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just a quick note to remind everyone that for the next week, i’ll be somewhere in southern illinois hanging out with our youth group. we’re taking them to the CIY (“Christ in Youth”) teen convention that’s being held there, and we leave tomorrow evening. tonight we’re hosting a kickoff for the event, complete with kickball and a bonfire. so i’m looking forward to that and all that will come from it, especially because mal and cathy get to come along too. i know the whole thing will be as enlightening and invigorating for me as it is for the kids that it’s geared toward. and i love that! please keep us all in your prayers and especially for the kids’ hearts and our (the adults’) words and actions, etc.

see you when we return!

(after these messages, we’ll be riiiight back!)

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often when i go to God about decisions I’m making, I come to him with my proposal typed out and neat and tidy in a folder. i lay it all out on the table and show him how i’ve narrowed it down to two choices, A and B, and which would he like to choose?

I take the God of the universe, the Creator of everything complex and incomprehensible who wrote this great story that we call Life and Eternity, who is bigger than anything i can imagine and who understands it all and somehow stitches this huge tapestry together into one great, intricate and beautiful masterpiece, and who loves–me!–more than i can even begin to fathom; and i give him a multiple-choice quiz with two possible answers: A or B.

“OK, now which one do you choose, God?” I tap my foot impatiently and want him to answer me on the spot. I mean, come on; He’s the one with the answers right? Why should I have to wait around on Him?

It makes me pretty disappointed in myself and embarrassed, really, that I would do that to the God who loves me so much and who all He wants to do is help me get the most out of Life that I can and wants what I want even more than I do. I do that now and people did that to Jesus back when he was alive, too: taking him these questions or demands and presented them to him as having only two options. but time and time again, He would break that mold and that conception and show them how close-minded their thinking truly was, as he’d show them another route or another question that never crossed their mind.

I need to focus more on just asking God the question and leave it at that; stop it with the “I’ve already analyzed the situation, so choose between these two.” go to him from the beginning with the raw question and leave it open-ended. “What do you want? What do you want me to do with this?” and then…wait and listen.

this acknowledges that he knows better than we do and that his answers are so much better than the lousy and limiting–and un-interesting!–A and B choices we often give him. there are so many other options, we need not strip him of his creativity and his power. option C can be so much greater than we could have imagined!

I will bring you gold in place of bronze, silver in place of iron, bronze in place of wood, iron in place of stones.
– Isaiah 60:17

He will bring us more and greater and richer things than we can imagine or think we need…if we just ask him and quit trying to take over the reins all the time.

the other night i wrote this in my (private) journal and thought it rang too true to keep hidden:

“i want to quit pinning God in a corner and trying to guess what he’s up to, or manipulate Him to fit my expectations or desires. sometimes i just want to be surprised, but i never let myself allow for that surprise.”

actually now that i think about it, i’m not surprised that the devil was attacking me like that. i was just reflecting about what these next few days/weeks will hold for me and i realized how tightly they revolve around seeking God and his will:

  • tonight i’m going to c-hop with my small group
  • before visiting the prayer room, mal and i are going to be hanging out with a girl who used to live in grand rapids
  • on sunday, i am going with mal + cathy from my small group to chaperone a youth group trip to CIY, which i know will be as enlightening and recharging for me as it will be for the kids
  • i reached out to a woman i look to as a role model and we’re going to meet the following week to talk and just for me to get the chance to seek any counsel or wisdom she has to offer, about relationships (i admire her marriage and the way she’s raised her kids) and God and everything else inbetween
  • then i return to grand rapids to continue to see what that holds

those are all areas where God is at work and where I’ll be seeking him and searching for him. so i suppose the devil figures he ought to try to get some really deep digs in now, before that process takes place. of course the devil really should just stop trying so hard because he already gets his own share of successes each and every day when i mess up in some sort or another. but fortunately, he’s not winning these kinds of battles any more. i know the day will come with those other battles–even the small, seemingly insignificant ones–will be vanquished and overturned, too.

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,

Psalm 65:5

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Romans 12:12

i think it’s funny (though the word i really mean is more like “befuddling” or “illogical”) that when i’m feeling down and dejected and like the world is against me, my inclination is to coop myself up inside and trudge around an empty room. but that God pulls me outside those four walls and uses the world at large to deflate that suffocating, downward-spiral of a balloon.

that’s how it was today for me. out of nowhere, i got this sudden and abrupt sense of hopelessness, like everything good that i’d been amped about and excited for was all empty and a ploy and i wasn’t going to see any of it. i started getting really anxious and pacing around. i didn’t know what to do. i tried reading a book but that didn’t help. i only got more anxious. so i did the only thing i could and started praying about it. with my breathing fast and my thoughts anxious, i told God how scared i was. it wasn’t until i was praying that i pinpointed that what i was feeling was actually hopelessness, which of course pulled the curtain down and showed who was really at work in that situation.

after i realized that and reminded myself of all of God’s promises to prosper me and give me the good things that my heart yearns for (drawing closer to him, fulfilling his will for my life/love/location/etc.) i knew what i needed to do. i jumped up and bolted out the door to go for a walk. and that’s when i really got my footing back again. with my ipod serenading me and my eyes open and searching for God and my pocket Bible in hand, God threw open the doors that restored my sense of hope and rest and peace in his goodness and the provisions he promises to bring my way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD
Jeremiah 29:11-14

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

i know God loves to work in ways that baffle us and that don’t seem to make sense, but somehow–even though i can’t put my finger on it–it does make sense: that breaking out of the confines of the ordinary and stepping back into the world–where anything is possible and novelty is all around–will pull you closer to him. i remember when i was reading about fasting, one of the things they encouraged was that when you steeped yourself in prayer, make sure you go somewhere not at home to do it. home is cozy and comfortable, but sometimes that’s not what we need. sometimes we need strangeness to awaken us to the Truth and to open our eyes to what’s really going on here.

today was one such day.

and it worked; by stepping out, i found my way back home again.

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame….
Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:3-5

All I can say is that I feel like I’m at a point where I’m really able to watch God work. It used to be that God would do stuff without me realizing it and I wasn’t aware that the steps I were taking would lead here or there. But now, I feel like I’m finally able to see it and perceive in, in real, live time.

That’s the way things are. I’m watching God work all around me. It kind of reminds me of the part in Fantasia where the magic just starts to kick in, and it’s happening little by little. But after awhile it swells into this huge symphony of magic coming together. Right now, it’s that beginning. Where the buckets are teetering and brooms are waking up and they’re starting that little dance, just now stirring. And to think i’m able to watch it as it happens to me and those around me. It’s so awesome.

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…”

Last night I was at a friend’s house and she was asking me about Grand Rapids. I told her my story about why I feel compelled to move there, and she told me that she was impressed that I’d be willing to do something like that, that she didn’t think she could. But that’s the thing, I’m not doing anything. Really, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God and what He’s doing.

And I told her that; that she oughtn’t be impressed because really I have no other choice but to follow God and go where he leads. Not because I’m doing anything brave but because he’s making it so easy for me to follow. How can I not? He’s given me so much peace about this decision and opened door after door. There’s no reason for me to turn the other way or to be scared or nervous.

That’s the thing I think I’ve learned so much from this adventure-at-large: The great, incomparable gift of Peace. I used to make my decisions by pros and cons lists and try to reason them out and sort them. But I’d often reach a stalemate where this path could be the right one but this one could be, too. I felt that way a lot when Paul and I were dating and I was trying to figure out if we were right for each other. It all depended on how I looked at it, and I could make a good case for each. Which left me right where I started.

But that’s the thing; I was the one making the case and was basing it solely on that. Now that I’ve seen how reigning the case for peace can be, I truly believe that’s part of God’s “still, small voice” that He uses to speak to us and to point us in the right direction. I’m just now learning to put stock in that feeling and trust in it and listen for it and try to follow it. And it’s so much easier this way, to just let the path of peace guide me through some of these big decisions and trust that it is from God. Of course, I know my own judgment and opinions can cloud, so I just make sure to tell God that that’s what I’m trusting is His will, and if it isn’t, to work to move me back to the right one.

See? Easy.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

“Submit to God and be at peace with him;
in this way prosperity will come to you.
Job 22:21

“This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good; that you will be pure and without wrong for the coming of Christ; that you will be filled with the good things produced in your life by Christ to bring glory and praise to God.”
Philippians 1:9-11

I’ve started taking our dog, Shaggy, with me on my morning walks. He loves to sniff around and investigate, and often he’s the one trailing behind me (which I’m sure makes for a backwards sight for passersby). And we’d start off and he’d walk primly down the center of the sidewalk path…but not for long. Soon, he’d veer off. I’d let him explore and wander the grass for so long, but then when he’d get too close to the street or into someone’s hard, I’d have to tug on his leash  and get him to come back to my side. That cycle repeated itself every few yards as I’d let him go, have to get his attention and draw him back, etc., etc.

And that reminded me of how we are for God: How he’s leading us down this path and pointing us in the direction that will take us back home, but we get distracted and scamper off the path until he has no other choice but–for our own safety–to tug us back into place. We stay on course for a few feet but then stray away again and again. And so it goes.

It makes me look at my curious little dog with more understanding eyes. and to try to have more patience with him and tell him, “Yes, I understand. Because I know I like to stray, too.”

It’s funny how many little moments like that in life mirror the greater cosmic story that’s woven all around us. it’s like God’s putting his autograph on every piece of life, even down to the menial tasks, like walking the dog on a hot summer morning.

now that i’m living semi-permanently in the northern ‘burbs of cincinnati, i decided to take advantage of the locale and check out the Cincinnati House of Prayer (c-hop, which i will heretofore refer to as “the chop chop”).

first, wouldn’t it be my luck that the one street that it’s on “Carnegie Way” is the only street that is not labeled? i drove the entire length of the connecting street, for about 20 minutes and starting turning down every side street in case it was it. finally, i found it. i checked the schedule that was posted outside the door and i was just in time for “worship with the word” which was my favorite time when we were at IHOP-KC.

there’s a small little bookstore and cd shop set up in the lobby and then down a hallway is the prayer room. it was much like IHOP-KC except that it had more of a living-room kind of vibe which i really liked. the lights were dimmed and there were three girls playing from the stage. there were about 10 other people in the prayer room and it was definitely a fostering sort of atmosphere. there were flags on the walls to pray for and verses on a white board to spur reflection.

just like IHOP-KC it was easy to sit still and read and reflect and journal for an hour without noticing. and that’s what i needed. that’s what i need. i hope to be able to stop by there more often. it’s funny how powerful and more effective prayer and solitude can be when you’re around other people, even when you never say a word to them.

matthew 8:20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

* * * * * * * * *

here’s the schedule for “the chop chop” because you can’t find it on their website (but you can find better directions there):

sunday:
open from 12-8pm, featuring a live webcast from IHOP-KC prayer room

monday:
from 8am to 10am is the live webcast from the KC prayer room
from 10am to noon is a devotional
from noon to 4pm is the live webcast again
from 4pm to 6pm is intersession
from 6pm to 7pm is worship
from 7pm to 9pm is worship with the word

tuesday:
from 8am to 4pm is the live webcast from the KC prayer room
from 4pm to 6pm is intersession
from 6pm to 7pm is the live webcast
from 7pm to 9pm is worship with the word

wednesday:
from 8am to 10am is devotional
from 10am to 2pm is the live webcast
from 2pm to 4pm is intercession
from 4pm to 5pm is contemplative
from 5pm to 7pm is the live webcast
from 7pm to 9pm is intercessory dance

thursday:
from 7am to 9am is devotional with an israel focus
from 9am to 4pm is the live webcast
from 4pm to 6pm is intercession
from 6pm to 10pm is the live webcast

friday:
from 8am to 6pm is the live webcast
from 6pm to 8pm is worship
from 8pm to 10pm is intercession
from 10pm to midnight is live webcast

saturday:
from 8am to 1pm is live webcast
from 1pm to 3pm is youth team practice
from 3pm to 6pm is live webcast
from 6pm to 8pm is intercession with an israel focus

a week or so ago, mallory and i watched the movie “august rush” which is about a little boy who’s gifted musically and is trying to find his parents, who don’t really even know he exists. he believes that the music will bring them together and (sorry if i’m spoiling it for you, but really, it’s a movie, what did you expect?) of course, in the end, it does. they live happily ever after.

in john eldredge’s book “epic” he talks about how God’s story is interwoven into all our desires and even into our own greatest stories: the fact of some great struggle that we’re experiencing, the hero must make a decision and step out on faith, which ends up paying off and all ends well. we yearn for this story and tell it over and over again because it’s the story which is etched into our heart and that draws us back to God, generation after generation.

and i believe that. but here’s my question: if we recognize that and if we embrace that, then why does almost every story ignore that fact? why is God never mentioned anywhere, even when it is (arguably) so obvious?

because if you look at “august rush,” here’s this little boy who strikes out on his own and just happens to run into a nice homeless boy who becomes his friend. he happens to meet a nice social worker who looks out for him. he happens to walk into a church and the pastor takes the time to see the spark that lies within him and nurture that. he happens to meet the man who will give him good advice to take a risk. he happens to stay safe and optimistic and not ruined by all the hardship and anger and misery that swells all around him.

if you were to ask me about that movie, i’d say that God runs deep throughout the entire thing, that God is orchestrating all those episodes and guiding that little boy on his search for love and restoration. but God isn’t mentioned anywhere throughout. and even in christian fiction, God’s role is often watered down or only mentioned offhand, as in the protagonist goes to church or prays to God a couple times.

but it’s never like real life where it’s deep and meaningful, where me and my friends sit around and wonder aloud about God and talk about scriptures together and have real, live conversations and really spend time praying and fasting and praising and seeking out God. where are the modern stories about that? it’s his story, but we never give him credit for it or offer him the starring role! the only places you can really find that is in non-fiction or in memoirs/biographies.

it’s no wonder that people have to happen upon a real relationship with God in a happenstance sort of way. we’re not embracing and living it and modeling it deeply enough–so that it shows up in the stories, in the entertainment that we read and watch and enjoy.

i just don’t know why we don’t love God enough to include Him in these sorts of things, why we aren’t strong enough and trusting enough to take that bold move and inject him there, to take him public and sing his praises even there.

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
james 4:8

earlier last week, i was in a funk, whether it was from moving or figuring out next steps or spending too much time alone or otherwise. i think the bulk of it came down to the fact that i was focusing in on myself to the point where everything was about me and my desires, rather than on either of the first two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

and whenever i neglect that and instead look only inward, it drags me down. it causes discontentment and anxiety when i forget to look Up. i knew what i needed to do (draw near to God) but my heart just wasn’t in it. i mumbled the words and told God how fed up i was with stuff and things in my life, but still, i wasn’t feeling any differently or any better.

then on wednesday, still full of fret, i met up with bri, as per our usual wednesday night ritual, and i just let it all out. i kept talking and confessing everything that was burdening me and holding me down. and it was in that moment, in that conversation of releasing everything pit up–as hard or lame as some of it is to admit–the weight was lifted.

in lauren winner’s book, “girl meets god” she talks about how started going to see a priest routinely to confess her sins, even though she’s not (and doesn’t otherwise practice) catholic/catholicism. she talks about how it’s in God’s nature to take the ordinary and everyday and use it to purify us and draw us closer to him: water gives us new birth in baptism; bread reminds us of the price jesus paid and brings us close to him in the eucharist; and God also draws us closer to him when we confess our sins–to ordinary people, just like each and every one of us.

our inclination is to bottle up our imperfections and smudge over them so no one can tell. or if we do tell, we tell people who will have the right answers or perhaps the people who are worse off than ourselves. but we don’t want to risk tarnishing our image or our reputation. so our sins cower deep inside. but when we become vulnerable and break down walls and open up about our shortcomings, especially to other ordinary, broken individuals, a surprising bit of healing can come through that. (and isn’t it ironic, dontcha think?)

and that’s what happened on wednesday. as we were talking, i could feel it taking place and my heart getting inflated again and swelling back up. i knew that that moment was behind me for the time being. i came home that night, renewed…

“therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you will be healed. the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
james 5:16

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
John 14:27

just got this press release at work:

Young voters of faith

Voters between the ages of 18 and 25 have turned out in record numbers in this year’s presidential primaries and caucuses, and according to several recent polls, their faith and values are playing a major role in how they cast their ballots. An April 2008 Harvard University poll found that 37 percent of young voters said that religion is a very important part of their lives, and it identified a group called “religious centrists” – those who say they care deeply about the moral direction of the country – as 25 percent of college-age voters.

But young voters seem to define their faith and values in significantly different ways than previous generations of religion-driven voters. While their parents were likely to be more concerned with abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell issues, today’s young voters of faith are more likely to list poverty, the Iraq war and universal health care as key moral issues.

….

lots of add’l info on the site

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