Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Left Hand In Hard Times

There are good days and hard days for us in this season.  This reminds me of a verse I received, I believe, from the Lord in a soaking/prayer time during a Methodist Supernatural School of Ministry session in February, 2011.
When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future.
--Ecclesiastes 7: 14

This was a rich time in the Spirit.  First, when I received this verse in my spirit in prayer (it was just the location of the verse), I looked it up and thought I’d missed it.  This was just my imagination (one of my favorites from back in the day), and not the Lord’s voice.  In that same prayer time, April received a word she knew she’d received from the Lord, but it didn’t make sense, “Buy a farm.”  There have been few words or impressions from heaven that have shaped us so much. 

Second, five days later in 2011 I dreamed the Lord spoke to me, “Many people find the book of Ezekiel to be confusing.”  I then saw, “3 7 9.”  The rest of what followed I wrote in A Dream Anniversary, 2/26/14.  The bottom line is I missed a large degree of what the Lord wanted me to know in 2011 about what was coming.  Ecclesiastes 7: 14 spoke of what was coming, as well.  I wanted times to be good.  In regard to the Ezekiel dream, I wanted us to witness the outpouring of the Spirit, first, and not the God imposed stubbornness in me and the spiritual deafness of a congregation.  The stubbornness and deafness is what unfolded.  One year and nine months later, we left that church.

Anyway, when times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider . . .

Things have been hard.

A couple mornings ago I believe the Lord inspired me to read all the scriptures for the day in the Daily Office.  I don’t often do that.  I started with the morning psalm.  I then read Judges 3: 12-30.   

The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.  Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. – Judges 3: 14-15a

This story of God raising up a left handed deliverer for Israel from the smallest of all the tribes and their enemies being defeated was exactly what I needed to hear.  Yea, God!  I then prayed and wrote in my journal, “Great God, raise us up a deliverer who will aid and fight for us.  I trust you and how you’ll bless us for your glory.” 

April, Anna and I sat in the master bedroom later in the morning.  Anna told us excitedly about her dream that night.  This isn’t a transcript of what she told us, but close.  She lived in a two story house similar to this one.  She had a friend visiting, but she never saw the girl friend’s face.  She was on the second floor which was a loft bedroom with her friend.  She heard an older woman in a wheelchair on the ground floor fussing at her.  She looked down from the loft and the scene shifted to what appeared to be a flashback of a family picnic, but she didn’t recognize anyone as her family.  As some were playing touch football, Anna was playing cards.  In the game, she held cards in her left hand and moved her arm in a fashion that was appropriate for the game.  With that, a mixed breed dog attacked her.  She then slipped out of the flashback and returned to the original dream. 

She was then on the ground floor sitting in the living room with April, the lady in the wheel chair and another mixed breed dog.  She received a text from me in a second loft bedroom demanding her to come see me.  She hid the phone from her friend next to her.  The friend asked, “You’re going up to see him?”  Anna was then crawling into the bedroom because the ceiling was so low.  I was in there in a preaching robe covered with white crosses.  She sensed I wanted her to stop spending time with her friend.  She then held playing cards in her left hand and did the same motion as before.  The dog from downstairs came through the wall and attacked her.  With that, she awoke.  When she did, she began to write the dream down.

We did our best to interpret some of this for her sake.  The girl friend appeared to be an angelic presence.  She’s dreamed of unknown girl friends bringing her blessings in the past.   Houses always allude to family.  The lady in the wheel chair who fussed at her and the image of me in a preaching robe symbolized the religious spirit (I was saying in a weak moment of cynicism the day before we should have stayed in the UMC).  An interpretation of the left hand is symbolism of wisdom and understanding.  The playing cards can be interpreted as truth.  She was attacked on three levels – verbally by the old lady we believe carrying a religious spirit who wanted Anna’s attention; environmentally by the religious spirit in my bedroom who wanted to stop hanging out with the angelic; physically by the dogs who attacked her when she held truth. 

April also had a dream she wanted to share.  She left a church and went into a bakery.  She got a donut but knew she didn’t have the money to pay for it, so she planned to steal it, thought better of it and stuck it into a cup of coffee.  She ended up paying for both, though both were ruined.  She walked to a street corner and was about to cross against the traffic light when two blue birds flew in front of her and stopped her from attempting to cross.  The blue birds symbolized divine peace and hope.  April was then encountering two sets of twins, the Olsen twins and the brothers from The Property Brothers.  April and the two twin sets had to split a meal of two pizzas.  At the end, the twins got theirs.  April’s pizza box was covered with flies.  The two blue birds and two sets of twins symbolize double portion three times over.  Three could mean copy or imitate or conform.  The flies symbolize curses. 

We then prayed together.  We prayed for a deliverer to rise up for us, the double blessings to be manifested.  We each, also, rebuked the financial curses and claimed prosperity to be our right as part of our inheritance.  All of us felt a shift in the Spirit.  We faithfully affirmed all day prosperity and provision are ours in this season. 

The next day I read Psalm 70: 4-5,

Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

That same day April found a verse I’d forgotten.  Long life is in (Wisdom’s) right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor – Proverbs 3: 16.

In the midst of hard days, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past.  We are then given fresh images and impressions that tell us we are in a fight, and we’re strongly encouraged to believe together for Our Deliverer to be our help and strength.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Again, Assessing Our Place

At the start of Sunday morning worship in my brother-in-law Fagan’s ministry, he said to everyone the Holy Spirit told him to turn all the service over to me.  He told me I could do anything I wanted.  There were nine of us there.  Whatever I chose to do would not have been an apple cart turnover situation.  It wasn’t a formal setting of liturgy or worship order or discombobulated musicians to worry about.  We gather normally to join in worship through MP3 files on an iPhone through a Bose-like sound system followed by some scripture and sermonizing, and some soaking music and spontaneous prophetic utterances and prayer and laying on of hands on some in the room.  It’s pretty free flowing.  I was not surprised to be told to take the worship and ministry time in any direction I chose. 

After reading portions of Isaiah 42 out loud, I glanced at April.  She looked at me and said in a whisper, “When you’re finished, I have something.”  I was relieved.  I tapped her on the leg and said, “Go.” 

April and Fagan had a conversation last week.  She told him I was looking nationwide for a paid position in a church or ministry in which we fit, and that isn’t everywhere.  He told her he wasn’t sure if it was God or him, but he believed we would stay here in order for their ministry to provide us a launching pad to land back on Sand Mountain.  Neither April nor I believe that.  We both feel there needs to be a chronological and geographic separation for us and Sand Mountain.  We also believe we’re here for a season, but we’re not called to his ministry or Calhoun County. 

There are a few things April and I are in agreement about regarding our future on Sand Mountain.  First, we’re called to minster on Sand Mountain.  God has revealed too many things to us about our future there.  We will be back.  Second, in light of what we’ve accomplished, experienced and struggled through, we need to separate from the people and circumstances that we’re too familiar with, right now.  There needs to be a separation.  Third, April conveyed this to me recently, and, at first, I didn’t agree, but after a moment of honest reflection, I agreed.  We’re not skilled to the degree we need to be to accomplish what we’re called to do there.  We’re anointed in our gifts, but we’re not skilled in how to use the gifts accurately and effectively.  This will take time and experience, and this will probably not be under my brother-in-law’s ministerial mantle.  Again, we’re not called to this ministry or Calhoun County.

April shared from Matthew 11 where Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not offended at me.”  She went on to talk about Jesus not being what we assume him to be when we’ve been shaped by religious thinking.  I then shared from Mark 2 which I’d read from the Daily Office earlier that morning.  Jesus told the paralyzed man on the mat lowered through a hole in the ceiling, “Your sins are forgiven.”   I emphasized, “God is not holding anything against you,” and how this doesn’t fit in a religiously trained way of thinking.  April came back with the meaning of repentance being the changing of one’s mind.  Your nature has been changed by virtue of what Christ has done for us all on the cross.  “I may sin, but I’m not a sinner.”

We work well together.  Our destiny is linked together in one flesh.  April proved openly to be what she knows herself to be – a prophetic, teaching priest.  Months ago, the Lord called her that.  She preaches and teaches with an anointing.  Though I’ve preached more in church over the years than she has, she has the gift necessary for these days.  When she preaches or teaches, I learn.  That was the case Sunday.  I spoke from what I know.  She spoke from the Spirit’s leading.  Since we’ve been here and led to openly contribute in these worship and ministry times, I share more often through learned behavior rather than spiritual direction.  April waits and shares more strategically, and, consequently, has more of an impact, I believe.

April is the prophetic, teaching priest.  I’ve been told in the Spirit and through prophetic impressions and utterances of others, both friends and strangers, I’m a gifted intercessor and through intercession, and what was called by two different people at different times, ancient works, the work of the Spirit will abound.  I’ve come to accept the positive feelings and impressions I’ve had over the years when it came to prayer. It is a calling for me to intercede.  My male pride has gotten in my way and compelled me to strive for more public expressions of ministry like preaching and teaching.  There have been years when I’ve thrived and relished the idea and opportunities to preach.  That was the big part of my pastoral ministry in the church.  It appears this is no longer my primary calling as it was in congregational, pastoral ministry, and that’s OK. 

As I’ve posted on this blog before, I’m supposed to write and record, as well.
Write this down for the next generation
    so people not yet born will praise God:
God looked out from his high holy place;
    from heaven he surveyed the earth.
He listened to the groans of the doomed,
    he opened the doors of their death cells.”
Write it so the story can be told in Zion,
    so God’s praise will be sung in Jerusalem’s streets
And wherever people gather together
    along with their rulers to worship him.
-- Psalm 102: 18-22 (The Message)

April’s frustrated because she is not fulfilling her calling.  While in full-time ministry in the United Methodist Church and most recently in Albertville at Safe Harbor, she had the opportunity to exercise her teaching and preaching gift.  She was great at it, and you, as a reader can go to my You Tube page and hear excerpts of my wife’s preaching. 

She and I are not in an authoritative place where she can preach as she may desire.  We’re under someone else’s mantle of spiritual authority.  April is not at a place to insist her brother give her a platform to fulfill her calling.  He is the steward of his anointing and mantle and God-given ministry.  We follow his lead, and that’s OK.  That’s the best we can do, but that increases April’s frustration. 

While many from my past may see me as a skilled preacher or orator of some kind, I’ve willing stepped into the days of a shifting paradigm.  I’m called to intercede and record the movement of God and God’s people.  I’m not frustrated with any of that.  My frustrations lie elsewhere.

Fagan followed the Spirit and called us out.  We were faithful.  We find ourselves, again, assessing our place and gifts and hopes and callings.  We trust God.  Continue to pray for us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

High & Extended

We currently live on the second floor in my brother-in-law’s beautiful home.  In 26 years of marriage we've never lived on or even had a second floor.  Now, we reside on one, and I know I’m the only one of the three of us who likes the stairs. 

On June 7, I read from a psalm that speaks about characteristics of God elevated beyond the second floor.

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples, and I will sing praises to you among the nations for your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. . . . Give victory with your right hand, and answer me, so that those whom you love may be rescued.
-- Psalm 108: 3, 4, 6

Two days later, I read from Psalm 57 verses similar to what I read in Psalm 108,
I will give thanks to you, O Lord among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations for your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
-- Psalm 57: 9, 10

Where I read in Psalm 57 & 108 of God’s love and faithfulness being high and extended, I read the next day through the psalm readings in the Daily Office from Psalm 61, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I (vs. 2b).”  This is not equal in comparison to the heavens and the clouds, but there is an elevation.  God’s love and faithfulness from which I benefit is high, the rock is higher than the plane on which I stand.  Alleluia.  The higher plane from which I benefit continues to come before me, a higher place of security and relationship.  Alleluia.  The second floor is high.  This is higher still.

As we drove back to Albertville to finish moving from John’s house a couple days later, a truck pulled an open trailer with a large, carved, wooden Jesus standing high on a pile of other carved pieces facing trailing traffic.  It was as if we were following Jesus back to Sand Mountain as we will in the future.  He was positioned higher than anything or anyone else on that highway.

In reading Psalm 70 & 71 on the morning of June 12, I came across one of the phrases from scripture I prayed regularly this spring – “make haste to help me (71: 12b).”  In March there was a pattern that emerged of scripture phrases that captured my heart that often fed my prayer life – “O Lord, make haste to help me (Psalm 70: 1; 71: 12b);” “make haste to answer me (Ps. 69: 17b);” “act swiftly, answer me speedily (Ps. 102: 2b);” “rescue me speedily (ps. 31: 2).”  As I read them now, they don’t ring as significantly as they did earlier.  They were rhema-like for me in the spring.  The scriptures depicting God’s nature being high and extended seem to be the rhema for me today.  “Your power and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens (Psalm 71: 18b-19).” 

My attention is now lifted up.  In the spring, it was “make haste,” “act speedily.” Now, it’s God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, power that reaches and extends high to the heavens and clouds.  The second floor positions us higher than we've been.  These scriptures repeatedly cast my attention to a higher place to which the nature of God is revealed or extended.  Something is being revealed to me these days.

When Eli was home for a summer break, he went to visit friends in Albertville on the 4th of July.  On the way, the Lord came to him out of the blue through some very strong impressions.  The impressions were first, the Lord will do outrageously powerful things on Sand Mountain, and, second, the darkness on the mountain is deep and ancient.  At some point that same evening the Lord gave Eli a verse, Ezekiel 42: 5.  It is odd, and Eli didn't want to venture an interpretation. 

Now the upper chambers were narrower, for the galleries took more away from them than from the lower and middle chambers in the building.

I told him we've been dreaming of buildings and, particularly, ground floors or basements over the past several months.  We’re now living on a second floor.  Since moving here, I've been impressed with several verses from the Psalms that spoke of God’s love and faithfulness and righteousness and power rising to the clouds and heavens.  This image from Ezekiel seems to have a consistent feel with these other impressions.

Doug Addison, a prophet from California (if only we were all prophets from California), posted on the internet a couple days ago, “(Now) is a time to press in to God.  Ask.  Seek.  Knock.  Expect God to answer with good things, and watch for your higher calling to open to you.  It might be in the form of a narrow gate.”  Umm.  Higher calling?  Narrow gate similar to a narrow chamber?  

A few days ago I dreamed.  I was at John’s house in the driveway.  It wasn't quite his house nor was it quite Broad Street beside the house.  I had a pseudo-motorcycle.  It was sort of like the new electric Harley Davidson.  I pulled out onto Broad.  I drove to a place where I was suddenly walking among many people.  The sidewalk led me upward to a flat place that was about 10X20.  I looked down where many people were walking, and I had the thought, “They must have just let out.”  As I stood there with several other people, I was expecting someone I was supposed to meet. 

The small plateau I stood on may relate to Eli’s scripture from the Lord.  The higher place was narrower.  The place in the dream could only fit a limited number of people standing.  Doug Addison’s word appears to relate.  “Watch for your higher calling (the small, flat place was higher than the sidewalk) to open to you.  It might be in the form of a narrow gate (only a few could stand on the plateau).” 

I like living on the second floor.  It’s our space, and we've never lived off the ground floor before.  These days certainly sound different and feel high and extended.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Two Songs

I can’t say for certain the songs I labeled as my favorite 20 years ago are my favorite songs today.  We live in a poll taking culture.  We feel like we need to have such a list as our favorite songs or movies or books immediately available to us at any moment in case we’re asked.  We don’t want to look culturally clumsy, but new songs and movies and books come into our culture constantly.  It’s unrealistic to stay abreast of every new cultural wrinkle, but something new or fresh could be my favorite song or movie or book the moment you ask me.

A few days ago through the Daily Office scripture readings in the Book of Common Prayer I read two psalms, 137 & 144.  The singing of songs appeared as a theme for me in these two psalms.  In the first psalm, there was a familiar set of verses I've related to in my life several times.  One may say these are such days for me now.

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
   If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.  -- Psalm 137: 4-6

How could we sing what we know and have experienced of God previously in a foreign land under foreign circumstances?  In this scripture the psalmist writes that their tormentors in Babylon asked the Hebrews to entertain them by singing the old songs of Zion.  For the captors, these songs referred to are mirthful, entertaining, captured antiquity from a subdued people and their culture.  Of course, the Babylonians poked fun as the victors at the Hebrews as they wept when they remembered Zion.

How could we sing . . . in a foreign land?  We can relate to this question superficially by living in Anniston for a month instead of Sand Mountain where we’re supposed to buy a farm. 

I then read Psalm 144.  “I will sing a new song to you, O God. (vs. 9a)” We’re to sing a new song to God!  In Babylon, the captors told them to sing about the Lord.  Verses 5-8 beforehand in Psalm 144 are part of a prayer asking for the Lord to come down to set David the psalmist free.  A new song would be in praise for what the Lord was about to do to rescue King David. 

Singing a song of the Lord in a foreign land is not fresh.  It isn't a fresh expression of what the Lord has done.  A song in Psalm 137 is sung out of tradition while the Lord’s action has not been immediate and can be interpreted as delayed action.  The new song in Psalm 144 comes out of a potentially fresh, redemptive work of God. 

Two songs.  Why isn’t the psalmist in Psalm 137 singing the same as in Psalm 144?  137 is a lament.  144 is not.  Why isn’t the first psalmist praying for the Lord to bow the heavens and come down to set them free?  This psalmist feels & believes something different of the Lord than David in Psalm 144.  This psalmist insists on remembering Zion.  Depressed and angry, the psalmist looks forward to avenging what they've suffered.  These feelings are undeniable, but such feelings require no faith

David’s declarations, “Blessed be the Lord . . . my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, (144: 1a, 2a)” require faith in the midst of trouble and war.  David’s intercession, “Bow the heavens, O Lord, and come down . . . stretch out your hand from on high; set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters . . . rescue me from the cruel sword, and deliver me from the hand of aliens, (144: 5a, 7, 11a)” requires faith for the Lord’s direct involvement.  As the author of the book of Hebrews said, “And without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11: 6a, NRSV).” 

The lament of Psalm 137 is real.  I've been there.  I know what it is to feel loss and the presumption of God’s abandonment.  The feelings are real and debilitating.  The darkness of such pain is a wide and long shroud, and you really don’t want to sing any songs of the Lord.  If friends or enemies are prodding you, the least you want to do is sing a Lord’s song. 

The emotional pain of loss or defeat cannot remain our definitive heart felt expression.  If we trust in the depression and anger related to our defeats, we will believe whatever the pain communicates to us; however, if we trust in the grace and power found in the Lord who has shown himself to us or to people we know and trust to be our rock, our fortress, our stronghold, then his life will refresh and rescue our lives. 

What would it be if the captors asked to be entertained and the Hebrews didn't hang up their harps, but they sang new songs of the goodness of their God and it was only a matter of time before he delivers them from their captivity?  It would have certainly changed the atmosphere among the prisoners.  The atmosphere would have been charged with faith and hope and, probably, more praise. 

The new song to the Lord would have required faith.  An old song of Zion that came from hearts full of despair and hopelessness doesn't require faith.  Despair and hopelessness seasoned with anger and depression are always easy to find in any human enclave.  Our business as inheritors of God’s best through the sacrifice of his dear son is to be conduits of the kingdom – the kingdom of our God who hears the cries of the doomed and comes and opens their death cells (Ps. 102: 18-22, The Message).