Saturday, January 31, 2009
Worshipping with other Christian groups was a good experience. Nearly twelve years later, I can still identify two services that touched me deeply—and the two congregations are at opposite ends of the Christian spectrum.
One was Catholic. I’m sure the memory of that church is vivid in part because the priest bringing the message had been a student of Ken’s—something we didn’t anticipate. The sermon was about blind Bartimaeus.
The other was Baptist, and to make sense of what follows, I’ll provide background. As a child I’d learned I should help others—and there were times when I resented it. I know my parents didn’t understand the pressure I felt. Just the same, I was repeatedly overwhelmed by the weight of other people’s problems.
On July 20, 1997, the pastor of Community Baptist preached on burdens. While the message I received isn’t exactly the message he preached, he taught Scripture so it spoke to me. I’ve never forgotten his teaching.
After a few months we left the apartment to move into the house we built on a lake in Minnesota. Eventually, however, we moved back to the Fargo area, this time to stay, and I began attending a writer’s group.
One of the group’s members was Karen Lindholm, a gal out of the Swedish Baptist tradition. During the course of our conversation, I learned she was a widow and that her husband had been a pastor. Because I’m always interested in spiritual history I asked a few questions and quickly realized her late husband had pastored the Community Baptist Church. Then I asked for dates and determined he was the man of the significant sermon.
In the secular group, I didn’t want to get too excited. I mentioned it quietly and thought she understood. Since then I’ve learned to appreciate Karen greatly—we’ve met together about once a month for several years now—but she didn’t bring the subject up again.
This week, when reorganizing my new office area, I decided to sort through a stack of papers—and found a printed outline of the sermon from July 20, 1997.
I had to share the discovery with Karen, so I sent an email. It turns out she’d forgotten I’d even mentioned our Sunday morning visit to their church—or perhaps she hadn’t heard my reference because multiple people were talking at the same time the night of our writer’s group meeting. Her response indicated she was blessed to hear about a time when God had used her husband. I was blessed by being able to tell her. It somehow seems like a divine connection.
Can I share more about the message?
Pastor Ray—as Karen’s husband was called—used Greek to explain that in the culture of Jesus’ time there were burdens carried by pack animals (he mentioned donkeys), burdens carried by people (he mentioned backpackers as a contemporary example of people carrying loads), and super-large burdens carried in the holds of ships.
Paul wrote, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2 NIV) The word translated “burden” means something carried by a pack animal, a burden too big to carry alone. That’s why Christians should help each other.
A few verses later Paul wrote, For each one should carry his own load. (Gal. 6:5 NIV) In the King James Version, this word is also translated burden. In the New International Version it’s translated load. This identifies a smaller burden, something a person can carry by themselves. In God’s economy, it means drawing from God’s grace on their own.
I don’t remember what he said about burdens carried in ships. (According to the outline, the reference was Psalm 38:4) But understanding the difference between two types of burdens made it clear I wasn’t responsible to carry the burdens of everyone I met. Moreover, in the months that followed I understood I wasn’t even responsible for everyone I knew that needed help—God could arrange circumstances if He wanted me involved.
Receiving understanding didn’t transform me overnight. Some revelations have to be worked in gradually. But the sermon that morning provided a foundation for another new beginning, and I’m grateful.
Monday, January 26, 2009
It began because I thought I needed drawers as part of my work space. Perhaps I should explain. We bought one or more pieces of furniture for all but one room in our condo when we purchased it—to finish the the decor. By the time we got to finishing the guest bedroom where my desk would be located—I like seclusion at times—funds were low and we made-do.
My old desk was huge, too big and not especially conducive to computers. Being the enterprising person I am, I designed a desk with glider for my keyboard but no drawers. Ken, being the enterprising person he is, made it for me. Placed next to my small file cabinet, it worked well—until I began writing again. Now I’m ready for something different, perhaps even a new desk.
On Wednesday we made a tour of eight second-hand stores as a starter, to see what we could find. They weren’t close to each other, either. That night I decided that a small nightstand we’d seen in the sixth store would provide the needed storage for now.
But on Thursday we shopped two additional second-hand stores to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. No desks, but in the second store I saw a pink chair. Now, I’ve been trying to get away from pink, but the chair fit, was comfortable, and would be perfect as a reading chair, a chair other than my desk chair and one located far from the TV. I had to think about it, so we returned to the sixth store and purchased the night stand. When we got home we not only moved the nightstand into the condo, we rearranged the bedroom to see if the chair would fit.
On Friday we made a trip to purchase the pink chair. Keep in mind that streets and sidewalks were icy, temps were low, and the wind was blowing in gusts. Furthermore, my hands are weak so I’m no help when carrying something heavy. On Thursday the store employees helped load the nightstand. On Friday we were on our own.
My part was holding the door open. We thought the back of our older Escort wagon would be large enough, so we drove it, but the arms of the chair were wider than we thought. After struggling to get it outside, Ken worked another 15 minutes using this method or that method, trying to fit it into the back of the car. His face looked absolutely raw, but I left him out there alone. When he finally came in, announcing his success, it was hard to be jubilant. So we drove home, removed it from the car—much easier now that he had a method—and began rearranging furniture in earnest.
Ken was up first Saturday morning. I could barely roll over. After his breakfast he came back into the bedroom, looked out the window, and said, We had quite a day yesterday, didn’t we? Pause. I’m kinda stiff today. Pause. Then, with a hint of a grin he turned toward me, But we did it.
Prior to that moment, I’d wondered if it was worth it. The effort had been over the top and I felt guilty because it was all for me.
But we did it, changed everything.
Of course, we weren’t done until—well, not until one wall became the backdrop for a solid line of furniture—to make room for the chair. Can you see the nightstand? It fits in so nicely you might think it's always been there.
And here’s the pink chair. Yesterday, on Sunday morning when both of us were more or less recovered, I read in my chair before church. Ken looked in, smiled and said, You know, this is pleasant. Today he staged a picture so you could all see it in all it’s comfortablness.
Keeping with the theme of this blog, I must admit I don’t know where God fits into the equation. Were we out of His will because it was so stressful? That seems like a harsh assessment. And foolish. I don't think everything needs to be so serious.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction was the high point. The man’s been around a long time—he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today he provided poetry that captured the present.
I wasn’t an Obama supporter, although I admired much about him after reading his first book, “Dreams of My Father.” I felt he was open to—of all things—change. Before it became a code word. Someone suggested it could be calculated deceit, but I didn’t think so, and still don’t. Even early in the campaign I felt checked whenever I started to say something negative about him. I have huge policy differences on abortion, for instance, but I’m inclined to think God was checking me, keeping me from saying negative things about a man with a destiny.
Obama’s speech was okay—revealed once again his pragmatic approach, his focus on results. But it was Lowery who touched my heart.
My acquaintance with Black churches is brief, but includes defining moments. When Ken and I were much younger, we lived in Phoenix, AZ, for eight years. Ken returned to school and subsequently began his teaching career in Phoenix. But equally important, I experienced a spiritual epiphany that initiated my walk with God. Ken, who had known God as his Savior since childhood, experienced epiphanies of his own.
While in Phoenix, we fellowshipped with a diverse group of people. With friends from this group, I attended a couple of Black churches. For the congregations, the settings were their norm—bare, concrete floors and uncomfortable bench-type pews. But unlike my home church, a church with all the amenities, they used not one, but two, instruments—organ and piano— together. And, oh, the chords the young instrumentalists played. I’d never heard such invasive sounds. Like the glorious music produced by Bach, Vivaldi, Handle, and others, it was anointed in the Old Testament sense. But the congregation, in accordance with Old Testament practice, sang, danced, prayed, and shouted.
And then we heard sermons expressed as poetry, rough around the edges—but poetry because it brought revelation of Truth from God’s Word. I don’t know what the others in my group—a handful of whites—were doing, because I closed my eyes and absorbed new courage for my Christian walk.
Since those experiences, I’ve believed the strength of the African-Americans in our country comes from their churches. Their worship experience couldn’t be passive. Although their music expressed the bitter-sweet sorrow of “soul,” it also expressed God’s ability to strengthen them, to give them power to persevere.
Think of it. Power to persevere when treated as less than human.
Praise God for Black churches. Without them, the problems of America might be unsolvable. Without God’s presence, people become vindictive—it’s happened to Christians in the past. Without God, people become lawless.
Do we truly understand that we owe Jehovah God our freedom? That only He gives His children the strength to forgive and to love?
I felt Rev. Lowery's powerful images and allusions exemplified poetic prayer. The techniques (such as rhyme and alliteration) helped, too. His words had power to penetrate, to invade our minds. We need to hear from God. We need to receive from Him—to let His power strengthen us.
Oh, God, may it be so. And may it begin with me.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
After a couple of weeks with socks on, not only during all waking moments but during all moments, I long for the freedom of air on my feet. In fact, this morning I put on sandals (I still need a corrective shoe for my left foot, as I'm unwilling to submit to surgery on it as I did the right foot) and reveled in the freedom of contact with air.
Before the sandals, however, as I was about to grumble to myself, I thought of a lady I met yesterday at the rheumatologist’s office. She’s close to my age, but her rheumatoid arthritis took over before the present-day biologic drugs were available. To walk at all she wore huge boot-affairs, a cross between the cast I wore during my surgery and an oxford. She didn’t stand on the soles of her feet, but the shoe/boot provided a platform enabling her to shuffle forward with the help of crutches.
My limited experience with crutches, abandoned for a Roll-a-Bout, scared me. I wondered how anyone could ever deal with them because they put so much pressure on the shoulders and hands—other problematic joints. Praise God for the people who work with problems. Her crutches had forearm extensions that bore her weight. With the crutches to hold her up, and with the shoe/boots as her platform, she moved—slowly.
But before I saw her move, as she sat with the rest of us in a row of recliners set up to hold patients receiving infusions of Remicade—she revealed her pleasant nature. A affable nurse with health problems of her own administers the procedure, and we visit. About our peculiar health issues at the moment, the weather (it was 21 degrees below zero yesterday morning), our kids and grandkids, whatever. The special lady was confused about a few things, but oh, she was lovely.
We’ve all heard about wanting new shoes—until seeing someone without feet. I needed a fresh view to quicken my appreciation for my feet and other blessings as well. I’m mobile.
Mobile! I can walk where I want. Oh, I get tired more quickly than I’d like—but I am, after all, getting older. And my hands are weak—the effect of damage before I started the new drug—but there are ways to adjust. I live a normal life, am in better shape that some without a chronic disease.
The image of my new friend is so vivid that I hesitate to say I’m blessed—because it might imply that others with major problems aren’t blessed. The gal I met yesterday probably feels blessed as well. Her demeanor said as much.
I am grateful. I’m grateful to my Lord who builds me up when I turn to Him, who reminds me that life is more than air on bare feet or irritating socks. Grateful for a husband who didn’t want me to drive by myself (the temperature yesterday morning was 21 degrees below zero!), even though the drive, the doctor’s visit, and the procedure took over four hours. Grateful for medical procedures and doctors who know when the procedures will help people like myself—and people like the woman who is already marked by a disease but is, nevertheless, helped with a new medication.
I surely don’t understand it all. Don’t have answers. But, nevertheless, my testimony is that all things work together for good to those who love God . . . . (Rom. 8:28a NKJV) Amazing. Yes. I'm grateful. So grateful.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Supposedly, it was about doctrinal correctness—but I felt it was also about expression. Some Christians react in a way that’s offensive to reserved people like Ken and myself—but they are valid and important to the Body of Christ. I can’t imagine how I’d have reacted to Ezekiel.
During my regular Bible reading I have a plan that seems hit and miss but isn’t. At any one time I’m reading from the Old and New Testaments as well as something from one of the poetry books—but not on the same day. Right now I’m in Genesis, Matthew and Psalms. On a busy day I’ll read a psalm, if I have time to think I’ll read from the New Testament, and often I’ll go to the Old Testament.
Well, when reading about Joseph, I saw something I’d not seen before. Joseph was probably a pain in the neck, strutting around in his colored coat, flaunting his favored position. Nevertheless, he was God’s anointed—the one who received God’s message. Because the brothers didn’t like the messenger, they got rid of him—and were left without God’s Word. Joseph went to Egypt with his word and his wisdom—and Egypt was blessed by his presence. The brothers were left without provision during a famine.
Of course, that begged the question. Was I rejecting God’s Word by rejecting this new voice in my life? Or would I be rejecting God’s Word if I agreed with him and rejected some of the ministries I currently appreciate—even if the package is sometimes disturbing?
I felt God gave me the answer this morning when I remembered some verses in John. “And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (Jn. 16:8-11 ESV)
The meaning of convict is closer to convince than condemn. When the Holy Spirit comes, He convinces us that we’re sinners—if we don’t accept Jesus' sacrifice which is the only sin than separates us from Him. We can deny our sin without so much as a glance unless we respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If a ministry bases its position on being “right” about everything, the danger is feeling smug over being right. A form of self-righteousness enters into one’s mindset. I know, I’ve been there.
When the Holy Spirit comes, He convinces us of God’s righteousness—Jesus is eternal with the Father, and His sacrifice is more than enough to atone or cover our sin. When He offers salvation, we turn to Him and not to our knowledge.
When the Holy Spirit comes, He convinces us of the judgment against Satan, the one who became a ruler when men fell into sin. Jesus won the victory. His and ours. We can’t do anything to help ourselves. We look to Him.
With that I feel I can close the issue, and I thought I’d share the Word that gave me peace.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
More background: about the time I began writing on spiritual armor for the Red, Red Berries blog, I thought it wise to regularly search spiritual armor and spiritual warfare—to get a feel for the territory.
After Sarah Palin’s nomination, many bloggers went ballistic about the dangers of spiritual warfare. That settled down after the election. Currently, some blogs are positive on the subject and some are negative. They’re fairly straightforward and entitled to their opinion. As for spiritual armor, entries are usually brief, often a list with an admonition to put it on.
But I’m disturbed by a group that refer to themselves as watchmen. They watch for doctrinal error so they can alert the Body of Christ to dangers.
Reasonable, except it appears they watch in order to create division. I stumbled on one such site yesterday morning and couldn’t believe their take on various ministries—ministries I like and ministries I more or less ignore. In one case, they highlighted possible problems between a father and son. I’m sure there’s something wrong with both men because there’s something wrong with all of us. But my point is that the watchman accused them vehemently, predicting future trouble—in a family no less. No compassion; no suggestion of hope for reconciliation.
They also criticized the ministry of Heidi and Rolland Baker, a unique couple who operate on the edge of—what should I say—the edge of spiritual expression. Rolland Baker is a descendant—I think the grandson—of the gentleman who wrote the classic Visions Beyond the Veil. The book is a story of children in a Chinese orphanage before Communism who received multiple supernatural visions of heaven and hell. Their lives were transformed; Rolland Baker has a heritage of supernatural visitation.
Over the years the Bakers have planted thousands of churches in or near Mozambique. I wondered how that was possible until I learned how it’s done. A team goes into an unchurched area. After several weeks of evangelistic meetings they meet with people who’ve made professions of faith and ask for volunteers to attend Bible College for a number of months where they will receive training. Two volunteers are selected and when done the volunteers come back to the village and start a church. Sounds like something straight out of Acts. Supernatural occurrences are common—but not predictable. Some are martyred.
The Bakers also run orphanages for orphaned and abandoned children. The stories are too much to cover in this blog.
Heidi usually acts as spokesperson for the ministry and she is prone to soak in God’s presence. It’s the soaking that became the target of the watchmen. The term refers to basking in God’s presence, letting Him minister rest, peace, healing, whatever a Christian needs. The watchmen said it was unbiblical and cited other ministries involved in unbiblical activity. Then they accused the Bakers of soaking people by charging money for conferences, etc.—money used to fund the Bible colleges and orphanages.
I confess outrage. The Bakers have laid their lives on the line. Should they receive compensation for their contributions at conferences? Money that’s channeled into the ministry?
Do I advocating soaking as the Baker’s soak? I think it can be abused, but I understand the practice. It’s based on the concept that Jesus is the Living Water. From Him flows a stream of life that renews all who come to Him. Very Biblical. I have basked in His Presence several times, primarily when ill and confined to bed. It was incredibly healing—and totally within the Biblical context of Jesus as Living Water.
Well, I offered a comment, and the rest of this story is funny but disturbing. I wrote in a box below the article on the Bakers—but when it came up on their screen it was located under their most recent writing; it made no sense. Soon after they provided a comment of their own saying I needed reading glasses!
Funny. I replied to let them in on my mistake and to say I stood by my comment.
In response I received a putdown.
I commented again. This time I included my theological understanding of Jesus as Living Water, mentioned that the practice of Christian Churches today includes non-Biblical practices, and reminded them that the Pharisees began as a positive group with an emphasis on core values—but that they became obsessed with legalism and didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Oh, I also said a watchman doesn’t search for doctrinal errors—everyone has them—but looks for heart issues—and the purpose of watching is not division but restoration. (I might revise this a bit today.)
I closed the site and went about my business with no intention of pursuing anything further—didn’t know how to find the site again. But I remembered the exchange before I shut down the computer for the night and I wanted to see if they answered. Then I remembered the search that revealed the comment so long ago, so I did another search—and there they were. The first one from 191 days ago (number of days cited on the entry!) and the second being the recent one.
The watchman had responded by removing my comment while leaving his putdown in place. He had the right; I understand he didn’t want anyone to undermined his position. Did he have a right to remove mine while leaving his? Legally, but not ethically. I suspect he was looking for another target.
I couldn’t resist commenting again before shutting down—don’t even remember what I said. Today that comment is gone as well—and again, his skewed comments remain. I can’t ignore the humor in all of this. I also decided that if a watchman is willing to exalt himself by attacking ministries, he’d surely be willing to attack another obscure blogger.
Lessons learned: Be careful when making comments, and watch out for watchmen!
Monday, January 5, 2009
This time I felt rewarded when I discoverd several great blogs. I added three to my blogroll (see sidebar), and I'd like to say something about each.
Conversion Diary is written by a former atheist who tells her story in a sidebar article. The blog is a journal of her walk with God since her conversion. Her story is incredible partly because it's an intellectual journey; but, what would one expect from an atheist? Her life with God, however, takes her into the world of relationship. Of special interest to me, she's currently seeking God about her diet and weight. Her spiritual home is with the Catholic Church, perhaps Orthodox.
The Greatest Missionary Trip is written by a gal has lived many years with the blessings and joys of a blended family. The spiritual history of her and husband's spiritual history are also fascinating. In some ways I couldn't relate, because the experience is not ours; on the other hand, human nature is universal regardless of the circumstances. I suspect they're evangelicls.
Tiffany Ann Lewis is written by a young women with a ministry within the Pentecostal/Charismatic community. Again, so interesting as she shares her observations, struggles, insights. In addition to the blog, she publishes a monthly message.
The doctrinal spectrum of these gals is wide, but they're all responding to the same Jesus. I was blessed beyond words when reading their stories and the journals of their life with God.
On the other hand, I find it hard to not feel pangs of despair or jealousy when I come across quality sites. Most blogs are written by young people with agile minds and they're comfortable in the world of computers.
Then, I reminded myself of something I read by Phil Callaway recently. It said, in part:
You are not old . . .
. . .
. . .
until you begrudge the spotlight
turned on a younger generation . . . .
Writing has opened doors for me twice. Once when we had children and I wanted a little extra money without working outside the home. It did that and more, it introduced me to another world. This time around, I will have to admit I couldn't have even tried had God not dealt with me about a few things. That's a subject for another day.
Happy surfing. I think you'll enjoy these people if you take the time. Just remember to come back here.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
For the first time in our married life, I willingly downscaled every aspect of our Christmas activities. The hardest thing was that, like the rest of the nation, we spent less money on presents. Then, I planned the dinner so preparations could be done ahead. Most surprising, however, I put less effort into the tree.
I have mixed feelings about the presents and food. I wish we’d not decided to spend less money. Giving is fun. As for the food, all the early prep tired me out as much as doing it that day. When dinner was over we opened presents, and then I took a two hour nap! (Ken said they were able to play seven-up, seven-down because I didn’t want to play. Somehow, that didn’t make me feel a bit better!) I missed the fun.
But concerning decorations, downscaling was great. I didn’t know Christmas decorations have been stressful for me. But when I think about it, given an excuse, I’ve always enjoyed avoiding them. When our children were pre-schoolers, mold allergies from a live tree were a factor one year. I simply took everything off, Ken placed the offending tree in a snow bank in front of our front window, and he brought it in for about two hours on Christmas Eve so we could put presents under it before he took it outside again. We had an adventure.
But there are more recent events,too. One year I avoided all decorating because we traveled to one of our daughter’s the week before Christmas.
The tree itself has always been an issue. When allergies became a factor, we purchased one of the early artificial varieties; we called it the bottle-brush tree—but our youngest son, now 44, claims that when he thinks of Christmas, that’s the first image he has. I assume he remembers it with the homemade ornaments: colored-paper stars dipped in parafin, strange affairs made from egg cartons that I sprayed gold, and three-dimensional snowflakes made from white paper.
I think I began buying ornaments about the time we purchased our present tree. Lots of ornaments. Putting everything together was work. And taking everything down was more work. When we moved into town from the lake, our granddaughter began helping me with the decorating part,and we created works of art.
Well, this year she was less than enthused—and, to my surprise, I was relieved. When I finally had everything I needed to make the tree I thought I wanted, it became a burden. If our granddaughter was not enthused, perhaps she’d picked up on my lack of enthusiasm.
Ken and I pondered until he finally assembled the tree and added lights. I put up the red ribbon garland. And we were done. And I've enjoyed it enormously because I enjoyed the lights.
The best part, however, was putting decorations away today. It was a short event. Here's Ken taking the tree apart.
Because it went so well, I suspect that next year I'll put out less of the additional stuff, too!
As for the dinner, I know that next year I won't prepare a turkey with all the trimmings. I don’t know what we’ll do, but it will be simple.
Where is God in all this? Well, He’s shown me my heart wasn’t focused on Him.
Surprise, surprise. In my insecurity, I went after things I didn’t want—because I didn’t know myself well enough to see I was stuck in a stronghold of Satan.
Other people could probably have the same realization and not see God's hand in everything. But since God told me I was perfect—that He made me the way He wanted me—I keep discovering new areas where I’ve gone after standards set by others. I’ve misinterpreted Scriptures about dying to self, believing I had to fulfill society's expectations. Have I told you before that God doesn’t stop dealing with His children as they grow older? (If you’re a new reader, that’s a joke.) I'm so glad He continues to set me free.
The revelation of my personal value was probably about seven years ago—maybe eight. All I can say is, “God, forgive me for the years I pursued things You didn’t put in my heart.” And to my husband and children, “Forgive me for diminishing the joy of the season by spreading my personal stress.”
As I said, I don’t generally spend a lot of time on resolutions, but I do like to take stock of what God has done. Awesome, don’t you think?