Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spending Time in Relationship - Song of Songs 2

My love calls to me: Arise, my darling. Come away, my beautiful one. For now the winter is past; the rain has ended and gone away. Song of Songs 2:10-11

These verses give a sense of passing time and the relationship seems to grow more intimate as the man and woman spend time together.

  • They eat together in the banquet hall. 
  • They visit one another.
  • They spend time away with each other.
We also get a sense the couple enjoy each other and treat each other with kindness and respect.

  • They compliment each other
  • They communicate openly
  • They are openly attentive to each other
What happens to a relationship when a couple never spends time together?

What happens to a relationship when friends or family members do not communication openly with each other?

What do harsh words do to a relationship?

What do gentle, kind, and respectful words do for a relationship?

Having an intimate relationship with God involves spending time with him. We often put intimacy on the back burner because our lives are too busy. As time goes by, intimacy begins to slip away and our relationship becomes stale and boring.

How is it with you? Do you have scheduled times to spend in relationship?

Abba, forgive us when we let time go by without spending moments with you and the special people in our lives. Teach us to build intimate relationships through gentle words, respect, and open communication. Show us how to value others as you have valued us. Fill us with your Spirit and let your love flow from our lips and spill over those we have come to know.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Looking Beyond Farewell

“And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24

Transition often means saying good by to the old and hello to the new. It often involves trials, hardship, grief, and broken hearts.

Paul had to say goodbye to people he knew and loved.  He also faced an unknown future of "chains and afflictions."

Did Paul worry about what would happen to his friends and loved ones? Did he worry about what he would encounter in the future?

Did his friends and loved ones worry about what would happen to Paul? Did they worry about what they would encounter in the future?

The only thing Paul saw in his future was chains and afflictions. Yet, he stayed the course and pressed on.

Lord, transitions are hard! When we must say goodbye to the old and hello to the new, help us place the movement into the framework of your grace. When the future holds chains and afflictions, and the past holds grief and hardship, help us to look beyond the farewell and see the guiding light of your loving spirit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking Beyond Financial Hardship

When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost the whole province of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods!” Acts 19:25-26

The gospel was changing lives all over the place.

In this account demonism was defeated in Ephesus. Many became believers and turned away from their old ways and placed their faith in Christ.  Those that practiced magic, collected their own magic books and burned them in front of everyone. The books were valued at 50,000 pieces of silver!  This represents financial hardship.

The silversmiths in Ephesus, who made silver shrines for the goddess Artemis, heard all the news reports. They were afraid of losing their livelihood.  Paul was preaching against idol worship and people were being persuaded.  This represents financial hardship.

One group was able to look beyond financial hardship and welcomed change.

The other group was blinded by financial hardship and turned away from change.

Lord, we know that change often involves financial hardship. When you lead us in a new direction, give us spiritual eyes to look beyond financial hardship.  Give us courage to take the necessary steps. Help us to rely on your faithfulness as we navigate through the change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking Beyond Responsibility

But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6

Paul took his responsibility too far when he violently persecuted Christians.

In this account, Paul knows when to stop and wash his hands of responsibility.

Responsibility is a heavy burden, especially when it involves the lives of other people.

We need a clear vision of our purpose. We need to know when to push. We need to know when to let go. And, we need to know that it’s okay to walk away.

This holds true for church ministry and daily living. It’s true in every relationship.

Lord, give us the wisdom to look beyond the burden of responsibility. Help us to know when to push, when to let go, and when to walk away.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Looking Beyond Church Walls

For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an alter on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. Acts 17:23

Lord, this spoke to me about learning to recognize you in every aspect of life.

It's easy to be present with you while performing the rituals of church life. When we depart through the double doors of the church building, we often leave you upon the altar as if you were an impersonal God on a pedestal.

Lord, you are present throughout all creation! Your prints are all over the place!

Teach us to be present with you during worship and prayer.

Teach us to be present with you during every aspect of living: through pleasure and pain, through drought and rain.

Help us to recognize your presence in every face in every place!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking Beyond Captivity

Suddenly there was a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:26

Paul selected Timothy to help evangelize Europe. Lydia and her household were converted. Paul and Silas drove out a “spirit of prediction” from a slave girl. The owners of the girl become angry because their profits were taken away and they caused a commotion with the authorities. Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten, thrown in jail, and secured in stocks under heavy guard.

While they prayed and sang hymns, their chains came loose.

They remained in the jail to offer solace to the jailer who threatened to kill himself because he thought Paul and Silas had escaped. The jailer was saved with his entire household.

Paul and Silas refused to be released secretly. The Magistrate offered an official apology and sent a public escort. Paul and Silas dropped by Lydia’s house, offered encouragement and left the city.

Paul and Silas chose to remain for a short time within their place of captivity. This opened doors for greater opportunity.

I've experienced captivity in many different forms. When healing and relief comes, my first response is to put distance between myself and the situation. I want to move away from the place of captivity and the memory - as if nothing ever happened!

How many opportunities have I missed to help somebody through the same situation? How many opportunities am I missing now?

Lord, grant us discernment to know when to go, when to stay, or when to return to our place of captivity. Give us the courage to be used as instruments for your opportunity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Looking Beyond Flesh

He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Acts 15:9

Some were teaching that gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Others said they did not need to be circumcised. Peter and Barnabas argued that they had received salvation through hearing and believing. They also argued that the new converts were filled with the Holy Spirit which was proof of their changed hearts.

The traditional lesson in this account centers on judging the salvation of others. I think this goes deeper than that.

It speaks to me about accepting and loving others as they are.

We are prewired by society to stereotype others and place them in different categories. We do this by using criteria like the color of skin, gender, or socioeconomic status. We assess people by their outward appearance (flesh) and often fail to look deeper (heart) and accept them for who they are.

It's possible that those who were arguing for circumcision were struggling more with accepting the gentiles because they were different, rather than making sure they were saved.

Lord, help us to see others through your eyes. Teach us to look past the flesh and straight to the heart. Use us as faithful instruments of your love.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Looking Beyond Idols

Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. Acts 14:15

The church grew and many wonders were done through the apostles. The crowds were so awestruck that they proceeded to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods. This was a case of misdirected worship.

Lord, this continues to happen today within your church and within the world.

Sometimes church leaders strive to be in the spotlight and sometimes they are placed in the spotlight by others. Either way, worship is misdirected.

This can also occur when individuals seek to use the gifts and talents you have given. We may become star struck by the attention we receive and forget that you are the source of those gifts and talents. Or, we can become so drawn to another individual that we place them on a pedestal. Either way, worship is misdirected.

Lord, give us humble hearts to reflect your glory and humble eyes to see beyond idols.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When it's Time to Move On

But shaking the dust off their feet against them, they proceeded to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:51-52

In spite of persecution, the church continued to grow.

As the disciples shared Christ’s message of grace, some believed and some did not. Those that rejected the word stirred up trouble and persecution was typically the end result.

The disciples knew when to stop and move on. The fruit of that discernment was the expansion of their mission field!

Lord, thank you for the times you've helped us to move on. Grant us the ability and perseverance to seek discernment in the face of division, conflict, or persecution.

Help us to know the time, and give us the courage to knock the dust off our feet and move on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When the Church Falls to Her Knees

So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church. Acts 12:5

Herod killed James and put Peter in prison. This brought the church to its knees and an angel rescued Peter.

Lord, this story touches on so many questions that plague the faith of many!

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do some people live and others die? Why did you answer my neighbor’s prayer, but didn’t answer mine?

In the process of searching for the answers to these questions, many people turn away from the Church and some even turn away from you.

I think the most teachable part of this story is that the Church was brought to its knees. In the face of persecution, the loss of James, and the imprisonment of Peter – the Church bowed low to your grace!

Lord, when hardship and trials threaten our faith, bring us to our knees in supplication and intercession. Help us to reach out to others so we may face difficult times as a unified Body of Christ.

Friday, August 21, 2009

When God Makes It Clean

Lord, I acted upon an idea I thought you placed upon my heart. It was in connection with the Peter and Cornelius story I read. On my way to school to buy books, I stopped by Hobby Lobby to pick up sea glass. I thought it would be nice to give as a prayer focus in case I ran into somebody from the homeless shelter that might need prayer or encouragement. Hobby Lobby was out of sea glass and nobody crossed my path at school – even though I lingered in the square and strolled around the perimeter of campus.

I felt silly, as if I were “forcing” a spiritual encounter that would take me to the mountain top.

Lord, I continue to struggle with my scripture readings, looking for huge aha moments that will make me feel close to you – trying to “force” a spiritual moment out of my readings.

I started reading one of my textbooks for the fall and couldn’t put it down. I became really excited about learning how to be a good counselor. It was like the mountain top experience I used to have while reading scripture.

It made me feel guilty!

Perhaps this is your way of telling me to settle down and stop worrying about being present with you. Perhaps this is your way of saying I’m ok where I am at the moment. Perhaps you are telling me to dig deep into my preparation and know you are digging along side me.

Then I read Acts 11!

But a voice answered from heaven a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” Acts 11:9

Yes! This account tells me that what I am reading and learning in school may seem common to me. However, it is being used to prepare me for a future calling and you have made it clean. Therefore, I should rejoice in the fact that my textbooks are being opened for me and it is ok to feel excited and energized by the knowledge I am gleaning from them. And, it’s ok that scripture is not as stimulating as I want it to be.

Lord, thank you for this affirmation. I take it and receive it as encouragement. Help me to settle into my preparation with the thought that you are indeed settled along side me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

When Paths Cross

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. Acts 10:1

This story amazes me because it involves two men in separate places, from separate cultures, with separate worldviews. God spoke to them and they obeyed, allowing separate paths to cross. The results: Good News was extended to the Gentiles.

Lord, may we be open to serving you in obedience when you direct the crossing of paths. Give us the courage to move when we feel a nudge from you. Help us to veer on the side of faith rather than coincidence, when we believe you are leading us to a certain task or when you have placed a special person in our lives.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When the GPS Malfunctions

Then Saul got up from the ground and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. Acts 9:8

Saul was in hot pursuit of the Christians – with malice and murder on his mind! He was defending the truth as he knew it. He had the support of the synagogue leaders, which added confirmation to do the job. He believed he was doing God’s will.

Than came the flash of light. Before he knew it, Saul was face down in the dirt. That’s when Christ began to input new coordinates for his journey.

This is one of my favorite "about face" stories because I've been there so many times it hurts!

Lord, when we find ourselves on the wrong road, with wrong intentions, following after the wrong truth - strike us blind, take our hand, and lead us along the correct path.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When Hearts are Left Hanging

"Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” Acts 8:24

What happened to the rest of Simon’s story? Did the Apostles pray for him after this request? Did Simon’s heart ever get right with God? Or, was this simple request evidence that his heart had been changed? Did Simon ever turn from his desire for power? Did Simon ever receive the Holy Spirit?

Simon’s intentions were messed up; yet, he had enough sense to ask the Apostles to intercede on his behalf. Did the Apostles intercede for Simon? Or, did they decide he wasn’t worth their time? Did their encounter stop with their message of condemnation? Were the Apostles suffering from heart problems of their own?

Lord, you seem to leave my heart hanging with this story!

How many times have I left people hanging while serving at your table? How many times have I pointed a silent finger at another person without taking the time to lift them up in prayer or walk them through a transitional episode? How many times have I ignored a prayer request because I thought it would fall by the wayside of the person’s life – a waste of precious resources? How many times have my intentions been messed up? How often have I followed after a truth with my heart in the wrong place?

Lord, I’ve been on both sides of a misplaced heart! I’ve sought your will with less than humble intentions and I’ve silently pointed fingers at other people and failed to intercede on their behalf. Will I always suffer from the same heart problem of misplaced intentions?

Lord, forgive me and continue to transform my heart!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When Grumblers Cast Stones

They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:58

Lord, Stephen didn’t sign up for this! Wasn’t he one of the seven chosen to serve the daily distributions to the widows? Wasn’t this the ministry that was formed by the Apostles to allow them to concentrate on preaching? Stephen was minding his own business. He was focused on doing the ministry he was called to do. He was taking care of your table, serving the daily needs of your flock.

All of a sudden, BOOM! The grumblers call him into a dispute and debate - An incident which cost him his life.

Lord, this is another uncomfortable story! None of us signed up for stones or death when we made a commitment to follow you in Christian service. Nobody said anything about stones and death! Plus, Stephen wasn’t even out to convert anybody or pushing his beliefs on any one. He was simply serving at your table. He became a target by living and imparting your truth by his faithfulness.

I’ve thrown many stones in my life time. I’ve also been hit by them as well. I think that is why this story makes me so uncomfortable.

Father God, forgive me for casting stones and siding with the grumbling crowd. Fill me with the faithfulness of your Holy Spirit. Help me learn to simply serve at your table, come what may. Let your love and grace shine through my life no matter the circumstance.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When Truth Stands Bright

And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Acts 6:15

in the midst of divison
in the darkness of discord
when humans
make a mess of things
may your light shine
through the face
as it was with Stephen - may it be for us

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Power Creates Fear

“Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the field for this price?” “Yes,” she said, “for that price." Acts 5:9

Father God, this story breaks my heart! The more I read it, the darker it becomes, and the less it fits into the loveliness of your grace.

Did you strike Ananias and Sapphira dead because they “lied to the Holy Spirit?” Or, is that how the Apostles interpreted the event? Perhaps the couple's hearts stopped beating out of fear because they had been caught in a lie. This makes some sense because the Apostles had become so powerful in the sight of the people.

It seems to me that Peter laid a trap to catch Sapphira in a lie. Three hours had past after Ananias had dropped dead before the Apostles talked to Sapphira. They even buried Ananias before his wife knew he had died! That seems kind of cold. Why didn’t they call Sapphira in when Ananias first dropped died? Why didn’t they give her a chance to confess?

Lord, I can’t find your grace in this story!

After Sapphira dropped dead, “Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.” Acts 5:11

This story creates a sense of fear in my own heart over power issues. I don’t know what lesson to get from this story. The traditional lesson about not lying to the Holy Spirit doesn’t fit for me right now.

The only lesson I can come close to receiving from this scripture at this moment is to be weary of human power and authority that causes fear. I don’t want any power vested upon me, nor do I want any human being to have that kind of power over me.

Lord, help me to understand the difficult stories that are placed in scripture. When I come to incorrect conclusions, gently bring me back to your truth.

Let your grace spill forth throughout your creation and do not let human judgment, condemnation, and hate have a foothold along side your truth.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When Rejection Turns

This Jesus is The stone despised by you builders, who has become the cornerstone. Acts 4:11

makes way for
center my heart
on the cornerstone
of your truth
create in me
a fresh work of

Sunday, August 9, 2009

When Hearts Become Heavy

“Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Act 3:19

Heavenly Father, I come before you with a contrite and heavy heart. Cupped within my clinched fists I harbor my sin. I have named it “turn away.”

Forgive me for turning away from you. Restore the blessed sweetness of your face and let it shine upon me and the land upon which I journey and draw my belonging.

Let the waters of your Spirit fall upon this humble ground. Let your precious earth give up her fruitful blessings of growth.

Let the herds and creatures of the fields and the sheep and lambs of your pasture become full and refreshed.

Wipe away the sin that has created a barrier between us. Let your seasons of refreshing come swiftly. So, we may turn and bless others by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When We Come Together In One Place

Lord, speak as we seek your precious truth. When questions errupt, provide the only answers we need to dig deeper for the cooling water of life that flows beneath the surface of the dark - the dark that threatens to take our breath away.

When the day of Pentecost had arrive, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1

Lord, we want to be in that one place where the power of your Spirit pours out upon the dry and weary soul.

We want to hear the rushing wind of your breath, in the quiet of the night, as we struggle within the lonely silence.

We want to understand your word, as if it were the reverberating heartsong of our transformed life.

We want to be astounded and amazed by the sharing of your truth, as it pierces our hearts like a threaded needle, stringing our lives together like precious pearls.

We want to stand as one body together with those who come to this place to seek the tenderness of your touch in the silent solitude of waiting.

May it be for us as it was for them, as we praise your Holy name and seek your favor for ALL people!

Friday, August 7, 2009

When Divisions Occur

Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles. Acts 1:26

Lord, the flavor of your ministry seems to change during this time. I detect a shift from the free flowing ministry of God in the world to a group of men organizing themselves in order to do ministry. You walked through the dusty streets and chose your disciples as you went about. Now, the inner group comes together to take care of business: the task of replacing Judas. Did they really need to replace Judas? They used the casting of lots to make the decision! Matthias won and Justus lost, creating a division between two followers. Were some people upset by this decision? Why couldn’t both of the men be named apostles? Or, why couldn’t they just keep eleven apostles?

Two people vying for one ministry position. I’ve been in that place and it hurts! One is chosen. One is turned away. One is raised above others. One remains beneath. Should we be casting lots these days? Is one way any better than another way? Is your will revealed more accurately through one process over another? Are positions of church leadership necessary? Or does “leadership” create a spirit of hierarchy and division?

Lord, why can’t we do ministry the way you did ministry: fluid, open, and without structured organization. I guess it all boils down to the fact that we are all fallible human beings. We’ve come a long way from these early beginnings and we have a long, long way to go!

Lord, when divisions occur help us to love in spite of the mess. Let your Spirit weave unity in the midst of division, order in the midst of chaos, and love in the midst of hate.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Life Seems to Die

There was a garden in the place where He was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it. John 19:41

A garden! I never noticed there was a garden in that place of suffering and sacrifice. It also contained a new tomb, untouched by death.

Gardens produce beautiful new life. Garden soil is full of seeds whose silent cores carry tiny whispers of hope deep within. Gardens make me think of hope and peace; love and beauty; growth and change. The thought of the garden nestled within Golgotha resonates with the paradox of life through death. The empty tomb is like the dark core of the seed, which cradles precious hope of life in the midst of death.

Lord, when life becomes dark and tumultuous; when hopes are dashed by grief, pain, disaster, chaos; when all of life seems to die.....Help us to find that silent garden in the midst of it all. Help us to see the promise and hope that is ours through your redeeming love.