Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND..."

(A bit more about MUSIC)
I THINK WE ALL KNOW HOW POWERFULLY MUSIC IMPACTS US. WE CAN'T GET OUT OF OUR MINDS SOME TUNE WE HAVE JUST HEARD. WE ACTUALLY SEEM TO “HEAR” IT IN OUR SUBCONSCIOUS AND WE CAN'T SHAKE IT OFF.

Whatever I am thinking or reading or hearing before drifting off to sleep at bedtime deeply affects how well I rest or how much I toss and turn restlessly. My mental posture filters into my dream cycles. Apparently our minds don't have a pause or stop button but continue running actively all night long. 

If I don't capture my thoughts like with a butterfly net, they will fly about wildly and uncontrollably. That sets me up for worry and anxiety. I fantasize what could happen when I cross the bridge which may not even be there when I get to it. I replay what went wrong in the past and fast forward to what the unknown future may hold. It's my choice but God instructs me: “Set your mind on the things above,” and “Have the mind of Christ,” and “bring every thought into captivity.”

I must be proactive. If I don't program my mind to fill it up in a positive way at bedtime, it will not remain empty. It will be taken over by the debris of the day or the activities of the one who "roams the world seeking the ruin of souls."

Unfortunately, my lifelong habit has been to read myself toward drowsiness, sometimes with light fiction so as not to tax my brain too heavily and prevent the onset of deep, quality sleep. I confess that too often I’ve read far into the night if enticed by a dramatic, page-turner novel. I’ve tried to break that habit and make my last thoughts before going to sleep focus on God, my Provider and Sustainer, and on His words in song or Scripture, which make for a much more “silent night, holy night.”

I’ve heard several versions of the following story. The details vary, but the point of this true story is always consistent. During the bombing of London in World War II, many young children were temporarily sent off to the English countryside to live in safety with rural families until the danger of aerial attacks on the urban areas would pass. Everyone was living in austerity and food was rationed. The children were fretful, nervous, and distraught by separation from their parents and families. Their sleep was filled with nightmares. Although they were provided with food during the daylight hours, they seemed fearful that there might not be anything for them to eat in the morning.

Their surrogate caring families finally found a loving way to alleviate their anxiety. Although the children had eaten before bedtime and their tummies were full, their hosts gave each child a substantial hunk of bread to hold in his hands through the night. Thus the young ones were assured that they would have something in the morning, and if they awakened during the night, being able to touch and taste and smell the extra bread gave them the assurance and comfort they needed.

I have tried to build that analogy into my life. Upon going to bed, I deliberately “hold” a piece of spiritual Bread in my heart and mind in order to “eat” it during the night if I awaken. It comforts and assures me that I will be kept safely through the night with the abundant provision of my Heavenly Father.

Music is the proactive way to fill the void in my mind for its journey through the night. I can actually put into my mental player any mental music CD that I choose! How cool is that? I'm not at the mercy of my untamed thoughts which continue to bombard my mind while I sleep. I have available an entire music library of mental iTunes to call upon. They are in my hymn books or stored in my memory bank. I can download them at will. 

I can program into my mind the lyrics and melody of a Christian hymn silently. I don't even have to hear it audibly. It will "play" endlessly and soothe my spirit and build my faith. Even a simple phrase from some stanza or the refrain is something to sink my spiritual teeth in, to chew on by repeating over and over with my lips or in my mind in silent contemplation.

David the psalmist king and contemporary musician often mentioned how during the day and all through the night he meditated on his bed about God and His goodness. God gave him songs in the night: “I will remember my song in the night. I will meditate with my heart; and my spirit ponders” (Psalm 77:6). That was also the experience of Job in even more ancient days. “...God my Maker, who gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10). David composed his own songs and we are privileged to sing them even today in the Psalter. In fact, we can compose our own songs in the night as we too intimately worship our King.

If we need help, examples from any hymn book are unlimited. A phrase plucked from a hymn will do: “Rejoice, the Lord is King, or “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side,” or a stanza from a hymn: “Simply trusting every day, Trusting through a stormy way; Even when my faith is small, Trusting Jesus—that is all,” “Jesus, I adore You, lay my life before You.” Saturating my mind with a sacred song is a shield against the enemy of my soul who seeks entrance to my mind during the night when my guard is down and I am vulnerable to enemy attacks.

I can take my defense in another direction too. That piece of Bread might be a Bible verse I’ve selected from my nightly Scripture readings in a devotional book. It can even be a single word that has become spiritually significant to me. I can select a simple phrase or what I like to call a "flash promise" from God. For instance “Let not your heart be troubled,” or “Forget not all His benefits,” or “Be anxious for nothing.” Perhaps a declaration of faith like "Jesus, I trust in You!" or “Jesus Christ, Lord of my life,” or “I know whom I have believed,” or “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” And my every night favorite, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening!” Taking one phrase of the Lord's prayer to repeat each night is another savory banquet.

It helps if I choose something that I can mentally repeat in rhythm with my slow night breathing. I can repeat the same phrase over and over to build my faith. This is not “vain repetition” which Jesus condemned as what the pagans do. On the contrary, this nurtures my spirit with the rich and meaningful Words of Life. If I fall asleep at any point, that's a bonus!

As Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so I ask the Heavenly Father to direct me in choosing just the right piece of nightly bedtime snack to sustain me. Such nourishment truly becomes “Wonder Bread.” And my songs in the night are my midnight snack to comfort me
 until the morning light.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

AVOIDING A SPIRITUAL "OOPS!"

As I write this, I happen to have six friends of various ages who have lately fallen, all under different circumstances. Several of them are repeat fallers. I am encore-adapting a topic from my recently published book, STILL MORE! FLOURISHING ON MY SUMMIT because our “fallen state” becomes all the more apparent in our calendar-challenged years.

“Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!” The image of a woman lying helpless on the floor flashed across my TV screen. An often repeated statistic flagged me: “One out of three people over sixty-five will fall this year.” Since I'm in that age category, advertisers target me persuasively to buy an alert button to hang as a pendant around my neck. They promise that if I press the button, I will be rescued in the probable event of a fall.

A few of my friends who are advancing in age are trying preventive maintenance. They enroll voluntarily in a rehab class for instruction and exercise to increase their mobility and improve their balance. Both physical and spiritual balance are in danger in our summit season of life. We tend to totter and wobble more than a bit when we walk. (On the physical side, I listed twenty of the everyday hazards that might precipitate a fall in Chapter 8, “Maintaining Our Balance,” in my above mentioned book.)

Accidental falls happen to the toddler and to the advanced-in-life totterer and to anyone in between. The small child is just learning to walk and gets up readily from a tumble after a few tears. Because a little one is closer to the floor, the bumps and bruises are not usually critical. Sufficient baby fat cushions the fall. The older person, having been a veteran walker for a lifetime, may become careless and unaware of the lack of balance that naturally comes with aging. A fall is usually more serious for us because our bones are more brittle and there is less natural padding. We easily become black and blue or end up with broken bones. As senior adults, we should learn to watch our step.

Most of the above physical warnings can translate into spiritual warnings. Although I have been a longtime Christian, I'm still in danger of losing my spiritual balance and falling. The road of life may be getting rougher. I face an uncertain future. I tend to shuffle instead of walking erect and alert and focusing on where I am going. I can lose my spiritual bearings.

Some unexpected trauma threatens to topple me. I may not be as careful to walk in God's full light as I did in the fervor of my first love for Christ. I must be careful not to carry too much baggage of the past; it may drag me down to a fall. My attachments to this earthly life may become too strong. If my spiritual feet are tired and weak from the length of life's journey, I may need spiritual orthotics in my shoes to maintain my walk with the Lord. I may not hear God's whisper of guidance as clearly as I did when I was in a more intimate relationship with Him. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is available as my hearing aid.

Jesus warned us to watch and pray so we will recognize the particular temptations of our life road and not stumble. I must not let my spiritual vision to become clouded with the cataracts of the passing things of this world. Along my pathway are sins which can so easily beset me and upset me. They cause me to fall if my spiritual eyes aren't fixed on the Lord. My feet may get tangled up in the trivia of the temporal and down I go spiritually. If I'm not progressing in my faith and trust in God, I slip backward and eventually take a spill. If I don't keep my spiritual knees strong by kneeling in worship or worshiping in my spirit, I will join my peers who head for knee and hip replacements.

Only with my heart continually turned to prayer can I keep from fainting from the weariness of advancing age. Some of us in our senior years settle for the rocking chair posture too soon and fall from weakness caused by physical inactivity. On the other hand, some of us tend to excessively hurry because the time left on earth seems so brief; we trip and fall too. I should trust Jesus to show me His will for both my physical and spiritual pace at each season of my life.

I must beware of elevating myself with high heels of pride for my achievements and turn an ankle and take a tumble. “Pride goes before a fall,” the Scripture declares. I must not be drunk with the luxuries and comforts of this world which the evil one designs to keep me from walking the straight line of righteousness.

In my advanced years my spinal discs may compress or deteriorate and I may lose a few inches in height. Applied spiritually, I might “lose my backbone” by no longer standing up straight for the moral and spiritual issues I once stood for so enthusiastically. Spiritual sciatica may set in.

Let's avoid a spiritual "Oops!" To be a faithful child of God, I should obtain whatever spiritual alignment correction is necessary to keep walking tall in my spirit without wavering or falling—all the way to the Finish Line. 
 

Friday, February 27, 2015

PRAYING TWICE


Although “He who sings [well] prays twice” is a quote often attributed to St. Augustine, after research it seems to be an anonymous proverb, originally bene cantat bis orat. 

What St. Augustine actually wrote in his commentary on Psalm 74 is translated, He who sings praises, not only praises, but praises joyfully.” Another spin-off from the original thought is "He who sings Scripture, prays twice." Be that as it may, through the ages Christian believers have joyfully sung their faith and praised and adored God with thoughts and words based on the Scriptures.

I have two hymnbooks available beside me when I read the Scriptures and pray and they are both part of my daily communication with God; one is my lifetime familiar classic Protestant hymnal, and the other is the hymnal we use in our Catholic parish. Both are full of rich praises based on Scripture. I sing and pray from them both.
The beautiful Catholic hymns at first were new to me and are now beloved, such as Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All; Holy God, We Praise Thy Name; Jesus, Remember Me; O Sacrament Most Holy; and On Eagles' Wings. The Catholic hymnal also contains dozens of hymns from my Protestant background such as How Great Thou Art; Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today; Joyful, Joyful We Adore You; O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; Come, Thou Almighty King; and Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.

Seeking to encourage my friend who is in the midst of storms of life involving the suffering of his “earth suit,” his mortal body, I was struck by how many hymns pick up on the theme of Jesus, the Rock, our Refuge and Shelter, and our hiding place. They are based on Scriptures such as Psalm 61:6 and 7, “God only is my rock and salvation, my stronghold...my refuge....” “They drank from the spiritual Rock that accompanied them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). “He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty...He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge...” (Psalm 91:1,4).

There is a time to stand courageously and fight the battles of life. But in our human weakness and pain there are also times to hide in a place of safety and quiet and peace protected from the storm. Some of the precious hymns express these rich thoughts: “O safe to the Rock that is higher than I, My soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly...So weary...Thine would I be...Thou blest Rock of Ages, I'm hiding in Thee...How oft in the conflict, when pressed by the foe, I have fled to my Refuge and breathed out my woe, How often, when trials like sea billows roll, Have I hidden in Thee, O Thou Rock of my soul.” And from another hymn: “The Lord's our Rock, in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm, Secure whatever ill betide...O, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land...the raging storms may round us beat...we'll never leave our safe retreat...be Thou our Helper ever near...A shelter in the time of storm.” And “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee....”

It is not cowardly to take shelter under God's wings and let the storm pass by. It is prudent. “Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of life's wild, restless sea” inviting us who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. “There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God. O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God, Hold us who wait before Thee, Near to the heart of God.”


Thursday, February 26, 2015

PILOT ON BOARD


There is another way for a ship to be guided into a harbor besides being pulled by a tugboat. This analogy might be even more relevant to our spiritual lives. Not only to our final journey of life but for guidance in all of life's seasons when we may be sailing through unfamiliar waters.

When navigating the Portland seaport 100 miles inland from the sea, harbor pilots are needed to maneuver large ocean vessels all the way in. These men are specialists on the river channel. By prior arrangement the pilot meets the ocean vessel well beyond the river bar and he is taken on board directly to the pilothouse of the ship. 

From the moment of his arrival, the safety of the vessel is in the hands of this specialist. He has spent his life on this river and knows every sandbar, shallow shoal, and treacherous current. He can guarantee safe passage from the ocean all the way to a safe docking in Portland. He is well respected, highly paid, and much sought after. During busy seasons ships are willing to lie at anchor in the ocean awaiting their turn for this expert.

Yet this highly specialized navigator never touches the wheel of the ship and never issues an order to the engine room. He just stands behind the captain informing him what to do and what orders to issue and what necessary corrections to make in the ship's course. Although he is essential to the safety of the ship, he does not steer the ship. At any point the captain can refuse to follow his orders. The ultimate decision is the captain's, and the consequences of those decisions rest upon his shoulders.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit does not enter our life to take its control out of our hands. He enters at our request as a highly specialized Guide through waters and courses well known to Him but totally new to us. He stands beside us in the control room of our life, our spirit, (Romans 8:9-17) and faithfully, but ever so gently, instructs us in the way we should go. 

The issuing of the commands in our life is left up to us. “Walking in the Spirit” as the Scripture tells us to do (Galatians 5:16 and 25; Romans 8:4) means accepting the Spirit's guidance, His suggestions, and His instructions. He may speak ever so firmly, but He will never violate the free will with which God has endowed us. He doesn't command our life through force. We must invite His guidance. (Psalm 25: 4, 5, 8-15)

Dear Indwelling Holy Spirit, come into the control room of my spirit. Stay with me to guide me through the new and unfamiliar waters of my life so that the breakers will not break me or cause me to fear. I want to be sensitive to Your gentle whispers to keep me on course and malleable to Your instructions as You guide me to safe harbor.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WHEN YOU CAN'T HANG ON

 (For my friend in need and for whomever else it is relevant)

Just before my lung cancer surgery years ago at the University Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, my relatives with whom I was staying took me to Fulton, Missouri where we toured the Westminster Memorial Library. Perhaps they thought to divert my mind from the life threatening major surgery I was facing. 

On one level an oversize statue of Winston Churchill took up the entire corner. A small boy about age six and his mother were looking at the statue. Since Churchill was sculpted in a seated position, the child suddenly took a notion to slip under the guard ropes and climb up on the immense stone lap of Churchill.

"Oh! Be careful!" cried his mother. "Don't fall!"

The youngster replied, "If he was real, he'd hold on to me!" Out of the mouth of babes!

Yes, real people care for and hold on to children who find themselves in precarious circumstances. My friend, you are the Lord's child, and you are in a precarious place right now in your illness. I pray that God will be as real to you as He ever was during your active ministry when you were in the full bloom of health. God is not a powerless statue unable to hold on to you. You can't slip from His embrace when you become too weak to hold on to Him.

No matter how well prepared we think we are for crisis times in our lives, when we are in the midst of physical traumas, we feel weak and incredibly helpless. We don't even have the strength to climb onto God's lap let alone hold on to the Him. We want to be strong and brave. We want to be an example of a believer, of a servant of God who has it all together. But in times of physical debilitation we may feel like a limp, deflated balloon.

When I was in the midst of my surgical adventure, I fully intended to pray a lot while lying in my hospital bed. I planned on being a spiritual example, a witness. I memorized Scripture promises in advance to recite and give me courage. But when the time came, my fuzzy, medicated, anesthetized mind couldn't recall any of them. I simply couldn't think deep, spiritual thoughts, or even formulate decent prayers. In fact, I struggled to think any thoughts! I was disappointed in myself. I was back to helpless, infant basics without the ability to care for or control myself. I just had to be quiet and let God hold me close. And that was okay.

Lord, please hold on to my friend in this critical time of his need. Invite him to climb up on Your big lap and snuggle up while You put Your strong arms around him. Let him experience You as “Abba, Father.” Let him just rest in You and cease from struggling to act brave or exemplary. Embrace him to Yourself and release the Holy Spirit within him in His fullness to "blanket” him about in His role as “Comforter.”

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power” 
(Isaiah 40:29).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

FISH JUMPING INTO MY BOAT!

As I roll out of bed to my knees beside my bed in the morning, (not easy anymore in my 90th year—well, easy enough to get down, but more difficult to get back up again!) my close friends know that I make it a habit to pray: 

Lord, bring into my life today anyone and everyone whom You want in my life, or whose life You want me to touch and bless for You. Bring all and only what is in Your purpose for me today, and keep away all other things and people that might distract me from doing Your will ‘on earth as it is in Heaven.’” 
 
God always answers prayer. So I conclude that everything and everyone I encounter each day is filtered through God’s ordained plan just as callers are screened by a producer on call-in talk shows. I count on God to be my “Day Planner.” I don't view anything, therefore, as an interruption or disappointment but as God’s appointment for me. That includes anyone who touches my life in person, by snail mail, phone call, e-mail, thought, reminder to pray, knock on my door, through my web site, blog, and any other means that the Holy Spirit may choose to use. I normally have busy days and a tight writing schedule, but I recognize that whatever happens to change that is actually an answer to my prayer. 

I want to answer Jesus' call to be “a fisher of men” and draw people toward the Kingdom of God. But the bottom line is that I dare to ask the Holy Spirit to reverse the normal modes of fishing and cause fish to jump into my boat! Then I wait on tiptoes of anticipation for God’s serendipity surprises.

Impossible? Ridiculous? A foolish prayer? Not really. Some fisher-persons sit in the shade on a river bank dozing while they dangle their fish pole over the water with some likely bait on the hook. Some wade out into the water in rubber hip boots and try their hand at fly fishing, casting their line where they think the fish might be lurking and hungry. In some places they attempt to spear fish one by one as they see them swimming in shallow waters. Still others cast a wide net and attempt to drag in unsuspecting schools of fish. In the process they sometimes pull in unwanted, inedible debris that may be floating around. All the above methods of fishing are good and some fish are caught. All ways of fishing have spiritual analogies. 

Occasionally I've come across a story in the media that at certain places, in certain seasons, and under certain conditions fish actually do jump into a fishing boat—a reverse phenomenon! I’ve viewed it on a sportsmen’s TV show. I boldly pray for that to happen on a daily basis. I ask God to bring to me those whom He will choose to dialog with me on spiritual matters, challenge me to grow in the Lord, correct or encourage me in my spiritual journey, or give me an opportunity to help others mature in Christ, and counsel and pray for them in their struggles. I pray that God will sort them out so that only those with whom He wants me to spend time and prayer will "jump into my boat." I make it a practice to “catch and release”—I pray for God's wisdom to nurture them during our encounters before I release them back into the water of their own circumstances.

It doesn’t matter to me how few or how many people-fish respond. I’m not going to count their number like Saint Peter did after Jesus caused the miraculous catch of fish after His resurrection.

Often God launches these precious encounters through unexpected e-mail messages in my inbox. Someone might have read one of my books or heard a CD or a friend suggested they write me. Or someone has found my blog and begun reading my posts, or discovered me through Facebook. Or someone is ill and reaches out to me in their discouragement. Or a long ago friend has just found me again. Or a person wants to come visit me or invites me to lunch. Or has a problem to unburden and needs counsel, or asks me to pray for them, or wants to share a joy, or simply needs a cyber hug. Often we do a cyber happy-dance together. 

In former years I traveled throughout the world in person to “fish” and minister in conventional ways of witness and teaching. In my advanced years it is thrilling to live in an age of electronic wonders where space and time are almost irrelevant in communication. My books are not only read in print but through electronic means. What an unique opportunity and privilege to touch through cyberspace people across the world, many I've never met, who are on their own varied spiritual journeys! I welcome them to jump into my boat whatever their reason and for however long a season!

Friday, February 20, 2015

LESSONS FROM A SEE-SAW

Life is full of ups and downs. When we are on the low end of a see-saw through illness or trials of various kinds, God has His own way of lifting us up. It may seem like a strange way to us. I share this for the encouragement of some friends who are flying low.

"But He [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:9,10)

Isn't it true that we step out of our comfort zone when we feel weak and helpless? We have a feeling that our strength is leaking out. Today I can well imagine that you feel weakness because it seems that your life is spinning out of control. How could this be a good thing? There is something exciting and extraordinary to discover with the apostle Paul in that verse. God allows us to become weak on purpose! It is only because He loves us so much and wants to work through us that He actually may reduce our personal strength.

Apparently, only in my personal weakness can I experience God's strength. When I am strong and able to cope and in control, God's power is less evident in and through me. As my own strength decreases, HIS strength increases in me. It is like a see-saw: When I am UP, His power is DOWN; When I am DOWN--low on my own power--I can experience the LIFT of God's mighty power surge.

Your illness has doubtless left you low on natural and physical power. You don't seem to be firing on all cylinders no matter how hard you try to accelerate in your own strength or with boosters to your immune system. Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, there is no such thing as a "FIVE HOUR ENERGY BOOST" to drink from a little bottle! Far from being bad news, however, your weakness puts you in an ideal position for the Lord to pour His power into you and through you in witness to others who watch your response to your trials.  Paul learned this lesson precisely because God DIDN'T ANSWER his earnest, persistent, pleading prayers! It may not be the Lord's will to take away your present suffering, but to give you an opportunity to internalize God's answer to Paul as your very own: "My grace [God's grace] is sufficient for you."

God didn't use Paul in spite of his weakness, but because of it. With Martin Luther we can affirm, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing." I doubt that neither you nor I have enough of our own strength to confide in anyway, right? 

Our best position is to realistically recognize and accept our weakness, lean heavily on His strength, and yes, even "delight in our weakness" as Paul learned to do. Because Paul was naturally strong and able, for him to take joy in weakness was something that he had to learn--as do we. 

"...Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts..." is God's way of doing things. (Zechariah 4:6)