Friday, July 11, 2008

Day Forty: Can You Believe It?

Astonishing, right? Didn't the finish line of our 40 Days seem a million miles away? And yet here we are.

Do you know what this means? It means that we've accomplished something. We may have done it gracefully on some days and grudgingly on others, but that doesn't matter. Every prayer we offered or tossed or flung violently up to God, he heard. And he loves us. And he's working our lives for good, according to his plan. Which is better than our definition. This is no small matter. Come tomorrow, my friends, it's time to celebrate :)

I want to offer you two scenarios for how tomorrow could go, so that we can make some choices ahead of time.

Scenario #1: You wake up, realize that the 40 Days are over, and see no evidence that God was even paying attention. You feel a knot of despair wrap around your insides. You check this website repeatedly, hoping for some extension plan or caveat, then decide that you hate us all because we've abandoned you (and gone off to live our perfect, every-prayer-answered-as-if-by-special-delivery, lives). You decide to extend your fast...maybe if you give up more, for longer, God might listen? You fall into bed tomorrow night feeling sad and alone.

You might guess that I'm not a fan of this one! That's why I'm bringing it up in advance. There will be temptation to go this route, to doubt whether this little experiment was anything other than a new way to see our hopes dashed. The Apostle Peter warned us that Evil roams about like a roaring lion, looking to destroy us. Scenario #1 is an example of what that could look like. But Paul makes the fine point that if we resist the devil, he must flee from us. That's the true meaning behind all those "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirts: if we're down with Jesus, Evil can't hijack our thoughts. But he can try.

What to do? It helps to have a plan. I present this for your consideration:

Scenario #2: You wake up tomorrow, and think, "This is the first day of the rest of my life! I wonder what God's gonna do?" Alongside your breakfast, you have a giant serving of whatever you were fasting from (presuming it was a food item) because hey--it's a celebration! All day long, as the thing you've been praying for comes to mind, you think, "Thank you God, that that's taken care of. You've heard my prayers and thank you in advance for the awesome ways you're answering. Thank you that you are working in places I cannot see, doing things beyond all I can ask or imagine. And thank you for all you're doing in me to make me ready. In Jesus' name, Amen..."

And you repeat as needed :)

Today's reading, the final two chapters in Acts, presents a vivid picture of what it can be like to walk in the newness God offers after a season of intense prayer. The scene where Paul is bitten by the poisonous viper is what I'm referring to. Everyone around him sees this deadly snake latch onto him and assumes it's divine retribution because Paul is a prisoner; they figure he must be a murderer who has it coming. And they're not wrong: Paul is a murderer. And yet he shakes the snake off like it's nothing. What's that about?

When we align our lives with Jesus, he makes us a new creation. The old things of our lives--our mistakes, our bad choices, the pain we've suffered from others--goes away. He takes those things, and leaves us clean and new. But it's not that the old stuff never comes back to bug us--sometimes it shows up like a slithery snake, trying to attach itself to us, poison us, and take us down. There may even be people around who think, "Well, she had it coming..." But we can shake it off like it's nothing. Because that's all it is.

Pretty cool, right? Good to remember :)

Do me a favor? ENJOY this last day of our 40 Days. And enjoy tomorrow even more. Make sure to break your fast in some way to officially close this season. And keep us posted about what God does! I'm expecting fabulous things, because we're praying to a fabulous God.

Many of you have asked about next steps for this blog, and I'll post something about that soon. I have some ideas, I just need to check in with God before announcing anything official. And I'll also have suggestions for reading, websites, etc. that I'll post once I'm back from vacation. But for now, let's finish strong today, and celebrate tomorrow. And the day after that...and the day after that.

Thank you for doing this with me. I love you guys, and everything God is doing in our lives. This has been an amazing experience....I suspect it's just the beginning.

Today's Song: Smellin' Coffee by Chris Rice. So funny, so good, so true.

Last thing I remember: sayin' bye to yesterday
Glad to see it over, pulling covers over my head
What were you doing, while I dreamt the night away?
Cause I can tell that some thing's different and my eyes ain't even open yet...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day Thirty Nine: Running, but not on empty.

When I got online this morning, the first thing I did was Google the lyrics to the Jackson Brown song, "Running on Empty." That was the phrase running through my head as I thought about today's post--I had nothing. I quickly discovered, though, that that particular tune is not "Today's Song" material: despite the peppy tune, it's pretty grim. Each verse describes some different facet of a life spent chasing, but never finding. And the worst part is the feeling it encapsulates, of not even knowing what that thing is that you're chasing after.

This was a perspective-changer for me. Because as challenging as it is for us in this 40 Days of Faith to be so aware of what we want God to do in our lives, those empty spaces we're hoping he'll fill, our running (and waiting) has its up side. At the very least, it's not empty.

First, we know we're running after the living God, the one who has the power to answer our prayers. We're not running in vain. And wherever we're at on that road, at least we're on the right road. That's no small matter.

And beyond that, we know what we're running after, because we've been praying, asking God to clarify our desires. They're tangible, now: husbands, babies, book deals, healing for ourselves or people we much as it hurts to want specific things and see no evidence that they're coming, when God answers these prayers, we'll know. That's helpful, right?

I was struck by one of the comments yesterday that drew out the difference between wanting something, and wanting it now. I think that's an important part of this. When we've prayed for awhile about a specific desire, it's really easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "Maybe this isn't God's will for me if it hasn't happened yet..." But have you noticed that these sorts of thoughts rarely leave us feeling encouraged, but rather bereft and empty?

I won't pull punches: when it comes to big life issues like marriage and children, this might be the worst advice I've ever heard. And it comes up A LOT. Here's the thing: as I read the Bible, it's God's will for 99% of us to be married. He set life up to work that way, and when that doesn't happen, it means something has gone wrong. (Note: this doesn't mean necessarily that we've done something wrong, although it could. We live in a world with real evil, trying to keep us from God's best. I think that's important to acknowledge here). The same goes for having children, and for healing, and a whole host of other things the Bible talks about as part of the benefits package for those of us who choose to follow Jesus.

BUT, where we might be out of God's will is the timing. We want now, but he's thinking long-term. I've noticed that so far in my life, there's about a seven year differential between my plan and God's plan. That's not my favorite thing in the world! And yet it's an opportunity for me to live in that in-between place, between the now and the not-yet. Just because God doesn't have THAT answer today--the one I'm looking for so diligently--doesn't mean he doesn't have other answers and blessings and great things in store for the next twenty-four hours. But it's my choice whether or not I notice them.

Today, let's notice.

Today's reading: Acts 25-26. We're still in court. Ugh. I promise, things get VERY cool tomorrow!

Today's song: Walk by Faith by Jeremy Camp. It's rather the opposite of "Running on Empty":

Would I believe you when you say
Your hand will guide my every way?
Will I receive the words you say
Every moment of every day?
Well, I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day Thirty Eight: Small changes, big results?

I have to confess: the courtroom scenes in today's reading bore me. They probably won't bore you; I think this is a holdover from my days as a litigation attorney, when I discovered that watching people argue all day is not nearly as fascinating as I thought it would be. And it's discouraging to see people in positions of authority screw things up.

What shook me out of this unhappy zone, though, was when Paul's nephew overheard the plot to kill Paul and essentially saved his life by reporting it. It made me wonder: where was the rest of Paul's family, spiritually-speaking? And what did they think about his change of perspective? I mean, at the beginning of Acts, Paul was the most legalistic type of Jew imaginable, arranging to have Jesus' followers killed. Then he gets a little attitude adjustment from God on the road to Damascus, and suddenly he's traveling the world singing "Jesus loves me, this I know..." ? It's not hard to imagine that his family might have been a little, well, surprised.

It's weird to be into Jesus. No other spiritual path I've walked freaks people out in quite this way. I wonder if maybe this is proof of what my friend Dave says, that God created the universe to be RELATIONAL. The only way to not be freaked out by my spiritual choices (0r anyone's, for that matter) is to get to know me. Then you can sort it out, and decide if the path I'm on is worthy of concern. Or, in the alternative, if it's a good thing bringing much-needed improvements.

Perhaps Paul's family LIKED that he was no longer a marauding legalist. I'm guessing his earlier persona made him a tough guy to be around during family dinners. They might not have known what to do with his new Jesus-ey lifestyle, but if the bottom line was that he was an easier guy to be in relationship with, that sounds like something God would set up as part of his plan.

What's my point here? Today might be a great time to check in with God about what he's doing in each of our lives as we pursue Jesus with our deepest dreams. Are we different? Better? Have any of our attitudes been supernaturally adjusted? We might not see the results we're praying for yet (as I mentioned Monday, I had no date for the celebration after my first 40 Days), but often we can see God moving in unexpected ways, changing things that we never would have thought of. We don't know what we'll need to receive the God's answer to our prayers, but he does. Ask him today to reveal how he's preparing the way inside you, and take note of the answer. Be encouraged :)

Today's song: Gone Are The Days by Nichole Nordeman. It's just so brilliant:

I had found it was easier to dance around
the edges of who I could be.
If I chose to expose what grows deep down,
would you still desire what you see?
No more self-rejection
No longer paralyzed
This holy perfection
Is me inside Your eyes...

What stuns me about this verse is that the kind of acceptance she's describing comes from God. But the promise I see in the Bible is that the husband God sends for us will see us this way, too: through Jesus' eyes, rather than his own. I think that's a mighty fine thing to pray for, actually. Trust me, it comes in handy when you put on thirty pounds right after the wedding, or when you face breaks out, or you say something impossibly hurtful to the man you love. Only God can make him see you as perfect, despite the things that happen in life. But the thing is--God can make him see you as perfect, despite the things that happen in life!

It's never to early to pray for that :)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day Thirty Seven: In the Game

I like that God does miracles. It seems like a huge upside to following Jesus, this possibility that through his power, circumstances can change in ways that make no natural sense whatsoever. That strikes me as rather spectacular.

And yet even as I think about that word, spectacular, I can feel something in me (I suspect it's God) urging me to correct my assessment. I'm no etymologist, but this word looks an awful lot like two others: spectacle, and spectator. I'd guess that they're related. And this inner prompting seems to be the Holy Spirit reminding me that watching from the sidelines isn't how God designed this miracle thing to operate. If we're following Jesus, the Bible says, we'll do miracles through his power at work within us--we get to play, not just watch. That's kind of wild to think about, especially for a girl like me who has always dreamed of being a superhero.

I suspect that many of us have this inner longing to be more powerful--to make more of a positive impact on the world--than our natural abilities allow. But I've looked far and wide for a superhero training school, to no avail. So the question becomes, how do we connect with that something BEYOND our own most actualized selves? Jesus is the only one I've found who delivers on these kind of promises. But the catch is: we don't get to go to school and train for six years; there's no Jesus equivalent to Hogwarts. Instead, as my friend Dave points out, Jesus jumps into our lives like we're in a game of Cranium and declares, "All Play!"

All Play, for those of you not familiar with this game, means that no one gets to watch while the others try to figure out the answer; everyone plays, all at the same time. It's the most fun part of the game, like getting called off the bench in sports. When it comes to doing what Jesus did--the miracles, the lives transformed in a single conversation, the multiplication of fixed assets into abundant provision--we're all meant to play. Imagine what that might mean for the world?

No, seriously: Stop reading, right now, and imagine what that might mean for YOUR world, and for the greater world around you. Amazing, right?

Let's pray:
God, show me what this looks like for my life.
Open the eyes of my heart that I might be enlightened and know the hope to which you've called me; the riches of your inheritance, Jesus; and your incomparably great power for us who believe.
Show me what you're calling me to, and give me the courage to step into it confident that it's not me at work, but you.
Let me see your miracles, God--in my life and in the world around me.
Thanks in advance!
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sometimes you've just gotta dive in :)

If you'd like some help in thinking about this miracles thing, you might check out this talk given by Dave Schmelzer. It's part of the same series as the talks on prayer and guidance I've given over the past few weeks.

Our theme of diving in continues as we look to today's reading, in that we need to double up and do two chapters a day if we want to get to the cool finale of Acts by Friday. So here are today's chapters. Our friend Paul is in a bit of trouble. But oddly enough, the closer he gets to prison, the broader the audience for his message. Interesting strategy. I'll confess that I'd much rather post something on YouTube than go to prison as a way to get the word out, but we all have our preferred ways of operating!

Today's song: All That I Can Do by Bethany Dillon.
I ran around the room again
I ran outside and I ran back in
And I just couldn't get away from myself.
I don't care what tomorrow brings
I won't back down for anything
I want to think that I was made for something else...
All that I can do is hold onto You
And follow where you lead, where You're leading me...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day Thirty Six: Instead of a reality check, how about a sovereignty check?

I received a heartfelt email last night from one of our participants. She's concerned about how we'll end these 40 Days--about the panic that can jump on us as the days wind down and the answers to our prayers still seem miles (or even lifetimes) away. I'd planned on posting on how to fend off this onslaught anyway, but her email reminded me to clarify a few things, lest you guys feel abandoned in such a vulnerable time.

First, let's take a minute to look at what this 40 Days is (and isn't). We're in the home stretch of an intensely focused season of faith. The way we've lived for these days is not meant to be the new "normal." Rather, it's a season where we've put other things aside to seek God in a certain way. Now, understandably, we can think that if we haven't seen our prayers answered yet (and I'm in this category myself--as excited as I am about the answer to my "where do I keep my costume jewelry?" prayer, that's not what I came into this 40 Days looking for!) we need to re-up and do 40 more. Thankfully (says the girl who will be VERY excited to see sugar in her coffee again come Saturday) I don't think that's how it works. Just because we haven't seen his answer yet doesn't mean God hasn't heard our prayers, or that his answer is no.

If you've read my book, you know that I ended my first 40 Days of Faith experience--where I prayed DILIGENTLY for a husband--with nary a man on the horizon. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And then a complete Mr. Wrong came along, and I assumed he must be from God because he showed up and asked me out. ACK! Major detour. But miraculously, through all of this, Jesus kept me sorted out. I made mistakes, but he always got me back on course--because I gave him permission to work in my life. And when he finally answered my prayer for an awesome husband, trust me--I didn't quibble about the timing!

The truth is, I'm not sure I've EVER seen an answer to one of my big prayers during the actual 40 Days of Faith. It may happen yet, so I'm not discounting the possibility. But I want to make crystal clear that if your answer isn't here by midnight Friday, that doesn't mean you've done something wrong, or that God said no. This isn't Cinderella.

Timing is something that's up to God--it's in his authority to make those calls, not ours. That's part of what makes him God.

This brings me to what my role has been in this 40 Days. Last night's email asked me to become more involved in the comments this week if I had the time. I'm so sorry if my silence has come across as not caring or having time for how this is going for you guys--in fact, just the opposite is true. I check the comments several times each day. I pray for you, asking Jesus for the help only he can give. I've often started to respond to a comment, only to feel God telling me, "Stop..." Because the truth is, there's no advice I have to offer anyone, other than, "Try Jesus--he can help." That's been the whole point of these 40 Days...not my great advice, but actual spiritual power from the living God.

If we let him, Jesus can get (and keep) each of us on track to God's best for our lives. He's the link between us and the answers we're looking for; I'm just the girl standing by the side of the road with one of those "Scenic Attractions" signs: Jesus does Miracles--Turn Here! Anything else I'd offer would be merely my opinion, which is an entirely different thing (and not, in my experience at least, particularly helpful when the deepest desires of our hearts are hanging in the balance.) That's why I've kept quiet. But please know that I'm there, reading, praying, and asking God for his miracles, right along with you.

So here's the take home for today: we're in the home stretch of our marathon--let's enjoy it and finish well. The crowd is cheering; random strangers hand us cups of water when we need it most; we see the finish line off in the distance and can't quite believe we've made it this far. The truth is, none of us will know what these 40 Days "mean" in terms of our lives for quite awhile. Stuff takes time. (How's that for a profound theological truth?)

Here's what we can know, though: God is alive, working, active in each of our prayers, in ways that are bigger than what we see in front of us. That's what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that God is able to do "exceedingly, abundantly above all we can ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us... " That power is Jesus, and we can't imagine what he's up to. This is a good thing :)

Today's reading: Acts 20. Paul literally bores someone to death, and then brings him back to life. That always makes me laugh. And I think this warning from Paul is important:
"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number, people will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"

We all need to be on guard, and know the truth so we'll recognize counterfeit offers to answer our prayers. There is real truth, and we can know it. I've heard that that's what sets us free :)

Today's song: Check out Romans by Jennifer Knapp.

P.S. If you want to email me about finding relevant Bible verses to pray into or questions along those lines, that offer still stands! I just wanted to clarify here why I haven't been posting in the comments.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day Thirty Four: Action, Reminders, and Grace

Today's reading is rather amazing--it's one of my favorites in the whole Bible.

The Seven Sons of Sceva remind us that we need our own connection to Jesus--we can't piggyback on someone else's--or we'll get our butts whumped as we fight off the things that try to bring us down.

The folks burning their sorcery books suggest that perhaps getting rid of the random Buddha figurine or books on manifesting our destiny we have scattered around the house might be a good way to confirm our allegiance to Jesus and his plan for our life.

And the way Paul walks away from folks who aren't interested in what he has to offer is super-helpful to me: we don't need to convince anyone of anything, spiritually speaking. If they're curious, we've got some good stuff to share. If not, it's okay to drop it.

I think the take home today is that God leads us where we need to go. Sometimes it's baptism, sometimes it's tossing some chatchkes, sometimes it's turning and walking away. It's pretty cool, when you think about it--the wisdom we need is right there for the asking.

Today's song: Amazing Grace by Avalon. This is my favorite remake of this classic hymn--the harmonies are so beautiful. The whole thing gives me goosebumps, especially this part in the middle:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already gone.
Tis grace that's brought me safe this far
And grace will lead me on.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day Thirty Three: Everlasting signs

I came across this this morning, Isaiah 55. I think it pretty much says it all, in an astonishingly clear picture of what Jesus offers us as we recalibrate towards him:

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to [King] David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples.

Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you because of the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor."

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

This is KEY: understanding that God answers our prayers not just to make our lives better because he loves us, but because every answered prayer is an everlasting sign of his power, his love, and his goodness. Part of why he wants to answer our prayers so others might give him a chance in their own moments of hurt, fear, and need. So if you're someone who feels awkward praying for your own husband, family, job situation, book deal, etc., consider the possibility that your answered prayer might inspire someone else to pray. It's a pretty cool system, when you think about it :)

Today's reading: Acts 18

Today's song: Great Expectations by Steven Curtis Chapman

Speaking of great...SARAKASTIC: send me your address so I can send you a copy of yesterday's book!!! :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day Thirty Two: Breakfast of Champions

I've been reading an interesting book this week that's re-igniting my prayers. It's not that I haven't been praying all this time--I have. But they've been mostly "wandering through my day mumbling to God when I think of it" prayers, rather than "sit down and have a real conversation" prayers. For some strange reason, I was finding God difficult to talk to, as if he were a complete stranger I knew nothing about and didn't have the energy to engage. I hadn't realized how disconnected I was until I started flipping through these pages. Now, I'm starting to feel like me again.

The book, Principles of Prayer by Billy Joe Daugherty, is pretty "churchy." It's filled with Christian lingo that sounds strange to my New England ears. But the substance is SO inspiring, it's been worth the effort to translate. I thought I'd share a bit of it here.

One chapter that made me laugh (and then made me think) is called "Prayer: Breakfast of Champions." It offers nine reasons why we should make time first thing in the morning to talk to God:

1. Jesus did it. This is a powerful argument in favor of getting up a little earlier, given that he healed the sick and raised the dead. Who wouldn't exchange a half-hour of sleep each day to see those kinds of answers to prayer???

2. The way you start something has great effect on the way it ends up. This got me thinking. Looking back, I can see that the relationships I started under shady circumstances--one or both of us dating other people, or feeling like I needed to sneak around to see someone--ended badly, disasterously, or (in one unfortunate instance) in a divorce where I lived in hiding for three years. But when we start something well--with prayer, integrity, honesty, hope--it sets a direction for how things will go. What if this is true for every day of our lives? Again, worth the sacrifice of sleep.

3. When you pray early in your day, you'll get an attitude adjustment. This is a take on the adage, "your attitude determines your altitude." If reason #2 is about setting ourselves on a straight course for the life we want, #3 is about getting the God's attitude about what is possible and what we're facing so that we can fly above the bumps and pitfalls in front of us.

4. If we pray in the morning, we don't have to worry about the many interruptions that come every day. Have you noticed that days rarely go exactly as planned? Things come up, appointments change, we get phone calls from friends we've been missing for months...if we pray in the morning, asking God to direct our steps and order our priorities, we don't have to worry about leaving him out of our day--he's already been invited in.

5. When we are hungry for fellowship with God, we will take time for early morning prayer. I wasn't sure how this was a reason, but as I read on, Daugherty makes a good point: we make time for the people who are important to us. Imagine a husband saying to his wife: "Honey, I love you, and I think about you all day long. But I don't have time to sit down and talk with you--I'm really busy. You understand, right?" Not exactly the stuff happily ever after is made of. If we want a relationship with God, and all the benefits that entails, then he has to be more important to us than the things we'd have to move aside to spend real time with him (and I am SO busted on this, given that I thought God would be fine if I blogged first thing in the morning--talking to you guys about him--instead of talking to him...ACK!)

6. Just as you would fill your gas tank before you start out on a trip, you need to fill your mind with God's Word and prayer before you start your day. Life demands a lot of us. When we start out with God in the morning, it accomplishes two things: it fills us up and gives us something to invest in the challenges ahead (as Daugherty points out, we can only go so long with our exports exceeding our imports), and it wins spiritual battles that are to come. This seems worth the half hour.

7. In Exodus 16, the Lord told the children of Israel to get their manna before the sun got hot on the ground. Manna is living bread--Jesus. For us, this exhortation is to get a fresh word from God every day before we set out. When we do, it feeds us in a way that provides supernatural nourishment all day long. I'm not aware of exactly how or when my body uses the vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. that are listed on my box of cereal, but that doesn't mean I'm not drawing on them as I go about my day. I think morning talks with God work much the same way, sustaining us for the hours to come.

8. When we start our time of prayer with praise to the Lord, we will receive revelation, instruction, inspiration, strength, peace, deliverance from temptation, refreshing, and restoration. Who wouldn't want that? My new plan is to start every day with, "God, you rock!"

9. Giving God the first part of our day is a spiritual law of giving the firstfruits. There are promises in the Bible that when we give God the best part of something--our time, attention, money, talents--he multiplies it back to us. I've seen this happen with both time (when I was WAY to busy to spend time reading the Bible or to go to my small group, but sucked it up and went anyway) and money (where things felt super-tight, budget wise, but we stuck to our commitment to tithe). I've never once regretted it, and I've been amazed at how when I put God first, suddenly I have plenty of time to get everything done, and more money that I would have had if we hadn't tithed. It's bizarre, in a rather wonderful way. Sort of a supernatural reminder that when we align ourselves with Jesus, we're tapping into a life that operates on different principles. New things are possible.

Interesting stuff, huh? Let me know what you think.
I have an extra copy of this book, which I'd love to pass along. Leave a comment today and I'll draw one name and mail it out.

Today's reading: Acts 17. The adventure continues.

Today's song: Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns.
The waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves the keep on telling me, time and time again, "Boy, you'll never win"
But the Voice of truth tells me a different story...

God has amazing things to say to each of us. Let's take time to ask what they are :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Thirty One: Encouragement, Guidance, Adventure

I had an answer to prayer yesterday. It's a funny one, utterly silly. But exactly what I needed to remind me that God hears ALL our prayers and cares about every teeny aspect of our lives.

Here's the background: When I was getting ready to go on the tour for my book, I looked around and realized that most people weren't spending their days in jeans and a t-shirt. I needed to raise my game from the "slovenly writer at home" look I'd been sporting for the past two years. So I did a bit of shopping, and Steve expressed great delight at seeing his wife in fabrics other than cotton. Along with the new outfits, I got some cute jewelry. Costume pieces--nothing fancy--but totally fun. So fun, in fact, that I can't bring myself to tuck them away. I'm afraid I'll forget about them and return to my frumpy past. So, to remind me that bling is back, I've had that jewelry strewn out across my dresser and closet for the past three months. But now that I'm back home and not darting off to the airport every three days, it seems silly to have all my bedazzled items sitting around in piles. So I prayed: God, please show me where and how to store these things. Absurd, right? But then again, why NOT pray for jewelry storage solutions???

That was a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, I went on a major cleaning binge. I'd purchased a black leather box in the office accessories section of Marshalls for Steve to put his various papers, etc. in. As I pulled it from the bag, I discovered that inside were two divided trays that would be PERFECT to hold my faux jewelry. PRAYER ANSWERED!

And as bizarre as this sounds, this discovery gave a much-needed jump-start to my flagging faith for bigger prayers. I feel like I'm back in the game. Let's pray for all kinds of stuff... God has all kinds of answers!

On a related note, I heard the cry out for thoughts about how God guides us. Fabulous, important question. I have three things to offer on these lines this morning:

First, I gave a talk on exactly this topic Sunday. Here is the link. (I sound a bit deranged with the first "Thank yooooou..." but after that, things pick up!)

Second, today's passage in Acts shows Paul & Co. receiving guidance: "Don't go there. Go here instead." It's kind of wild to see the different ways the Holy Spirit directs them.

Third, something I read today totally busted me: It asked, "What are you praying for?" and asked me to write it down, so I did. Then it said, "What Bible passages are you standing on as you pray?" Hmmm. Interesting. Embarrassing, too. I knew vaguely that the Bible says some stuff about the items on my prayer list, but in that moment, I couldn't tell you what they were. So I pulled out my Bible and looked them up.

So I'll ask you: What Bible passages are you standing on as you pray?
God makes us some great promises in the Bible, but if we don't know them, we're missing out on a chance to line our prayers up directly with his will.

A tip, if you want to try this. My FAVORITE Bible for finding stuff is Zondervan's NIV Study Bible. It has the best concordance (index) in the back that I've ever seen. That's where I was this morning, flipping through trying to find the places where God's will aligns with my dreams.

If you're new to this, or would like some help, email me (trishryanonline AT gmail DOT com) If you give me a sense of what you're praying for, I'll do my best to find you some Bible passages to stand on :)

Today's song: Wide, Wide World by Erin O'Donnell. The line "Don't let me miss my chance" is a regular on my prayer list.

It's adventure that we want
And it's what we finally get
There's nothing safe about You
But sometimes I forget
So lead me into the wide world
Don't let me miss my chance
Cause I'll blink and it will be over
And I won't pass here again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day Thirty: The Rules, circa 73 A.D.

What does it take to follow Jesus? Are there membership requirements--hoops one can jump through to earn the embossed leatherette Bible, WWJD wristlet, and JC is my Homeboy t-shirt we all crave?

Wait, you don't crave these things? (And yes, I'm joking)

If you've lived anywhere in the United States during the past hundred years or so, you've likely heard some sort of answer to this question. It may have been the odd suggestion that you invite Jesus to come live in your heart, or some complex secret code about how one can't swear, dance, wear fashionable jeans, watch reruns of Sex and the City, or wish someone "good luck" and maintain good standing on the Jesus Team. It's a strange world out there, when we start exploring what God ACTUALLY requires of us.

In my moments of confusion (I often feel that I'm just one stubbed toe/expletive moment away from having my Jesus bobblehead doll ordered back from headquarters) it's comforting to know that this sort of disagreement has been going on since the very first people tried to recalibrate their lives towards Jesus' suggestions. In today's section of our Bible adventure, Paul and Barnabas are caught right in the middle of this debate: the Jesus-ey folks who used to be devout Jews (and had therefore mastered the myriad laws attendant to that culture) thought that ALL new Jesus followers should be bound by those rules, also. But for the non-Jews, this seemed daunting (especially the part about odd as some Christian rules are today, most seem tame compared to the idea of a guy standing there with a giant knife, right?)

I love their response. Essentially, after meeting with the other apostles and praying about this, they concluded, "Let's keep this simple." They wanted it to be easy to follow Jesus, presumably so that we don't get so bogged down in rules and requirements that we miss the awesome new life Jesus offers. So they boiled it down to three things that seemed most essential:

1. Avoid food sacrificed to idols. From what I can tell, this means avoid participating in activities that promote or worship other gods. Idolatry still competes for our attention today, and it's worth considering how we might be tempted to "play along" with other things that we think might help us get from where we are to where we want to be, whether it's kissing up to people we don't like but think can help us (in which case the idol is our own capacity to manipulate people or situations), or using our money (and who DOESN'T idolize money to some extent?) or status or stuff to try and make others respect us in some way. This is something we all struggle with. Keeping it under control pays big dividends in terms of feeling a vibrant, real connection with God and where he's leading us. Totally worth the effort.

2. Avoid sexual immorality. Not much clouds our brains and muddles our thinking like sexual connection with someone. God made sex to be this awesome glue that holds husbands and wives together. But when we start connecting in this way with people outside of marriage, it's more like we get stuck in glue: it limits our ability to get away when relationships are over; the fumes fog our minds...if you've ever felt "stuck" in a relationship you wanted to end, this is part of what's going on.

3. Avoid blood and the meat of strangled animals. This is the community-relations rule. It's not so much about the meat, but about the huge rift between the eating habits of Jews and Gentiles at the time. If they were going to live together as fellow Jesus-followers, it would be helpful if the Gentiles weren't doing things that grossed out their new Jewish friends. In today's world, this is the equivalent of Emily Post saying, "If your new friend is a vegetarian, don't serve leg of lamb when you invite them to dinner..."

What strikes me about these rules is that they're hugely challenging on a personal level, but not complicated. Each one is for our good, rather than some arbitrary ordinance that makes no sense. It takes effort to follow Jesus, but the effort takes us someplace worthwhile. I like that.

Today's song describes life my before I decided that this effort was worth it. It's Stevie Nick's classic, Landslide, which still strikes me as sad, painful, and cautionary. The line, "I climbed a mountain and I turned around," is haunting; it's how I felt for the first ten years of adulthood as I struggled to find some spiritual path that would take me somewhere, rather than just on a long, winding road to the top of another hill. Opting for Jesus, with his simple rules, led me out of this song to someplace better. The right mountain, so to speak. (And I'm going to show huge restraint right now and not suggest that we all listen to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High as an alternative picture...feel free to thank me :) )

What do the rules look like for you?