Wednesday, May 25, 2016

6. Rising Above, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 8:1-5
Genesis 8:4 (KJV)
And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

Life is tough. It's a challenge to get through the valleys and climb up the mountains. There are those who have chosen to live in the valleys, but the valleys represent death and depression. They're not meant to make habitable, they're meant to travel through.

After the flood had killed every living thing on the earth, can you imagine how horrific it must have been on Noah's descendants to travel? As they descended down Mount Ararat, not only did they endure the stress of relocation, but they would have come across more carcasses than would have been acceptable to ones psyche.

This is truly one of our lessons as we travel through our valleys. Not only are we enduring our own pain, but we are thrust into the valley where all we see is the pain of others. Being in the valley greatly magnifies sorrow. It magnifies death. While attempting to obey God's command to spread across the earth and multiply, we find ourselves thick in the mire of death, pain and suffering. Not just our own, but everyone's around us in the valley as well. And yet, we have a mandate, to get to the next mountaintop. God walks with us through the valley, but he gets very liberal with rewards once we make it to the mountain top.

These valleys, where every other traveler is also experiencing the death of something, are hopeless places.


Great things happen at the tops of mountains! There is no success like making it to the top of a mountain. I've read books and watched documentaries of mountain climbers. Some of them are missing appendages due to a climb. Some have witnessed death on a climb. Their experiences are so horrific, besides being wary of heights, I'd be too scared of duplicating their losses to want to climb. But, not these! They are so obsessed with the glories of reaching the mountain tops that their bad experiences are in no way a deterrent. 

While you'll never find me purposefully climbing anything in the natural, but a rock wall. In the spirit I too will climb life's mountains, no matter the cost. I will because I MUST get through and out of those Valleys of the Shadow of Death. I must get out of the valley because God demands I reproduce more gifts, more ministries, more joys, more testimonies. I'm a MAJOR comfort-creature. I can't stand for anything to change. I'd rather curl up and die in the valley than journey to the next mountain. But, I am built for climbing. I'm lazy about it, but I'm good at it. 

I've been in many valleys in my travels to new mountains. I've discovered that many of my fellow travelers are stuck in the valleys because they can't climb. They're as ignorant of the spiritual climb as I am of the natural climb.

Due to my rock wall climbing I've had lessons on climbing. But I'm so forgetful, I have to have a new lesson every time! My daughter, who forgets nothing, has to stand by during my lesson. She literally mouths the words along with my instructor. She's even filled in holes the instructor missed!
I know I need a partner.
I know my partner asks, "Belay?"
I know that when I'm ready I say, "Belay on."
But I don't remember what "belay" even means. 
And from climb to climb I can't remember how to tie the rope around my harness.
[true story]

In the spirit there are those who haven't been able to wrap their minds around Hope, as I have. Hope is NECESSARY to climbing out of the valley. I "get" faith and praise as easily as my daughter "gets" the climbing instructor's info. Not everybody grasps faith and praise as easily as other journeyers.

But God will not leave those in the valley just because they don't "get" the traditional climbing methods. There's another way to the top of the mountain. It's no more pleasant than the climbing method. It's sometimes a longer route, therefore patience is a necessity. It's no less frightening. 

It's a flood. 

Don't assume God intends to drown you just because your life is experiencing a flood that is destroying all you know and love. The water is pelting you from above, the ground that once held your home is being broken up. The land where you once harvested life-giving fruit is now spewing uncontrolled fountains of water.

Fear not. 

The ark has been prepared for your safety. Stay in the church. Stay with the captain. Storms are NOT the time for jumping ship. Even, as in Paul's storm, when the ship itself broke apart, he stayed with a BROKEN ship.

The key to surviving this flood is to STAY WITH THE SHIP. 

God may send a raging flood to lift you to the mountaintops, rather than a traditional climb.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV)
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2. Spiritual Carnality, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 6:
Genesis 6:22 (KJV)
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.

I have friends who are both ministers in their church, and work a public job. It surprises me when they see their public work as less important than their ministry. I see BOTH vocations as ministry. I see the public job as God paying them to work in His harvest field. The duties of the church must be done as well. But that is a very closed-off role. 

The passion and drive to be full time in ministry is a noble one. It may even be of God, in order to keep us in both fields. If we didn't have the drive for ministry we'd surely give in to the exhaustion at the end of a workday. And it's likely that the blessings and favor of God would not be on our public job if we weren't giving so much to our ministerial job. Regardless, we do have that higher calling of ministry, so tired or not, we do our church "job" after our public one.

Our first leanings to "knowing" we're hearing God's voice is if the instruction is "spiritual." I mean, if the instruction is something like, "Pray," or "Fast," or even gifts of prophecy. But we should not discount that God has always worked through "carnal" means as well.

God gave Noah detailed instructions about a boat. A BOAT! What in the world is "spiritual" about a boat?! God didn't give him prayer guidelines. God didn't tell him how or why to fast. God didn't tell him to convince others to join him in salvation. He just told him how to do a very physical, natural thing.

I feel certain that he did, in fact, pray and preach. (The New Testament calls him a "preacher of righteousness.) But what God told him to do was a very flesh and blood, wood and tar thing. He was not alone, Paul and other New Testament ministers had bi-vocational ministries as well.

Don't quit your day job. God is using the bi-vocational minister more and more. 

Don't think that college is "not ministry." Don't assume that being a hostess in a restaurant, or a construction worker, or a lawyer, or whatever your non-ministry job may be, is "non-ministry." There is likely more ministry happening there than in the church.

There are some who will take on the church full-time. Their efforts to make sure their hands are "dirty" from working in the harvest is HUGE. When working full-time in the church, it's easy to spend weeks without bumping into a single person who needs Christ. (Or who realizes they need Christ.) Granted, having music, and the spoken Word polished and ready for saint and sinner in a church service is paramount. Being available to go pray when the sick call for an elder is integral. The mechanics of church administration is a full-time job. But full-time church work is not all it's cracked up to be.

Do not underestimate the importance of where God has you in bi-vocational ministry.

It's a very spiritual carnality.

4. Amazing Grace, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 6:1-9
Genesis 6:7-8 (KJV) 
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

I used to picture this differently. I used to imagine a very large metropolis, like New York, or Miami. Some technologically advanced city FULL of people who care nothing for attempting to please God. In their selfishness they build a party-city where sexuality has no sacredness, addictions are abliged, and murder is as common as breathing. Then, in the midst of this corruption stands this one beautifully holy man with his morally upright family. And that could be a correct supposition. 

But, at this point in my life I have seen much and experienced much. Particularly in the realm of grace. Particularly of being in great need of it. 

When "the perfect people" were aghast at Christ's associations with sinners, Jesus said, "The whole need not a physician." Christ came to fix broken people. Christ came to give hope to hopeless people. The religious people didn't feel broken, sick, or hopeless. The religious people felt very proud of their righteousness. They loved their rules and laws of religion to the point of infatuation and obsession. Their obsession blinded them to the needs around them. 

Christ refused to waste his time with those "who need not a physician." 

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Not only did he avoid the pompously righteous in the New Testament, but we find this same behavior in the Old Testament as well. We hardly have any insight or direction from the official priests of the Old Testament. Instead God sought those outsiders, young or old, who felt an outcast. Through these prophets and judges God spoke to the people. 

God does not NEED to extend grace to a perfect person. They are perfectly at peace with their state of righteousness.

When the Bible tells us that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord," that is not suppose to convey, "God found a perfect person on the earth." Rather, that is to tell us...
Noah was in great NEED of grace.

This word "found" in the Hebrew means both "to find," and "to be found." 

If Noah and his family were "perfect," there'd be no need for grace. 

The Lord didn't call Noah "righteous" until AFTER he followed the instructions and built the ark, in Genesis 8:1.

Noah's family was no more "role model" than any other family on the earth. Which is why they didn't behave in a pristine manner after their Ark Experience. They had no prior teaching about drunkeness. They didn't have a pastor to show them the ways of God. 

God never has, and he never will, use vessels for their perfection. He looks for people who accept their imperfections. Then, as an extension of much needed grace, he assigns a task. That we have been called to a ministry on this earth is NOT a sign that we've "made it." But rather proof that we need help. God uses our assigned task to save us.

Let us not become haughty or arrogant in our roles of ministry. Lest we end up this generation's sadducees and Pharisees. God extends grace to us so that we can extend his grace to those who NEED a physician; me & you. 

The day we no longer need Christ as our physician, is the day amazing grace is squelched toward us. 

Do what God has called you to do IN SPITE of your shortcomings and failures. God is not surprised by our weaknesses. 

His grace is sufficient.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

3. Make Peace With the Journey, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 8:1-4
Genesis 8:3 (KJV)
And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated.

I have one word for the Ark experience: BORING! 

They didn't have smartphones. They didn't have Netflix. They didn't even have books or newspapers! My imagination tells me that the women on board may have brought a loom to continue making cloth. But in reality, it's likely they had nothing to do on The Good Ship, except feed animals and shovel poop.

On the other hand, NOT boring. Because that's a lot of compost to make. 

Life on the Ark was a test of sanity, for sure. The first few hours in there may have been nothing but frightening. A supernatural experience brought the animals into the ark. God himself shut them all into the Ark. And while it was safe, it was anything but peaceful.

If this family were not particularly "animal people" before (you know, those fams that have a farm in their backyard. & sometimes one in the house too!) they couldn't have felt very safe about the elephant or lion. Or giraffe. Or, if they were me, the dog. (I'm a scardy-cat.) Besides the caution they'd have about their newfound pets, they'd never heard raindrops before.

Even the tiniest first drops of rain would have seemed like the end of the world. THEN, once the earth had broken up causing the "fountains of the deep" to add to the flood coming from the sky, that would have been a terrible noise! Then, the first time that huge Ark was lifted off the ground by the water would have included the wood groaning and creaking in a horrific way. This family had never needed sea-legs before. Suddenly, they were a family of the waves. 

In life we are sometimes forced to become a family of the waves. Life will at various times begin to rain down change upon us. We will have brand new experiences that are frightening. From new jobs, to new schools, new friends, and new Ministry. God, in His position as Alpha and Omega, able to know the end from the beginning, sees we need newness of life. Getting us to that new life may not be easy. But he's put us in a place of safety to wait out the storm. 

As with Noah, even the place of safety can feel scary. But trust it.

As with Noah, the place of safety can be LOTS of work to maintain. Do the work.

In this time period of change for your family, don't waste all your time on our present day's entertainment. It will distract you from what God is trying to teach you. Play games together, work on a project together, do outreach together. 

Will you bicker? Probably. 
Will you get irritated with each other? Likely.
But, the storms require that you learn how to do this new thing together.

Once the scary part is over, like Noah, you'll have the maintenance part of keeping your ambiance clean and livable. Noah's family floated in peace (or perhaps a better description is, "floated in boredom") for seven months before the Ark hit something, and with a thud (again, probably frightening) the Ark stopped moving. 

Changes bring us to new things that are WONDERFUL to life. But getting to the new good requires change. Change can be very uncomfortable, no matter what age we are. 

Accept life's changes and become a student of peace. You'll get impatient as you float along with nothing, but work, to do. But once you learn to be peaceful, you'll feel better about patience. 

God will never leave you during your journey to change, He will help you find peace, and He will protect you.

Access Him and His love often.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1. Take the Cruise, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 7:1-24
Genesis 7:23 (KJV)
And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained [alive], and they that [were] with him in the ark.

Noah's Ark is more than a story about a man saving his family and animals from a flood. The story is symbolic of ourselves and how to protect ourselves. Life sends storms such as the pain of rejection, the loss of possessions, failures and upsets. These storms can drown us in sorrow if we don't protect ourselves by the "Ark" God has provided.

The same way Noah is the caretaker, responsible for the wellbeing of the Ark and all its inhabitants, God has ordained that the pastors in our congregations are as Noah; caretakers of the people and the church. 

Our pastor's provide our souls with nourishment from the Bible, which is the Bread of Life. The teaching of God's Word is soul-meat, strengthening us. Our pastors have committed to make the Ark of the church a safe place. In order to do that, they will have rules to enforce. 

For instance, some animals cannot eat what other animals can eat. Noah had to make sure some animals stayed out of other animals' pens. Noah had to insist that stalls be cleaned up and maintained. It was inconvenient and frustrating for both animals AND Noah at times. But Noah was responsible to uphold the standards even if it was difficult. 

Our pastors are no different. Sometimes their responsibility is frustrating and irritating. It's downright inconvenient. But he's been ordained as the overseer of the Ark. It is our job to be thankful for the safety he's trying to provide and to get in sync. 

Our church is our Ark where we find shelter and protection from the storms of life. The people who didn't get their lives in order as God had asked didn't merely "miss the boat." They DIED when the flood came! Any animal that didn't heed the call was killed by the flood. Being on the Ark saved their life. 

Being in the church saves us when the storms of life come. We cannot afford to miss the boat. Life is ravaging! Between people, finances, personal glitches in our DNA that cause addictions that can kill us, the floods of life will come. We will find ourselves (and those we love) destroyed outside of the Ark of the church. God provided us a Noah-pastor, and an Ark-church.

In our current culture, many people take vacations on cruise ships. As a vacationer you pay one flat fee and everything you need to have a nice time is included; protection and safety, food and drink, entertainment, games, lodging and shelter. I've been on a cruise even in a storm and it's never made me sick, or in any way been a bad experience. But, if I do not GET ON THE SHIP none of these things are available to me. 

The Bible let's us know that our safety and well-being is God's priority. That doesn't mean that he is a fairytale genie, granting all of our wishes. It means that our NEEDS are guaranteed. God desires to protect us, shelter us, give us joy, and whatever else we need. But if we don't get on His boat, in His Ark, we do not have these good things available to us. 

God called the people and animals into the Ark for their safety and provision. And He also calls ALL humanity to get in the Ark of the church. God is not racist. God does not save some people, but not others. He has extended a call to anyone willing to listen.

We must heed God's call and get in the Ark of the church, then STAY in the Ark of the church. When the storms come and when the floods of life rise, we will be protected and provided for if we're in the Ark of the church.

5. Raven or Dove, Vacation Devotion

Genesis 8:7-12
Genesis 8:7-8 (KJV)
7 And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
8 Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;

As I read and discussed this passage with my kids, even in our ignorance of birds we were surprised Noah sent out a raven. Doves are not pigeons, but they're homebodies. If Noah wanted a true meter of the outside situation, why send a raven? 

We truly are utterly ignorant of most animal behavior. I imagine Noah might have been even more ignorant than us. After all, he didn't have the benefit of Google. Just because he was the guy willing to build the ark doesn't mean he was "into" animals. 

I have cousins who seem to have been born with instinct and wisdom for God's creatures, great and small. I am grossed out by them, scared of them, annoyed by them. I like wild birds that I don't have to be near or take care of. I've had dogs through the years, but I travel too much to properly take care of them, and dogs need a LOT of care. My best pets have been cats. They're smart, born litter-trained, and aren't needy.

I would totally be sending "whatever flew" out that window to gauge if the flood had receded. 

But I've done some light reading on Ravens, and I can see which bird we should seek to behave as in our efforts to please God.

Ravens are quite smart, talented birds. They're incredibly social, and are aware of the moods around them. They have many "songs" which they've been known to use to lighten the mood of others in the treetops. They like to play with other birds. They are the rock stars of the bird community. 

It turns out that Ravens are just too cool to come into the hand of Noah. Ravens are too all-that to be in the Ark.

I've watched people be Ravens in the church. They were thankful for the knowledge of where to find salvation, but they refuse to submit themselves to their Noah-Pastor, and they refuse to come into the company of the Ark-church. Instead they alight as near as they can without commitment. 

Ravens are of no value at all. The people who need their beautiful songs are the ones who've endured the flood IN THE ARK. The animals who need their portable party are the ones who've been penned up in trials IN THE ARK. They need a word of hope that the waters are receding. They need a joyful song leader. 

But, oh, no. Ravens are too selfish to understand how they could be helpful. 

The dove didn't merely return to the Ark. She returned to Noah's hand. And she repeated this task until the matter was resolved. 

I'm going to confess to you that I am a Raven-personality. I don't like closed-in places, I literally AM a song leader, I am keenly aware all of the time of the moods around me, and I am driven to lift heavy moods with a party. So, I know the inner struggle of behaving as a dove when my instinct is to be a Raven. It's not easy, but I'll tell you how I've done it...

I pray everyday and ask God to make me a new creature. I repent everyday. I give God my will and I crucify my carnal nature. 

It turns out that God has needed me to be as both a dove and a raven. Because I'm willing to come into the hand (be submitted to) my pastor, and willing to be brought into the unity of the Ark-church, I'm a contributing help to the moods inside the church, and out. 

The raven stubbornly perched on the exterior of the Ark not only didn't help anyone inside the ark, but he wasn't a part of the "well done thou good and faithful servant" party either. He wasn't a part of the promise on the mountain. He wasn't a part of the celebratory hugs after crossing the finish line.

Don't be a raven at your church; you will not go in, neither will you let others in. Don't be a raven haughtily sitting aloft on the outside. Come into the responsibility of your pastor. Come into unity with the church. 

If this isn't your instinct, ask God to make you a new creature. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tough As Nails, Mother's Day '16

There are some surface things people get from my mom within moments of being in her presence...

She's jolly and loud.
You hear her before you see her. From her portable "amen corner" in church (any denomination, every church) to intercessory prayer, to her...
(Wait for it...) 

She whistles in church like other people whistle at ball games. And she's reproduced a whole congregation who at least try to muster a whistle periodically in a red-hot Pentecostal service. It took me YEARS to find my whistle. But I've totally got it now, and you'd better believe I use it! #LikeMotherLikeDaughter

She's tough as nails.
Because this is not always a compliment, I hesitate to use the phrase. It's so often a description used of drill-Sargeant types, which she is not. (Refer to the jolly version above.) She's HILARIOUS! She's fun! She's spontaneous! She's generous! But once she's discovered a truth that should be lived by, she's going to ensure the salvation of all in her boat by insisting these safety precautions are maintained. 

She was raised in a Christian home that had various leanings of the definition of "modesty." She saw the harm that unfolded in those who moved further and further away from conservative lifestyles. Therefore, she's tough as nails when it comes to standards. She's not "judgmental," in that she gives off a condemning vibe. Exemplified by the fact that she has friends who haven't dressed like her in decades. She has lifetime friends whose lifestyle would make your toes curl if you're a staunch Christian. She's incredibly compassionate. But if those friends are going to ask her advice about what lifestyle best preserves sanity & sanctity in the long haul, she's tough as nails in her advisement. And if you've ever been one of her's, you're going to hear "it" if she sees you straying. She simply has been privy to the dangers of another way. She's loves to the point of saying the uncomfortable. 

She's been in leadership in churches for long enough that she KNOWS what makes a congregation strong, or lethargic. She KNOWS what brings fervency into prayer meetings. She KNOWS what brings the raw power of God into a service. And she will let anybody attempt this in any fashion they want. But when it comes to how it's done in her ship, she's tough as nails. 

When I had a life-upset a few years ago I was not all that thrilled with her being tough as nails. I thought she was willing to sacrifice my happiness for "her way." I was so wrong.

In reality, I was in a storm that was battering our ship. ("Our" ship. I'm her daughter, not an island!) We were in danger of losing my children, our salvation, my sanity, and my future. Every time a piece came loose, she'd resecure it. When a strap sprung free from the tumult, she knew if she didn't secure it back yet more parts would break apart. She had to resecure the mast time and again, just so that one fine day, when the storm was past and a propelling wind had come, I'd be able to catch that breeze yet again.

My mom is mother to many. I do not envy those others. I understand the importance of her presence to their well-being. that she makes life possible for them.

She's tough as nails. 
And it's a good thing too, because she holds me together.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!