Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015: The Year of Prayer - Week 12

Regard your endurance as discipline.  God is dealing with you as sons...All legitimate sons undergo discipline...how much more should we submit to our spiritual Father and live!...he disciplines us in a way that provides genuine benefit to us and enables us to share in his holiness.  Now, all discipline, while it is happening, does indeed seem painful, not enjoyable; but for those who have been trained by it, it later produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:7-12, CJB/NIV)

It's funny how you read a Scripture, start praying and speaking it out to someone else, only to later realize it was for you too.  Yeah, that happened.  I read these verses yesterday, claimed them for my husband, whose workload is overwhelming.  That's why I underlined the line about "does indeed seem painful." Great truth right there.  Discipline, endurance testing, training - it is all meant to build up our endurance and character.

If you've ever trained for any sort of athletic contest, done a boot camp or an activity requiring physical sacrifice, you can identify with the metaphor the writer of Hebrews is making here.  It also refers to rearing children and I can tell you - there are times when it is painful for all involved to train up a children in the way he should go, for when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6)  (And maybe even building a solid, Christ-centered marriage...definitely pain involved there!)

I've learned one lesson this week - in the midst of great personal struggle with my own lingering mental battles, losses for the kingdom and yet witnessing the remarkable power of God on full display in the Body of Christ.  The lesson is simply this: Just when you feel comfortable, God is going to show you how far out of your depth you are.

The point is not to make you feel bad, although it is humbling (see reference to discipline).  The point is, He is reminding you of the reality that you can only walk on water by keeping your eyes on Him.  This journey of Christian maturity is one of greater de-pendence, rather than gaining in-dependence.  Only by holding onto Him do we get to go beyond our capabilities, which leads to bigger dreams and bigger miracles.  In the words of (my favorite) TobyMac in his latest release "Beyond Me,":

You gave me the stars put them out of my reach.
Called me to waters a little too deep.
Oh, I've never been so aware of my need.
You keep on making me see,  It's way beyond me.

We had our monthly city-wide prayer and praise service last night.  I'd been feeling pretty good, knowing my place on the team, when the Lord threw curveballs my way.  First, He gave me a prayer team of people who are (WAY) more experienced and skilled than I am.  Through that, He removed me from having any direct role in leading except to open the service in adoration and be available for prayer as a backup.

Then He asked me to go further.  He asked me to sing in front of a room of 100+ people.

I grew up in church.  I grew up singing in choir.  I sing all the time at home.  AT HOME.  I don't have a bad voice, it is pretty clear, actually.  I can also get up on stage and speak with no nervousness.

But sing?  Oh, Lord, have mercy!!

I only had to sing a chorus to "The Great I Am," by Phillips, Craig and Dean.  (Little did I know it was already on the set list, would have helped if I'd checked that first!)  He also gave me a word to speak, which I did and was totally comfortable.  But as I started to sing, my voice cracked - it didn't even sound like my voice. SO EMBARRASSING.

Yet, I did it.  Obedience always leads to blessing and I got to witness the powerful movement of God and be a vessel to channel His power into others.  Many times during the service, my arms and hands felt like they were on fire and at one point, I was so hot, I had to strip off some layers.  God is an all-consuming fire and I got pretty close to the flame.
In the end, it wasn't the singing, but stepping out of my comfort zone (and seeing others so completely in theirs) that thew me.    
As I tried *unsuccessfully* to sleep last night, I kept trying to process the experience.  I was struck with one thought: I AM SO COMPLETELY OUT OF MY LEAGUE.
 I have little to no experience in the ways God is currently using me.  Thankfully, that is the place where God runs to meet us.  When we get down so low, putting the maximum amount of space we can between us and Heaven in submission to Him, Our gracious and beautiful Lord rushes in to fill the gap.  I can tell you, I am counting on Him doing that.  I am in no way qualified to do the things He is asking me to do, except by faith in the gifts and talents He has given.  They are all His.

The dreams we are dreaming, as a family, as a church, are so big.  But I know God will match us dream for dream, and raise us beyond our resources to prove Himself.  As Mark Batterson, the author of my (most recent) favorite book, The Circle Maker, repeats constantly throughout the book and ends the children's version with:

Perhaps you feel completely out of your league too.  Good.  It's discipline.  It is God.  He is good so what you are enduring will eventually be good for you....and for others.  He is taking you to the place you know you need Him and only Him.  It is by grace you have been saved, so you can't boast about it.  You can only praise the Person of Grace for it.  More to come, more endurance training to persevere through.  More bold prayers to be prayed.  More of God to be witnessed.  More to come in the Year of Prayer.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Being a Peace-Maker verses a Peace-Keeper

Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

I was listening to a Christian talk radio show 10 days ago, on a long drive to deliver Ella to her grandparents.  They were featuring a lady whose family was living in major conflict.  I remember her saying, "I've tried to keep the peace.  We all have, but it just isn't working." In that moment, I thought, "There is a big difference between being a peace-keeper and a peace-maker."

Keeping the peace means the situation is not resolved, only status-quo.  Nothing changes and everyone walks on eggshells.  The undercurrent of an imminent blow up is just under the surface.  The elephant is in the room, taking up most of it, but everyone is content to leave it alone.  Indeed, no one wants to go near it.  JThe mindset is keeping your head down and not rocking the boat.

Peace-making is a whole other business, with a totally different mindset.  "Making Peace" is about seeking a resolve, not continuing to swim, thinking the riptide of conflict won't get you.  It isn't arrogance, but rather a humble confidence and a peace-maker keeps their head up.  A person that wants peace is willing to be the one to point out the elephant and show it the door.  Peace making seeks change and change for the better because ultimately, a peace-maker knows peace isn't dependent on what we can or will do, but rather what God will do when we invite Him into the conversation.

To that end, peace is a lot like forgiveness because it is impossible without God.  Real true lasting peace is a pipe dream without the work of the Holy Spirit; to give us a holy compassion for those in the middle of the conflict.  And like forgiveness, peace isn't just for the other person, it is for us.  You could say peace and forgiveness are close, personal friends.  Like goodness and mercy, they are siblings of the same parents; and most certainly fruit from the same vine.

In the New Testament, the word peace-maker is the word eirenopoios, a combination of two Greek words, eirene and poleo.  Interestingly enough, in that combination, it is an adjective instead of a noun or verb.  I have elementary school kids learning grammar fundamentals (good for me, I need to re-learn them), so it stands out to me.  That transition into a descriptive setting tells you something.  It communicates a message about something...or better yet, someone  It tells you about who we are as the Children of God.

In Matthew 5:9, being a peace-maker describes what happens when God's sons and daughters do what Daddy asks.  Obedience is part of our new-nature and as a result, it is required.  But we don't just obey like robots, obedience comes from seeing Who God really is and responding to Him, out of love.  And real, lasting peace is a product of love.  It is something created from nothing - light from darkness.  That's why it is a work of God and that is why we are called blessed when we desire to make peace.  We are seeking the will, the way of God over our own.

Confession time: when my natural self encounters offense, the best idea seems to stay hacked off.  I don't want to forgive, forget and make peace.  I want to sit in my "rightness" and let them suffer in their "wrongness," even taking it as far as I can to make sure they know how right I am (and, of course, how wrong they are.)

Taking the idea beyond normal, every day offenses, when you are talking like this lady on the radio was, about grievous sins, such as physical and emotional abuse and molestation, well....people should pay.  That is fair, especially when it is children bearing their offense.  Justice needs to be done; and who better than I to inflict it on those who need to be judged? 

But wait, did Jesus mean to be peace-makers in only the ordinary stuff?  That seems doable, but the bigger stuff, let's just string them all up!  Get a rope!

No, the Lord never stopped there.  In all things, we are not to try and keep peace or to take matters into our own hands.  We are to make peace, through His power and for His glory.

The Lord knows if He gave us the opportunity to avenge wrongs, we would scorch the earth.  The Almighty is the only one capable of vengeance because He knows the entire back-story.  Only He has the perspective required to deal justly with all of us because we've incurred just as many debts as our debtors, even if ours might are less obvious to the naked eye.

So - what's to be done?  How do we make peace?  Peace-making, stripped down to the bare bones, is an attitude of the heart.  Back again to forgiveness (that's always the beginning.)  Forgiveness ushers in a change of atmosphere like nothing else.  I've experienced this first hand.  Let me take you back about 8 years and walk you through a true story...

I was in the midst of a heavy learning curve on how to walk with Jesus on top of the shark-infested waters of corporate America (no easy task and I sank more often than not).  There was an incident I was involved in with a man on my sales team.  We were at an off-site conference when he confronted me, beginning with the words, "Let me finally tell you what I think about you."  I did not respond well.  Lots of people saw (and heard) the whole ugly business, which led to HR telling our bosses to get it resolved or they would.  I was (more or less) in the right and he in the wrong.  Did I mention we were on the same sales team?

For two weeks following "The Incident with Amy and John," management put in a sub to work with me so I could keep my sales pipeline going.  It was sublime.  But this was only temporary. The resolve came at a scheduled "sit down," so we could air our grievances and hopefully get on with the business of selling software together.  I will be totally transparent, I had no intention of forgiving this man.  He'd embarrassed me on a number of occasions, including in front of customers and he was flat out not doing his job.

With "The Incident," I would have been justified in pursuing an HR complaint that lead to his reassignment at the very least, or worse, his firing.

But this verse from Matthew 5:9, haunted me for for 2 long, uncomfortable weeks.  The Word kept working its way in, separating bone from marrow.  As the time for the meeting got closer, my heart got softer.  It dawned on me there was another way to go about this.  I had no idea what that was (I repeat NO IDEA) till one day when the thought took hold:

Forgive him, Amy,

WHAT?? NO WAY!! Not.going.to.do.it. That's nuts.

Still, if you've ever encountered "The Hound of Heaven," you will know what I mean when I say He chased me down till I gave up.  Or I gave in.  Either way, held my hands up and said, "Ok, God, I surrender.  I'm going to look like an idiot, but ok, I'll forgive him."

(By the way, that's the risk of being a peace-maker.  You might come off as an idiot.)

The day of the meeting came and we sat down on opposite sides of a conference room, each with our bosses flanking us.  The tension in the room was ridiculous.  I have never been more uncomfortable and able to almost touch the discomfort of others.  No one volunteered to go first, so my boss (thanks Jim) flipped a coin.  Heads I would go first, tails it would be John.

You know what happened.  It landed undoubtedly heads up.  You go, Amy. Don't be afraid and just speak it. I opened my mouth and simply said, "John, I forgive you.  Please forgive me."

You could have heard a pin drop, until our bosses' jaws hit the floor.  The air in the room literally shifted, I felt it happen, like someone opened a window.  I know now that was God's peace flooding in, from the window I opened into heaven.  John, my salty, rough-edged co-worker who regularly railed against anything and everything, started to cry. He bawled for a good 30 minutes as he unloaded all of his struggles (which explained a lot of his antagonism).

I discovered, in real time, the truth of Proverbs 16:7: When a man's ways please the Lord, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.

John and I didn't part best of friends, but we were able to work together till the end of the quarter (and not make life miserable for everyone, especially our bosses.)  He was moved to another team and then I had the two best quarters of my career, right before I left to stay home with our (then) 2 girls.  Two months after I resigned, we moved to Trinidad and I got my calling to write.  I left my corporate career like the Israelites left Egypt, gold being thrown at me.

Yes, I worked my tail off, but I believe the Lord blessed my work because of my willingness to forgive and make peace.  He blessed us even more so since then; in many ways much more significant than in the financial realm (although we are grateful for that!).

The moral of the story is this: when you obey Your Heavenly Father, He is able to bless you beyond anything you can ask or think.  When we seek to make peace - through forgiveness - He won't hesitate to help us, deliver us and form us into the image of His Son.  And add the cherry of character and gifts on top.

Peace-keeping is about staying where you are but peace-making is daring to move forward.  Peace-making is allowing God to do things His way by surrendering our own.  It is a significant step into really having the character of Christ.  It is truly, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:31 - the best way of all.

It is not the easy way, but it is the best.  I hope you have the chance to practice a little more best in your life this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015: The Year of Prayer - Week 11

What a week.  Full of power, glory, joy and sorrow.  No middle of the road this week; just the the full cult of the Christian personality and experience.  Not to mention, spring break began, so it's been busy life+++.

Up and down.  It is the reality of life, especially when you are digging into prayer.  This week has been about 3 themes:

1. Playing chicken with the enemy is pointless.  I will always flinch unless I let Christ stand in front of me.  After facing a persistent mental struggle, on Monday night, He gave me this verse about it: "Woman, no one here condemns you.  Neither do I" (from John 8).  It was like He was saying:

Amy, you are forgiven, so stop dwelling; stop circling the loop of your sin in your head.  Stop condemning yourself.  Don't stay in the place of 'I did wrong.' You confessed so trust that My forgiveness is Absolute.  Also remember my Truth is Absolute and that is what you live by, not how you feel or even sometimes what you think about.  When you don't reject what the enemy says about you out of hand, you are playing into his hands.  I will never forsake you, I promised! And I keep my promises.  Because of that, lift your head up.  Go and sin no more because you are in Me and that will never change. 

With that kind of message, how could I help but feel? It was a restoration of mind and soul-purpose. I fell asleep Monday night with a smile on my face. Literally!  I've been doing everything (including prayer, praise, work, parenting, being a wife, laundry, driving....literally everything) with renewed excitement and vigor ever since.

2. The Lord will connect the dots, just trust and wait because it is coming before you realize it.  When I look at all the progress in my own spiritual life, as well as the life of my church, it is simply mind blowing.  In what feels like years but is really months, He is starting to make to break down walls and kindle the fire of revival in our city.  He is doing it in such a personal, loving way.  It is almost like He has us in the nursery, caring for us like a mother of a baby.  One day soon, we will be invited into a "Big Kid Room" but until then, our job is to explore, to play, to learn about Him and His goodness.  He has to prepare all of us, His timing is perfect, so we will be satisfied with where we are, knowing more is coming.

When it does come, we will be ready.  Not because we will be independent but because we have learned to be so dependent on Him.

3. Praying big and praying hard is sometimes very, very hard.  Last night before I went to sleep, I was continuing to read The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  It was more than a little prophetic when I read these words, 

If you can trust God when the answer is no, you're likely to give Him praise when the answer is yes.  You need to press in and press on.  By definition, praying hard is praying when it is hard to pray. And it's the hard times that teach us to pray hard.  But if you keep praying through, the peace that transcends understanding will guard your heart and your mind.  So sometimes the answer to our prayers is no and you'll never understand why.  But here's some good news: What we perceive as unanswered prayers are often the greatest answers. (p. 124)

When I got up for my 3 am prayer-fast-listening time, I discovered a text from a mom whose little boy has been on the edge of eternity.  We'd been praying for a miracle, no lie. It was going to take a miracle to save him and we've been asking for the last month - asking in faith, believing God would do it.  I'd had visions of him as a teenager, walked his hospital room in the spirit and thrown my stone of faith against the Goliath of cancer.  Just last night at our URPrays meeting, we were still declaring in confidence God would do it.

The text from his mom told me Jesus took him home Tuesday afternoon.  From 3 - 4 am this morning, all I did was cry.  All the Holy Spirit (and my husband) did was hold me as I cried.

This morning, I received 2 other pieces of bad news, seeming more "Nos," to other big prayers I'd been praying.  Yet, none of this shakes my faith.  I know I don't know it all. On my face in the wee hours this morning, the Lord impressed 2 Scriptures on me: John 11:35: Jesus Wept; and 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror...Now I know in part.

I feel free to weep, to mourn with my friends in the loss of their child.  I carry a heavy heart for another friend who lost her daughter, leaving her young grandchildren without a mother.  I am burdened for the young couple whose baby will live for less than an hour after she is born.  I am wounded for them all and I know I don't know what to pray. 

Yet, I know someone else who was wounded for us, for our healing.  It is by His stripes we are healed.  Whatever form the healing takes, that is up to God.  That stings to say, but it is true. My job is to pray, the Lord's job is to answer, however He chooses.  I will continue to bring my friends to the Wounded Healer of Galilee, secure in the knowledge that what I don't know, He does.  His love covers them, much more than mine can.  Mine is limited, His is not.  My knowledge is incomplete, His is full.

His tender mercies are new every single morning.  For me.  For You.  For them.  I'm counting my life on it.

Mark Batterson also writes: Work like it depends on you.  Pray like it depends on God.

I'll do both, for myself, my friends, my church, for others He brings into my path.  My prayers will not always be answered the way I think, but I know He will answer.  I know He will work it all out for our good and His glory because we love Him and He loves us.  Love covers a multitude.

I'll end with a simple prayer, as that is about all I've got today.  Sometimes simple is exactly what we need.

Dearest Lord, I don't always get it.  I am not tall enough to see what You see. So, I will just trust that You do see.  You see my pain and the pain of others. You know that pain, so please carry it for them. Don't let it overwhelm them. Let Your light shine on and in them. Heal what needs to be healed, still.

But most importantly, Lord, help us. Keep doing what only You can do.  Thank You for Your peace that surpasses all understanding and please continue to pour it out, multiplying its effects on our lives.

I love You, Jesus.  I don't understand but I trust You.  Thank You, I lift up Your name because You are worth it. Amen.