The Gentle Stream of Grace

I used to work so hard at my faith.
That is not a value judgment, just a statement of fact. Not sure that it could be otherwise, given the set of circumstances that made up “me” at the beginning of my personal walk with God. It didn’t need to be quite as hard as I made it, though.

Today, I am aware of how much that has changed, and how I seem to be flowing in an almost effortless stream of Grace. Maybe this is how the accumulation of choices begins to look, like a growing force of a stream that carries us further than our own efforts could manage.

A reverse of the warning in Proverbs:

Proverbs 6:9-11

9 How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.

I have experienced that side of it, too, in the power of accumulated choices.

Perhaps, some of the ease comes from having settled, once and for all, some of the questions, and some of the terms of life.

I am realizing the line between what I can hope to change and what I cannot, and it has reduced much of the struggle that made life so hard.

I wonder how much age has to do with it. Age requires that you realize your own limitations, and makes one quicker to let go and “Let God”, which is experienced as ‘Grace’. Until you let go of your own trust in your willpower and ability, you can’t experience the power of something else.

Too often we labor at hand grubbing at life problems, when the power tiller of prayer could do the job in less than a fraction of the time.

I doubt that all of life can be experienced as a gentle ride in a beautiful stream on a lovely day. But this is what I found out: some of it can.

I see why the parable of the Sower was so basic to understanding things about God and how His Kingdom works. He set the understanding within the life of a seed.

  • We are important – in distributing seed, and in helping to create conditions for its germination.
  • We are limited in both those actions.
  • God sends the rain, but we can help to water between times.
  • We watch for weeds, we nurture along.
  • We have no power over the life in the seed.
  • We have no power over the conditions of the weather.
  • We have no power over the growing process, we can only provide supplements and hope for the best.
  • We can give thanks when it completes its cycle.

The stream of Grace is a bit like the well prepared garden bed. It is a good environment for the progression forward.

A state of readiness.

There is a time to rest and a time to work, the balance between the two is one of the pearls of wisdom in this life.

I love pearls. And now appreciate gentle streams.

Christian Culture

For some reason I have been looking at the culture that for many years I simply took for granted. Christian culture as it has taken on its form from American Church. Much of it I have to admit to not really liking. This is not an expose, or a critical essay, not at all. I love the meetings and the worship, the instruments and singing, I love a good sermon. But there is a lot of hype and flash, and a false front that goes along with it in our culture, as well. I want to see that replaced… not on a large wholesale scale,but on the local level, as groups of like-minded individuals meet together and prioritize the love and honor that is meant to be woven into the fabric of the koinonia “communion by intimate participation” meeting of sincere believers in Christ.

No local churches in mind, these thoughts were mostly inspired by the inability to watch more than a little of some Christian TV lately… and simply thinking about what is endemic to many of the types of churches that I attend. Christianity in its foundational aspects is beautiful. The encrustations of some of the worst things we humans have done to it need to come off. I think that best describes the thing I’d like to say here.

The Hollywood look cast aside, the toothy smile of the salesmen turned off, replaced with sincerity, reality, humility.

That is what I want to aim for living, encouraging and cultivating in my culture and relationships. I often see a conflict between values and traditions internally, but I truly want the sincere form to come to the fore and the hyper materialistic and self promoting one to fade into the vapor.

It’s All God Stuff

People love, and need, to compartmentalize their time, interests, and efforts. It is how we make sense of things. But sometimes the compartments disguise reality, or the true nature of things. Take the way we schedule ourselves. I’m the worst when it comes to this… there is homeschool, housework,yard, computer, church…. stuff. Sometimes one gets the lionshare of whatever resource I can throw at it, only to be pushed out of the way by nagging (sometimes screaming) demands to take care of something else. Somewhere in there I try to fit priorities on the God, others, and me levels. I have to confess I don’t believe I’ve done a very good job at parceling out myself with all these compartments and priorities.

But one thing that is finally getting through to me is that it is all “God stuff”. That everything in my life does matter to God, and that I … and everything about me… belongs to God. Because I made that decision some thirty or more years ago. I decided to trade the shamble of my life and personality for the life of God’s choosing. Even though I still managed to make a shamble of much of that! Yet, it isn’t too late to turn the day, and every day over to God for His call on all this stuff of life, first. First, before I take over and filter it and layer it, to ask the Father God what He has in mind for me, today. To stop arguing with Him, stop defining who I am, stop wrestling with what I want and how I am going to get it. And find out what the Father wants today.

That is how Jesus lived.

It both places the trivial in perspective, and lifts up the overlooked important details. In this, size does not matter. Sometimes our big, important goals are trivial in the eternal view, and sometimes our overlooked details are things that make all the difference. so how are we to know? How to discern the important from the waste of time? Let God have all the stuff, it belongs to Him anyway… and let His spirit, His words, and His principles apply to the day, and the schedules… and the goals.

Why should I be so harried about whether something gets done or whether I receive notice, or an number of things that fuel my efforts? Instead my focus on my relationship with the Father God, with the image of Christ in others, and in each task giving glory to God is going to insure proper attention to relationship which is always most important for humankind. And it will give the attempt at excellence to be given to those things of most value.

This type of thought process always returns my memory to a little tome I read so long ago, ‘Practicing the Presence of God‘ by Brother Lawrence. we can find God throughout all of our day, if we will practice looking for Him and recognizing Him.

It is a simple thing really, to recognize that it is all God stuff.

Lovely Poem- Under The Stars

Under the Stars
by Joanna Muses

Leave behind the city lights
Sit under a billion stars
A million galaxies spin above our heads

Under the stars we are small
Tiny people on a tiny planet
In our own little corner of this galaxy
And yet grace has come
Love has come
To us

Ancient constellations above our heads
Solar systems become a speck
Shooting stars come falling down

How deep the universe
How deep his love for us
How far the stars
How far has he removed our sins from us

Clear Direction > Home

I wrote recently on the Woman’s Bible Study that I have started to attend for the summer. You also might remember that I am in fellowship in a new church plant (read: small church). One thing that happens in a small, new church is the search for direction in the vision and the emphasis of the message and activities. It starts out in a certain place, but the dynamics of people, circumstances, and unseen factors creates change and focus. Sometimes it is choppy, sometimes it builds in momentum, but whenever changes and moves are at work, patterns often emerge. Right now, there is a pattern I see, not only for myself, but in a larger perspective.

Years back, in fact not just once, but several times, there was a momentum of sentiment and decision to move “homeward”. There was at one time even a catch phrase for this: Cocooning. That had to do with an attempt to recenter activity and a reaction to the economy of the time. Sometimes we are forced to center on our homelife when our finances are tight. But apart from the economy at this time, there is a supernatural move that I intuit.
A sense of “home” in building closer relationship, and moving closer together as a group. It is in an overall sense: closer intimacy with the Lord, closer vulnerability and transparency as Believers- in both personal and public ways; closer relationships that demand a real effort at resolving conflict.

I’m finding that when we respond half-heartedly, perhaps as we were used to in the past, the cards quickly tumble: there are no houses of cards in this new direction towards home. It is apparent to me that the older societal move that resulted in “being home alone” has further refined to a new recognition of our interdependency and emotional need of the “other”.

How does this relate to my time spent in a Woman’s Bible Study? It is no longer only what I get out of it, whether in new insights or camaraderie. It is how we move together, closing the spaces between us that make our interactions artificial. It is how we interrelate in meeting needs of our own, each other, our family, our fellowship…. and creating something new for the community outside our own to interact with. Sort of social networking in a Real Life sense. Maybe I can get some insights in how social networking is changing our online emphasis for clues on how this works as we bring it into our physical lives and relationships. Where it is more about building relationship than a top down “talking to”… becoming a “talk with” conversation. More about who we are, than who I am.

Maybe this is necessary to break down the stereotyping, the mistakes of the past, and the ineffectual way we have gotten used to living with each other. For me personally, I have two main goals for my time spent in the study: one is to help my daughters grow in their Christian walk as we attend it together, another is to move the spaces between myself (mostly made by me) and other women to more closely live intersected lives. I can’t foretell how successful this will be, only that this is a needed direction. Going home with a purpose and an open heart.

Can young women get a sense of who they are as women without some modeling in a social sense? That is, can we as women in the mature generation continue to be disconnected and “finding ourselves”, and expect to relay anything but the most garbled communication of what it means to be a woman?

I need to catch up now on doing the lesson in the Esther study book…. later, friends. If I get more clarity you will be the first to hear. On the meantime, anyone have thoughts on this… or is there something you discern in the patterns you see surfacing around you? Love to hear about it.

My Life Landmarks Now

Today is a day of prayer for me. I have reentered the reformation of my life by setting up a specific day of prayer for myself and other women on the second Tuesday of the Month. This has been a long time coming.

I tried about five years ago to establish this sort of community prayer time with friends. I felt the need for it and attempted to be as creative and diligent as possible in sending out postcards, a short reminder letter, and attending to making tea each month at the designated time. It fell flat at that time, so I neatly folded it up and put it aside while my father and mother’s needs expanded to fill all my time. The dream and vision faded into the nether, as did intercessory time and spiritual confidence.

Late last year, I awakened to a renewed call, one that I answered somewhat groggily considering the urgency that my life realities seemed to create. But I started anew to establish a community prayer time for women who also wanted to pray for their families and each other. This time I have found like minds and hearts, and I can’t tell you how good that feels. I have found a home in this activity that is unlike others. It feels safe and loving to be with women who just want to pray for what is important to them. It is decidedly and deliberately restricted to a small vision. There are no imaginations of large ministry or taking it “to the people”. There is this small place for like minds, for a set of goals that meet the needs of this time.

Tuesdays have become my family day of prayer, and they have sometimes been my day to wade back into the practice of fasting. Tuesdays are landmarks in my sometimes vague sense of time and of purpose.

This time I send out emails to a few people, I have occasionally used facebook events, and my church, a tiny church plant, has put it in the announcements. We have experienced the gossamer touch of God’s loving hand at times and I have been buoyed by the answers that we receive. I’m thankful for those who join me in hand and heart to become something I would call being “more consistently virtuous” . The mystery is why God insists on working through community of Believers. I can’t explain why, but I can observe how.

I am not set on specific days, but I know we benefit from landmarks in time. Times of prayer, times of fasting, times to feast and gather together for holidays, …. all sorts of communal ways to recognize significance and meaning.

In some ways it produces a dim understanding of why God set such high significance on the Sabbath, that meeting time with Him, that special set landmark in time when we meet together away from the blank landscape of earthly struggles. A day of resting in relationship and drinking deeply of care and love for each other. I think I am seeing the light. Just a bit.

Life, Death, and Blogging

So much happens. we live our lives and take little time to reflect oftentimes, until some event sort of wakes us up and tells us that time is indeed passing on in continuum. Life events as milestones along the path of living.

“Are we there, yet?”

I visited my grandchildren, then came home to and promptly attended a friends funeral. She died much too young, at 55, after a difficult life. And, now, here I am blogging about it all. Wondering , “how does life pass by so quickly?” where do all the plans go, and the dreams … I often think of the Burn’s poem, ‘To A Mouse’:”The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley”

…as I watch my children wrestle with what I did at their age, and the grandchildren starting their lives like a fresh clean slate awaiting the marks of their choices and circumstance.

The preacher said it best:

Ecclesiastes 11:8
However many years a man may live,
let him enjoy them all.
But let him remember the days of darkness,
for they will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.

9 Be happy, young man, while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you to judgment.
Ecclesiastes 12:13
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.

14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

So, now I am back to my home, blogging about the thoughts on my mind at the moment.

How predictable human beings are in some ways, but just when you think you have it all figured out …how very unpredictable it all becomes. We do pass through phases. The phase of youth that knows so little of mortality, the reflections later in life when we all in surprised tones remark how quickly time has passed and how soon we reached the stages of the sunset of life… these things are universally predictable. Why are we so surprised?

“Are we there, yet?”

Some of us are closer to the destination than we think.

Lenten Review

This year I observed Lent. It isn’t something I do every year, but I wanted to emphasize something to myself, and in my life, that the observance of Lent is particularly conducive to: the diminishing of self-life in respect to the cross. The cross ought, in and of itself, stir up this remembrance within us, but maybe for reasons proffered in the Post Modern Easter post, but we left out many of the sacrificial parts of what the cross means.

Every time we see a cross it ought to shout to us of death of self, of suffering for righteousness, of mortifying this flesh… that is, putting an end to the domination of life by our selfish desires and motives. But like the well-known story of many of today’s soldiers we retort:”But I didn’t sign up for war, I didn’t expect to be asked to put my life on the frontline of the battlefield”. Not every solder, and not every Christian is so unaware of what it is we are signing up for… but I am afraid the PR men have done their job too well. It isn’t all about “seeing the world, and getting free education” and “prosperity and abundance” although some of it truly is… just not apart from our own commitment.

This year the Lenten season held a specific day of prayer along with fasting. It showed me two important things in that alone: this is a very effectual pairing of actions, and that I don’t do near enough of this in my life. It exposed, within, areas of unbelief; it exposed, from without, the determination of the spiritual enemy to maintain his strongholds. It has underlined for me the absolute need I have for God’s help and mercy. How deviously my own soul would boast of its own resources! Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of an abyss. In terms of dealing with our own difficulties or the challenges of evil in the world… if we are on our own then certainly Nietzsche spoke aright, we do become our own worst monster. But in dismissing God’s reality and willingness to intervene in our despairing circumstance, such ideas are all wrong. Lenten season encouraged me to look more at God, at what Christ has truly accomplished, quite apart from proving anything to me.

So often, as I think is quite common, prayers are linked with proofs. Those proofs are contained further inside our own arbitrary timeframe. At which point do we give up faith? At which point do we say, “God isn’t answering” ? In what way can we possibly ascertain that, except in the most simple and elementary things? And even in those, if we order God around “Do thus and so by this time”… how do we not try to become “god” ourselves? The circumscribed time of the Lent season showed me how short my own faith reaches, that as I moved on towards Easter I became weary, faith became more of a struggle. “What good are these efforts?” “Why should this even matter to God?” And then I would be ashamed that I had so little patience with God, and so many expectations and demands that insisted on recognition.

These were very good things to become aware of, as they are insidious underminings of confidence and faith. I was reminded of the scripture passage:

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me. -Psalm 56:8,9

I was brought also to this one:

Mark 9:24
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

feeling that I knew now how that father felt… how coming to the barrier to one’s faith – all that can be done is cry for help to believe. We look so carefully upon the problem, and for so long, that that is more real to us than the salvation.
God help us that we do not stay there…. but that we move on to the Easter joy and triumph.

The Post Modern Easter

I live in the midst of a post modern culture. A culture where it is all a matter of semantics and empty godwords. Churches whose dynamic is lost in endless meetings and weary social events. Where I suffered loss. so much loss… so much pain… so much confusion. The thing is, though, that I have not been left there. Somewhere, somehow, a resurrection has taken place and keeps taking place. As though the more I am killed the more alive I become, stripped clean… sometimes so much so that I seem and feel out of touch.

The more the losses batter, the more the hope in the unseen rises. I face things I thought no Christian, certainly no good Christian woman, should or would ever face. And in facing those things I come back to my earliest faith in Christ, the faith in prayer only, in the power of God only… and I hear the scoffing, the unintended scoffing, but the difference for me now is that I no longer try to explain, or interpret….

And I accidentally came upon the Easter of the postmodern world. No longer are linguistics, or doctrines argued enough for us. Maybe we just didn’t know they were never enough, in our world of TV evangelism and radio teaching and glossy magazines… reaching the lost vicariously… living our lives vicariously, instead of allowing Christ to live in us and we living in Him…vicariously. Now we are left with the resurrection either in us or not in us. Either it is Christ in us or it is nothing. We live by His power or we do not live. And suddenly, for me, the divertissements have fallen away like a far off dream. Now it is life blood that matters. Lost or Found? The finding of that soul… the soul finding life… the justification of blood, the reuniting of lost son with waiting Father… that is all that holds importance. That is it,

“I preached as never sure to preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691):
Love breathing Thank and Praise.”

Reality of prayer that connects with a real living God who is there. Is there. Man …stripped-down man in postmodernism is nothing more than passive aggressiveness at its height in expression. The nihilist naysayer who can only undermine “what is” and has nothing to aim for. Happy to stay there, but can’t… the need inside creating a great sucking vacuum of “want”. Wanting truth, wanting something for their nothing. But the preaching to that want can no longer be words without substance; it is now needed – as it always was necessary- to have the substance of the life filled with the reality of Christ. That is the testimony, the true witness. Living, breathing, praying, working, waiting, breaking, healing, pouring, gathering….Christ.

I don’t know why I couldn’t have just sailed through the Christian life to this point. With white wings and full blown sails…. except that maybe it was necessary to have the vessel be utterly broken, utterly and unalterably. Victory in Christ has a different face than we have given it. It isn’t rich and well-dressed. Not valued and highly spoken for. It isn’t smiling and happy go lucky, as winsome a picture as that presents.

It is broken, and viewed as failure, it is despised and hated, it is discarded as outmoded and forsaken. We turn our faces away, from even ourselves, and maybe especially ourselves.

And my church never told me so, although the Spirit always said this, and it was always written.
Philippians 3:10
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

Inside the suffering and death is the victory, the power, and resurrection life. And at some point the power overtakes the weakness, the joy outruns the sorrows, the life overcomes the death, and the light wins over the darkness.
Every time and for all eternity.

The New Year’s Prayer

I was reading briefly @ Mark Roberts blog today and the scripture verse grabbed me because I think that is where I am at in my questions with the Lord. Especially as I consider the path forward in 2009.

Isaiah 63:17

LORD, why have you allowed us to turn from your path?
Why have you given us stubborn hearts so we no longer fear you?
Return and help us, for we are your servants,
the tribes that are your special possession.

You see, I face some difficult situations with the life choices of some of my children. I am not a Christian success story, at this time anyway, with the outcomes of our family life. I know all the pat answers…some I used to give, and some I continually hear from many Christian corners.

There are times people avert their eyes from this painfulness, they turn in disappointment from a Christian who does not produce the expected success and exemplary outcomes.

This does not mean I cast aspersions on Christianity, or even upon fundamental doctrinal beliefs. If anything, I am more convinced than ever in the Truth of God in Christ Jesus. It is only that the path has proven harder and more complicated than I could ever have imagined it. Even though I knew ahead of time that it was, because the Lord Jesus did not sugarcoat the Truth. His life was not a sparkly candy spangled extravaganza, and His promises were immersed in the myrrh bitterness of suffering and sacrifice.

And so. I stand at the beginning of this year, and with Isaiah I ask: “Return and help us, for we are your servants”. Do it for your name sake, Lord. Turn my far away child back to you. Give courage to the one who flounders and each time is more deeply discouraged than before. Give true wealth to the one who finds this world’s god so easily. Give wisdom and direction to the one who listens so much to others and sometimes loses the true inner self. To us all give what your wisdom so graciously chooses for us, but by all means , and in all ways…turn us to yourself, and establish us in your love and life.

A portion of Mark’s prayer is also my own:

Today I pray for all who are suffering because of poor choices they have made. May they turn to you in humility, and may you reach out to them in your mercy. Help them, Lord! Amen.