This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Can it be November? Can it be AFTER the 15th of November? Is Thanksgiving REALLY next week? 2010 has blown by in a whirlwind--exciting but exhausting, it feels. Blessed with the trip to Israel in February, which followed the Paraguay "pretreat" in January and preceded the Paraguay renewal in March, the Thailand "pretreat" in April, Pepperdine Lectures presentations in May, then the Thailand renewal in June, I collapsed into summer. I celebrated my life as a grandmother, making cookies, going to the beach, and making multiple trips to the park and various kids' museums around the state. Come before Winter's fall fund raising campaign follows closely on summer, but so did my vacation with Barry to Alaska (heaven...), and two international development seminars--one for Spanish speakers in Cancun and the other for Portuguese speakers in Recife, Brazil. I managed to arrive in Cancun a few hours before Hurricane Paula announced her upcoming arrival. Thankfully, she must have heard I arrived; she veered off toward the islands, allowing me to sleep through whatever storm there was. The next day dawned clear and beautiful, and life proceded without incident for the many revelers who had gathered at the beach, even in the late month of October.

Cancun normally falls far short of a site choice for a Come before Winter study seminar. We prefer quiet areas out of the way of noise and traffic and crowds. In Cancun, the hotel PA system boomed with DJs by 11 a.m.--with comics and exercise classes by the pool and a different show on stage each night. "All-Inclusive" meant the liquor flowed free from morning to night for the majority of the hotel's guests. More than once an Elvis Presley movie from my childhood came to mind: "Fun in Acapulco." Unfortunately, no Elvis. Security advisors, specialists in moving people in and out of dangerous locations, had recommended Cancun, though. Unfortunately, Mexico has become a dangerous destination. We were told: Do not host along the border (duh!) or "anywhere on the Pacific coast;" really? Tuluca and Puebla were possibilities, but both required flying into and out of Mexico City (and many of us were flying alone). Even though Cancun was recommended, I received email the week before, telling me about a bombing in one of the city's restaurants.

I have never feared traveling for a CbW event before, but Mexico spooked me. We considered (as we had with Thailand a couple months earlier) calling it off or moving it to Florida. However, four women from Chile had already purchased expensive tickets; they could not get visas into the U.S. without a lot of lead time. It would be Mexico or nothing, and we decided not to cancel. Instead, we would fly in, collect our baggage, and immediately meet "authorized transportation" from the airport to the hotel. We would not leave the hotel during the week, then take the same "authorized transport" back to the airport. No touring or siteseeing--just in and out. It worked well.

Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo joined me in Cancun, as did missionary Holly Emery from Santiago, Chile, and Carla Borja Lowe of Fort Worth. Arlene was there to observe the process; I am hoping she will be able to begin teaching some of these seminars. Holly Emery, who had translated exegetical materials using our Mark and Philippian study material, joined me as a co-teacher and translator. Carla Lowe had been the impetus behind hosting the event. She had called 18 months earlier, wondering if there was any way I might be able to help her coach a group that could host something like CbW renewals for Spanish speakers. In preparation, Carla and Holly translated and we published a full-length exegetical notebook for use in the seminar. (You will be able to access that notebook online in the near future at

Our participants included a group from Mexico and the United States (almost all born and reared in various Central American countries). Carla Lowe had been working with this group for several years. In addition to these, Holly Emery brought three protégés from Santiago--"the Chileans." Angelica Martinez,who works with her husband to serve The Hills Church of Christ in its Spanish speaking ministry, joined us, as well. Including Arlene and I, we were twelve.

Come before Winter now budgets for 2-3 International Development Seminars a year. The events represent the ministry's commitment to serve women in ministry around the world, including those who do not speak English. Whereas our renewals are taught in English and so intricately designed so as to prohibit translation, these seminars are simpler: smaller groups, a team of 1-3, and a program limited to study and worship: three full days of study--only study--eight hours a day. Whereas the renewals are designed with American missionaries in mind, these seminars actually cater to national women--women who serve in their own culture and speak a language other than English. At first I taught these seminars in English to ESL speakers, but by now they are translated. I have been amazed at how well they proceed, though every sentence is spoken twice.

These brief, intense studies renew my spirit. No razzle dazzle--just a serious minded group of friends joined around the table, eating a piece of biblical text. In Cancun, we devoured the gospel of Mark, my favorite.

I am humbled by the women who meet me for these days. They don't complain about the hours of study (they have been told in advance what to expect). Rather, gratitude boils over into gestures of love--hugs, notes, gifts, laughter. Before we left, we set the date for "the twelve" to reunite--perhaps with a few others--in 2011 in Costa Rica when we will study Philippians.

After four years of study, the Russians hosted their own Come before Winter renewal in Russian. The Spanish group has that goal in mind, as well. They have completed step one. From the vantage point of the CbW board, that renewal will symbolize a type graduation. We do not have a goal to "syndicate" our program. We desire to equip. Once our students become proficient enough to host a renewal (with all its bells and whistles), they will have the skills to redefine and retool what they have learned to fit another culture, to take what they have learned and reinvent new and better ways to serve. Neither have we closed the door on the idea of Spanish-speaking Come before Winter teams. Instead, we wait. In this, as in all other tasks and missions laid before us, we have only one question: What does God have in mind? When we know that, we will know what to do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Team celebrates Thailand

I hope you will read the post below that speaks to the significance of this renewal to our ministry and our understanding of our mission. However, I wanted to post a few memories, as well.

We served 36 women from six different Asian countries--Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Singapore. This was our third trip to Asia, and we never serve sweeter women!

Our team of 15 functioned flawlessly. We missed Brooke Hollingsworth who made the hard but appropriate choice to remain home with her family as husband Brent made the transition to retirement. Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo debuted as our theme speaker at our opening session with a stellar lesson on God's

The week became a rising tide of God-filled appointments. Mental snapshots filled the memory banks of our minds and hearts. Pictures of worship and prayer, of sharing...laughing, crying--each one represented another angle from which to view our experiences. We greeted each day, each moment with the understanding that every one was holy, sanctified for the purpose of seeking His voice, experiencing His message.

We declared again our appreciation for the flow and ease of our "new" equipping blocks. In this format, reading groups allow us to fully explore a text in the comfort of a small group discussion. We explore Psalm 103 in regard to its structure and theology, then use its message as a guide that directs us in prayer. Women spend the hour following each of the four reading groups in a variety of reflective periods. In addition to traditional silent reflection, participants also explore the medium of pastels in artistic reflection and spend another in active reflection--walking, taking pictures, swimming, or joining an exercise group that employs stretching techniques.

We loved every moment of our journey in Thailand, every sweet face we served, and every message received. We continue to thank God for His hesed, his everlasting, steadfast love for those who seek Him. May we and all those we love continue to be women whose ears are turned toward His Word and whose faces reflect the delight of the Lord.

Still learning after 20 renewals...

…as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than each person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will.

Over the years, I have come to recognize certain moments in Come before Winter’s history as “defining.” In these times, we collide head-on with events, issues, and/or challenges that allow us an opportunity to reexamine our purpose. In short, we get to double check our clarity regarding what God might have in mind. Most often these experiences provide manna that feeds growth, allowing the skeletal phrases of our mission--“to renew, equip, honor and unite women in ministry around the world”—to build enough muscle and tendon to become practical ministry. The recent Thailand renewal, held June 14-18, in Chiang Rai presented such an opportunity. Just three weeks before departure political unrest, demonstrations, and warnings from both the United States State Department and the government in Thailand seemed to indicate that cancellation might be prudent.

By the time the travel warnings were issued, the fifteen-member team was on the “downhill slide.” Team members had already raised the funds needed to welcome and host thirty-eight women from six countries in Asia to the mountains of Northern Thailand. In fact, about 85 percent of the costs for the week had already been paid. Registered participants from Bangkok and the other Asian countries (Japan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines) had also purchased non-refundable airline tickets. The long process of registration had ended, the tote bags had been monogrammed and delivered, the notebooks were printed with detailed information including home addresses and telephone numbers, room assignments at the host hotel, and small group divisions. Five team members had already taken possession of the “team bags,” those packed out to carry the needed supplies to our June 9 flight; another three were packed and ready to be delivered. For all practical purposes, were ready to go.

But there was this nagging question of safety. Everyone agreed that while we were not “afraid” to make the trip, wisdom had to prevail. As one advisor so aptly stated, “At times like these it is easy to discount one’s own safety, but are you willing to put the families of the participants and team members at risk of losing their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters? How important is this?” By three weeks before departure I had begun to believe there was “no way” the trip could occur; I would later learn that many on the Board felt the same. Others on the Leadership Team had serious questions—in regard to going and not going. Thank the Lord for having built among us such a strong sense of unity in diversity! To a person, we all agreed that the decision could not be made in terms of lost funding; responsibility, safety, and mostly a keen listening ear had to prevail. Thus, the Leadership Team convened in Abilene to weigh issues and to pray. Never before had we come together to make a decision with such varying opinions. However, each of us also recognized the necessity of listening to the other and going to the Lord together—a united front of prayer. May I say that the time together that day was one of the sweetest days we have shared?

In preparation to meet, we sought the advice of two security advisors. Both Sam Jeffrey, son of Leadership Team member Suzy Jeffrey and Chris Hale, husband of Leadership Team member Kelliann, provided us with invaluable insights. Sam had spent a few years working for the U.S. State Department; even now his work includes ensuring the safe travel of others, often into areas where security is questionable. Chris, who works as a chaplain for firemen in the state of Texas and has often been present as a first-responder to tragedy, also worked with inner-city missions in St. Louis, MO. In addition to these two, we sought on-the-ground reports from Thailand missionaries David Allen and Robert Reagan; both missionaries live and work in the northern regions of Thailand where we would host our event. Finally, we polled a fourth of the participants, at least one woman from each of the six countries who had registered. How were they feeling about attending? What were their husbands saying? In all these communications, we asked for frank responses.

By the time we met in Abilene, less than two weeks before departure, the Thai government had regained control in Bangkok—albeit just two days earlier. No one knew how long the treuce would hold, so in addition to moving forward with last-minute details, we were all reading news reports and listening to television analyses, as well. Our security advisors warned us to be cautious, but well-prepared if we proceeded. The on-the-ground missionaries (apart from discussion with one another) strongly urged us to come—the renewal was needed now more than ever, they wrote. The women themselves assured us they were not afraid: one group told us that if we did not host, they were going to Thailand without us (they already had tickets, after all).

At the end of the day, we decided we would proceed—if we gained Board approval. Even so, we would give every team member and every parrticipant the opportunity to back out. As an extra precaution, we would write a detailed security plan that involved planned exit strategies and renting satellite phones—in case Thailand’s government decided to shut down all common communication, as their state of emergency warned they might. Only once before, when our African hotel cancelled on us just 10 days before departure, had we worked so busily up to the times our flights would take off.

We assured each team member and participant that we trusted them to listen to God and to act on His personal words to them alone. Going would not be considered a greater action of faith that remaining behind; remaining behind would not be considered “wiser” than going. We would recommit each woman, indeed the whole event, to God. In the end, we lost two participants, one whose supporting congregation had already pulled her from Bangkok for safety reason and another who discovered a work conflict that could not be avoided. One team member, after prayer and discussion with her family, remained behind, as well, serving us from stateside in prayer and communication.

You expect to learn from such situations; you are aware that you are setting precedence, writing policy as you go. What I didn’t expect was the way the process would sharpen our senses in regard to our mission. Two communications particularly initiated ripples of thought as we moved forward.

The first was a brief line from board member Donna Willbanks: “Could this possibly be God opening our eyes and hearts to a new way of using CbW? …we know this is no surprise nor glitch to Him.” The second was a comment made by a former missionary to Thailand, Larry Henderson, now a missions professor at Abilene Christian University. Larry commented that he was not as concerned for the future of the country of Thailand as he was for the church in Thailand. The political rifts so totally permeated the country’s social fabric and ran so deep that he feared division in the churches might follow.

As we pondered these questions in relation to our program, we were forced to examine not only how the unrest might affect the renewal, but how the renewal itself could possibly impact the situation. Our rule forbidding controversial discussions and comments had been written to dissuade anyone from focusing on our mutual differences in regard to faith. How would that rule play out during the current political situation? Likewise, every Come before Winter team covenants with the others: not only will she avoid controversial discussion, but she will surrender her personal will for the good of the women we serve. We even agree in advance to trust one another above all—to set aside hurt feelings and/or anger, determining to trust the good in the other, no matter how the incident may appear. We have learned that these commitments speak clearly without a word. Each time we receive a set of evaluations, someone (often many someones) mentions being blessed and instructed by the team’s witness of unity. Some have claimed that it was the most beneficial aspect of the renewal!

Thus, we came to understand that God had prepared us for “such a time as this.” We did not go to Thailand only to walk on the holy ground of confession and spiritual renewal with those who would come. Granted, that mission would never be minimized! However, as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than one person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will. Salt seasons the whole.

We better understood this Truth as we greeted the hotel staff that would serve us; we were purposeful in recognizing that we had women from every piece of Thailand’s social cloth. We remembered what God had taught us in our first 19 renewals, and we accepted this new lesson with thanksgiving.

Come before Winter’s 20th renewal in Chiang Rai, Thailand, was one of our sweetest to date. Not once did we feel threatened. Though we overnighted in Bangkok both on the way in and on the way home, we saw nothing but smiling, gracious Thai faces—not a hint of unrest anywhere. We noticed this, and we thanked God for what we might never have seen had it not been for the recent turmoil. Perhaps we were even more thankful for the opportunity to be there.

We cannot thank enough those who invested in these days of peace and tranquility, of meditation and reflection. Your support of our mission, your prayers and your financial investments became the foil for understanding the tragedy of division and war. May God bless all those who serve Him in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. May His Unity, His Peace, and His Pardon be evident to all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jesus' Individual Instances of Prayer

In a recent post, I wrote that I counted nine individual instances in which Jesus was seen praying in the gospels. That bothered me. It was so few. Since this is part of one of my topics at Pepperdine next week, I have continued to look and read (you just can't find everything with a search, even if you know most of the words to look for!). Short story? I found a few more. So I thought I would publish them here in case anyone wants to add to them. I know some just came to my mind--some will likely come to you, too. My plan is to keep updating this as I think of more or change my mind about what I have already found and its meaning.

I have separated them into three categories, too--just because I am a sorter. :) You might separate them differently, and that is fine, too.

Times Jesus prays for direction or peace; times that more nearly "match" our "quiet time" prayer expectations:
  1. At his baptism--Luke 3.21
  2. Looking for direction after healing late in the night in Capernaum--Mk 1.35
  3. He was praying in Luke when the disicples ask him to teach them to pray--Lk 11.1. I am not counting the "Lord's Prayer" in Matthew here, but as teaching. I am not arguing that he didn't pray as he taught, but I am looking for personal prayer.
  4. The night before he chose his disicples--Luke 6.12
  5. Looking for direction and peace after he feeds the 5,000. Mk 6.46. At this stressful time, he knew that a) the people were planning to come get him to make him king (John 6.15), b) John the Baptist has just been killed (Matthew 14.13), and c) the disciples have just returned from having healed in His Name; they are so busy they can hardly find time to eat (Mark 6.30-31) .
  6. He is praying alone when his followers come and he asks, "Who do people say that I am?" It is here Peter confesses, "You are the Christ." Luke 9.18.
  7. He is praying on the mountain when his face is changed and Elijah and Moses appear. Luke 9.28.
  8. His longest recorded prayer for the disciples and all that will believe through their name is recorded in John 17.
  9. Matthew, Mark and Luke record the prayers in the Garden (John does not. John's Jesus speaks to the synoptic writers' claims in John 12.28; he will not ask to be spared the cross. This prayer is listed below in the second list. Find the synoptics prayers in the garden in Mt. 26.36f; Mark 14.36f, and Luke 22.40f.
Times Jesus prays as if speaking to a person who is standing nearby: (I am having trouble articulating this one. He is always conversational and personal with God, but in these instances, it is like God is physically beside him, directly involved in the situation. I think you will see what I mean.)
  1. Praises God for revealing the truth to little children, rather than the wise and learned. Matthew 11.25
  2. At Lazarus' tomb, he thanks God in the hearing of the people so they will know that he has invoked God's name in this miracle that is about to occur. John 11.41
  3. In speaking of his coming death in John, Jesus tells the disciples (who have brought Greeks to see him) that he is very troubled about what is coming. But, shall he ask to be saved from that suffering? No! Instead he says to God, "Father, do what will bring you glory!" God responds, I have; and I will again."
  4. I would argue especially that the entire time on the cross, Jesus is praying--though it is not what we would normally term as "prayer." Three times we hear him speak directly to the Father: Luke 23.34; 46; and Matthew 27.46 record these utterances, the last of which is committing himself into God's care before he dies.

Other instances when we know Jesus prayed:

  1. The people brought little children to him to be prayed over: Matthew 19.13
  2. Luke says it was his custom to withdraw and pray: Luke 5.16
  3. He tells Peter that he has prayed for him so Peter's faith will not fail: Luke 22.32
  4. He tells the disciples that he will ask the Father and He will send them an Advocate to be with them--the Holy Spirit. John 14.16
  5. He also blesses God for food at the two feedings and at the meal in the upper room.
One more note: Luke 5.33 records that more "religious sorts" did not think that he his disciples were men of prayer: Luke 5.33.

Oh, my!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on "Life"

I had intended to write today another piece related to my post yesterday. However, an incident in the lives of my DFW children has prompted other thoughts. My daughter-in-law Jo worked after receiving her Masters in Accounting degree from ACU for one of the largest accounting firms in the world. There, she met and befriended a young woman. Though Jo has changed jobs, she and this young woman remain connected, having daughters about the same age--three-ish. In the past week, this woman's younger brother has been shot and killed during a break-in at home in Fort Worth. His "life" has ended. As one who claimed Christ, his "Life," the one he began on this earth when he chose to follow the Lord, has begun.

Reflections on "Life"

Had it been that the whole purpose of Jesus was to die for our sins, I suppose that would have been enough. But it wasn't enough for God; he had much more in mind and we can see his purpose reflected quite clearly in scripture.

Had it been the whole purpose of Jesus to come and die for our sins, that event could have occurred very early. With the exception of Matthew, who records so much of Jesus' teaching that the story of his life advances advances at a slower pace, every gospel engages the conflict that will lead to Jesus' crucifixion within three chapters of the beginning of his public ministry. (1) As theologically profound as the idea of God paying for the lives of his adopted and fallen children with the blood of his only begotten son is, one must also recognize the reality that Jesus' appearance on earth was not some heavenly shopping errand--running out to purchase the lives of humankind with own blood. He had a bigger purpose in mind. The mystery of Jesus and his presence on earth involved more than buying pardon--even more than displaying resurrection. The incarnation--God among humankind--was required, as well.

Jesus taught us how to live, and I don't mean he showed us how to follow the rules. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," he would say. John wrote of Jesus in his introduction: "In him was life and that life was the light of men." More significant than his death was his life--both before and after the cross.

I have often pondered what it meant to God to return to walk on the earth. Had he done so since the days in the garden? I can imagine so, but (I think) we have no record of him walking with humankind after the sin of the garden until Jesus appears. What joy was there for him in his physical presence to walk the hills of Galilee with his bride Israel? What joy and what sadness--to live amidst the fallen-ness of his people in a world created for such a different lifestyle. Here, he too experienced firsthand life, in the lower case.

As the incarnate God, he would meet and fully experience temptation. One is not tempted without desire. How did it feel for the god of the universe to desire to succumb to the wiles of the Evil One? What fellowship with humankind did God gain in the experience? Because he was tempted in every way just as we are and he did suffer when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. What ramifications might this have for judgment? Did, could God's capacity for steadfast love grow during this time? Is it because he was "made perfect" that he is able "by one sacrifice" to make "perfect forever those who are being made holy?"

Oh, the mysteries of Life!--the peeks we might gain from observing the incarnation. I ponder God on earth--the god who did not come in power, but arrived helpless and dependent, a baby born without status, without privilege, homeless. A god who was despised by those who claimed to know him best, challenged by tyrants wishing to claim his possession as their own. Jesus was a god whose chief desire was to be with and to be known by his people--to bring a picture of hope to the blind, the broken, the outcast, and the homeless, to reach out to seekers as well as to marked sinners, even those overtaken by evil.

The world was a wreck, a dump in comparison to his plan, but the creator had returned and he "wasn't done yet." Jesus' presence on earth caused the angels to sing in chorus over the shepherds. A star that rose in the sky beckoned foreign nobles. All creation was to take notice. Thousands of years after the fall in the garden, God's appearance through Jesus' life on earth heralded the godhead's shear and unwavering determination to (re)create humankind in their own image, to have it--all of it--Their Way.

Jesus lived the abundant Life on earth, but that Life didn't end on the cross. It lives on very literally in two ways: in the fullness of Life at the Father's right hand and here on earth in the lives of his people--those who have been gifted with his very nature and Spirit and take seriously his call to walk as He did--in the world for the "sake of the world."

The young man who died in Fort Worth this week had some understanding of what that meant. As a high school athlete, his coaches said he was one who "walked the walk," a young man who recognized the need for "humanitarian achievement." One can receive no higher compliment than to be described with words that match the Master. To live like Jesus is to live Life to the full. Despite His determination to walk among humankind, to do good, and to love His Father with all his heart, mind, and soul, Jesus suffered a death that was unmerited and unjust. As surely as Jesus lives, He will claim the lives of those who love Him.

Jesus' death on the cross represents one more evidence of God's steadfast, unwavering, prideless, self-sacrificing, continually forgiving love for his creation. He has called us to live as He did. Where will that lead us? It could lead anywhere--among the homeless, the poor, or the diseased, to those overwhelmed by life or the habit or sin, around the world or next door. But when the call comes, we like Him, must be ready to go.

According to all who know him, Eric Forrester, in his short life on earth, prepared for and lived as best he could Life. That Life has not ended; neither has it just begun. Every good deed he did on this earth, every testimony he made both verbally and actively, lives on--just as he does. And his life, like Christ's, beckons us to look outward, to see the world Jesus died to save and to Live here in this world for the sake of the world--as we begin to Live Life to the full.

(1) Mark 3.6; Luke 6.11 and Matthew 12.14 all record the beginning of a plot to kill him. In John, Jesus clears the temple in a rage in chapter 2. Recognizing their intentions to kill him, he challenges them to "come on..." with a statement they will use to prove his blasphemy at his trial: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Without saying it explicitly, John opens his story with the foreshadowing of Jesus' death.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time with God: The Gospels' Truth, part I

So, this is what I'm pondering this past year: where do we get (much less buy into) these ideas we claim about what defines true spirituality? And, how long must we spend chasing these pictures of holiness before we realize that once we achieve the goal, we may not yet arrived at any station, much less the one we are pursuing.

I wish I could recall right now the exact title of the lesson I was asked to teach that started me on this journey, but I can't. However, the topic erupted from a heart that desperately desired to enhance daily quiet time. Since I myself hunger for the same, the quest soon became one of my own heart. How could I help others to enhance their daily quiet time when I myself long for the same experience? The only way I knew was to spend time reflecting on the life of one man, the life I regularly dissect and inspect for Truth: Jesus. After all, wasn't he the king of quiet reflection with God? Like others, I had always claimed He was.

What I discovered launched me on this year's long journey: Jesus didn't practice daily the kind of quiet time ritual I was seeking to perfect.

Whoa!!! What????

He didn't. He couldn't. Like me and my friend, he hungered for it; he chased it; he even lived every moment of the last three years of his life, looking for any opportunity to practice it, but he rarely found the necessary, uninterrupted moment for quiet and prayer. It is true. Let me give you some facts I discovered in my study before I taught those lessons.

First, the gospels don't record a Jesus who was primarily known as a man of quiet and prayer. Instead, they record the story of Jesus' last three years of life--hectic years lived by a man who was suspect, followed, chased, pursued, harassed, invaded, and eventually arrested and killed. He was a man who accepted a mission that should have permitted him years longer to accomplish--but he was out of time. He was a man who stood in direct opposition to the powers that be, a man who had his own ideas about life and living, about a relationship with God and yes, even God himself--a man whose message was rarely heard though he preached it repeatedly in crowds of thousands. He was a man who lived at least the last months of his life knowing that he was out of time and that by every available indication, he was failing to do the job he had set out to accomplish.

Whoever said that Jesus didn't live a hectic life? Who told me that he had more to do than any man on earth, but he was never in a hurry, never felt rushed, never on edge, never near the brink of insanity? Who said that?

I know I did--more than once. But I know I was taught it, too. I believed it. But that is not the story of the gospels.

In fact, if one were merely a concordance student, content to measure the import of a topic by the number of times it occurred, Jesus and prayer might not receive much attention. I was startled that the New Revised Standard Version found no place to translate a word from the Greek of John's gospel as "prayer" or "pray." Though Jesus' longest and possibly most instructive example of prayer occurs in John, it is not named a "prayer," so a concordance for the NRSV will not pick it up. But that isn't the end of the surprising truth about Jesus' prayer life as reported by the gospel writers. All the gospel writers combined tell us of only 13 specific and individual situations in which Jesus prays.

Matthew's Jesus, the consummate teacher, instructs his disciples regarding how to pray, but he Matthew records Jesus praying only four times. In Mark, we find a Jesus who will pray all night for direction to understand his mission (twice), to select his disciples, and for strength before the crucifixion. Granted, Mark's Jesus continually seeks sanctuary, an escape from the crowds for a time of refreshing and (we assume) prayer, but he is interrupted or distracted most of the time. Luke, who gives us seven of the 13 instances, also records this charge: "The disciples of John and the Pharisees frequently fasted and prayed, but your disciples eat and drink." Truly, such an evaluation of Jesus' prayer life as noted here might leave us to wonder whether prayer were an important spiritual discipline practiced by Jesus.

Luke alone tells us of a Jesus who "would withdraw to lonely places and pray" as if his habit might have ended in some success. Matthew tells us that people brought little children to Jesus so that he could touch them and pray over them. Jesus' own teaching on prayer, that we not "pray to be seen" or heard by others, helps us to understand that this part of his life was both private and intimate--certainly not on display for the Pharisees or the world at large. Jesus prayed; he did; and some people seemed to know it. But, more than the quiet, reflective outpouring we know as prayer, I would argue that Jesus' very life, his every thought, his every action was lived as prayer, begging the fulfillment of intimacy with God. Only nine of the 13 mentioned times might be considered classic "quiet time" situations. I would dub the other four conversational moments in which Jesus recognizes the Father's presence with him and begins conversing son to Father, friend to friend. (Once, God answers, and Jesus responds back!) The "quiet times" were sought--experienced in proportion to need--to make a decision, to determine priority, to re-center life according to His purpose--but the Father was never far away. He was at hand.
  • I can do nothing on my own....I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me." (John 5:30)
  • "...the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him." (John 8.29)
  • "I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.... So whatever I say is just what the father has told me to say." (John 12.49-50)
I doubt Jesus ever taught that "time with God" could be reduced to a regular, early morning ritual made up of prayer, Bible study, and meditation. I am equally convinced that he never bound that definition of spirituality on anyone. I doubt he would have termed the ritual we know as "quiet time" as the most necessary or apparent fruit of a spiritual being. To Jesus, time with God was an every minute, every thought, every word experience. That's why he looked to escape a lifestyle so hectic that he missed enough meals to prompt his family to come looking, expecting to find him insane. He hungered for time alone with God. He craved it. But he had to pursue it. He needed it; I need it...enough to keep me in His Presence every, every minute.

Jesus was a busy man, a man whose life mission often left him exhausted and spent. He took his calling--to be the presence of God in the midst of a world gone haywire--seriously. And note this: His world was not so much different than our own.

More later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pretreat Boosts Spirits: Onward: Thailand!

Worship on Sunday morning, on a patio overlooking a small inlet on Possum Kingdom (yes, that's the name of this Texas lake) raised the bar for experiencing community, group prayer and shared mission. The last day of the "Pretreat" for a Psalm 103 renewal opens with worship (planned by partner Jeanene Reese of Abilene)--at 7:30 a.m. It is the same time and manner in which we open every day at the renewal. However, at the "Pretreat" this worship occurs on Sunday, the first day of the week, and it includes communion, as well as breakfast. What a joy!

We meet at the assigned location (this time on the patio overlooking the lake) for 15 minutes of prayer and song before we retreat to fill our plates and bowls with quiche, fruit, yogurt, muffins, and/or cereals. When we gather once more, we eat, and after a bit, we hear again Psalm 103 and begin to discuss its content theologically. On Sunday last, Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo led this rich and full discussion that mined the depths of our hearts and minds as we considered what it means to be women in covenant with Israel's God (and our own), YHWH. We reflect on the gift of being recipients of His hesed--His steadfast love. Mariana Long of Abilene and Sandy Mitchell of Fort Worth led us in meditations over the bread and wine as we shared communion. Several of us commented as we sat together at table with the Lord. An ease of fellowship and community permeated the air and continues to inspire me even today--so relaxed, so common, so breathtaking.

Then, we prayed. As Jesus had done in the upper room, we prayed for a team, as a testimony, and as a standard at the June renewal. We prayed for one another. Cara Flanders, a counselor at Abilene Christian had been called away a few minutes earlier to help deal with a campus crisis--we prayed for her, for the students, for the school. We prayed for the women (again)--those we will meet at Thailand, some as old friends, others for the first time. We prayed for them as they prepare their hearts and minds and families for their trip. Right now, women from six countries in Southeast Asia are registered: Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, China, Japan and the Philippines. We prayed for more to come, for the Lord to use us up in his service June 14-18. We thanked him for the gifts he has given, for the weekend we shared, for our families, and for the ministry as a whole. And we prayed it all without a plan, speaking our hearts as we looked each other in the face, seeing each one mirroring the love of the sister on the other side of the table. Most of us had cheeks marked with tears, but regardless of the pain and struggle we might have carried, they were tears of joy and faith.

I love Come before Winter. I remain in awe that we have been called to this privileged place of service, that God provides for us as He does--teaching us how to conduct ourselves, inspiring our programs, sending us women to serve and the finances to serve them, and giving us this bond of community, this tiny model of what He intended. Here I have witnessed what can occur when women commit themselves to listen, to surrender their selfish motives for something bigger than themselves, to turn in their pride and commit to do what they can to make the others (and therefore God) "look good," to trust Him alone, to receive those He sends, and to "go" where He directs.

Hang on, Southeast Asia! We are coming your way--and we love you dearly!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Amazed (once again)

Returning from Israel only two weeks before the Paraguay renewal has created some lag time in any posts regarding that amazing trip. Even now, I cannot take the time to write about it as I would like, but some things MUST be said!

In February--about six weeks after we received an unexpected invitation to accompany Dr. Randall Smith on a 12-day study tour--four of us, myself, board members Suzy Jeffrey and Linda Forrister, and leadership team member Mariana Long--departed for Israel. The trip was neatly packaged in regard to the Paraguay renewal--we would leave two weeks after the team preparation retreat (pretreat) and arrive home two weeks before the renewal itself. The very idea of making such a trip seemed ludicrous, really. But... we had been praying for an opportunity to "spy out the land," and God had offered one
with the very teacher we were hoping to hear! As Suzy Jeffrey said, "When the Lord drops something this wonderful in your lap (even with a discounted rate), you need to set up and take notice." So we did!

For 12 days we raced through Israel, following a man who possesses a never-ending supply of energy, a rapid pace, and an inexhaustible and comprehensive skill set. While living in Israel for over a decade, Dr. Smith owned a business near Jericho. He also studied in Jerusalem & holds degrees in Near East Archaeology & a Doctorate in Comparative Religion from Conservative Theological Seminary. His understanding of Biblical culture, history, geography & rabbinic teachings provides him with a unique perspective and one the four of us thoroughly enjoyed.

I had no idea what to expect (other than what I pulled from the pages of the Bible). Though I feel sure that I have spent more hours in the pages of the gospels than many, every turn seemed to provide some new insight. For this post, I decided to post only four surprises--not amazing
things, for sure--just observances that amazed me.
  1. The Mount of Beatitudes was covered in wild flowers. No wonder Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field--how they grow! (note the picture above; that is the Sea of Galilee on the left. To the right are more hills, forming what is called a "natural amphitheater." Tests conducted using modern technology indicate that 3,000-5,000 people could hear a person speaking without amplification in that valley.
  2. Peter's mother-in-law's house (yes, there is good archeological evidence that they have located it) was not outside Capernaum as I have always imagined, but two doors down from the synagogue! No wonder the "whole town gathered at the door." (I loved Capernaum, by the way).
  3. I understood that Israel was small (about the size of Travis and Williamson counties I have heard--that's where I live, by the way), and I knew that virtually all the Bible occurred there. Once I even went through Genesis, drawing a tree in the margin of my Bible every time the Oak(s) at/near Mamre appeared--noting how many significant events had occurred nearby. But... for some reason I was totally unprepared to discover on one short walk: a) the source of the River Jordan, fed by the melting snows of Mount Hermon, b) the site of Jeroboam's altar--the place he built so that the Israelites could worship in the northern kingdom rather than return to Jerusalem (thus the site marking the beginning of the downfall of the kingdom at large); c) the gate attacked by Tiglath Pileser when he stormed into the country, intending to take it all in 722 BCE, and d) the city gate from 4,000 BCE--very likely the one that Abraham approached when he entered the land that God would show him.
  4. How mountainous--yes, really--is Israel. One truly does "go up" to Jerusalem all the way from the Dead Sea. And, Mount Hermon is 9200 feet and still had snow while the wildflowers bloomed everywhere in Galilee. The mountain seems even taller in a country where a significant part of the land mass is 500 feet below sea level....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hour of Clearing: Lessons Learned in Prayer

The women in Paraguay (thank you, Benay Blume) reminded me that I have done little of anything to let everyone know about the online Bible study, "Finding Renewal in the Love of God." The study is posted on the Come before Winter website ( as a resource for personal study or teaching.

The CbW team has come to believe that sanctifying a period of time to focus on the God of this universe will renew the spirit of His people. Thus, in six units (18 lessons), the study explores the personalities of God as reflected by John in his first epistle--as Father, Word, and Spirit. Students examine each manifestation of God, then explore how they might best respond to the One who has made humankind in His own image. Each unit includes three lessons which focus on hearing, exploring, and processing the text through reading, study, discussion and experience. Following is an article from unit six, "The Day of Clearing: Lessons Learned in Prayer." The article recalls a personal prayer experience on September 22, 1990. My hope is that this article, most of which is pulled from my journal of that day, will exemplify the way one might walk through a conversational prayer with God, especially in terms of hearing a personal word from the Lord in regard to a troubling situation or experience. Printed here, I also hope the candid sharing will bless others who have struggled with healing from sexual abuse and inspire them to seek healing in the love of God as they come to terms with His Power to heal and His steadfast love for all His children.


In the fall of 1990, I was working hard to conclude six weeks of intensive therapy in regard to sexual abuse during my childhood and adolescence. Before I could be “released” from this intensive vein of my program, I was told that I had to address my anger in regard to authority figures in my life who would have known about the abuse, but who had done nothing to help. Though my counseling would extend over the next five years, that autumn would mark the end of the most intensive phase of my “recovery.”

Honestly, I had been reluctant to display anger of any kind in regard to those who had been “my protectors;" in my mind, it seemed unfair to blame those whose lives and suffering had equalled or exceeded my own. However, my counselors explained that they were confident the anger was there, and thus needed a release. Still, the scenarios they suggested—screaming or beating some piece of property into oblivion—too nearly resembled rage to me. How could one enter healing through such a door? I could not imagine following “rage” into healing. However their insistence matched by my commitment to heal, alongside the constant support from my husband Barry, helped me to land on a possibility. We would go to the family ranch and in Barry’s company I would select and chop down a tree…or do something physical. Mostly, I determined to very prayerfully follow God’s lead. Thus, I entered into my first deliberate prayer walk in which I fully expected God to lead and to speak.

On the morning of, Barry and I rose early before our children (13, 10, 8) and dressed in silence. The moon hung in the air and all was quiet as we exited the house. We crossed the porch and walked into the shed where I would select my “weapon.” Surprisingly, the ax we sought was not to be found. So, instead, I chose what was available: a sledge hammer and a hand-held pick ax—part ax, part grubbing hoe. They seemed right, but I did not understand why. I did like the fact that they were both tools that could be used to build as well as to destroy.

“Okay, Lord, lead me. I cannot do this without you,” I prayed again. With no small amount of determination, Barry and I set out to cross the field, down through a small dry creek bed and up on the other side into a cluster of trees—a very lovely site from the distance. “Show me, Lord. Show me what I need to do.”

My journal entry on that day, September 22, 1990, follows:

The spot looked ragged and overrun. There were dead tree limbs protruding and wild briers in abandance. Forsaken for ages, it was an overgrown heap. The dead, ugly limb that protruded from the tree caught my eye. I was looking for some symbol to represent the evil I wanted to attack. I chose this symbol to represent the destructive obsession of my abuser—the one that had haunted my life since childhood. I had only my two weapons and my Protector and observer (Barry). I was led only by prayer.

“Be with me, Lord, in my therapy with this tree. Allow that which is full of you to be brought forth. I love you.”

I approached the dead, protruding limb and stumbled on the debris beneath my feet. Rotten stumps, broken branches, entangled thorns. I could see that before I could approach the limb, I must clear myself a place to stand—a sure-footed plot that would allow me to atttack the deadened branch. How like life this was! I attacked the cluttered ground with a vengeance. I dug and pulled, depositing each bit of debris into a pile that would rise to my shoulder as the hour progressed.

The irritating briers grabbed at my hands and arms. I fought back, fiercely uprooting each as an anger seemed to emerge and revel in each blow of the hoe. Thoughts chanted through my mind: “Uproot the briers, discard the broken limbs—clear the land—sift the soil, purify the past.”

“There’s grapes on this vine.” The Protector’s voice became an unwelcome interruption from my work. “Look,” he called.

“Not now.” I winced and continued my concentrated attack. This wild abundance that reached out and tore my flesh had become my enemy. I tore at its roots which reminded me of my own—wild, painful, untamed. I chopped and pulled and dug them from the damp earth. The sky was threatening rain, but I knew God would grant me this time of release.”

“Teach me,” I prayed, “what it is that I must learn.”

The vines tore at my bare legs; their thorns bit and grabbed, yet I continued. When I had cleared an area beneath the limb, I changed weapons. Lifting the heavy hammer above my head, I swung hard at the base of the dead branch as it protruded from the tree. I missed, stumbling from the force of my swing. I raised the hammer again, striking again, hitting dead on. The limb hardly moved; my strike left only a dent in the wood. My foe was great. As in true life, my enemy was strong and I remained but a girl. My next blow struck further out on the limb, and a piece of the branch cracked and drooped. At last, I had done major damage. I began to see that beating away the dead limb would occur in stages, yet removing it would not hurt the tree. It would enhance its beauty.

Then I saw the grapes, the fruit of the vine that grew there, and I claimed this as a message from God. Good existed among the "evil." I saw a new vision in regard to my morning's labor: a healthier tree with fruit; it could become a hollow of clearing. I worked on. My Protector observed, thinking of I know not what. Standing further back, his perspective was more holistic than my own.

“This is a wonderful place for a tee-pee,” he said, as if on cue. He was imagining the fun our three sons might have in this clearing I was creating. The observance gave me joy as I also imagined the fittingness of my own offspring gathering in joy to play on ground I had cleared of the rubble that lingered from my abused past. Life could surely mirror this image. His words gave me new energy. A brier grabbed my leg, biting sharply into my skin. The clearing was not yet adequate for the work that remained before me. The "safe foundation" did not yet exist. I turned my attention once more to the ground.

The briers were thick and scattered and seemed to attack me from all sides. I realized that they caused me even more constant pain than the anger I fought. It seemed that they were too personal of an enemy to represent my abuser. They snapped at my legs and brought blood. Surely, these foes lived closer to home. "Which foe lives so actively in the soil of my life," I asked. At once I knew. They represented Satan's lies in regard to my very being; lies that had caused me to fight with desperation to become worthy of God's love. Specifically, I named these briers work salvation—my continual striving to be perfect enough that a broken, ashamed little girl could finally grow up and deserve God’s love. The declaration helped me to feel the destructive nature of such lies. With each step I saw more clearly the way such lies attack joy, entangle, and create pain. “Feel the pain involved in seeking self worthiness,” I told myself.

At that moment, a picture of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns swept into my mind. Only One has earned the salvation of many. Only One was perfect. Only One needed wear the brier. I squeezed a brier in hand, looking for some type fellowship with His pain, but as much as this green brier stung, I realized that the pain it could cause was actually minimal. In fact, it hardly represented my own pain--created from years of trying to earn a position of value.

“Show me the brier, Lord, the one that symbolizes the pain of one who seeks worthiness through deeds.” With that prayer, I dug the grubbing hoe deep into the dirt. My hoe hit upon a hard brier—long and old and brittle and harsh. I pondered it. This was a painful thorn indeed. I took it in my hand, gingerly closing my palm around it. As I held it, I prayed, “Lord let me remember this moment. Let me long consider this pain."

I fell in the dirt and prayed, “Lord, let me leave it here. Let me leave the pain of the past, not the past itself (I cannot leave my past), but the pain. I want to feel your love, your acceptance. Teach me what I can learn.” I wept and dug my hands into the dirt, sifting it to remove any unwanted thing. I sat and pondered what I had done, the picture that lay before me. I knew that not all this life I had uprooted was evil. The tender grass had co-existed with the briers. I prayed again that I might leave the torment of my past, the anger of an abused girl, behind in the debris of whatever God was directing here.

I saw the tree once more. There had been all manner of life beneath the tree—vines and briers--but most of it was stunted, overgrown and beyond use. "Lord, can any good thing have grown here in this mess?" I asked; I was thinking of my own environment, growing up. Could I be healed?

Then I saw it: the grapevine grew in the midst of it all. At first it looked as dead as the rest, but when I caught it and began to pull, I discovered life--not only leaves but grapes, as well, fruit. I became a caretaker, no longer frantic or vengeful. I worked on.

Clouds continued to gather; rain seemed more and more imminent. “Lord,” I prayed, “let me leave this day in your hands. When it begins to rain, I will cease.”

As I worked I discovered the broad vine from which the oldest of the briers had sprung. It was huge and round and consumed most of the area beneath the tree.

The Protector was not focused on the brier, though; he had claimed a more holistic perspective. “Look there," he said. “There is a pecan tree, buried in the middle. It’s been stunted by years of being shaded by those briers.” Truly, there was more life here than I had seen.

A rain drop fell on my head, and I surveyed my progress. I had not accomplished nearly enough, I thought. I continued to work, attempting to redefine my prayer. “If I must quit, rain me out. If not, I will continue.” The rain ceased.

I was seeing my life in every action and decision of the morning, yet a sneaking suspicion was arising from my work: perhaps God did not intend for me to conquer bare-handed my intrusive desire to make myself holy. Perhaps He intended to cover and conquer this sin of perfectionism, of work salvation as He did all the others--through Christ. Still, I continued to strive against the brier, working even deeper into the foliage. By now I was removing a large portion of the vine, and my legs were taking a serious lashing. The pain drew me up short. Finally, I stopped, all of a sudden convicted by the folly in my situation, and I repented.

“Father, you intended for me to stop at the first drop of rain?” I asked, really as a confession. “I manipulated your answer. I will stop now, if you will.” I waited, but the rain did not begin, so I returned to work. But this time I worked with a serious conviction to listen more intently.

I worked a bit more before a gentle rain began again. Remembering my promise, I laid down my tools and sat in the midst of the unfinished clearing, resting from my work and examining the mystery that lay before me.

The beauty of the spot was emerging. The bent tree rose out of the ground, laden with vines and clusters of fruit—both green and ripened; the young pecan grew straight and tall nearby; the ground—some recently turned soil, some rid of its briers, some with grass, green and soft. The stages of my conquest lay before me. Like this plot of ground, I had changed that morning—from angry attacker to visionary husbandman, from blindness to vision, from confusion to understanding, from the fruits of sorrow to the seeds of joy.

Yet the grandaddy brier remained—cut back for sure, but firmly grounded. “Why, Lord? Why must he remain?” My effort seemed (was?) so incomplete, so imperfect! Yet, my soul seemed to accept this ending with peace. The rain fell slowly around me as I sat, seemingly alone with only my thoughts in the presence of my God.

“Mind if I work?” the Protector asked, and he picked up a large grubbing hoe he had brought on one of his trips back to the shed. He stepped into the thicket and began to work, methodically hammering at Grandaddy Brier as I watched with interest and prayed.

The rain slowed but did not stop. Gradually the thicket began to be cleared as I watched with keen interest. When the majority of the briers were gone, he paused. Examining his efforts he seemed pleased. The persistence of the rain was dampening his appetite for work. We were getting wet. He was done. I rose, and without speaking, we gathered our tools.

Before we left, I turned once more to the clearing and examined the pile of rubble. Though most of the briers had been removed, the thicket remained a mystery. After all our work, briers remained. It had not been His will that we would perfect the clearing to celebrate our efforts. Yet, I rested in His Will.

“Zach’s awake,” the Protector shared. I noted the Lord’s timing; the morning’s work was done, uninterrupted and in silence before our "baby" awakened. The rain pelted now, sprinkling my face in a baptism of new assurance. I had gone out angry and confused, needing to complete an assignment, to find a release, yet hating the idea of destroying anything.

In His wisdom and by His power, the morning's work had not been destructive at all, but a creataive beginning, a lesson by the Spirit so personally and lovingly delivered that it will forever remain a highlight in my walk, a milestone to be remembered. I need never again doubt the leading of His Spirit, nor the ability of Him to teach through His indwelling. The celebration of my soul, the far-reaching consequences of the encounter will remain above my understanding. Yet, from this day on, I will remember the Hour of Clearing, the freedom of hearing, and the reality of being.

Nearing the house, I clutched my momento—a green pecan—a gift from the Protector, found in the midst of the clearing as he had worked. Like me, the tall, thin pecan tree had struggled from its seedling years. In the midst of briers, with little sunlight (sonlight in my case), it had grown above the darkness of its birth. Like me, its struggle had been rewarded with fruit. And like me, through some freak turn of events, it had been chosen for an hour of clearing, of pruning, and of beauty.

What would happen to the clearing? It could become a playground for little boy forts or a garden spot with flowers and a bench. It could become an annual pilgrimage for the Protector and me or a place to gather fruit each fall, a vine to prune each spring. It might return to what it was, yet nonetheless, its position in my heart will remain unchanged. Other briers may appear, but those removed today have been cleared forever. These briers cannot return. I know I will never pass there that I do not remember the miracle of today and thank God for lessons learned in the Hour of Clearing.