Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 15 - Family Rules

Family Rules:

Keep your promises
Think of others before yourself
Say I love you
Listen to your parents
Do your best
Play fair
Say please and thank you
Always tell the truth
Laugh at yourself
Hug often
Use kind words
Love each other

Lists such as this one are quite the trend right now.  Why is that?  Is it strictly just for decorating or is there something at its core that makes us say, “Yes, I want my family to stand for something.”  Or do we want others to think that we stand for something but it’s only a wistful ideal?  

What is interesting to me is that there is a scripture to back up most every single one of these rules on all of the different signs I have seen.  One of my favorite scriptures whose truth I see everywhere I turn, and I see it in this, is, “That which has been is what will be.  That which is done is what will be done.  And there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’… it has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9,10   God established family rules that looked just like this list thousands of years ago. We put them all together on a cute distressed wooden sign and claim it “new”.

God formed us for His family. You were formed for God’s family. We must choose to be a part of His family, and if we do, there are “family rules”.  Not burdensome, ball and chain, unattainable kind of rules, but basic living rules.  Like, “Play fair”, “Always tell the truth”, “Share”, “Love each other”. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:14-15, “I’m writing …so you’ll know how to live in the family of God.  That family is the church of the living God.”   This means there is a “way”.  

Jesus lived and walked the “way”. He took our family rules to a whole new level when He basically cleared the slate and said it boils down to this one rule… “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34,35   The word used for “new” here means unused, fresh, novel…new in regard to form or quality. He was, in essence, saying, “Loving others is going to look different now.  It’s a fresh, new way. It is going to look like the way I treated you and what I did for you.”  Jesus loved by serving and placing the needs of others over his own.  If we are to love as Jesus loved, we need to know what his love looked like.  His love was sacrificial.  His love was unconditional.  His love was constant.  His love was self-sustaining…it ran on “auto pilot”.  It was the foundation of all that He did.  Everything He did was motivated by love, even every rebuke.  

As Rick Warren states in the first sentence in the book, What on Earth am I Here For,It’s not about you.” …It’s about the family.  Whatever we do personally affects the family.  Loving like Christ is a selfless, servant-minded, sacrificial love. Sacrificial?  A sacrifice is a destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.  Offering something precious. In other words, surrendering ourselves, which is a precious offering, for the sake of someone in the family.  Love sacrificially…and since families, and the family of God, can’t live as islands of collective individuals living unto themselves, there must be some basic rules to help us practice daily how to be more sacrificially minded, in order for everyone to live productive, fulfilling, and purposeful lives.

Warren says, “That Christ would command us to love indicates that it is not just a feeling or a preference….IT IS WHAT ONE DOES! IT IS HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS…a decision, a commitment, or a way of behaving.”  Truly loving others is a proactive decision we must make daily.  If we are in God’s family, we love.  When I was growing up in my family with my four siblings, my dad would often call family meetings.  We would all gather together in the living room and sit on the couch or on the floor and face our parents with eager ears, never quite knowing for what purpose the meeting had been called.  Sometimes they were held for encouragement, sometimes for rebuke, sometimes to express needs, sometimes to solve problems, sometimes to pray, sometimes to share, and sometimes to forgive.  When he was trying to impress upon us a certain character quality of which we were all falling short, he would say, “You are a Ray!  This is what Ray children do!”  It was not optional.  Because we were a part of the Ray family, we were expected to live to a certain standard. We had very clear family rules (and they weren’t hanging neatly on the wall!).  They were ingrained into our hearts by daily practice.  Yes, we continued to make mistakes, but always persevering to live in way that brought honor to one another, to our parents, and to our family as a whole.  God has set the standard for us through Christ….”You are a Christian.  This is what Christians do.”  It is not optional.  We love one another.

We could reword these family rules to help simplify them down to that one thing which Christ commanded:

If you love others, you will…

Keep your promises
Think of them before yourself
Say I love you
Do your best
Play fair
Say please and thank you
Always tell the truth
Laugh at yourself, because love is not prideful
Hug often
Use kind words

By this, all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  What do people know about you when they look at the rules by which you live? What does your love look like? Are your eyes straight ahead, proactively and deliberately choosing how you make each step, each action, each word count for the family? Are you preferring others? Family rule number one, number two, number three, number four, number five, number six, number seven,…Love one another.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 14 - The Midnight Hour

The midnight hour…it is dark, silent, and cold in the midnight hour.  The midnight hour can be lonely.  It can be frightening at times.  One can “hear” the silence more clearly in the midnight hour.  The midnight hour is the term that I gave to my journey on which I was forced to walk immediately following Michael’s death.  It seemed as if it would never go away.  I craved for the moment when I would feel the sun on my face again, the dawning of a new day. It was endless days of the midnight hour.  In the midnight hour, God was silent… present, but silent.

Even Jesus had to experience this feeling of being forsaken, a period of no communication with God, when he physically felt like he needed Him the most.

 When Michael died, I experienced “extreme separation”, which is the way I referred to the spiritual and physical separation from Michael, similar to what Jesus felt on the cross when God separated himself from him. I felt extreme separation from not only Michael, but from God at the same time.  They had both been my lifelines… and both felt as if they had been stripped away from me simultaneously.  Michael was physically gone.  There could be no more communication.  With God, He was present, but not saying a word.   

A friend of mine wrote me during those early months and stated how Jesus experienced that extreme separation while He hung dying on the cross.  He wrote, “He felt it acutely when He was pouring out His life and His blood on the cross for our sins.  At that point and time, the Father had to leave Him, separated from everyone and everything on the cross so the sacrifice would be complete.  He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’  There was no reply from heaven.” After losing Michael, there were so many months of feeling completely numb that I had absolutely nothing to say to God.  During my time alone in my bedroom, which is where I could pull away from people and escape to grieve or be silent, there was always a painful silence. It was as if a vacuum had sucked every last bit of noise out of my room.  I felt like it was God and I, just sitting there in utter silence.  I knew that God was still the same, but my circumstances had changed and the way we communicated changed.  I didn’t feel like He had gone or had left me behind, but I felt like I was in the “there was no reply from heaven” stage.  And the silence was deafening.

It is similar to the times when you are sitting next to a best friend or your spouse, and you can sit comfortably in silence because of the love and understanding between the two of you.  Sometimes there are no words needed or no words that can be said.  Some of the best comfort I received from friends during those beginning days of grieving was a loving embrace and a knowing look into the eyes that said, “I love you, I am hurting too.  I am here for you”, but it was all unspoken.   I had always enjoyed a two- way conversation with God.  I would talk to Him, and if I took time to listen to Him, He would talk to me. During this beginning time of the midnight hour,  I felt like we were sitting quietly next to each other without speaking a word.  What could be said?  What comfort could words bring?   I felt Him with me in spite of the silence. I felt the silent comfort.  I felt the silent understanding.  I didn’t hear answers or advice.  I knew He was hurting for me and loving me, but there was no reply from heaven, and, quite frankly, I was not speaking much either.  

I sat in silence a lot in my bedroom and would wonder, ‘Should I say something more to Him?’, but there was nothing…. so we sat in silence together.  I was listening every waking hour.  The silence did not mean we were absent from one another.  It was a loss for words.

How did I focus on God’s presence when He felt so distant?  I thanked Him. I told Him the only thing I felt.  No whistles and bells.  No quoting scriptures. No pleas for anything.  Not even praising.  I did not even have a beginning to my words spoken to Him, or an official “amen” to the barely audible words that I could get out of my mouth.  All I could say was “thank you” for the littlest thing that I could drum up in my heart.  I remember one night, in the true midnight hour, I spoke to Him for the first time.  I whispered, “Thank you,” and then could not speak another word as the tears silently rolled onto my pillow.  I would begin to thank Him for carrying me through each day, and then again for carrying me through each night.  I would thank Him for the life He had given me up to this point. I did have much for which I could be thankful, but beyond that, I just did not know what to say to Him.  Rick Warren states, “The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God…. God removes our feelings so we won’t depend on them.”  He goes on to say, “It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith.”   All of my feelings had been completely removed.  There was no “experiencing God”.  I learned that He was present even if it did not feel like it…even in the complete silence.

Millions of people have gone before me in their experience with the midnight hour.  God called David, “a man after my own heart” and was considered close friends of God’s and yet look at his cries in the midnight hour.  

Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?” 
Psalm 10:1

“Why have you forsaken me?  Why do you remain so distant?  Why do you ignore my cries for help?” Psalm 22:1

“Why have you abandoned me?” Psalm 43:2(And many other places...which means he felt it more than once!)

After two years of feeling like I was living in the midnight hour, the silencing fog began to lift.  First there was the valley of the shadow of death, then there were more valleys of a different kind with fog and obstacles, then there were really long nights, the true midnight hours.  Finally, there was dawn. I was desperately ready for the light of day.  It wasn’t until after I began to call my time of silence with the Lord the “midnight hours”, that I learned there were others who had given it similar names.  St. John of the Cross referred to these days of dryness, doubt, and estrangement from God as “the dark night of the soul”.  Henri Nouwen called them  ‘the ministry of absence’.  A.W. Tozer them “the ministry of the night.”  

Without anyone knowing that I had begun to call my time of silence “the midnight hours”, God miraculously spoke through several friends of mine to encourage me to keep my eyes straight ahead.  All of these friends were in different parts of the country; none of them knew each other, and some of them I had not spoken to in years.  These messages came in texts, Facebook messages, emails, or in person.  God consistently spoke the same encouragement. The silence was breaking. I want to share these with you because I want all to see how great our God is.  He knew that I had grown extremely weary, the battle had sapped my strength, and my courage was waning.  

The storm is over and a rainbow is there for you to enjoy.  The sun is beginning to shine for the light of day is upon you.  The seeds will yield a great harvest and His angels are watching over you to protect you and bring you all that you need.”

You are crossing over. Joshua 1:1-9 says, ‘After the death of Moses, the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead.  Get going.  Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people.  Cross to the country I’m giving to the people of Israel.  I ‘m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on ...It’s all yours.  All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you.  In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you.  I won’t give up on you.  I won’t leave you.  Strength!  Courage!  You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give to their ancestors.  Give it everything you have, heart and soul.  Make sure you carry out the revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it.  Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going.  And don’t for a minute let this revelation be out of your mind.  Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it.  Then you’ll get to where you’re going, then you’ll succeed.  Haven’t I commanded you?  Strength!  Courage!  Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged.  God, your God, is with you every step you take.”

Every new day begins in total darkness. Well intentioned people have been shining artificial light into your darkness, trying to speed your way out of the darkness because they do not like seeing you in pain, it's not wrong, merely misplaced. God will bring his dawn in His timing and a new day according to nature, and its good timing. The people on the ark were told to do nothing but hang on to the boat and ride out the storm. To my knowledge the boat did not have a rudder. They were completely in God's mercy and grace and could no more speed or affect their destiny than the animals on board—in summary, they were passengers... I wanted to allow God to affirm and encourage you in your quest out of the darkness of these days.”

"When you experience suffering in your discipleship journey, the paradigm is...why me?
But then the paradigm shifts, me?  From burden to honor.”

You are a jewel and God Has Not Forgotten YOU.... His unfailing love keeps you even in the midnight hours.”

I was speechless with all of them, especially the last one.  “His unfailing love keeps me even in the midnight hours.” Even when I am scared.  Even when it is dark.  Even when I am cold and lonely.  Even when we are not speaking to one another.  Even when the silence is deafening. 

The Lord has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.” Isaiah 8:17  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 13 - Authentic Worship

I admit it.  I sinned right in the middle of a church service. Sometimes, jealousy would creep into my thoughts, as I would watch my husband worship God in a way that clearly pleased Him. (If I wasn’t jealous, I was proud.)  Many times, when he would sing a solo in church, I would stand or sit there and think to myself,  I wish I could worship God like that. He is SO present to God.  He looks captured by Him. At the same time, it always pulled me into a worshipful place where I would feel humbled with the awesomeness of God.  He was acting out Mark 12:30…”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” When Michael worshipped God in song, he was doing it with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

I found myself comparing the way I worshipped to the way he worshipped.  Hebrews 12:28 says, “Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please Him.”  A way… this means that there is a way that pleases God and there is more than one way.  I know that I am not alone in having thought that worshipping in song is the main way we can worship, so as to please God.  What I read in Day 13 not only opened my eyes, but lifted a burden I had unknowingly been carrying that told me I may have somehow not been present the day when God was handing out the gift of worship.  Today I realized that I can, and do, worship God in a way that pleases Him, but it is in a way that is authentic to me.

Rick Warren says, “The best style of worship is one that most authentically represents your love for God, based on the background and personality God gave you.”  Gary Thomas, who wrote Sacred Pathways, said, “Many Christians seem stuck in a worship rut – an unsatisfying routine – instead of a vibrant friendship with God, because they force themselves to use devotional methods or worship styles that don’t fit the way God uniquely shaped them…. If God intentionally made everyone different, why should everyone be expected to love God in the same way?...Christians have used many different paths for over 2,000 years to enjoy intimacy with God: being outdoors, studying, singing, reading, dancing, creating art, serving others, having solitude, enjoying fellowship, and in a dozen other activities.”  Different people enjoy intimacy with God in different ways.  Because I understand Gary Chapman’s study in his book The Five Love Languages, I also now understand this in view of loving God.  

Chapman explains that we are all wired to best receive or feel love (and express love) in five different ways: through physical touch, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and through gifts.  If we are created in God’s image, then it pleases Him to be worshipped (loved) in these five different ways.  Michael’s “love language” was words of affirmation…. This explains why his words, his songs of affirming his love for God through worship with song, brought such clear pleasure to God and fulfillment to Michael.  It was not only his natural way of receiving love but also his natural way of expressing love.  He was authentically himself while worshipping God in song.  He used to tell me, “Babe, if your love language was word’s of affirmation, I’d be set!” 

My love language is mainly quality time. (I say mainly because it is never just one, there are combinations. My second one is acts of service.) I did not fully grasp how this fits into my way of worship until after I started writing this post!  I may not worship God in song in church in the manner that Michael did, but I spend some serious, concentrated, quality time (as well as quantity) with God every day.  I worship Him with my time… in solitude and simplicity, face to face, looking each other straight into the eyes… and now I realize that this is how I best worship and it pleases God!  It is authentic worship.  I worship God as I enjoy nature.  I worship God with my mind during my quality time of quiet study of His word and quality time of trying to listen to His voice.  I socialize and love others best in one on one situations, and I worship God best, and feel most authentic, while I am spending one on one time with Him.  

This revelation is so freeing to me!  I feel like dashing outside and rolling in the grass like a happy puppy!  I feel like shouting my favorite line from the movie Elf, as Buddy shouts, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!”  I love God, I love God, and I don’t care who knows it!  I love spending quality time with my creator, my redeemer, my strength, my source, my healer, my provider, the “lifter of my head”…and this “way” of worshipping Him pleases Him, because it is the unique way He created me!  Thank you God, for making me “me”.

With eyes straight ahead, I will not look to the left or to the right, comparing myself to others, but I will be present in the moment and rejoice in how God created me and I will take pleasure in being my authentic self as I worship my Creator.

"That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship."John 4:23

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 12 - Honesty

What’s wrong?”, she asked. 

 “Nothing.”, he responded flatly.  

You’re lying.  You have been a little grumpy all morning.  Something is the matter.”, she pressed.  
There is nothing the matter!  Why do you always think something is wrong just because I am quiet?”, he said as his emotional meter rose.

Because I know you.”, she quickly answered.

You always get mad at me when I say nothing is wrong!”, he said, now with greater volume.

She interjected passionately, “It’s because I just want you to be honest with me!  If you know you are grumpy but don’t know why, then just say, ‘I don’t know why I’m grumpy’, but don’t tell me nothing is wrong…it’s something, and it hurts my feelings when you won’t just be honest with me…and yourself!” 

I know this sounds familiar.  We have all been there before with a close friend, a family member, a child, or a spouse.  Everyone wants honesty…even if the answer is, “Yes, I agree I am grumpy but I don’t know why.”  Honesty builds intimacy.  Honesty builds trust.  Honesty breaks down walls.  Honesty makes us vulnerable.  Honesty causes us to face something we might otherwise prefer to avoid.   Honesty is a quality that we assume will follow any close relationship, and when it does not, it causes a deep wound.  In What on Earth am I Here For, Rick Warren states, “Genuine friendship is built on disclosure.”  We all want authenticity…and so does God.

If we want to build a relationship with God, a friendship with Him, then we must choose to be honest with Him when we talk to Him.  He desires our honesty just like we desire it in our earthly relationships.  Warren says, “In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator.  God, however, didn’t seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.”  He goes on to give multiple examples of this, like Abraham challenging Him about the destruction of Sodom, or David accusing God of betrayal, abandonment, or unfairness, or Job venting about his ordeal, or Moses speaking candidly about their time of wandering in the desert.  He goes on to say, “To instruct us in candid honesty, God gave us the book of Psalms – a worship manual, full of ranting, raving, doubts, fears, resentments, and deep passions combined with thanksgiving, praise, and statements of faith…. You can pray like David, ‘I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles for I am overwhelmed.’” All too often, we sugar coat our prayers and act like nothing is wrong… as if He does not know the real story! Why do we do this?  He knows us and he simply wants us to be honest.

One of the reasons we choose not to be honest in our relationship with God ,and with others, is that we forget the following scripture, and then we lose the balance between believing God for a better situation and admitting, sharing, expressing, or even complaining like David did about the reality of the situation. “Share your burdens with one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2…it is assumed here that we all have burdens and we are commanded to share them, not deny they exist.  We are all guilty of walking around saying, “I’m fine!  I’m good!”, when that is far from the truth.  We don’t want to complain, or listen to complaining, all of the time, but at the same time, we don’t want to hear sugar coated answers all of time concerning situations when your heart is bursting with the need to pour itself out at His feet or someone else’s.  Be real with God and be real with one another.  It will refresh us and lift the weight…. this is why its called a burden! 

After being reminded how God’s friends in the Bible did not hold back anything from Him and shared their doubts, fears, and heartaches, I realized that I am guilty of not being completely honest in my conversations with God.  When I choose not to be honest with God, I am, at the same time, choosing not to be honest with myself.  This is what my conversation with God could look like if I were to lay it all out there….

Lord!  I am so tired!  I am tired of this road you have me traveling!  When will things be all good again?  When?  Why can’t things happen faster?  I don’t know how much more of this I can handle?  You must see something in me that I don’t see in myself.  Who am I to have to walk this road?  God why the long wait? It may not be long to you but it feels like an eternity to me.  I obeyed you and moved my family to someplace where I didn’t’ know anyone…. can you move a little faster? “ 

In my blog post from March 2011, entitled “And Yet,” I showed how David was able to lay it all out there to God, and yet still speak of his trust and faith in God.  The winning combination…be honest and yet acknowledge that He is able.

Psalm 6:6-9 reads, "I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with tears.  My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies.  Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity." (Here comes another 'and yet' or 'but God'.)  " For the Lord(and yet He) has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord has heard my supplication."  David says it again in Psalm 22:14 & 15, 19, "I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd.  And my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.... But you, O lord, do not be far from me; O my strength, hasten to help me!" David feels all of these emotions but he knows he can look to God and say,"Here I am Lord... dried up, a wreck, lost, miserable, and feeling so heavy my bones can barely carry me.  But I turn to You, because I know You are able, and in spite how I may be feeling, You are still there."

This is all acceptable.  It’s honesty.  It’s what God wants from us.  If we are keeping our eyes straight ahead and our eyelids right before us, we must be honest with what we see…”The road is pitch black, Lord, and I’m cold, tired, and I feel all alone.  All I can see is my feet and it really frightens me and yet I trust You.  I know you will keep me under your wings of protection.