The need for prayer…

Before arriving at Alabama, someone asked me this question: “If I could do anything in the world, what would it be?” What a wonderful, thought provoking question. After pausing for a few moments to think, I quickly arrived at this answer: “I would spend my days alone in a closet praying.”

I had no idea that the Lord was listening to my answer that day. Months later when I arrived in Alabama, I walked through my home for the first time. (Yes, I’m crazy enough to move into a home I’ve never set eyes on!) To my astonishment, for the first time ever, I saw that I had a closet all to myself! Wow! I’ve made good use of my little room. It’s precious to me.

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My prayer closet door with scriptures, topics and names

In addition to my prayer closet time, I chose to spend last week in intentional prayer. I did this because my pastor asked his flock to set aside a time for prayer and fasting. The purpose was to launch us into 2016 with vision and holiness. We were told during Sunday services that the doors of the chapel would be open the following two weeks from 8 am until 8:30 pm so that anyone who wanted to pray could come to church and do just that.

So, for hours each evening last week, I drove to the chapel with a full heart. Soft worship music played in the room to invite us to quiet our hearts and sit at the Throne of Grace.  Daily, I closed my eyes and poured out my heart to Father in Heaven. By the end of the week, my spirit was full but my body was exhausted. True prayer is labor because it unites your heart with the heart of God. When I pray, my spirit travails. Oh that many sons and daughters would come home to Papa’s house because of my prayers!

Unfortunately not many showed up to pray last week. The average number of folks there each evening was only a half dozen or so (and the church has well over 500 members). I found the lack of intercessors to be sad. The church’s lack of hunger for God also made me angry. Yes, it made me angry! We are so needy as a people, but we don’t even know it.

I honestly do not understand why my Christian brothers and sisters care so little about prayer. I have led different prayer movements throughout the last few years, and getting people to pray is the single most difficult thing you can do in ministry. I believe there are several reasons for this.

First, we live in a culture where people want to see immediate results and production. We set about our days doing. My mind spins as I read through the activities in church bulletins. There is so much busyness! I watch God’s people run from one activity to another and get fatigued just observing them. We rush to work, sign our kids up for activities, do domestic tasks, hurry hurry, rush rush, do do do. We feel we are accomplishing more for the kingdom when we serve a meal, teach a message, or participate in any myriad of ministry activities than we accomplish sitting quietly before Abba in prayer. I can promise you, dear ones, that nothing could be further from the truth!

Secondly, I don’t think we even know how to be still anymore. We have a hard time stopping for more than five minutes to have a real conversation with each other. Social media is partly to blame of course. Prayer demands that we still our hearts and minds. I spend as much time listening when I pray as I do speaking. Prayer is communion with God. It’s abiding in His presence. When we take time to pray, we demonstrate to God that He is important to us. We spend time with people that we love, right? Why, oh WHY aren’t we spending more time with Jesus?

The final reason I believe we don’t pray as much as we should is the most grave of all. We fail to realize our desperate need when we are slothful in prayer. Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” We can do NOTHING without the Lord. This isn’t saying that we cannot fill our days with activity apart from Jesus. It is saying, however, that time will show that our fleshly works amount to nothing because God is not in them. This fact is sobering. Prayerlessness explains why so many ministers burn out. It’s why we quit running the race of faith. It’s why we live in defeat. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

Oh dear ones, the good news is that with Jesus, we can do ALL THINGS. We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. His grace covers us when we fall. Whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name in His will, we will receive. These are  amazing promises in Scripture. When we remind God of His promises in prayer, we demonstrate our faith and our need!

I also want to mention one final undeniable fact: whenever Jesus did anything on earth, He prayed first. If God’s own Son needed to pray, why do we think we don’t need to as well?

I have read stories of revival. I love to read these stories because they stir up my faith and help me remember all that God has done throughout our history. And you know what? All of the earth’s major revivals have started with prayer.

If ever there was a mighty man or woman of God to be found on earth, you can bet that their walk with Jesus started and ended in prayer. A few quotes from some of my personal heroes:

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” ― Charles Finney

“The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!”- Chalres Spurgeon

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”-Martin Luther (I love this one!)

“Prayer at its best is the expression of the total life, for all things else being equal, our prayers are only as powerful as our lives. – A.W. Tozer

“He who kneels the most, stands the best.” D.L. Moody

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” ― Corrie Ten Boom

Do you see that prayer is where the power to do God’s will is found? It’s where relationship with God is cultivated. Folks, we must pray. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must pray!!!

  • I have been praying for another Great Awakening to rise up and sweep over this country.
  • I have been praying that the Lord God would grant us in His great grace national and private repentance.
  • I have been praying that Jesus would stir up a supernatural hunger and thirst for Him among His people.
  • I have been praying that God would wake up His sleeping Bride in our nation so that when we meet Him face to face, we would not be ashamed, but found spotless and beautiful.

Why do I pray so earnestly? I pray because I love Jesus so desperately. I thirst for Him. Some days my heart feels like it will burst because I love Jesus so much. I also pray because I so want to be beautiful in my Jesus’s eyes. I want to hear Him say, “Well done.” I believe with all my heart that this hoped for pronouncement can only happen if I take the time to pray. ♥

(If you want to pray but don’t know how, simply pray this prayer in faith: “Lord, teach me to pray.” God will answer. He would love to answer that prayer! Also, I would highly recommend that you watch the movie called War Room. It will help you get started.)

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

 

 

 

 

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Thirsty

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The other day my family and I were doing an outdoorsy cabin-on-the-lake thing for a couple of days. I admit that I’m more of an indoor girl. I joke that if there isn’t a number on the door, I am not interested. I do love nature, natural beauty, and quiet reflection, but I also like running water, fragrant lotions, and nice restaurants.

So, yeah, I’m (a fish out of water) at the cabin and it’s time to go hike. I donned my running shoes and yoga pants and went for a two mile easy walk. It was still in the cool of the morning as I ambled along, so the hike was wonderfully restorative. I took a bazillion pictures as per usual because I just can’t get over the Spanish moss hanging down from huge southern trees and the other stunning vegetation in my new Alabama home. We walked about two miles in total. After the hike and some other mucking around, we ate lunch. Then we went to the Nature Center at the park so we could ask some questions of the park rangers (home school never stops). I was interested in the different plants that I had seen along the path and wanted to know about the wildlife that is so foreign to me in my now native state. The very nice and helpful gal there suggested that our family take another hike that included alligators and a butterfly garden (swoon). So I jumped up and down and tried to rally my pretty tired troops for another 4 mile (e-hem) walk. I thought we’d be fine. The morning hike had gone smooth. It had been lovely in fact. Why not double the distance for an even better time?

At a little after noon, we got out of the car and started walking at the trail head. Instead of being in the shade like we had been in the morning, we were in the full afternoon Alabama sun- about 90 degrees and crazy humidity. Foolishly we took no water with us. At mile one I began to do my best cheerleading moves (now 3 total miles walked for the day) because my Noah was choking back tears from exhaustion. I made bad jokes. I sang and tried to distract with stories and silliness. I pointed to turtles, cactus, and wildlife. That worked for a bit, but my children were tired and thirsty. I couldn’t wait to get to the half way point (mile 2 on the trail) because we knew from the map that there was a restroom with a drinking fountain.

Finally the family got to the halfway point with blessed water. We rested there for a full 30 minutes because I wanted to rehydrate Zoe and Noah. I made the kids drink and drink and drink feeling like a total failure as a mom. I kept sending them back to the fountain because I was fearful they would get sun headaches or worse get truly over heated walking the rest of the way. I soaked my hair to try and lesson the effect of the relentless sun. Then we could put it off no longer- it was time to do the final 2 miles.

At mile 3 I started to pray. I was totally tanked out. My kids and I began to say scripture out loud. We sang spiritual songs- they’d sing a phrase, then I’d sing a phrase. I looked up at the mocking cloudless sky and tried to breathe away the subtle panic in my veins. At one point I had to stop and sit because I began to see stars and feel faint.

Slowly and all at once, I began to comprehend that God was showing me something. I was walking out a parable. For the first time I could understand what it might be like to be truly thirsty- to be trapped in a dry desert place with no water.

Before I moved to southern Alabama, I prayed specifically for a closet. My own closet. I wanted a place that I could sit each morning to bare my soul and cry out to the Lord. I had no idea how Jesus would accomplish this because, well, we were working with a very limited budget. An individual closet seemed rather far fetched in natural terms. However, I knew my God was big enough to handle such a small request.

I was still working in Indiana when Jason found a place for the family to live. So, the day we moved in, I saw the home for the first time. I was astonished to find Jack and Jill closets. I had my own closet separate from Jason! (I hadn’t told hubby that I wanted a prayer closet, because it sounded weird and I didn’t want to pressure him to find something so specific.) Prayer answered! Praise the Lord!

I have several pieces of paper taped to the door of my closet with names of loved ones and lost souls that need the Savior. I also have these verses:

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.

So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

(Psalm 63:1-2)

There on that hot and dry path as I pushed to finish, when my tongue stuck to my lips and my legs began to fail, I looked up to the heavens and thought, “This is how my soul thirsts. It longs for love. It searches like a madman in the desert for the love only found in God’s eyes. My cells were made to reach out and grasp. As they live, divide, and die their DNA is programmed for love.

I. thirst.

I watched my son and Jason walk ahead until they were out of view. I continued on with Zoe the last quarter mile. She talked of Jesus and His attributes to console her wimpy mother. Every memory verse she could think of came out of her precious body to encourage my feet to keep moving. She was so strong and my friend. Zoe was the rock that God promised she would be and will be. I didn’t have to thirst alone. (Jesus has such big plans for my girl- but that’s another blog post.)

About a month after arriving here in Alabama, God got really quiet. After 24 hours of silence, I was panicking. Jesus is with me- always. He’s THERE. I had never felt Him withdraw His presence before (even on my worst days) since I saw the Holy Spirit above my bed in 2003. He walks with me and talks with me. But suddenly…. silence. SILENCE. I heard echoes- but I couldn’t hear Him speak to me directly. He was distant.

I tearfully prayed:

“Lord, what did I do to offend You?”
“Why are You so quiet?”
“Where are you?”
And again, “Why are You so quiet?”

I sang somberly, “Where are You, Lord?” as I went about my day. I spoke to my friend in Portland and cried some more. I waited for Him to break the silence. I waited some more.

I freaked!

I tried to tell Jason what I was feeling. With tears running down my cheeks, Jason offered words of comfort. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “It’s not that long of a time for Jesus to be silent- He’s will speak soon.” Although I tried to let Hubby’s words soak in, they wouldn’t. I went to bed that night with a whisper of anxiety that even plagued my dreams.

Then the Lord put me in a cabin and had me hike in 90 degree heat. He showed me what it was like to truly thirst. He was pushing me that day and answering my heart cry. I knew He was even though it hurt. It was a good hurt.

There are moments in the mundane that lack all routine. They give us a glimpse of the divine. They are promised stones that mark our short time here on earth and signal change, growth, and things remembered. Finally, after two weeks of heavenly silence, I got a rock.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)

One afternoon shortly after returning home from the cabin, I was taking a bath and praying. I was talking to Jesus again- but again hearing silence. God promised me in His Word that He’d never abandon me, so I knew He was there even though I felt alone. Soft tears joined the water in the tub. I would wait and wait until He decided to speak.

Then suddenly I remembered a dream I had before coming down here. In the dream, I was put in a place of distraction and opulence- but the Lord wasn’t there in that place. (If that doesn’t describe my touristy beach town, I don’t know what does!) Then, the scene in the dream changed. I saw the finger of God hover over the ocean.

Stunned, I thought, “He told me this (the silence) would happen.” And then finally… finally… I heard the Lord say:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

It was beautiful. It was water. This time instead of tears, I sobbed. Beautiful healing sobs. He had been there all along as He promised He would be. Teaching. Instructing. Stretching. Training. Cold water tastes so much better when you are thirsty.

This is also on my prayer closet door:

“For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:36

Oh be careful what you pray for, because the Lord hears and honors our righteous prayers. He is so wise and so so good.

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Wrestling

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My son, Noah, was born precociously curious. Even as a toddler swishing around in diapers, he always found ways to ask questions.

“What’s this?”

“What does that mean?”

“Who is that, Mommy?”

When he was six, I took Noah on a trip to Benjamin Harrison’s home in Indianapolis because he asked so many questions about this Hoosier President. As we toured the old home, I thought, “What six-year-old cares about this stuff?”

I used to feel confident answering his questions. However, by the time Noah was in second grade, his inquiries got much harder.

“Mommy, why does God allow pain and suffering?”

“Oh boy,” I thought, “A budding philosopher.” I paraphrased a C.S. Lewis quote:

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I then explained that it was man’s choice to do bad things, and God was not to blame for those choices.

“But Mommy, why doesn’t Jesus just stop the bad stuff now and come back to get us?”

I tried to cover my shock at the fact that he was already wrestling with the same questions that kept even the brightest minds up at night and bravely forged ahead. “Honey, if time and space were through today, no one else could call out to Jesus and be saved. God waits because He wants all to come home. He is patient and kind. However, there will be a day in the future when God’s patience will run out. He will come back to defeat His enemies and make everything right again.”

Now that Noah is ten, I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with his quick mind. Here is a list of topics discussed in one twenty minute car ride a couple weeks ago:

  • North Korea; How and why its people are oppressed
  • Martin Luther King and his philosophy of nonviolence; Rosa parks, bus boycotts, sit-ins and other ways of protesting
  • How Gandhi was MLK’s example; Gandhi led the folks of India to independence from British rule through nonviolent protest
  • Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and violent resistance
  • Malcolm X’s Muslim faith
  • Islam and Mormonism; How both religions began with an encounter with a bad spirit masquerading as an angel of light; How the Bible warned about such spirits, and if the Prophet Mohammad or Smith had been knowledgeable of these warnings in Scripture, they and their followers would not have been deceived
  • The continuing racial tensions in this country and how they differ in the north and south

Noah peppered me with questions so fast that I was sagging with mental exertion by the time we got to our destination. Inwardly I thought, “Man, I’m in trouble. I am out of my depth here.”

I am preparing to launch into a new season homeschooling. It’s a bit scary to think that I will be my children’s teacher this fall. History, philosophy, literature, and science all weave together to show the character and nature of God. They shout of His love and faithfulness if we take the time to listen and observe. While the core subjects are important, it is so much more important that my children learn more about King Jesus as they study. What an exciting challenge!

If the above conversation in the car and other such discussions have taught me anything, it is this: they are poignant reminders that I cannot do this task of teaching my kids by myself. Every day of school will begin with prayer, and I will need to rely on God each moment of the day.

After chewing on these thoughts for a few days, I finally looked at my son one afternoon and said with earnest, “Noah, you are so smart. There will be a day in the future that I will no longer be able to answer your questions, but there is someone who can. Do you know who that is?”

“God,” he replied.

“Yes, that’s right, Noah. Know that He is just waiting to talk with you.”

I believe that questions are good. So does Our Father. He says, “Come, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18) There are no subjects off limits, and no question is too big (or too small). He loves when we come to Him and invites us to the table of discussion. He’ll even feed us while we are there in His house. (Matthew 4:4) 🙂

My parent’s pastor once taught that we should never presume to ask Our Father, “Why?” I understand where this beautiful man of God is coming from, but after thinking about it very carefully, I would like to amend to his teaching. I have arrived at the conclusion that Why? is an okay question. I don’t think Jesus would chase the curious away if they are truly humble and seeking.

Why is a question often asked by the more spiritually immature. When we first come to Christ, we are learning to trust Him. We have not experienced God’s provision yet, have not learned of His kindness, and His amazing love for us is brand new. We are like little children trying to understand what it is to live in a broken world. It’s flabbergasting. It’s painful. We look up to heaven and ask, “Why?”

  • Why did you take my mother, God?
  • Why did You make me with big feet?
  • Why is there so much suffering?
  • WHY?

This is where my son is in his development. He is trying to understand and discern. He is wrestling. Wrestling is good because after Noah has sat at Jesus’s feet and hashed through these hard conversations, his faith will be richer, more meaningful, and most importantly rock solid. It’s a little nerve wracking to watch him work and wrestle, but it is also so beautiful.

However, as we grow in God, we begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18). Our faith grows and morphs into total trust. We know that God is sovereign and only has what’s best for us in mind. It is then that we begin to ask the question that my parents’ pastor condones: What?

  • What are You teaching me Jesus?
  • What am I to learn, Lord, as I experience the loss of my mother?
  • God, I know that big feet help me in some way because You are altogether good. What is the benefit? Help me see it!
  • What can I learn about Your patience and compassion in suffering?

As we approach the world with open eyes and ears, each day becomes a chance to grow. More importantly, each lesson gives us the grand opportunity to learn more about Jesus. Oh it’s marvelous. HE is marvelous.

So, dear ones, I invite you to ask. Ask away. There is no question that He can’t handle.

Still here…

Hello fellow readers!

Yes, I’m alive. Thank you for continuing to check in to see if I’ve written. I will write more soon. Until then, lemme just say that life is throwing many changes my way. I’m a bit scared, but mostly excited for a new chapter to begin that involves a move from Indiana to the Alabama coast. The entire family moves with no jobs, no house, and no definitive plans except this:

Jesus.

He will have to open the door, pave the way, provide when we can’t, and just show Himself to be the God that I know He is: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of David, of Jonah, Elijah, and Malachi. The very same God that Mary sang about when she said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
from now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

I am Abraham’s daughter and I am a daughter of the Most High King. Jesus is my portion forever, and I echo my sister Mary when I sing,

Holy is His name.”

Love is a Battlefield

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On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
mountain
or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
newborn
we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
jesuswept

He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
jesuscross
Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

Fellowship

anne and diana

I’ve always loved the story Anne of Green Gables. After watching the movie for the first time, I wanted to move to Prince Edward Island, wear lace and satin dresses with puffed sleeves, and travel through iridescent winter snow in a sleigh. For those of you that don’t know the story, Anne of Green Gables tells the tale of a little orphan girl who is adopted by an elderly brother and sister, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Anne is dramatic, dreadfully obnoxious about the hatred she has for her own red hair, and absolutely endearing in her charm. Shortly after Anne moves in with the Cuthberts, Anne meets and becomes friends with her raven haired neighbor, Diana Barry. Anne, with her typical flair for words, proclaims Diana as her “bosom friend” and a “kindred spirit.” The two best friends live their childhoods and eventually adult lives together loving each other and encouraging each other in all circumstances.

Growing up, my kindred spirit was my brother. We did battle together as toddlers and in early childhood sharing traumatic experiences living in a children’s home and then later foster homes. Our scars bound us for life. As we grew, our relationship never faltered. Because Scott was my twin, we could do the spooky twin thing by thinking alike and finishing each other’s sentences. We had our own language and inside jokes. Scott would simply make a facial expression, and I would comprehend a reference he was making in just that one look. My response to these sly funny expressions was usually to bust a gut laughing. My poor confused parents were always asking in reaction to these giggling outbursts, “What are you laughing about now, Julie?” Try as they might, Mom and Dad never did comprehend our “twin speak”. Scott recently moved hundreds of miles away from home. However, we are still intimately connected often sharing similar thoughts, observations, and emotions at the same time regardless of the distance.

While fictional Anne and Diana and very real Scott and I have all enjoyed the benefits of having a bosom friend, I submit that there is a level of relationship even deeper than that of a kindred spirit: fellowship. Fellowship requires a spiritual bond among those who have been given God’s Name at their spiritual rebirth.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(John 3:5)

Children of God share the same Heavenly Father. We have a commonality that is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it. I’m determined, however, to try.

During the summer after I graduated from college with a degree in education, I searched diligently for two things: a teaching job and a Christian friend. I hustled all over town dropping off resumes throughout the months of June and July. Many days as I drove to yet another school dressed in casual business attire, I prayed for a Christian friend. I was still wet behind the in this faith walk with Jesus, and I needed someone to council and walk with me. A week before the start of the 2003-2004 school year, I still had yet to find a job or a new friend. I was desperate.

In a last ditch effort to find employment, I got out a giant phone book, opened to the blue “government agencies” section, and started calling schools with names that began with the letter “A”. I asked over and over again as I moved down the list, “Do you have any openings in the social studies department?” Over and over again, I got a negative response. Finally, when I called a school named New Beginnings, the receptionist answered with a surprising, “Yes, we do. When are you able to come in for an interview?”

I interviewed the next day and knew intuitively before I got a call back that the job was mine. God had saved this position just for me. By the end of the week, the principal of New Beginnings showed me my new classroom, and I began painting the room a sunny yellow color in an attempt to make an inviting place for students. It was in this school working at my first “grown up” job that I met Lacheena, my first Christian friend.

Lacheena was the English teacher down the hall who also happened to serve as an associate pastor at a local church. Cheena was very open about her relationship with God. Not one to waste an opportunity, I pounced on the chance to learn. In fact, I probably drove her nuts with my wide eyed persistence those first few months. As our relationship blossomed from coworkers to friends, we began to spend more time together. She invited me to a Gospel concert where I delighted in exuberant African American style worship for the first time. Cheena and I began going out to lunch together almost daily. New Beginnings was located within blocks of “The Circle”, or the epicenter of Indianapolis. We hopped around downtown trying different cuisines and having great conversations. Every day at lunch that first year, Cheena would prompt me to pray when the food arrived by saying, “Bless the food Julie.” Always I declined because I was afraid that my simple prayer would sound silly or trite compared to Cheena’s eloquent prayers. Instead of judging me for my refusal, my friend would simply nod, thank Jesus for our meal, and proceed with lunch. One day, however, I bravely assented to praying before we ate. I prayed. Cheena cried.

Eventually, I began attending Lacheena’s church not caring that I was one of three white folks in the congregation. I brought my Bible to work daily as my faith grew, and we’d encourage each other with Scripture. We fasted together. I danced with her on the church’s praise dance team. My daughter Zoe and I went on vacation with Cheena, her son, and her nephew to Orlando. When I wrecked the rental car in a driveway after the trip to Florida, she hugged me and let me cry over my silly yet costly mistake. When I discovered something new in Scripture or in prayer, I called her. When I had a bad day, Cheena always listened to my plight. When I gave birth to Noah, she came to pray for my son. Simply put, we walked together for two years.

One day during this season of my life, my mother asked me over a cup of Chinese black tea why I liked Lacheena so much. I needed no time to answer this important question. I simply answered, “She’s real, Mom.”

Before I met Cheena, I wrongly thought that I had to be perfect to be a Believer. Growing up, I went to church every Sunday and saw folks dressed up in their Sunday best never recognizing that they were also wearing their Sunday masks. I wrongly thought that these church goers had it all together. As a little girl and then a teenager, I inwardly compared their imagined perfect lives to my messiness and knew I would and could never measure up.

Then came my friend Cheena. She wore no masks. She was open about her struggles, and testified to God’s grace and love. She found freedom in Christ, and because of the Lord’s goodness, Jesus used her to open my prison doors so that I too could live free. Her example crushed any doubt that God could love me for me, brokenness and all. It was only then that I was able to break out of religion and its mandates that bark out orders to “work” for a relationship with God. I exchanged this religious slavery for Jesus’s extravagant grace. Finally, I understood what this verse really meant:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Because of my friendship with Cheena, I was made better. A part of my soul was healed. God’s Word became flesh when Cheena’s life’s testimony displayed the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Eventually job changes, a marriage, and Lacheena’s relocation to Kentucky caused a needed shift in our close friendship. These God directed changes would grow our faith even more. However, no matter the distance or time, we will always be eternal sisters.

The above (hopefully) demonstrates the fundamental difference between the world’s definition of friendship and God’s sanctified version that He calls fellowship. Friends love each other just as they are. Those in fellowship love each other just as they are, but they also spur each other on to do better. Fellowship builds up character, honor, justice, and love through brave transparency.

A few years down the road after drinking that cup of tea with my mother and trying to explain unexplainable fellowship, she and I signed up to take a women’s Bible study together. After the third or fourth session, mom exclaimed with childlike wonder, “These women, Julie! They are amazing!” I smiled and nodded knowingly in the passenger seat as we drove home. Mom saw perhaps for the first time in her life what true fellowship looked like throughout the course of the study. Fellowship is richer and fuller than anything worldly relationships have to offer.

Just yesterday as I was working on this post, my mother approached me at my desk at work to talk about what happened during her last Sunday’s church service. A man with a terminally ill spouse openly sought refuge in front of the congregation. He testified that he could not have imagined being anywhere else during such a difficult time. This grieving man was prayed for by his spiritual brothers and sisters and enveloped in tangible supporting love. Mom was moved to tears even a day later as she relayed all she had seen and heard.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

A final illustration to bring the point home…

A few weeks ago, I texted my neighbor “Amy” to ask if she wanted to take a walk. If you have been reading my blog at all, you know that Amy is an outspoken atheist, humanist, Christopher Hitchens loving post-modernist. Although we obviously have differing worldviews, I love her dearly and pray for her almost daily. It is a strange friendship, but one that I cherish. Anyway, she agreed walk with me. Actually, Amy gracefully glided down the path (the girl does triathlons for fun) while I huffed and puffed to try to keep up with what she probably thought was a painfully slow pace. As we walked, she talked about work relationships, and I chatted about a project that was occupying the majority of my time. At some point, the topic of conversation moved to friendship. Amy loves her girlfriends and cherishes girl time. Although she has been married for five years, she still cultivates these important friendships and makes them a priority. In fact, she declared, “If (my husband) were to ever do me wrong, I would run to my girls. They will always be there for me.” As I was silently pondering the implications of this philosophy, she observed the wheels turning in my brain. When I continued to say nothing in response, she prompted, “Wouldn’t you go to your girls too?” I answered with a simple “yeah” because it’s true. I would go to my girlfriends for support. However, what I did not say was that my friends would advise me so differently in her hypothetical circumstance that I found it difficult to equate the two. For example, if our spouses “did us wrong”,

Amy’s friends would say, “We’re here for you. We love you.”

My friends would say, “We love you, but Christ loves you more.”

Amy’s friends would say (especially if the issue were infidelity), “Forget about him. He doesn’t deserve you anyway.”

My friends would say, “While Christ does allow divorce when your partner has been unfaithful, He also asks us to pursue reconciliation. Those who have been forgiven much are asked to forgive. 70X7! (Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22)

Amy’s friends would comfort her with a night out and maybe even buy her a cocktail. They might even have a few choice words for her husband.

My friends would pray with me and for me. They would also pray for Jason. They would love him too.

In addition to our very different views of friendship, I was also quietly concluding as I walked that Amy and I have very different views on marriage. She hangs on to her autonomy, while I ask God to unite Jason and I. I believe that Amy’s friends and her own very modern independence, whether she is consciously aware of it are not, are her backup plan just in case her marriage fails. With God’s grace and teaching, I have surrendered all backup plans in favor of Jesus’s plan for marriage that makes two become one flesh.

The crux of the friendship v. fellowship matter is this: worldly friends counsel us to do whatever makes us happy. “Follow your heart” is the supportive friend’s motto. In contrast, Godly friends counsel us to strive to be more like Jesus. This usually means the denial of self, the suppressing of thorny emotions that can easily tangle us up, and loving the way God loves through the power of the Spirit. Finally, fellowship is most beautiful because all who share in it and break bread in Jesus’s Name know that our relationships will never fade away. We all will be together in paradise one day.

The Apostle John said to his readers, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)