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This morning, as I went to my windowseat to pray, the crape myrtles begged me to look at them.

Their branch tips, lit up by tiny golden bulbs. Orbs suspended, waiting for the fullness of time to drop.

(Disclaimer: I am a budding photographer, using my lens to see things I wouldn’t ordinarily.I do things pro’s wouldn’t do — like take photos through my screened window when the alternative would be climbing a ladder:-)!)

Crapes Lit Up

“Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? Job. 38:28

I eyed one ellipse poised to fall. I would watch until it plunged.

But. It. took. forever.

“For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly.” Job 36:27-28

My to-do list crept across my mind-screen, screaming,

“Let’s go. We’ve gotta go.” So much to do today.

Water Drops on Crape

I stared at the drop. No change.

Restlessness crept in.

I looked down at my prayer book and prayed the Psalm, urging God to bring hope today for loved ones in hard places.

Back to the drop.

Water Drop on Crape

Where did it go? Gone. I missed it. I wish I’d waited.

The wind suddenly shook the branches and drops went flying.

In the fullness of time, they fly.

In the fullness of time.

“And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:44

The time has come, and the time will come again. Wait for it.

For thought and comment: Do you ever get impatient while waiting for redemption and rescue to come in your life? What helps you wait?

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heartsforsale2Mindy tried to look normal, but she knew she wasn’t. Everyone thought they knew her story—how a senior had gotten her pregnant when she was a freshman, and she had given the baby up for adoption. But of course they had no idea of her much deeper, darker secret. They didn’t know about the late nights when Mindy’s pimp called her and told her to meet him at the Blackriver Hotel. They didn’t know that the senior who had gotten Mindy preg

nant was involved with a ring of sex traffickers. They didn’t know that no one knew and that she had no way out.

Five Weeks Later 

There in the hotel, trying to scrub herself clean of the nasty, sweaty odor of three more men forced upon her, she noticed a number printed on the cellophane soap wrapper. The next day, duri

ng school lunch, she found a deserted place in the senior courtyard. She dialed, and a woman picked up after one ring. Mindy was astonished that this hotline volunteer seemed to know “her story” without knowing her at all. Intrigued, Mindy agreed to meet this woman at the mall food court later that afternoon. There, in the large open space saturated by the strange scent-fusion of Chinese food and chicken nuggets, she risked sharing a single page of her story of shame.

As you may have already realized, this painful narrative actually combines the stories of several women entrapped by sexual traffickers. Read more at 1. To read more about S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), visit http:// www.traffickfree.com/S-O-A-P-.html.

You may know that large sporting events foster an increase in prostitution and sex traf

ficking. (Before last year, I did not). Governor Christie of New Jersey, where this year’s Super Bowl is taking place, spoke and tweeted to this reality this week, warning traffickers and users of strong consequences. He also shared the story of women who had been trafficked and tweeted:

Governor Christie Twitter

As Governor Christie asserts, the issues of sexual trafficking of boys and girls, men and women are pervasive. Sometimes when I hear of such evil, I am struck with paralysis — the problem’s too big

– what can I do anyway? The gospel always calls us to respond to evil with the hope of restoration. As I prayed about it, here are a few ideas that came to mind. What are yours?

1. Get involved through prayer, giving, going. Sexual trafficking doesn’t just happen at the Super Bowl — it happens in your community. All you have to do is Google to learn more. Here are a few organizations that fight sex trafficking or assist those who have been trafficked. Take a look:

Traffickfree

Traffic911

International Justice Mission

2. Seek help… for yourself or someone else who struggles with their sexuality. Sexual addiction has been called an epidemic in America by Newsweek magazine. The fact is, someone you know struggles, and it might be you. It may be online pornography, sexting, serial relationships, and/or the painful story of suffering sexual abuse. Here are just a few organizations where you can find help for yourself or another:

Harvest USA

Route 1520

Dan Allender

3. Pray for grace in your own sexual story: here is a beautiful one composed by Philip F. Reinders, based on Heidelberg Catechism Question 109:

“Incarnate Jesus, thank you that you formed in me good desires and fashioned a body that feels pleasure. Yet how quickly desire turns into an all-consuming idol, how easily pleasure becomes a god. Chasten in me the lingering looks, leering thoughts, and hurtful desires for what is not properly mine, knowing that these are not harmless sins but violations of my soul and your honor. Amen”

What other ways have you responded to issues of sexual brokenness in our world or your life?

 

Today, as I conclude this short series on spiritual graces, I invite you to sit with me and hear God’s invitation to delight: rest.

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Rest for some is playing with God in the sand.

Rest for some is playing with God in the sand.

It sounds so kind, so gentle, so — well, restful.

Come to me…

all who labor

and are heavy-laden…

[are you identifying with this yet?]

and I will give you rest.

  • It is a lullaby sung over a child in warm footie pajamas.
  • It is a friend waving to us from across the street, inviting us to come have coffee.
  • It is a gold-embossed invitation from the prince to the coronation ball.

Jesus, the lover of our souls, beckons us, and what I’m wondering is why, with an invitation like this – we resist rest.

Rest, menuach, according to the Hebrew, expresses more than just an absence of activity. Its purpose is to celebrate life and joy, to languish in the peace God lavishes, to imagine the days to come when there will be no more tears.

For Christians, it is a rich feast to remember that Christ has loved us and offered the perfect sacrifice that allows us to cease striving and know that all is well. It is a taste of the feast to come, when we will gather around a table in peace with those we’ve loved and hated in life, finally reconciled, finally restored.

So why don’t we rest? So many reasons, but today let’s just consider one:

Rosie-dog dares to risk rest -- with frequency:-)!

Rosie-dog dares to risk rest — with frequency:-)!

It’s too risky.

  • What if we lie down but can’t go to sleep?
  • What if we dress up for the ball and the Prince ignores us?
  • What if Jesus was waving to someone else?

He couldn’t have meant me. He couldn’t really mean I can stop laboring.

  • I know I need to have better quiet times for God to want to spend time with me.
  • If Jesus really knew who I am, he’d never ask me to the ball.
  • And if I go for coffee, it will be tense because I’m so disappointed in God right now.

Isn’t it better to just keep moving, stirring the noise, in case there is no song to be heard in the silence of rest?

20121203-075130.jpgIt’s risky. Really, who has that kind of gumption?

Not me.

But there’s some good news here. You knew there had to be, right?

Here’s a little interesting tidbit. The word in the Greek literally means to “cause to rest.” Jesus isn’t just offering us rest. He’s making us rest. Because he knows our hearts. He knows we struggle with sin, and fear, and shame, and pride. He knows we don’t think we deserve a break unless we’ve earned it. And he knows we’ll never earn it. That’s why he died. For our sin. So we could rest — from the guilt, the sin, the shame.

Stop. Do you hear him? He’s singing to you.

Come to me. All you who labor. [Do you labor?]

All who are heavy-laden [What burdens, doubts, fears, shame are you carrying?].

I have made it possible for you to rest.

I will bring you to the ball because you can’t bring yourself.

 Now for the dare:

Step away from the computer. Go somewhere or stay right where you are. Do you hear the singing? Do you see the couple dancing? Will you go sit with Jesus? It’s terrifying, but it’s true. God delights in you, and Jesus is causing you to rest in that.

When we set aside other fillers, we will discover Jesus as the bread of life that truly satisfies.

When we set aside other fillers, we will discover Jesus as the bread of life that truly satisfies.

“Jesus Christ, who had all the power in the world, saw us enslaved by the very things we thought would free us.” Tim Keller, The Prodigal God

To fast or not to fast — that is the question many Christians will consider as the season of Lent approaches.

At the elementary and junior high school my children attended, they were encouraged to choose something to give up during Lent. I was insistent (to a fault, I confess), that they not fast for the wrong reasons.

What might be some wrong reasons to fast?

  • Because “everyone” is doing it. Teenagers aren’t the only ones who do religious things because of peer pressure. If we choose to fast only because it’s the thing to do, we may be worshipping people rather than God.
  • To show off our spirituality. This reason is closely connected to the first. Jesus warned his followers against such practices. As The Message winsomely translates:

When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint.”

  • To practice self-discipline. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying — disciplining ourselves for the purpose of glorifying God is good. The key here is the word “self”: self-discipline is too often self-focused. The purpose of fasting is not to puff ourselves up.

What, then, are some good reasons to choose a fast, either at Lent or at other times?

Since there are clear biblical models for fasting, most notably, Christ’s practice while facing temptation in the wilderness, I’ll focus here on how God works in us through this spiritual grace.

  • To identify our cravings: the food, drink, activities, etc. that we turn to for fulfillment of our longings and desires.
  • To practice waiting on the Lord. Psalm 27:13 is a good verse to repeat when we’re craving some delicious dark chocolate: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This verse leads to the next powerful reason for fasting:
  • To discover how plentiful redemption is. Returning to Keller’s quote above, when we let go of things we depend on, we begin to see how paltry they are in contrast to the prodigality of God’s love for us in Christ.
  • To highlight Christ’s righteousness. If we try a fast for 40 days, we will likely fail with regularity. (Even if you never break your fast, take note of how irritable you may become while keeping it!) We become even more grateful that our salvation is not based on our perfect keeping of any law but on Christ’s.

The problem with the food, drink and activities that we fill our lives with is that, like the well-water the Samaritan woman seeks, it will never satisfy. The fact is, unless we feed off Christ’s righteousness, we will starve. Though historically fasting has been way down on my list of spiritual practices, when I’ve tried it, God has filled me to overflowing with his grace. Fasting from emotional fillers will draw us to feast on the grace which truly satisfies.

What about you? What experiences do you have with fasting? What other good or bad reasons for fasting would you suggest?

Prayer is seeking to know God's redemption in the midst of the story. Copyrighted image: Kirby L. Turnage

Prayer is seeking to know God’s redemption in the midst of the story. Copyrighted image: Kirby L. Turnage

The Beginning of a Prayer Life

On a cold January night 36 years ago, I sat on a hard rock, looked up at the starry sky and spoke a simple prayer, “God, I need help!” That was my feeble attempt to acknowledge my desperate need for a Savior. I had only an inkling of how deep my sin nature ran and how impossible it was to earn my own salvation, but God heard these three little words and moved powerfully through them.

For years after I acknowledged my name as Christian, I wrote deep prayers in a journal and talked to Jesus all day long. “What’s the answer to number 3 on this Calculus test? (Or, if you won’t give me the answer, could you just show me how to do it?” That request could either reflect my shallowness or my profound understanding of God as redeemer of all things:-)!

But then. One day I admitted that my prayers had become a rote presentation of a laundry list of prayer requests, mostly about someone’s distant relative. Desperation had become dullness. Passion had become passivity. I knew I was supposed to pray as a Christian, but it was a heavy burden. I needed to learn all over again to pray. Here is one thing I discovered and an exercise to illustrate.

Understanding God’s Story changes our prayer; prayer changes our understanding of God’s Story.

  1. It tells us there is a bigger story. If life is only about the here and now, our little story, if there’s nothing more beyond what I can touch and see or you can touch and see, why would anyone pray? It would be instead, what someone told me they did after Hurricane Opal – “I stayed inside and thought happy thoughts.”
  2. It shows us how to pray by revealing the contours of the bigger story: What should we pray for?
  • Relationships (Lord, heal that betrayal! Genesis 16).
  • Confess sin [Gen. 3).
  • Shout complaints [Psalms, Job]
  • Redemption (New Testament).
  • Final restoration (Revelation).
  1. It gives us a basis for praying. Pray for restoration of broken things. Not broadly. Right here, right now. Lord, restore my daughter’s understanding of Calculus because you are a restorer of broken things.
  2. It gives us specific stories that inform our stories and show us how to pray. For example, “Lord, don’t let me be like Sarah and be a cynic when I’m believing you won’t show up in this situation!” and “Lord, let me be like Sarah, laughing hilariously at your surprising ways — bringing improbable babies after the story seemed long over.”

Here’s an exercise for you to try it. Please let me know how it goes. 

Take 5 minutes. Write down a situation in your life or the life of someone you know, perhaps something you’ve been praying for. For each of these questions, you will need to write short simple sentence or phrase answers.

  1. Connect it to the Big Story of Scripture.  Here are some sample questions you can ask to do this:
  2. Where do you see the image of God? Where is there shalom (wholeness, peace, harmony, beauty)?
  3. What brokenness exists?
  4. Is someone moving toward another god to make life work?
  5. What redemption has taken place? What redemption are you praying for?
  6. What prayer for future restoration might you pray?

Here’s what I came up with:

God created my body whole and healthy. Because of the fall and personal idols of “no pain, no gain,” I have joint pain and problems. I pray for my left hip to heal. Redemption: God is the God of restoration. God did not remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh. God uses all to redeem hearts. God has healed my right hip through surgery.

“Lord, I am anxious that my hip be pain-free and function well. I ask you to restore my body because you are a merciful God. If you don’t choose to answer the prayer that way, help me to hang in there, to believe. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

 

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