Today, much of the U.S. is observing Veterans’ Day. Except those of us that work at a private institution.  Le sigh. But, work is not without the interwebs, so I am broadcasting from my desk (not on company time, of course).

Today, I’m thinking about heroism. It’s a fitting subject as we remember those who protect and defend us, who can be called upon to fight for our freedom.  But there are other fights we face, too. Some fight the injustice that poverty brings, some fight oppression. Some fight for the earth, some fight for their families. And some fight because there is no other choice, and they do it with grace. Here is where my hero comes in, my father.

My father is not tall, he’s not really what you would call handsome or charismatic. He’s just your typical accountant that lives in the condo next door. Sometimes talks a little too much, maybe laughs inappropriately, wears holey tee shirts and likes plain fast food burgers – the small ones. But, he loves God and he fights for his family.

You see, years ago, he left my mother. My mother was no saint, either. Co dependency and mental illness would drive almost anyone away. He left her with three children, one barely out of diapers and another with special needs. As the divorce proceeded, the one with special needs, my sister Becky, left to live with him. I don’t remember too many of the details about this, but I do remember that, as a 4-6 year old these were hard years. Screaming phone conversations, fearing my mother while simultaneously craving her approval, a mostly absent and sometimes vindictive father, a much older sister who had her own struggles turning into a teen.

Things calmed down by late elementary school for me. Remember that codependency? It resurfaced when I was in junior high. At that point, I think I was happy that my parents were talking civilly again. And that mental illness? It developed into a much worse problem: my mother started having seizures. She was hospitalized following a car crash. We eventually moved back in with my father. There are rough patches, but life at least looks normal. Except that one time when the neighbors called the cops, but I don’t want to think about that.

At this point, my mother and I were attending church (I was baptized when I was 11) and my father was not. Sure, on Easter and Christmas, but he would always leave during Silent Night. Running. Sometimes with tears. As a teen, I was quite embarrassed, but now I know that God was working, working. Showing him his need for redemption. I don’t know exactly what he was thinking, but it hit him hard.

Fast forward a few years, my father comes into a little money, buys a condo, and I go off to university. Sure, they got all the fancy stuff when I move out. Danggit. My parents, still divorced, are attending church together, and my father begins to pursue Faith and Love like never before. It actually gets him excited to read those awfully dry theology books. At least they’re about redemption. And so, Redeemed he became. He decided that it was right to remarry my mother, and did everything in his power to make it right. He went to counseling, instituted rules about their relationship, tried and asked and tried and asked, trying to restore what he partially destroyed. Finally, in the summer of 2005, they were hitched for a second time. I cried. My sister cried. My other sister cried. God changed their hearts so that they would be married. What was torn, God had made right.  It was a beautiful sight.

And it all fell apart again. Not their marriage; that was strong. The seizures got worse. The medications stopped working. The doctors pushed for brain surgery. Brain surgery. Needless to say, my mother was scared. Her fears were not unfounded, as that surgery was the beginning of the end. There’s a lot of detail, so I’ll just give you guys a quick rundown: lots of different anti-depressant/bipolar medications; she begins to break bones due to osteoporosis; she develops anxiety; begins to talk about suicide and is hospitalized 3-4 times in the psychiatric ward; moves into full time nursing care at the age of 63 because my father can no longer care for her.

So, we come to today, four years later. My father is drained, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially. It’s hard to maintain friendships that are not family ties with weight like that. Both able bodied daughters are too far to help. Siblings are either dead or estranged. There’s one distant cousin with whom we spend a lot of holidays. But, my father never waivers in his faith. He never really becomes angry. He faithfully attends church and helps out with communion. He still laughs. He helps his daughters and delights in his grandchildren. He wishes he could do more. His spirit, though weak, still glows. He is pressed but not crushed, struck down but not destroyed.

And he still fights. He fights because maybe someday, my mother will wake up out of her haze and become new again. Maybe she won’t. But, because he has chosen obedience to God in marriage, that’s a cross he’s called to bear, whether he likes it or not.  He bears it with grace, I think mostly because Jesus bears it right along with him. It is only through Him that my father has maintained his humor, his grace and his love, and has enough left to give to others.

And, that is why he is my hero. He may not lead a group into Africa to dig a well, he hasn’t written bestselling books, he didn’t fight in any wars, but he loves and cares for his wife who cannot do the same. He fights for the goodness in her, nearly headless of the toll it takes on him. He has been transformed and through his circumstances, it shows. Without adversity, how do we know we’ve changed for Christ?

You know, sometimes life hands us things that we don’t want. Obedience doesn’t always bring peaceful circumstances. A friend posted on facebook today, “In the end….it is our walk that defines who we really are in life.” Sometimes it’s not what you do in life, but what you do with it that matters, because sometimes, you have no other choice.  And, I look at my father, my unassuming hero, a man with no other right choice, and I see a man that, on that fateful day of Judgment, will be welcomed into the kingdom by the Lord saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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This past quarter, God told me to start a formal prayer session for Wednesday night Chi Alpha. So, during lunch on Wednesdays, my friend Les and I prayed for God to move in Chi Alpha. And, move He did! One week we prayed for healing, and a girl was healed. Another week, we prayed for freedom, and a captive was released. You could hear the wind of the Holy Spirit move through the room.

But, this is not what this blog is about. This blog is about what I learned through the process.

A few weeks later, Les and I were having a chat about the mystery of prayer. Why does it have power? If God can do these things whether we ask or not, why do we have to ask? And, if we pray and He consistently answers in the way that we ask, doesn’t it seem to turn into a magic talisman rather than drawing close to God?

So, I asked Him what was going on. God told me this: that He requires prayer in most circumstances because it’s one of the ways we can attribute these miracles back to Him. See, if my friend Sara had a hurting wrist, and she prayed to be healed the next morning, and she woke up healed, she has a greater chance of attributing the healing to God. So, He answers our prayers so we cannot deny His reality. Now, if Sara did not pray for healing and yet she was healed, there’s much less direct connection between God and Sara, and it may have well been a freak of nature for her to have been healed.

Jesus told us to ask and then we would receive. It’s not that He doesn’t know, He was us to recognize what we need, ask Him and then He will give. That way, there’s proof the the relationship between God and man.

Makes me want to run and pray.

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There is nothing I can do…

For the past few weeks I have been meditating on the idea that there is nothing I can do to earn the love of God. He did everything. All we basically have to do is believe it and declare it. Essentially turn toward the Truth and allow ourselves to live in the Truth. (The Truth being that we, on our own, are not perfect, that perfection lies in knowing God, and that the only way to know God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

But, how do we do that?

Ps. 51:16-17
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

In Bible Study tonite, someone shared the verse above. God does not want an artificial sacrifice. It’s not like we do something to earn His pleasure. It’s simply by being broken enough to say “Yes, I need Him.”

This has been playing over and over in my life recently. While there is something I can do in terms of work, or I can change my relationship by expressing love, sometimes there’s nothing I can do about the outcomes. Sometimes we have no control over our circumstances, like if one got into a car accident or if a loved one is sick or choosing to go down a destructive path. Once again, one has to say “There is nothing I can do or could have done…” I think the best word to describe this type of statement would be admittance. You have to admit that there’s nothing you can do. Your pride must be broken enough for you to say it. That it’s beyond your control.

And that’s really where the beauty lies in our Lord. There is nothing we could do to earn His love, we just have it, and we can grasp it and allow it to change us, no matter what storm blows our way. Knowing that God gives His love freely changes my heart. Despite of the wrongs I do, God still loves me. So, despite the wrongs that are done me, whether intentional or not, I can still love (or in certain cases, do the right thing, which I guess is essentially “loving”). Even though my circumstances may suck, I can still love, because God gives to me. 1 John 4:19 is exactly that, “We love, because He first loved us.”

I’m not sure I really realized it before now.

In addition to this, I think that God’s timing is impeccable on the matter. It’s the start of Holy Week for 2011 and Jesus is telling me this now, on the precipice of celebrating the event that changed my life: the death and resurrection of Christ. I’m excited for the Truth that He will continue to reveal to me this week, as I celebrate Him. If it follows from this, it’s going to be good.

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In the last posting, I didn’t use my usual format of mm.dd.yy. Oh well.

Anyway, I want to send out a little update:

1. About December 1st, I moved into a new apartment. And I LOVE IT. Finally, a place to call my own. I share it with another woman in my same stage in life, and she’s easy going and loves the Lord. Plus, she doesn’t mind my little trails around the house.

2. Chi Alpha is fantastic. The Holy Spirit is really moving in Chi Alpha Stanford. God is changing lives, and there is a sense that the Holy Spirit is going to pour out over Stanford very, very soon. We are on the precipice of change, and it is good. In terms of what we are doing, we have student led prayer and worship nights, we have student let prayer walks and student led outreaches. These students love the Lord.

3. My other part time job is good. I’m enjoying the company of my colleagues and all of our new merchandise is exciting.

I guess, all in all, life is good! And, I praise the Lord for it.

I will try to give you a more specific update next time around.

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Pressing in

I’ve heard the words “pressing in” a lot recently, especially in regards to extended worship and prayer sessions. “Press into God.” “Press deeper into His presence.” On the surface, it seems like a call to focus more deeply on the Lord. And it is, but I have a difficult time ascribing to specific word choices that arise from the colloquial language of the culture I live in, without a Biblical basis or comparison. So, knowing full well that this admonition could be Biblical, I asked God what “pressing in” meant. And thankfully, He answered, right away.

I was worshiping with Chi Alpha when I asked God this question, and nearly immediately He brought to mind the story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32:

24Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.

As I meditated on this Scripture, I realized that worshiping God – lavishing Him with your attention and wonder and curiosity – is a lot like what Jacob was doing. He was wrestling. But, we don’t wrestle with God like Jacob did, we wrestle with other things, like wandering thoughts, distractions, our emotions, the enemy. Sometimes it is a fight to truly worship God, and it seems like a losing battle. We can’t get the cute guy in front of us out of our heads, (ok, so maybe I can’t get that cute guy out of my head), our knee is in pain and it needs to be shifted ever 2 minutes or so, we can’t stop thinking about that problem set that’s due in 12 hours. And we succumb from turning outwardly toward Our Lord to our own inward dilemmas, justifying ourselves because of the stress and the pain of these distractions. It’s too difficult to move beyond them.

But Jacob doesn’t do that. He wrestled with God all night. That’s a long time. And, God found that He “could not prevail” against Jacob, so He dislocated his hip. Ouch! But Jacob still did not let go. Think about it: you are fighting with the God of the Universe (though you don’t necessarily know that it’s Him at this point) all night, and it’s essentially a draw. So God pulls out all the stops and physically harms you. He pushes you away. I would probably have let go. But, Jacob does not and proclaims, in his pain, that He will not let go until a blessing is obtained.

Cha-CHING! That’s what pressing in means. We seek God, and we don’t let go until He blesses us, in spite of whatever pain we maybe experiencing. Jacob was presumably tired, and definitely in pain, but still did not let go, seeking a blessing. Our worship experience may not be one that we expect, so we tire easily, or our distracted by our own mental, physical and emotional pain. But to press in means that we do not let go of worship until we receive our blessing, whatever that maybe. It could be a new revelation of Christ, it could be a healing, it could be refreshment and peace of heart, it could be the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But we press in to receive from God. We don’t let go until He blesses us (or we receive the blessing).

And, I find Jacob’s blessing to be quite analogous to the type of blessing we typically receive when we worship God. The Lord blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel; God changed his identity when He changed his name. And, when we hold on until He blesses us, our names, our identities changed too. Following Christ is a journey in which we are continually changing into one who is more reflective of Him.  It’s interesting that Jacob realizes that, in the end, He saw God’s face. And, in worship (reflection/meditation on Him), we search for God’s face and when we find it, our identities are changed to look more like His identity: full of love and compassion for the Earth and its inhabitants, distaste for sin, and giving us the strength to love and serve Him in our actions.

One last point: Jacob was also physically changed because of this encounter. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life. A student at Stanford, in an attitude of worship, was physically healed. This guy was physically changed in a matter of minutes. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, received in worship, physically changes the way we speak. Worship is not simply a mind shift, as I mentioned above, it is also a physical shift. We may not grow taller or more beautiful to the general public, but our bodies are more willing to do the work of the Lord.

I suspect that God changes us physically for several reasons. Sometimes it’s the only noticeable, provable change. We have to be changed in the physical realm to be empowered for His service. Also, we are not Gnostics. We live, physically. Our bodies are as much a part of us as our minds and our souls. God created them, and, although they are ultimately defunct because of our sin nature (it is appointed for all to die), He still wants to change them, just as He changes our hearts and minds. 1 Timothy 4 tells us that bodily discipline is good, and gives value to it. It just shouldn’t take over our faith. Yoga is not the way to enlightenment, even though it can feel like it sometimes.

So, yes, I now know how to press in, not to rest until the blessing is obtained, until my very identity is changed, time and time again.

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Hope is an active verb.

It’s official: I’m moving. You may or may not know that I do not like where I live. There’s no area to entertain, no internet, no carpet, no meat, no couch. That was tolerable for a while, but the holidays are coming, I’m settling into life and I need more yeses. God is so good. He heard me and provided.  I’m moving into a two bedroom one bathroom with another gal close in age to me, and the timing can’t be more perfect. Holidays are just around the corner, and I’m excited to put up lights and surround myself with friends, in a comfy, cozy apartment. With a couch.

But, this is not only His physical provision for me, but also an opportunity for Him to teach me something. In the Bible, Paul talks a lot about the hope that we have in Jesus: “we exult in the hope of the glory of God;” “hope does not disappoint;” “we have fixed our hope on the Living God;” “our hope in heaven” etc.  I’ve always been befuddled by hope – in the English language, it usually expresses an uncertainly. You hope to get that new bike for Christmas, but you don’t know until Christmas morning. You hope it will work out with that beautiful woman, but you don’t know until you walk down the aisle. You hope for, but don’t know it will happen.

This, in my life, has created a lack of dependence on the future. I think that even if I hope for something, I probably won’t receive it, so there’s really no point. That trickles over into my relationship with God. Why should I be consumed with the hope of my future glory, if my past experiences tell me otherwise? Hoping just sets me up for disappointment.

Let’s go back to this whole apartment thing. I’m so excited about it that life is easier now. I cleaned my room, I organized (some) stuff, I’m writing again, I can be at home for longer periods of time. All of which is a direct result of my anticipation for moving. My hope in moving.

In this experience, I’m hoping for a new place to live (and tonite I’m doubly sure that I’m moving in), and my life has directly changed because of it. I think this is the transformative hope that Paul talks about. We rejoice in it, we exult in it, we meditate on it, and it spurs us on to different behavior, because of the assurance it brings. Even though the time has not yet arrived, and I have only seen glimpses of what life will be like, I am so excited to move that I am motivated to prepare for it, and my life is already reflective of what it could possibly look like.

That’s the hope Paul talks about. Even though it has not yet come to fruition, it will. And, we have the assurance, the guarantee it will in our faith. And in that, our life changes. We expect, we prepare, we even reflect what life will possibly be like when we reach glory. That’s what hope does. It changes our mindset so that we transform.

Sometimes you expect one thing from God, but He uses it for another purpose as well. Awesome.

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The Golden Rule

Last week, Glen preached on the story of The Rich Young Ruler and one of his points got me thinking.

Basic rundown: a young man asks Jesus how to obtain eternal life. Jesus quotes some commandments, but also the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The ruler responds, “I have done all that, what do I still lack?” Jesus responds, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man then became sad and went away.

Jesus does something very interesting here. Initially, he quoted some of the well known commandments, honor your parents, do not murder, etc. All of which are easily measured. Have you ever killed someone? If no, then yes you have kept the commandment “Do not murder.” Then He quotes a commandment from another part of the Law: love your neighbor as yourself. If you quantify it, becomes very revealing. And that’s just what He did: he quantified it for the rich young ruler by telling him to give his own possessions or their value to the poor. Literally, to love his neighbors as he has loved himself – by lavishing his possessions on others.

That’s the point that got me thinking. We cite the golden rule as something like “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” The golden rule is about how you expect or want to be treated by others, and that has the potential for a great many cultural constraints, or could encounter problems if you have psychological/reality issues. For example, in Little House on the Prairie, Pa does not “want to be beholden to anybody” so he expects, and arguably wants, to be left alone, even in need. So, in applying the golden rule, he essentially would not help anyone else in need. This is probably not the spirit in which this saying is commonly used, but it makes me think twice about the concept.

But, Jesus (quoting Mosaic law) said something different: “Love your neighbors as [you love] yourself.” Jesus’ commandment is about how you treat yourself, and then applying that to how you treat others. It does not matter about how you want others to treat you. Even in Pa’s case, if he were in need, like the time he was stuck in a snow drift, he helped himself, even if it meant eating his daughter’s Christmas candy. That’s the same way we are commanded to treat others, as we treat ourselves in all situations.

A simple thought experiment: say you are in need of a new computer. If you had the money, you would probably buy it for yourself, eventually. Now, say your friend is in need of a new computer but has no means to obtain one, and you do. The golden rule takes into account how you would feel if your were that friend. Would you be too embarrassed to accept it, so then you think you would embarrass your friend by giving her that gift? This projects yourself onto another person, which may or may not be true. Or perhaps you are in an culture that does not condone helping others, so you never expect that someone would help you, so you consequentially, would not help your friend.  Jesus takes that whole part about how you think about relationships out, and tells you to just do. If you love yourself, and you are in need of a computer, you buy it. If your friend is in need, and you love her, and have the means, then it follows that you would help her buy it, according to what Jesus said.

Now, admittedly, this could be an awkward situation for most of us. It’s a big purchase, even for us who have the means. We just don’t do that. But, it certainly makes me think about how I treat others, especially those with less than me. Would I share my oatmeal and yogurt with my hungry friend, even though my larder is running low? Would I give up my “me time” to help a friend move? Am I really loving my neighbors as myself, and taking myself out of the equation?

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