Elephants

“I want to be as strong as my friends think I am.” The words came through tearful sobs in bed a few nights ago as my husband held me.

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How many times do I have to go through this before it sinks in?

I was so frustrated with myself. I’ve been Sozoed twice. I’ve been to three training seminars. I know the tools. I could walk myself through them if I wanted to. I know in my head I have access to everything Kingdom.

So why do I keep  coming back to this?

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My self-accusations were silenced by my husband’s tender chuckle.

“Silly,” he told me, “why waste time wanting to be something you already are?

“That would be like an elephant that goes through life saying, ‘I want to be an elephant, I want to be an elephant! All my friends think I’m an elephant, so I’ve got to be an elephant!’ I’m not saying you’re an elephant, but can you see how silly that is?”

Just one more reminder that I am a human being, not a human doing.

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Starburst

On the afternoon of March 11th, 2011, Japan was rocked by an earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami.

March 11th, 2011 was my 19th birthday.

The evening of March 10th, I felt strangely restless. I stayed up until a little past midnight, just painting idly. I didn’t start with a picture in mind, but rather let my hands do what they wanted. The result was a canvas board filled with bars of color. There was a strip of black going all the way across the bottom, followed by the rest of the colors you see here, gradually peeling back from the upper right to leave the corner plain white.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but definitely felt as though it was incomplete. So I mounted it on top of my closet so I could eyeball it for as long as it took for me to figure out how to finish it, then eventually went to sleep.

At the same time I was painting—and I mean, the exact same time—sixteen hours ahead of me, Japan was being shaken by natural disaster.
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I didn’t know this until the following morning, when I woke up. Expecting great things to come out of being 19 years of age, I took my time getting up. One of the first things I did was check my phone, where I saw a prayer request from my friend Sarah asking to pray for her friends in Japan.

I texted back asking what had happened, and she told me in brief about what had happened.
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Japan was hit by an undersea megathrust earthquake at about 2 in the afternoon local time. The magnitude of the earthquake was 9.0, measuring the most powerful known earthquake in history.

The rest of my day was spent in concern and mild confusion; “What are you doing, God?” is a question I asked every time I heard an update of people in danger or people who had died or gone missing. And the toll of both continued to rise throughout the day.

I had a small birthday party that evening, during which I learned of the American tourist who had stood in front of one of the enormous tsunami waves to take pictures—and then been swept away by the wave. The news even had his disappearance on video footage.
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While praying with my friends that evening for their son’s migraine headache to be healed, I was suddenly overcome with intense grief. I started sobbing; all I could think about was how that tourist, taken by the wave, had been someone’s baby. And now he was missing, along with who knew how many others. From the travails of my heart, I knew I had to do something.

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I decided to have an art sale. I would take five weeks to paint in the Spirit, hold a sale, and send all the profits to the Mercer Mission in Sendai, Japan.

Many paintings, which I plan on eventually posting to this blog, transpired from this mission of mine. I received many powerful visions which I documented to the best of my skill and memory. But this piece you see here is the one that started the chain reaction—and I hardly knew it until over a month later.

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I was midway through a series of prophetic paintings concerning Japan—specifically, the Japanese flag. Many of my paintings had the flag torn, tattered, or with the red dot in the middle cracked and bleeding. I had had many visions of what the condition of Japan was like just following the crisis, but I was pressing into God’s heart for a vision of restoration.

With several half-finished paintings surrounding me of Japan in destruction and disarray, I looked up from where I was sitting in front of my easel, to see where I had mounted the unfinished painting of rainbow colors. And my eyes were opened.

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I saw that the colors were the new foundation for the map of Japan, that it wouldn’t just be a blank canvas of potential anymore, but that it would be an explosion of creativity, of beauty, of joy and goodness! I saw Japan reestablishing itself in the world as a new creation, reaching out to other nations and changing the way even we in the US see our world.

I grabbed the canvas board and painted what I saw: a new Japan, a new flag, taking on a life of its own as it spread over the new foundation of color.

Isaiah 61:3 – To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.

Pastor Mark: God’s Payoff

Mark Chafe, a pastor of Grace Ministries in East Africa, takes occasional breaks from transforming the culture of Uganda by blogging and Tweeting his creative, inspired and anointed insights.

After crossing paths a few weeks ago on Twitter, I saw that he had a testimony for a new job offer. I was ecstatic and asked him to write up a feature for Grace Notes’ Testimonies section.

Little did I know that this is more than just a praise report for a new job offer; this is the testimony of a Daniel who defied the popular vote and chose obedience over security.

This is his story.
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Choosing to make the right decision can seem very expensive.  Many times in my walk with God I have had to stand alone in decision making—none more so than as a pastor.

I used to pastor a small city Church that had a group of lovely people.

They were supportive, friendly, Bible believing and welcoming.  All these things are important ingredients for growth, yet somehow they had remained small for a number of years and the numbers were still in decline when I came to pastor.  Together, with God’s help, we stopped the decline and managed to raise the numbers slightly, but hit a wall that was, it seemed, impossible to overcome.
I am a great believer in prayer and its power. So I asked the rest of the leadership to join me in a time of prayer and fasting to see what God would reveal as the blockage to growth.  God spoke very clearly to me at the end of our time, listing four specific things that needed to happen for the Church to grow.

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Some of the things He showed me were practices and traditions that needed to halt in the church’s practice of them in order for growth to occur. There were ex-leaders in the church who still held responsibilities in spite of not being in a position of active leadership. Secret meetings were being held and decisions being made that affected the entire church. Trustees who were not even members of the church were carrying decision-making responsibilities, and there were even legal issues that compromised my position as acting pastor over the church.

I brought these things before the leadership team, who ultimately decided that they wanted to hold onto these things that God had revealed as error and a hindrance to His work in the church.  Being the very nice people that they are, they tried to accommodate me by saying I could still pastor them and not believe or adhere to the things that they described were an historical part of their heritage.

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My conscience and desire to be obedient to what God had said would not allow me to compromise what I knew to be right; I resigned my position and moved on.  This of course had serious consequences for us as a family, especially in the area of finances, as we now had no income at all.

Knowing that God has promised to meet all our needs according to His riches in Glory, we were not worried about the situation and used up our savings and our building fund (our house is still not finished) and continued to believe that God will always make a way where there seems to be no way.

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Does that mean that I have never questioned my decision?  Has it always been easy to be cheerful about our situation? Has the devil not whispered in my ear more than once, “Boy, you got that one wrong didn’t you, If only you compromised..!”  There have been times I have fought off bouts of depression and panic attacks after being turned down for the hundreds of jobs I have applied for.

I have felt like giving up or running away—but that still, small voice of God always breaks through and brings the peace that my circumstances have no control over, but is wholly dependent on who He is.

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My decision has cost us everything we had financially, but we have gained so much more in seeing His provision for us as a family and the knowledge that He is truly able to keep that which is entrusted to Him.

I have just been offered a job after only 12 months unemployed, which a miracle in itself that I must share. I applied for a specific job and got a phone call from the agency handling the application. The lady on the phone started describing the position that was available. The position was not what I had applied for. I tried to stop her and explain that there must have been some mistake, but she continued to describe the position. She said it was perfect for me—even though she didn’t know me and had never even seen my CV . Who am I to argue when God is controlling the situation?

So I let her continue, and again to cut a long story short, I have been offered this position for which I thank God!

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There are some words from a song that come to mind, “In His way and in His time, that’s how it’s going to be in my life.”  That is my continual prayer, that I will be patient and obedient to Him always giving Him thanks for all things!

Costcovangelism Part 2

 

Continued from Part 1.

Here are three keys to personal, practical evangelism. This isn’t meant as a formula to follow in every single situation, but it’s three things that I find helpful and encouraging for myself.

1. Relationship
2. Relevance
3. Respect

1. Relationship
Cheryl and I have a personal relationship. She rents her garage out to my husband and I. We share a kitchen and a breakfast table and faith in Christ. We identify on many levels. She’s not just my housemate or landlord, she’s my friend and mentor. If she were not my friend, or if we had no experiential basis of trust, I would be skeptical and suspicious of anything she tried to “sell” me.

It’s the same with evangelism—we have to do it from the basis of relationship. I’m not saying we have to become besties with every homeless man on the street before we can talk to them about Jesus—sometimes, a simple friendly introduction will do. “Hi, my name is Hannah. I notice your wrist is in a cast—would you like to be healed?”

It’s the same principle as giving CPR to a stranger—even if they’re not conscious or responsive, you introduce yourself, say you’re going to help them, ask questions to determine their condition, then proceed.

2. Relevance
Cheryl’s Costcovangelism would be completely pointless if she was talking about the price of steak, white bread, Jif peanut butter or Jell-O—because I could care less. They are not items I prescribe to in my lifestyle. They are not relevant.

But because of the relationship Cheryl and I have, she knows the things I use a lot of and how much I spend on them. She is able to relate to me though the things that are relevant to me.

I think I speak for every Christian when I say it’s awkward to start a conversation with a total stranger just to say, “Hey. Have you heard about Jesus?” In church, they try to tell you that it’s simple and it’s easy, to just go out and do it. But apart from relationship, how will you know what is relevant to a person? Without knowing what is important to them, you’re just shooting in the dark with the pickup line of, “Do you know Jesus?”

Which brings me to the third key to practical, personal evangelism:

3. Respect

If you don’t have a relationship with someone and therefore don’t know what is relevant to them, if you start a conversation with the intent of subscribing them to your product, you are a solicitor.

Solicitors are usually slaves of obligation. Nobody likes to be solicited. A 1-800 number on caller ID will either be ignored or received with dread.

What’s the difference between a college student who shows up on your doorstep with a Filter-Queen vacuum, and a college student on your doorstep with a salvation tract? The method is the exact same—and so is the consumer response. An awkward, uncomfortable exchange of introduction transpires, the salesman casts his pitch, and the homeowner smiles uneasily as he or she explains that no thank you, we are not interested, we already have one…et cetera.

Any success on these solicitors’ parts is usually due to pressure or the desperate desire to pacify the poor man to get him to leave—or worse, out of pity.

When Cheryl talks about Costco, she’s not pushy or pompous. She is gentle and respectful. She says her bit and is willing to say no more on the subject unless I show interest and engage in conversation.

It should be the same for sharing Christ. We can’t assume that just because we have access to perfection, that everyone else’s lives are miserable.

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When I was young in the faith and very zealous, I made this mistake. I looked at my most unchristian friends, felt a wave of compassion, and tagged them all in a note on Facebook telling them they were missing out and that there was great joy in Christ.

Little did I know, one of the people I tagged had just lost her mother. My attempts to evangelize backfired, and I lost a friend because I hadn’t taken the time to get to know her, see what she was going through, and actually relate to her.

There is nothing wrong with zeal.

Psalm 69:9 - Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

Jesus Himself was consumed with zeal for His Father’s house. But void of a heart after relationship with individuals, zeal kills.

The Crusades are evidence of this.

Evangelism isn’t about selling a product, it’s about making people hungry.

Cheryl Bradley, Costcovangelist (Part 1)

Our housemate is a Costcovangelist.

Costcovangelist: A person dedicated to the mission of sharing the good news of Costco.

He who finds a Costco membership finds a good thing indeed. And what’s not to love? Brand-name products in bulk, for ridiculously low prices—not to mention the cheap gas! And it’s all for the investment of $50 a year! Surely, the passing of a crisp $50 is worth all the Benjamins you’d be saving by shopping at Costco!

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Our housemate, Cheryl, is a faithful cardholder and frequent shopper of the Costcovian Kingdom. She has taken every opportunity to educate me in the gospel of Costco. My baking powder, flour, baking soda, brown sugar, milk and all fruits and vegetables are all grossly overpriced, reports the Costcovangelist, who then eagerly throws open her cupboards to price jugs of cinnamon and vanilla extract under $10, a gallon of baking soda for less than $5, a potato sack of barley for $7ish…and so on and so forth.

Now, I’m not stranger to the wonders of Costco. When I was in my mom’s house, Costco was always the first stop for groceries. A full cart for $200 to feed a family of five was a darn good deal. But now that I’m building a family of my own, and we have a $200-per-month budget for food, I long for that Costco membership card to call my own. Especially toward the end of every month, when I pull open the refrigerator to find just eggs and foil-swaddled baked potatoes remaining.

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Mind you, my husband and I are not lacking by any means. The past three months we’ve been married, we have never missed a meal. And every time things have gotten tight with food, I have prayed. The first time I prayed, we got a box of home-canned delights as a gift from one of our friends. The next time, I had $20 more on my card than I’d thought I had to spend. And the next time, we were blessed with a HUGE cardboard box full of organic vegetables!

We have never gone without—and I know we never will. But the frugal voice in my head paints fantasies of how much more effective our $200 food budget would be if we spent it at Costco. I keep telling myself, “Someday, someday, when we have an extra $50 for a membership startup…”
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I was perfectly content to keep up the mantra of “someday.” But Cheryl is a Costcovangelist who does her job well. She knows our staples and how much they cost where we do our shopping, and then she scouts out the prices of our staples on her next trip to Costco.

She’ll leave sweet notes for me on the counter, with afterthoughts of, “Agave nectar is $6.50 at Costco!”

I know she’s not talking about our 12-oz squeeze bottle ($7 at Fred Meyer). She’s talking about a 30-something-oz JUG of our favorite sweetener for only 50 cents more than what we get.

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I was perfectly content to stick to “someday.” But Cheryl keeps making me hungry, transforming my passive desire into an anxious, gotta-have-it, get-me-that-membership, burning desire for Costco.

This is practical evangelism. The model Cheryl demonstrates to inspire me towards a Costco membership would be just as effective if she were telling me about Jesus.

This is What Religion Does

My husband is now without his laptop charger.

It’s tragic, but we’re making do. In the autopsy of the deceased charger cord, we discovered that he cause of death was that it had been wrapped tightly around itself (for convenient, space-saving storage) one time too many. The wiring within the rugger cord, once flexible and malleable, had conformed to its forced reshaping following repeated strain to the same spot—primarily around the base of where the cord emerged from the power supply.

After some gentle tsking, and with redoubled efforts to keep my eye open for anything similar that my electronics were falling prey to (wrapping my earbuds around my iTouch, winding the vacuum cord tightly around its neat spindle), I got to thinking deep about the entire situation.
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All of a sudden, the thought, “This is what religion does” popped into my head. Seizing the opportunity for potentially hours of internal dialogue, I took the bait and followed this thought down the rabbit hole of relevant allegorical anecdotes. All right, I’ll bite, I thought. How is this anything like what religion does?

I will explain—but first, some context.

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According to Dictionary.com, the simplest definition of the word  religion is “adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.”

In the revival culture we see happening in circles like Bethel and the Promise Church, religion is a bad word that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It’s not a pleasant note to the rest of society, either. Many scoff at the idea of religion in general, though many of those same people would attest to the value of embracing faith.

In this revival culture, religion is less of a synonym for Christianity or Islam or the denomination you prescribe to. It’s rather a label we like to stick on “The Box.”
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“The Box” is our paradigm. It’s our perspective. It’s the lens through which we see our world. We all have a Box—or are in the process of obliterating it through the renewing of our minds.

Romans 12:2 – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“The Box” is something that is formed by our experiences, our “normals” of childhood, our personalities, our friends, our churches, our favorite foods—you name it. It’s how we define ourselves. It’s how we protect ourselves from the world around us—and how we justify doing so.

Contrary to popular belief, we all have a “religion,” for religion is simply the prescription of everyday activities. It may have nothing to do with spirituality, and it may have everything to do with it. Most of us are religious about brushing our teeth at least twice a day, sleeping at least four hours a night, wearing clothes and shoes when we go outside, having our thermostats above a certain temperature…you could go on forever. But this is religion.
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Religion is comfortable.
It’s routine.
It’s trustworthy.
It’s safe.

And it’s harmless…or is it?

Because according to Holy Spirit, religion has the potential to destroy us from the inside out.

When my husband wound his laptop cord around the power supply time after time, he was simply following a routine he had established early on. Wrapping the cord in this fashion made it compact and lovely to look at, rather than a tangled mess. It made it easy to store and didn’t take up much space.

But over the two and a half years he’s had his laptop, this practice has slowly worn away at the inner workings of his charger cord—until at last, as of this past weekend, the connection between the power supply and the inner workings of the cord were severed completely.

All from the inside out.

All unseen.

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This is what religion does. It insulates us from thinking outside our box. It keeps us from thinking up creative solutions, encouraging us to instead follow the comfort of our routine.

On the outside, it’s very neat and tidy-looking, and there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong.

But internally, bit by bit, religion turns what once was flexible into hard-edged corners, wearing down the connection to our primary power source until eventually it is choked out completely.

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I’m not intending this for condemnation. I’m not targeting this at anyone. In fact, I would not be spending so much time entertaining this thought if it was not relevant to me personally.
Which should tell you that I struggle with this.
A lot.

And here’s what saves me from becoming discouraged about knowing that I have so much room to grow: knowing that, because of how God has designed us for community, if I am struggling with an issue, I likely am not the only one in my sphere of influence who needs encouragement in this area.

In short, you, precious reader, are my inspiration and my encouragement. To know that I have such a network of support, that I’m not just journaling to nobody but that I have readers who are fed and take away things of value from what I learn—is priceless, and such an honor.

But I digress.

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Jesus described spiritually religious people as tombs washed white.

Matthew 23:27 – For you are like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.

Note, He wasn’t talking to people who were living immoral lifestyles. He was talking to the people who claimed to know and represent God. The people who appeared to be upright and holy, but who were internally dead.

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The challenge I leave you with today is to think outside your box. Do you wrap your charger cord the same way every time you’re done using your laptop? What do you do when confronted with an uncomfortable situation—do you recluse, or do you embrace the opportunity for growth?

I’m not going to make up any scenario questions to get you thinking, “Is this me?” because I think this applies to all of us. We could all use a self-checkup on how we’re doing, to see if we’re holding ourselves back in any area by our comfort zones and our routines—our religion.