Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deepening Our Conversation with God

(I've always liked this picture, but I don't know if the little girl is praying or getting distracted)

A friend asked me today what I learned from our church's prayer conference. Although I've been applying much of what I learned, I had a hard time articulating it. (So, Stephanie H., this blog is for you because of my lame answers earlier this afternoon). Our guest speaker was Ben Patterson and his topic was "Deepening Your Conversation With God". I have the book with the same title and after the conference was over, I saw that much that was covered in the messages are already in the book.

The most convicting thing I learned was about persistent prayer. That God welcomes and honors pray-ers who don't let up and are willing to keep praying despite no observable answers or even when God ignores you, like Jesus did with the Gentile mom with a demon possessed daughter who kept worshipping Him in total humility. Patterson doesn't soften the story about Jesus' callous responses to her. But despite the cold initial responses, He healed her daughter and praised the mom's faith--something He only did twice as recorded in the Gospels. That compliment He also bestowed on another Gentile man--a Roman soldier who had a sick servant.

I've prayed long and hard about many things that are still unanswered. Some of these requests I've finally abandoned. My excuse is that I'm trusting God, but I think what I'm doing is protecting myself. From the Scriptures, the people of great faith were the ones who "wrestled" with God, not the ones who walked away. So, I when I do that, it's because I don't want to get dirty anymore with the spiritual sweat that comes from working hard at prayer.

The other thing I'm applying is when I'm talking with Dennis, my husband, I will start praying in the middle of our conversation directing what Dennis and I just talked about with God. Yes, I know that God just heard what we said because He is omniscient. But Dennis and I really enjoy our time together this way. Louretta, Ben's wife, and I talked in the hallway after church and I shared a burden about a family member. Before I left after our chat, Louretta spontaneously prayed with me for my family right there where we stood--no looking for a prayer closet or a quiet place but right in front of the coffee pot the busiest place on a Sunday morning in our church.

I also was glad to be reminded that the busier we are, the more we need to pray, not less. When I'm busy, it is easy to whittle away at the quiet time hour until I'm reduced to praying in the car going to where ever, which sometimes gives way to not praying at all. If I'm stressed because of a full schedule, I need to plan a lot better so that I remember that it isn't about me and that I labour in vain unless it's the Lord who builds the house. A friend (and she's really busy) and I will meet to discuss a bible study based on Bill Hybel's "Too Busy Not to Pray."

So there you go, Miss Hays. What you deserved to hear but I was too inarticulate to give you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I live in Michigan and enjoy four seasons. I haven't always lived in a place with four distinct seasons--some parts of California have basically two, and in Atlanta there's a winter that would be considered spring here. I've written in the past how the weather takes me by surprise--"Snow? Really?", "Hey, where did those flowers come from?", and my personal favorite: "What, no jacket, gloves, hat and scarf plus four layers of clothing?"

Right now, spring is ambushing me. We turned off the heat, opened some windows and the sunshine is streaming in. A loud bird is singing non-stop on our deck. It's just about 60 degrees right now. My neighbors are taking walks past my window wearing light windbreakers or hooded sweatshirts. Some green thing is poking through the mulch in the garden. After lunch, I'm taking a walk to the store to get potting soil to get some tomato seeds planted indoors. This morning the spring cleaning bug bit me and I organized and cleaned our bedroom closet. Oh yeah, and we had to change all our clocks.

Easter is a week and a half from now. It seems too soon. Dennis has been observing a Lent of sorts--no meat on Fridays, fish only and limiting desserts to once or twice a week (big deal for him). We both grew up Catholic and had some exposure to the Lent disciplines. In grade school to high school, I don't remember ever sticking to any abstinence of anything, although I did try something one year as in no sweets or desserts, which wasn't a big deal because I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I don't think I succeeded, because whenever I think of Lent I think of feeling guilty that I didn't give up a luxury for Jesus. I came to a point of wondering if it really mattered to Him if I didn't eat meat on a Friday, or abstained from a tasty cookie when I remembered that I had decided on it. I did manage fasting during Good Fridays sometimes, and I attended some Ash Wednesday services when I was an older teen. Short term goals of any type were more reachable for me back then.

Because I wasn't time or calendar conscious before Lent, I had no plan or purpose to practice any spiritual discipline of self-denial or fasting. But Holy Week is around the corner, and I have an opportunity now to make a few decisions on how I pursue a deeper focus on Jesus Christ my Lord and the Gospel. Maybe this weekend's Magnify Conference at my church, University Reformed Church can give some ideas.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pizza Love

I'm a pizza fanatic--any kind, any where. There are two reasons that I thank God that He created Italians--that they invented espresso and pizza. I want to go to Italy some day chiefly to experience both these pleasures in their original (not American) forms. Yet one of the things about pizza that I really appreciate is how creative you can be with what you put on it.

I'm making Easter brunch plans, we're having people over from other countries and who've never experienced the holiday before. What to eat is kind of tricky--other cultures have different food restrictions. Pork is a big minefield. Eggs are sometimes iffy--we have Hindu friends we want to invite who can't eat them. I usually make ham or breakfast egg and sausage casserole, but this year it would be inappropriate.

One of the candidates to replace or augment the old reliable casserole is Breakfast Pizza. I've seen some versions with scrambled eggs, but Smitten Kitchen's version has my attention with a raw egg baked on top with bacon. I'm thinking about using some other meat, like turkey bacon instead. I can prepare the pizza dough the night before and then have it ready the next morning for people to choose their own toppings, sans eggs or bacon or baconlike ingredients if they wish. There might be kids, so assembling a pizza could be fun for them, (along with decorating eggs). The pizzas take only 8-10 minutes to bake.

We'll have fruit salad, some veggies like asparagus, couscous and bruschetta on the side. If we have the money, we'll grill some lamb which some cultures are very familiar with. If it's a nice day, we could bring the whole shebang out on the deck but I can't recall a sunny Michigan Easter. If it isn't, we'll eat indoors and watch the Jesus film. I'm hoping that our guests will always remember this Easter--when they experienced some American hospitality, the Gospel and Breakfast Pizza.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Truth Sets Us Free

The hardest lies to deal with are the ones we tell ourselves. We know what the truth is, but we either sugarcoat it or flat out deny it. We build fantasies and exclude any hard cold realities that would confront it. We all do this, in varying degrees and styles. It's a survival mechanism, especially if we want to protect something or someone but more likely, protect ourselves. But then it can really be destructive because we try to protect ourselves at all costs, to the point that we would sacrifice someone else to do it.

For me, having people around who are not afraid to tell me that I'm fooling myself is invaluable. I prefer to have friends who are not afraid to hurt me for my own good. A long time ago, such a friend showed me my craziness and when I thanked her for it, she smiled and said that she ordinarily wouldn't confront people unless she knew they'd listen. My sisters and brother are also good sources of feedback--I need people who can ask me "What were you thinking?" I may not always agree, but it is good to know what people whom I love and trust are concerned about. For me, the ultimate in a relationship is loving someone else enough to help them see the truth while accepting them at the same time and putting up with their defensiveness. When I have that and can give that, then I know I have a real friendship.

These friends are not easy to find, and take a lot of time to cultivate once you do. So, I thank all my closest friends and family out there. Especially those of you who know the Gospel and live it every day. And thank you to God, who taught me to love the truth because He does, and that I can face it when I put my trust in Him. He liberates me.