Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Doing the Hokey Pokey (or How I'm Trying to Give More of Myself to Christ)

Come to me, my sweet friend,
Can you feel my heart again?
I'll take you back where you belong
And this will be our favorite song.

Come to me with secrets bare,
I love you more, so don't be scared.
When we're old and near the end,
We'll go home and start again.

This song, "Come to Me," by the Goo Goo Dolls, was not written from a Christo-centric point of view but it fits, for me anyway.  I first heard it 2 1/2 months ago, in the parking lot of the Walmart in Madison, IN.  We were up there for my husband's grandmother's funeral.  My first thought was. "This would be a great song to dance to if Dave and I ever renewed our vows!"

**Cue sappy awwwwww**

Still, the more I listen to it, the more I feel it is about the intimacy Jesus calls us to; the love affair He wants to have with all of us.

More and more, I feel His pull in my daily stress.  He has shown me over and over and over again in the last 3 weeks how possible it is to be engaged in His love every minute of the day.  In that awareness, He does His best and most brilliant work and I'm at my most peaceful and energetic.

Yet, the pull of more intimacy with Christ is always countered by the pull of the "reality."  I put reality in quotes because I'm finding what I think is real isn't real at all.  Usually, it is my emotions or the enemy playing tricks on me.  Even being as busy as I am (and we are busy right now), I feel the call to change my response to that apparent reality; to ways that glorify God and promote the Kingdom. 

That's the real reality, the abundant life.  It's a life with God in charge not only of the spiritual, but the everyday, ordinary.  It's a Jesus-centric Monday through Saturday and double of Him on Sunday.

However, there is still a lot of noise: emotional, physical, relational noise that fills up the spaces of my mind and heart.  Towards the end of the day, I start to leave Jesus in the other room.  He's there, in the house, but not as close as He could be.  Or really, I've gone to sit somewhere else.  I've reached the top end of my tolerance for noise and want peace and quiet.  So, instead of scooting closer to Him, I turn on the TV (for example).

(Dummy, that's just more noise!)

Instead of asking the Lord to work in the end-of-my-rope-and-day moments, I do the hokey pokey: My whole self in, but right foot out.

He's been calling me to quit the hokey pokey because He is ready to speak, ready and available to work in everything I experience - if you can believe it.  When this God-in-every-moment thought first started moving in my heart, I wasn't sure it was possible.  But I know enough now to say confidently, even if you aren't in a convent or in full-time ministry (like me), God can be in every breath you take, every day.

This is where I am.  We are working together on how I can learn to breath Him in and out.  It's makes me vulnerable to Him.  It makes me transparent to others.  It's a little scary, this transformation.  Ok, more then a little, so Jesus and I do it hand-in-hand, taking very small steps.  There is shrapnel lodged in my heart and it must be dealt with.

I expected opening myself to live this way would be painful because being this vulnerable always is.  But it hasn't been what I've expected.  He is helping me, gently and patiently.  The more I submit, the more I relinquish control over my day, giving up my agenda and actively seeking His, the more freedom becomes tangible. 

Less stress, less effort, less force on my part is required to pursue the assignments He has given me.  No feelings of being overwhelmed, only the feeling of being right where I need to be.  Eugene Peterson, in the Message, rewords Jesus' command in Matthew 11:28-30 so powerfully, it has become my lifeline. 

Come to me.  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. (emphasis mine)

These unforced rhythms of grace are the real way to live.  They lull me to rest even especially during the busiest parts of my day.  When I reach a fork in the road, I'm learning to ask Him where to next.  An invitation to the Holy Spirit removes my need to control every detail.  When I place the details in His Hands, how I feel about the situation isn't the biggest factor.  I can respond in grace, love, faith and hope; eternal investments of my time, effort, money, prayer, heart.

If you find yourself with a desire to unclench your hands on some part of your life; to experience more of the life God meant for you, start by asking Him questions.  Start inviting Him into your day, whenever you think of it.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

What next, Lord?  
Where to now, Lord?
How would You do this, Father?
Thank You for helping me right now, Jesus.

You tell me where to go or what to do - I'll follow the path of peace in your name, Jesus.

It's much more than WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)?  It is living as Jesus does because HE does it for you.  It doesn't have to be complicated.  It can be simple and that's probably the scariest thing of all.

Shrapnel will need to be dealt with because when we position ourselves to give more to Christ, He always deals with our hearts.  But it doesn't have to be painful.  That might be a radical thought, but it's true.  Not everything God does involves gut-wrenching change.  

The end result will be radically different though.  For you, to be carried through your day, rather then having to push or trudge through, slug it out or put up with things until you can get to a certain hour of peace and rest.  Can you imagine having peace and rest all day?

Take some baby steps and see what the Lord will do in your willingness to give more of yourself to Him.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Letter to HISD re: Good Friday Reboot

Well, it's Good Friday.  My kids aren't at school.  In fact, Sophia and I were just discussing what her class was doing.  Since we are early risers here, I let her know her class wasn't in P.E. as she proposed, but just getting to/starting school.  I did hear a rumor a lot of teachers in the Houston Independent School District aren't going to be there today either.

They can take the religious holiday exemption too.  I think that's great.  I know the day was pre-selected before year was ever started, but since HISD administration changes things mid-stride all the time, I figure they could take a cue from their cousin district, Spring Branch, and tack a day on at the end of the year.  Probably be just as much of a headache to do that as all the absences on Good Friday.

Anyway, enough of my soapbox.  I'm re-booting this post, edited a little because I want to focus on why we kept our kids out of school today.  It's Good Friday y'all.  It's the day Jesus died for us, the day He willingly became sin for me, for you, for everyone.  We are going to dye Easter eggs and they are going to make resurrection rolls with our wonderful friend, Ms. Janice. And I'm going to look into our Good Friday options at church and hopefully take at least Natalie.

I want this Good Friday to be different, I want it to be meaningful and focused.  So, it will be.  Here is my previously stated stance, from a slightly different perspective.  Welcome to Good Friday and have a blessed Resurrection Day!

Dear HISD School Board,

 Today is April 18th, 2014, one of the scheduled make-up day for a couple of "snow/ice days" in January.  I know you know by now it is  also Good Friday.  You also chose Memorial Day and that is still up in the air for our attendance purposes.  

For today, as a fervent believer in Jesus Christ, the idea of taking my kids to school on one of the Holiest days of the year stirs up my spirit.  You see Good Friday is the heart of my faith.  It is the reason I'm a Christian.  That day - nearly two thousand years ago - allows me to walk free of sin, guilt and shame.  It gives me freedom from living for the drama of my own agenda and the authority to walk in the wonder of God's plan.

Today is the day Jesus bore all those awful things for me on the Cross, as well as a whole host of other ways I was strapped to the table of eternal judgement.  Because I believe in the horror of Good Friday, I can believe in the incredible hope of Resurrection/Easter Sunday.  It leads me free from the weight of this world; including all the junk I used to (and still) carry around. I'm committed to raising my kids in this faith.  So, I want to thank you for an easy chance to teach them about it.  

This gives me the perfect opportunity to show my girls' how faith applies to life.  Good Friday and Easter Sunday are absolutely the most important events in history, ever.  Because we are out of school, I have the whole day to teach them why our faith is unique, why sin was so awful, God had to die for it.  

I will tell them why Jesus rising from the dead is the miracle from which we base our faith.  Without that event, He would not have proved He was God and our belief would be irrelevant and foolish.  With His resurrection, though, all power is bequeathed to us and we are given the opportunity to live abundant, miraculous lives.  We are saved, made alive, forever!  


Hallelujah!

You've given me a chance to explain our religious civil liberties.  It is a privilege to be American and I want them to absorb the impact of that privilege.  We currently live in a country where we will suffer little to no consequence from our religious choices.  We've lived in other countries, so I understand the gravity of this right.  We have the right to honor God any day of the year and that's a wonderful thing.
The Son of Man had to suffer and die.  He did and I'm so grateful.  I'm thankful for Christ's finished work on the Cross.  I hope other families will join us in our sacrifice of thanksgiving and also take the opportunity to tell others about today.  I hope you will know the truth by which we have been set free: Christ lived, died and now alive!


In the faith, hope and love, 

Amy W. Vogel, Lover of Jesus and City of Houston Taxpayer



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday of Wonder - What You Give to Others, He will Give to You

Prayer is one of those things, that really starts with God.  We are in the middle of it, but it's beginning and end is the heart of the Father.  The Lord holds a plan and creates a desire in us to ask Him for that plan to come to fruition.  We are stirred to desire something, stirred by the redemptive plan of Our All-Knowing, Almighty.

When we desire to His will, we will express that desire in intercession for others.  It goes back to the Lord to complete the cycle.  It is an eternal, blessed circle of hope and healing that always brings glory to Him, Who so well deserves it.  God gives us the desires of our heart when our hearts are given over to Him. Psalm 37:3-7a in the NIV says it this way,

Trust in the Lord and do good;dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lord,     and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret... (emphasis mine)

When we delight in God, when we seek Him with our whole heart, doing good to bring others before Him in prayer, He will take our burdens and give us good gifts.  Sometimes in the process of doing good for others, we are given a gift as well.  You can call it a reward or blessing.  Either way, all good and perfect gifts come from the Father (James 1:7)

I experienced this circle of prayer and blessing just last week.  It was unexpected but welcome healing.  You see, my sweet husband got me a pedometer for my birthday a couple of weeks back.  Part of the package was a wrist band to hold it.  I wore it twice, then stopped.  A day or so later, I noticed a rash on arm where the wristband was, all the way around.  It didn't itch or bother me.  It was pretty minor and I sent a picture of it to my husband.  

It was like this for a few days, until I woke up and it was itching.  I put calamine lotion on it and that kept the itch at bay.  But the very next day, nothing would help the itch.  In fact, the itch woke me up in the middle of the night, driving me crazy!

I slathered on the lotion, took Advil and nothing.  Crazy itchiness.  It was awful.  But here is where the WONDER-ful part comes in.  I was driving to swim at the gym I belong to and the itching reminded me of something a friend of mine, going through chemotherapy, is dealing with.  Except her rash is 10x worse.  But still, what she was going through was up close and personal like never before.  I thought, "Maybe this is the Lord's way of keeping her in front of me to pray for her relief and comfort." So, I started to pray.  

The instant I spoke her name out, the itching stopped completely.

For hours nothing - no itch, no pain, no nothing.  If it wasn't on my wrist, I wouldn't have even noticed it was there.  Later that afternoon, after telling a couple of friends about my experience, it started to itch again, but I just started praying for my friend and it would stop.  It went on like this all day and into the next.

I still have the rash, it is running its course and looks horrible.  But any itch has abated as I employed my intercessor technique through the weekend. It is definitely going away.  My friend was constantly being lifted up before the Father, to the praise of His Name!  I'm confident the Lord accomplished His purposes in both of our lives, although her rash didn't instantly get better.  However, this week, she has a rest from chemo to recover and things are settling down.  It is clear God is answering prayers in her situation....and in mine!

I love seeing the testimony of His Word made real, like from Psalm 103:3-5,

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.  He fills my life with good things.  My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! (NLT)

What a WONDER-ful God in Heaven we have, so concerned with every little details of our lives, big and small.  Thank you Jesus, for suffering everything for us on the Cross, so we can believe in Your healing resurrection power!