Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Double Action: Nehemiah

Prayed up and Prepared for battle
Nehemiah, in the Old Testament, teaches us an important and simple lesson regarding prayer and action. 

Nehemiah was an exiled Jew living in the city of Susa (modern day Shush in Iran), serving as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in 445 BC (Neh 2). One day the King noticed that Nehemiah appeared sad and asked why.  Nehemiah explained that his home city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The king asked what he wanted to do about it and in response, Nehemiah first "prayed to the God of heaven, and then...answered the king." He asked permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls and gates.  I love that Nehemiah recognized his need for God's blessing, help, intervention.  Maybe he asked God to give him words to speak! ;)  

He asked God for help then stepped out in faith doing what he felt was right. 

Again in chapter 4, we read that opposition arises while Nehemiah is leading the men of Jerusalem in the rebuilding of its gates and walls.  There are people who want its fortifications to cease.  They want its defenses to stay down.  Nehemiah's response is recorded in verse 9. "But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat."

More often than not, when faced with a mundane problem that would seem fixable with a bit of effort, creativity and hard-earned intelligence, we forego asking God to assist, deliver or remedy the situation.  Sometimes however a problem seems so insurmountable that we earnestly pray for Divine deliverance, then never step out in faith to work out the problem.  Nehemiah went to the God of heaven first, then stood up to face the problem head on. 

To quote one of my favorite verses, "Do your best, prepare for the worst and trust God for the victory." Prov 31:21 (MSG)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Talking to Papa

I've been reading a book by Larry Crabb called the The PAPA Prayer about first praying in a relational way before we pray in a petitionary way.  The essence of prayer being more about getting close with our Father than about getting things from Him, even good things.  It's a eye opening read I can highly recommend. 

One of my favorite pictures of Daniel and I. (2011)
He gave an example I can't get out of my head.  When his son was 8 years old (very close to my Daniel's current age), he and his son took a special trip to New York City just for fun.  They stayed up late at the hotel ordering pizza and movies and on their first full day in the city, played Hide and Seek in Central Park.  Larry tells how he hid behind a large tree trunk, mere feet away from his son.  He let his son search and search in the area, all the while remaining undetected behind the big tree.  After 2 minutes, he watched his son's demeanor suddenly change from fun to fearful.  Larry immediately jumped out from hiding exclaiming, "I'm here!"  His son ran into his daddy's arms saying, "I thought you left me! I thought I was all alone!" Larry's point was that all the plans and promised trips to toy stores faded from importance: in that moment he only wanted his daddy. 

As I've continued to dwell on this story, I realize that every illustration breaks down at some point.  I don't believe that God is hiding from us in a twisted game of Spiritual Hide and Seek.  But, I believe that God is always with us, just like Larry was with his son, even if his son didn't know it.  And not until he saw the desperation on his child's face did the father choose to reveal himself.  

I'm flattered that my boys come to their daddy when they need or want things.  Juice, Water, help reaching a book, a brand new toy, a desire to watch another episode of "Turtleman" (Live Action!)  But, I love it even more when they don't feel the need to ask questions and simply cuddle up with daddy.  Sometimes they tell me they love me and they think I'm a great daddy.  Sometimes they just curl up on my lap, feel safe and trust me.  

That's the relationship I believe our Papa longs for too.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Kind Chisel

Have you ever witnessed someone experience the pain of being sculpted?  I have.  It can be a horrible process to observe.

Michelangelo said, "In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."  Our Lord can clearly envision, in our rugged blocks of marble, the potential to form the very image of Christ.  He "makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image" (2 Cor 3:18).  

But the process of having pieces chipped away by a hammer and chisel is nothing short of excruciatingly painful.  Over time, when we truly begin to bear the likeness of Jesus, and the chisel must work closer and closer to the core of who we were designed to be, the pain only increases.  At first, when we look nothing like Jesus, the chunks of rock that are removed are obvious and our grief may be minimal, but as we grow closer to His image, we may be surprised at what pieces still need to be removed.  We may think we love, but it's not yet like Christ loves.  We may think we forgive, but it doesn't come close to resembling the no-record-of-wrongs forgiveness Christ demonstrated to those around Him as He hung on the cross.  Our righteousness is being painfully chipped away so that eventually all that remains is Jesus Himself. 

Remember, Jesus only rebukes and disciplines those He loves (Rev 3:18).  The Father only prunes branches that bear fruit so that they may bear even more fruit (John 15:2). Despite the often unbearable pain that accompanies that sharp chisel, what a comfort to know that He only shapes us because He loves us!  He only prunes away superfluous branches because He there is evidence of fruit in our lives and He wants to help us produce more!

When asked how he created such majestic statues, an anonymous sculptor famously replied, "I simply chip away everything that doesn't look like the desired finish product."  

Lord, chip away everything in our lives that is not like You. 
Spirit, comfort us as we recover. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lawn Care

My backyard on a good day with boosted saturation
One of my favorite chores, potentially the only chore I could come close to saying I enjoy, is cutting the grass. I don't so much care for the weed whacking part afterward, but I like it to look neat and tidy to a degree.  My insanity stretches only so far.  I rarely edge and I'm not the guy who buys the bags of super grass seed or the 'winter rye' like my Dad spreads every fall to ensure a green winter plot, but I do employ a lawn service to show up a few times a year and spread their toxic chemicals around my yard, messing up my perfectly parallel lines from my last mowing. 

The thing is, I still have patchy spots where no grass grows and that pesky crabgrass sprouts up in far too many places.  In my weaker moments, I want to take a picture of my sub-par yard, send it to the company I enlist and ask if they'd be willing to post my picture on their homepage.  Of course they wouldn't.  Then I imagine they would ask if I'd care to see what my lawn would look like without their help!  

As I cut my grass yesterday, I thought of the care my spiritual life needs.  At times I become satisfied with a decent looking spiritual life, one that looks good from a distance, one that I care for once a week, one that occasionally is bolstered by professionals, perhaps at a spiritual retreat or conference.  But I'm not satisfied with that.  I want more, more of Jesus.  

My yard needs some TLC (tender loving care: not the artist or the channel), it needs a greater investment of time and attention if it's to be full and lush and vibrant, devoid of weeds or dead spots.  My spiritual life craves the same.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

This Storm

Sarah and Michael

So many of you have been praying for my family over the past two years and I cannot thank you enough.  God has taught our family so much about relying on Him when our boy Nicky spent so much time in the hospital in 2010 and 2011, teetering a few times on the edge of this life.  God taught us to pursue Him in prayer for healing and deliverance but also for peace and trust in His perfect will.  We saw God move in powerful ways, bringing restoration to Nicky's body when there appeared to be no options left.  

You prayed with us when we shared with you the news that our newborn baby, Michael, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and was in need of open heart surgery to correct his tiny, incomplete heart.  Once again, God was teaching us to lean into His loving arms, to put aside our selfish plans and dreams and make room for His plans and His dreams for our lives.  You prayed and celebrated with us when God miraculously gave Michael "full range of perfect hearing" after being declared severely and profoundly deaf since birth.  What a privilege it has been to walk the peaks and valleys of this life with you.  

This past April (7 weeks ago) brought a trial unlike anything we've experienced before when "someone in our community" called Pennsylvania's Abuse Hotline accusing Sarah of the abuse and neglect of Michael.  Children & Youth Services (CYS) came to our door and interrogated Sarah for hours. The next day, the day of Michael's second heart surgery to help his lack of weight gain, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh also filed an accusation of Munchausen's by Proxy, indicating that Sarah was trying to starve Michael.  At that point CYS interviewed Michael's Down Syndrome specialist who went on record stating he believed Sarah was "willfully withholding calories from Michael."  This could not have been further from the truth.  (She was actually feeding him 300+ more calories per day than necessary!)

The words absolutely devastating don't begin to describe the level of pain and hurt this inflicted on Sarah's heart.  Sarah has given and done SO much, lovingly caring for our children at home and in the hospital.  To be accused of abuse, neglect and the withholding of food is ridiculous but also an extremely heavy burden to bear.  We were threatened with the removal of all three of our boys, but the option was given for my Mother to move in for the purpose of overseeing Sarah, ensuring she was, in fact, feeding Michael and not neglecting him.  Instance after instance, CYS ignored our requests to contact specific Therapists and Doctors who would provide information in support of Sarah's superb care for our children.  We felt from the beginning that this was an attack from the enemy and were moved to not only pray for truth to prevail, but to worship the Lord in the midst of our suffering, just like Job did when he said, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

One month later, May 15th, CYS released my Mother to go home to Georgia, her husband, her job and her life.  The time she spent with us that month was life giving to us and I am, and have always been, forever in her debt.  Sarah's case was deemed "unfounded" which only means that at the end of the first 30 days, not enough evidence was found to prove her guilty.  We received a new case worker with intent to consider closing the case over the next 3 months at least.  THIS IS NOT OVER.  We covet your prayers.  Agents still make scheduled and unscheduled visits to our home to ensure Sarah is not abusing our children.  We try to take them as opportunities to show the love of Jesus.  It is however, a struggle not to feel like they are the enemy when they pull into our driveway.  We know the truth however.  Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."   

Lord, we pray for deliverance.  
Lord, we pray for truth to prevail. 
Lord, we praise You because Your ways are higher. 
Lord, we believe You have a plan not to harm us. 
But to give us a future and a hope. 
We trust in You. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hearing Test Result

The result of Michael's hearing test came back.  Our son Michael who was clinically profoundly and severely deaf now has clinically perfect hearing in both ears!  Previous audio testing showed flat lines in both ears.  Now both have mountain peaks in the normal hearing range...and that was before they were able to clear the fluid and wax out of his ears, which indicates that his hearing is even stronger than the tests indicated.

He was intensely prayed over on Friday and began to show immediate indication that he could hear: turning toward Sarah when she would call him (never happened before), babbling along with worship on Sunday morning as we sang and a few more indicators.  We were strongly encouraged to continue praying for confirmed healing.  We just happened to have this test lined up today! :)  Divine healing still happens!!!