Monday, April 17, 2017

My Birth Day Ushers

Ushers are important. I've seen a few Broadway productions in my life. I've been the late arrival, and I've been the one already seated and enjoying the play when a late-arrival came. The ushers are always well-trained in the art of getting guests into the show without detracting from the stage. They also are well-acquainted with the room. They've walked it inch-by-inch many times. When you follow an usher they give you confidence in the darkened room simply by having their own knowledge to point navigation of steps out to you. They share the light of their torch with you. And I can't leave out the fact that they have authority to quiet an unruly patron. Their presence cultivates class, confidence, and authority. 

I was ushered into this life by some pretty extraordinary people. They made God the central focus at my late arrival. They gave my mother confidence. It shouldn't surprise anybody involved in my life, who know that I am perpetually tardy. I  was actually born late!

As a woman in a family FULL of (mostly) non-doctor assisted births, I can tell you that a baby just comes! My mother had all four of her children at home. My sister-in-law had two in a home-birth center, one in a moving car, and one in a hospital. My sister has birthed two babies at home. I'm the only one in my immediate family to have had both children under the most medical care possible, via caesarean delivery. But that's because (I refer to my opening statement) a baby just comes! The midwives and doctor were concerned about a large, benign tumor, and they knew if they didn't TAKE the babies, they'd "just come," endangering both our lives. 

But on this seventeenth day of April, my birthday, I want to tell you about my own birth. To imagine a birth with such a preparation of environment as my mother had birthing me is mind-boggling, to say the least. But, for me it's more than my mom's idyllic birthing situation. The story of my birth, of The Ushers bringing me from God's knitting-room into this life, have been a constant reminder in my life that the presence of good people make me good. For though I am loved by so many people around the world, I am not loveable. And though I am appreciated by so many, I am not worthy of appreciation. I'm not merely being self-pejorative. I'm pointing out that the reality is that the core of what people appreciate in me is actually who I've been influenced by. I'm not special. The people surrounding me are special. The people who've imprinted themselves on my life have been special.

This thinking causes me to take a jaunt off the path of telling you about the people and circumstance at my birth and remind that as a parent, YOU must control who imprints your offspring. And as an independent, functioning  adult, YOU control who presently imprints themselves on you. Be the good imprints on others' lives. I saw a Tweet the other day by KidPresident that I love; "Be like cheese and bacon... make everything you touch better!" 

My parents were masterful at this task. From sleepovers (almost non-existent in my life) to where I went to school, to who's house I went over, to who came over. They let me choose my friends, but they made it incredibly inconvenient to cultivate a friendship that took me off the path of godliness and ministry. Their naive, innocent children were never their bait for soul-winning, or life-saving. They were constantly offering hope and rescue to drug-addicts, the indigent, sometimes parentless teens (just to name a few of the situations a pastor is driven to help.) But they managed to do so without allowing people who had not yet learned to live excellently to imprint themselves on us, their children. Be ever vigilant who influences yourself and your offspring! 

And now I've found my way back to the original path of my birth story...

Let's start by looking at my first Usher into life; my mother. Such a unique lady! You always hear Naomi Louise Varnum before you see her. She's either laughing, or telling an uproarious story. Or, if in a church service, whistling (Yes. Whistling. The likes of those at sporting events.) Or you'll hear a boisterous, "Amen!" She's spontaneous, a soul winner, a prayer warrior. On another topic, she's a money-making machine! When I was a kid she bred Poodles. When I was a pre-teen she bought, refurbished, and sold antiques. In my adult years I've watched her buy and sell homes. I happen to know the woman in Proverbs thirty-one is doable, because she's my mom!

The second Usher of importance at my birth was my Grandmother, Nellie Mae Butler. Nellie Butler was the complete opposite of mom. But she accomplished so many of the same things as my mom. She also was an intercessor and prayer warrior. She also was a soul-winner. She also was exuberant in church services. But, she was just incredibly quiet in the act! (My mom obviously has her dad's personality.) Grandma Butler certainly conveyed to my mother that regardless of one's approach or personality, prayer, soulwinning, and worship were the goals. My grandmother had birthed fourteen children. She knew by experience that a baby just comes. When she was invited by my mother to be a part of my birth, she was purposeful in creating a spiritual environment. (Keep in mind how "special" my birth must have been to this mother of fourteen, and grandmother of more than fifty. I was by no means that "special first" grandchild. I was somewhere after the TWENTIETH grand!) But create a spiritual environment was exactly what she did! When I was not born on the predicted due date, she declared on April first that she would fast until the baby was born. She fasted for seventeen days. When my mother's water broke she headed straight to the kitchen and whipped up a feast! But what an environment for me to be ushered into! 

The third Usher at my birth was the midwife herself, Ethel Daniel. I grew up calling her, "Sister Daniel." She was a powerful woman of God. She wrote several books chronicling the miracles she has experienced by the hand of Almighty God. She and her husband, Noel Daniel, stood on street corners of small towns and large cities, preaching and singing, while Sister Daniel strummed her guitar. (Now proudly owned by my mother!) Sister Daniel happened to be the midwife for all but one of my mother's childbirths. And for each of us born, God gave her a dream or word of prophecy. It wasn't that the dreams or prophecies were world-shattering. But she was purposeful about creating an environment of faith, where the Spirit of God could be involved in an occurance that was in reality just coming. Oh, what an Usher!

The last Usher was my dad. He was definitely the wisdom of this operation. I can't imagine what weight was on his shoulders as he waited for what nature dictated was just coming; He was only nineteen years old! The nearest hospital was thirty miles away. I can't imagine what all was in my dad's mind as he experienced his first child's birth in his run-down, little parsonage. In an era where in the hospitals fathers weren't allowed to be with the mother in labor. To-be dad's were confined to a waiting room down the hall in those days. But there was my dad, at my mom's side! He witnessed the full enchilada! He had the strength to hold the fort in a house FULL of confident women. This young man had been married to my mother for a mere ten months! I'm so grateful he had the discernment to let my mother create the ambiance for her own childbirth experience. And what a good thing too, because the midwife couldn't make it for the birth of my baby sister, Lacey. Because he had witnessed three previous home childbirths, HE delivered Lacey! The wisdom in this man who Ushered me into this world just staggers my mind!

He experienced a lot of intercessory prayer during labor pangs and breathing. He contributed his own prayer and tongue-talking! When I was born into this world, I was surrounded by an all-out Holy Ghost and fire prayer meeting! 

I've received so many kind regards on this, my forty-fourth birthday. Such generous love and accolades have been given me. But, I'm not special. The people surrounding me are special, which in turn merely makes me look good!

Proverbs 13:20 (KJV) 

20 He that walketh with wise [men] shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why Old Songs Are Important

Emotions are important in our worship experience. God Himself is very emotional, we find in scripture that he felt (feels) & expressed jealousy, anger, compassion, joy, even what we'd describe as romance! It's incorrect to describe "all that emotion" we express in a worship service as "just" emotion. There's nothing minimal, or wrong about expressed emotion. Emotions are the gateway to honesty. A person may stand stoic, without expression, and lose everything and everyone they love. Whereas, if they succumb to the emotional intensity in their soul, out explodes tones of voice, facial expressions, sometimes even tears, all of these giving the hearer the opportunity to see the honesty of the soul. Relationships are often saved because someone took their guard down and through emotional expression the reality of matters could be seen. Through emotional expression, the hearer knows how happy, or angry, or broken the speaker is. 

If a person comes to a worship service determined not to be emotional, they typically find church boring. (They also, typically, are callusing and hardening their heart). But if they'll allow themselves to feel and express their emotions toward God, those people will greatly benefit from attending church. Open emotions signify open honesty. A person may be very guarded in their daily lives, but all guards should come down before our Creator. 

Music is emotional. Sounds can be emotional triggers. When personalized ringtones first came into existence I spent a bundle having a ringtone for each person close to me. Even still several people have their own text-tone, & ringtone. But, as I transferred phones or carriers I would sometimes lose a tone. If I am, today, in a public place, and someone else's phone happens to use a former ringtone for someone I may not be as close to anymore, then my heart skips! If someone calls or texts that I haven't heard from in a while, the ringtone alone causes my heart to race! If I hear music from my teen years that is connected to slumber parties, or concerts I attended with friends, my adrenaline races and my soul longs for those people I enjoyed that music with. 

Songs within the church trigger the same emotional responses. When we sing a hymn, people aged in their fifties and older are quick to their feet, arms in the air, tears staining their cheeks. Their typical response about styles and genres of songs is that God is more "in" the hymns than in modern music. The hymn was at one point "modern music." But as with all fads, they've been shelved and have made way for new modern music. As a music director, I positively delight in scheduling music for different generations and watching the "popcorn" jump up response across the auditorium. Just as the fifty and older crowd respond emotionally to the hymnal, the thirty to forty year olds have their trigger songs as well. They now call them, "the old songs," but I taught them the songs when they were considered modern music, pop songs played on the christian radio station. The responders were sixteen to twenty years old when I taught the songs. Now that we've moved on to even newer music, when they hear their "old songs," that they haven't heard in five to ten years, their emotions are triggered just as the older generations is triggered by the hymns. Then we sing a worship song currently playing on the radio and those aged thirteen to thirty-five respond the most greatly. During this kind of music the older ones in the congregation respond out of self-discipline and unity, but not because they feel any attachment to the song itself.

As a music director I feel it's important to sing songs from every generation so that each age group has opportunity to worship emotionally. I mentioned before that worship can be done out of a discipline, and for the sake of unity. If we only worshiped when we felt emotional, that'd be very spiritually immature. It is cleansing for us to worship emotionally. God created our brains to respond to music. God is not at all put-off by our emotional expression in worship. When we feel emotional in God's presence and allow ourselves to express it, God takes advantage of our guard being down and can do a beautiful work of healing in our souls.

As a music director I urge every generation present at a worship service to worship and praise regardless of the era or genre, worship simply because God is worthy. Physically engage during a worship service. Also, for the sake of unity, physically engage by clapping, singing, raising your hands, standing, kneeling, etc. Powerful things occur, not because of what kind of music is playing, but due to unity!

I urge music directors to have a steady stream of music for all generations in attendance. In my church we do a hymn every Sunday morning. Every Sunday night we do songs for as many generations as we have time for. And every Wednesday our music is typically geared toward those thirty and younger. I encourage music directors to kindly nod knowingly and smile the next time an elder tells you that there's something "more special" about the ancient songs than the modern ones. Let them enjoy and brag on their first-love without you needing to defend the new musical-love affairs being made by the new generation. And, don't forget, when you're an old music director, keep modern music coming, even if you feel it's immature, or simple.

Remember that every generation deserves to have a bridge extended to their soul through the power of music in a worship service. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Borders of A Country From My Perspective

When I was in South Korea I experienced something very poignant to what I'm experiencing as an American citizen; I met a ninety-plus year old man and his wife. I was honored to meet them as I felt great awe that I was talking to humans who'd survived both WW2, and the Korean War. They'd also endured the Japanese colonization.  If I were meeting he and his wife on the street I would have been honored to merely meet their persons. But it was a HUGE DEAL to me, double the honor, that I was in their home!  I quickly learned, however, that this was considered HIS home, not "theirs."

I had brought them dinner. It was literally my ticket in the door, which I gladly paid as I was greatly desirous to meet them. But this gave me no rights in his home. His fifty year old daughter instructed me where to sit, but he had me move to a different seat. (It wasn't clear why.) He  corrected his adult-daughter from having me address him by his easier to pronounce first name, to the more proper (but very difficult to pronounce) family name. I held no rights over the dinner that I had brought into the house. He thoroughly enjoyed it, and I sat passively until he signaled permission for us to partake. 

The truth is, I completely enjoyed myself. I didn't mind one inconvenience I experienced there. (Only "inconvenient" in that it was different than my habitual culture.) I cleaned the table after eating and washed the dishes. I was in awe of his survival and experiences. I was honored to be in his home, I quickly acquiesced to whatever I was told, and further still, I looked for ways to serve.

But, it did take me a bit off-guard when this man who was lord and high-king of his apartment-castle expressed his lordship over the borders of MY country! How could this man who so firmly believes in the borders and walls of his home not "get" the borders and walls of a country? How could this man who'd endured the terrorism of the Japanese invading their borders and way of life not "get" that the United States of America must protect its own borders and way of life? He certainly "gets it" when he thinks about Japan & North Korea.

I'm going to guess that he didn't put two and two together because he's inundated with left-wing news media who is blind in one eye and can't see out of the other. I'm betting he only gets information from sources who has no more wisdom than to believe that open borders is "kindness," when in fact, we're welcoming wolves in refugees clothing. I do NOT believe all refugees are wolves. But I do believe that in the same way I'm going to be careful about who I let in my house (the place where I protect and comfort my children) our goverenmemt should be just as diligent about protecting our American way of life. Let those who need help come labor with us. Let those who will (as I did in his house) sit where we say, speak as we say, and respect the rules of "this house," these great Untied States, come on in!

The wall and the vetting is resonable. I appreciate those who are speaking on behalf of refugees and immigrants. But wisdom says, "Lets have a conversation before I let you in my house." The Bible tells us to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. We are in danger of annihilation if we're only harmless as doves. I'll leave the topic of arms to someone with more guts than I. But I'm not afraid to say that we should be wise as serpents in our goodwill efforts to welcome and host strangers. The Bible also

tells us that we should host strangers, for they may be angels! I believe "angels" is both a symbolic word, and a reality. But, regardless, we need to know if they are with us, or against us before we give them equal reign in our "home." For the safety of our children, for the security of our way of life, for the peace of our nation, we must know!

The southern border wall is a no-brainer to me. The wall is the equivalent of a visible home. It's an honor to enter someone's home. Those who want that honor should approach the front door, not sneak into the back window.

Let the church minister to the needs of pilgrims and strangers, and let the government protect.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Another Look At Jubilee

For those of us who like facts & figures in ink, Leviticus 25 is hard to swallow. We have an entire YEAR of "Sabbath," culminating every fifty years to a "Jubilee."

Perhaps I should say that it's hard to actually live out in practice. It's actually quite nice to read;

"But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years. When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year."

‭‭Leviticus‬ ‭25:20-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

But, I confess that upon reading this chapter the FIRST thing that came to my mind was, "But, what are we gonna DO for a YEAR?!" (Yes. My brain said, "we." I really get into what I read.) Then I started actually planning what I'd do that year of Sabbath: I'd read more., I'd write more, I'd travel more, and I'd have parties.

But then the chapter brings us to a completely different kind of "rest;" The Year of Jubilee. (I encourage you to read the chapter for yourself.)

My fellow planners can imagine how this "Jubilee" celebration is not exactly the party it seems on the surface. At least, not to us.

If you'd gotten accustomed to certain smiling faces of foreign places greeting you, THE FAMILAR SMILE WAS GONE.

If you had gotten used to waking at 5am, being in the barn loading your sacks with seed by 6am, and rigging yourself behind a plow by 7am, YOU LOST THAT COMFORT ROUTINE.

If you had gotten used to certain recipes concocted by fellow laborers, THAT NICETY WAS CUT.

If bringing in a crop with the chatter of many people around you was invigorating, YOU LOST THOSE PEOPLE.

So many little things that gave life meaning were GONE when the year of Jubilee came. Oftentimes we imagine the workers who were released during the year of Jubilee to have been treated as the early Americans treated their slaves in the years leading up to the Civil War; that's not the case. The same God & law that proclaimed the Year of Jubilee was adamant that workers be treated well. We imagine brown faces running back to their homeland at the stroke of midnight on the year of Jubilee; that's not the correct scenario. Perhaps if you'd only been in this system of indebtedness for a short time, you would be biting at the bits to get back home. But, understand, this system is akin to our modern day employee/employer situation. We gather a small income, while the boss reaps the full benefit of profit. There's no beating. There's no ill-treatment. You provide your own housing. You are responsible to show up for work, or you lose that source of income; simple as that. People created families in homes lovingly cared for.

The Year of Jubilee only came about once every fifty years. Most of these people had created a comfortable, peaceful, contented life during that fifty year timespan. Even if they'd only been there for ten years, that's more than enough time to create a comfortable way of life, content in the comfort of routine. If I lived in ancient Israel, and if I made the equivalent of my current income, I'd likely be one of those tending someone else's field to supplement my income.

I am a rare-bird in my home state of Florida; I was born here, and I still live here. The majority of the population of Florida moved here in their adult life, but, this is all I've known! My experience gets even rarer still; I only lived in three homes from my birth, until I married at the age of 21. I still live in the house I moved into upon marriage. I wanted to move when we suffered divorce, but the house was on family property, so I was obliged to remain. Now I'm glad I stayed, but it took a solid five years to be peaceful in my home again. Consequently, I've lived in this one house for more years than I lived in all three of my childhood homes! I've traveled the world over, I rent a home in another city in Florida. But THIS house is my HOME. I COULDN'T IMAGINE LEAVING! Not, "for good," anyway. 

The Year of Jubilee did what the majority of the people wouldn't choose of their own accord; IT KICKED THEM OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE.

People had to go back to their homeland and reacquaint with family they didn't know. They may, or may not have had to part with possessions they'd garnered much comfort from. Traditions and cultures they'd enjoyed were left behind. They didn't live in our modern world where the same fruits and veggies are available all across the country, regardless of the season. When they left their fields of labor, they lost foods they loved. 

I'm painting the grim side of this picture on purpose. "Jubilee" is not comfortable for everybody. Some people are very put off by "Jubilee." The older of an age you are reading this, the more in sync with me you are. We want life to remain predictable. We want to be in total control of our hours. We like our bedtime, and our same recipes, thank you very much! But God, our Creator, knows what's best for us. From our mind's plasticity, to our soul's need for newness, God set an example and precedent in the law that we step out of our comfort zone. Usually, we won't do this on purpose of our own accord. Therefore, He PUSHES!

"Jubilee" means, "Blast of a horn."

I am a gentle, solitude seeker. I like for my ambiance to be slow and calm. I do NOT like for a "blast of a horn," to interrupt my life! I plan to be caught up when the Lord comes, but I'm certain the startling affect of that trumpet is going to help the process! It's interesting that the ancients started with a rams' horn, then developed the sound with the production of silver trumpets. To my way of thinking, they were going to great lengths to make the startling, interrupting BLAST of the horn as pleasant as possible! 

In our present lives we must accept that God's gift of "newness of life" is uncomfortable, because it requires new habits. God's daily morning gift of "new mercy" is uncomfortable because it requires we rise to the occasion to attempt to live worthy of that mercy. Jubilee is not easy, but it IS freeing! Sometimes we choose a Jubilee, but sometimes a Jubilee chooses us.

When it's our time to be free of what was, whether we like it, or not, we MUST go free. It's an act of faith, it's proof that we are relying on God. After all, we are supposed to walk by faith, and not by sight.

If your life has recently been startled by a BLAST of Jubilee, trust me when I say, "YOU CAN DO THIS!"

Our God is a good, good Father. He knows the newness will be both invigorating and troubling, but the outcome will make your life one of purpose. Not only will you be better off, but you will in turn make others' lives better off! This Jubilee is good for you, good for your family, and good for your community.

Sure! Jubilee is disrupting & shocking... but it's also the door to your healing and completion. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fresh Start

It's January. The month when Walmart puts storage bins, and other organizational tools in the section that is packed with plastic eggs at Easter, romaric frills at Valentine's, and gift sets at Christmas. The reason the industry highlights what is typically boring, uncelebrated items is because during January, households all over the country have a well-intentioned woman resolved to start the new year with an organized home. Closets get purged. Kitchens get de-cluttered. Creative under-bed storage commences. All because it's the first month of a new year.

During this first month of the year we also resolve to get fit, and to read more, and to be wiser with our finances. January brings our dreams to the surface for consideration. But, some people are, quite frankly, sick of it. They've attempted the newness every January for so often, only to be at a total loss in a mere thirty days. The lack of accomplishment in these few areas overshadows everything else, and they end up feeling like losers. Then they do the worst possible thing that can be done; they give up the process altogether.

We should never give up, no matter how often we fail. Failure is not the end, it's the beginning! Failure is not the finish line, it's the starting line! Failure is not failure. Quitting is failure. There is absolutely nothing "wrong" with failing.

Our feelings about this is locked into our mindset. We don't recognize that every start makes us better at the skill than the time before. It takes multiple strikes across a flint to start a flame. Every strike creates friction and molecular changes that are necessary to get to the point of a flame. It's not a failed flint that doesn't produce a flame as every strike is necessary for the outcome. We need every start the "failure" gifts us to get us to fruition.

Exodus holds an inspiring story of how multiple fresh starts bring us to fruition. Every time Moses went to pharaoh he left with our definition of "failure." But every "failure" was in fact another strike of the flint. And these flint strikes didn't happen over the course of ten days, which is how I always pictured it in Sunday school. Moses was not operating in a simple plague-a-day. I've googled how long the plagues took, and as of now I've not found a guesstimate. But I did a little investigating the possible endurance of just one plague; that of dead fish. 

One google search told me about a place that had a "fish kill" situation which took at least three weeks to clean up. ( I have to point out that these dead fish in the related link didn't remain in the water until they stank, as it occurred in Exodus. Disposal of fish is standardized according to the simple search I did. I doubt Egypt had such a system. Even if they did, three weeks can feel like an eternity when rotting fish is your daily existence. Also, it's unclear how long God waited between plagues to tell Moses to go back to Pharoah.

My point is that striking the flint to get to the point of fruition doesn't happen overnight, even when God is ordaining every step in detail. 

So, chill out about your "failure." Because IT ISN'T FAILURE. It's a step forward. It's progress.

Then, they (finally) reach their goal; Pharoah released them to leave. And in so doing God basically told them that it didn't matter what calendar the rest of the world used, they were to call a do-over right then, in the middle of the year! For us in our Gregorian calendar, it'd be like getting to April and saying, "I declare this day to be JANUARY!"

My friends, set your goals. Fail at your goals. And then start your goals again. Rinse and repeat. Because this behavior gets you to fruition. 

Then when you get to your goal you need to do something important. You'll need to declare all the work and labor to get there as the past. And you'll need to declare a new start. Because there will be more greatness to excel to! There will be loftier goals to achieve! 

Never, never, never give up! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Vision Statements & Life Verses

Having a vision statement is extremely important for any corporation. A vision statement is akin to a dart board; it gives you a place to aim for. Regardless of your mood, your health, or your financial status, a vision statement keeps you on course. When your energy is low you still take strides toward your goal, even if merely lethargic strides. When you're wired and at high-octane energy, you can channel that energy into staying on course, rather than shooting off in a million directions. (I'm looking at YOU, DenĂ©e.)

A vision statement is concise. My church's is one of my favorites, "To model the Book of Acts church." With this dart board, we sit in staff meetings making sure our creative juices are channeled into accomplishing this goal. If we feel like the church needs a party, we say, "Good! But how will this party hit our goal of modeling the Book of Acts church?" The answer is to take the party out of our beautiful, air-conditioned dining room or gym, and party in a community that needs to know what salvation is, what joy looks like, and where they can find it for themselves! So, we have block parties! If we're having a dinner fund raiser, we give free meals to all attending guests that day so they can have the opportunity to get to know fellowship, and learn of Christ through our love for each other. When we live by a vision statement, we can accomplish so much more than living by the seat-of-our-pants.

I have a personal vision statement, "Live in the reality of hope, faith, & love."

I have found that when life feels overwhelming, if I channel my energies into this behavior of trusting God, everything (and I do mean everything) works out for my good! It doesn't mean I get everything I want, but it does mean that when I feel incredibly sad and despondent I behave as if everything were PERFECT. Because, in fact, IT IS PERFECT! His plan for me is perfect. He has good intentions for me. No matter what I feel, or what I see, His plan for me is perfect! So I live in the reality (not the emotion) of hope, faith, & love. This vision statement makes me behave on a reality which requires that I hope when I'd rather give in to the call of the darkness to crawl in a hole and shrivel up. This vision statement calls me to walk by FAITH, not by sight. And lastly, this vision statement requires that I pinpoint love in my life. It requires me to ensure that I'm giving it. And that even though it may not be coming from sources I'd prefer, I am a recipient of love. My personal vision statement makes all the difference in the world for me. 

Another habit of mine is that of having personal Life Verses. Obviously, the Bible is for every human on earth. But over time I've collected verses that I incorporate into my daily life. Also, over time I've retired some passages even as I adopted new ones. Every morning at 9:00am, my phone alerts me that it's time to read my life verses. Sometimes I read them silently, sometimes I read them aloud to myself, and other times I have Siri read them to me. Whatever the format, I ingest the verses each and every day. I like the privacy of the verses, so I will not share them in this blog (except one) but I will tell you about them.

One passage is a series of blessings.
One is a cry to God to hear and protect me.
Another is one of rejoicing and praise.
But the Big Daddy of them all is Ezekiel 17:22-24.

Ezekiel17 was the first Life Verse I adopted. Or rather, it adopted me. It consumed me. I'd never had a scripture overtake me as that one did. It described me perfectly; a cut down tree. And it described in detail what I wanted fulfilled in my life. I wanted to grow again. I wanted to be fruitful. I wanted to be strong enough to house "birds of every sort."

Now, four years later, I can tell you that this has literally (slowly & gradually) been exactly what God has done in me! It's been miraculous, to say the least. Not only is the verse prophecy for me, but it's also a reminder that I can't allow myself to get haughty of the things He has done in me. For He is the God who makes "the green tree whither," just as He can "make the short tree grow tall." I know that my present state of growth and health is directly related to these scriptures administering health into my life. 

As you prepare your goals for accomplishment in 2017, I encourage you to begin to create your life's vision statement. But don't stop there; keep your eyes pealed for "your personal" life verses. All of this will take time, especially your search for life verses. And like me, you'll likely retire some from your regime even as you discover new ones. 

The Word of God is life and strength even to our physical selves. Embrace it, love it, and make a habit of SPEAKING it into your atmosphere every day. 

Special thanks to Angel Craig & Morgan Richardson for editing this piece. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Wait

Isaiah 40:31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint.

I admit that I always (always, always, always) interpreted this verse to mean that "wait" meant to behave as a restaurant staffer, "waiting tables." Therefore, my strength would be renewed by being busy. While I'm unopposed to making oneself useful during our waiting periods, that is NOT what this verse means. 

This verse is requiring something of far more effort than the usual service of ministry. For in actuality, "wait," means, "TO HOPE."

It doesn't matter if you spend every waking moment in ministerial duties, and then dream of ministry once you go to sleep. How much you work does not renew your strength. In fact, it can often deplete you so thoroughly you haven't the energy or ability to actually do what the Word is instructing; HOPE.

I've experienced giving so much of my energy and virtue in ministry that I lay in bed at night HOPELESS. Besides the enemy's mental attack when I was vulnerable, this is often a lack of discipline on my part. Those in ministry (even ministry outside the church, in volunteer situations) know there is overwhelming joy in serving. We could even call it a "high," akin to a drug hit. It feels empowering to serve. When we are in a season of pain or sorrow, ministry is often the ONLY relief we get. So, of course we would like to interpret this verse to mean that when we "wait" on the Lord (aka: minister) we renew our strength, but in fact the thrill we experience is a high, a hit-in-the-moment. Perhaps even designed by God to be a sort of "pain pill."

In fact, waiting on the Lord is more like a Gym experience, rather than a drug experience. A person can pop a pill and feel empowered even though they're a weakling. A gym experience often leaves one's muscles a little shaky due  to the duress endured in the training process. The Gym-guy may feel more exhausted and depleted, but he's actually building strength. He'll be better off, not only the next time he's in the gym, but the mind thinks more clearly after a gym experience, the digestion works better, healing is released into other areas of the body not even in the targeted muscles after a work out. The Drug-guy feels powerful, but is actually depleting strength while he's feeling like the Incredible Hulk. 

We do not work in our fields of ministry in efforts to win brownie-points with God, as if working more and harder in ministry is a get-out-of-jail-free card. We work in our ministries because it's our gifting and calling, and because it's our offering of sacrifice. It's a beautiful benefit that the tasks inspire and motivate us to keep breathing one more day. While "waiting on the Lord" may involve being busy about our Father's work, it is not what this verse is asking for. 

When we reach a desert or valley circumstance of life, where the joy is gone, the confusion is abundant, the pain is severe, the last thing we have by nature is hope. As children, hope comes very easy and naturally to us. But through life's busyness, and hard knocks, our hope wanes. Perhaps a good comparison to how hope works in us is Melatonin. Our brains easily and abundantly produce melatonin in our youth, but as we age it isn't naturally reproduced and we need to take a supplement to help us sleep. This is of course also true of skin tightness, muscle tone, eyesight, hearing, and so forth. Somehow in the course of our lives hope reproduces on its own less and less. And when we hit a tragedy where we lose so much, we do not naturally get over it and in youthful vibrancy seek the next good thing. We get sick and tired of losing a good thing we were settled with, a good thing we enjoyed ownership of. When it's taken from us we can't see WHY we'd want to go seek yet another good thing, because, of course, there's a risk that it too will be taken. 

Not only does Hope seem non-existent, the very idea of hoping for something feels very painful. We can't tell what to hope for, or why to hope for it.

And yet, this is what renews our strength, causes us to mount up on wings as eagles; Hope.

Hope makes it possible for us to run without getting weary. Hope, not busyness, causes us to walk, even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. This is God's long term plan and purpose for our Gym seasons; to strengthen us.

It's not an easy request. 
Tears are shed when you hope. 
Instead of a high you can feel shaky and vulnerable. 

But Hope is a powerful muscle to build. For Hope powers Faith. Faith makes ANYTHING possible.

So, while you offer your sacrifice of ministry, while you endure hardness, while you pay your bills and are faithful to the routines; hope in the Lord. 

Here are some "booster shots" of scripture to encourage you to HOPE:
Genesis 49:18 (KJV) 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

Psalm 25:3 (KJV) 3 Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

Psalm 25:5 (KJV) 5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Psalm 25:21 (KJV) 21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.

Psalm 37:9 (KJV) 9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

Psalm 37:34 (KJV) 34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

Psalm 39:7 (KJV) 7 And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.

Psalm 40:1 (KJV) 1 [[To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.]] I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.

Psalm 52:9 (KJV) 9 I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.

Psalm 130:5 (KJV) 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

Proverbs 20:22 (KJV) 22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.