Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Like Dorothy I want to go home. I want to go home where I have friends, love and support. Instead God has put me in the wilderness of South Dakota. It has felt a bit like being in OZ. I am trying to follow the road to get home. No, not necessarily home to Tennessee, Connecticut or even Brooklyn. But home with Jesus - and not necessarily heaven either... Just a sense of settled-ness and home. Knowing I am doing what God would have me do.

I preached a sermon one time, There Are No Straight Lines in God’s Kingdom.  As with many of my sermons, it starts with an ordinary event or conversation.  My husband and I were driving in South Dakota and saw some trees. Now in other parts of the country seeing trees is not a big deal. It is however in South Dakota.  There are so few trees that you tend to get excited when you see them.

These particular trees were planted in a straight line. I assume they were planted to break the wind that shrieks over the prairie. My husband remarked that these trees were not natural. What he meant was that they were planted, they didn’t just grow naturally. To that I replied, yes, they must be because God doesn’t plant in straight lines.

The other morning in the wee hours of the morning, I had some God time. It seemed God was trying to show me something. I am not sure I really got what He was trying to show me. I don’t think it was necessarily profound but I saw a road with a curve.

So often, we want to know exactly where we are going. We want straight lines. In the development of South Dakota, the founders were so obsessed with straight lines. If you look at a map of the roads, it is like looking at graph paper.

If there is a curve, it is called a correction. As I understand it, it had to do with keep the roads perfectly aligned with North/South and East/West. The roads are no further than one mile apart and are designated by the miles from the border, sort of like mile marker signs on the interstate. If you are going North/South it is an Avenue. If you are going East/West it is a Street.  I remember this because there is a strong N sound in Avenue and therefore it has to do with North. Likewise, there is a strong E sound in Street and therefore you are going East.  No one ever tells you to take a right turn or left turn it is always turn East or South, etc.

South Dakota is an extreme example of our need to have our lives orderly. And yet, God is not orderly in that way. I think God can be absolutely messy. He doesn’t care about straight lines. He doesn’t care that everything be organized. Therefore, we have this conflict with our ways and God’s ways.

This last couple of years has been very hard for me. It seems there is no pattern to my life. Everything has been turned inside out and upside down – definitely, no straight lines. The path has been more like a rugged curving road where you have no idea what is over the horizon or around the curve. I have wondered at times if I would fall off the road completely, or go over a cliff. But as I approach 2010 I realize I am still on the path.  

Sort of reminds me of a song we used to sing in church:
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness
And all I have to do is follow
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness
And all I have to do is follow
Strength for today is mine all the way and 
all that I need for tomorrow
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness
And all I have to do is follow

Monday, December 28, 2009

What Time Is It?

If you didn't read the Kingdom Blogger entry of 12/28/2009, read that first.  In fact, read it every day, it is good stuff!

I whole-heartedly agree with David. I don’t care for resolutions.  I also agree that what we need is a Jesus revolution not just more resolutions. I am not sure I can follow yesterday’s Kingdom Blogger entry by David.

I was thinking of various Christianized New Year’s activities. I’ve probably seen them all. I well remember Watch Night Services. Interestingly their origin comes from the African American community and goes back to slave days. To read more about it's history click here.

Watch night was associated with Emancipation. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation after a watch night.

I never went to one when I was a small child but I do remember my father going. I remember when I got old enough to go we would gather at the church at about 9:30 p.m.  We’d worship for a while and then eat. Lots of good food, lots of fellowship, lots of coffee. Then at about 11:00 we’d go back to the sanctuary for more worship. Just before midnight, we’d have communion and at midnight we’d be on our knees.

I agree that many of these Christianize activities are hype; yet, I did rather like the idea of starting a new year on my knees.  Now I think most churches offer a game night. Not really crazy about that idea. I am not against fun but it seems that the state of the church would be better served if we were on our knees.

That’s my New Year’s resolution, to spend more time in prayer. I think David’s prayer yesterday is a good one to cut, paste and save some place and repeat regularly.  Last year I had a song for the year. I rather like old hymns (shhh-don’t tell anyone, makes me sound OLD).  For me the song of the year was “Have Thine Own Way.” If you’ve never heard it you can hear it here and read a bit about the author.  Elvis liked it, listen to him sing it here.

I would start my day with that song. I didn’t make it through the whole year singing that song. After all, most of us don’t really keep our resolutions.  However, there is something about a commitment, a dedication, a resolution, and repetition.  It seems to help it sink deep in our spirits.

If I hear the spirit of the Lord saying anything to us for the New Year it is

seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart. 
Jeremiah 29:13

Is it time to watch and pray so that we can have emancipation? Freedom? 
I am ready to be set free in 2010. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No Room for a Christmas Child

I have many Christmas stories. I imagine everyone over the age of ten has at least a few Christmas stories. I always thought of myself as a bit of Christmas child. No my birthday isn’t in December or near Christmas. My birthday comes in early November. So why am I a Christmas child? Well I suppose everyone who knows Jesus is a Christmas child. So how is my story different? I think that my life in Christ started at Christmas.

My parents were born-again, spirit-filled people. My spiritual heritage runs very deep.  From what I understand, I was “unexpected.”  My father was already in his 50’s and my mother, 19 years younger than my dad was in her early 30’s. They had decided ten years before that their family was complete.

God evidently had something else in mind.  I came along. 

Our family traditions were all Norwegian. Christmas Eve was the start of Christmas in our Norwegian neighborhood in Brooklyn. We put up our tree and had our presents all on Christmas Eve.  We were still singing around a Christmas tree well into January.

Christmas day was for church.  We’d dress up in the morning and walk to church. It was just like Sunday minus Sunday School. Sometimes we would crunch in the snow or put on galoshes for the slush of a melting snow. There was a holy hush on Christmas morning.

Of course, I remember nothing of my first Christmas. I was seven weeks old. I would beg my mother to tell me the story though; I loved to hear it.  That first Christmas my parents walked to church on Christmas morning with me.  It was the first time I was carried to church. I imagine I was wrapped up in many blankets.

That Christmas morning, a white haired tall Norwegian Pastor with a strong accent asked the Yohannesen’s (Johannesen) to come to the front.  Something very special was going to happen that morning. The new baby girl in the Yohannesen family, Yoyce Ann Yohannesen was going to be dedicated to the Lord.

That morning, my parents passed their unexpected infant daughter over to Pastor Dahl. He prayed. I wonder if he had any prophetic sense when he prayed over me. In recent years, I’ve had a sense that my dad had some prophetic knowing concerning me. Did any of them know or sense anything then?

It all started there… it all started in a little Norwegian Pentecostal church where everyone had an accent and sang about the Vonderful Grase of Ye-sus.  My life was given over to the Lord.  No, it didn’t assure my salvation, but it did start something.

Every Christmas as the annual church Christmas program would near, I would have to learn a long “piece.” A “piece” is your part of the Christmas program. It starts when you are barely old enough to talk and you get up and say “Welcome baby Jesus” and sing Away in a Manager complete with motions. The parents beam and pray you don’t cry or do something inappropriate like pick your nose,  wet your pants or worse.

 We had an old upright piano. My mother didn’t play well but she would look for a song for me to sing. A solo! In addition to the LONGEST piece or narration in the program.  Early in my life, she found a song for me. The words of the chorus have stayed with me all these years:

"No room for the Baby in Bethlehem's inn,
Only a cattle shed!
No room on this earth for the dear Son of God,
Nowhere to lay His head!
Only a cross did they give to my Lord,
Only a borrowed tomb!
Today He is seeking a place in your heart,
Will you still say to Him - no room?"

Year after year after year, I would stand with a new outfit on, in front of the congregation, and sing this song.  I always thought someone would come to the Lord, every time I sang that song.

My father was a janitor at a bank, my mother a homemaker. My father never went to High School and my mother didn’t finish it. They lived in a two-bedroom first floor railroad flat apartment. Times were hard for them. They had no room for the new baby that God gave them. Nevertheless, they made room for me.  And then, they dedicated me to the Lord.

Jesus came to earth as an unexpected child. There was no room for Him that night in Bethlehem.  That seems tragic. There is a greater tragedy. It is that we make so little room for Him in our hearts.

Today I ask you that question that I sang for many years. Today He IS seeking a PLACE in YOUR heart! 

Will you still say to Him - no room?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The White Picket Fence

The kingdom of God is like…. So many parables come to mind if you are familiar with the scripture. Jesus says the kingdom is a farmer sowing seed, a man hunting treasure, a woman kneading dough, fishermen casting a net, a man forgiven a debt, a wedding guest who forgot his jacket, virgins waiting for a bridegroom, a landowner being generous. It is like seed, yeast, pearl, fish, banquet, vineyard; it all seems so random and unconnected. Perhaps this is why the disciples were always so confused.
I have a story about the kingdom of God. I think the kingdom is a bit like the story in Shriek where all the “unusual” come to Shriek. Or maybe it is like that old Christmas classic, about the misfit toys that save Christmas. There was a little church in Pegram TN that felt that it was a bit like the land of misfit toys. We all were hurt and wounded but we came together and advance the kingdom with love and care.
One of the ways we did this was to give free breakfasts. As Pastor, my theology said that we were supposed to feed the hungry. However, it didn’t say that we were supposed to only feed those that had no food – it just said feed the hungry. Every Sunday morning I made waffles.  We fed some of the top songwriters in Nashville and we fed a man on a bicycle who had slept in the park.

But I see the kingdom of God as a white picket fence.  No I am not thinking about a house in the country with a white picket fence where life is idyllic. I am thinking about a time I was given direction.
My daughter was working on a project for school and was at a friend’s house. I didn’t know where this girl lived. We were new to the area living on a farm in a narrow winding Tennessee road. The girl lived about 20 miles away. I got on the phone with the mother who was going to give me directions.
She said go to the school, and then drive past it. Okay, that was easy. I knew how to do that. Then she said go past the grocery store and turn left on Merrylog Lane. Up until this point, I sort of knew where she meant. She continued at the end of Merrylog turn left. After that she didn’t know the names of the streets but told me to continue until I came to the white picket fence. After that, turn right. From there it was the third road, turn left, last house on the right and a description of the trim.
The white picket fence concerned me. I pictured a small house with a few feet of white picket fence. Maybe it was short as well. I was so afraid I’d miss it. I worried the whole way. I was so afraid I’d miss that fence. I was so afraid if I missed that fence I’d miss the turn and be hopelessly lost.
When I got to the fence it was so obvious. A beautiful four-foot high white picket fence it went on for probably a quarter mile. It would be impossible to miss it. I turned right after the fence and found the house with no difficulty.
We live in the time of the kingdom has come and yet has not been fully realized. We travel along with directions that God has given us as to how to reach our destination, of the full realization of the kingdom of God. In those directions are things like the white picket fence. Something we think we’ll miss. Something we think we may not see and yet when we get there it is as obvious as that fence was to me that day.
The kingdom of God is like a white picket fence. It seems like on the journey of the kingdom of God we will get lost. We may never find where we are supposed to go. But the white picket fences are obvious. We will reach our destination.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eating Ladoos to the Beat of a Tabla: Lifting Up Jesus

Sharing my faith in the typical ways is not easy for me anymore. Once upon a long time ago I was involved in a “Summer of Witnessing” as a teen in NYC. Teens from mostly the Midwest came to Brooklyn to use the Roman Road and tell people about Jesus. I liked the silent prayer partner role the best. However, I would also take my turn, going through down the Roman Road and hope for a prayer. We reported every day of our numbers and have services every night. I don’t remember every seeing any one we witnessed to during the day show up at that meetings.

I remember street meetings in Brooklyn that I have already mentioned in this blog. In one of them, with a group from Nyack College, I remember leading someone to the Lord. I never knew what happened to him. I got involved with a group that had a plan for winning Brooklyn for Jesus. We took blocks and targeted them with prayer and door knocking, all very strategic.  All of this was before I finished the tenth grade. To say I was a bit zealous is an understatement.

However, over the years my personal experience is that I have rarely seen this method of evangelism have long-term results. I have found that simple living the life is probably the most effect. Just hanging out as David said in his blog yesterday.

The most unusual time I shared my faith was in Pakistan. No, I wasn’t on a mission trip to Pakistan, I was on a family trip. It was 22 years ago last week. My husband’s brother was getting married. My husband, four of our children and I flew from NYC to Kuwait and on to Pakistan.

When we landed in Kuwait, I knew everything was different. At that time, you never saw police armed with machine guns in the US. In Kuwait, they walked around the airport, scanning all of us. I had a headscarf ready and hid under it. It was not because of modesty or religious conviction. I wanted to hide my light skin and light hair. I also insisted on wearing my cross. I wanted it clear, no matter what, I am a Christian and not ashamed.

I used the public toilet only to find it didn’t have a toilet. There was a hole in the floor to squat over. I was not that coordinated. We boarded the next plane to Karachi, Pakistan.

We arrived in the wee hours of the morning. As we went through customs, my fear increased. There was an old high desk in the middle of the room. The man sitting on the stool was quite intimidating. When he approved someone to go further, the sound of his stamp on the paper reverberated throughout the room.

As the days went on, I slept a lot trying to adjust to the time change. I had never met my husband’s family other than one of his brother. There were so many people, most spoke no English. I had no idea of Pakistani wedding customs.  The woman would gather for hours and hours with a tabla, a drum and sing traditional wedding songs. The most popular one was about a mother singing to her son about how he was as beautiful as a peacock.

There were days and days of singing.  Three preliminary ceremonies leading up to the actually wedding.  I put mehndi (henna) on the bride-to-be’s hands and fed her ladoos to help with her fertility. It evidently worked she has five children.

One day I was sitting with the woman, all related, only one spoke any English. They were singing and beating the tabla. I was attempting to clap my hands with them. However, I am Norwegian. Norwegian usually have a serious lack of rhythm. Usually I have to watch careful in order to clap hands to music. This beat was different; it was odd. I was lost.

The sister-in-law who knew English looked at me and said, “You sing?” Sing? Me? I don’t know any Pakistani songs.  They all got excited as she translated that she was asking me to sing a song. They said you sing English – you sing one of your songs.

I probably know 100’s of songs. Nevertheless, at that moment, I couldn’t think of one I knew. I looked at our daughters. I asked them if they wanted to sing. They were young and of course, they thought this was a great idea!  So I asked them, “what do you want to sing?”

They looked at me with a big smile and said, “How about Jesus Loves Me?”  We were in a Muslim country and the only Christians in the house. I thought, dare I? I sent the children into the room with the men to ask their dad what he thought.  They came back and said, “Dad said sure, why not? They won’t understand it anyway.”
We started to sing:
Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong
                Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
                Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so

They played the tabla and clapped to their beat. It wasn’t the beat of the song, it just have sounded terrible. We sang. They smiled. We smiled.

Ok, now maybe this isn’t what you had in mind for sharing my faith. I’d love to tell you that all these woman received Christ. They didn’t. However, I believe the scripture:

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." John 12:32

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Time to Moan

The phone rang. I answered. It was a strange voice on the phone saying Good Morning Sister. He went on to introduce himself as Brother Charles from a church in East Nashville. He told me we were ordained by the same ministerial fellowship. He was having a dedication of his ministry and wanted to know if I’d participate. The Sunday afternoon date was free so I said sure. Always ready to help a brother out.

Since our first phone conversation, my role had expanded from reading a scripture to actually dedicating the pastor and the ministry. One of the Bishops from our ministerial fellowship was supposed to do this but they couldn’t make it. Since I was the only one from the ministerial group available, it looked like this task fell to me.

I had never met Brother Charles or his wife when I showed up that afternoon for this dedication. The church met at an elementary school. The congregation was African American. I am not. I met another Bishop in a maroon and white liturgical robe. He looked a bit like Sherman Hemsley who played George Jefferson on television.  He was a friend and mentor to Brother Charles. He was going to preach the sermon.

We gathered in the hallway to discuss the flow of the service and to pray. Brother Charles was in a white suit complete with white shoes. His young beautiful wife was elegantly dressed in all white. We must have looked quite unusual. The Pastor and First Lady in white, the  Bishop in his robes and me, the white woman in a simple skirt and blouse.

It seemed no one had been selected to escort the First Lady to the platform. All eyes turned to me. Would I escort the First Lady to her seat? Sure, why not. I had to walk up there anyway.

Next they realized that there was no one to emcee the service. Again, all eyes turned to me. Would I emcee the service? By this time I was beginning to wonder if I had been better to never answer the phone that day. But as you might guess, I said sure.

They handed me a typed paper with the order of the service. There were abbreviations I did not understand. Some of the names needed clarification. There were titles such as Minister or Evangelist for some of the women participating. I was in a completely new world.

Some music started. I escorted the First Lady to her seat and took the podium. I introduced myself and followed the scripted program. Everything moved relatively smooth until I introduced a sister who was going to sing. She got up with a few other people. They looked like her children or grandchildren.

She was a rather large pleasant looking woman. I expected a CD to be cued for a professional background arrangement for her song. There was none. She took the microphone and sang. It was neither a song she knew before nor a song that anyone knew from before. She was composing the song as her heart dictated.

About half way through the song, she started to moan. She continued to moan. It came from deep in her soul. It continued for quite a while. I had never heard anything quite like it. I felt very out of place.

She returned to her seat and I introduced Bishop “George Jefferson.” The Bishop, short like George and sounding a bit like him as well, came to the podium in his flowing robe. Now all I had to think about was praying over the Pastor and First Lady. Praying over people is not hard for me to do but I rather wondered why this Bishop wasn’t given that honor. The only reason was that I was with the Pastor’s ministerial fellowship and Bishop George wasn’t.

Bishop looked at the sister who had just sung. He said in a commanding voice “Sister will you moan some more.” He said the Holy Spirit was in this place. I expected her to get up and go to the microphone. Instead, just sitting in her seat she started to moan. The Bishop nodded and gave audible affirmation to her moan.

While she was still moaning, the Bishop said, “Keep moaning, because when you moan the devil doesn’t know what your saying.”

This moan was the same sound that came out of Egypt as the Hebrew slaves were in bondage. This moan must have been the same sound that came from the fields of the south as this Sister’s ancestors were in bondage. It was as if I were hearing all oppressed people moan. I realized it was a holy sound.  It is a sound God knows and hears. It is a sound of hope.

Exodus 2:23-25 However, after a long time [nearly forty years] the king of Egypt died; and the Israelites were sighing and groaning because of the bondage. They kept crying, and their cry because of slavery ascended to God. And God heard their sighing and groaning and [earnestly] remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the Israelites and took knowledge of them and concerned Himself about them [knowing all, understanding, remembering all].

Romans 8:22-23, 26 And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, our adoption… So too the Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.