Thursday, May 4, 2017

Five Years Fallow (Six Years Since)

I looked at the clock about a hundred times yesterday. Suffering from PTSD means that "flashbacks" aren't so much that, as they are "affect-your-present-realities". Yesterday I went to my grandparents' house to help out the family as we see my grandpa through some pretty scary health situations, dealing with another family crisis and trying to be strong and helpful; it was also the six year anniversary of Holly's death. I watched the clock, remembering the day like I was back in the cold halls of that hospital. 

10:25am: I sat in a rocking chair at my grandparents' house; my "watch" just having begun while my sick granddad laid sleeping, breathing heavily and the DVD menu music of Fiddler on the Roof playing on repeat. I wasn't connected enough to the present to change it. We were getting the final report from the neurologist saying there was complete brain death.

11ish: I was sent to Walmart to pick up prescriptions for the sickling and groceries for the caretakers. While I was out, I texted my people asking for prayer. There was pain medication all over the place at their house, and I was so scared of being tempted. (I feel vulnerable sharing that text below with the interwebs, but it's true. It's confession. And it's what enabled the incredible prayers and community support I got back.) We were meeting with the ICU attending physician discussing whether to terminate life support and call in palliative care. One of the most surreal conversations of my life, apart from the one we'd had the night before about funeral homes and burial places.

12onthedot: We ate my recipe for Taco soup for lunch, aware of the pain Granddad was in and eating quietly for the most part. Finally after finishing up hand-washing all the dishes from lunch, I was sent to Walmart again to buy some hilarious shorts for an 87-year-old man to be wearing but went on that mission like I was sent to buy a tank of oxygen. The men stayed at the hospital while my grandma, mom, and I went to buy clothes for Holly to wear at her own funeral and frame for a nice photo of her. We talked fabrics, colors, undergarments, make-up, and hair products. We went to Church's chicken to peckishly eat some lunch. The surreal had morphed into the practical, and then to the physical. 

2:something: The home health nurse came over and after a review of his vitals, and a call to his primary doctor, instructions were handed out: back to the hospital with him. It was his third time in as many days. We brought flowers for the ICU nurses who had all been so great, and then we all made our calls. Palliative care was coming soon and would explain to us that once life support was terminated, there was more than one possible outcome. This is where they specialized and wanted us to know our options for facilities and financial options, should Holly remain in a vegetative state for any length of time.

3:15: Having finally notified all the right uncles and getting everyone dressed and ready to go, we loaded up to go to the hospital. The timing was uncanny. They herded us like despondent cattle into a different ICU room while they removed wires and tubes and "cleaned her up just a bit". We waited one hundred years in those ten minutes. 

3:30: Prayed up, unloaded, and walker-ed in to the ER, we had checked in and were waaaaaiiiitttting. I noticed my mom's face drain of its color as she looked at something on the wall behind me. She mouthed "3:33" at me. They let us back in her room, and we sat staring at her for all of eternity -- the room finally silent after we had been listening to respirators and monitors and IV machines for days on end. Her chest rose and fell a few times ... I think. At 3:33pm, the doctor checked her feet reflexes, her pupils, and her pulse and then whispered, "3:33" toward the nurse documenting in the doorway.  

That was a stressful and traumatic day six years ago, and I've written about it many times on this blog. (In fact, it's why I started this blog - as a release valve for the pressurized PTSD and grief expanding within me.) But yesterday's trauma and stress were only matched by the hope and joy that Jesus wove throughout the day in so many forms. That's particularly what I wanted to share this year... on this, the annual post about the day.

Around five o'clock yesterday afternoon, my mom and I went to the cemetery to visit Holly's grave site, to visit Holly - however you see that. This pulled us both into the present, the very real reality of death. She is buried in the plot directly behind my Grandparents Wolfe, so my mom and I sat on their headstone, facing Holly's. I turned on Vertical Church Band's "Not For a Moment" and we worshiped a constant, only good, sovereign, faithful God who never once left us, even when we couldn't (can't) see him or hear him.

We both cried. I sang and lifted my arms into the wind which felt so intensely like the Spirit was among us, and Mom prayed over us. I went and sat on top of the place where Holly's actually buried right beneath and noticed grass had finally covered it. I laughed at the enemy. Despite watering, tending, planting, and praying... the spot was barren and fallow for over five years. And now new life has sprung up there in that grass. Death doesn't get the last word. Not ever.

Life does. Grace does. God does.

So precious reader, if you are in the space of death reigning or fallow ground winning, I pray these words over you today: In Jesus' name, life wins. Grace wins. God holds all the victory. By the power of the Spirit, may he bring us to a place of worship, even among the dead things, and may we notice new life when it finally comes by his gracious hand. Amen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Weapons of our Warfare

The weapons of our warfare are: the name of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the word of God, the Holy Spirit, and worship. - Bill Johnson

2 Corinthians 10 says that the weapons of our warfare have divine power to destroy every stronghold raised up against a knowledge of God.  Everything that would encamp between a true affectionate knowledge of who your God is can be destroyed with the weapons of warfare provided by Him.

He wants us to know him. How precious is that? He wants us to know who he truly is - his name, his character, his love - so much that he provides weapons against any offensive who would try to raise up anything in his way.

I. The Name of Jesus

There is life in the name of Jesus.
"but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." {John 20:31}

There is covering in - a baptism into - the name of Jesus.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. {Acts 2:38}

There is healing in Jesus' name.
[Peter preaches]... And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. {Acts 3:12}

II. The Blood of Jesus 

There is full cleansing of sin and iniquity in the blood of Jesus.
 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. {1 John 1:7}

There is full reconciliation to God in the blood of Jesus.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. {Ephesians 2:13}

There is ratified covenant with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because of Jesus' blood.
...and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. {Hebrews 12:24}

III. The Holy Spirit 

There is power in the Holy Spirit.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. {Acts 1:8}

The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. 
...and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. {Romans 5:5}

By the Holy Spirit, we prophesy truth and it is carried forward. 
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. {2 Peter 1:21}

IV. The Word of God 

The Word of God is alive and relevant and discerning.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. {Hebrews 4:12}

The Word of God and prayer in the Spirit are our two offensive weapons, sanctified by God.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. {Ephesians 6:16-18a}

It is by the Word of God that we live. 
But he [Jesus] answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” {Matthew 4:4, in battle with Satan against temptation}

V. Worship 

God is our worship, and the source of all power. 
He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. {Deuteronomy 10:21}

Worship changes spiritual realities that become physical realities. 
And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. {2 Chronicles 20:20-22}

Calling on the name of the LORD in worship defeats our enemies.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. {Psalm 18:3}

This list is by no means exhaustive, but let that encourage you. Your God is calling out to you, to come home: to knowing who he truly is, to walking in light, to being reconciled, to defeating the enemy of your soul. And as he always does, he has made a way.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

O, Storm-tossed and Afflicted: from Matthew 14:12-32

 I. The Grief and Compassion of Jesus

12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone...

The news of the death of John the baptist, Jesus' cousin, grieved him so that he wanted to just get away from everything and be with the Father. He had already been given the Spirit - the Comforter - without measure, but he needed to draw near to his Father by himself, into the night, with no interruptions. 

But the interruptions came, in the form of probably 15,000 or more people. They figured out where he was headed and lapped him, beating him there so that when he arrived across the lake, he arrived to an enormous crowd of faces in need and looking for something. He looked out over the crowd of fifteen thousand plus needs, and had compassion. In the midst of his grief and desperate need for time alone with the Father, he saw each person and their need for his power to heal and provide. And so he healed. And so he provided.

But Jesus did not forget his grief in the loss of his cousin, the prophet, the other promised one. Scripture says immediately, he dispersed the disciples and then dismissed the crowds. He was hungry too, for the presence and communion he knew awaited him with the Father. And so he set out to do what he set out to do. Pray through his grief. His flesh needed God, his spirit needed God. 

The people were never an obstacle to the ministry of Jesus; they were the object of it. Always. Jesus' desire for time spent in prayer and in the presence of the Father with the Spirit was never optional to him. Never. 

 II. Crying Out in Fear and the Immediacy of Jesus' Love

24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
 The honesty of Scripture never fails to amaze me. Jesus sent the disciples into a storm, where they were getting beaten by the waves. A storm had brewed over their circumstance in order for the power and testimony of the God-ness of Jesus to be displayed, and Jesus sent them right into it. For their ultimate good, to grow their faith in who he is and what he can do. 

It is the middle of the night, maybe the wee hours of the morning. The disciples are storm-tossed and being slammed into by waves repeatedly. They do not possess any power to change their circumstances from a small boat in the middle of a big lake. But then they see a figure coming toward them on the surface of the water, and scripture says they "cried out". That word in the Greek (krazo) means that they shrieked unintelligibly, they screamed urgently. They were literally scared out of their minds, thinking they were collectively seeing a phantom, a spirit - somehow connected with this affliction they were enduring.

Jesus mystifies; he doesn't operate how we think he should operate (swim fast, take another boat, walk around, just appear). No, he constantly challenges our expectations to remind us that he is God, and will not be reduced in power or wonder just because we think small. And, if he ever stops mystifying us, we are looking at a phantom, but certainly not the real Jesus.

Twice in this text, the word immediately is used. The first time occurs when Jesus heard their screams and unintelligible shrieks, he immediately spoke into that fear with two statements. "Take heart". That is a rough translation of the literal word Jesus said to them. He said, in the Greek and better translated, "be emboldened from within, radiate confidence, the Lord infuses his strength into our faith". Jesus is prophesying peace into their hearts without having changed the circumstances.... yet. He says to them, "Know in your guts, in your spirit by the Spirit, that it's okay." And then he says the sentence to silence all other sentences. "I AM." He identifies himself to them not just as the physical Jesus they know, but also the YHWH God they have known and worshiped since birth. 

The second time Jesus does something immediately is when Peter begins to look around and notice that he is standing only on his wavering faith, and begins to sink into the roaring, chaotic water. He cries out - same word as before, urgently screaming - "Lord, save me!" And our Jesus. He immediately does. He reaches down - condescending to lift up - and grabs Peter with a strength that gets them both into the boat, feet maybe yards away. His strength doesn't just pull Peter back to the surface; it sets his feet on sure ground.

III. Worship

32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Back inside the boat, Jesus received the only right response to the miracles he had performed that day. Beginning with his compassionate response to being thwarted in pursuit of the Father, to feeding the fifteen to twenty thousand people to satisfaction, to walking on the water, to calming the storm, to saving Peter; it was a day for the books. The Book, if you will. The scripture says the disciples in the boat worshiped him. The Greek for worship, you guys. It might be my favorite translation. It means literally, physically postured in a position of prostration and adoration, bent over to kiss and honor a superior Person. It literally means "to kiss towards". How great is that? The disciples had no other response to this Jesus than to get on their face in utter adoration and declare into the atmosphere and to the face of Jesus, "Truly, you are the Son of God!" 


I want to encourage you to meditate on a time when God showed up for you in a mighty way. Maybe he provided like you never imagined would be possible. Maybe you were hyper-aware that he heard you and had compassion on you in your time of devotion. Perhaps he sent you into a storm, only to show up and embolden your heart to survive it, speaking his mighty name into your circumstance. Maybe he reached down immediately as you urgently screamed his name, and saved you - from sin, from yourself, from danger, from loss, from apathy, from addiction, from soul wounds. Prophesy over yourself and your situation right now - whatever it is - that truly, Jesus is the Son of God! He has all authority, all power, all resurrection life, all abundance of joy, is fully present, and hears our cries. Take heart. Be emboldened from within and ask the Lord to strengthen your confidence in him. Look for him immediately. And then get on your face in worship.