Monday, January 25, 2010

Thus Saith the Lord...

Sometimes those of us who come from a Charismatic/Pentecostal background are really quick to say that God told me this or that.  I was watching something yesterday. One by one, a person would come up and say The Lord would say to you…  I do believe in that sort of stuff. I also find that God speaks to me the most loudly in the everyday.

To say that my oldest son was difficult to raise is an understatement. This child was forbidden from sitting in a Sunday School class when he was three. For some reason or other he decided he was a dog and would only bark in the class.  Then he jumped up to the basement window and barked really loud. He was in the principal’s office his very first day of Kindergarten.  One time he decided to practice being a knife thrower. He put his younger brother up against a door and threw my kitchen knives at him. Fortunately, he didn’t kill his brother.

One day I went to church and as was often the case, someone said something to me about my son.  It hurt my feelings.  It was so unfair. I didn't tell him or teach him to do those things.  I went home grumbling. I thought I’ll never go back there. I was seriously wounded. However, I went back that night. I was late. They were doing that handshake thing.  I ducked in the bathroom to avoid those phony smiles.  Someone tracked me down to say hello.

After she left, I grumbled some more.  While I was talking to myself complaining about “these” people, I heard another voice in my head. This voice said, you know how you hate it when people blame you for the things Nathan does?  Before I could answer I heard this same voice say, yeah, that’s the way I feel when my children don’t listen to me too.

All of a sudden it made sense. God teaches us and tells us in His word how to live. His children, us, you and me, we don’t listen any better than Nathan listened to me.

The other day I heard that voice I heard that day again. I heard it in relations to another child. I had been talking to someone about the pain of having a child who has rejected you.  I have one of those. While I try to console myself in every way possible, to have your child reject you is one of the most difficult things in my life.  Sometimes the pain is unbearable.

So what did the voice of God say to me the other day? He said to me – 

Joyce, you know that pain you feel? I feel that pain too.  I have so many children who have rejected me too. I love them even more than you love your daughter.  It pains me that they reject me.

Can you imagine God with that type of pain? Even if you don't have a child who has rejected you, you can imagine how bad it would be.

I thought of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I thought of the story about the 99 safe and the shepherd goes after the one (Luke 15:3-7).  I thought – this would make a good sermon.  If we were in church preaching this sermon I’d probably ask you if you’d been wounded by the actions of some of God’s children. Especially those ones that you think should know better – the ones sitting next to you at church.  God is saying to you like He did that day to me in the bathroom –

Or maybe you are a prodigal, rejecting Him. He’s pained. He’s searching for you. He’s looking for you.

I guess this is where I call for the worship team and give the invitation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sacrifice of Praise!

I remember a long time ago reading a book, Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers.  It is considered a charismatic classic. It has a simple message, thank God in all circumstances. It's been a long time since I read it, probably 30 years. Over the years, I can't say I've been good with this concept. I tend to be negative at times. I also find that there are times that while I know in my head that I have much to be thankful for, even in the rough times, I still need to vent sometimes. I need to express my pain.

Have you ever noticed this in the Psalms? Many of them follow this pattern. I'm in a mess, I am in pain, everything has gone wrong, I have no friends, my enemies surround me and that it is as if the switch of faith gets turned on and you find the psalmist praising God. It is almost schizophrenic.

I am sure that you have been watching the coverage of Haiti. Have you noticed the spontaneous worship services on the beach by people with nothing left? Have you noticed how many of those rescued have this amazing grace-filled attitude of thanksgiving and praise? I've noticed and I've been ashamed of myself.

There is something about a sacrifice of praise. There is something so powerful about giving praise to God in the midst of pain. I'm not good at it. God is teaching me things as I watch the coverage of the devastation in Haiti.  The people of Haiti are teaching me what I never quite learned with reading a book. The images of people in worship have amazed and shamed me. I'm repenting of my lack of gratitude. I'm learning what worship really is, it is not about me, but about who God is.

I've been thinking about this blog for a week. Today I came across this video. It says it well.
Blessed Be Your Name Video

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anderson Cooper A Prophet!?

I’m probably going to step on some toes.  I have thoughts, and since I put them on paper, I suppose it is inevitable to step on some ones toes. I feel I should apologize in advance if I do. Nevertheless, my intent is not to step on your toes but cause us all to have thoughts, thoughts about what it means to be human and to be Christian.

I have seen a lot of prophetic ministry. I rather like it. I have had people speak into my life through the anointing of the Holy Spirit and it can be life changing. A word in due season, how good it is (Proverbs 15:23). I have ministered to others declaring things I only knew through the Spirit. I know it has blessed and edified people.

There is another understanding of prophetic ministry.  I remember when I first considered going to graduate school. I was accepted at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. Over one of the doors, it says “School of the Prophets.” I rather laughed; I thought what do they know about prophets and the prophetic ministry? I was a little bit arrogant. Well, maybe I was a lot arrogant.

But I’ve grown and learned. I’ve learned that Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet to this nation and world. He called for the correction of century long injustices. Injustices that continue but because of his clear voice to the heart of the matter, we are still overcoming. Monday is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday: Why not reflect on your own attitudes of racism. That seems like a good way to heed the voice of this prophet and remember him.

I’ve learned that being a prophet is not just being in a prayer circle and saying “The Lord would say to you…” Being a prophet is not the same as having visions and seeing into the future. Being a prophet is about speaking the truth to the heart of a matter. It is a call for action against injustices. It is a call to be truly human and love your neighbor.

Like most of us, I am watching the situation in Haiti. I just donated to a ministry I thought I could trust. I wish I could go and do something. I want to take at least three Haitian orphans in my home and raise them.  I can’t go really and would just be in the way, I can’t really take even one Haitian orphan to raise. All I can do is sit in my living room and click a few buttons on my computer for a quick easy small donation.  And of course I can pray.

Last night I heard an unlikely prophet on CNN.  No it wasn’t Kim Clement or Chuck Pierce, it was Anderson Cooper. I don’t know what faith Anderson is or even if he has one. I just know he was speaking prophetically last night.

You’ve probably seen it. You probably saw the story of the 11-year-old girl pinned under the rubble. She was breathing, talking, scared and alive. You can see the report of her rescue here. Tragically, the next day, despite her heroic rescue, she died. You can see that report here.

Anderson Cooper was a prophet last night. Anderson Cooper decried the stupid deaths (see here). He said there would be “stupid deaths” all over Haiti. Stupid because people would die only because there was not enough help.

It’s not just Haiti though. Yes, Haiti needs everyone to do something, anything, to help.  Haiti is not the only country in need. Haiti is not the only place in the world where people die only because of lack of help, or insurance, or other basics.

In the state where I live right now, South Dakota is a reservation with a state of emergency.  They are in despair.  There are stupid deaths there.  I can name many places in the US where there are stupid deaths. Appalachia comes to mind, as do countless inner cities or rural areas where hope is replaced by deep despair.

How we respond to our fellow human beings is not only an indication of whether we are human but whether we are Christian.  Who is your neighbor? Is it a neighbor who looks just like you with a need? Yes, you should help that neighbor. Or is it a neighbor who you saw on television that lives on the other end of the world? Yes, you should help that neighbor too. But what about the neighbor who lives on that side of town you never go to? Or that part of the state where people live in abject poverty totally forgotten? These are your neighbors as well. Let’s do whatever we can to stop the “stupid deaths.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We are fam-i-ly, I got my sista with me!

I have moved too much in my life. No I’m not a military brat nor was my father or mother a hot shot executive. My dad was a janitor and my mom a homemaker. My husband isn’t in the military either. In comparison to many, we haven’t moved that much.  Yet, I’ve felt the impact of moving.

Anyone who knows me knows that this latest move to South Dakota has been brutally hard on me. I make jabs and comments all the time. People have blasted me because they love South Dakota. Others have offered me sympathy. The best is when they offer to pray for me or offer to go to lunch with me.

I started out in Brooklyn NY. I often wonder what my life would be like if we never left Brooklyn when I was a junior in High School. The rumor was that I married very young to an Italian police officer and moved to New Jersey. Hey, would I now be a real housewife of New Jersey now? Would I make wonderful calzones and baked ziti instead of the curry dishes and naan’s I make now? I’d probably have a son named Anthony rather than a son named Yusef.

After Brooklyn, I lived for 15 years in Missouri briefly interrupted by a year in Fayetteville North Carolina. Finally, with a station wagon, six children and a rental truck, we moved all our belongings to Connecticut. When I was a child in Brooklyn, only very very rich people moved to Connecticut. I thought I’d arrived even though we weren’t rich. We’d visit Brooklyn and I fulfilled my childhood fantasy of driving my own car on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the George Washington Bridge, the Tri-boro Bridge and all other sorts of wonderful roads. My parents never owned a car in Brooklyn when I was a child.

One day my husband and I were driving on one of these roads. I started talking about Brooklyn. It seemed the most of my desires from childhood were being fulfilled by these trips to NYC. Nevertheless, there was one deep desire of my soul that remained unfulfilled.

I had a sister. No, she wasn’t my biological sister who was separated from me at birth. This sister came into my life when I was in the first grade. I was tall and blonde, she was shorter with brown hair. I thought she was beautiful and smart, me not so much. She lived with her Italian grandmother; I lived in a Norwegian household. She was Catholic; I was Pentecostal. She lived at 410-53rd Street and me at 434-53rd Street but we both went to PS 94.

It was at PS94 we met on the first day of first grade with Mrs. Harris. I remember coming home excitedly telling my mother that there was a girl in my class who lived on our block. Not only was she on my block but she was on the same side of the street. I was too young to cross the street by myself. I could go to her house unassisted. This was a major breakthrough of independence. I think we played together that very day. After that, unless one of us was out of town, if you saw Joyce, you saw her sister Barbara and vice versa. We were inseparable.

The summer between 4th and 5th grade, moving separate us! I remember the dreadful day that we left our first floor apartment on 53rd Street to a third floor apartment on Fort Hamilton Parkway. No more PS94 with kids I’d always known. Now I went to PS105 that had some of the meanest teachers in all the five boroughs. Another Italian girl became my friend there, but she was never my sister. I only occasionally saw my sister. The last time I saw her it was my birthday. I was 12 and in the 6th grade. We smoked my first cigarette and she laughed at me because I couldn’t inhale right. I never learned how to do that. Then she moved permanently to Long Island and eventually I went to Missouri.

On that day with my husband, I cried as I lamented, I’ll never find her. He asked have you tried? I had. Those tears led me to one more try. This time I found an address for what I thought was her father. I wrote a letter, the kind with a stamp and an envelope. About a month later, at 6 a.m. the phone next to my bed rang. I said hello. Over the phone came a voice that sounded like Brooklyn (I don’t sound like Brooklyn any more). She said Hi Joyce this is Barbara. The world stopped for me that day. I was as excited as the day I came home from my first day of first grade and said Mommy I have a new friend!

My sister was found. We must really be sisters because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her or her for me. We now share our lives and secrets from a distance, no more whispering on the stoop. Now we whisper our secrets through long emails and an occasional phone call.

The worse thing about moving is losing people. I’ve been blessed to find my sister I lost through a move. Now when I move, I try hard not to lose people anymore. I’ve even found other friends lost by the moves of my life. But nothing compares to finding my sister!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

God Knocks on the Door of Blue Trailer

God has done some amazing things for me. When I was an adolescent I happened to be in the middle of a prayer meeting. People were giving words to each other and doing the “sit in the chair so we can pray for you.”  After telling everyone else that they were going to do amazing things for God,  they realized that I was there. As sort of an afterthought, they decided to let me sit in the chair. I was thirteen. I wanted to hear like a friend who was a bit older than I was, that I was going to marry a godly man and be a missionary.  This friend did tell me afterwards to never repeat that to anyone. I don’t know who she married but I don’t think she was ever a long-term missionary.

So as I waited expectantly for powerful words of my future, I just knew it would be amazing.  Maybe they were tired, maybe they thought I was young and insignificant but finally, someone, my youth pastor, said “Thus saith the Lord: I will never leave you nor forsake you.” WHAT? That’s a Bible verse. I knew that… what kind of “word” was that!? I took it as a rejection at the time. I was devastated. I said a few thank you Jesus’ – I was well trained in how to behave spiritually. I wanted to know I was going to be some great for God.

However, over the years I’ve learned that the fact that the great, all-powerful, all-knowing, omniscient God would never leave me to be the most wonderful way God shows how big he is. As I have pondered the bigness of God I have realized He is most big in my life when He is the most person and intimate. Times of worship, times of repentance, times of fellowship with God are when He is biggest in my life.

There are many times I’ve realized He had never left me. Oh sometimes I think He has, and then He shows up. As a young mother, living alone in a rather trashy trailer court. Having been abandoned by my husband, their father I lived on welfare, food stamps, commodity foods, WIC and anything I could find to get by.  I couldn’t get a job so I was in college. I had a long-range goal to be able to always provide for those children.  I knew an education would be my ticket out of the trailer court.

I always went to church. I had three small children and we would sit in the back of the church, barely known to those around me. But I was faithful, and people knew my name.

The blue trailer I lived in, a 12x65 single wide had an empty middle kitchen. Like Old Mother Hubbard, my cupboards were bare. I lived out in the country on RR#2. One day, a white-haired woman came to my door. Her name was Bea. We may have spoke briefly or shook hands at church. I didn’t know her, or she me.

I was shocked to see her in front of me. How did she know where I lived? Why was she here? With embarrassment, I invited her into the trailer. We sat on my orange couch and she told me the most incredible story. Like every day, she started it with a time of prayer. During that time, she said God told her to come to my house, that I had a need. 

She called the church office; it was closed. Determined to find me, she did the most unusual thing. She asked God to show her where I lived. This was before Google map, this was before MapQuest, and I didn’t even have a phone so my address wasn’t in the white pages. With an address like RR#2 you are pretty hard to find.

I still have no logical explanation for her visit. I’ve tried and tried to figure out how she got to my house. Her answer, “I prayed and God told me which way to turn and then when I got to the area, He told me exactly what trailer you lived in.” She only knocked on one door, and it was mine. She spent her afternoon at the grocery store buying food that filled my empty cupboards and my children’s empty stomachs for days to come.

A God, my God, the God of the universe, the Creator, decided to show a poor single mother in poverty, the person everyone over looked, just how big He is by using a virtual stranger to fill my cupboards in run down blue trailer. God was big enough to come to a trailer court, just like He was big enough to come to a stable in Bethlehem and grow up in Nazareth. 

He has never left me nor forsaken me. Since that promise is the Bible, you don’t need a prophetic word to believe it. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you either.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Does God Like Hot Dogs?

God is big. I’ve tried to put God in a box and figure Him out. I can tell you, you can’t figure God out. I suggest you don’t try. I suggest you don’t try to put Him in a box either. He’ll burst out of it. Usually when He does, it leaves those of us who try to confine Him suffering from shock at the least.

So how big is God? The best answer is much, much bigger than you can ever imagine. God has been huge in my life. I have seen Him heal, provide and astound me. I can be pretty weak in my faith at times and yet there He is, He shows up and does amazing things.

Can you imagine what God showed how big He is by parting the Red Sea? We read those stories and even with the help of Cecil B. DeMille we still can’t fathom what that was like.  I’ve never seen anything like that, but I have seen hot dogs multiplied.

We all know Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, but He can also multiply hot dogs. Several years ago the church I was involved with did an outreach. We had a hot dog cart and in addition to music, games, preaching, etc., we were giving out free hot dogs.  The turnout was wonderful. Almost too wonderful, as we worried the hot dogs would run out. They never did.  We should have counted for doubters but we gave out a lot more hot dogs than were put in that steamer.

It’s pretty amazing when you see God heal someone. Can you imagine being in the crowd watching Jesus heal? Wow, that would be amazing. Yet I have seen Jesus heal. A few years ago at a Bible study a woman asked for prayer for her back. Now the people there all believed God healed. Doesn’t everyone who believes in God actually believe that God CAN heal? It only surprises us when He actually does it.

The prayer was rather polite and pleading.  Dee still in pain, thanked everyone. I was new to the group and said, can I pray? They said sure… why not? I don’t know what came over me (well I do, it was the Holy Spirit) but I decided to be uncharacteristically assertive with my prayer. Guess what? Dee got up and started walking around. She couldn’t believe it!!! No pain. God DID heal after all. Who knew?

Ok, So God is big. But when is He biggest? When does He absolutely out do Himself. He does it when He comes to live in the human heart. Here we are these fallen, sinful, willful, boastful, prideful – oh the list goes on and on – and yet the God of the whole universe comes to our hearts. He comes in, cleans us up, gives us a new life, gives us hope and a future, and gives us eternal life that starts now with life more abundantly – that’s Biblical language for a life that is AWESOME to say the least.

An old song says it very well:
How big is God? How big and wide His vast domain?
To try to tell these lips can only start
He’s big enough to rule this mighty universe
Yet, small enough to live within my heart.
(Stuart Hamblen, Copyright 1959, Hamblen Music Co.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Coffee Break

Coffee is a great thing. I love coffee. I used to own a coffee shop. Today my coffee tastes terrible. Not sure why. Is it just me? Is it the coffee? I don’t think it is the coffee since I buy huge amounts of whole bean Dunkin Donut coffee when in Tennessee and bring it back to South Dakota.  I have a great coffee maker so that’s not it either.

I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a small child. My father always had to have a skvett of coffee before going out the door. A skvett is like a splash or drop. The coffee was made in a small four cup aluminum percolator coffee pot.  Percolators are amazing things. I’ll bet some younger people have no idea what a percolator is or how to make coffee with it. It is a magical invention that somehow knows exactly when the coffee is done and stops the percolating action. Maybe that’s what I need to do, get rid of the Cuisinart and get a percolator at Goodwill.

When my dad would have a skevtt of coffee, it was usually reheated coffee. Every time it reheated it got a little stronger. Sometimes he'd drink it black.  Often he would drink it with canned milk and lump sugar or sukkerbite. I guess I better explain canned milk and lump sugar.  Canned milk is also known as evaporated milk. It is thick, comes in a can and has a distinct taste. I am not talking about sweetened condensed milk either, if you want to know more about canned milk, read about it here.

Now for lump sugar. Lump sugar is a ¼-inch cube of pure sugar. It also comes in a 1-inch rectangle.  Now this sugar is not for putting in the steaming cup of coffee to melt.  There is an art to using lump sugar. My father would put the lump sugar in his mouth and then drink the hot coffee.  The hot coffee would melt the sugar in his mouth and sweeten his mouth.  One lump of the ¼-inch cube sweetened his mouth long enough for a half a cup of coffee.  We even had fancy sugar tongs for company use.

There were times that my dad asked for an extra lump of sugar.  I don’t know if it was that I pleased him or just because, but he would ask my mother for an extra lump of sugar. He would call me; sometimes I would sit on his lap in his recliner in the corner of the front room.  We didn’t have a living room, we had a front room.  I was his lilla venn and if he was feeling particularly affectionate, I was his kjære lilla venn.

My dad would look at me holding a lump of sweet goodness in his hand. He would hold it up and ask me “How many times did Naaman dip in the Jordan River?”  I would reply with a big smile on my face, “Seven.” As my mouth watered for that lump of sweetness, he would dip it slightly in the coffee and count. En, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, each time dipping it just enough in the coffee so the coffee would flavor the sugar but not dissolve it. Just before the seventh dip, he would say, “What happened after the seventh time?” Anxious for the sweet delight I would say: “He came up clean.”

In would go the sugar to the coffee. Just a slight dip. Then that wonderful sugary delight would go into my waiting mouth.  Oh how wonderful it was … sometimes I’d sneak a lump of sugar but it never tasted as good as when my dad would dip it in his coffee.

It was a strange ritual. I have often wondered why he picked lump sugar to teach me a rather obscure Bible lesson.  It is found in 2 Kings 5.  I used to think that maybe I was supposed to be that nameless servant girl who brought healing to a powerful man.  Who knows?

I wish I could ask my dad why he chose Naaman.  He’d probably say he didn’t know. Regardless on a very cold morning in South Dakota I miss the warmth of my dad calling for his lilla venn. I miss a steaming cup of percolated coffee.  However, I have some coffee and some julekake in the kitchen. I think that is the closest I can come to connecting with my dad this morning.