Prayer – the original social media

1:30 am – wide awake.  Have you ever opened your eyes and felt wide awake in the middle of the night?  Not restless insomnia; just awake.  I’m leaving early this morning to walk with a good friend, so I knew I had to get back to sleep but here are some thoughts that lulled me back to sleep.  Naturally, my mind did a mental calculation on time zones and I prayed for Tyler, in California who was probably just then going to sleep. And I prayed for his best friend Rian who must miss him terribly.  I prayed for Tyler’s mom, Michelle ….the pattern of connections brought many treasured friends into my mind, through my heart in prayer to God.  Prayer is the original social media.

Connecting . . .

When I woke up this morning, I immediately went to my notebook and Bible to look up these verses that kept streaming through my mind.  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:13 – a very special friend lost her daughter recently and a friend at work lost her dad unexpectedly.  “Comfort, comfort my people.”

Isaiah 30:18 “the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!”  Are you waiting for God to provide for you? Are you waiting to make a decision because you don’t want to get ahead of God?  “Blessed are all who wait for him.” I have sometimes felt like I’m in over my head, beyond my capabilities, and far outside my comfort zone.  I have a friend whose voice echoes back to me on to occasions.  God won’t bring you to it, if He won’t bring you through it.  Catchy right?  Also found in scripture at 1Thessalonians 5:24 “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

In fact, sometimes I know I’m in over my head and Psalm 121:2-4 reminds me “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  Do you ever think about that?  It might not be your foot that’s slipping.  I know it’s not just my foot slipping that buries me in detail and the clutter of over commitment.  It’s a lot of things slipping off track.  In times like those, getting back on track is only possible with prayer, a plan, and a boatload of faith.  Hebrews 11:6 says it pretty well “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Are you seeking peace and contentment today?  You can overcome the impossible. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.


Deflecting Perfect

Have you ever woken with a start when you heard a voice talking to you out of a sound sleep? I’m not talking about the calling out like when Samuel is sleeping and the Lord calls out to him three times and all three times he thinks it’s the priest Eli. 1 Samuel 3:8-11 “God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.” That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.’” Samuel returned to his bed. Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”

That had to be one of my favorite Bible stories . . . young Samuel clutching his teddy bear and dragging his blanket, and even at his pre-teen age was ready to listen to God.  I’ve been told we all dream but just don’t remember them.  I don’t know about that because – well – I don’t remember them.  I rarely wake up suddenly from a dream and it’s even more unusual that I wake up to someone talking to me, but a few days ago out of a sound sleep I heard a woman say, “You promised to do your best, and you didn’t.”  How do you think I felt? How would you have felt? Uh-huh.  Just a dream, no substance, feeble effect on the remainder of the day.  Or was it?

Trying to ignore the voice in my head I went on with my day – same as always, but I kept revisiting that jarring instant and the voice saying, “You promised to do your best and you didn’t.”  A few days earlier a friend had posted the lyrics to the song “I wonder have I done my best for Jesus” so I considered.  Is that where that voice came from? Or maybe it was realizing that in my own human capacity I will always be one step away from my best, not quite perfection and sometimes decrepitly flawed.   There are 66 books in the Bible but certain ones, I keep going back to.  Philippians, of course; and who doesn’t gravitate toward the comforting words of Psalms? I skip all over most of the time – but that voice in my dream drove me into Romans.  From chapter 7, these are the words that spoke to me on my quest for why isn’t  my best good enough?  “…I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.  But I need something more!  This negativity of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”  What I really need to do then is as chapter 7 continues in verse 22 “ I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind.”

So that’s it then.  Humanly I can never, ever reach perfection. I can keep striving though to serve God with all my heart and mind.  Joshua 23:14 “Know this with all your heart, with everything in you, that not one detail has failed of all the good things God, your God, promised you. It has all happened. Nothing’s left undone—not so much as a word. “

Here’s my final thought on the elements of perfection.  Nice try! Perfect is just a word, it’s not a state of being.  Ready for this imperfect day? It’s still OK!  Let’s get out there!

Address Book Transformed

Address book transformed

July 29th – the day we’ve been anticipating with excitement and dread.  It’s here. It’s 5:00 am as I write this and Tyler’s trip to San Diego is one breakfast away.  He is on his way with only the clothes on his back and an address book.  Well, that’s what it looks like on the outside, but we transformed it into so much more.  Are you curious?

Last week I visited my local office supply sales guy, Jim Middleton and told him I needed an address book for Tyler’s 13 week Marine Boot Camp. Jim pointed me to a shelf where there was a supply of all models.  Knowing Tyler, I chose the smallest (he’s not going to be writing to a crew of people) and the most durable (I’ve seen his shoes).

Inside his address book are some addresses:  Mom, Dad, Katelyn, Grammy, Papa, and his very best friend Rian.  Maybe a few others were added.  These are the normal things you will find in an address book.  When he’s got time to write, the addresses are there and they are there to remind him of how to have a good day.  Philippians 4:8-9 “ Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  There is also a book of stamps so he can send at least one letter each week with an extra few thrown in. There are also pre-printed address labels, just a few to make it easy to send that first letter that gives us his complete and correct address.  Please! Have you seen an address label for someone in the Military? We need a postcard sized label to write all the numbers, streets, and secret codes.  Pictures! Did you know if you print pictures on labels you can stick them randomly on unused pages of an address book?  Seriously.  How many names do you know that begin with Q or X or I … and you get 4 pages for each letter.  Pictures fit quite nicely on a 2 inch square shipping label. Interspersed in the little book are messages from us at home.  We told him we’re proud of him, we love him, and we know he can do this.  Remembering the program described in brute detail last week, Tyler will read our messages more than once while he’s surviving Boot Camp.  There’s a verse that has been a lifeline for me at times. Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. “ How many of us use that motivation to keep going forward when all we want to do is coast …. Or maybe just stop all together.  But we press on and on until we regain our traction and momentum carries us forward.

Interspersed in his “Address Book Transformed” are treasures from the source of peace, source of light, and source of hope.  Printed on mailing labels, Tyler will find these words scattered on random pages.  “They who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48:17

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you  will find rest for your souls. Matthew 28:28

Future faith

Tyler’s recruiter spent some time with us last night explaining what’s going to happen for the next 13 weeks. I knew something was up when my brother (former Marine) and nephew (lifer Marine) told me, in separate conversations, Tyler will come back a changed man. Sergeant Keifer to us: This isn’t the boy scouts. Tyler will come back a changed man.  My thought: I didn’t expect the Boy Scouts, but that part about changed?  What if I like him the way he is right now?. A kid whose laundry never has an even number of socks, whose diet consists of Taco Bell and Mountain Dew, a guy with phantom characteristics – now you see him, but mostly you don’t. I wonder what this new guy is going to be like. Sunday evening at 7:00 – that’s it then; the beginning of a journey; the first steps of a life walk; the forming of an adult; an act of faith.

What do we know about faith? Here’s what the message translation says about it in Hebrews 11:1 “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.” That verse sets the stage for a life lived by faith.  How many times in a week or a day do we laughingly admit our crystal ball is hazy or our magic wand is broken? We can’t foresee the future, but we can commit to holding fast to that firm foundation of faith. Psalm 37:23 tells us “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.”  For 13 weeks the Marine Corp has a grid of challenge and opportunity. The sergeant pulled out a chart with a picture representing each day for 13 weeks. There were no pictures of baseball, pizza, video games, or beach volleyball. At the very end of each week though was the image of a Marine fully outfitted in camouflage, kneeling with his head bowed. Marines have 4 hours available every Sunday to renew their fading strength.  There are services for all faiths – but it encourages me that ‘religious’ services are a priority on the Lord’s day. Remember what it says in Isaiah 40: 31 “they who put their hope in the Lord  will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Sundays are the days for mail call too. In the ‘How to support your Marine’ packet, we are told to send mail …. every day! Your recruit needs positive messages, unending support, and uplifting letters from home. From week 3 to week 6 or maybe longer your recruit is going to wonder why they joined the Marines. They are going to wish they had never done this. They are not on a Boy Scout campout, this is grueling, devastating, gut wrenching training. It’s how they learn to work together in perfect synchronization as a military squad.  I get that.  I will be writing because I want to remind him that he can do this, he is on a faith journey as well as a strength journey.  I think we forget that the road we travel is never straight and level. It’s straight up, twisted left, twisted right, with a cascading descent, before the smooth ride that’s marginal at best before the upward climb begins its repeat performance.  This is why I am already on my knees praying for Tyler and every Marine in training.  I am praying for protection in all its many tentacles of need: physical, mental, spiritual   Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” And I pray that Tyler has this foundation for his journey.  Proverbs 4:11 “I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.  Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”  Guard is well – for this is your life.”

Learning to Wait

Yesterday at work I had to go to Protection Services. No, it’s not what you think. When I walked in, my ID badge was printed Exp 7/31/13 and when I walked out the date was changed to 10/1/13.  While I’m thankful for the work, I’m surprised by the third extension. This was not in my plan and once again I find myself asking, what is God thinking? Where is this going?  The truth circulating in my head was Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Have you ever been there? Grateful but finding the path hazy? Maybe you’re like me and make lists in your mind about what this could mean. Here’s what my human mind suggested. I need more time to learn and work toward my goal of producing online training. That’s got to be it.  But what if it isn’t?

In fact, Psalm 135:6 was written for people like me who try to second guess God.  “I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.  The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” Could it be that the reason my contract was extended is because God said that’s what pleases Him; so be it? My logical mind tries to piece the irregular pieces of the puzzle together and make them fit into my picture, my design. For the past 156 days I’ve been praying for a specific job and God says wait.  One thing I’ve learned, at great pain I might add, is that when God says, “Wait! Stop getting ahead of me.” I know how to tug a little harder on the reins and slow the fired up canter to a lingering plod.  I still remember the tiny snap as my heartlight turned on in the year 2000.  At that time I was reading one Psalm and one Proverb each day. I was praying for something specific then too and getting very impatient for the answer to come cascading into my life.  I wanted to work from home and was praying about finding another job.  Psalm 27:14 was like a brilliant light when I read “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”  So I waited and waited and waited – then God did the miraculous.  I was able to keep my job, but work from home.  Who would think that there would be a need for someone to work offsite to test websites and my home was the perfect ’offsite’ solution?  “Wait, I say, on the Lord.”

We all know how to wait, don’t we? It’s not easy to wait.  Give me patience, Lord, but hurry!  My dad used to say don’t ever pray for patience while you wait. You’ll get tribulation.  As it turns out, that’s Biblical. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at Romans 5:3 “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance.”  I wouldn’t say I ‘glory in tribulation’, but I have enough practice in waiting that I’m almost certified.  Learning to wait. Learn to recognize the benefits of waiting.  God has a plan – Jeremiah 29:11  God’s plan is based on His perfect will – Psalm 135:6   God will give us a stronger heart, stronger faith – Psalm 27:14    While we wait we might not like it – Romans 5:3.

Here’s something to take with you today. God wants us to have a teachable spirit. The benefits are limitless when we wait, learn, and recognize what God says in Isaiah 48:17 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”

Ready for today? Let’s get out there!

Overcome or Overcomer

How is your week so far? I know.  Trick question, you say; it’s only Tuesday.  I know.  So really how is your week so far? Yesterday as I was arriving at work, my two favorite DJs on WCSG, the radio station I listen to, were announcing that Mandisa was going to make a guest appearance on their show.  She was going to talk about being an overcomer, which is also the title of her new song. I had never heard of Mandisa until I read her book, but now she’s one of my favorite music artists. I was thinking I could just stay in the car and listen, but no. That would just be wrong, then I would have to overcome a heap of guilt; first for showing up late, then dealing with a short pay check.  So I wandered into work thinking about how that one word can change a life.

There’s a big difference between being overcome and being an overcomer. Listen to the depth of David’s discouragement in Psalm 116:3 “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.”  I think someone told me once that David didn’t write all the Psalms, but even if he didn’t there is a common thread that runs through the entire book. Have you noticed the peaks and valleys of emotion?  Sometimes even from verse to verse the tone changes.  Verse 4 then says “Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”  I wonder how many times we feel distressed or discouraged, unable to see beyond our circumstances of the day.  We are overcome and feel like our hope is fading fast.  David felt that way … a lot!  But he recognized that and notice how he handles it over in Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

But I’m tired of waiting, discouraged at having to wait, wondering if this is ‘wait’ or the answer is ‘no’.  While we wait for the prayer to be answered, for the pain to go away, for joy to return, for sadness to subside how much it would please God if we would use these experiences to become better, not bitter.  Not to be overcome, but to be overcomers.  Romans 12:21 shows us our choices  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Living in discouragement is like living in a dark cocoon, isn’t it? Have you ever noticed how quickly the flame of a candle is extinguished when the lid is put on the jar? It’s almost instantaneous. The flame burning bright goes out when circumstances remove its most important sustainer, oxygen.

We are a little like that candle. Can it just decide it wants to burn again and burst into flame on its own?  Hardly! We have an advantage because we have a brain, we have motor skills, we can decide to take action and find a way to get the flame burning again. Are you discouraged today? Let’s take a few minutes to visit 1John 2:14 “I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”  We can rise above discouragement. It’s not easy, but it’s a choice. John 1: 5 says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Think about good things today, pray, turn off the news, write yourself a letter, write someone else a letter.  Today can be awful or it can be awesome.  1 John 4:4 “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” And let’s end with these words in Mandisa’s song Overcomer “You might be down for a moment, feeling like it’s hopeless, that’s when we need to be reminded that we are overcomers.”

Overcome or Overcomer …. Let’s get out there!

Trading exhaustion for joy

I don’t often wake up already exhausted, but today is one of those days.  It’s unexplained so I’ll blame it on the overflow of weekend full of friends, family, and fulfillment. There was a full menu of activity from morning to evening – so that has to be it.  On days like this, my first thought is Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  I love that verse when I am weary. God probably intended those words to apply to being spiritually and emotionally tired, but even those cause physical exhaustion. Here’s a continuation of Matthew 11 in the message translation. “Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Yesterday at church we had a family I call the music family. They are the Birdsongs and if anyone has reason to be exhausted they do. They travel sometimes hundreds of miles a day to get to their next destination where they minister through music and through speaking with wisdom about God and faith. Throughout their musical presentation they stop and pray – right in the middle of a song. When they speak, wisdom tumbles out and it’s obvious that they are speaking from a heart that exudes strong faith. Before they can sing, they have to set up a lot of equipment, test the sound system, and practice … only to face even more work to tear down the set and pack it away for their journey. Exhausting! Traveling itself is exhausting. But I never see  the  Birdsong family express anything but joy. I wonder if they have Proverbs 12:25 implanted in their hearts. “Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy.”

I know they encourage others; I hope they receive masses of encouragement in return.  My goal today is to provide an encouraging word that brings joy.  It starts here …. Monday morning. How about you? Do you want to join me in sparking some joy in others through an encouraging word?  Let’s get out there!