Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"He smells like peaches, Mom"

"God, come close.  Come quickly! Open your ears--it's my voice you're hearing!  Treat my prayers as sweet incense rising; my raised hands are my evening prayers."  Psalm 141:1-2

In the wee hours of morning on the way to school, my girls and I cross a stone bridge that runs over Nolan Creek.  Many foggy mornings when the dew point is just right, this is our view.  The girls laugh declaring the water sports a beard!  I'm reminded of the scripture that describes our morning prayers are as incense to the Lord.  The wet mist swirls upward like my anguished cries.  Only my tears doesn't dissipate into thin air, in to nothingness.  My Papa, my Abba literally breathes them in!  The Old Testament reassures me that they are a pleasing fragrance, acceptable to Him (Lev. chapter 2).  And Revelation walks us into the throne room of the Holy One and reveals "another Angel, carrying a gold censer that came and stood at the altar.  He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the Throne.  Smoke billowed up from the incense-laced prayers of the holy ones, rose before God from the hand of the Angel"  (Rev. 8: 3-4).  My prayers fill the air of heaven like incense!

For years I have wondered, "why incense? why fragrances?"  Do the Episcopalians have a corner on this?  Until I remembered that from the moment we are born, our sense of smell works perfectly.  Seeing and hearing are both a bit fuzzy around the edges, but babies are able to distinguish their mothers' smell within a few short hours after birth.  And our sense of smell is not translated into an electrochemical signal for our brain to read like the other senses are.  Fragrances come in through our nose and mouth and go directly to our brain's olfactory bulb.  No translation needed.  And we all know too how smells propel us through emotional wormholes of time to grandma's kitchen or our first trip to the beach.

What on earth is God saying? To be honest, I'm not totally sure, yet.  But in light of these verses and what I know about smell, I like to picture myself as a small child, laying on Papa's chest.  No words have to be spoken.  Not even higher order thinking is required (which is good because when I'm most upset, rationality wanes!)  He simply holds me and waits for me to exhale.  Then we breathe together. My breath synchronizes with His.  I know Him by the rise and fall of His chest, the grasp of His arms, and by His smell.  His fragrance that says I am received.  And I smell good to Him.  He is pleased and I have his favor.  His acceptance and delight.

Why smell? Because God is sensual. Can He really be about pleasure, pure and simple?  We all know the joy of breathing deeply when cinnamon rolls are baking in the oven.  Why wouldn't He?  I believe His eyes light up and His chest expands when He wants to take us into Himself--just like incense.   I impact Him immediately, no explanation needed.  My fragrance takes Him back to a time before the world was when He fashioned me.  Before sin ever entered the picture.  When ocean breezes and lilacs, falling leaves and apple cider ruled in my heart. The best of His world given to create the best in mine.  Likewise my fragrance moves Him to a time in the future when only His song will be on my lips and my jeweled tiara will never be tilted or rusted!  It is to this place I go every time I encounter Him in worship.  He and I, outside of time, breathing together.  Enjoying together.

Once I asked my then six year old son if he knew what God smelled liked?  Puzzled, he said he didn't.  I then suggested He ask God himself.  Three seconds later, he nodded and whispered, "peaches.  God said he smells like peaches."  Pure and simple.  I think I'll ask Him what I smell like . . . .

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thrown open Doors Wide Open Spaces Clear Air What's next?!

"But I need something more!  I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope!  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn't that the real question? 

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus can and does.  With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma (Ro. 7) is resolved.  Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low lying black cloud.  A new power is in operation!  The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.  We throw open our doors to God and discover that at the same moment that He has already thrown open his door to us.  We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand--out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise!

Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God!  Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what He is doing.  And God isn't pleased at being ignored. 

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than him. . . .it stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?  When God lives and breathes in you, you are delivered from that dead life.  So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.  There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all.  The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life!

God's Spirit beckons.  There are things to do and places to go!  This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "what's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who He is, and we know who we are:  Father and children."
                                                                                              selections all from the Message
                                                                                              Romans 5:2-4, 7:17, 24-25, 8:1, 6-16

  You cannot be truly humble until you have a deep sense of being loved---Frances Roberts

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What do Olaf the snowman and believers have in common?

You know the song--"the cold and the hot are both so intense, put 'em together and it just makes sense!" Crooning like Sinatra, Olaf sings "winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle but put me in summer and I'll be a " . . . . happy snowman!"  to which Cristoff replies, "someone's got to tell him!" and Anna quickly retorts, "don't you dare!"  We laugh because we know the truth, and his innocence is endearing. 

I wonder how many of us have looked in the Christian evangelical puddle so often that we've stopped asking why we believe what we believe.  We push past Olaf's uncomfortable pause as he hangs over  the puddle knowing that for a second he's facing reality.  Rather than stay with the uncomfortable or the unknown, we're quick to find a happy place.  The security of what we've always believed.  Like we've heard forever that our sin separates us from God, that He turned his head when Jesus hung on the cross, that He chooses some to be saved and others are doomed to hell.  That our lives are all about Him and to want anything for ourselves is selfish.  That holiness is what's most true about Him and my sin is what's most true about me.  That my desire to feel unique and loved by God is simply western individualism stamped with spiritual vocabulary.  That the goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to His character.  That I am still a sinner and unworthy of love and forgiveness.  That I don't deserve salvation and so I should be thrilled He loves me when He really shouldn't.  The fact that He loves unworthy me makes Him all the more glorious and me all the more grateful.   And that all those cool supernatural things that happen in the Bible are really for another time and place--either the streets of Jerusalem or maybe present day Africa.

I guess I feel like I live in Olaf's pause.  I've tried to wear these theological declarations and imagine what life could be like in the summer sun, but I'm left feeling confused, betrayed and aching for something more.  My appendages are in pieces on a wet tile floor. You may not feel this way a bit.  You might say I'm deluded.  That I read into scripture what I want to hear.  To make myself feel good.  We all tend to pick and choose "truths" to which we adhere.  I have no idea if I'm right.  I'm learning how to grow past the "good/bad tree" and give others freedom to believe differently.   However, I wanted to share some of the questions that gave me pause.  Questions I took to the One who gives me breath.

If You can't look on sin . . . then why did You come looking in the garden? (Gen. 3:8-9)
If my sin separates me from You . . . then how could Jesus become sin for me? (2 Cor. 5:21)
           and what changed between You and all of mankind because he did?
           and why would you come running towards me? (Luke 15:20)
           and how can your light be shining in the darkness? (Jn. 1:5)
If my sin is what's most true about me . . .
         then what changes because Your Spirit is in me? (1 Cor. 6:19)
         and how can I be as righteous as Jesus? (2 Cor. 5:21b)
If I am unworthy . . .then why don't You count my sins against me? (2 Cor.. 5:19)
                                  and why would you become one spirit with me? (1 Cor. 6:17)
If you demand glory . . .then why does Jesus say He came to share His? (Jn. 17: 22)
If you call me to die . . .then why did You say your offer was life? (Jn. 10:10)
If my heart is still desperately wicked . . . then how can I be a new creation? (2 Cor. 5:17)
If I could be one of the damned . . . then how can You truly love the world? (Jn. 3:16)
                              and how can Jesus say 'love your enemies' when the damned never have a chance?
If You are still angry . . . then did Jesus die to save us from your anger and not our sins?
                     and does my salvation encounter with You change you from rejecting me to loving me?
                                         then why did Jesus say if you've seen Me you've seen the Father?
If You looked away when Jesus hung on the cross . . . then why in a Messianic Psalm did you tell           David you didn't hide your face from him but heard his cry for help? (Ps. 22:24)  If You do that
    for David, a man, then certainly you'd do it for Your very own?
If You truly forsook Jesus on the cross . . .then how could you be In Him reconciling the world to     
             yourself? (2 Cor. 5:19)
             how could You be in Him and He in You? (Jn. 10:38) How can you leave yourself?
If I'm only on this planet to glorify you and take nothing for myself in worship . .
             is my need for glory part of Your very image in me or simply a nasty result of the Fall?
             are you threatened by my human need for significance? my need for glory? (Ps. 139)
             then why did Jesus tell me to freely receive?  what am I receiving? (Mt. 10:8)
             why did you tell me that a good Father gives the Spirit to one who asks? (Luke 11:13)
If I'm only here to be conformed to your character . . . then I could lose me and miss you completely.
     What fun would there be in that?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fried Egg Prayers

"Simple Prayer is necessary, even essential to the spiritual life.  The only way we move beyond 'self-centered prayer' (if indeed we ever do) is by going through it, not by making a detour around it.
                                                                 --Richard Foster's
                                        Prayer:  Finding the Heart's True Home
What does a peacock have to do with simple prayer?  Because I believe the essence of being human, is asking the question, "what am I worth? do I matter? am I worthy?"  Questions a peacock has definitively answered!  He just is, in all of his glory.  I believe in our effort to "pray right" we believe our focus can only be about God in prayer.  After all we continually hear, "it's all about Him!"  If I make prayer about me then somehow I'm taking away His glory (as if I could).  Foster says, "but the practical effect of all this  internal soul-searching (is) to completely paralyze my ability to pray." 
Like Foster, I become so worried about whether I'm good enough, my desires pure enough, my motives clean enough that I stop just outside the doorway of His holy temple.  I may glance pensively in His direction, but then I quickly look down at my tear-stained, smudged apron.  Recently I heard a pastor ask our congregation why they come to church -- "because you're lonely?  you're marriage is failing?  for your prodigal child?"  In my mind I answered all of them with a resounding "yes!"  Before I finished my thought, he replied, "no!  because then you're making worship about what you get out of it.  And it's not about your needs, it's about worshiping the Holy God!"  My jaw dropped.
Did Jesus not say, "come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden?"  Beth Moore profoundly asks this same question in a different way.  "In the dark of night, down deep in your soul, do you believe God is a giver or a taker?" (rough paraphrase from The Inheritance study).  Wow.  I have to admit I have believed He takes.  He takes credit, he takes my will, he takes control, and He takes glory.   He takes freedom, too much time, and my talents to use up.   I can't keep anything worth holding.  He takes what matters to me.  We move again and again, best friends are killed, husbands go to war.
 Funny my mind goes to this goofy picture I made at three years old.  It's a scribbled face with what I call "fried egg eyes."  I offerred up this icon of myself to the only thing I knew that resembled God--Santa Claus.   My mom I guess had had enough of the security blanket I toted around.  Probably looked like my daughter's tattered afghan we affectionately called, "the Shred."  I still have the note I dictated to Santa; my first letter to him-- "Dear Santa, I don't have my blanket anymore and throw it out.  I will go to sleep and close my eyes.  Please bring me Tippee Tumbles and Baby First Step for Christmas.  I am a very good girl especially since I threw away my blanket.  It's fun to be a big girl and not a baby."  And with that blanket went my security and all I knew to be safe.  I guess He needed it more than I did.  
Foster concludes, "we will never have pure enough motives . . . to pray rightly.  We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying.  In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself--the intimate, on-going interaction with God--that these matters are cared for in due time. . . What I'm trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are.  in the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.  But when we pray, genuinely pray, the real condition of our heart is revealed.  This is as it should be.  This is when God truly begins to work with us.  The adventure is just beginning." (Prayer, pgs. 10-11)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Seeing the God whose Face perceives us

                                         "The Sound of Silence"--Martha Kilpatrick

Mary lived in profound silence.
In all three episodes she is quiet.
            Only one small quote is recorded.
            And it was a plea directed to Jesus, not for the ears of people.

The message of her life:  not a legacy of words
                  rather the stark absence of talk,    a silence . . . rare and mystifying.

The only voice in her life was Jesus'.  He spoke for her, about her . . . in defense of her.
Mary had no drive to explain, no compulsion to be heard.
                 no obsession to be understood.

Lust for audiences had been abandoned.  All such had died in her.
        She had found her soul's understanding in Him.
        She had been still enough to know she was heard
                                                 and now --in quiet --
                                                 she could listen.

Our idea of prayer is to hurl words at God.
        Mary knew prayer as silence in His presence,
                       to listen . . . without the audacity to speak . . .

"The Lord is in His Holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him."  Habakkuk 2:20

The world is a swirl of noise, a loud competition of voices, in piles of useless words.
                                             Mary neither entered it nor heard it.
The only words she strained to hear were the captivating Words of God in Christ,
                                                                         full of Living Eternity.
And they were --for her -- priceless,
                          the only Words worth hearing.

Silence is one thing - amazing in itself -
             but stillness is a rare internal quiet
                             a peace of mind
                             a rest of the heart,
             by having found one's long lost home . . .
                             in the Soft Presence of God.

Mary found serenity before she entered stillness.  True quiet issues from inviting God
      into the long-sealed chanbers of the soul and letting His invasion calm our native hysteria.

Self-centered talk is the expression of pride, of not having seen the
                             God whose Face perceives us.
Meekness is not natural to a humanity that thinks it is superior to its own Creator.
Humility is the quality of having had vain illusions cremated by the Burning Love of Christ.

Silence is born of humility, the awareness that you have
               out of your self-taught ideas
               nothing to speak worth hearing.
It is having encountered God by His True Size
                breathtaking and magnificent
                and seeing the contrast between you and Him.

It is the exact measure of your consciousness of God and the proof of your confidence in Him . . .
              that He really IS . . .
                              the God you want Him to be,
                              nothing less and so much more.

We do not grasp the Holy Gentleness of God.
If we insist on
           the babble of our crude humanity, charmed by the sound of our own noise, then
this God of Kindness will stand back,
           robed in His Tranquil Dignity
           and let us have the vain spotlight
                       of endless talk.
 His voice is not in storm or wind, not in earthquake nor fire.
We could not bear that voice in
                       the Fullness of such Measureless Energy.
As Elijah learned, His voice was still and small, "delicate and whispering."

Jesus said to his disciples, "What you hear whispered in your ear  . . ."

If humanness will merely be still,
      The entire Trinity will come forth
                        and speak
       by a whisper in the silence . . .
       heard by no one else.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do your Kids Deserve Adoption?? warning: thoughts in process

The kitchen door slammed for the hundredth time against our faded pistachio wall.  Frames rattled their annoyance right along with mine.  I turned with a jerk.  Sweat drizzled down her dirt-stained cheeks.  Her face flushed, she ran in and tugged at my shorts, "mommy can I have some water?  The butterflies won't let me catch them!"  Turning toward her, I got down on my knees, Tinker Bell cup in hand, smiled sweetly and said, "I'd be thrilled to offer you this water, but first I need to remind you that you don't deserve this.  didn't you slam the door open?  look at the mud you brought into the house!  It's all over your face."  With arms outstretched, "I really shouldn't offer you my kindness, and you need to remember that.  Now doesn't that make the reality that I'm giving you this water even more special?  I really shouldn't but I'm going to.  Because it really is all about me.  Delight in my water.  I'm so generous I'm going to overlook the messes you continually make.  I'll overlook the circumstances of your birth.  Because that's who I am. There's nothing you've done that could earn my water.  Now that we both know the playing terms, feel free to drink."

Is anyone else choking?!  I know it's a crazy analogy but I needed to flesh out what my throat does every time I hear "I don't deserve you Jesus."  The Christian group Plumb has a beautiful song with those words in the title.   I'm singing loudly in my van but I can't choke those words out.  I can't get past that wall of shame to receive the hug on the other side.  "Not deserving" is like a thorn that snags the sweater of warmth and comfort.  By singing the words it's as if I have to pay homage--bow to the God who reminds me that I'm unworthy.  Do You want my unworthiness continually before me?  Are you saying that I need to acknowledge that when it comes down to it, You really shouldn't love me?  Like a leash around my ankles, You'll yank if I get too far into a kingdom of freedom.  I still have to pay, even if it's remembering I'm unworthy and undeserving.  I drop my sweaty worthless coin in the bucket at the doorpost of your throneroom.  Maybe you'll think I'm special if I humbly remind you there's nothing special about me.  As I bow my knee before a holy God and look into His pleading eyes--I speak the words, "I'm so undeserving." Where does my gaze fall? to my dirt-stained sneakers. I can't say the words and hold His gaze.

If you've adopted a child, how long would you want them to whisper, "I didn't deserve this rescue" as you tuck them under the covers? a year later would it bring tears to your eyes to hear them playfully singing off the back porch, "you didn't have to love me, but you did, I'm so undeserving, unworthy of your love"? Do you keep their adoption papers on the kitchen table, so that with every bite they're reminded from whence they came? Did the word "deserve" ever enter your mind as you were anxiously, longingly scanning websites looking for your adoptive child? When do the terms of their entry into your kingdom become overtaken by their daily presence within it? Why can we say that every child deserves a safe, loving home simply because they are human, but yet we get nervous when someone suggests we deserve God's forever home?

At this point in the discussion my opponents would make sure that I make the distinction between deserving love and deserving forgiveness. No I can't do anything to earn forgiveness- I get that- but
unfortunately Christians get caught in this whirlpool that filters the real truth of adoption down to the bottom of the pool and get distracted with all the unworthy leaves swirling on top. Once we have found our way back home, the adoption is sealed. Done. Over. Your past, your failures, your neediness are no longer on the table for discussion. The prodigal Father shouted "Quickly!!" Why? so that his son's shame wouldn't overtake him. Not for a minute did the Father need to hear his son's confession. His son's act of returning told Him everything He needed to know.

Abba what do I need to know? "Elaine, please walk through the doorway of the cross.  There's a whole kingdom to explore.  By believing you're not deserving, you paint Me with one hand open and one hand closed.  Why do you need to keep reminding Me you're unworthy?  why shouldn't I love?  because you believe what's wrong with you  is way bigger than what's right?  which came first, the glory of Genesis 2 or the shame of Genesis 3?" 

As His eyes light up and welcome me into them, He speaks without speaking, "I'm thrilled to see you Elaine! " Joy explodes from His face!  He picks me up off those crusty Converse rubber soles and lifts me skyward, twirling as we go.  He reminds me that at the infinitesimal moment I welcomed Him into my spirit, He flooded me with the spirit of adoption.  His Spirit cried within me Abba Father and in a flash of lightning I became born from above! 

. "Yes, I say Yes to each one of you!  Always and forever love.  You do deserve it.  Why? I formed you in your mother's womb.  Let's Quickly deal with this sin issue and put it behind Us forever.  Behind the cross.  Now take My hand and skip into My kingdom of light and immeasurable glory.  Mine and your's."  Amen!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pour it on Abba!

One day out of the blue, the Father asked me a question.  "Do you know why Jesus died?"  Sure, Father. So I could be forgiven of my sins.
"Yes and no.  He died so you can have access to come and know Me.  Your sins
are just in the way.  But He died to give you the right to come and know Me."

A week later He asked again, "do you really want to know why Jesus died?"
Father I thought you told me!  He said, "there's an even higher purpose.  I AM
love.  I was tired of having to restrain My love.  I wanted to be able to freely
pour it out unrestrained on whoever would receive it.  Jesus went to the cross
not just because He loved you but more because He loved Me so much. He said
Father I'll do whatever it takes so that You will be free to pour love on people
the way you want to."                                                 --Janice Seney
                                                                                       The Goodness of God CD

                 Daddy God, I choose to open my heart to let You be good and love me!  Make me
                 an amazing squishy receiver, a sponge, as big as the ocean, to soak up all the
                 love you have for me--  Pour out Your greatness on me in such measure that
                 others will come and splash in the overflow!