Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 5: Directed

Last week Dennis & I were at Baylor University for four days.  Dennis was the Hearn Innovator guest lecturer for the Center for Christian Music Studies  at Baylor  It was powerful to watch him teach and coach these students who are preparing to be worship pastors and worship leaders in the local church.  That is his wheelhouse!  Did you know that before he changed his major to music, Dennis was planning to be a coach?  He still is a coach, coming alongside our musicians every week, those who serve and those who lead, bringing out their strengths, encouraging them, challenging them to be better and think bigger and serve with humility.  He is great at helping people understand why we worship and how we worship well, why we worship the way we do.  I watched him in lectures and over dinner conversations, and his days were filled with one-on-one mentoring sessions, where he thrives.  He is a coach at heart.  And though he poured himself out from sun up to way past sun down, he came away fired up, because he is passionate about worship and worship leaders.

I met Dennis Worley in the halls of those buildings where he taught this week.  It was powerful to be back on the campus.  While he taught, I had the days to myself.  I walked the whole campus, went inside every building, stood in concert halls and practice rooms and theaters and classrooms and dormitories, at intersections, by benches, under trees that transported me back to the 1970's, to my twenty-something self who dreamed of doing some of the things I've gotten to do and didn't even know to dream of doing some of the things I've gotten to do.  I was passionate about Jesus and music and boys —not always in that order!  I was just beginning to discover who I was and what God had in mind for me.  Walking those hallways and watching Dennis talk with those students, I was reminded of the many people who spoke into my life and dreams during those years.  I found myself making a list of the people God has brought alongside me since then, all along the way in life—people who have been able to help me see what God was doing and how I fit in it, people who called out my gifts and strengths and people who called me on my weaknesses.  I am grateful for them, so grateful that God lined them up next to me at moments in life.  If I made a list you would know some and you wouldn't have a clue about others.  My story would not be the same without them.

I was thinking about them this past week, not only because I was at Baylor, but because I was preparing to teach this week's Wednesday Bible study.  This week's story is one of my all-time favorites.

God told Philip, "Go down the road south of Jerusalem," and Philip obeyed.  He came upon a man riding in a chariot, an Ethiopian eunuch, a high official in the Queen's court.  He had been to Jerusalem to worship God, and he was reading from the scroll of Isaiah!
Acts 8:26-38

God's Spirit told Philip, "Go alongside that chariot and stay near it."

As Philip approached the chariot, he heard the man reading aloud.

"Do you understand what you're reading?" Philip asked.  

"How can I," the man replied, "unless someone explains it to me?  Can you explain it to me?"
Acts 8:30-31

So Philip climbed into the chariot, and starting with the passage in Isaiah, with story after story, he told the man about Jesus—how it was possible for everyone to have life with God because of Jesus.

I love this story because it is such a beautiful example of how God's Spirit lines us up next to someone right at the moment they need to understand something about God or how life with God works.  Both Philip and the Ethiopian learn something about God they didn't know, didn't understand fully until their paths lined up on this stretch of road.  They both learned that life with God, a relationship with God, is open to everyone because of Jesus.  I've been in Philip's shoes a time or two, so I know that sometimes you don't even understand a truth about God is true until you teach it to someone, and just as you're explaining it to them — ZING!—a lightbulb goes off in your heart, and you go, "Wow!  That's true!"

This is exactly what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be, a coach.  Paraclete is the word used in the Bible, meaning someone who comes alongside and helps you.

I'm so grateful for the paracletes that came alongside me at moments in my life and said, "Do you understand what God is doing?"  But I also know that God is constantly telling me, "Go here" or "Go there," and mistakenly I often think it is all about my path, when actually he is lining me up next to someone else on the path, and it is my moment to say, "Do you understand?"  And when they ask, "Can you explain it to me?" then, like Philip, I need to be ready to tell them the story and how they fit in it.  Are you ready?

Click here listen to this week's story and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 4: Unstoppable

There's an old story about a country church that got itself a new preacher.  Everybody liked him until, after a few months, he started doing a strange thing.  Every morning, he would go down to the train station, sit on a bench on the platform and read the newspaper until the morning train approached the station.  As soon as he heard the train, the preacher threw down his paper and cheered.  When the train pulled out from the station, he cheered again until it was out of sight.  Then he folded his paper and went back to his office.

After a few weeks of this strange behavior, the parishioners sent some deacons to talk to him.

"Uh, preacher," they hemmed a bit.  "Folks've been asking about something."

"Oh, the train thing?" said the preacher.

"Yeah," they answered.

"I love that train," replied the preacher. "It's the only thing in this town I don't have to get behind and shove."

If you've ever been in ministry, you know just how he feels.  You know that program, that initiative, that fundraising drive, that new Bible study that takes everything you've got, and you know that if you ever stop shoving it along, it's just going to dry up and blow away.

That's exhausting.  And not at all the way God intended the gospel to go forward.

This week's Bible story comes with a truth that is a relief.  The apostles have been boldly preaching about Jesus and healing people, and the religious leaders have tried all kinds of ways to stop them.  They are seriously considering killing them, when Gamaliel, a respected teacher, speaks up.

"Be careful what you do.  Remember, there've been others who made claims like this, but nothing came of it.  If this work is merely human, it will fall apart,
but if this is God at work, nothing can stop it."
-Acts 5:33-39

"Flesh gives birth to flesh.  Spirit gives birth to Spirit," Jesus told Nicodemus. And later he told his followers, "Apart from me, you can do nothing."

Really, nothing?  I have a hard time accepting that sometimes.  I live in a very creative, very connected, very make-it-happen community of believers.  And when we get busy for God, wow, it is really something.  Or it seems like it. 

That's why it's really important that we pay attention:  Is this merely humans at work?  Or this is God?  I don't believe God ever needs us to get behind the gospel and shove.  I believe he calls us to stand in the path of the Spirit and ride the wind of God.

Is that a relief to you?

Click here to listen to this week's story and download the homework.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 3: Bold!

Last winter, when we first began learning to tell Bible stories at Wednesday Bible study, we discovered that we had to unpeel some thinking we had about what needs to happen when you talk about faith in God with someone.  We were learning the creation story, and I remember asking the question, "What bothers you about this story?" And someone said, "Well, it doesn't bother me, but I know who I'm going to tell this to, and I know what they're going to ask:  'Seriously, you think God did all that in 6 24-hour days?'"

I didn't say anything in the story about a number of days.  And I didn't on purpose.  I wanted to tell the story of a God who is pleased with his creation, who gave man and woman a relationship with him and a role to play in creation.

But quickly we began to see that one of the reasons we don't tell stories of our faith is that we feel that going into a conversation about faith, we have to fight.  And we have to win.

We talked about the story of evolution, and someone said, "That's just stupid!"  and I said, "Really?  That's what most of our culture believes, and they think your story is stupid."

Things, as you know, can get ugly.

What if we learn to say, "This is the story that tells me who I am and what I am here for. What's your story?  And what does it tell you?"

How can we talk about faith with courage and conviction, but not end up in a sword fight?

I was thinking about that this week, because this week's story is about Peter and John being called before the Jewish religious leaders because they had healed a crippled man in the temple and then started telling the crowd that it had happened by the power of Jesus.

God's Spirit filled Peter, and he replied, "Are we being called on the carpet for doing good to a crippled man?  Then know that this happened by the power of Jesus.  You rejected him, but the prophets spoke of him.  It was always God's plan to restore us and give us life with Him through Jesus.  And I'm telling you there is nothing else God has given us that can make us whole and right except Jesus."
-Acts 4:8-12

Luke's account tells us that the religious leaders were astonished that ordinary men could be so bold.  Boldness is what stands out in this story.  Peter and John's boldness before the religious leaders.  And then, the believers' response when they heard Peter and John's story.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and give us more boldness to tell everyone everywhere about Jesus.  And do even more miracles by the power of Jesus."
-Acts 4:29-30

In response to their prayer, they were all filled with God's Spirit, the place where they were praying was shaken, and they went out and changed the world.

What's the difference in being bold and being belligerent?

How can we learn to talk about Jesus with conviction and charm?

The gospel is going to offend people.  Jesus is a Revealer;  he reveals what is in men's hearts.  You can see that the early believers expected Jesus to offend people.  But Luke says an interesting thing about them, bold as they were:  It was obvious that God was with them, and their life with Him was attractive to people.  They had, we would say, charisma.  From the Greek word charis, which means  graciousness of manner or action, the divine influence upon the heart.  Charisma - graciousness that attracts people - is what you have when God's Spirit fills you.

Left to his own devices, Peter used to cut off people's ears.  But Jesus didn't choose Peter to lead his church and leave him to his own devices.  And he doesn't leave us on our own either.  Remember, he promised, "And I will be with you to the very end."

I believe we can be bold in a better way.

Click here to listen to the story and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 2 The Power

Last Friday my mother had major surgery.  My 82-year-old mother was in surgery for 6 1/2 hours.  She is a champion.  But now she is weak and exhausted and in pain, and she needs me.  Since last Thursday night, she has needed me to be present and caring and strong and encouraging and patient.

Meanwhile, my newly-engaged son and his fiancĂ© need me to be engaged in making important decisions.  They need my input, my wisdom.  To care about dresses and dates and venues.  The night before my mother's surgery, Ben's car overheated and he needed rescuing from the Kroger parking lot.

Sunday morning Dennis wanted me to be at his side to lead worship.  He needed me to sing "Fairest Lord Jesus" and to lead the prayer time in the service.

A friend on the other side of the world needs me to pray, needs counsel, needs someone to listen. An editor who'd given me a writing assignment needed me to deliver my 1,000 words.  Wednesday morning is coming, and I need to be ready to teach this week's Bible story.  My inbox is full of people who need a reply, an action, an investment of my time and energies.  Even driving to the hospital every day, I can't even stop at a red light without seeing that homeless guy selling the Contributor, who knocks on my window and asks for $2.

My reaction to all of the above is, "There is not enough of me to go around.  I've got nothing to give you."  And that's true.  There is not enough of ME to go around.  But "me" is not what any of these people really need.

I was thinking about this when I was learning this week's story for Wednesday Bible study.  Peter and John are walking to the temple to pray.  This is part of their daily routine, just like driving to the hospital is part of mine right now.  A crippled man is begging by the gate to the Temple.  He asks them for money.

"Look at me," Peter answered.  "I don't have any money.  But what I do have, I give you."
-Acts 3:4-6

What happens next is astounding.  Peter reaches down and takes the man's hand and says, "In the name of Jesus, get up and walk," and the man does!  He follows Peter and John into the temple, where he begins leaping and around and praising God for what just happened.  Of course, a crowd gathers around, and Peter takes advantage of it to say, "Why are you staring at us, like we did this ourselves? "

"It is by faith in the power of Jesus that this man stands before you today whole and healthy."
- Acts 3:16

It's interesting that Peter doesn't say, "This man's faith in Jesus is what healed him."  This man didn't even know to ask to be healed.  He didn't even know to put his faith in Jesus.  Peter did.  Peter had seen Jesus do exactly this same thing, and Jesus had said, "When you get my Spirit, you will have power to do even greater things."  And then the Spirit had come and wow! what power.  It was Peter's faith in Jesus that made this man whole.  It was because Peter looked at the man and knew that what he needed was not money;  it was health and restoration to community, and only Jesus could give him that.  And Jesus now lived in Peter. The Source was in him.

When our kids are tugging on our sleeves, when our husbands are hungry and tired, when our parents are feeble, when our friends are scared, when the homeless guy knocks on the window, when we step to the platform and hold the mic, what people need is Jesus.  The power of Jesus.  They need wisdom,  hope, encouragement, strength, peace, meaning, significance, forgiveness, instruction, companionship - and the source of this is Jesus.  Who lives in us.  We have what they need, and what I know from this week is that no matter how tired or overwhelmed or unrested or underprepared we may feel, what Jesus said is true:

"The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."
- John 4:14

In Jesus' day, there were wells and then there were wells.  There were man-man cisterns, deep holes dug in the desert to collect and hold water.  These would dry up when the rains stopped.  An artesian well was a spring-fed well, fed by an underground fresh water source that sprung up between the rocks.  Know what caused an artesian spring?  Pressure.  When the ground shifted, the pressure and weight of the rocks would cause the underground source of water to spring forth.  Artesian wells were prized in the desert.  The people called them "living water."

There is not enough of you to go around, but there is an endless supply of that.  Is it in you?

Click here to listen to this week's story and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Whoosh! Storying through Acts Week 1: The Guarantee

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. 

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

  This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” 
- Romans 8:9-15 The Message

How old were you when you became a Christian?  I was six.  There were some things I understood at that age and some things I didn't get for a long time.  I understood that God loves me.  And I like to be loved.  And something in me loved him back.  I understood that God made the world.  And I liked the world he made.  So I did what others told me to do:  I asked God to live in my heart.  

How great is that?  The God who made the world loves me, and now he lives in my heart. I thought that I had just invited God into my life.  Now the God who made the universe was going to get to work on my agenda. And boy, did I have an agenda!  I was a very typical little American girl, raised on stories of "There once was a beautiful girl, and she had something she wanted.  And she got it.  And she lived happily ever after." I had lots of ideas about what happily ever after would look like.  Let's do this.

What it took me a long time to realize was:  I had not invited God into my life.  God had just invited me into his.  My story had just been pulled up into his long-term story, into his agenda.  And boy, does he have an agenda!

I was thinking about this lately because this week we begin Wednesday Bible study again, and this fall we are going to learn stories from Acts.  Last winter, we learned that we are deeply loved and pursued by the God who made all things, including us.  We were made for relationship with him, a relationship delivered at the hand of his son Jesus.  This is what Paul tells the Ephesians - people who were very concerned with love and fate:

 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. 
- Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 The Message

What is God's idea of "glorious living," exactly?  What does it look like?  Where will it take me?  How does it up-end my idea of glorious living?  Is the life God designed me for and offers me more special than the "special" I would go out and get for myself?  Those are the questions we will think about this fall as we continue to learn what this life with God looks like.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
-Ephesians 1:13-14 The Message

The Holy Spirit is the deposit of that life in us - that guarantee of that life forever.  The story of Pentecost makes us nervous, because the Holy Spirit makes us nervous.  Right off the bat, we are going to discover that a life powered and led by the Spirit is a whole different kind of special than we could ever have imagined or designed — or can control. But the Holy Spirit does not bring chaos;  he brings Purpose, with a capital P.   It's an adventure for sure, to be swept up into God's life, into his agenda.  Do we want that adventure?  

Let's find out.

Click here to listen to the story of the gift of the Spirit and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I will show you

So, maybe you already know that we are moving.  Leaving the house we've lived in for 24 years.  We accidentally sold it really fast - well, God did that.  I blogged about making the decision to put the house on the market and boom!  Suddenly I was hearing from people, "Can we come look at your house?"  My realtor, who had just given me a three page list of Things To Do To Make This House Sellable, did not approve of this.  But some of them were friends, so I let them come over and gave them a tour.  And one of these couples said, "We love it.  We want it.  Throw away your list."  So we signed a contract with them on the day before we left for an overseas trip to Bologna, London and Cape Town.

It was an amazing trip, but now we are back, and it's time to pack.  Arley said, "Just start somewhere," so yesterday I pulled out all my non-essential dishes and got out the boxes and paper.  And then I sat down on the floor and cried, I was so overwhelmed.  Thank God for a sister-in-law who recognizes panic when she hears it and comes to the rescue.  So now we have begun the dismantling.

Everyone wants to know where we are moving.  So do I!  Mmmk, yeah, we don't have a clue.  Tomorrow I will go look at houses for the first time in 24 years.  That same wonderful realtor who gave me to To Do list is calmly assuring me that there is A House Waiting for us to discover, yes, we will find it.  And meanwhile, we might live in an apartment.

I believe her when she says we will find it.  Because the same God who said, "Leave the place where you are," is the God who promises, "and go to a place I will show you."

The Lord God said to Abram:  Leave....
and go to a place I will show you.
- Genesis 12:1

That is exactly the promise he made to Abraham, the father of faith.  And it is a two-part process:  there is the leaving, and there is the going.  Right now we are living in the tension between those two.

Almost every day I write something on the inside of my wrist. It might be one word, or a phrase—some bit of truth that I need to remember that day.  I got the idea from my friend Nicole Hannah, who has a tattoo on the inside of her wrist, one word: loved.  When I first saw Nic's tat, I was just being convinced again that God did love me so much, and I wanted to get the same tat, but for me, the word changes too frequently.  God is always teaching me something new that I need to carry around with me and absorb, so for me, a Sharpie is the best tool.

These days, I am walking around with these words on my wrist: "I will show you."  Every morning I get up and write that promise again, and I watch for God to fulfill his promise.

I know I'm not the first or only person to leave somewhere and go, to pack up and move.  The past two weeks' travel has been part of God's timing in "showing me" something, as I have spent time with missionary friends in Bologna, London and Cape Town.  I have seen how simply they live, how lightly they hold things, how much they do with the home they have.  I watched many of them sell everything, turn their backs on their home and go, not knowing where they would live, not having a realtor.  I have seen how they have made the place God showed them a real and welcoming home.  I hold this as a template as I sort and pack and decide what to take forward with me.

I share all this with you to say:  I know there is tension in your life, where you live between the place of leaving and the place of arriving.  Where you cannot see what your new destination will look like.  Maybe you are also sorting and packing, deciding what attitudes or actions or relationships or things  to carry forward with you into the next part of life, what you need to put down, give away, leave behind.  I tell you this with all confidence:

He will show you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love Story Week 17: save the date

Pay careful attention then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise.  Make the most of the time, because the days are evil.  Don't be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
- Ephesians 5:15-17

The week before I married Dennis Worley, I woke up every night in a sweat.  I had the worst nightmares. In every one of them, my wedding was a disaster.

I dreamed that someone had taken pinking shears to my dress, making it tea length and wickedly uneven.

I dreamed that someone had stolen all my shoes and left only a blue pair.

I dreamed that as I came down the aisle, the groom who turned around was Not Dennis, but nobody could hear me screaming, "Not him!  Not him!"

I dreamed that I was out playing tennis (tennis?), and they came looking for me, crying, "It's time for your wedding! You have to come now!  No, come just like you are!"  I was sweaty and my hair was frizzy, but a bouquet was shoved in my hand and I was sent down the aisle in tennis whites, crying, "No, no! Let me get ready!"

Seriously, I was so relieved when I actually got to the church in the dress and the shoes with the right groom.  Everything after that is kind of a blur.

I was thinking about those dreams this week—especially the tennis one (tennis, what?)—because this is our last Wednesday Bible study, and the story is about a wedding and some girls who were not ready for it.

Life with God is like ten bridesmaids who took torches and oil and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish bridesmaids took torches, but no extra oil.  The wise bridesmaids took jars of oil to feed their torches,  The bridegroom didn't show up when they expected, and they all fell asleep waiting.
-Matthew 25:1-5

What happens next?  You'll have to listen below to find out.

But here's what we know from last week's story, the end of the book, Revelation:  There is a wedding feast.  There is a Bridegroom and he is coming for us.  Soon, he says.

When is soon?

Close your eyes and try to forget everything you know about weddings today.  Try to hear what Jesus says:

I am going to prepare a place for you.

That's what bridegrooms did in Jesus' day.  They pledged themselves to a woman — actually to her family.  And then they went off to their family's compound and prepared a place for their life together. They built a little house or a room on their family compound, and they furnished it.

If I go away, I will come back for you.

When everything was ready for that life together, the bridegroom came for his bride.  Maybe even in the middle of the night, he came striding through the streets of the village, all his friends with him. And they were singing.  And the bride's friends all ran out to meet him, torches in hand.  And they sang and danced as he came to claim his bride.  And then everybody went to his house and partied 'til they dropped.

That's what's going to happen, Jesus said.


You don't get to know that part.

No one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son.  Only the Father.

The bride doesn't set the date.  We don't manage the guest list.  We don't even pick out the dress.  God does.  Life with God doesn't work like life in this world.  The wise person understands this and lives accordingly.

We don't get a "Save the Date" from Jesus.  So we save every date.  Every day is the day he could come for us.  When the Father says, "Ready."

Are you ready?

Click here to listen to the story of the Ten Bridesmaids
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?