Leaning In

A few weeks ago I bared my soul about pain experienced almost forty years ago in a ministry situation. I got many more responses to that post than usual. Encouragement from former colleagues, prayers for the coming reunion time to be above our expectations in healing and recovery, expressions of love.

I’m so grateful for each person who responded. My pain touched people. And in response, they touched me.

Mourning

Recently Pastor Tim talked about how God speaks to us in our pain. It’s something we don’t want, and which God does not author, but nevertheless uses for our good and for others.

One of the ways God uses pain in our lives is to sensitize us to others, to open our eyes to their needs, and to help us encourage them with the comfort God has given us.

And in the years I dealt with healing from the pain of separation from my former work and friends, God was there. He provided resources to help me recover. Through this and other painful circumstances in my life–

–a broken engagement,

–the deaths of a husband,

–my father,

–a nephew, and dear friends,

–concerns for my mother’s health,

–as well as workplace challenges–

I have become less judgmental and more sensitive to others’ pain. My understanding grew that we need to know someone’s story before we can understand why they make some of the choices they do.

But what resonated with me is that people are drawn to vulnerability, and relate to expressed pain.

As Pastor Tim stated, “When we talk about pain, people lean in.” Our voices are sometimes softer when we talk about pain. We don’t generally shout it from the rooftops. But people want to know what have we experienced that they can relate to, can learn from. Pain touches all of us, and when we share it, we increase our authenticity.

I like Facebook. I enjoy posting pictures of people I love, fun things I’ve done, life I’ve lived with others. But I understand that it is only a partial picture. Most of us post only good things …. those things we’re happy to share.

But others can look at those pictures of beautiful homes and decor and yards and travel and families and think, why isn’t my life like hers/his?

But when we share openly about our pain, our challenges, the bumpy roadblocks in our lives, others understand that we are all on this journey together. And while each of us has an individual path, we also walk with, encourage and strengthen, or drag down, each other along the way.

Forward by missionary Gracia Burnham

I’m reading a challenging book, Hearts of Fire, by Voice of the Martyrs. It contains the stories of eight women in different parts of the world, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured for their faith in Jesus Christ. While the stories are at times hard to read, these women’s faithfulness also challenges me. They share temptations faced, i.e. questioning God in their suffering or loss. Temptations to renounce faith, to give in to other voices that offered a strong shoulder of support, to be quiet about their faith. Despite their questions, these women continued to speak, teach about Jesus, and to be faithful to him.

Why am I drawn to these women’s voices? They’ve shared their pain and God’s faithfulness. We all go through difficulties, whether because of our faith, as they did, or because life just has its ups and downs, its tragedies as well as its joys. None of us knows what the future holds.

I hope I’ve shared God’s faithfulness to me in these posts. I hope that has encouraged you in some ways. But I too need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, not only to me in the past, but to others who have gone through far deeper trials than I have or expect to encounter.

I’m leaning in.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
 

They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV

Deliver Us From Evil

Don and I were a part of Menlo Church before moving to the Pacific Coast. I requested, and received, permission from Pastor John Ortberg to reprint his letter to the Menlo family following the recent mass murders that have horrified us all. And on Thursday another angry man stabbed and killed four people, wounding two others. Ortberg speaks clearly to the evil that is present in our world, and to our response as Christ followers.

Dear Menlo Family,

One of the lines in the world’s most famous prayer says simply: “Deliver us from evil.” Evil is always present in our world. Sometimes it’s possible for some of us to forget; and then evil surfaces and we remember and shudder.

And this past week has been one of those times. We saw it here in the Bay Area touching our brothers and sisters in Gilroy. We saw it in El Paso. We saw it in Dayton, where a shooter’s victims included his own sister.

Deliver us from evil.

It is important for us to name evil. Evil is love’s opposite; it is the will-to-harm. It is what happen when hate—like the spirit of white supremacy that surfaced again in El Paso—darkens the human heart and blasphemes the image of God in human beings.

As followers of Jesus, we stand with the victims, and their families, the minority groups being targeted, and all who suffer as a result of this hatred and violence. We call on and ask God for our political leaders to be given wisdom and courage to act for justice and shalom. We seek to help however we can—as a church we’ve been in touch with the leaders of our sister church in Gilroy to give them support and rest.

And we pray. Authentic prayer is never irrelevant. It is not an alternative to action; it is a form and source of it. We ask God to make us, in our small corners of the earth, agents of his peace and love. We are reminded once again of how deeply and desperately our broken world needs God.
 
We remember, too, that deliverance from evil is not the only phrase. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ plan is for God’s will to be done—in Gilroy and El Paso and Dayton—and starting in the hearts and lives of those who follow him.   

We are to be—are privileged to be—agents of a kingdom far greater and more resilient than any human being can design. We do this as we pray and love and worship and learn and serve and care. We are Kingdom bringers.

I join with all of you in praying.

John Ortberg

Copyright © 2019 Menlo Church, All rights reserved.

And for suggestions on how to pray for survivors, read this excellent article by a shooting survivor, from Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/august-web-only/dayton-el-paso-mass-shooting-thoughts-prayers.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=23469312&utm_content=665313077&utm_campaign=email

May we join our hearts and hands in praying for, and providing what support we can, to those who have experienced these traumatic shootings.

Agents of Peace

The harmonies of the old hymn filled the chapel with full, rich tones. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that I, and those with whom I grew up, learned to sing, to harmonize, to make beautiful music as we raised our voices and hearts in praise to God. It was a part of our culture, our worldview, our worship. Now we raised our voices together in harmony at the memorial service of a dear friend.

I’ve often thought that, while sermons and words reach my mind, music touches my soul.

And how we need something to touch our souls in these uncertain days, when mass shootings have killed 32 in the past week and a half. Many here in California, in Texas and Ohio are traumatized and fearful as they deal with the senseless loss of loved ones and the trauma of being in the line of fire.

Others have written about the solutions, and I don’t intend to take on that subject here.

But we as believers need to be salt and light in the midst of this carnage. How can we help? Can we reach out to someone who has been hurt, by these shootings or by something else, and minister peace and love to them?

Our pastor said Sunday that Christianity is not a subculture but a counterculture. We are priests who are desperately needed in a culture of hate.

One of the songs that ministered to me in a significant way when I went through a turbulent time personally says,

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry

Keep me safe till the storm passes by
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me…

-Written by Thomas Mosie Lister

How can we be priests and agents of peace in a hate-filled world?

We can pray. Jesus turned to the Father in every circumstance, praising him, asking his help, and acting in obedience to the Father’s direction. Sometimes we think prayer is the least we can do. If we are praying along with the Father’s heart, it may be the most important thing we do.

We can be agents of peace in our own neighborhoods, seeking healthy, building relationships and encouraging others, whether they are children, younger adults, or seniors whom God brings into our lives. When there are disagreements we can look for positive resolutions that build bridges with our neighbors. When our neighbor didn’t like the solar equipment on the side of our house that she sees regularly, Don said “I think we can come up with a good solution,” and built a lovely latticed box to surround the equipment. My Don was an agent of peace and our neighbor, and the homeowners’ association, are delighted with the outcome.

What other ways have you found to be an agent of God’s peace and love in your world? I’d love to hear what solutions you’ve found.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.…”

Philippians 4:6-8, Berean Study Bible

You Never Know …

After the meeting, a blonde woman approached me.

“I wanted to meet you because we’ve driven here side by side several times,” she smiled.

I smiled back. “We have?”

“Yes, a week or so ago we were next to each other at Silver Creek Boulevard. I waved, but you didn’t see me.”

“Well, hi. I’m Carol, and now I’ll watch for you!”

As Susan and I chatted about where we live, I thought, here’s a woman who’s seen me in my car, on the road, and I was oblivious. If I had noticed her I think I would have recognized her from our weekly meetings, although it may have taken me a minute to remember where I knew her from!

We never know, do we … anyone could be watching. Was I picking my teeth? Singing along with the radio or a CD? Looking angry about some traffic impingement?

He gave His life for me, and for you

There’s a cross sticker on my car. Did I reflect the Christ I love, or did someone say “Ooh, if that’s a Christian …”

I know I sin and make mistakes and get angry inappropriately at times. But my heart wants to walk the talk, wants my actions to support my words and my professions of faith.

So next time I’m in my car, I’m going to watch for who’s around me; I’m also going to try to ensure I’m not doing anything for which I would be embarrassed if someone said “I saw you when you were …”

Most important, the Father sees me at all times. He knows, not just the embarrassing stuff that comes out at times, but my heart. He knows when my thoughts and the intent of my heart would embarrass me no end if I were standing face to face with him. And yet, I am in his presence–always. He is never far from me and knows me completely.

But he gives his grace. His love is so great that his grace covers me, whether I’m making a small, embarrassing mistake or a larger one that impacts many. A bigger mistake may cause great pain to self and others, and to the Lord, who grieves over our sin. But grace is available once I agree with God that I have sinned.

“But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I John 1:9

Confession results, not only in forgiveness, but also in cleansing, making me like new in God’s eyes. Cleansed, forgiven, whole, accepted in the beloved! Joy!

Sunshiny Sunday

It’s a lazy, sunshiny Sunday. After attending church this morning and enjoying a nap in the afternoon, I’m sitting with my feet up on our recliner couch, looking at the beauty of this day God knew about before the foundations of the earth were laid.

Warmth permeates. Sun shines. Clouds billow.

So I thought today I would share some of my favorite photos of churches, starting with this beauty in the Lexington/Concord area of our nation’s history.

Lexington/Concord

The Fall leaves, a mix of red, green and gold, gave a bright surround to the white steepled church.

And from the gallery below, left to right …

Top Left: One of the original Christian churches on Kauai, set beside the ocean, containing original hymnals, pews and pulpit. Don and I could almost feel the history housed in this building.

Top Center: Springtime blossoms blanket a cement table and benches outside the soda fountain at Mount Hermon in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. I love to retreat here to worship, learn and develop my craft at a marvelous Christian Writers’ Conference.

Top Right: This little, sagging pine green church greeted Don and me as we drove around the island of Maui. What voices has this church heard raised in praise to God over the years? And, since it was being rebuilt the last time we visited the island, what joy will once again raise its rafters in the future?

Lower Left: A replica of a slave church on a plantation in the Southern United States. Hearing about the faith of many of the slaves and enjoying some deep, heart-felt spirituals that gave strength under often horrific circumstances, was very meaningful to us.

Lower Right: To the beautiful words and melody of “The Holy City,” our tour bus entered Jerusalem a few years ago. Seeing the golden dome of the Temple while hearing “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing … Hosannah in the highest, Hosannah to your King” was heart-stirring. Knowing our King walked these streets, carried his cross up the Via Dolorosa, died on Calvary and rose from the grave three days later raised chills as we entered the city where Jesus will one day return. And he will take all who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead, to join him in glory.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Romans 10:9-10 NIV

May you be blessed this week in the love of Jesus Christ.