Monthly Archives: May 2014

Heaven is for Real – God’s Not Dead

IMG_0030My last post was “discombobulated.” It was tough to publish, but it felt like there was something important in it all. The contrast between the brick mason’s story and my reality was edited and rewritten. Deleted and reworked.  I think it’s because, I’m struggling between what I want to say, and what God is accomplishing in my heart. As I look at ways the brick mason  and other events are opening my heart, my prayer is more of Him and less of me.

In my short visit with the brick mason , I learned he was having a devastating day, in the midst of chronically difficult life circumstances. Obviously, he believed heaven was real and all around us, and God was good to his family — even in death, illness, poverty and pain. He openly shared his experience and his faith with us as comfortably as he discussed concrete.

IMG_0420I’m not minimizing or glamorizing his situation. Either would be the wrong focus. At times I’ve even wondered if he was “for real.” I decided to let go of my cynicism and my need to know all the facts, and to ask God what He has to say to me about it all. I know when really terrible things happen in my life, my heart trumps my head, and I sort of feel entitled to something better — like there’s been some mistake.

Knowing the stories and promises of God, why is my faith not more like the brick mason’s? Why am I not thankful and actively believing that God is with me (Matthew 28:20) and acting on my behalf for good in every detail of my life (Romans 8:28)? Joseph had one “bad” thing happen after another but said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) The same is true today.

IMG_4675Taking the whole experience of the brick mason at face value,  I am deeply moved by how the brickmason’s reality of God’s goodness and provision in his every day life, totally overwhelmed the current situation.  He knew his daughter was dead and his family had an increasingly more difficult road ahead.  Still he said, “I don’t know why God is so good to me.” Who he knew God to be, and what He knew Jesus had done for him was more real and important to the brick mason than anything that was happening. That’s abundance I want to emulate.

Someone asked me what I thought of the movie, “Heaven is for Real.” I’m no Bible scholar, and  I understand the concerns around how God could allow 4 year old Colton to sit on Jesus’ lap during his surgery, when the Bible says Moses couldn’t look at God and live. I know Hollywood could have sensationalized a good story once they had the rights to it, and the Burpo family had much to gain in publishing it. I’ll let others debate all that.

IMG_4706To me, it seems totally credible that a loving God gave a scared, sick little boy a glimpse of heaven while he was still on earth — and that God wanted the story to be spread to others.  Hasn’t He ever done something similar for you — where you were overwhelmed with His majesty? Or His protection? If the movie helps people to see that heaven is real; that  our lives and prayers need to be more focused on heaven than anything on this earth (Philipians 3:19-20) — because God is in heaven and we will one day live there with Him — then it is a GREAT movie that points us toward God and a richer, more abundant life!

We saw another movie, “God’s NOT Dead.” In it Josh, a freshman philosophy student, takes a stand and risks ridicule, relationships, failure and his future (that pretty well covers the things of this world), because he will not assert, “God is dead” as his teacher desires. He feels God wants him to do something for Him, so he listens and obeys.  He agrees with God’s will. He takes some losses in the process, but the movie has a  happy ending. Even if it didn’t, I think Josh would be glad he chose to trust God and His goodness. I think he would say all is well when I do God’s will, and Life is Abundant beyond all the other stuff!

I’ve been sharing how our little group has been learning to pray more effectively. In preparing for our study,  God led me to the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13) We sing it; we pray it.  It comforts us, but what are we really saying?

The Pitons, St Lucia

First, Jesus told his disciples to say, “Our Father who is in Heaven. It seems heaven was important as a focus beyond the earth they could see and touch. Heaven is our eternal home where God dwells. All of us feel the daily pull of sin, the world and the devil on earth. We are tempted to make WAY more plans for this short life than we do for eternal life. When that is our focus, we miss His abundance.

Heaven is for real. God is there — and He is here with us. We get glimpses of heaven in the almost but not yet experience of this life on earth, because He walks and talks with us every day. Heaven is more real and more lasting than the chair that holds you up right now.  It seems we need to pray fully embracing the fact that heaven is our real home, if we want abundant life.

IMG_1151Secondly we earnestly pray, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” right until the moment when God’s will interrupts our own…  What are we really saying in these familiar words? I’ll paraphrase Michael Youssef,  “King Jesus, I want your priorities to be the preoccupation of my entire heart and mind — my life. Take over everything!” Sounds almost like the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37).

When we pray, so often we focus predominantly on our own plans, needs and passions. See my long list of thoughts at the beginning of this post. They have led to a lot of stress and confusion for me lately. I guess you could say I’ve been discombobulated!  God cares about our lives and wants us to talk to Him about all the details (1 Peter 5:7). The point is that word preoccupation — our focus and priority.

My mind has been dangerously consumed with my very real human needs, to the detriment of my preoccupation with God.  If our perceived needs become the increasing focus of our lives (in good times or bad), soon we won’t pray at all. Not as God intends. Instead of “your will be done,” our “prayers” become God give me what I need and want. I know what’s best. My will be done.

My final take aways from this process of looking at how I’m living my life and contrasting it with the brick mason’s story that depict a taste of abundant life and understanding God’s will are these:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrayer is not only something you do, it’s who you are and the way to live Life. And when in doubt, like they taught us in Sunday School — the answer is Jesus. Focus on Him. He must be my reality. My preoccupation. My number one priority. That IS the Abundant Life He offers. Mattew 6:33 is often in my mind. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you as well.”  And John 15:4 “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

My action point is to make the HUGE reality of all I know about God the Father, what Jesus did on the cross, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit my primary focus — a hyper focus. Then be GRATEFUL and trust He is acting on my behalf.  All my scattered preoccupation and activity will calm, and I will surely know his abundance and a new way of Life. He is transforming me bit by bit.

If you would like to receive future posts by email, please check the appropriate boxes and let me know in a comment below.  I LOVE your comments. Thanks! 

I want the abundant life God promised

Eiffel Tower – Paris, France

This one’s for all the baby boomers… Or anyone who can imagine a day will come when you are 50. Or better yet, those from the greatest generation who can offer perspective from experience. Is your life what you thought it would be?

For the most part, we’ve raised our children — giving them every opportunity we could, so that they could succeed and follow their dreams. It was so worth it, watching them grow and enjoy life. Now it’s our turn! We’re making plans to travel, wondering about retiring, doing some things we never had time for… Life is good, really good. But there’s a nagging thought… is this all there is? Am I missing something?

Notre Dame, Paris, France

We’ve always prayed for our family.  But some things aren’t quite as we thought they would be. Everyone is so busy and absorbed in their own lives.  There are wonderful, exciting new relationships, new jobs, weddings and new babies. We want to be supportive, and we’re truly happy for our children — but we miss the closeness of every day life together. We worry sometimes, but can no longer fix things with magic kisses and bear hugs.

IMG_3189Then there’s work.  Baby boomers are at the prime of careers they worked hard to achieve. Some are happy and fulfilled. Others are not. We’re questioning who and what should receive our time and attention. Yet, it’s hard to feel we have the freedom of choice.  How much is enough in an uncertain world? Our adult children and aging parents created our new identity as the sandwich generation. We are pressed from all sides and often spiritually parched. We carry on in what is familiar and safe, but we aren’t always sure toward what? Similarly, stay-at-home moms become stay-at-home people, wondering at their value, when homemaker is almost a politically incorrect term.

IMG_3320There’s another unique category bravely beginning new careers. Whether we are re-entering the workplace after a long absence or we recently lost a job, the learning curve is steep.  With waning energy we are waking early each morning to a fast-paced world.  Ever-changing technology is hard to keep up with.  We are LinkedIn on smart phones, leaving status updates on facebook, tweeting, tumbling and emailing. We’re not sure if what we do understand of technology and social media is good or bad — we recommit to handwritten notes and face to face friends, but struggle to find the time.

In this season of life, I also see many people finding joy in donating their time and resources to those in need. But even giving can be overwhelming. I feel a need to make a difference in an area where I feel passion. The news and the needs break my heart, and can be more than I can take in. There is so much pain and urgency, that sometimes, I just want to stick my head in the sand. I need focus and direction in this new stage, but often lack the energy to find it.

IMG_0756 It feels like life, while good, is more stressful than ever before. I think it’s because the primary focus of my energy for each day or week is not predictable, but constantly shifting. It also feels like I’m just not living quite the way I should — at a deeper spiritual level.

God is challenging me constantly with Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” That’s what I’m looking for!  I want the second half of  my life to really matter. To live my life God’s way in this season, I think I have to become more dependent, surrendered and open to His leading than ever before.

IMG_3004John 10:10 says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Some translations call it the abundant life.  I want that too! And God wants both these verses to be true for my life. I met someone living in unexpected abundance recently.

Not long ago, a brickmason arrived at our house on a Harley Davidson. He was wearing shorts, a  T-shirt and a black leather vest held together by 3 silver chains. In addition to a giant cross, he displayed patches with slogans such as “bikers for Jesus” and “God loves you and I’m trying to.”

About 10 minutes into our describing what work we needed, he apologized for being spacey. He explained that he had heard just hours before that his daughter was dead. In brief, he had lived with the girl’s mother for 11 year’s and married her two years ago. His step-daughter, I’ll call her Joan,  was 21 and had two daughter’s of her own, who had recently been removed from her custody. They weren’t sure if Joan had died of an accidental overdose or if it was suicide. She had struggled with depression,  addictions and bad choices for years.

IMG_2324We gave our shocked condolences, and suggested he go home;  we could talk about the wall later. He declined, saying he needed work now more than ever. He drifted to another place.  With teary, distant eyes he shook his head and stated, “God is so good to me.”

He talked for 45 minutes. The night before she died, Joan had been waiting at his house to be picked up by a friend who never showed. She had a beautiful voice, and despite her deep depression, she had sung hymns as she waited. The brickmason had assured her she was blessed even now.  All she needed to do when the darkness enfolded her was to look to Jesus.  Somewhere in the retelling, he looked up and said again, “I don’t know why God is so good to me.” He told of dropping his totally sober daughter off where she was living, and going home in peace. Soon after her death the next morning, God gave him a vision of Joan as a little pig-tailed girl, in heaven. He said, “God is so good.” Of course, I know it’s true. But I doubt that’s where my heart would have been at that moment.

shrimpers in Appalachicola, FL

“Reality” check: 6 hours ago Joan had died. His wife was 2 hours away in the hospital with the two-year old child, who had a serious disease requiring a tube in her little body. The brickmason lived paycheck to paycheck. Just before  the grandmother and toddler learned of her death, they were looking at pictures of Joan on facebook. Suddenly, the little girl looked up, pointed across the room and said, “I just saw Mommy!”

The brickmason believes that on her way to heaven, Joan was allowed one more glimpse of her daughter. He was counting God’s gifts and blessings in the midst of death and pain. He went on to say that the 5 year old would “pitch a fit” if they tried to leave church after one service — insisting on staying for both each Sunday. She knew the Lord already, and for that he was grateful.

IMG_4167He snapped out of it, and apologized again for drifting off. The brick mason insisted we return to discussing our driveway and wall. The shift was difficult for us, but seemed oddly natural to him. Could it be the brickmason’s perspective, seeped in gratitude and trust, is more real than the tragedy of his circumstances?  

In my next post I’ll explore what God wants me to learn from the brickmason’s story. It seemed he believed in God’s goodness and felt gratitude even on the worst of days.  I think he can help me understand more about the “secret” to living well in the coming years and experiencing the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.








Is Prayer more powerful than a casserole?

I’m cutting straight to the chase on this one. How’s your prayer life? Are your prayers effective?

IMG_5919 In writing this particular post, I have in my heart those of us who have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior. Do our lives look different from unbelievers, because we are followers of Christ? Are we believing in prayer?

If you have read any of my earlier blogs, you know I don’t claim to be a prayer warrior. I made it clear in my last three posts at least that I frequently struggle in my prayer life. I think many of us do. Maybe it’s part of living in the flesh in a fallen world where Satan reigns.

Monastery in France

I found this statement in Michael Youssef, Ph.D.’s daily devotional, “Perhaps there is no time when the enemy is more active in our lives than during our prayer time. In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter wrote, ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.'” WOW! That got my attention. I think I’ve usually felt “safe” in my prayer times and in church.

Reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis gives affirmation to Youssef’s statement, and helps me understand why prayer — a simple and wonderful invitation from God to be in relationship with Him — is so hard for me at times. A million things seem to get in the way of my time with God. They feel essential to “real” life. Sometimes my prayer life doesn’t feel as important or real as my daily circumstances. I know that feelings can lie, and the opposite is the Truth!

Hanging bridges ove Costa Rican rain forest

In reality, prayers are the most important and real part of life. GOD is the number one priority of my life. Only when I keep God and my relationship with Him as primary, can all the wonderful second things in this world have a chance of success and significance. When I put second things ahead of God — all is lost. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I desperately want to grow in my relationship with Christ — and that means primarily, I need to grow in my prayer life. I’m meeting weekly with a small group of women because we all want our prayer life to be more consistent, intimate, sincere and fruitful. We want to glorify God with our lives, and we know that our prayer life is the secret to our power and strength in this world.

Alligator Point Beach, FL at susset

In my  Easter post I wrote this, “What I offer today is simply what He is saying to me in the midst of my messy life. And that He longs to be preeminent and intimate in all our lives. An honest admission of my struggles but also my faith that He is in control  of my life and my faith. Lately — I’ve been most aware of my struggles. My prayer life needs a transfusion. A refocus on Him. In the coming months, as He grows my  prayer life, I’ll share with you all I trust the great Healer will do along the way.”

Today I’ll share some of what God is teaching me about prayer and how it is changing me. All the posts from our little group’s prayer focus will be sorted under the category “heart of prayer.” I would love for you to join us and write to me about your experiences!

IMG_3935Our format is simple. We are committed to a daily quiet time of prayer (minus as many distractions as possible). In our time with Jesus we are reading the Bible daily. We are praying. We are listening. Then we come together to discuss what God is saying and doing in our lives through our time spent with Him.  I am pulling from many resources, because I don’t think there is one formula for prayer. It’s personal. But the Bible and many scholars have a lot to say about it. You’ll find some of them listed under resources and even quotes: artful living. We are reading The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb as well as many resources such as Michael Youssef,  Richard Foster, and John Piper. Most importantly we are letting God lead us.

Three main things jump off the page from our discussion yesterday. Perhaps you will relate.

stained glass at Notre Dame

1. Sometimes it’s hard for Christians to pray because we feel unworthy of God’s attention. If only we were doing more good deeds, reading the Bible more — then we might be more ready and willing to approach the throne in prayer. As it is, we’re a little embarrassed.

How do we pray an effective prayer? James 5:16 says “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” So, what are the characteristics of a person in right standing with God? Is it our performance or “religiousity?” No. As saved believers, we can neither add nor subtract from our righteousness through our behavior. It’s similar to the well-known idea that we can’t do anything to make God love us more or less. Our righteousness is derived solely from the Cross and Jesus.

It’s not up to us or about us! Praise God! A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus as her personal Savior. She seeks to obey God and yield to the direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and wants to do what is right according to the Word of God. That’s it. God accepts us as we are to be saved, and continues to invite us as we are to be in relationship with Him. We respond with Joy out of Gratitude. He changes us. He always wants us to come to Him — and as James said, when we do, we can rest assured that because of HIM, our prayers will be powerful and effective. Do we really believe that?

Cocoa beans

2. Sometimes I remember to ask God’s help for something, but walk away from my time with Him not really believing He heard, and He WILL answer. Oftentimes, I still carry my angst and the weight of the particular circumstance for which I prayed. Yesterday I had an Aha moment. I need to not only ask Him to align my will with His and give me wisdom.  But God is teaching me to also TRUST Him to give me the answer I need, in His time (waiting is deserving of it’s own post). Then to trust that He will, at the appointed time, give me the words or actions I will need to obey in response to His will. Since I am truly believing Him, I can leave my burdens with Him — instead of walking away from my prayer time still thinking it’s all up to me.

ducks in South Georgia

A fictitious example to serve as an illustration follows: My normal way of intercessory prayer was to just lift my concerns to God who knows the details — God please give me wisdom regarding Ann’s cancer. I want to help her, but I’m not sure what to do. She’s not a close friend, but I feel you have placed her on my heart. Bless her, Lord. Give her peace and draw her to You. Thank you. In the name of Jesus, Amen. I leave my prayer, still carrying Ann in my heart (in a troubled way) and feeling indecisive, but hoping God will let me know what I should do, before I mess up or miss the mark regarding Ann. The prayer wasn’t very relational, and my heart is not touched.

Following is the same example including what God is teaching me as a better way to pray: God, I believe you have placed Ann on my heart. I don’t know what to do.  I would love to go visit, take a meal… but it feels to me like I am the wrong one to help her in an intimate way. I know she has good friends spending time with her. Maybe driving her to an appointment, cooking a casserole or visiting with her is not the right thing for me to do for Ann, even though it would make ME feel better. She may be dying, and I’m not that close to her.  Lord, if I am wrong, I know you will let me know. Thank you for your guidance; I am listening for your voice. I thank you for the promise that you give your wisdom to those who ask. I believe you and trust your timing. I trust that if you call me to do more, you will equip me. (The difference is I am asking, while believing in faith that He will respond.)

sunset at Alligator Point

As I am praying Lord, what hits me is this: Pray for Ann. I believe that is what you want me to do. I could defend myself and say I have prayed — but I think you are asking for more than a cursory lifting of Ann to your attention.

3. (Continuing forward brings me to #3) Lord you want me to pray as if I believe intercessory prayer is real. As if it matters. Prayer is mysterious, and I admit Lord, that I don’t understand what part my prayers to you for Ann actually play. But you ask us to pray for others. If I took a meal to Ann, and visited her — I would spend 2-3 hours giving. I have prayed for Ann numerous times, but never for over a few minutes (and that’s a generous estimate). Am I willing to give 2-3 hours in prayer for Ann? Do I really believe prayer matters MORE THAN a casserole? That somehow in your Sovereignty — You really covet and use my prayers? I trust that you are speaking through the Holy Spirit, and you will continue to answer my prayers, Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, I will know your will and make it mine. You will provide all I need to do your will in your time. Thank you Jesus for letting me spend time with You and talk with You. You are my all in ALL.  In your precious name, Amen.

IMG_5924The point I felt led to is not a prescriptive  prayer time for Ann of 2-3 hours. What I did feel God asking was do you really believe in the effectiveness and power of prayer? Is prayer more powerful than a casserole? A visit? An errand (all good things, by the way)? Do you really believe I am listening, answering, guiding when you pray?  God knows my honest answer has not historically been a resounding, “YES LORD!” I struggle. But I feel a renewed commitment to intercessory prayer  (and God will even give me the faith I need). To believing in prayer.

Thank you, Jesus, for all you are doing in me and our little group!