Monthly Archives: February 2018

My Favorite Billy Graham Memory

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:1

billy grahamI grew up watching Billy Graham crusades on TV, and developed the same reverence for him that many mainstream evangelicals around the  world living from the 50’s through the turn of the century did.  So when I had the opportunity to participate in one of his crusades while living in Columbia, South Carolina I did so with excitement.

It was the spring of 1987.  I had met with hundreds of others weekly from January through April to prepare and to pray for the big event.  My job was to be a “second tier” counselor on the field.  When people came down on the stadium field to pray after Billy preached, they would meet with a counselor.  If that counselor got ‘in over their head,’ encountering something that they couldn’t handle, such as talk of suicide or any other complicating issues, they would raise a red card and that’s where the second tier counselors would step in.

One night there was a big thunderstorm and he didn’t get to preach, the choir didn’t get to sing, etc.  But Billy did get up to say that if people came wanting to accept Jesus as their Savior that they could still come.  We stood down on the field in the rain waiting and over 3000 people came forward without him even preaching.  It seemed that the prayers that we had prayed and the power of the Spirit were way stronger than the thunderstorm and blackened skies.

But that’s not my profound memory.  I was in Columbia attending Bible School.  I was also waitressing at the Cracker Barrel.  My co-workers treated me like I was an anomaly throughout my time there.  I wasn’t like them, not smoking pot during breaks in the parking lot, not cussing up a storm, not partying after work…But we became fast friends and they were interested in my faith in Jesus.  They were super excited when Billy came to eat one afternoon at the restaurant, even though several admitted they didn’t know who he was.

A waitress friend went with me one of the nights.  I had been telling her about Jesus for a year and a half and she had been listening with interest.  But it seemed like there was a wall that kept her from accepting Him into her life, like it couldn’t be for her.  No matter how I explained it to her, nothing breached the wall.  Until that night.  When Billy finished preaching and began to invite people to make their way to the field if they wanted to know Jesus as their Savior, she asked, “What would happen if I went down on the field?”

I explained that someone would talk to her, asking if she would like to invite Jesus into her life.  I asked if that’s what she wanted to do.  She responded, “No, I want to talk to you.”  I told her that because there were about 50,000 people there it was going to take a good two hours to make it through the traffic.  I suggested we talk in the car.  For the next two hours, the wall that I could not bring down previously was brought down by this very evident power of the Holy Spirit that was impacting my friend Jan.

She poured out how she had been listening to everything that I had been sharing with her about Jesus and wanted it.  But she knew Jesus couldn’t love her and she couldn’t tell me about it because she didn’t want to lose me as her friend.  She told of how she had an abortion five years earlier and how she deserved every bad thing that had happened.  There in my car I was able to explain how Jesus’ blood covered even her abortion and that if she repented of it, He would forgive her and wipe it out permanently.  She did that night, and she was set free.

Just as I am, without one plea…


The Heart of Darkness (My thoughts on school shootings as an Elementary Principal)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (wicked KJV); who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

This is a big topic.  It has so many facets with no easy answers, otherwise we would have come up with them soon after the Columbine shootings in 1999.  This hits close to home for me as a school principal.  Sandy Hook was especially unraveling, since it was an elementary school and the principal and school psychologist were two of the victims on that dark day.  Each time there is a tragedy, school safety procedures change, and Parkland, Florida’s will bring more changes.

Our staff met for over an hour this last Friday talking through our procedures and there will be more drills in the coming weeks with students as young as four years old.  What I have been thinking about is that it seems that we have a much deeper problem than just too easy of access to guns.   I’ve been working with youth since I was one myself, so that’s almost 40 years now.  We are products of our culture, which has certainly taken a turn south in those 40 years.  I am disturbed by many things.

One is the disintegration of the family structure.   When I first began to work as a school counselor, I would have students draw out their families as a beginning point.  It showed me who they were, who was important to them, who lived in their home with them…It became such a point of confusion that I soon abandoned it.  So did our culture.  You can say it doesn’t matter if you get married or not, if you get divorced or not, who you marry, how many times, etc. but it fragments kids in a million different pieces.  And then you wonder why their mental health suffers.

Which leads to the next issue, which is mental health.  If I began to really talk about the dire mental health conditions that I really see on a daily basis in my small elementary school, you would push the red button.  I went with a group of teachers to a conference on setting a school wide behavior system a few years back.  There were probably thirty schools there from across Wisconsin.  Every school said they were there because they didn’t know what to do with their out of control mental health needs.  It is a national crisis.

We have consciously taken God out of our country in our drive toward total secular humanism, or whatever you want to call it.  Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” meaning that nature requires every space to filled with something.  If you take God out, that means evil takes its place.  In our area, which is not unique, drugs have taken over.  We are inundated with meth and heroine.  Alcohol seems like child’s play, a relief if that’s all that people do is to drink themselves to death.

Families, that aren’t families anymore, stop going to church, and they start going to bars. I can’t tell you how many funerals I have attended in bars over the last few years.  Fifteen to twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable.   The other place they go on Sundays instead of to church is to sporting events.  The number of youth tournaments on Sundays has taken over.  Sunday is just another day.  ‘Sport’ is the new religion.

The parents’ spiritual health, calling it what it is, is not good, so the child’s spiritual health is totally spinning.  They have suffered the affects of abuse, trauma, neglect and have added in video games that are just waiting to fill that hole in their heart.  Along comes games that are created to addict people from an early age.  “Five Nights of Freddy”  “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” are not games that seven year olds should be addicted to, but they are.

The topic I’m supposed to be on is school shootings, so I’ll get back to it.  Suppose you have a child who is: a) from a fragmented family, b) whose parent may or may not be addicted to some sort of drug and c) has either the child or the parent has mental health issues because of it,  d) the child has been addicted to some violent video game that programs his muscle memory and goes for “high kill” numbers, and e) they haven’t ever been to church (so no moral compass).  Where do you think that child is headed?

Not every family fits into this category.  But if you look at the profiles of the individuals that have been involved in shootings over the years, they usually have those above mentioned indicators in common.

What is the real solution?  Certainly not allowing automatic weapons into the hands of someone who fits that description is a beginning point, but it doesn’t end there.  How do we even begin to go “Back to the Future” on restoring our families, getting a moral compass from the absolute truth that comes from the Bible and God, and stopping the insanity of violent video games that program minds at an early age?  Revival comes to mind.

As you read through the book of Judges in the Old Testament, there are some pretty crazy things that take place.  There is a phrase that is repeated several times:  “In those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  It was the explanation to why everything was off kilter.  What will our explanation be?

We all have a heart of darkness without Jesus.  The heart if deceitful and desperately wicked.  “We all like sheep have gone astray, and have gone our own way,” as Isaiah 53:6 states.  The only answer that I know is Jesus.  My only hope is Jesus.  Your only hope is Jesus.  “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  That is the rest of Isaiah 53:6.

 


White Spaces

You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know.  Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Have you ever noticed that God isn’t in a hurry?  If I were to create or work out a story of mankind, I don’t think I would include 400 year gaps of time, like where the Israelites stayed in Egypt between Joseph’s death and Moses’ exodus.  Nor would I have another 400 year time of silence where no prophet spoke between Malachi and John the Baptist.  The wilderness wanderings of Moses and the children of Israel might get shortened to maybe five years, and Jesus would have gotten to Bethany before Lazarus before he died, not after.

But I’m not God, and as Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, our ways are not His ways and they are as white spacefar apart as the Heavens are above the earth.  He works slowly and deliberately for a reason.  Deuteronomy 8 lets us know it is a part of our growth process: to humble us, to let us know what is lacking in our character, to get us to learn to keep God’s commandments, and to cause us to hunger for God and God alone.

In JD Greear’s book Jesus Continued (Zondervan 2014), our women’s Sunday School class is on the chapter of “When You Can’t Feel God.”  He calls the gaps of time that you experience silence from God “white space.”  It’s the space in the Bible between one part of the story to the next.  It’s the space between the call of God and the fulfillment of the dream.  It’s also the white space of singleness; the white space of sickness; the white space of finishing out a prison sentence; the white space of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations.

A Biblical example would be the time between when David was anointed king and the time he actually took over as king.  There were a few years in-between, and quite a bit of drama.  It’s easy to lose hope in the interim and doubt yourself or doubt God.

This white space time can be terribly confusing and the hardest part of life to endure.  Greear’s encouragement is not to waste the white space.  It reminds me of the story of Gracia Burnham.  Gracia and her husband Martin were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels while on an anniversary trip in the Philippines in 2001.  They were in captivity for over a year.  On an episode of “Locked Up Abroad” Gracia told of this harrowing time.  The interviewer asked if it had changed her in any way.  She stopped and said something to this effect: “It has made me kinder and more forgiving.  I hope it has changed me.  Otherwise I have wasted 375 days in the jungle.”  I don’t want to waste my jungles either.

It was while I was reading Jesus Continued the first time through in the summer of 2015 that God showed me the meaning behind a big white space in my life.  Up to that point it was terribly confusing and just a dangling question mark for me.  I had felt a yearning or a “call” of God for missions when I was in college.  I certainly had a heart for ministry, if not missions.  I went to this big missions convention at the University of Illinois at Urbana twice with 20,000 other students.  Whatever capacity God would lead me to, I knew I needed to finish college, get some experience and Bible training, and then go.

Once I finished my second year of graduate school with a Bible degree I thought, “this is finally it.”  I had pursued different missions boards and landed on one to apply for a three year stint overseas.  I was accepted and went to their candidate school in Wheaton, Illinois.  In the middle of this three week missionary and pre-missionary gathering, the green light shifted to a flashing red light with no advanced notice.

Part of it had to do with the leadership.  They really didn’t communicate with me as they said they would and any time line that they set up where they said they would talk, they didn’t.  I waited patiently at first, less patiently as time went on and as the weeks and then months went on from there, until  I gave up.  My attempts to figure things out weren’t met with solid answers and I went into an emotional spin for at least three months, if not longer.

As I tried to get a word from God, He was putting things on my heart about returning to my home state of Wisconsin, to a small town, working in a church full time, in the denomination I last was a part of in through college.  I was living in South Carolina, on Hilton Head Island, and from there God moved me to the south shore of Lake Superior, in the middle of the winter–a very brutal winter.  But it was with an old friend from college who was a pastor of a smaller church who needed a youth director.

That was over thirty years ago.  I went from working in that church for five years, to feeling led to working in a school setting, which I have been doing full time for 26 years.  The “call to missions” that has continued to ring in my heart has been that white space, with a few other details surrounding it.  In the middle of most of that time, I was single and wondering what God was up to.

While reading the chapter in Jesus Continued, God helped me connect the dots, in an act of grace.  Check out this passage in Ezekiel 3:5-9: For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel–not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand.  Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you.  But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to Me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.  Behold I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.  Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.  Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

It was like He spoke it straight into my heart.  This was the great “ah hah” for me, the answer to my white space.  I was fulfilling my call to missions by being right where I am.  God didn’t send me to a people with a foreign speech and a hard language.  If He did, they would have listened to me.  Instead, He sent me to my own people in my own home state.  And they aren’t willing to listen because they have a stubborn and rebellious heart.  I can vouch for that.  It has been a time of much spiritual warfare and little fruit, many hard hearts and little response.  In response to this, God has given me a face as hard as their faces and a forehead like flint.  I can take what they dish out, and more.

Why the white space and the difficult assignment?  Just as Deuteronomy 8 says: to humble me, and to show me what is in my heart so that I know I need God and I dare not trust in myself.  It is also that I might learn to obey God and to hunger for Him as my true daily bread over and above anything else.

May God fill in the blanks on your white spaces and may you learn the same lessons of humble dependence.  

 

 


Am I ‘mentally ill’?

John 10-27 My Sheep Hear My Voice green

I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not part of My flock.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  John 10:25-27

I don’t know if you have followed the flap in the media this week regarding the comments made on the ABC show “The View” about Vice President Mike Pence.  Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman said that the most dangerous person, the one that we should really be afraid of, is the Vice President.    She said that he not only talks to Jesus, but Pence also says things because he believes that Jesus talks to him and tells him to say them.

Joy Behar then said, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus.  It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you…that’s called mental illness.”  John 10 makes it pretty clear that there is a division between those who will hear Jesus’ voice and those who won’t.  Those who don’t are not a part of His flock.  The group of Jews around Jesus had been arguing with Him and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  He answered, “I told you, and you do not believe.  You don’t believe because you aren’t a part of My flock.”

In John 15:18-23 Jesus went on to warn His followers that ‘the world’ was going to hate them.  They hated Him, they were going to hate them.  The same thing applies to us.  The same spirit of the world is here today.  It drives the media, politics, and just about everything around us.  And it hates Jesus and it hates followers of Jesus.

And for sure, if we start talking about hearing Jesus talking to us, they aren’t going to get it.  Not even most believers get it.  I’m not even I understand His voice most days.  The voice of Jesus is one of the most wonderful, most precious and most confusing things in my Christian life.  If I were to start my sentences with things like, “Jesus told me to give you this money,” or “Jesus told me to quit my job, so I’m quitting,” the words ‘mentally ill’ would soon trail behind me as well.

I like what JD Greear writes in his book, Jesus Continued: “Such experiences (like God throwing us a curveball, or God moving in our spirit is not on the time table we thought it was) should teach us to hold our perception of what the Holy Spirit is ‘telling us’ loosely,” on pg. 166.  I can sense that God is telling me something, or leading me to make certain decisions, or pressing something on my heart.  All of these have happened to me in varying degrees of intensity.

There are times when I know from the Holy Spirit pressing inside of me that I need to say with boldness that it wasn’t just a coincidence that I knew to give somebody something specific, or to call at the right time, etc. but that God led me to do it.  To tell that to a nonChristian at work takes a risk.  And there are times when I know that God is speaking that I can’t deny that it could be Him and I need to act on it.

I am i the middle of sensing that God is moving me through His Holy Spirit to uproot me from my current full time job to a possible ministry position.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  It is not just a debate for “The View” between scoffers or those who genuinely can’t understand this talk about hearing from God.  It is about my husband and I listening to God and obeying Him.

In Hebrews 11 it says that Abraham left without knowing where he was going.  I’d like it to be a little more clear than that.  I am trusting Psalm 32:8-9 that promises (and warns), I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.  Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.  

And no, I am not mentally ill.  I am one of Jesus’ sheep.

 


Being Alive in Christ

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains A-grain-of-wheat-printable-Bible-verse-coloring-page-imagealone; but it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24

I was rereading parts of one of my favorite reads in the last year, We Died Before We Came, by Emily Foreman.  She tells of how she and her husband went to an African country and suffered a loss while they were there.  I don’t want to give away the story line because you should really read it.  Before they went, her husband Stephen shared a story about James Calvert, a missionary to the Fiji Islands in the 1800’s.

The ship captain tried to turn him back saying, ‘you’ll lose your life and the lives of those with you if go among those cannibals.’  To that Calvert replied, ‘We died before we came.’  Stephen went on to challenge his audience, “Are you dead yet?  Dead to your desires?  Dead to fear?  Are we alive in Christ?”

His last question is what jumped off at the page at me this time around.  I have spent much time thinking about what it means to die and have focused some on that.  But I have not focused on the opposite, positive good–living out to a lost and dying world what it looks like to be alive in Christ.

I’m not even sure the Christians around me have a solid grasp of what that looks like.  I don’t mean that as a slam to anyone.  I just mean that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about being alive in Christ.  We talk about what it means to be born again and becoming a Christian.  And then we talk about ‘doing things’ once we become a Christian, like reading our Bibles, praying, going to church, helping people, etc.

But what does it really look like to live out a life that is alive in Christ?  Follow my bread crumb trail of thoughts as I unravel this brain worm of the week…

Verses on being alive in Christ (all NIV):

  • Galatians 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
  • Colossians 3:3-4  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your  life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
  • Romans 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
  • Ephesians 2:4-5 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

So from those verses, I’m alive in Christ by faith, my life is now hidden with Christ in God, I’m to consider myself in my thinking as alive to God because I’m in Christ Jesus, and God made me alive by His grace.

I still was left pondering what my life should look like as an outflow of this.  So here are 5 things that I came up with.  They are from other Scriptures:

  1. Being alive in Christ means that my affections are set on a different place than everyone else’s, and it has to show.  In Hebrews 11 it talks about all of the faith dynamos dying in faith, having not received the things that were promised, but only welcoming them from afar.  Their eyes were on a better country, a heavenly one.  My affections, my eyes, and my passions should be set on a better country, the kingdom of Heaven.  This world is a poor replica of what is to come.  I know that, so my life should reflect it.
  2. Being alive in Christ means that I shouldn’t be stressed out, worried and consumed by the same things as the people who don’t know God.  That’s what Matthew 6:25-33 is about.  The stock market went down by bunches this week.  God is still on the throne.  His eye is still on the sparrow and He still holds me in the palm of His hand.  God still cares for us and His promises still hold true.  So I must live out that trust and confidence in God that shows that I know He is my shepherd.
  3. Being alive in Christ means that I know who holds my future and my eternity.  An ESPN reporter was interviewing Nick Foles the day after the big Super Bowl win.  He was asking Nick about next year, and Nick said he’d let God take care of that.  Nick had been giving God credit all of the way through the interview.  The reporter was either a Christian or else he was overcome by the momentum of this, so he concluded by saying, “Well, I guess you know who holds your future.”  You don’t normally hear that on an ESPN interview.  When you stop and think about the fact that people that don’t know Jesus have no confidence about tomorrow or about their eternity, this is a huge deal that we should be shouting from the roof tops!
  4. Being alive in Christ represents a tremendous life changing transformation.  I am so thankful that Jesus not only changed me and brought into His kingdom–but that He is still at work changing me day by day.  Colossians 1:13-14 says that we are “transferred from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of His dear son, in whom we redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  I just have to go on a business trip for 2-3 days with nonChristians and be with them 24/7 to realize how different my life is from theirs.  Thank you Jesus.
  5. Being alive in Christ represents a change in passions and pursuits.  I read the Bible, pray, go to church, and am involved in ministering to others because Jesus is in my life.  He has changed my “want to’s.”  The movies that people from work get together to go are ones I would never even watch at home for free.  And the books they read in their book clubs are the same–ones I would never read.  Jesus has given me an awareness of others, a desire to help them in place of tunnel vision or a self absorbed lifestyle.

Alive to GodMy challenge is to live these out loud, to verbalize them without being obnoxious.  I don’t know why it has been such a profound thought to focus on being alive in Christ rather than dying to self, but I think I’m on to something!  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

 

*Image from MaryDeanDraws.com

 


Prayer in the Spirit…

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet...Revelation 1:10prayer

“I was in the Spirit.”  Have you taken notice of those five words much, or have you just sped over them?  I’ve been thinking about them in the last week or so.  I’ve been thinking about prayer, and pondering how much I really just scratch the surface of what God has for me and for the rest of us.  In Ephesians 6:18, at the end of the armor of God, Paul writes: “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…”

I haven’t heard maybe any sermons on what praying in the Spirit means.  But I’ve read some things about it from guys from the 1700’s, and one guy from the early 1900’s.  Could it be that all of our television, Internet and video games have wrecked our depth to have that be a part of the normal Christian experience?

JD Greear writes about it in his book Jesus Continued.  So it isn’t all just guys that are dead that talk about praying in the Spirit.  He writes, “Our greatest power in prayer occurs when our prayers are prompted by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  Prayers that start in Heaven are heard by Heaven. (pg. 153)”

For me, the ‘in the Spirit’ promptings come one of two ways.  The first is through dreams.  It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but when it does, God gets my attention.  I’ll give an example.  I had a dream that a friend from church was covered in road rash.  She came and the ladies from church took her into this prayer cabin and totally covered her in prayer and she came out without any rash at all.  She was just fine.  I woke up, laid there and prayed for her for quite awhile, not knowing exactly what was going on.  Whatever it was, I knew it had to be rough.

The next day she was supposed to be at work and she wasn’t there.  Someone  mentioned she was at her husband’s court with him.  He was a doctor and was getting sued for some bogus malpractice suit.  It hit me that was what the dream was about, so I began praying fervently again for both of them.  At the end of the week we had a women’s gathering at our church and she described how those two days were the worst days of her life.  I would describe the prompting that God gave me through the dream as ‘praying in the Spirit,’ as there was no other way that I would have known how to pray.  He gave me a picture of what she was going through with the road rash.

The other way that God has worked for me is to give me burdens that will not go away until I have prayed them away.  When Scott O’Grady from the USA was shot down and behind enemy lines in Bosnia for eight days back in 1995, I couldn’t stop praying for him.  I must have prayed for him at least 8-10 times a day.  This was before 24 hour news, so I just kept praying!  When the news came that he was rescued, I cried.  When I read his book, Return With Honor, he tells of how  he laid still for hours at a time because captors were feet away from him.  At one point God gave him a vision of a “choir” of thousands of people from all around the world praying for him.  I was in that choir!

Jeremiah 33:3 says, Call to Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) said, “Prayer in the Spirit is the energized prayer of the righteous man that is of great force.  There is passion in the praying that prevails.  God never keeps hot hearts waiting.  ‘When you search for Me with all your heart I will be found by you.’  Jeremiah 29:13-14  Prayer that is energized by the Spirit brings power, turn ordinary mortals into people of power.  It brings fire.  It brings life.  It brings God.”

I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me.  Habakkuk 2:1

headphones-312817_960_720.jpgAnd the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”  1 Samuel 3:10