Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4

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Thanksgiving

We were talking about how it’s Thanksgiving this week in the office, and someone made the observation that this year has just been so nuts, so nonstop, that it’s hard to believe it’s late November already. Wasn’t it just April, she wondered?

Yes, it was. Yet here we are. But, of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s not like they’ve moved Thanksgiving suddenly. It’s right where it always was.

I am sure some of why we feel this way is down to The World, the mad pace we all keep trying to satisfy it. But I think as well, there’s a sense of being caught off guard: what do you mean, I have to power down and be thankful? It jars us slightly, especially if we don’t live from a place of thankfulness. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when you ask them what they’re thankful for–and they can’t answer in general platitudes, like just “my family.” Ask someone to get specific: who? Why? What in particular are you thankful for? That’s when they start looking up and away, trying to rack their brains for something specific. That’s when the pause starts coming into the conversation.

It’s an indictment, really, of our failure to live in a spirit of thanksgiving with God on a daily basis. But that’s not how we’re called to live:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In all circumstances? Yep. When you’re overwhelmed at work, be thankful for the skills God gave you to handle the job in the first place. Frustrated that the car needs another repair? Then be thankful for having been given the resources even to have bought it in the first place. Disappointed by something your child did? Then for just having that child in your life to begin with: so many would-be parents ache at each miscarriage or stillbirth.

For many, our prayer life is lacking in thankfulness. We have our long lists of things to ask for; how much of our conversation with God is just telling him “thanks” for all that’s actually going right?

After Thanksgiving, we will begin moving into Advent, and we begin to turn our hearts back towards the manger and the One who came to show us the way. Look at the fact that at least five times in the Gospels, Jesus directly and publicly gives thanks to his father in heaven (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Luke 22:17-19, John 6:11, John 11:41), and then take that as a new direction in your prayer practices. Work more thanksgiving into them, and then I promise you, you won’t be surprised by the fourth Thursday in November any longer, because you’ll be thankful the whole year round.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Calling Prayer Warriors!

I have to take a break from my series on discernment, because there’s just so much on my prayer list right now. I need to share it, and I need to ask for help in getting other prayer warriors engaged on a list that includes:

  • Las Vegas. I mean…wow. I was just stunned at the news this morning. And not two weeks ago I was there–and not only in Vegas, but driving right along the Strip between the site and Mandalay Bay, on our way to and from golf next door. I can’t bear to watch the videos anymore. It just needs to be lifted up and given to the One who can heal it all.
  • The Lisi family. They lost their 22-year-old son Stephen to a car accident about 8 days ago. Stephen was tired, driving late, and fell asleep at the wheel. He was an Eagle Scout in our troop, and David remembers him well from his time as a younger Scout. I cannot even begin to plumb the depths of what Steve and Monica are feeling as parents right now.
  • My mom. She continues to struggle with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, which has her more shaky than usual lately, and not a little confused sometimes, too. Don’t tell mom, but her brother and her college roommates are making a trip to see her later this month…safe journeys to them and a warm reunion for all.
  • The women of E-182. This weekend my wife will be one of 30 pilgrims making a Walk to Emmaus and furthering her own walk with Christ. I just lift up the pilgrims and the 28 team members supporting them on their walk starting Thursday!
  • Frank. Frank is the brother-in-law of a brother in Christ, Gary, and Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…very aggressive, limited time left. By all accounts Frank has been a model of facing the end of life, but he still needs our prayers–as does the rest of his family.
  • Another Guy Named Frank. Actually, this Frank walked on Emmaus with me, and has learned of his own bout with cancer: prostate.
  • Elnora. She’s the mother of another Emmaus connection, Rich. She’s on her fourth (!) bout with cancer, and has decided this is enough, she’s refusing treatment. I can only imagine how that must feel to those who love her.
  • John. Another pancreatic cancer victim (seriously, quit it with the pancreatic cancer!), and the good friend of my “sister” Kate.
  • The family of Mickey, who died of cancer this weekend and who was loved by another brother in Christ.

I mean, the list seems to just keep on going! I am convinced I could spend all day in prayer for these and so many others. I just think they could use a little help, too. Won’t you join me?

One Tumultuous July

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Can I just share a little of what my July was like? In the space of the previous month, here’s what I’ve faced (in no particular order):

  • My mother’s sudden hospitalization for a kidney infection, with the attendant disruption to our everyday lives of being at the hospital frequently (she’s better now, thanks be);
  • The unexpected death of a coworker, who in the space of a weekend had an accident around the home and lapsed into a coma from which she could not recover;
  • A longstanding friend’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, same as my mom; and if that wasn’t enough,
  • Her husband was taken to the ER with a mild heart attack;
  • The utterly unexpected firing of a longtime friend in very, very murky circumstances that leave me worried for what comes next;
  • My boss being taken ill with serious abdominal illness, hospitalized, and only gradually returning to work during a very hectic time at the office that I had to cover (on top of the above list); and
  • Another coworker’s father in law needing emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm (they caught it in time)

And that’s just within the span of July, all happening to people around me who are part of my love and my life–and who therefore affect me with all of these goings-on. It’s overwhelming! This is a pretty scary list!

hairoutAt times like these, we can hear some pretty horrible theology from people. Well-meaning people, to be sure, but still, what they tell us can ruin our understanding of God if we let it happen. Things like, “It was God’s will.” (God does not will us disease! Disease is an effect of the brokenness we brought into the world from our expulsion from Eden.) Or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” (No! If anything, the Bible tells us, it’s more like there is nothing we can’t handle WHEN WE GIVE IT OVER TO GOD, not when we try to take it all on ourselves!)

And yet through this month of madness, I haven’t crumbled, I haven’t curled up into a ball in the corner. I have endured, and I am absolutely, utterly, completely convinced it’s only my faith in the power of Jesus Christ that has kept me together. I have been strengthened, indeed I have become “more than conquerors” by being able to turn to Christ, by placing myself and each of these situations in his hands, and by trusting in him to help me through. There are certainly days this month when it most certainly did not feel like “overwhelming victory,” yet here I am: assaulted, assailed, buffeted, but not breaking in the force of the storm. For that, I can only give everlasting thanks to Christ.

Come on, August, do your worst. I’ve got backup.

Discernment

How do we know when God is steering us, versus when it’s just what we think we want to hear?

My daughter’s been wrestling with a pretty major school decision, and in the next couple of weeks she’ll have to make a decision. She’s been in prayer about it, but asked for advice on how to tell if it’s God’s will that she’s hearing, or if it’s just her own preferences that she’s picking up. We talked it over, and talked with our pastor, and here’s some of what we came up with as ways to tell if it’s God we’re hearing.

  • Does what we’re hearing draw us closer to God, or push us further away? Jesus said there are false prophets, liars in our minds, and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). If what we’re feeling urged to do helps advance the Kingdom, that’s a good sign. If it tends to make us focus on our selfish desires, then it’s not.
  • Meditative, contemplative prayer. Emptying the mind is a fiendishly difficult thing to do (and I do mean fiendishly–the tempter is always there to draw us away from focusing on God), but if it’s possible to do so, pay attention to the words and images we may get in our minds. Then try to erase them, and see if they recur. Words, images, or feelings that keep being brought to mind could be God’s efforts to break through the noise of our lives, and for his “still small voice” to be heard (1 Kings 19:11-13). I find it very, very difficult to turn off all the noise in my head–my brain is always running. But this might work easier for some who are more blessed than I with the ability to turn that faucet off.
  • Trying it on for size: If we think we get a sense that God is nudging us in one direction or another, then in prayer we can “try it on”–“God, I seem to sense you saying yes, we should go on the trip…is that right?” And then being still, and seeing if you feel affirmed in the choice. And if not, if you still feel uneasy, then perhaps it isn’t.
  • Closely related: do you find peace in the decision you’ve made, or do you feel still in chaos? God brings peace with him, and so a sense of peace with the decision may be a strong indicator it’s God’s will coming through.

What other techniques do you know for being able to tell when it’s God’s voice you’re hearing?

Hearing From God

As Christians we are called to be in a relationship with God. And any successful relationship I’ve ever been in means both sides get to talk.

It’s true, isn’t it, that for the most part our prayer life is a monologue? And a needy one at that: we pray for this, for that. But how often are we able to actually shut up and listen for the other half of the conversation?

I confess I’m as fallible as the next man in that I still need to develop that listening skill more. My bride will tell you that too. But sometimes, if we allow ourselves, we can hear God’s word for us. Sometimes it’s in music, even.

Case in point: lately I’ve been kinda preoccupied with the health of both my mother and my daughter, and the effect each is having on their place of residence and schooling, respectively. Yesterday was a very tense day, with one path seeming to close for where Mom might be able to move next, and frustrations with my daughter’s progress mounting in me as well.

This morning, however, I kept hearing two songs alternating in my head: Jason Gray’s “Sparrow“:

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

If He can hold the world He can hold this moment
Not a field or flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow.

And Ryan Stevenson’s “Eye of the Storm“:

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm.

And when I stop to recognize what it is that’s going on in my head, I recognize it as God’s voice, telling me to let him be that anchor, and that I’m not alone in this–that he’s got my back, and will see me through. That’s powerful! It was so reassuring to know that even this sparrow isn’t outside God’s notice, and that he will guard my soul with all that’s coming against me right now. In those little moments, sometimes, we hear his voice. And we are in awe at how much we’re loved, even, or especially, in the eye of the storm.