Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A New Psalm

Bernie Ooley, one of our BSSM teachers challenged us to write our own psalm. It was a good exercise: it helped us enter the minds of the Israelite worshipers of 3,000 years ago. It helped to see understand a little more of the challenge of balancing praise and the art of framing it memorably.

She suggested no rules, and that's fair, because the Hebrew psalms are an eclectic lot.  Hebrew poems and psalms mostly did not rhyme internally, and even if they did, it would be lost on us, because we read them now in other languages.

The Hebrew poets instead used a variety of other literary techniques.  My worship psalm below uses chiasm and parallelism.  The parallelism reverses at the pivot point.

It turned into more than an exercise for me; it became an act of worship.  I know countless others who have taken pen to paper have had the same experience.

- | -

How is it, O Lord, that you who are so great, are so gracious to us;
why have you been so merciful and kind to us who are so small. 

For our home you crafted a universe beyond understanding;
for our cradle you spun a verdant, moist, warm, life-filled orb. 

You filled the planet with peoples of many tongues;
You chose one to be your own and bless the rest. 

When the time was right you stepped into time;
You came to help us home through your own Son. 

Your fire fell on 120 in an upper room in Jerusalem;
That fire now burns in millions `round the verdant orb. 

The end of the ancient cradle of man comes ever more near;
Yet you decreed the days of your faithful ones will never end. 

Why have you been so merciful and kind to us who are so small;
How is it, O Lord, that you who are so great, are so gracious to us.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Deep in Aslan's Country -- the Land of Love

This is a love story. It's not a boy-meets-girl love story. But when you have come to the end, you will know you have read a love story. 
We are now deep in Aslan's country -- the
Land of Love

The story starts with a group of about 70 mostly young and a few older men and women in the western United States. A few in the group are married, but most are single. A few are locals, but most come from other states and some from other nations. The group gets together most Monday afternoons, and at other random times. 

The group has a leader, an extraordinary young woman whose email tagline is "love always wins." This is not just a tagline for her; it is how she lives her life, and how she leads. 

Because of her skill, she in just a few weeks facilitated a high level of trust among the members of the group. The men and women in the group began sharing stories about their lives; their hopes, defeats, fears and joys. When brought out into the open, the worst disasters of life were covered with warm hugs, tender love and forgiveness heaped high around the broken-hearted. 

The love in the group quickly shot past even the high levels of love found in most church families. It continues to grow. The group has talked much and openly about boundaries, what it means to love, defining the relationship, bravely communicating, unconditional love, love without agenda, great male friendships, honor, the joy and majesty of sex -- and how in the real, non-media world, love is not always connected with sex. 

It is possible that a few romances may come out of this group; and if so, that would be wonderful, but what is over-the-top amazing is how many loving friendship relationships there are. Men aren't afraid to be like loving brothers or fathers to the women. The women trust and are affectionate with the men. 

Nearly every adult on the planet has a sex drive, but in this group, sex is subordinated to the right time in the right committed relationship. It has been foretold that going forward there will be no divorces in the marriages of this group. 

February was love month in this group. Mid-month, the men planned a love celebration for the women -- a kind of Valentine's Day party. It was the vision of a man on the group's leadership team; a man with a great heart to love and honor the women around him. 

The men planned for weeks in secret. They planned food, activities, decorations, and even trained together to make everything go well. 

On the night of the celebration, the men did everything.  The multi-course, home-cooked meal was prepared, the decorations hung, the tables carefully set, and name cards set out. The men dressed with coats, ties, and shined shoes with great expectation. 

The women arrived in their beautiful attire, lovely faces shining with anticipation and hope that this would be as sweet as they had started to believe might be possible. Each woman was announced like nobility arriving at a ball, and escorted to their tables. Hors d'oeuvres were offered and accepted. 

Then duos of men invited individual women to accompany them to large mirrors standing around the walls of the room. There the men spoke words of love, encouragement, and affirmation over the women who had become their friends and sisters. They looked into each woman's heart, saw the gold and called it for what it was. They spoke of hope and life and love. 

After dinner, a poet among them read his verse aloud. The few married men brought out love letters and read them to their wives in front of the group. Tears mixed with affirmations and laughter as the loving words rolled over the wives and through the group. 

At the end, the men brought out clean basins, towels, and pitchers of warm water for each woman.  On their knees they washed the feet of the women while speaking words of love and affirmation. 

How did the women respond? This note is from one of the women who posted on the group's FaceBook page (used with permission): 
I have NEVER felt so much honor from men in my whole entire life. And besides my dad and brothers, I've never felt love from men like that either. Never, ever, ever. I suppose that's why it was so difficult for me to receive it at first. But wow. Thank you so much to all of you men. This was seriously one of the BEST nights of my life. I will NEVER EVER forget it. This is one of those nights that I'll tell my children about; and even my grandchildren. I'll let them know how real men honor women, and show them that this is the type of example to follow. 
Tonight, I can honestly say that you men made my heart come alive in a way that it's never come alive before. I feel so valued. 

This is a true story. I know because I was there, and a part of it all. It was easily one of the best evenings of my life. I have not included names or places, although those of you who know me can guess pretty easily. 

What made this love celebration possible? Certainly, good leadership was critically important. Willing men was huge. Planning and training helped quite a bit. But really, it was Jesus. He did it. He taught us well and paid the price so that we could be so free to love like this. We took a risk and followed His example like never before in our lives. 

Recently I was watching as one of the men in our group walked up and sat down beside one of our women. He stretched his arm around her shoulders, and she put her head on his shoulder for several minutes. There is no romantic connection between these two. They just love each other like a close-knit brother and sister.  I see scenes like this often in our community of friends.

We are now deep into Aslan's country -- the land of love. The walls keep coming down, and it just keeps getting sweeter than I ever thought possible.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Walking With the Dove

Two powerful signs launched the Christian faith nearly 2000 years ago.  The first sign was the resurrection of Jesus.  That event was a major pivot point of history.  It could be argued the resurrection of Jesus was the central pivot point of history.

Fire falling on the disciples and their Holy Spirit baptism in the upper room was the second sign.  In a way, the first sign opened the minds of men and women to believe the unbelievable -- that God had come among us -- and the second opened the spirits of believers to receive Holy Spirit power.  Both had to happen for the Church to be born.

Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John, "heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him."  About three years later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers in Jerusalem.  Today, two thousand years later, that same Holy Spirit falls on Jesus followers who seek Him.

Not long ago, I saw Bill Johnson speaking about walking with the dove.  He took a white handkerchief from his pocket and put it on his shoulder.  Think of this as the dove, the Holy Spirit, he said.  Then he walked around carefully so it would not fall.

If a dove landed on your shoulder, how would you live so it would not fly away?  I'll tell you, Johnson said:   You would walk carefully.  Every move would consider the presence of the dove.

A dove HAS landed on my shoulder.  He is the Holy Spirit.

Johnson wrote about this in his book, Hosting the Presence:  "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This simple insight took my focus from the expressions of the Spirit (gifts, etc.) and shifted them to what the Holy Spirit actually felt because of me. And the more I walk with the Holy Spirit, the more my priorities shift to contribute to this relationship."

If we who follow after Jesus want the Holy Spirit in our lives, we ask and He will come.  Once He has filled me, I want to live my life in such a way as to neither grieve Him nor quench the fire He lights in me.  It means, as Johnson says, that my priorities shift.

Come Holy Spirit.....Fill me once again!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seasonal Change

I have found in my life that sometimes things move along for months or even decades with little change. At other times, things change very quickly, even things that I didn't think would ever change. 

Being Alaskans is something that I thought would be a constant in our lives. The Swedish national song says, in part, "I will live and die in the North". As recently as last summer, as I listened to that, I thought that applied to us: that we would live our lives in Alaska. 
Flags of nations fly along the Bethel Church main campus entrance
road in Redding, CA.  The building at right is the prayer chapel.

And I thought as we left Anchorage last summer for a school year in California we were going on a sabbatical.  When we took off from Alaska in mid-August 2012, I left with the idea that we would almost certainly be back in a year -- two at the most. I called it a sabbatical, and believed that is what was happening. But it has become something different.

But I think it finally hit me with certainty that the end of a very long season in our lives is coming to an end as I read again the word of the Lord to Abram in Genesis 12: Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." Linda and I have lived in Alaska for nearly all of our adult lives. We were barely out of our teens when we came north 41 years ago. That we might ever live somewhere else was a foreign concept for most of that time....I was sure that we would live and die in the Far North.  (See also the post Thoughts on Leaving Alaska)

But today we find God's word to Abram applying to us. It is time for us to go "to the land that I will show you." We will be moving to Redding in Northern California at the end of summer 2013. When Abram left his country and his family, he must have left behind the place he fit. It was his geographic territory, but it also must certainly have been the place of his security, comfort and influence. It was the place of molding his identity. That is what Alaska has been for us. We don't have any of that in Redding, but we are already seeing the beginning of God's supernatural provision for us here. 

I think we had some glimmer that change was coming even a year ago when we came to Bethel for a conference. But it has taken our hearts a long, long time to be emotionally able to leave Alaska, to leave amazing friends, and to leave a warm church family and leadership team that we have been so happily a part of.  

Linda is thriving here physically and spiritually. She is engaged and happy. Her balance is better, she has sometimes walked several steps without electric stimulation, and she has begun to lift her left leg a little. None of this worked a year ago. And, the climate is quite a bit easier on her....although it gets REALLY hot here in the summers.

I am thriving here too. I never knew I could prophesy, but I am doing so now. I am more of a spiritual father than ever before. These are just a few glimpses into what is going on in us. Our hearts are full of the ongoing revival at Bethel and the rich texture that entails, and there is more ahead.

We don't know how long this season will last. Perhaps it will be five years, or ten. Maybe the tent pegs we pound into this soil will not be pulled up by us. God is good, and He will guide our steps.