Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Old Long Since (Auld Lang Syne)

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted. -- Isaiah 12: 3

We listened to and sang Christmas songs performed by James Taylor as we drove south to retrieve our daughter from Auburn for the holidays.  I wrote about this trip earlier in this blog (post: Have Yourself a Joyful Christmas, 12/14/14).  JT's Christmas CD concludes with a touching rendition of Auld Lang Syne.  The spirit of this ancient piece wasn't wasted on me that night.

A translation of "auld lang syne" is "old long since."  This song brings those who sing or listen to reflect on the year about to close.  The lyrics James sang to us that night guided me to recollect two of my friends with whom I've shared experiences in God.

Two of the verses paint adventures shared by two friends:  
We two have run about the hills
and gathered flowers fine
we wandered many a weary foot
since auld lang syne
And . . .
We two have sported in the brook
from morning sun til dine
but seas between us have roared and swelled
since auld lang syne

Though it hasn't been a separation of years from my friends, the song caught me emotionally longing to link again with old friends with whom I shared spiritual encounters.  One friend prophesied repeatedly over me, stirring within me a destiny as a gifted minister regardless of my place or vocation.  My other dear brother shares with me a history. We fought side by side spiritual and ecclesiastical battles. We, also, laughed openly, worshiped freely and shared wholeheartedly.  

And here’s a hand my trusty friend
and give a hand of thine
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet
for auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear
for auld lang syne
we’ll take a cup of kindness
for auld lang syne

I read Isaiah 12 earlier this week.  It spoke to me of what is to come.  Joy can and will be a vessel to draw from the reality of salvation from God alone.  The day when joy will, in effect, be a cup from which we drink of salvation will be the day we all make known God's deeds among the nations.  We’ll take a cup of kindness for auld lang syne (old long since).

In Christ, this day is realized now, AND a level of my calling is still to write and record what the Lord has done and is doing to inspire worship for generations.  April and I and our family are to witness the manifestation of God's presence on Sand Mountain that will heal, save and set free scores of people and families.  We will all drink from the cup from the wells of salvation.  This is our destiny! 

My friends will also witness these things and participate in declaring what the Lord has done.  What is long since past may be remembered, but the dawning of a new day of joy will eclipse the old.  We'll share in a new cup.  Alleluia.

The passing of 2014 will be a joyous passing for this family.  We've all experienced encounters and expressions from the Lord, but the difficulties have never been seen before.  All four of us know there will laborious births in 2015 for us.  We're aware of these facts, but what is to come by the words and hands of our gracious Father will be truly unique for all of us.  This we believe as a family and as those called for tasks in the Kingdom.

Happy new year to you and to all you hold dear!  Amen!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Your Hands & Arms

We went to a local church on Christmas eve.  April and I wanted to go to a traditional Christmas Eve service to join in the tradition of carols and the gospel account of the Christmas story and liturgy.  April has felt she's missed Advent this year.  This would be an opportunity to recapture what was missed or lost.

We attended the 10 p.m. service at a church pastored by a friend of ours.  I told Anna I expected to cry sometime during the service because I expected to experience God's presence.  I never cried or even shed a tear.  We didn't sing enough to suit me, but there were plenty of liturgical elements.  Overall, it was fine. 

Christmas morning, we had a few presents to open.  We opened them, discussed their significance, embraced each with joy and thanked the giver of each.  We then prepared our traditional Christmas breakfast.  April's brother and wife went to their daughter's house for the morning, so the kitchen was all ours.   

When I prayed over the meal before we ate, I prayed we were thankful this year because "we're in your hands and in your arms."  That was it.  I didn't script or prepare in advance what to pray, but those spontaneous words made me cry in God's presence.   

This was a gift.  I didn't sense the Lord's presence the night before.  I did encounter him in that moment of prayerful thanks over the meal and our year in God's care.  It was truly a gracious gift to me. 

We are recipients of grace and mercy this year.  Though there has been sacrifice and suffering while we've sought to follow what we believe the Lord has inspired us to pursue, our family has been in the hands and arms of our heavenly Father.  

Whatever follows, I believe, will be unique.  We'll witness the goodness of God in our circumstances and the embrace of our Father's arms as we reside in his hands.  Alleluia.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Before Advent Departs . . .

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way, 
    over those who carry out evil devices.  

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. 
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil. 
For the wicked shall be cut off, 
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land
-Psalm 37: 7-9 

Before Advent departs, I wanted to share what the Lord revealed to me regarding waiting in this season.

It was in the middle of this season of Advent when April experienced a spiritual attack in dream form.  The dream involved serpents which always means a demonic encounter.  It angered me to hear about this dream.  I so wanted whoever or whatever was responsible to be cut off, as the Psalm writer said.  If I could have responded violently, I would have.  My spoken words were savage and stained with anger.

These verses from Psalm 37 struck me, sobered my temper when I read them the day after my response to April's dream.  Wait and do not fret and refrain from anger.  Its unnecessary.  Pray for your enemies.

With April, I prayed for those whom I believed partnered, willingly or unwillingly, with those forces that oppose us.  We prayed they encounter God and repent of their partnership with darkness and a spirit of religion against us.  While it is good for the partners of darkness to turn, it is best for me to not partner with vengeance.

Great God, forgive me for my anger and fretting.  I was wrong and childish.  I repent of that behavior and language.  I want to be with you and your will and kingdom.  Alleluia.

Lift up your heads, O gates!  and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! - Psalm 24: 9-10 

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!" - Psalm 29: 9 

The gates and ancient doors are commanded to be lifted up and opened for the Lord.  This is not language of waiting but the language of anticipation and preparation.

What does the Lord do?  The Lord speaks, and the environment changes, and we say, "Glory!"  The Lord acts with words and declarations. We act with preparations.

A few days ago I read a prophetic word Chuck Pierce posted on his Facebook page.  The heart of the posting from the Lord was, "(My people's) hope in me performing what I have spoken has become like a faded dream.  They are living in the present, with dread for the future.  They no longer anticipate favorable outcomes in their lives.  They are not rising above but being sidetracked by circumstances.  These circumstances are keeping them from entering into my creative power. . . . I am able.  Lean not on your own abilities, for I can enable you."

This lost ability to anticipate sounds like Zechariah, John the Baptist's father.  Gabriel took away his ability to speak.  He couldn't speak an anticipating word of what God promised him.  Better he lose his ability to speak than to speak doubt of what the Lord told him.

We've struggled to stay anticipating what God has promised.  What we've experienced in the past year is that there are fewer and fewer circumstances that are sidetracking us.  Yes, God is able.  We're leaning less and less on our own abilities and more on what the Lord still says.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. 
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  -- Psalm 62: 5-7

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Change In Altitude

April dreamed recently our bed in our second floor bedroom was moved to the first floor.  A bed in a dream means rest or intimacy.  Prior to our move, but, after we received the invitation to move here, our sister-in-law told us she believed God told her we'd come here to rest.

April dreamed twice recently of going down a flight of stairs.  I told her the weeks before and after we moved this summer into the second floor of her brother's beautiful house I'd see phrases in my daily scripture readings that stood out to me of moving or looking upward to a higher place.   Consequently, we moved to the second floor in April's brother's home.  In the post, High & Extended (posted 7/11/14), I detailed the scriptures and related irony of these scriptures and parabolic symbolism in analogous dreams to our second floor home.

Its curious to me we're seeing new dream symbolism moving us from the second floor of rest to the ground floor.  I sense this means change is pending which is what we've believed for weeks.

With these dreams being part of our recent conversations, its funny the sermons we've listened to and through which we've felt the Lord speak to us.

Bill Johnson from Bethel Church, Redding, CA, preached a couple Sundays ago, "God counts it victory when you pray again after loss."  He went on to say the Lord is building a people to contain his purposes.  When the Lord says no, that's because there's a better yes to come.

We've struggled with the delays we've experienced.  We've received prophetic declarations and divine promises we've trusted as the Lord's will for us and for our destiny as ministers of the gospel.  We know what it is to refrain from boisterous expressions of praise to God when we've wondered if it was our fault the fulfillment of promises hasn't come.  We're familiar with praying for the well being of family and friends but abstaining from passionate prayers for the fulfillment of our promises.

Bill said, "We're learning to apprehend what was promised, but we're becoming something that can contain the fullness of what God is doing."  This spoke, first to April, then to me, the truth of where we've been and where we are.  Sin hasn't brought delay to our fulfilled destiny.  Guilt and shame are a waste of our time.  Simply, we're growing in our capacity to hold all that God has promised in and through us.

While there have been days when praying or worship have been difficult, we've still prayed and worshiped because the overall character of God we've encountered is still true - He's good and always good.  Bill's word to us legitimized our recent experiences as common to everyone, but the Lord is holding nothing against us.  We have prayed and worshiped without seeing fulfillment.  The Lord counts our faith as victory.  This brought us joy and hope.

After listening to this and celebrating with tears, I went on to listen to an old sermon I archived three and a half years ago.  It was a sermon Graham Cook preached at Bethel Church to their Supernatural School of Ministry.  I bookmarked it with the title, High Places.  I listened to it with new ears.

Graham said height, biblically, was associated with quality or power of something.  Height is transcendence, going beyond current limits, surpassing previous experiences and outside natural boundaries.  The high places in both Old and New Testaments were the places heaven touched earth.  They were the thin places.

Graham went on to use the illustration of high places and high altitudes to describe our growing relationship with God apart from natural limitations.  We're not normal people.  We're to live from a high place, a place where heaven touches earth.  Our starting place of life with God is not from need but a place of relationship, provision, love.

All of his language of height and a high altitude struck me afresh because we're living on a higher level, the second floor.  We were invited to live here.  I was inspired by scriptures describing high places and elevations before and after we moved here.  The promises given to us over the last few years involved ministering by providing a place of God's Presence to the broken and sick and lost of Sand Mountain, the largest plateau east of the Mississippi (I've been told).  We're learning to expand our capacity to hold all God has promised us. We're becoming something that can contain the fullness of what God is doing.

Graham said at high altitudes, you must take small steps and adopt a child-like simplicity to living.  While living in this season, we've had to grow in our child-like dependence on God because we don't have anything else and to take small steps, small actions because our resources are limited. 

Complex thinking can't be handled at high altitudes.  We've had to keep things simple.  Graham said to keep it simple when you're going through difficulties by reading the gospels and the psalms, not Paul's epistles.  The past two years, the gospels and the psalms have been my food.  Paul's writing has not been a staple source for me.

Emotions are in flux when you're in high altitudes.  Graham said the Sherpas in the Himalayas told him to keep your emotions steady by bringing yourself to peace and rest.  Climbers are prone to swing emotionally from ecstasy to depression in moments.  We've been inclined to feel optimistic one day and depressed the next.  We've had to learn balance in our spirits by focusing on who we are in Christ alone.  This has been, perhaps, the biggest challenge.

There's a price to pay to live at a high place, where heaven meets earth.  Graham said you have to accept a certain level of discomfort, hardship in order to fulfill the dream of being with God.  You pay a price for the anointing. 

"God measures our faithfulness by how much we persevere and press in," Graham said.  This is where Bill and Graham collided.  Faithfulness and victory is marked by pressing into your relationship with God and praying despite the loss or difficulty.  Partner with the God of favor and grace.

We've lived in a high place.  We've struggled with disappointment.  We've cried out for justice day and night.  We've felt abandoned.  Now, we feel our God, our Comforter has granted us peace and joy we haven't experienced in quite a while.  We encountered our Savior in worship and study and soaking readily the last few weeks knowing we have nothing else.  We've paid a price.

Could it be we're now descending, like walking down steps,  from our current position in order to ascend to a new place, a high place of quality and power in God?

April dreamed recently she was in a rocket with a man she believed to be her husband, but it wasn't me.  The rocket blasted off.  She was frightened, but her husband, who we now believe to be Jesus, laughed and said, "Be sure to put on your oxygen mask."  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Have Yourself a Joyful Christmas

One night, recently, we drove to Auburn to meet our daughter and bring her home after her last exam of the semester.  We listened to Christmas music on CDs.   The darkness coupled with the tears in my eyes made driving rather hazardous.

Earlier, after April and I discussed my anger and depression getting the best of me that day, I realized how purposeful such days were for me in the past.  Days of inner pain that led me to act decisively to go on leave from ministry and resign subsequently from a managerial position approximately 16 years ago brought me to seek and find our God as one who speaks.  He spoke to me then words of life and mystery, and I received light to my path.  Upon realizing the similarity of feelings of years ago to what is recent and what is pending, joy came to me.

I have not always known joy at Christmas time as an adult.  Several weeks ago, addition to having Christmas trees in my dreams (a positive image according to those who interpret), I experienced spontaneous moments of joy related to Christmas out of the blue. Lately, its ended while a subtle level of depression grew.  The moment of realization of the inner pain motivating me years ago to act and settling me into a place of hearing God's voice profoundly cast a light on what is happening now. 

Regardless of the description and similarities, joy has returned, and with it, hope.

As we made our way in the darkness on US Hwy 431, we listened to James Taylor's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry, Little Christmas."  The phrase that caught me in a instance with joy and hope was "May your hearts be light. In a year, our troubles will be out of sight."  Alleluia.

Some say this song is melancholy.  That night, I found it wonderfully joyful.  It expressed hope.  May all who hear this have a merry, little Christmas.  Your expectations could be high, but, most of all, may your hearts be light.  This coming year will change all the current troubles to memories. 

My tears were not sad or mournful.  My tears, as I drove (and slowed down so we wouldn't crash) and listened and rejoiced, were drops of joy.  God was speaking to me.  This song has been my favorite secular Christmas song for years.  God used it to express to me, again, joy and hope have returned.  I can prepare myself for what is coming to us and our world.  I can expect there to be opportunities upon which to act decisively. 

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.

O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.
. . . You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
-- Psalm 30: 2-5, 11-12 

Friday, December 12, 2014

For You I Wait

Lead me in the truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.      -- Psalm 25: 5 

While I wait, I've thought about some things.

It's the Christian liturgical season of Advent.  Advent means 'coming.'  Many mainline churches and liturgically based denominations recognize the season of Advent to spend most of worship time in December preparing one's spirit and soul for the coming of Jesus as the triumphant King of kings and Lord of lords, as well as, the return of the infant to the manger.  It’s a rich tradition of anticipation and rejoicing in our God who is faithful to fulfill his promises.  While there is a coming of the Messiah, there is, also, a waiting on the part of the faithful.

We're to wait for what is to come and remain devoted and faithful to the King and his kingdom.

While I wait, I've thought about some things.  That's one of the things about waiting.  You're left to your own thoughts and reflections.

I can't sell much of anything.  Virtually all of the jobs I've been offered or worked on leave of absence several years ago or since I left the UMC are jobs of commerce or direct sales.  Except for a job in radio, I dealt with selling goods or services.  Retail or sales management saw my inquiries for work and assumed, based on my experience in ministry, I'd do well working with the public and could easily convince a customer to buy what I offered.

I've convinced myself of the same assumptions many times, but, the fact is, I can't sell much of anything.  Isn't the gospel a sales pitch?  Oh, my God!  It’s the good news of God's love for all.  You can't sell that.  That being true, in ministry, as well as in much of my life, I learned the hard way I was prone to be a 'people pleaser.'  This meant I didn't want anyone upset with me, so I'd seek to please to avoid disapproval from superiors.  That revelation is one of the stepping stones that's led me to be where I am - not making a career of pleasing people.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.  -- Psalm 31: 24 

This is another of my thoughts as I wait for his coming.

I remember the pain of working at Books-A-Million.  I attributed the pain to being somewhere I wasn't suppose to be.  The demands of the job kept me engulfed in managing a business that was not fulfilling the calling on my life.  If you've never experienced this feeling of being somewhere and doing something that is not only foreign but incorrect for you, you'll find this to be a difficult concept.

The feelings of being at the wrong place for the wrong purposes, also, brought on depression and anger.  These feelings repeated themselves before Books-A-Million while I was serving as a pastor in Tuscaloosa.  I served there one year and, then, requested and was granted a leave of absence from ministry.  I knew pastoral ministry was no longer a passion for me, and I had to leave it for a period of reevaluation.  When I left, I felt like a coward.  April, however, told me it was God's will for me to rest. 

While on leave, I worked for a time in radio, which I loved, but it didn't pay sufficiently.  I was then offered a management job with Books-A-Million, and the pain I felt as a minister returned.  A couple months later I took a job at a local hotel working the front desk and washing dishes.  I worked there a year and a half without any of that inner pain of being in the wrong place.  While working there and attending the church April served, I began to hear the voice of God in ways I'd never experienced before (It was here I heard the Lord reveal to me Psalm 102: 18-22 in The Message).  Through such learning and experiencing, we're in a position that few have known because of the pain and passion involved.

Since April and I left the UMC to follow a calling separate from pastoral ministry, I've experienced this inner pain a couple times when offered and worked jobs in retail and direct sales.  I recognized the pain.  I could name it and was not willing to endure it again.  Unemployment isn't always the worst condition for a skilled and gifted human being in this society.

Recently, I felt this same pain again of being in the wrong place for wrong purposes.  I not only felt it as anger and depression, but it compelled me to desire willfully to leave where we are in pursuit of our destiny of providing an environment for the Presence of the Lord to bless, save and heal many on Sand Mountain (This is our calling).  With passion AND anger, I repeatedly said to myself, God and April, "It's time for us to leave!"

As April and I discussed this recently, it dawned on me that the pain I felt as a minister in Tuscaloosa and a bookstore manager drove me to act decisively to leave those positions. I left the ministry and the store to ultimately put me in a place to learn to hear the voice of God.  I had to learn to hear His voice and to know when its time to act for the purposes of God.

Its now time to leave and act for the purposes of God.  How all this is to occur is still a mystery, but experience and recent, subtle encounters with our God have spoken to me.

When we're in the season to wait upon the Lord, there's little else to do but to grow comfortable with the waiting.  When that season begins to shift into a time of action and, perhaps, labor as if there's to be a birth, anxiety rises.  The waiting is drawing to a close.  Labor will soon begin.

Advent is a sign post that something is truly coming.  Be assured, I'll tell you what comes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Revisiting Ezekiel

April came into the room where I sat one day this week.  She said she had a job interview scheduled for later in the week.  We both rejoiced.  Subsequently, as I listened to worship music from my laptop, I heard Brian Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, CA sing spontaneously, "Where you see dry bones, he (God) sees an army."

The imagery in that phrase reminded me intimately of Ezekiel 3-7-9 in a dream back in February, 2011.  I wrote about that dream in an article posted on February 26, A Dream Anniversary.  In the article, I interpreted the numbers, at first, to mean chapter 37, verse 9 in Ezekiel, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on the slain that they will live."

Earlier this year, I realized Ezekiel 3: 7-9, though I missed it in 2011, was a set of verses that predicted remarkably for me what was to happen in my life and ministry in the months that followed that dream.  Despite this, Ezekiel 37: 9 was the verse that thrilled me and provided for me abundant optimism for what was to come in our lives.  When I heard Brian utter, "Where you see dry bones, he sees an army," that optimism arose again.

In a dream state several days ago, I saw "December 5, 2010" written on a lined page in a journal entry.  I looked back in my past journals and found on Dec. 6, 2010 I wrote about a particularly wonderful time of worship the day before.  The Presence of the Lord was heavy on me through tears and laughter.  Several folks expressed appreciation for me and the my message that day.  The Friday before, I said to April over dinner there was so much more to do at that church, but there would be ramifications for moving forward.

It was on the early morning of February 22, 2011 I dreamed "Ezekiel 3-7-9. (again, described in detail in A Dream Anniversary, 2/26/14)"  Ezekiel 3: 7-9 was what I read first.  The Lord communicated to me in these verses the "house of Israel" would not listen to me because they're hardheaded.  I will be as hardheaded as they were in the days ahead.  "They are a rebellious house."  I rejected those verses and focused on chapter 37, verse 9.  I missed what the Lord told me for those immediate days.

Back to considering December 5 in dream form several days ago. A day later, I sensed I needed to research December 5, 2012.  I looked up that date in my journal.  It was two years after the wonderful, powerful worship experience.  On that date, I had lunch with my district superintendent after a very contentious meeting with laity from the church.  The majority of them wanted me to pledge to behave and believe differently ("They are a rebellious house").  I refused and told my D.S. on December 5, 2012 I was going to leave that church and apply for a leave of absence immediately.  That evolved into turning in my ordination as a United Methodist clergyperson on February 26, 2013. 

December 5, 2010 was evidently a powerful day in the Spirit.  February 22, 2011, 79 days later, I dreamed Ezekiel 3-7-9.  December 5, 2012 was the day I declared my intention to leave the pastoral ministry.  I'm left to wonder what is the significance of December 5, 2014. Perhaps after another two years, there's about to be another significant change dictated by the Holy Spirit for April and me. 

Brian sang, in effect, to me a couple days ago, "Where you see dry bones, he sees an army."  I believe Ezekiel 3: 7-9 was fulfilled two years ago.  We've witnessed dry bones, an arid spiritual season.  We know what it is to be in a wilderness. I now believe we've entered into the season of the fulfillment of "'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on the slain that they will live.'"  We believe and rejoice!

After reading this, you may feel awash in dates.  Well, I just wanted to map out some inspiration linking with some prophetic revelation through my dream life.  All of this communicates how the Lord is speaking to me.  Looking at all this, are you wondering how the Lord is speaking to you and conveying what your destiny is to be or are you not paying attention?

My business in this blog is to fulfill what I believe God has directed me to do:
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