Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hope and Dreams

Dancing on the water is a dream ... or is it. It seems surreal but is it possible? Dreams ... often are more than seems possible ... more than we can accomplish ourselves. In fact, if we can accomplish them themselves, are we dreaming big enough?!

Karen (over at Karen's Ramblings) has written about dreams this morning and has got me thinking.

Joel 2: 28 - 29 says
"I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days ..."

Hmmm. Dreams ...

Dreams can be difficult things ... sometimes dreams are things that are beyond our abilities to accomplish ... it takes courage to dream ... for some, it is easier not to dream, than to dream and have hope alive, then not see their dream realised and have hope dashed ...

A few years ago I was sitting with my friend Nicole in Vegas. I had been with her in February at a Pastors conference. I had come away from that conference feeling very challenged by God to dream ... in particular, if I go through my journal from that time, several things spoke to me:

"when did you last use your imagination for God exalted things? When did you last just sit and dream HIS dreams?" (Joyce Meyer)

"A dream will lift you out of yourself to be the self you never knew" (Tommy Barnett).

At this time God reminded me of Habakkuk 2 - though the vision lingers - WAIT for it. The waiting Habakkuk did was not passive. He did three things:
1. Stood at his watch
2. Stationed himself on the ramparts
3. Looked to see what God would say.
(for greater depth on this, check out What Do You See?).

So, picture me now 5 months on sitting with my friend Nicole in a restaurant in Vegas. We are talking and sharing and she asks me what I have been doing about the challenge to dream in February (don't you love your friends who just get down to the nitty gritty!).

My response was highly defensive and I said, "well I have just decided that I think there is no point in dreaming big in God because you just set yourself up for disappointment." I continued on to say that I thought you should just think about what you want to do and get on with it. I then proceded to follow that up with a comment along the lines of, "many people dream and are disappointed. Some dream for a child, some for a husband or a loved one to live - it's their deepest, most heartfelt desires - and their agenda is not a bad or selfish one in any way. They dream and are disappointed so in a sense, it is better not to dream and not to be disappointed."

When Nicole picked her mouth up off the floor, (and she is gracious, and merciful and loving) her response was, "I cannot believe i am even hearing these words come out of your mouth Sarah. You, of all people". I got a good butt kicking! And I needed it.

My thoughts above have an element of truth in them. All the best lies do! Think about it. When we dream, we have hope. The bible has a lot to say about hope.
Ro 8:24 Hope that is seen, is no hope at all - who hopes for what they already have?

Psalms - our hope is to be in God and his word (Ps 42:5; 119:74; 130:5; 147:11)

Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick

Jer 29:11 - God's plan is to give us HOPE and a future

1 Cor 13:13 These three remain, "faith, HOPE and love"

We can see that hope is part of God's plan for us. We know that we have a dream stealer who loves nothing better to rob us. Perhaps one of the best ways he does this is through hurt and disappointment. They can rob us of our hope and derail our faith. Think about the heroes of Hebrews 11 (and by the way think of vs 1 - faith is being certain of what we HOPE for ...). The Hebrews 11 folk dreamed, and saw what could be ... we have a huge list of heroes and yet the chapter closes out with " these were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised". Wow. They kept hope alive.

A few years ago my friends Brian and Ang were expecting their second child. A few months in Ang went for a scan and they found out that their beautiful baby was going to die. I have posted about this before so I won't go into it here. However some parts of their story are worth mentioning in this context. God had spoken to Brian earlier and prepared him for this. He shared with me that God had told him he was going to take his baby. He decided that it couldn't be God he was hearing, said nothing to Ang and rebuked the thought. It came back to him after the scan and he knew God was in control. So they went through grieving and surrendering their baby to God. Part way through this process while still carrying Jack, Ang said to me they had started to pray and believe for a miracle - with the encouragement of their church. I was immediately concerned - perhaps my biggest area of concern was for the idea of hope in this situation that might then be dashed. I worried about what this would do to their faith.

When I was home and Brian was sharing their hopes and dreams with me, I carefully asked how he reconciled that with the fact that earlier on God had spoken to him of taking Jack. His response was firm but resonated with me. He said, "as far as I am concerned Sarah, God has already taken Jack. If he chooses to give him back to us, we will receive him with open arms". It made me think of Abraham and Isaac. Brian and Ang knew their source was God. They knew he alone had the power to give or take. They had their eyes and their hope in the right place.

I am challenged by Karen's post this morning and I am uncomfortable. This past year, God has dealt with a huge area in my life - opened up some doors on a basement area that has been off limits for years. I don't want to dream in this area - I am afraid of being disappointed. It is an area completely outside of my control. It is easier to have the basement doors closed and bowl through life without deferred hope. In addition, I find it very difficult to see this thing (and I am a person who SEES - that is part of my spiritual gifting). Please pray for me. My prayer for you is Romans 15:13. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Global Village in Action

Hi All

As some of you know, my niece Ruby was diagnosed with Leukaemia in September. She is a wee trooper and is doing really well with her chemo.

I was able to be home in September (shortly after diagnosis) and was absolutely blown away by the support that there was for the family through the Child Cancer Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House. Both of these organisations run on the generosity of donations from people like you and I. They make a huge difference to families undergoing very traumatic situations. It has made it alot easier for me to be away here in Korea, knowing that Tony, Claire and the girls have the support network that has come around them through friends, families and the kindness of complete strangers. This really is the global village in action.

Many of you have been praying for Ruby and the family and your prayers are making a difference. Thankyou. I wanted you to be aware of a very practical way that you can be of support if it should interest you.

A few years ago, some people got together to raise some support for a friend and came up with the concept of Fun Razor - a movement which has grown and been a huge success. On the 6th of December, my brother Tony is participating in this in Nelson. He has a goal of raising $4000 (NZD) and with a week to go he is halfway there. I would love to see him reach his goal (or even better - exceed his goal) and the cause is such a worthy one. Wouldn't it make a great Christmas gift!

You can check out his page which has some pictures of the girls and his story as Ruby's Dad. If you like, you can also sponsor him - and it is really simple to do as the site is a secure encrypted site that takes credit cards.

Any donation helps ... if you can not donate, please continue to pray for them and pray for this event - that it would be a huge success.



Monday, November 12, 2007

Child Like

In Mark 10, people are bringing little children to Jesus to be blessed. The disciples are a bit put out - perhaps they thought Jesus was too busy to have to deal with a bunch of kids. After all he had people to heal, miracles to do, teaching to impart. Jesus rebuked the disciples and gave them a wee object lesson. Basically he said unless we come to the Kingdom of God like a little child, we shall never enter it.

So this got me thinking. What does it mean to be like a child? What are the good qualities of children? My friend Susie and I looked at this as a Bible study and then, as we are both teachers, we made a list of characteristics. I forwarded this onto another friend Kathy Koch who has a ministry to kids (check out her website at Celebrate Kids) and my friend Julie. They had some great input and I would like to present this to you for food for thought. I would love thoughts or comments to be added into the blog as I am still barely into this one!

Positive Attributes of Children

1. Simplicity of faith. They believe in faith and not in works. They never think they can gain heaven on their merit or because of their effort. Simplicity, not sophistication, impressed Jesus. Adults often overlook or complicate things.

2. Trusting. If you promise it or say it is, it just is – no questions asked. (Until trust is violated often enough to cause them to question – how sad.)

3. Children are quick to forgive.

4. Children believe the best in us and of us.

5. Teachable, receptive, and humble.
• They know they need instruction and there’s much for them to learn.
• They are fluid in their thinking and able to bend and change with little resistance
• "Children have a natural enthusiasm for learning. They know there are many things they don't understand (whereas adults are usually so sure they know everything there is to know!). Luke 10:21 is interesting...Jesus opinion of the 'wise and learned.' He was 'full of joy' over the child-like enthusiasm for the new spiritual things the 72 had been learning about and practicing." (Quote from Julie)

6. They’re willing to be dependent on others, especially God.
• Dependence is seen as a natural state rather than a weakness
• Trauma of separation … when a child is separated from its parents it is traumatic, and there is no comfort except from the parent – do we mirror this with God.
• They want to be cared for. They love closeness.

7. No hidden agendas.
• What you see is what you get – good, bad and ugly! Absolutely sincere. Without guile

8. Responsive to Jesus’ call.
• Like the little one Jesus called to Him, they don’t analyze what’s going on. They are often quick to give, sing, pray, talk about Jesus, etc.

9. Unspoiled.

10. Keep their eye on the central point of reference
• When children are playing they often keep one eye on their parent. Their security comes from this point of reference.
• When they are involved in an activity they can be totally engrossed in what they are doing but when they see the one they love, nothing else matters. They drop everything and run to you. Nothing else in that moment matters.

11. Instinctive
• Children react on instinct. Initially they have a strong sense of right and wrong. They do not tend to over think things.

12. Short Memories
• When children are hurt, they cry and its over! They have a short memory and look ahead to the next thing rather than stay in the hurt.

13. We Know Children by Their DEEDS not their words
• Young children often do not have the ability to articulate. They communicate where they are at by what they do.

14. Innocent

15. Have Joi de Vivre (Joy of living)
• Think of Kathy’s “Dance of Life” illustration
• They have no shame – they are not afraid to run around like crazy and laugh from their belly
• In Luke 5:36-38 Jesus talks about new wine needing to go into new wine-skins. Keeping that child-like wonder of the things of God and seeking to know Him in new, fresh ways seems to be hard for adults. We get bogged down with the day-to-day grind very easily. For children each day is still a fresh, exciting and new opportunity. (Julie)

16. Live In The Moment
• Children are great at capturing and maximizing the moment. “I’m going to take all that can be experienced right now.” They are often more present in the moment than adults.
• They travel lightly without a lot of baggage. At times they travel through hard places but they don’t camp there. They keep moving forward.

17. Love To Dream
• Children place no limitations – love to use their imagination and think about what could be
• Fantasize about what does not exist and their dreaming is the beginning of making it reality

18. Invest In People
• Children are more interested in friends and people than the things they can get out of them or what their relationships will do for them. Many adults surround themselves with things rather than quality relationships.

19. Tenacious
• When children set their mind on something, they do not easily give up! They pursue what they want.

20. Not Easily Discouraged
• Children have a lot of self belief and confidence … they often think they can do anything!

21. Spiritually Aware
• children have a natural awareness and belief in what cannot be seen – the supernatural. They don't have difficulty with many of the concepts about God that adults seem to struggle over. What makes them loose this natural awareness I wonder? Keeping that child-like awareness of the spiritual realm can be difficult as adults in this 'logic' focused world. (Julie)

22. Open-hearted
• Children (especially young ones) will tell you about anything and everything that's exciting to them. They get emotional easily (for good and for bad). They will openly share their deepest fears (unless they have learned not to trust adults) and joys. I think this is how God longs for us to be both with Him and with one another. (Julie)

Extra Thoughts
• Babies are often at the center of their parent’s world and this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is here that they learn to trust and receive love. Parents to babies are like God’s hands extended – every care, touch and love is reflection of God’s love to them.

• Children do not recognize their own powerlessness. That’s what empowers them and allows them to dream.

• God gives us everything from the get go. It is ours for the taking. This world teaches us that we are not perfect and we do not have it all. We are insufficient. The world teaches us that we will find what we need externally. God have already given it to us and it is all within – his presence in our lives releases it. God writes us a cheque and says it is blank. The world stamps “insufficient funds” on it and tells us, “you are not enough”.

Class Moment From Julie
I just want to tell you something I overheard one of the little Norweigan boys in my class saying to a friend the other day:
Friend: '...but you might die!'
Benjamin (in an extremely excited, thrilled voice): 'But I don't mind if I die because then I will get to be with JESUS! WITH JESUS!'

Being with Jesus was so obviously the best thing Benjamin could imagine that it blew me away. I don't think I've ever heard anyone so excited about the thought of dying! I had to admit that although I love the idea of being with Jesus some day I really am not as excited as Benjamin about it!! Interesting that with that he also has nothing he fears about his future, including death! A little wake up call for me.


This study is a Pandora’s box. Looking at each of these characteristics begs the question, what makes children lose each of these qualities? I would love to explore each of these in depth.

What Stops Forgiveness?
• Judgement
• Quantifying and qualifying behaviour
• Liturgy of Sins. Leave the past in the past. I remember many times (I was very naughty and willful as a child) that my parents would recite my liturgy of sins and failing in this area. When we do this we are teaching our children that we do not forgive and forget as God does. We teach them to remember which often leads to judgment and holding offenses.

What stops Humility?
• It is seen as weak in the world – where do we see it modeled in pop culture? How many world leaders have this trademark?
• Insecurity/low self worth
• World attitude of “just do it”!

Monday, November 5, 2007

RIP Reggie

Okay ... there is nothing spiritual in this post ... if you want something edifying try the post below!

I really hate bugs ... and in particular in Korea ... I hate these centipedes. They like houses ... In my first week here, I was washing dishes and saw something out of the corner of my eye on my shoulder. It was one of these. They run fast and it shot off. My lovely neighbor Isobel came to get it for me but it was in hiding. A week later I was in the shower (pre lasik days) and I stepped back and felt something under my foot. "What"s that?" I thought. Lifted my foot up and watched as something long wriggly and dark headed for the plug hole.

So here is the sad sordid story of an epic battle and murder most foul that occurred in this very apartment last night.

Two weeks ago a big one of these charged at me from the sink and took off … My neighbor Buffie came to get it and it had gone. Last week while playing my guitar I saw it shoot along past my bathroom door and around behind my tibetan chest. Not good for my sanity … I named him Houdini. His disappearing act has been outstanding.

Onto the story ...

Poor Reggie is DEAD. I would like to think that it was Houdini, but Reggie looked a little larger (although by the time I was finished, he didn't look large at all …) … I came in last night and he was sitting around in my sink. After a shriek and a little arm flapping, I ran for my flyspray, only to realise that I no longer have any! So what to do … I knew at any minute Reggie was going to make a run for it … so I splashed him down into the plug area … and he ran people … he RAN … he just shook off the water and ran … so I splashed him again … another deluge … and then a third one …

Reggie was fighting for his life … it was not pretty … but I knew … this would be a duel to the death … I turned on the tap and let a deluge of hot water fill the plug hole … but still he fought … spinning around and around trying to run up the sides ... at this point I am seriously freaking … thinking this is it. It’s like the movie Halloween. He just won't die. It was time to get out the big guns …

I left the hot water from the tap pouring into the sink … I got a pot and filled it … I put it on the stove to boil … and then when it was bubbling, gurgling and steaming I poured it (while the tap was still running) into the plug hole … Poor Reggie … but by then I was convinced he would come back from the dead and be downright vicious … so … I boiled another pot … and when I was done with that, I left the plug jammed in … just in case he arose from the dead … My cleaner will be dealing with the body today! Take a moments silence and remember him. He fought bravely.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Time for Time

Journal Entry 23rd February 1996

“Stop the world! I WANNA GET OFF! Yup that’s how it is at the moment. Once again I am too busy at life. The roundabout goes around and around, getting faster and faster until it’s a blur of colour and activity – frenzied music billowing out …It’s gonna blow up soon. Smoke is gushing … there is a whine in the motor…

I’m thinking of Mary and Martha. I would like to be like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus but I would be worse than Martha if you stopped by my house Lord. She flustered around the house … I wouldn’t even be home!”

Hmmmm … this is an all too familiar song.

However … that’s the dance of the world we live in. I am tired of it. I am tired of being too busy … I am tired of significant people in my life being too busy and I am VERY TIRED of pressure crowding out priorities. It is wrong. The Bible says that we are not to be conformed to the standards of this world. We often look at this in terms of our thinking and morals, but what about in respect to how we use our time?

Time is major currency in the world we live. We have more time saving devices in our lives than at any other time in history and yet we are busier than at any other time. This infection of busy-ness is so crazy, that we even catch ourselves competing with others in who is the busiest. Come on … I am sure you have had the conversation at least once in your life … you ask someone how they are doing and they reply with how busy they are. Your response is …” yes, I know … because I have blah and blah and blah and then I have to blah!” It’s almost like we have to be ashamed if we have time in our lives to rest.

People, this is not the plan of God. It is not how he wired us and it is not right. As my friend Kathy says, “we are human beings, NOT human doings.” All this doing is damaging to us, to our walk with God and to our relationships with others. Lets look through God’s eyes for a moment. What is important to him? Hmmm … could it be … PEOPLE? … ummm … RELATIONSHIP …!?!

Are we living a life in balance? Are we exercising? Are we eating right? Are we tanking ourselves up spiritually and emotionally? For a moment, take some time and imagine this … you have 4 tanks in your life: Spiritual, emotional, physical and mental (of course life is not that compartmentalised, but stay with me). All these tanks need to be filled. It is very possible to be tanked up spiritually and drained emotionally. If this happens, there is likely to be a brittleness in your response to people. Perhaps you are tanked up in other areas and not spiritually so you miss the nudgings and promptings of God. What are you doing to fill your tanks? If music helps tank you up … put some on. If a good book recharges your batteries, take time to read. If a latte and conversation with a friend charges you up … take time. You get the point. Put yourself on the list and stop blocking out your time for everyone else’s pressures (work included). This is not an excuse for laziness; it is an encouragement to say, LOVE YOURSELF. You are no use to anyone if you have not got your life in balance and centred on Christ. You might notice I said “take time” not “make time”. As I told my kids the other day, time is not elastic. It is finite. It is limited and we need to manage it well. So TAKE back the time you need to achieve your priorities. If you are running with your tanks full, you will be more efficient with all you have to do.

I recently had a colleague compliment me on a workshop of mine she attended. She then went on to say she wanted to do it but it would have to wait until she had time. I hope she wasn’t too offended when I responded with, “well then, it won’t happen. Either you determine you are going to use this and prioritise the time to make it happen or you don’t. Personally, I don’t mind what you decide, but don’t wait for the time because it will never happen. I am only using it because I determined it was something that benefited my students and put in the time.” I just can’t leave a comment like that any more because we are kidding ourselves if we think time will just open up. It’s not the world we live in.

So how do we take time to achieve our priorities, as opposed to having it all gobbled up by pressure? We put in boundaries. Boundaries are tricky things. We often don’t prioritise self-care, so we find it easier to look to everyone else’s needs. This is even reinforced by a song we learn at Sunday school. “Jesus first, yourself last, others in between.” This sounds all very spiritual. It’s WRONG. Of course God should be first in our life. However, Jesus said love your neighbour as yourself. If you don’t care for yourself, how can you care for your neighbour? We are not called to live life for ourselves, but Jesus modelled it well. There were times he withdrew to recharge. Times that he spent with friends or family – those close to him. Times when he pulled back. One of the difficulties with boundaries is that people who don’t have them, often resent those who do. When we put boundaries in, we can disappoint others or, we can feel guilty because we see others running around. Determine your priorities and then put your boundaries in accordingly.

One of the things I have learnt to do with boundaries is just say I am unavailable if I have something scheduled, rather than telling people what it is. I found that when I would say what it is, there was pressure about why something else was more important. My priorities for my time are not always the same as other people’s priorities for my time! If I have scheduled coffee with a friend going through a hard time, or a workout at the gym, is this not as important as a work meeting someone is scheduling at short notice? Of course my work is high up my priority list and I want to do my job and do it well in a God honouring fashion. However, I find (and it is the nature of teaching) that work will consume everything I give it and still want more. Lines must be drawn. Similarly, with church and ministry. A friend was telling me of a great coffee she had with a workmate. She was building relationship with someone who did not know God. Previously, she would have been so busy with all the activities going on in her church she wouldn’t have had the time. Have you been there? I have! So then, if this is our reality, how do we fulfil the great commission? Just a thought!

C S Lewis has a great passage in Screwtape Letters. Wormwood is trying to derail the “client” (the new Christian). Wormwood’s advice is to get him really busy. And … not just busy, but really busy doing GOOD things … so busy doing the work of God, he has no time FOR God. Hmm … recognise that tune?

Ephesians 5:16 (KJV) exhorts us to “redeem the time, for the days are evil”. I have to say that this is a much clearer message than my NIV, which says to make the most of every opportunity! Lets look at what that means:

Redeem (exagoranzo). It means, “paying a price to recover from the power of another, to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good, so that zeal and well doing are, as it were, the purchase money by which we make the time our own.”

I like that! We certainly do pay a price to take our time back. We disappoint others, we have to say no to things we would really like to do. I also like the idea of taking it back from the power of another. This ties in with what I was talking about earlier – not being conformed to the standards of this world. We must take control of our time – not let external pressures dictate.

What does it mean, the days are evil?
Evil (ponhrov – poneros).
Get this! The first two meanings are
1. full of labours, annoyances, hardships
2. pressed and harassed by labours

WOW! Full of labour … pressed and harassed by labour! Are you getting this? Are you feeling harassed and under pressure? What are you busy at? Do you have too much on your plate? Is it causing you to be out of balance? What pressures are you reacting to? Stop. Breathe. Refocus. Be strong and be courageous. Your life has a purpose. Stop rushing. Where is it going to take you? I heard a speaker once who had been talking with people in the concentration camps back in the Holocaust. She said the thing that stuck with her was the comment from one of them to rush. The survivor said everywhere they went, they were rushed and herded … not allowed to stop … shouted at to “hurry, hurry” … all the way to their deaths. One of them reflected back and said, the sheer numbers of people in the camps were huge in comparison to the numbers of guards … maybe they could have done something … but they were driven, exhausted, fearful … not a moment to be in any shape to even think or be organized to act differently. Obviously the situation was more complex, but this is a really important thing that the survivor brought out. Rush, rush … all the way to their deaths.

In his book Prophet, Frank Peritti writes an incredibly memorable scene. It so captures the way our world is today (and he wrote this in 1992). John (one of the main characters) is in a shopping mall. While there, he is people watching and starts to muse on how it all is fluff. People are consumed with shopping and spending and eating … but none of it is real … none of it is life. It is empty and meaningless. He starts to have a vision. He feels a draft and a disruption in the balance of the floor. He wonders if it is an earthquake and looks around to see what the people are doing. They don’t seem to notice but their activities increase … get faster and louder. The mall starts to tilt. He looks again at the people. This time they notice something. They look around and their voices go up. There is more of a buzz in the air. The floor tilts some more and now, when he looks to look at the end of the mall, all the lights are out. Everything is in darkness. He starts to hear screams and cries of people in pain. As he looks, he sees the end of the mall is not just dark, it is a huge cavernous vortex – a spinning whirlpool of darkness, sucking everything in. He looks back towards the area he is in and people are shopping faster, buying more, talking louder … completely oblivious to what is happening at the far end. Then the people start to notice, start to panic. But instead of fleeing, they become frantic to buy things, see things, handle things. Now the vortex is sucking with the roar of a tornado, the mall is a crazy tilt and people are flying into the gaping throat. As they are sliding by, he sees they are still trying to spend and shop and hold things … all the while the voices screaming in pain continue.

I read this and to me it is a picture of the world we live in. A frenzy and blur of activity and froth – while all the while people are in pain, are dying … What are we going to see? If we do not stop and step out of the frenzy ourselves, we will not hear the still quiet voice of God. We will not sense the nudges of his leading and we will not be Jesus with skin on to those around us.

Redeem the time my friends, for the day is evil.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Road Less Travelled ...

Picture this. Jesus is in the garden of Gesthemane. He is deeply distressed … perhaps the most distressed we see him in the gospels. So distressed that he is sweating drops of blood. It is his dark night of the soul. His heart is overwhelmed with the magnitude of what lies ahead. He is looking to the path laid out before him – the cup of his suffering … and in this moment … this single moment in time, he calls out to God, “if there is any other way … take this cup from me …” In that moment, that moment of knowing, he is fully human in his grief and yet still God. We know the rest of this … that Jesus was able to say, “your will Father … YOUR will be done.” And it was.

I am so glad I worship a God who has walked down the paths we find ourselves on. He does not stand by impassively … he has lived it. He understands – more than we could ever know. Sometimes, as we follow God, we walk through dark places. And, as I said once before in this blog, sometimes darkness is really dark!

This weekend, I was a MESS. A friend said to me on Friday that God has a beautiful plan for Ruby. He made this comment having lived out the reality that God’s plans are not always ours and I have lived the same thing. It was hard to hear, because it immediately took me to a path and specifically, a fork in the path. I could look along one of the directions of that fork and I thought, I have walked this path before and dear God, I do not want to walk this path again. I had to face the fact that Ruby may have a short life. We don’t know. God does. It hurt my heart and I did not want to look at it. My heart cried out to God … “No! If there is any other way." I found it overwhelming.

Now here is the thing. In my struggle and wrestling with God this weekend, I know the following: this struggle is not about a lack of trust or a lack of faith. This struggle is not about believing God is on the throne and has a plan. This struggle is about the acceptance that I will follow God wherever the path may take – and I (like Jesus) have looked down one of those possible paths and found it overwhelming. I do not want to go there. I do not want Ruby to go there or, my family. Sometimes that’s what it is for us. Not a lack of trust … just a knowing of the nature of the path and a desire to avoid this … to avoid pain. My friend said to me, “Pain is good Sarah – you are feeling.” My response was, “I don’t want to feel.” Yet … this pain, this grief, this wrestling, this is the fire in which compassion, empathy and love are forged.

I am not through the other end of this, but I have the reassurance from Psalm 23 – when my path takes me through dark places – even in the shadow of death, HE is with me. He has walked there already and darkness is as light to him. We will get through.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What Do YOU See?

This is a devotion I shared with the staff of a friend's ministry over this past summer. Those of you more familiar with my blog may recognise a couple of stories, but the direction is not one I have shared on.

1 Kings 18:
Elijah has just had the stand off with the priests of Baal. The land has been in famine for 3 years – no rain. He sends Ahab off telling him that there is the sound of a heavy rain. Ahab is off eating and drinking and Elijah is up Carmel praying for the rain. He sends his servant off to look. The servant comes back reporting “nothing”. This plays out multiple times and on the 7th time, the servant comes back reporting a very small cloud coming out of the sea. Elijah sends him off to tell Ahab to get moving before it is too late. There is a difference between how Elijah saw and how the servant saw. In the midst of a bright sunny sky, Elijah knew the rain was coming. He sent Ahab off telling him he could hear the sound of it. Elijah saw the rain, the servant saw the sunny sky. Elijah persisted because he knew it was coming.

My question for you today is what do YOU see? Do you have God’s vision with what he can do with your life or do you have your own vision? Is your vision big enough? How do you know? God sized vision needs God sized resources. It’s beyond what we can do on our own.

Habbakuk has a few good things to say about vision.

Hab 2:2
God told Habbakuk to wait for the vision – although it lingers – WAIT. In this scripture, the word wait is not a passive thing. In the waiting Habakkuk did three things that I would like to look at in more detail:-
1. He stood at his watch
2. He stationed himself on the ramparts
3. He watched to see what God would say

1. He stood at his watch (Hab 2:1)

I will stand: ‘amad) (aw-mud)
Stand – to stand, remain, endure, continue, abide, endure, persist, be steadfast, hold one’s ground, to cause to stand firm, stop moving or doing, be in a standing attitude.

At My Watch (mishmereth) “guard, watch, obligation – placing a guard over an area for keeping in custody or protection.

Standing at the watch speaks of patience and consistency – being faithful – even tenacious! Is 21:8 - the watchman was faithful and consistant “day after day I stand …” “every night…”

The watchman is not just looking for himself – a city is at stake. Realise that God’s vision is for more than just you! It’s even more important you are faithfully at your watch. We all have direct circles of influence. Think about those in your circle and know that you are in an incredibly strategic position with the opportunity to stand for and watch over them (whether directly or indirectly). It’s a powerful responsibility. The challenge for us this morning (knowing we have this responsibility) is, are we in the right place? Are we regularly meeting with God? Are we there faithfully and consistently?

2. He stationed himself on the ramparts
Ramparts are a siege enclosure. People today are under siege – all around … they are bombarded in this world by sexuality, materialism, marginalism, hedonism. In this world of endless connectivity, they are lonely … crying out for authentic relationships. The world we live in is well described by Paul in 2 Tim 3:1 – 5 … People who are lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents … ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control …lovers of pleasure … Does any of this sound familiar? This is the world that is trying to mould us.

Habbakuk stationed himself on the ramparts. What does station mean?

Station (yatsab “yaw-tsab”) to place, set, stand oneself; take a stand, stay in position for extended periods’ be in a state of firm inner strength; take a defensive fighting position; present oneself – stand ready for service to authority. Commit oneself – choose a course of action and stick to it with dedication. As an extension of standing firm in a position; stand against = actively oppose or resist power.

You are in a key position. You are functioning like that watchman on the ramparts. Be encouraged. Ensure you are at your watch and then be resolute in being stationed there. Take your stand, commit to your action plans and be faithful to the vision God has given you. Habbakuk resolved to position himself so he might obtain the earliest and clearest information. This brings me to the most important thing I want to challenge you with today.

What do you see?

3. I will watch to see what God would say
… And will watch – (tsapah “tsaw=faw”) to look out or about, spy, keep watch, observe, watch closely; intently watch a situation using primarily the eyegate”

To see (ra’ah – “raw-aw”) – look at, inspect, perceive, consider; to have vision; look intently at

What he will say - (dabar – “daw-bar”) to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing; speak with one another – talk.

Firstly … are you on the ramparts … are your eyes scanning looking to see what he will say, or are they looking at other things? A couple of years ago God challenged me about a wrong area in my life – an area where my eyes were on the wrong things. I had a mental picture of a castle wall over looking a big valley. It was night and the enemy was backing up a huge truck with a cherry picker. It was loud, it was clanging and banging and making that loud truck reversing beep. The enemy was coming in to steal and they didn’t need to be careful. Why? Because the watchman had been lured away and was off looking at other things. My question for you today is what are you looking at? What captures the focus of your gaze?

The ability to look or see is perhaps one of the most important gifts God has given us. The ability to look ahead separates child from adult. It is the thing that will keep our lives on track as well. Several summers ago, I had custom lasik on my eyes. It has been an amazing gift. My vision was so bad that if I was looking at an eye chart, I would be squinting on everything below the big E. What do I love about Lasik? Well, I love waking up in the morning, looking out the window and seeing the beautiful leaves on the trees and the detail etched on each one. I love walking in the rain with my head up (rather than staring at the ground so I don’t get rain on my glasses). I love walking in and out of shops in the summer and being able to flip my sunnies up on my head instead of opening my bag, pulling out one case, putting away my sunnies, opening another case and pulling out my glasses and then repeating the whole sad performance when going outside. I love not driving my car in the summer time with ski goggles! (I kid you not. When I could not afford prescription sunglasses, and my eyes could not cope with the bright New Zealand sun, ski goggles provided relief as they fitted over the top of my glasses! They were also fantastic for pulling up at traffic lights and staring into the car parallel … :) ) The freedom I have now is wonderful.

20/20 vision is not a gift I take lightly. Sometimes our vision can become clouded without us being aware. As glasses were very expensive, I did not replace mine too often. The last time I had new glasses, was (no pun intended here!) a real eye opener for me. I went to the university to get tested. At the end of my eye exam, the girl took my glasses out to put them on a machine and get the prescription. She was consulting with her supervisor and left me to sit alone with my thoughts in the exam room. These were rudely shattered, as I heard a very loud American voice exclaiming in disgust and saying, “people that let their glasses get like this, shouldn’t have them!” As I continued to listen, I realised, “that’s ME. He is talking about MY glasses.” I was a little bit ticked off. Thought no more of it until I got my new glasses. I was given them at home group and my friends were all about me putting them on asap. However, new glasses are always scary things when you change them every 8 – 10 years! (You try a radical change on YOUR face after looking at the same thing in the mirror everyday for 10 years). So later that night, when I got home, I sat up in my bed and tried them on. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was everything sharper … it was also clear and crisp. I thought, “this can’t be.” So I put on my old glasses and it was literally as if a fog came down in the room.

I pulled them off and looked closer. They were so scratched and battered, I could no longer see without looking through a haze. This had happened gradually and I had lived with it for so long that I assumed this was normality. What a great analogy for life. Every now and then we need to stop and get a vision check up. Sometimes we will be surprised at how clouded our vision has become.

Spiritually speaking, God tells us he will give us dreams and visions. How many of us take the time to allow ourselves to dream. I once heard Joyce Meyers say, “when did you last use your imagination for God exalted things?” I come back to my original question: “what are YOU looking at?” Matthew 6:22-23 tells us, “the eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Lets break down that scripture. The word lamp comes from the greek “ophthalmos” which refers to sharpness of vision. Metaphorically it speaks of the eyes of the mind and the faculty of knowing. Interestingly it comes from the same root word “ophis” from which we get serpent. To the ancient greeks, the serpent was the emblem of cunning and wisdom and also was an early symbol of the devil.

What an interesting link … our eyes are our faculty of knowing and this is one of the biggest ways temptation comes to us. Not just through the obvious visual temptations like pornography but also through more subtle ways such as wrong focus and allowing our vision to be filled with things that take us away from walking closely with God. These things might be resentment, envy, a love of comfort, materialism, hurt, injustice. Pretty much anything that becomes our primary focus.

“Full of light” – comes from “photeinos” which means of bright character and well lit.

“Darkness” – comes from “skotos” which means darkened eyesight or blindness. Metaphorically it refers to ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, accompanying godlessness.

We are not called to live in darkness. We are called to be full of light and reflect this whichever way we turn. Christ in us is a beacon in a dark world and God can use us to shine a light of hope. In saying that, be aware that God doesn’t want us to stay in the same place. He is a God of enlargement – he wants us to go to a new level (Is 54). This new level means greater impact and greater influence.

How do we get there? Good question. I don’t know, but I know the one who does. When your heart is overwhelmed with the challenges … when there seem to be walls everywhere like a maze … be like the Psalmist in Psalm 121. Lift your eyes up – our help comes from the Lord – our maker. In the maze of life, he looks down and sees the beginning from the end. We can wander around endlessly, or look up, put our eyes on him and walk through with purpose.

In closing … back to Habbakuk … What do you see? wait for His vision … stand at your watch … station yourselves on the ramparts … check your focus and look to see what he will say. Though it lingers … wait for it because it WILL come. What do YOU see?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Great Exploits

In The Possibility of Intimacy, I talked about the importance of developing intimacy with God and how we could get to know him. I talked about the idea that knowing him prepares us for great exploits. Why? Because God desires to be intimate and know us, and he is looking to draw people to him.

We have it in us to touch the world if only we will enlarge our vision and start seeing ourselves as God sees us! God is much bigger than our perspectives and comfort zones!

Jesus took a ragged bunch of guys and changed the world. We can touch the world! All through Acts we see God setting up divine appointments and moving in a powerful and real way. Why? Because he longs for intimacy with us and wants to draw people to him.

Quite a few years ago, I had been reading about God using everyday people and thought how cool it would be if he used me. I was still at teacher's college and was going back and forth a bit on weekends between home and Palmerston North (an hour of travelling). At this time, I was particularly tired and I knew when I stepped off the bus it was going to be full on ... straight off to music practice and then worship leading for church - I had 4 hours ahead of me. I decided that I would tune in to my walkman (yes ... it was that long ago!) and tune out the world for a bit. I climbed on the bus and sat next to a young girl. Our eyes met and I smiled, then closed my eyes and tuned out. She was about 16. As I lay with eyes closed I had a strong urge to talk to this girl. I decided that 60 minutes of sleep was more preferable and ignored the urge! After a few minutes some thoughts started coming to my brain ... thoughts like ... "she goes home and cries herself to sleep ... her parents are separated ... she is sad and rejected ...". Along with the thoughts came a stronger urge to talk to her. Along with the urge, came another internal voice - "No! You can't ask those things. You are just making them up!". After 20 minutes, I was acutely uncomfortable and almost squirmy so I thought perhaps I had better have a chat. I switched off my walkman and we began to talk. I started just asking questions ... very cautiously ... trying to figure out if I was "hearing" correctly! Things were checking out ... eg parents ... feeling rejected by peers etc ... After a few comments, she mentioned attending a Christian group at school and it was kind of like ..."Sarah ... here it is on a platter for you ... are you going to take the opportunity or not?!". Here is how the conversation kind of went ... (M = me and R is her)

M - "Oh are you a Christian?"

R - "No ... I just go to the group."

M (big breath and thinking just jump in) ... "Well, I am and it just kind of means that God is my friend and we talk like you and I are now. I have an apology to make to you ..."

R - *big eyes*

M - "When I got on this bus I really had the sense that I should talk with you, but I was tired and i didn't want to ..."

R - "Thats okay ..."

M - "... but you know what Roberta? He sees you ... he knows you ... and he thinks that you are a winner. When you go home and cry yourself to sleep into your pillow at night, thinking that nobody sees and nobody knows ... HE knows, and, he cares. You matter to him."

R - *nodding slightly with HUGE eyes* ...

Basically we said a few more things and i did not feel to push it any further. I was acutely aware of God's presence and just felt to let things lie. As a side note, when I got off the bus - I was not tired - i was flying high! I was so excited that God cared enough about Roberta to persevere with me in my unbelief and rationalising. That's what it is all about. Teamwork. God loves you, me and the world around us and he will use whatever he can to connect. If he can use a rock and a donkey ... he can use you and I!

1 Cor 2:2-5
Paul came with a demonstration of the spirits power - not with wise and persuasive words. Imagine Elijah's scene with the priests of Baal at a new age conference!

1 Kings 18:36 - 39
* Elijah wanted the miracle so people would turn back to God...look at his heart
* The result...the people screaming the lord God he is God...he is GOD!

By the way, James 5:17 tells us that Elijah was a man - just like US!

Acts 9:35
* Aeneas healed and the people turned to God

Davids mightiness came from his relationship with God.

To move in the spirit we need to have faith...

F - Filled with the spirit - a constant feature of Acts - an ongoing process

A - Assume/Expect God - Acts 12 - People astonished when Peter freed
- Divine Appointments - all through Acts (eg Roberta)

I - Instant Obedience - Acts 8:26 - 42 Philip and the Eunach ... no questions

T - Trust God not circumstances - China and Faith diagram

Both of my mission trips to China (from NZ) have been a test of faith. God had clearly said go and I was not financially in the place to do it - I had to pray and trust. The above diagram illustrates this really well. Often we are like the first person. Our eyes are filled with the circumstances and we allow those to shape our view of God. When we do this, we get a really small view of him and miss out on knowing him! If we allow God to fill our vision, the circumstances are put in their place and do not overwhelm us. Where are your eyes?

H - Habit of Enlarging - Is 54 - Commanded to enlarge and stretch, not settle. All through scripture we see that God is a God of increase!

We make a choice to walk in the higher ways of God. We pay a greater price to press on to a higher level...Moses turned down things of the world to follow his higher calling ... Paul considered his own life nothing.

1 Kings 8 speaks of the need for a fully committed heart... The apostle Paul tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. Back to Elijah and the priests...what if we were the sacrifice on the alter and the fire of God consumed us? The result is still people declaring "the Lord is God"!

It is really important that we always keep God as the focus - not the deeds. We need to be like Moses who knew Gods ways, rather than the people of Israel who knew his deeds. I want to be like Enoch who walked with God.

S of Songs 5:7-8 3:1-4 The passion for the lover. She got up and went looking for him. She was beaten and continued to search. I love it when she says, "When I found him, I would not let go".

Draw a continuim with no passion at one end and on fire! at the other. Indicate where you are at.

Gods heart is to be intimate with you. Where are you at in your intimacy with God? What drives you to know him - are you consumed with a passion to get to know him at all costs - time? Resources? Comfort? How determined are you to be intimate with him? Are you living dangerously in the hands of God? Enlarging? If you want to make a committment to intimacy with God - draw away with him and open yourself to him. The results will be more than you could ever dream. The challenge of possibility lies in the challenge of intimacy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Treasures of Darkness

Way back when, when I was in teachers college, I woke up one Saturday morning and there was an anonymous note with my name on it sellotaped to the front door of the house. I unfolded the note and it said, “God told me”. So immediately I was worried and thought, “exactly WHAT did God tell you?!” Inside the note was money – the same amount that I had just given away – which was the last money that I had to my name. More importantly, there was a bible verse. You might know it – Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans not to harm you, but to give you hope and a future …” At the time I did not know that verse and I thought, “wow … that’s cool. I like that.”

Some time later I was at a church meeting and someone came up to me and shared with me that they felt I needed to know a verse. The verse? Jer 29:11. At this point I was a little concerned as I realised God was speaking and my life was humming along quite nicely. I wondered why he was reassuring me. Not long after that my boat was rocked when my father was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. In the midst of that, I went to see a multimedia team doing an outreach. They had come from America and were using screens, drama, dance – the whole thing. I walked in and sat down. They had a huge verse up on all the screens while the audience was waiting. Guess which verse it was?! Yes … you are right. Jer 29:11. I remember sitting there thinking, okay God, I get it. You have a plan in this. My Dad went through chemo and went into remission and then relapsed with 3 brain tumours. Within 10 months of first diagnosis he was dead – at 49 years old. 4 weeks before the birth of his first grandchild and less than 2 weeks after my 21st birthday – which in NZ is symbolic of reaching adulthood. I was fatherless at a time where I was just getting to know my Dad in a whole new light – adult to adult.

Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name.”

You know, the thing with darkness is you can’t see. Darkness is really dark! Sometimes we wonder how we will walk through it. Isaiah 50:10 has something to tell us about that as well: “Let him (or her!) who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his (or her!) God. We can trust in God because he is trustworthy. But also because Psalm 139 tells us that the night will shine like the brightest day for darkness is as light to him. As Alpha and Omega, God sees the beginning from the end.

In Job 13:15, Job, in the midst of his world falling down around his ears said, “though he slay me, I will put my hope in him.” When you can’t see your way in the darkness, put your hand in his. You have to walk by faith. It’s a choice. You won’t understand and you can’t see. When my father became ill, there were distinct times I point blank said, “okay God. This stinks. I don’t like it … I don’t want it … I do NOT understand it but I will choose to trust you because YOU SAID. You said your plans were to give me hope and a future and not harm me. YOU SAID … you provide a way through when it seems more than I can bear … you said you would not leave me or forsake me. You SAID.

So let me take a moment to tell you about some of the treasure that I took out of the darkness of my father’s death.

In an Oprah magazine last year I read this amazing article written by a lady describing how she helped her dying friend make the transition from life to death – she helped her to let go. I said this last year, but I will say it again. It really impacted me. There was a line in the article that said, “It broke my heart. It strengthened my soul.” I read it and cried and cried because I realised the truth of it in my life. Let me give you an example.

I am a bit of a toughy and always have been. A fighter … and over the years God has been softening me … it’s a work in progress and the journey has been a long one! Some people ooze mercy. I am not one of them! I have a friend Nicole – she is one of those people. She is so lovely and gracious and shines. If there was a scale for mercy going from 1 – 10 she would be an 11! Me … I was a –9! When my father died, God broke my heart. 17 years on, a part of it is still broken, but out of that brokenness has come a softening, an ability to empathise with others and show mercy. It needed to be in my life. Treasure out of darkness.

My family has pulled together very closely. We have the gift of realising that life is unpredictable and short. We know there are no guarantees and that we need to take the moments and enjoy each other. We travel lightly. The petty things that can annoy and divide families are not things that we need to hold or want to hold. What matters is each other. Treasure out of darkness.

I have learnt to see beyond circumstances. In the New Testament, the bible uses a word for truth – in the original Greek, it is Alethia, which means, “the reality lying at the basis of an appearance”. In hard times, I have learnt to look for the Alethia. The truth under the circumstances. Treasure out of darkness.

It is kind of funny that I would think about these things over the past 10 days or so. I had the thoughts swimming around and thought I would talk about this with you this morning. I was going to write on Sunday. Early Sunday morning (around 6) I was woken by a phone call from my Mum. She told me that my wee niece Ruby who is not quite 14 months old, has just been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Ruby is a wee gem. She is the younger of my brother Tony’s two girls. She was a gift for me as I was down in the South Island a year ago when she was born. I was due to fly back Saturday morning and on Thursday thought, “I will extend my stay”. Saturday morning when I would have been heading to the airport, Claire went into labour and Ruby was born about 2 hours later. She is a really laid back girl with the most infectious pixie grin! A nice contrast to her 4 year old sister who is very full on and dramatic! Ruby has had a bit of tough start as she had to have surgery for a dislocated hip and was in a full body cast for 3 months. She got through all that with a smile and just came out of it a few weeks ago. She had had a fever for a few days and then broke into a rash so they took her to the hospital. They did a few tests and flew the whole family down to Christchurch where they are still running tests. Her fever is still up and there have been complications with her platelets being way too low. I was devastated when Mum called me. It stinks. It’s not fair. Life is not fair. How do you tell a little girl who loves you and trusts you and can’t talk, that you are hurting her because you love her and it will help her. I can’t imagine the pain that is for a parent. Then two nights ago, I got off the phone from my brother at the hospital, opened an email from my sister who said that my 17 year old niece has just been diagnosed with Coeliac disease and has to go into hospital and have a biopsy. This one is manageable but it will be a lifelong condition and she is going to have to change her whole life. Pretty tough for a 17 year old just about to leave home.

So in this situation. What do I do? I look for the Alethia. What do I know?
1. God is on the throne.
This is not a surprise to him. He has a plan. He will bring good out of this … somehow, some way. There is treasure in this darkness. I need to trust him.

2. God Cares.
Sometimes, we take God out of the picture. He is not an impassive observer. “Where is God is this?” we cry? He is right there in the midst of it … feeling the pain … putting his arms around the broken hearted and the hurting … as he has from the beginning of time. Look all through the bible … you don’t see God saying, “ok. You have asked 33.3 times now. I think that is sufficient. I think I might answer you.” No. We see Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb – weeping for the loss of his friend. We see Jesus responding in compassion to a shunned woman who has the courage to reach out to him. We see Jesus showing mercy to a man lying by a pool who didn’t know him. Don’t take God out of the picture.

3. God loves. I remember praying one time and not realising I had shut down. In my minds eye I saw this Narnia doorway – if you looked through the door, it was this lush green, beautiful meadow. If you looked around the sides of the door, it was a dry, cracked, barren expanse. I had the sense of God saying, “come in Sarah.” My response was fear. I hovered in that doorway saying, “no, the last time I trusted you, you hurt me.” And then I was reminded of an incident. My friend Peg asked me to go with her to the doctor to get her little girl some shots. She was 6 months old and Peg hated doing it. I went and when the doctor stuck the needle into Olivia – this baby, this 6-month-old baby, turned her eyes on that doctor and everything in them said, “you hurt me. You HURT me … how could you? The betrayal and pain in her eyes was awful. Her mother was crying along with her daughter. Here is the thing though. Her mother was allowing this hurt because she loved Olivia. She knew good would come out of it. But she agonised over it. She felt every bit of her daughter’s pain. And its like that with God. He doesn’t stick us with a needle and go. “well its for your own good”. He allows that needle, knowing good will come but feeling every bit of it with us.

Today, I just want to encourage you in your dark times … whether you have had them … are in them now … or they come in the future. God sees. God cares. God knows. God loves you. He will bring you through and he will give you treasures from the darkness. Be blessed today and walk in the light of his smile.

Ruby Update

Hi All

Just a quick one ... I spoke to my brother last night. Ruby was supposed to have her spinal tap and lumbar puncture as well as a shunt put in yesterday. This did not happen because her platelets were too low and they still are having problems bringing her fever down. Last night they did a blood/platelet transfusion with the hope that this will help and they can do these things today. My Mum arrived down there yesterday and i am flying home overnight on Friday night. I have a week down and will be flying back Saturday night. God is gracious ... as every route back was booked out (ie through Hong Kong, Singapore, Aussie, Japan) but we found a way through a new route via Shanghai.

If you are praying for Ruby and would like to be added to my prayer list, just drop me a line at scarpenter@seoulforeign.org and I will add you.



Sunday, September 2, 2007

Prayers Needed!

Hi Blog Buddies

This is my niece Ruby ... isn't she gorgeous! THis picture was taken back in March at my brothers wedding but it is very typical Ruby. She is laid back and has the most beautiful infectious smile. She is a gem. Ruby is 14 months old. She is about a month out of being in a body cast for three months due to a displaced hip and surgery. She came through it like the wee trooper she is ... always smiling and laughing. Just a happy wee soul.

This morning my mother called me early and told me that Ruby has just been diagnosed with Leukemia. She had been running a fever for a few days and they took her in to hospital - they diagnosed and put the whole family on a plane to another city and to another hospital. Apparently they will be there for at least a month. At this stage we are still waiting on tests etc but please pray for them ... Ruby, Tony and Claire and her older sister Maggie.

I will keep you updated as I can ... thanks for your prayers

Love S

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Possibility of Intimacy

Many years ago my Pastor(Paul De Jong)made a statement that has become a life theme for me: "The challenge of possibility lies in the challenge of intimacy". I was arrested in my seat and immediately I thought of Daniel 11:32 which says, "But those who know their God shall be strong and do great exploits...". If you represented it visually, it might look something like this:

How many amazing faith stories have you read or heard about? How many times have you thought "wow" - God never uses me like this! We often relegate stories of faith to "Superchristians" ...surely not us!

The whole key of doing great exploits is linked to being intimate with God. Its effortless really. Fall in love with God and learn to know his voice and stuff will happen!

There are 3 Keys to Knowing God
1. Desire/Motivation
Ex 33:13 - Moses motivation was more of God in his life rather than the big name or ministry

God longs to be intimate with us...there are so many facets of him ... father ... saviour ... friend ... Lord ... (to knock a few sacred cows - MOTHER!!!) and ... the lover! One time I was at One Tree Hill in Auckland. I was sitting in one of the blown out craters with my ipod and a journal just needing some time out. It was a beautiful winter day and as I sat basking in the sun, alone with my journal, I had an overwhelming sense of God's presence. It was almost tangible - just wave after wave of his love washing over me. I became aware of his voice saying, "I am SO glad you are here Sarah. I can't think of anything I would rather do right now, than be here with you". This took me into a whole new 8 months of discovering God as my lover. The one who longed to be with me ... to have me to himself ... to walk with me and talk with me ... to love me. It was a wondrous thing. I have never loved or been loved like that.

2. Determination
As we press in to know him he will be found by us
Hosea 6:3; Jer 29:11

3. Drive
How much do we want to know God and at what cost? In Phil 3:10, Paul said that he wanted to know Christ and share in the fellowship of his sufferings. That personally challenges me.

Getting to Know God
It is very difficult to get to know someone if you don't spend time with them. God wants us to spending time with him and put him first in our lives. These both cost!

4 Results of Knowing God
The more we get to know God the more we get to love and fear him. Often this fear the Bible speaks about comes from the word which means to reverence him. One of the meanings of that is to so love someone, that you fear doing something that would cause them grief or hurt.

1. Known By God
1 Cor 8:3 - Those who love God are known by God. How cool is that!? The one who put the stars in the sky and calls them out by name, knows YOU! KNOWS you!

2. Pleasure To God
Ps 147:11 - The Lord delights in those who fear him. I love this word "delights". It makes me think of first time parents. Everything that baby does, they are in raptures about. "Did you see him? Did you? He just stepped!" "Did you see that? Did you? She's amazing. She just said her first word!" No kidding ... I have even heard parents drawing attention to some of the grosser things like - "Wow ... did you see that nappy? Did ya? That was something else!" God is like this with us. He looks and says to the great cloud of witnesses we have (see Hebrews) ... "Did ya see that? Did ya? Look at Amy. Did you see how she just did that? Wow ... she's amazing. She's mine." What a mind blowing concept to know that we can bring him pleasure.

3. Purpose

1 Chron 28:9 - When we love and fear God we will want to serve him

"Living in the secure intimate place with Jesus brings forth an overcoming spirit that is mature in the things of God; a strong, militant spirit of faith that can break through anything. Faith that doesn't give up because deep down it doesn't want to ... its motivating force is a deep love of God..." (Stephen Bennett)

4. Prepared or "Equipped" For Great Exploits
1 Cor 2:16 We have the mind of Christ!
"In this place of intimacy we get the mind of Christ which brings our minds into right thinking, setting us free..." (Stephen Bennett)

1 Cor 6:17 We are united with God - one in Spirit

1 Cor 1:7 No spiritual gift lacking - study note states "gk indicates gifts of grace - a manifestation of his enabling us to minister..."

Watch out for the next post to find out how intimacy leads us to Great Exploits!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Modern Day Vampires

Okay ... this is probably not going to be the most thought provoking blog! But we might draw something out of it ... let's see how it unfolds! If not thought provoking, it will share a wee cultural experience for you.

This morning I had to go to the hospital for a blood test. Just a wee blood test ... but for me ... a HUGE deal! I absolutely hate needles - I am phobic about them. Probably being held down to get shots as a child and having people LIE to me, telling me that it won't hurt a bit, did not help. Last night I had vivid dreams. I dreamed of people shoving drip needles into my hands and me freaking out! I woke up and didn't even make the connection until I was on my way to the hospital. Suddenly I put two and two together (DUH) and realised I was stressing while sleeping!

So, a blood test in Korea. Let me educate you! If you have been for a blood test in a western country, you are probably used to walking in to a soothing office. You wait in the waiting room, and then are gently ushered into a room where you sit on a comfy chair with a padded arm rest. You are gently reassured and blood is drawn. Not so in Korea! Let me describe my morning!

I arrive at the international clinic and am taken around to a cashier to pay. We then walk to the blood test area and as we round the corner, I smell it. The smell of the antiseptic solution they wipe your arm down with. The smell of fear. I walk to a machine, take a number and then sit in a chair to wait. What is my view? The busy corridor of a hospital ... people strolling past in pajamas ... drips attached ... braces on ... all sorts. This is fine. What is not fine, is that in front of me through the glass, like two sides of a square is a production line. Modern day vampires ... whipping out big shiny needles ... vaccumn tubes ... tying rubber tourniquets around people's arms ... squeezing the life out of them ... barbaric needles biting into veins and blood spurting ... all of which is highly reassuring to someone with a needle phobia. I really have to psych myself up to do these tests and it does not help doing it in such a public forum. One day I even had a Korean man standing over watching it all with great interest (yes blood from a white person is the same colour sir ...) and LAUGHING at my distressed face. This morning, my vampire was in a hurry. I stopped her and made her look at me ... I am a person and I am worried. I conveyed this by pantomime and she stopped enough to say, "don't worry" before sticking me with the needle. Vampires ... I shall go with garlic and crosses next time.

Can I make a spiritual parallel here? Yes I think so ... we all have blood and we all have time. Today I had my blood sucked, but everyday we have our time sucked! What drains your time? Are you over committed? Do you have people who you are trying to help who continue to drain time from you and never change? Are you drained? You need to take charge and be careful. Like blood, time is limited ... be careful how you use it!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Life Legacies ...

Two weeks ago my uncle died. One month ago, over the summer break, a work colleague died. Two people. Very different lives.

My Uncle (Dig) was actually my great uncle. I loved him. He was a wonderful man. He was kind, gentle, loving, had a wicked sense of humour, loved nature and rugby and was an outstanding piano player. My uncle got to live a long life. He lived the 80+ years that we all feel we will get.

My work colleague's name was Yun Jin and she was a wonderful young woman full of promise. She loved God ... loved people ... had a lovely gentleness about her and there was not a mean bone in her body. She was a woman without guile. Yun Jin had a wonderful smile that lit up her face. She married another work colleague at the beginning of summer. Their lives stretched out before them and then the unspeakable happened on the way back from their honeymoon. There was a car crash. Yun Jin died after 20 days of marriage, leaving behind grieving loved ones. A life cut off.

When my father died at age 49, I learnt a little about death. Death strips away all the pretenses that we have. It brings us back to the raw. To the basics. We seem to have this expectation that we will get our 80+ years. The thing is that life is uncertain. We don’t know what it holds. Life is an amazing thing. It is beautiful, tragic, joyous, ugly, magical, wonderful, sad … Life is life. With all the joy and horror that can be found in each day … it’s life. We can not have the good parts and leave the rest. We all live and … we all die. It’s a certainty. The thing I learnt through my Father’s death is, it’s not about how many days we get. It’s about what we do with our days.

The loss of my Uncle and Yun Jin has caused me to think and reflect on something I have been thinking about over the past 4 – 5 months. Legacies. What are we building? What are you building? Yun Jin lives on. She poured her life into other people and left a legacy that will continue in the days, months and years to come. Her life is in her legacy. My Uncle lives on in his children and the lives he touched with his kindness, humility and humour.

What is life about really? Is it about the treasures that we store up … the riches? Or is it about love? What endures after we die? Treasures are often fought over … love? Love multiplies … it bears fruit … and … love endures.

What really matters? Love. The rest of life? … Its just frosting. We cannot shut ourselves off to love for the fear of hurt that comes. Life is about love … we are made to connect … we are made to love. We are also created to leave legacies in the lives we touch. One of my favourite questions over the past few months is to ask friends what legacy have they inherited from their parents lives? … From other significant folk in their lives? If I look at the legacy of my father and summed it up in one word (and there is so much more I could say) it would be Integrity. My mother’s legacy? Strength and the ability to travel lightly holding little in the way of grudges and offenses.

Jesus tells a story in Luke 12:15-21. It is a sober warning for us to think about what we are building. Take 5 minutes today to be still and reflect on your life. What are you building? If you were to die tonight … what legacy would YOU leave?

Sunday, August 12, 2007


What is worship?

What do YOU worship?

How do you worship?

Do you worship?

While staying with my friends in the USA this summer, I went to an evening service at their church. Their church is awesome. It has a great heart and is impacting its community with the love of Christ. It is a big church of national influence. However, several things got my brain ticking over. Their worship (like many big churches) is outstanding musically. Top quality musicians, full on sound and lights and 5 large screens to boot! I know their worship leaders have a heart for God. Yet, in the midst of it all I was disturbed. I saw a lot of people really getting into it and yet I craved just one space to be able to be still and be reverent. Don’t get me wrong … I love loud worship times … I have led worship and played in worship bands in big and small churches. Mostly though, I love being in God’s presence. I love those times when people are just caught up in reverence of God … times where we are still … when no words suffice … all we can do is stand. Stillness is not something many of our churches are comfortable with. If there is a space, the temptation is to fill it! What do we think worship is? I am concerned that many people are worshipping worship – not God. We need to be careful. Are we being mindful or mindless in worship?

Jn 4:23-24
For the time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the father seeks. God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of worshipper that God seeks out. If God seeks out the type of worshipers listed above, then lets see what it actually means to worship this way. A scripture I used a few blogs ago is highly applicable here.

John 3 (The Message)
Everyone who makes a practice of evil ... addicted to denial and illusion ... work can be seen for the God work that it is

What does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth?

We are exhorted to worship God in Spirit and Truth. If this is what God is looking for ... shouldn’t this be something that we pursue?! I want to pick up on two things here ... HONESTY and WORSHIP. This last passage from The Message has the phrase “addicted to denial and illusion ...fearing a painful exposure ...

I discussed this Scripture and the temptation to live in denial and illusion in Get Real. Basically, two questions arise when reading this scripture … (recapping here)
1. What is it that causes us to live in denial and illusion and why do we fear exposure?
Often we take the obvious answer ... “if people really see us as we are they won’t accept us”. This strikes at one of human kind’s most basic needs - the need to be loved, valued and accepted - we are created for relationship.

2. What causes us to live in denial to ourselves?
Self protection. If we admit that we are weak or fail - admit our issues and struggles then maybe we have to admit that everything else WE’VE built (facades ... our life in our control) is built on a lie. The fact is we are not self sufficient. We must be dependent on God. This brings us face to face with who we are and who God is - can be quite a scary thought!

It is only when we step into the exposure of the light that God can begin to clean us up and craft us into his art pieces. The Message goes on in this passage and says “But anyone living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God work it is. We will be seen as God’s reflection rather than ours!

There is such release in this. Breenan Manning in his book Lion and the Lamb says, “God’s love is based on nothing and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure”.

Jimmy Abegg says, “we are Ragamuffins, much loved by God in the midst of all our short comings and failures”.

I love the statement that Rich Mullins makes ... God does not call us to be angels; he calls us to be HIS.

This is the heart of worship ... to be captured ... to be Gods. I was reading in Psalm 45 the other day ... “be here” - the King is WILD for you - since he’s your Lord, adore him”. Its all about him. To worship we need to be vulnerable, We also need to be focused. Where is our mind - our heart - here in the moment, or off on the things we have waiting to do!

John 4:23 in The Message says “your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the father is looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in worship ...”

Lets break open that scripture
Engage: employ (use time energy etc to good effect); become interlocked; come into battle with, pledge oneself;” Become interlocked - we connect to God - become one with him. Worship is intimate. Engage is also an active verb not a passive one. Worship is active - a bit like a car - until the gears are engaged the car goes nowhere - we must engage our spirits.

Spirit:- Pneuma. Breath - like wind - it is akin to the Hebrew for ruach - the very spirit, life essence of God.

Truth:- Aletheia: - the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested veritable essence of a matter”. focus on the first part - reality lying at the base of an appearance - come back to being engaged and being HERE - what do we look like and what are we doing on the inside?!

Worship:- What does it mean to worship?
“Proskuneo” - the actual picture for this word is like a dog licking it’s master hand - the translation coming from this picture means “to kiss, to fawn or crouch - prostrate oneself in homage”.

Have you ever had a dog? When you have been out and come home that dog is so thrilled to see you - in that moment ... in the NOW, nothing exists for the dog but the fact that you are here - licks, bounces ... great joy! But in addition to this a well adjusted dog will generally roll over on its back - it submits to you. This single focus and submission are key parts of our worship.

The other thing you often catch dogs doing (well mine used to) is sitting close and gazing at you - David is like this in Psalm 27:4 ... One thing I ask of the Lord - one thing I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord ...” Mary had caught this as well - she sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha ran around!

Worshippers - “proskunetes” - means to be an adorer!

Seek - “Zeteo” - to seek for - to desire - to covet earnestly - require or demand. The Oxford adds an extra component to this definition - single out for companionship”.

If I was to rephrase John 4 incorporating all those meanings it would come out something like:
True adorers of Jesus will adore, worship, kiss and submit to the father with all that they are - with the very essence of their being - no appearances. What you see is who they are - no pretence. This is the type of person (an adorer) the father covets, These are the ones he will single out for companionship”.

Jn 3:24 (The Message) says: God is sheer being himself - Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves in adoration”.

This is deep calling deep, the essence of God calling from the essence of man - the thing we are - the aletheia - the reality lying at the basis of our appearance - is our spirit. So lets reach out and be honest and vulnerable and engage with God - make him our single focus as we seek to worship him in our lives.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Desert Survival Skills

In my last post (read it first if you haven’t read it yet), I talked about ways that we find ourselves in the desert. In this post, I will discuss three things we can do that will help us survive in the desert.

- Prepare
- Pursue
- Persist

1. Prepare
In Exodus 3, Moses had to take his shoes off. Two things immediately come to mind:
Firstly, his shoes had the dust and dirt of his everyday endeavours on them and he had to leave that behind in order to come into God's presence. How are we coming to God?

Secondly, his shoes were a tangible barrier between God and himself. By removing them he came to God on God's terms and was directly in contact with holy ground. One year I was very upset with a class I was assigned. Just before school started I was looking over the list. There were 6 classes in my grade. In this grade there were 5 children with special needs/ behaviour issues severe enough to qualify for special education funding. Because I had “good routines” I had 4 of these children put into my class of 35 (along with two children with ADD). I was angry and upset. At this time there was a teacher shortage in New Zealand. I decided that I was going to sort out this situation by having the children redistributed fairly or leaving my job! The morning that I got up to do this I very clearly heard God ask me, “will you trust me? My response was, “I don’t want to trust you because if you are asking me to, that means I have to put up with this situation and I don’t want to. It’s unfair.” I felt like God’s response was, “I am going to rock your boat this year honey. In fact I don’t want you in the boat – it’s a barrier between you and me. So prepare to get wet!”

Moses prepared himself to meet with God. When we come to God … there can be NOTHING between him and us. We come to him on HIS terms.

Ex 19:10-11
God gave the Israelites advance notice that he was going to meet with the people. It required 3 days of preparation. He was serious about the preparation.

Again, we see in 1 Kings 19:11 that God gave Elijah advance notice so he had time to prepare to meet him.

In Matthew 17, Jesus didn't just wander on up the mountain. He took the disciples and LED them - he set off with purpose. He had to take the correct path to end up in the right place. What path are we taking to come into God's presence ... or are we waiting for God's presence to come to us?

I woke up one Sunday a few years ago and as soon as I awoke I clearly sensed God's voice say to me, "I want you to prepare for church". I thought , "I'd rather just rock up actually!" God's response to me was "no more." I was really challenged about this. I was going to our 8.30am service and this meant that I had to get up earlier to prepare. In that season, it also meant that I needed to forgo my Sunday afternoon snooze to seek God's face for the evening service. Here is the thing ... if we knew that we were going to meet God face to face, what preparations would we make? I'm sure we wouldn't come with the casual attitude we so often have when we seek God!

Part of preparing involves repentance. In Exodus 33 we see that Mt Horeb was a place of repentance. Acts 3:19 tells us, “Repent then, and turn to God, so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

2. Pursue
We are exhorted to pursue God. The Oxford dictionary defines pursuit this way: "seek after, follow with intent to capture". It is an active verb. We have to do something. In Song of Songs 3:1 – 5, we see that the beloved sought after her lover. She got off her bed and actively went looking.

The desert is not the time to sit under a tree and wish to die. It is the time when you have to press in and determine to find God no matter what. We must dig our wells deeper and keep drinking!

In my first year of teaching, I taught a very bright student named Michael who was 5. We used to share news. One day, I asked who had something to share and Michael eagerly waved his hand. He started off, “Well, on the weekend we went to Hot Water Beach and dug to find the water table …” Now imagine a class of 5 year olds – this went right over their heads! I asked Michael to explain what the water table was and he responded with, “well ... its when you dig and dig and keep digging until you find where the water level is under the ground ..." Michael had caught something that we need to catch. When in the desert, dig and dig and don't stop digging until you find that water.

God is not playing Hide and Seek with us. In Jer 29:11 he says, “I will be found by you when you seek me with all your heart.”

Hosea 6:3 tells us, “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that cover the earth.”

3. Persist
The Oxford dictionary defines persist as: "continue firmly or obstinately, especially in face of difficulty; survive."

Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for He who promised is faithful"

We need to persist … when it’s hard … when God seems far away … persist in your pursuit.

Think about Ezekiel and the dry bones (Ez 37). He prophesied and the dry bones came together. They not only came together but flesh, tendons and muscles appeared on them. I don't know about you but I would probably be so in awe of this miracle that I would be tempted to stop there. The thing is that those bones were defying the Word of God. In vs 5 God said "I will put my breath in them and they will live." In vs 8 it says ..."but there was no breath in them...". What use is a pile of beautifully formed, attractive looking, LIFELESS bodies!!! Ezekiel had to push through until he saw the miracle and work of God in its completeness.

How often we are like that? God touches us and we are so overwhelmed and excited by it, that we stop there in the moment of encounter. God is always moving on and his challenge to us is to move with him and keep climbing higher. Don't back off and be content with a little taste. Get thirsty and pursue Him.

Isaiah 35:6 - 7 " ... Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool and thirsty ground, bubbling springs ..." So how do we survive in the desert? We prepare for it, we pursue Him and we persist until we find him. Not only will he refresh us, he will use us to refresh others. God's heart is that we are filled with Him and that he bubbles out of us and refreshes those around us. We can become part of his oasis in the desert ...