The Examen

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If you’re a Christian, and if you are at all like me, you can get bogged down in repentance—meaning, when you start confessing sin and recognizing failures, you go into despair.

I have been doing something a little different lately. It’s making a difference. It’s called Examen.

At the end of the day—or sometimes in the mornings—I look back at the previous 24 hours. I ask myself several questions. One is, where did my heart and deeds fall short of God’s glory? The other is, where did I see God in my day or my deeds? I do this while asking for God’s Spirit to lead my heart, and I do it with a thankful spirit. I search for his movement in my life.

First, where did I fall short? When did I fail to walk in love? When was I blind or too busy to help? When did I speak when I should have listened or listened when I should have spoken? Was I angry or short-fused, neglectful or uncaring? I KNOW I miss things all the time, but I can’t see what I can’t see.  This is where I trust God to show me what I need to know. I don’t dig for dirt. I ask God for forgiveness and the power and ability to change. I perform this “looking” objectively. I try not to feel despair. I examine it like I might look at a piece of art–checking out the lines and contours of the sculpture looking for things that need to be chipped away. Next, I thank God for helping me see, and I choose to hope in his unfailing love to help me in the future. I ask for needed power, as well as an ability to see potential sin traps before I act. I don’t do it desperately, but in great hope with thanksgiving. Even the inclination to do this is proof he’s at work.

(It’s really important to KNOW that God loves you and is for you as you do this. He’s not an old curmudgeon in the sky waiting to whollop you. He’s an intimate ally united with you by his Spirit so that you are enabled to walk in the Spirit.) (Romans 8)

The second thing I do is look back at where I saw God or how I acted rightly with his power. I do this objectively, too, and with thanksgiving. Ah, yes, I was kind to a stranger. I prayed for the woman in line at the grocery store who looked harried and upset and helped with her groceries. I made a nice meal for my family, or I held my tongue when someone was cruel or unkind to me. I experienced God, enjoyed and worshipped him when I saw a bevy of cardinals on the way to work and when I heard the sound of an owl and the shriek of a hawk as he soared over the house. Then I give thanks. “Thank you for helping me see your presence in my life and for helping me act more Christ-like from my heart.” I am often surprised at how many moments he was there–like all day!!

Why is this important? I can get engrossed in my sin and fail to see God’s faithfulness along the way. By doing this, I can applaud his work in me–which is just another grace to me, after all. (I’m often surprised when something absolutely loving, non-judgmental, and kind comes from my heart and mouth.)

Of course, confessing and giving thanks throughout the day is a glorious and faithful way to walk. I do that, too. What I find is that by doing this summary at the end of the day, I am more intentional during the next day to look for his movement and presence, and I’m more cognizant of opportunities to act Christ-like, and avoid temptation and sin as it comes at me.

There is something about summing up the day that is different and more hopeful than going through the day fumbling between sin and repentance. I’m not quite certain what qualitative difference there is, but I feel it.

Also, by ending the day looking at the positive movement of God in my life, I end the day  more aware of God’s faithful presence and my progress in the gospel. It sets me up to look for him the next day, and by golly, I see him at work in my life, once again. There is great wisdom in ending the day thanking God for what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do on our behalf. It just makes me downright happy!!

 

 

 

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Do Something – Sew Powerful

A friend of mine recently told me about a ministry project she is doing from home. She makes purses that hold washable female products for women living in a slum community in Lusaka, Zambia. Her husband and her daughter are disabled, and she cares for a grandson, too. She has to stay close to home. I’m humbled by her devotion to relieving the suffering of others.  I asked her about the ministry and this is what she sent me. The ministry is called Sew Powerful.

“The more I have learned about this group, the more impressed I have been.  I am not one to jump into something without knowing what they believe, even when it’s a faith-based group–perhaps especially when it’s faith-based.  So I did LOTS of reading.  These people are just ordinary believers who are doing some extraordinary things because God laid something on their hearts: a school in a small slum community in Lusaka, Zambia.  They are not trying to do evangelism as much as they are trying to care for widows and orphans in the wake of the AIDS tidal wave in southern Africa.  They focus on one small community, but their model is catching the attention of other ministries.  They are committed to building and empowering the local community and not just handing them money or goods.

The song we sang at church this morning “So Will I,” contains a line near the end that goes, “I can see your heart eight billion different ways, each precious one a child you died to save.  If you gave your life to love them, so will I.”   That line brings tears to my eyes every time we sing it.

For one thing, it first arrested my attention because when I was in school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or so my children tell me!), we were taught there were about six billion people on the earth.  Twenty years later when my girls were in school, it was seven billion.  Now it’s more than eight billion and growing quickly—so many people and so much need.   For much of my adult life I have struggled with wanting to do something to help all those millions of people who live with such extreme poverty, disease, despair, persecution… the list is endless.  But it all seems SO HUGE.  It’s almost paralyzing.

Here lately God has shown both Chuck and me that doing something for His kingdom doesn’t mean doing something huge.  It just means doing SOMETHING.  We do what God puts in front of us, the next right thing.  I believe God put this in front of me, literally dropped it in my lap as it were.  It seems such a small thing, but if God pursues the world one precious human heart at a time, then I guess it’s not too small a thing for me to bless one precious child at a time.”

After attending a quilting show in Paducah, Kentucky, she heard another story that makes her sewing adventure even more meaningful.

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Sample purse usually filled with a note and washable hygiene products. About 60% of the young women there are HIV positive. 

“The most profound moment at the show came when I overheard another “Sew Powerful” volunteer tell about the impact of the note cards we put in the purses. These girls live in extreme poverty. Most have lost parents. Many are HIV positive. They desperately need encouragement. So when I heard they treasure the notes perhaps more than the pretty purses, I almost cried. When I learned that the young women want to know our names so they can pray for us, I did cry! I felt deeply humbled but encouraged by their care.”

I am encouraged and humbled by Karen’s heart. Lord, may we all help change the world one life, one word, one note, or one purse at a time.

Here is the link. “Sew Powerful” If you have any interest in helping young girls from around the world with your sewing gifts, you might want to check it out.

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What’s Up?

Version 3

St. Botolph’s Church, Boston, England 

I’ve been a Christian a long time—longer than most who read this have been alive. My progress as a believer and follower of Christ has ebbed and flowed. Some years I make great headway in my love for God and others. Other years, I drift. Work distracts me; life is hard, and I blame God or others; I’m depressed and have trouble holding onto truth and hope. Or, worst of all, I get stuck in sin or shame and don’t believe God forgives or is sufficient to deliver me from sin’s power.

But one thing I’ve found to be true: the more time I spend with God in his Word, in prayer, worship (and other spiritual practices) or even in the simple awareness of his loving, glorious presence, the more I grow. Many have opted out of serious spiritual practices. Somehow the belief that Sunday morning worship alone will sustain and propel us has been an easy lie to believe. It is true that worship in community is a place for us to receive comfort and truth, at least enough to keep us out of the ditches. Sundays offer fuel for our fires, and preaching is an important means of grace. (Isaiah 55:9-10) But a dusting of the Divine is not what we are created for. God has designed us to dive in—to abide—to taste and see that the Lord is good every single day—to seek and to find more. We are, after all, his children.

Casual friendship we understand. We have many associations like that, but deep relationships must be nurtured, otherwise they fade away. Marriage is that way. Bosom friends (as Anne with an “E” would say) demand close attention. We drift away from human relationships for lots of rational and irrational reasons; the same can be said of our relationship with God.

If one thinks about it, casual friendship with God is a ridiculous idea. Why would anyone want to shy away from someone so loving and kind, gentle and whole—someone who is an intimate ally—and the happiest and most gloriously good being in the universe? Also, he’s THE one whose arms are wide open to us, always. Besides that, his ways are so much better than our own.

So, why do we withdraw, skip prayer, rarely (if ever) meditate, seldom dig in to study and almost never memorize Scripture. I would say, and I believe I’m correct, we don’t believe it matters—at least not very much, and we believe that the pursuit isn’t worth the effort.

Knowing God, according to C. H. Spurgeon is the preeminent goal of a Christian. “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”* I agree. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, a wise man would at least try to find out what all the fuss is about.

With each passing year of walking with Christ, he has become more and more real—an almost tangible presence with me. Part of that growth is in my faith to believe the things he says about abiding in me and being one with me as he is one with his Father. Union with Christ: that is my focus over the past year.

It almost sounds blasphemous—as do most of God’s mysterious plans for grace. The whole scheme is unbelievably good. He is more than just a Savior guaranteeing heaven. He is an indwelling Spirit by whom we cry out Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15) He is willing to be a constant, loving companion and a firm abiding friend.

He is a loving, intimate ally—someone who is for us—not against us.

But there are other forces at work: the world keeps us busy and tells us that we should value x, y, or z instead of Christ and his Kingdom. Our flesh craves rest, pleasure, or power, and it’s often lazy or addicted to all kinds of things: some are evil, but some are just natural needs gone awry (like food or sex). Then there is the evil one himself. I don’t know how he manages to tempt us—at least not exactly how it works for him—but according to Scripture, he is one of our enemies prowling about seeking whom he might devour. Those who don’t know Christ are the most susceptible to his temptations because they have neither truth nor the Holy Spirit to help or give a desire to resist. But we can be just as susceptible if we’re not strengthened by steady spiritual bread.

So, where does that put us? What’s up with us? Are we going to choose over and over again throughout the day the best, highest, most glorious One, or are we going to drift—letting our thoughts run the way of the world and our flesh—allowing ourselves, because of lack of fortification, to be easily tempted to do evil. Are we going to let our minds run where they will, or are we going to bring thoughts captive to the glory and honor of the one true God and his Son—and his Kingdom.

Learning to enjoy God doesn’t come automatically—and part of the reason is that we have believed lies about him. That’s where the word, encouraging relationships, and worship and prayer come in. Not every church is going to preach truth, either. We have to search for good ones, and we have to check preaching against Scripture. We are personally responsible for knowing the difference. My pastor and church are amazing. But no oneis going to stand with us before Christ. We will all stand alone with Christ’s righteousness or without it, and we’ll carry a handful of good deeds done in his power or without it.

I want the quality of my works to withstand the fire. (I Cor. 3:7-15) I want to walk today being mindful of my union with Christ and his Holy Spirit indwelling me. I want to impact the world because of his indwelling Spirit while being conscious of what he wants to do in the world around me. And that, my friend, takes time, energy, focus, and a daily fight as I make room in my life to experience God.

But it’s worth it!

 

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The Favor of God

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It seemed to be an ordinary Sabbath—filled with ordinary Sabbath ritual. Each man and woman expected a reading from the scroll, prayer, and perhaps an admonition.

God brought dynamite instead—upending their expectations and challenging them to believe an impossible thing—the Messiah had come and was present as a man they knew well. He was the son of Mary and Joseph, a humble carpenter with a questionable birth story, a boy who had played with their children, the person who had repaired their doors, fixed their carts, and mended their yokes. Kind? Yes. Helpful and skillful? Absolutely! Messiah? Blasphemy!

Jesus left the family workshop in Nazareth several weeks earlier to be baptized by John. After that, He went into the wilderness for a forty-day fast and a furious fight with evil. Then, He went back home, perhaps for a home-cooked meal and to spend time with His family before His public ministry officially began. Perhaps He needed to attend a wedding. For whatever reason, the Sabbath came while He was there. Then, as was His habit, He went to the synagogue. Providentially, someone handed Him the parchment; Jesus took it and slowly and patiently unrolled the scroll until He found Isaiah 61. He began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Jesus closed the scroll and sat down. “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(Luke 4:18-21 NASB)

Those who heard Him were confused. At first they thought the words were “gracious.” Could this be? But…reason took over. “This is the carpenter’s son. He is claiming to be a prophet and accusing us of being like those evil men who reject their hometown prophets.” Their irritation grew to fury as they accused Jesus of blasphemy, and then they shoved and pushed Him forcibly out of town to the edge of a precipice where they tried to throw Him to his death.

It was no ordinary Sabbath.

Favor. Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 speak of favor—a favorable year—the year of the Lord’s favor. The idea that God would bring favor in this particular package provoked them. It was peculiar. Unexpected. Preposterous. The Messiah was to be glorious and kingly; this humble man was no king.

The deity and humanity of Christ still provoke people to anger. It is absolute foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to us who do, it speaks of an incomprehensible humility and grace unseen in other faiths.

Moslems, for instance, consider our claims to be insulting to God. God, in their minds, would never go to such humiliating extremes to let mankind know of His love and mercy—of His grace and favor. Man should bow to Allah and seek him, not the other way around. God loses face to come in search of man—but that’s exactly what God does in Christ. He chases us down so that He can bestow favor on us.

With these verses, Jesus introduced a 3-½ year ministry that would change the face of faith. He introduced intimacy with the Father. Kinship with God. A brotherly relationship with His people.

These startling words in Luke 4, the subsequent ministry of Christ, the Gospels, the Old Testament references to Messiah, and the Epistles explain the nature of God’s favor.

We are no longer his enemy; we are His friends.

He has torn down the veil between us, and we have bold access to His throne.

We no longer fear punishment, but are loved by the Father like Jesus was loved.

extended hands-ElderlyCareWe are also empowered by the same Spirit to do those things He commands us to do. By God’s grace and with his approval and delight, we get to walk into a broken world in God’s strength, and in the midst of the world’s heartache and sin, demonstrate outrageous love, mercy, goodness and grace. We have the privilege of extending God’s hands of favor to others, just as he extended that favor to us.

 

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Barney and the Midnight-Blue Blanket: the Power of Shame

IMG_1314Recently my extraordinarily active (and almost-brilliant) dog, Barnabus, chewed a giant hole in my husband’s blanket. Yes, my husband has a blanket. It’s not a security blanket, but it’s a perfect weight. Every night he pulls it over himself before he goes to sleep. It works.

Barney loves blankets. He has some sort of blanket fetish. He nurses them like a baby, chews on them nervously like a chew toy, and occasionally he tries to make a blanket his woman—digging with his paws as he attempts to push it into a good-size heap; then he attempts to mount it.

Yes. He’s a dog. He has chewed multiple holes in a long list of blankets, quilts, sheets, and coverlets of all shapes and sizes.

When Raymond discovered the fifteen-inch hole in the center of his deliciously soft blanket, he held it up and glared at Barney through it.

What is this? O my goodness, Barney, what is this? How could you? This is Papa’s blanket!” His tone was not kind. It was accusatory and angry. Disappointed even.

“No, Barney, no,” he spoke plaintively. “You can’t chew holes in Papa’s blanket. See what IMG_1217you’ve done?” He, lifted, once again, the evidence of Barney’s sin—this gaping hole in the middle of this beautiful midnight blue coverlet. Barney got the message and slunk off—ears back and his curled tail tucked beneath his body. With his head down, he looked back over his right shoulder and glanced at his master and his mess as he crept from the room. He skulked to the living room and into his shame hole—a place between a table and chair in our living room. It’s somewhat hidden from everyone else. In a little while, after a recovery nap, he came out. He seemed fine.

When Raymond was ready for bed, he got out his blanket, and pulled the holey coverlet up and over himself—the hole leaving bare a part of his back. Barney eyed the blanket and the hole he’d made and hopped off the bed. I watched as he slid from the room, glancing over his shoulder at Raymond as he left to hide in his shame hole, once again. When I went to bed, I found him still huddled there.

“It’s okay. Come here, Buddy,” I said as I reached out to caress his head and scratch behind his ears. I urged him to come, and he did, but he didn’t sleep curled up beside Raymond—his usual position—he snuggled with me instead.

The next night the same thing happened. The blanket came out, and Barney left the room. Only this time, he went to the spare bedroom to sleep.

He rejoined us sometime during the night—but once again—he stayed away from Raymond and the offensive reminder of his sin.

The next day I told Raymond what I’d observed. “Oh, my poor puppy,” he oozed, as he glanced at his beloved pet. It wasn’t long before he got out a needle and thread and began to sew up the hole.

Version 2You’ve got to understand something about my husband’s relationship with his dog. He LOVES this animal. He takes him everywhere he can, buys him cheeseburgers, plays with him while he works in the yard, shares ALL his food, and even lets this 75 pound animal sit in his lap. It hurt his soul to think Barney felt shame, and that this thoughtless and impulsive act had literally created a hole between them.

After he repaired the giant gap, he held the blanket up for Barney to see. “Look Barney, I fixed it. See. No hole.”

That evening, when Raymond headed to bed, got out the blanket, and pulled it over himself, Barney drew near and curled up beside his master. The hole was gone—so was the shame. Relationship was restored.

The blanket has a long ugly scar now. I don’t think Barney notices it. I think he sees a seamless blanket because Raymond said there was no hole. It’s repaired, and beautiful, and whole once again. It’s as if he’d never sinned. He’s free to snuggle at will.

 

 

* The events that took place are true. I don’t know what Barney felt and thought, but I do know what he did.

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I Saw the Queen

34678752_UnknownRecently, I went to the Braemar Gathering in Scotland. It is the most famous of the Scottish highland games. Supposedly, one member of the royal family attends each year. We expected someone royal but were astonished and thrilled when we discovered Queen Elizabeth was coming.

She rode onto the field in a dark limousine. The crowd began to clap and cheer as the royals were led by tartan-clothed pipers and drummers playing “Scotland the Brave.” As she exited the vehicle, I held my breath and stood—waiting for a first glimpse. The Queen arose. She wore a beautiful turquoise blue suit trimmed in black and coat to match. A rimmed hat rested neatly on her head. The crowd clapped and cheered. It took a few minutes for the family to settle onto the covered dais. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were all present. Wow! Unexpected!

The finals began, and we watched as brawny men heaved on ropes in a tug of war battle for first place. Some flipped cabers that were 19’6” feet long and weighed 175 pounds; other men flung 50+ pound weights over poles or went round in circles then threw them for distance. Some ran sprints or long distance. Others hurled themselves over poles in high jumps. Young girls and women did Scottish dances on a raised stage in front of the Royal Family.

The weather was perfect. What an unforeseen experience! As the family left, Queen Elizabeth looked our way, waved and smiled. (I’m sure it wasn’t at us-but…) We laughed and teased about being invited to tea, but being too busy to accept. And we joked about it in a Scottish accent. The family probably went to Balmoral Castle located near Braemar.

Later, when we passed by the turnoff to Balmoral, we continued our silly banter about going to visit the Queen.

If we had tried to go to the castle for tea, we would have been denied entrance. We don’t possess the right lineage or position in society—or an invitation.

It was a joy to see Queen Elizabeth—but later, when I reflected on that privilege, I couldn’t help but compare the brief glimpse of the Queen with the daily invitation and the honor of getting face-to-face with the King of Kings.

I can have coffee, tea, and a meal in the presence of God. I can talk with him on walks and laugh with him over funny things. I can weep and get snotty nosed and messy in his presence, and though he is the most Royal of all Royals, he has condescended to call me his child.

Our daily entrance into his presence should excite us just a bit—maybe like the thrill I felt upon seeing the Queen.

God has provided through Jesus Christ this incredible, glorious honor. But we are flawed, human, and emotional and don’t always experience pleasure in his company. That’s okay. He gets it. He knows our frame. Sometimes we’re tired, tried, or tied up in knots over something.

What don’t want to do is to perceive prayer or communion with God as common and humdrum. Prayer is so much more than words, sentences, and lists tossed into the heavens. God has granted us union with Christ and entrance to his presence IN CHRIST. It’s a provision of communion that is so utterly mind-blowing that I can’t truly comprehend its glory and am wonderfully humbled by the gift.

I saw the Queen. One day I’ll see Jesus face to face. But today I see him by faith, and it’s more real and thrilling to me than seeing the Queen of England briefly at the highland games in Braemar, Scotland.

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An Altared Course

I wrote this several years ago but did not post it. I though I would today for all of you who face unexpected sorrows in your altered life. 

One of my favorite books is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The book features an unlikely heroine, Much-Afraid. She wants to go to the High Places—a place free from her Fearing relatives and the troubles she finds in the Valley of Humiliation where she lives.  The Shepherd agrees. He gives her two unwelcome traveling companions: Sorrow and Suffering. Because she is crippled, she must trust them and let them help her through the rocky valleys and precipices in the mountains.

As she travels the difficult paths, she frequently faces crises of faith. At those moments, she cries out to the Shepherd. He offers wisdom and love to help her endure the struggles. She faces consistent disappointment over the paths chosen by her Shepherd and guides. At those pivotal intersections, she must make an altar and sacrifice her expectations—usually with a broken and contrite heart. The offerings are consumed in fire and become beautiful stones. With each sacrifice, she matures. With each surrender, she grabs onto the hands of Sorrow and Suffering a little more firmly.

Today I went to the nursing home to visit my mom. She didn’t speak for a long time; the conversation is always one-way. As I fed her (she can no longer feed herself), she began to respond a little to me. “Yes,” she said, as I asked her if she liked the potatoes. She smiled, too, when I fumed about the bad language on “Bridezillas” and found another station to watch instead. I am grateful for every small thing with her. I stared at her as she fell asleep, and I wondered how God gets glory from this. Yet he does, somehow. How God blends his sovereign purposes (which I don’t always like) with his infinite mercy and love is a mystery I can’t comprehend. I know it’s true, and I will try to rest in the unknown wonder of it all, but trusting is difficult when life brings sorrow or suffering.

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

Like Much-Afraid, I place things on the altar. Today I place my happiness, her health and a sense of “normalcy” in our relationship on the altar. I give thanks for the small things, and I attempt to rest in his sovereign purposes and love. And like many paths we plan for ourselves, this is one he has altered for his glory. I take the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and walk the path in front of me. This is the road he has selected for my mother and my family. This is not a journey I would have chosen; it is not one she, my family, or I expected, either. But God intends to get glory from it, and he will. Somehow.

It is, after all, an altared course.

 

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