healthy, loving, stable Christian family. Well, like I said, that's not me. But I am so grateful that God works in our lives and we don't have to stay the same.

When my husband John and I wed in 2005, I was determined to not make the same mistakes that I'd insanely repeated through much of my life.

I know John and know that he prays for me daily. His prayers have resulted in some basic truths finally getting through to me (I didn't happen to have the family background where I learned the basic skills for a successful marriage). I've learned that you can not change another human being. I've also learned that every single person on the planet can be annoying sometimes and you just have to extend one another a lot of space and grace. So, instead of nagging my poor beloved, or pushing for my way when something was important to me, I committed myself to be quiet and pray.

Guess what happened?

God worked. He has done such a better job at things than I ever could have demanded, manipulated, controlled, or coerced into happening. I can let go and let God work instead of thinking the whole world is on my shoulders and that I have to be responsible for everything. I commented on David's post on Monday about how when I read passages in the Bible such as Ephesians 6:12 and Daniel 10:12-14 my awareness of the spiritual realm is increased. I believe that prayer is one of God's ways for us to work in that spiritual realm. John's prayers on my behalf have been fruitful and God is working in me, changing me; from the inside out.

It's also been cool when situations arise where I want so much to argue with John and push for something, I can just be quiet and go pray. A really light weight example (because who wants to share the heavy weight ones?) of this happened this past year. John grew up with a dad who didn't like pets and they never had pets, so John didn't learn to enjoy animals in his life. During our first year that we moved here my younger two sons and myself acquired a 5 month old dog from the local animal shelter. As John was looking toward retiring this past year, he told me that he didn't want this dog (Jake) to be a part of our household when he would be now be at home so much of the time. Well, if you're a dog person you know that 3 years with a dog makes him a part of your heart. Yet it's not like I could choose the dog over John. So I was quiet and prayed. A year later John has retired and Jake is still here. John is crazy about that dog and spoils him more than it would ever enter my mind to do. God changed John's heart. As we were out hiking this past week and we were watching Jake run up the steep mountain that John and I were slowly making our way up, John commented on how much joy this goofy dog brings into our lives.

What about you, what are some ways God's worked in your marriage through prayer?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Child Like Prayers

I remember it very clearly. Logan was 3 1/2 years old. He had pressed himself up against the wall almost has if he was digging his heels into the carpet preparing for a long hard fought battle. (As it turned out, that's what he had in mind.) "Don't wanna! Don't wanna! No, don't wanna!" He screamed, as he worked himself up, by rocking back and forth and using the wall to push off. I was baffled, I just told him to get his shoes. That's it. I was wanting to take him to the park after he had just woken up from his nap. But first he needed to get his shoes on. If only I would have said something along the lines of "We can go to the park and play after we get your shoes on." "Maybe if I would have approached it differently, we wouldn't be having this battle," I thought to myself. But I didn't give an explanation as to the need for the shoes and so now I was stuck in the middle of a meltdown. "But then again I am the parent, I know what needs to be done and I know when it needs to be done." I silently reassured myself.
I told him that once he got his shoes on we could go. He refused and became more upset. He wouldn't ask me for help, he barked at me that he didn't want to put on his shoes, he just wanted to go to the park. No matter how I responded, he was determined to stay in his mindset. He was not making the connection that I was wanting to give him exactly what he wanted, if he just cooperated with me. This had become a battle of wills and I could never give in to this ridiculous behavior. This was my child trying to dictate to me what should be done and I could not allow that, especially with such awful behavior. If I gave into this hostility and stupidity now, then I would have to deal with even more later on. I could not allow this selfishness and negativity take root because I love my son and I want him to grow as a Godly man. Proverbs 3:11-12

Then Holy Spirit impressed upon me, "Is that how you act when you pray to God?"

All I could do was laugh. I wanted to cry. In times past, it was how I prayed. And in some areas of my life, it was how I maintained my relationship with Dad. I prayed and acted like a 3 year old when I talked to God!

I wanted and demanded things of God in incomplete sentences. "Why?" "Why me?" "How much longer?" I repeated the same prayers over and over and over. "PLEEEEAAASEEE!" I would whine in a manner that I would not tolerate from my 3 year old. I told God where I wanted to go and told him that I was ready to go NOW! It didn't matter if I needed to do something before I got to go where God had intended for me to go, I was being told "Wait a moment, I need you to do something first" and that was infuriating and inconceivable! Right?

Like the ordeal Logan was putting himself and me through, I have had many tantrums because of me not getting my way. I knew what was best for myself and I just needed God's help to get it done.

Unlike Logan, I was a "mature" adult, only in the past my behavior had been much, much worse. I used foul language and insulted Dad when I had my meltdowns. I questioned His love for me. I questioned His intelligence. I questioned His generosity. And I did it in a disgusting manner that would leave me horrified if my child had acted in such manner. If one of my kids, who had repeatedly professed their love to me for years, suddenly vomited such nasty slop on me like what I had done to God, I would be in tears. I would find it very, very difficult to forgive. It would take a lot for me to overcome such a selfish, ungrateful, nasty behavior such as what I have exhibited in times past.

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Mathew 7:9-11

With all my shortcomings, selfish interests and the sin in my life I still want to give the best to my kids. How much more will my Holy Dad be able to give me because He is God and not because of what I do or don't do.

Just like I could not stop loving Logan because of his bad behavior and irrational thinking, I know God could never stop loving me. I believe this because I believe what the Bible says about God and me. I have also seen the love my Dad has for me because of the love I have for my kids. Even when I have been caught up in my selfish, shortsighted behavior, God is always there and He always will be there! He will never give up on me no matter how I act. Thankfully, He has matured me, He has lovingly corrected me and I have realized His love and the love of His correction. Revelation 3:19

Logan's meltdown took so long, that by time he had calmed down and apologized for his behavior, it had begun raining. He held his ground for nearly 2 hours. Unbelievable, he spent 2 hours inside, in a miserable mood instead of spending the time at the park playing with others and his daddy.

Hmmmm? How many times have I missed out on God's goodness and doing what I wanted to do because of my child like prayers?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Didn't Ask for THIS!!

My relationship with prayer is mixed. I want to do it. I have even tried to figure out what it means to pray without ceasing. I came up with a really good sermon one time that I’ve repeated a few times in various places. I started out with establishing through scripture that the Bible actually called upon us to pray everywhere all the time about all things. Whew, that’s a lot of praying. Near impossible wouldn’t you think?

Then we turned to what we call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. With my best preaching/teaching skills we went through the elements of the prayer discovering that it was a lifestyle, not just words to be recited. Therefore, Jesus taught us to pray and taught us to live and therefore we can pray always, everywhere all the time about all things. It’s really a pretty good sermon.

Like all good sermons, it has to get into your heart to be effective. I sometimes wonder how well this preacher really does with that lifestyle.

I have had periods where I would be very fervent in prayer. My life fell apart in 1997 as a result of this fervency. I am a life-long Pentecostal. That’s a different sort of heritage! It was a good one, a rich one, but really different.

I had heard about these great revivals all my life. I was coming of age during the Charismatic Renewal. My mother and I used to go on the bus to Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI) meetings by bus, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island on a Saturday morning, just to hear some Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist or the like tell about their experience with the Holy Spirit. A tall Norwegian man named Simon led that chapter. In my world, it had to be led by or at least endorsed by a Norwegian to be legit. Simon would lead “airlifts” to Norway to bring the message of the Holy Spirit. You can read a little more about me, FGBMFI and Simon here.

I heard about revival all my life. I suppose I had experienced it. But I wanted to really see it in my lifetime. I wanted “my Azusa Street.” (Make sure to have your speakers on when you check that link.) I understood to get it you had to pray. I did. My best friend and coworker decided to go to the church everyday for lunch and pray. We wanted to see revival.

It was the mid-1990’s. I was reading about the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Revival. I couldn't go. I decided to ask God to bring it to me. I wanted my Azusa Street. I was convinced this was the new Azusa Street. We prayed and prayer. It was a good time. My faith grew the more I prayed. We saw revival come.

One day I took time off of work to go here a speaker in the New London area of Connecticut. I had heard that there had been quite a Holy Ghost party the night before. The speaker was probably tired from the party the night before and basically presented his signature teaching about deliverance. He had us all come to the front and call out those things that had held us back in life. For me I remember I identified rejection. I prayed God would remove the effects of rejection from my life. You can read about some of the rejection beginning here (keep reading forward to fully understand).

Pentecostals and Charismatics tend to like some sort of a feeling or a manifestation when God does something. There was none that day. I simply prayed. I meant it. God heard it. He answered.

I had already had a house fire, the death of a granddaughter (read about that beginning here) – then came serious accusation at work causing an investigation (none of it true), betrayal by my husband, and months and months of numbness. I no longer led the charge for revival at church. God was digging deep in my soul. He was pulling up those roots of rejection by putting me in a place of total helplessness. He was getting ready to heal me. He did.

I did make it to Toronto just before I completely hit bottom. I was lying on the floor as is the case often in these types of settings. I heard God speak to me very clearly. He told me I was going to go through some very, very rough times. That I had “things” in my life that I didn’t know. That He was going to be with me the whole time.

I thought I’d sinned. No, it wasn’t that. It was God answering my prayer about rejection. He was getting ready to dig deep in my soul. Just as He said, the process was not easy; it was so painful and hard. Also like He said, He was always there. He was answering that prayer I prayed one morning in New London.

It’s a funny thing about prayer. Prayer is what brings us lined up with the plan of God. He always wants our wholeness. Sometimes we pray what seem to be inconsequential prayers but God always hears them. He always answers them. I am healed from some really painful stuff from my childhood. Read about that here.

It was a long time before I realized that God had answered that prayer. God often surprises us. We think the answer will look a certain way. Usually it doesn’t look like we thought it would. Nevertheless, it is always the right answer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Prayer - Leveraging the Kingdom and Talking to God

I confess, for many years I thought prayer was throwing thoughts and hopes into the supernatural realms with no way of knowing how it would be received, or even if it would be received, in Heaven, In AA they told me to only pray of the knowledge of His will. In the evangelical church they told me that everything I needed to know about His will was in the Bible.

Prayer was sort of a religious thing to do in hopes of receiving a hard to get blessing. Hopefully, this week; your Kingdom Bloggers will shed some light on how, and why they pray.

When I was a kid I used to wish for stuff - a new bike, dad would quit drinking, that I would get past "Go" in Monopoly, Linda would ask me to dance instead of me asking her at the 8th grade hop - stuff like that. It seems like I was expressing my hopes for luck. And truthfully, most of it didn't work out. I used the same mentality once I got saved, wrapping my prayers to my Heavenly Father with or "Lord" and ending them, "in Jesus' name." If I was really religious, I might say "Lord God." The results were not much better than the wishes of my youth.

Early on I was washed to and fro by life.When things were going good I was blessed. And when they weren't, I was cursed. Prayer didn't seem to change much. I honestly didn't know much about the Bible, but I was reading it. I read it a lot in fact. I didn't know a lot about prayer, but I did listen to guys pray on the retreats. Of course we ended every AA meeting with the Lord's prayer.

In 1982 I read a book entitled, Nine o'Clock in the Morning. I read about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the power that was supposed to be in it. I asked the Anglican Priest at my church, and he smiled. We went to the altar to ask for this phenomenon of the Christian faith. Wow, that changed a lot of things.

It seemed that I could hear God better - I just seemed to know things. I was more passionate in worship services. The Bible made a lot more sense to me, and oh, I could really pray with a new found fervency! This fire seemed unquenchable.

I remember going to my first - we'll call it what is was - Charismatic prayer meeting. It was bunch of Episcopalians (WASPs if you are my age, and not too PC) sitting on the floor in the fellowship hall chattering away in unknown languages. Crazy, I know - but stay with me. They were praying for a little guy about 4-years-old with a club foot. He got healed that night. On another occasion, there was a guy, a big biker type fellow there with the WASPs. He had a Devil tattoo on his arm. That night, during more of this prayer, it was gone! Completely gone!

I keep telling myself, prayer has power.

I thought I would try out this prayer thing-a-ma-bob. There was a gal I knew in AA, and one evening we were smoking cigarettes, and she was coughing up a storm - it was bronchitis. I asked God to heal her. It was gone right then and there. Her eyes were as big as the tires on a monster truck - mine too. She stopped smoking too. You know, I was thinking, there is something to this prayer. I prayed up a storm - I got right in the devil's face - I did. HERE is much more on that story.

I keep telling myself, prayer needs God's direction.

I prayed and prayed and prayed - even when I didn't have the words - I prayed. But the fire died down, things got tough, and I checked out for a while. Prayer without a growing relationship is like leaving a tape playing for your family to listen to over and over. It's all very one-sided.

I keep telling myself, prayers are not so we can get God to do a parlor trick, they are so that we can advance the Kingdom of God.

Some years later, I was having sort of a personal revival. I went to meeting in New Haven,CT a few hundred miles from my home. There was a guy there praying for folks. He came to me and said. I see that you don't pray like you used to. If you'll pray, you'll see miracles, and be happy. I knew what He was talking about.

I learned: Prayer is like breathing for the Christian. Sometimes it is relaxed and easy, other times we are huffing and puffing to make it one more step. But we never stop.

So I began prayer walking. I walked th beach, the mall, the street and prayed. I built up my spirit and I began to pray about situation that seemed impossible, and God would answer. I began to hear his voice more and more. So I prayed more and more. I can't explain, but my faith began to explode. I would walk up to folks and know what to pray for - then God would do it. There was a blind man selling pencils on Main St., could I pray for him and see him healed? I didn't do it. There was a drug addict that died in the parking lot of my building, I could have prayed for him to be raised from the dead? I didn't even try. I bet Thomas would have.

I learned: Prayer takes faith which I didn't always have.

I did became more and more confidant. I studied healing, and prophesy, and the spiritual gifts and I prayed for people - lots of people. Things didn't happen every time, but they did happen a lot of the time. I was getting quite good results working the ministry lines at church and on mission trips. Honestly, I was more amazed than those receiving the ministry.

I keep telling myself, God can use even a screwed up guy like me - one with many faults, average intelligence and an impetuous nature.

When I went to Norway, I had 32 folks praying for me daily! It is no wonder so much amazing stuff happened!

My own prayers for myself were a lot tougher. I thought I knew how I wanted things to turn out.  I prayed for knowledge, wisdom, forgiveness, faith, relief from my shame and for my family and friends. It was frustrating getting into a groove with God. Honestly, as learned to hear God, and be obedient, to pray things through, I started to see the situation in my life differently. The Lord was gracious as He told me what car to buy, what house to live in, where to go to church, what to say to my kids. I prayed for answers, and I got them.

A real prayer life is not about the amount of prayers, but the quality of those prayers based on the knowledge of God's will. I pray for His will a lot, but I always press God for details before making a decision.

I have had the pleasure to see my kids learn the same lessons, to trust God, and expect Him to answer. They have more faith than I do most of the time.

One summer day were at the beach near our house.The girls were 5 and 8 at the time. A young man was playing Frisbee and disappeared into the lake. Everyone was in a panic, and some of the kids playing the game found him unconscious beneath the surface; dragging him onto the lake shore screaming and yelling..There was a nurse and she started to give him mouth to mouth, but nothing. My oldest simply walked over and laid hands on his foot, and prayed for life. To everyone's amazement, mine included, he coughed up water, and actually sat up.

I keep telling myself, sometimes I think we just need to pray less,with more faith.

How do you pray?