“That’s Just Who I Am”

If it’s true that the Holy Spirit is molding me into a new person, one who reflects the character of Christ, it makes no sense to say, “That’s just who I am,” when someone confronts me with one of my character flaws or with a habit of mine that offends them.

If my Father is conforming me to the image of His Firstborn, then my job is to submit all of myself to that process. That’s pretty comprehensive. It means that all my personal characteristics, traits, habits of speech are vulnerable, right? They are all up for grabs for the sake of becoming more like Him.

That said, there are probably many aspects of personality with little or no connection to character: things like my favorite color or the way my laugh bursts out like cannon fire. I don’t think our Father worries about those things, except to appreciate them. On the other hand, He’s obviously concerned with aspects of personality that reflect the character of our hearts. As a Father, I think He’s glad to see aspects of my personality that reflect the character of Jesus. When He sees the opposite, I’m in an area that the Holy Spirit is, or soon will be dealing with–an area where my Father knows I need to grow. Like when He sees my impatience with others, hears me swear when I’m tired, winces at my intellectual arrogance.

The process of Him raising us like this may seem scary. Like we don’t get to continue to be who we are. And in a way, it’s true. We don’t. The key is trusting the One who’s in charge of the process.

We’re growing up in His kingdom like children grow up in their parents’ homes. For children in that process, some of their innate characteristics can stay and some have to go. And the judge of what needs to stay and what needs to go is not the child.

So if tomorrow the Creator of the universe says, “Pam, honey, let’s not let those kinds of unwholesome words out of your mouth, ok?” What am I going to do? Am I going to imitate a five-year-old, and plant my feet, put my hands on my hips, pout at Him and say, “That’s just who I am”?

Angry Girl

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the first born among many brethren…. (Romans 8).

Dripping Wet

rain-raindrops-rainy-110874When I was little, I remember thinking that I could run out in the rain and not get wet. I thought I could look up, track each raindrop as it fell, and dodge out of the way of each of them. I really thought that. I thought I could zig-zag: left, right, left, left, right–like a soldier through enemy fire–and not get hit.

The problem is I still think like that in some ways. I think I can pick up whatever book, watch whatever movie, play whatever video game, and nothing bad about them will rub off on me. In other words, here I am in my sixties and I find myself still thinking that I can run out into a rainstorm and not get wet.

I believe the Apostle Paul is talking about this kind of thing when he says, “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). The “bad company” part is clear enough, even though we may not really believe it in practice. But why does Paul first say, “Do not be deceived?”

I think because we are deceived, constantly. We’re deceived into thinking that we’re grown-up and bullet-proof and nothing bad is going to rub off on us no matter what kind of company we keep. No matter what TV shows we watch, no matter what novels we read (my failing), no matter what video games we play. In our ignorance we assume that we can easily maintain our own, better, higher, individual point-of-view regardless of the electronic, literary, imaginary, and/or physical company we keep.

Did you ever have a friend in school who drifted away from you and started hanging out with a new group of people? Did you notice how your friend started picking up the way that group talked? Started using their slang? Started using their gestures?  I think the reason why is that human beings are half sponge. We absorb what’s around us without trying, without even being aware of it, and it changes us. We become like the company we keep. No matter the medium in which we hang out with our new friends. No matter how old we are.

I don’t think there’s any way around this. It’s human nature. So what do we do? I think we need to admit that we’re still little kids in some ways and submit ourselves to the same kinds of safeguards that little kids need, like older-brother Paul said. Make sure we play where it’s safe: on the playground prepared for us, instead of out in the street. Listen to Daddy’s warnings about who to play with. Let Him introduce us to good friends in every medium. Don’t sneak behind His back to watch that scary, nasty stuff on TV. Don’t play electronically at doing things He’s forbidden us to do in reality. That kind of thing.

Sounds boring and ridiculous for adults, doesn’t it? But really, when it comes to this kind of thing, I don’t know many adults. I know for sure that I’m not one. I’m dripping wet.

John 15: Around This Table

reclining last supperJesus and His apostles are reclining around a common table. This is the last time they’ll share a meal like this, and Jesus knows it. He knows that Judas is going to sell him out. In fact, at the moment I’m thinking of, Judas has already left to do that.

Jesus knows what’s coming for Him later tonight. When He looks around the table, He knows what’s coming for His friends, too. He knows what they’re going to suffer for His sake in the next few hours, in the next few days, in all their years to come. Knowing all that, what will He say to them in the little time that’s left around this table?

In professional sports, team nutricionists carefully calculate the specific nutrients that will give each individual athlete his or her maximum strength and endurance for the upcoming game. They take into account the athlete’s current condition. Is she recovering from an injury? Is he exhausted? They also take into account the conditions expected for the game. Will the weather be especially cold? Especially hot? All of that goes into prescribing the exact food and drink that will give the athlete the best nutritional base possible for the physical challenges of game day.

I suspect Jesus has thought along those lines as He looks around this table. What are the most important things His friends need to know in order to face their coming challenge? What do they need to hear in this moment, and what can wait? Jesus knows. There’s no question that He knows. What does Peter need to understand right now in order to sustain him? Thomas? John?  This is their Creator and their Good Shepherd. He knows them in and out and loves them through and through. He knows exactly what spiritual food to serve them here and now. It will be exactly what they need to sustain them through the challenges to come. It will have all the spiritual nutrients that they need to keep fighting the good fight.

Furthermore, Jesus knows that He’s not just talking to those present at this moment, but to every one who will gather around His table in the centuries to come. He knows He’s not just talking to His apostles. He knows He’s talking to us today, too. He knows how many generations of His lambs will sustain their life in Him with what He is about to say around this table. And I sincerely believe He knows something more. He knows not just how many lambs will feed on these words, but who. I mean He sat at that table and looked down the corridors of time and saw exactly who would dine with Him in their time, and knew each of His future followers by name, all the way down to you reading John 15 at breakfast this morning.

So Jesus looks around this table. What do all of us most need to hear from Him right now? Right now, as His hour approaches? He knows. So it’s out of His deep love and infinite understanding that He speaks:

“I am the vine, you are the branches….”

Straight Lines

urbanrainIt’s really hard to draw straight lines freehand. I can’t do it. I start out ok, but then, pretty soon, my pencil starts to rise or fall, or both. All my freehand lines wind up being curves. That’s why I need a ruler. Rulers are for making your lines truly straight.

The only thing is, it’s not that easy to learn how to follow a ruler. It can take a child quite a while to get the hang of it. It’s more than just simple drawing now. You can’t just put pencil to paper and take off. Now it’s a matter of drawing and leaning at the same time. You’ve got to lean your pencil back against the ruler AND draw it forward across the page all at once. The point of the pencil’s got to stay in constant contact with the ruler–constant contact all the way across the page.

It’s not easy. It’s not what comes naturally. Curves are what come naturally. If you want a straight line, though, there’s just no other choice. Rulers are the source of straightness. Only a ruler can make your lines truly straight.

Conclusion? The only way to draw a straight line is to use a ruler. It will take awhile to get the hang of it. Later, even after you learn how, you may suddenly find your lines wobbling again. You may suddenly find them suffering from too much rushing forward and not enough leaning. You may have to go back to square one, but it’s worth it. Keep learning to lean on the ruler. The results are beautiful, perfect, a wonder of good teamwork.

Clearly, I’m the pencil and You’re the ruler, Jesus. My lines are a disaster without You.

Re-entry

It’s been a tough re-entry this time. I was only gone from Lima for two months, but time crawled for me while I was away. Not because I missed everyone here, although I did, but because I was so busy. Our Father has created a special bond between me and the Vineyard family that adopted me in Antwerp when I was sick. He has knit our hearts together, creating a deep friendship fast–a friendship that seems to leap over language and cultural barriers. (“Jesus Culture,” like the folks at Bethel realized, transcends everything else.)

I was only in Antwerp for a month, but we dove into learning Sozo ministry together, then dove into putting it into practice. We met most days of the week for most of the month. It was mind boggling to see Jesus coming close to heal His Belgian children, just like I’ve seen Him do time after time with His Peruvian children. Meanwhile, out in the world, there were tanks and armed soldiers on the streets and police and army units had closed the borders between Belgium and France while they searched for the Paris attackers.

Vineyard Antwerp, Ik hou van je. Ik mis je. It was hard to say good-bye.

After Antwerp, rural Texas. From five-hundred-year-old cobbled streets to “Hook ‘Em Horns!” My sister and brother-in-law had just bought an RV and parked it under the pine trees. A back-up for the natural disasters that central Texas is prone to. (They’ve had to evacuate their home twice in the last five years.) So I got to break in the RV, staying in it over Christmas. It has a built-in stove and microwave, and they bought me a little coffee maker. It was a sweet American haven: fresh coffee and birdsong in the mornings, dogs and cats to play with, football on the TV. Laughing over shared likes and dislikes with my sister. We could be twins.

Now Lima. From forty degrees in Texas to ninety here. That’s been hard this time. No AC here. All day the sun cooks the brick houses and all night they, in turn, cook you in a brick oven. Hard to sleep. What’s been the hardest to deal with, though, has been returning to find that we seem to be backing away from the intense ministry and miracles of last year. It was an amazing year. Jesus was healing people and delivering them and filling them with the Holy Spirit. It was glorious. There were moments in His presence, in healing and deliverance and worship, when I said to myself, this is what it was like in the first century!

But it was messy, too. We didn’t know how to administer things very well. We didn’t do very good follow-up or take care of ourselves very well. It was all new. We obviously had a lot to learn. Now I worry that we might not have the will to keep learning. I pray that we do. I realize, writing this, that I need to discipline myself to pray about this until it changes. I need to cry out to You, Jesus, to give us the courage to fight the good fight together. Finding last year’s advancing army unsure and static has made the heat hotter and the long nights longer. I see that this has to be part of the counter-attack.

We need to go back to war. Please pray for us.

The Unseen Realm

I’ve been reading a lot and talking to people, trying to better understand what we’re up against in deliverance ministry in Peru. It wasn’t something we set out to practice. We just had the same experience as most do: when we started routinely asking Jesus to lead prayer for healing, pretty soon we ran into cases where He seemed to indicate that the cause wasn’t physical. When we took ministry in that direction in response, we found out that He was right. (There were are also occasions when we ran into out-and-out manifestations. What a shock that was the first time it happened!)

As far as the talking to people goes, I’m in New York right now, and today my hosts–Fr. Joseph and Melanie Chiccarello–are taking me to meet a local pastor with a lot of experience in that area. We set up the meeting yesterday, and overnight the pastor sent me an email that includes the website address of a missionary friend of his who lived and worked in Argentina and Paraguay for several years. I may get a chance to talk to the friend, too.

As far as the reading goes, of course I’m reading some of our most experienced elders in this ministry: Derek Prince, Francis MacNutt, Peter Horrobin. I’m also trying to understand a little more about spiritual beings in general and thus am into a book called the Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser. That book has been mind boggling.

The Invitation Stands

John 15: 15–“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

The Lord has brought up the theme of friendship with Him at two turning points in my life. The first time was when my grandmother died in 1976. The second time was in Belgium last year. I was still reeling from the cancer diagnosis and from whirlwind surgery when the worship leaders at the Antwerp Vineyard decided to sing John Mark McMillan’s “Future/Past” every Sunday for a month.

Every Sunday for a month, which is to say, I couldn’t get away from it, even though I wanted to. I really couldn’t tell you why I wanted to get away from it, only that I felt so overwhelmed, like please don’t ask me to one more thing. Didn’t matter how I felt. They just kept on singing the song. The pre-chorus goes like this:
“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend.”

Jesus chased me for a month with this: “In the midst of everything that’s happening to you, be My friend.” I finally went so far as to at least start thinking about it. Ok. What would it mean to be His friend? I started thinking about how often Jesus encourages those listening to Him to talk to Him:
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7: 7).
“Pray in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…’” (Matthew 6: 9).
“If you ask the Father for anything in My name He will give it to you…(John 16: 23).
And I thought about how Peter and Paul echo that:
“Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you…” (1 Peter 5:7).
“Be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known…” (Philippians 4:6)

Clearly, talking to Him was one of the keys to being His friend. Pretty obvious. Friends are people we confide in. We don’t keep anything important from them because we trust them. We tell them everything. It struck me that during the last supper Jesus told the twelve that He had done that with them. He had told them everything. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” He said. He had told them everything, like friends do.

That phrase started sticking in my mind: “Tell Him everything.” I went to my go-to guide to prayer, Richard J. Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, and read the first chapter, called “Simple Prayer.” Here’s Foster’s definition of simple prayer:

In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health. In a very real sense we are the focus of Simple Prayer. Our needs, our wants, our concerns dominate our prayer experience…. Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. (Foster, Richard J., 2009-10-13. Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart’s True Home, pp. 9-10. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

The Holy Spirit kept insisting, and somewhere in the middle of chemo, I finally broke down and put Foster’s advice into practice. I started sitting down, Kleenex and a notebook at hand, and started pouring my heart out to my Father. It didn’t matter if I was often barely coherent. (Incoherence is to no barrier to God’s understanding. There aren’t any barriers at all for Him, actually.) And the wonderful news is that it worked. Telling Him everything does result in friendship, because He responds. Because it leads to dialog. Dialog with God.

It’s still the hardest thing in the entire world for me to do on any given day, because it’s the key, and all kinds of enemies, including my own pride, don’t want me to turn that key. Nevertheless, I do. And on any given day, telling the Father everything is also the most wonderful, most blessed, most fruitful activity in the whole world. “Pour out your heart before Him,” David says (Psalm 62). It leads to friendship.

“All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in the fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be your friend
You ask me to be your friend”

Northern Light

I’m living in western Europe for awhile. It came as a surprise to me, but not, clearly, to my Father. (More about that later.) It’s the farthest north I’ve ever lived.

We’re at fifty-one degrees north latitude here in northern Belgium, the same latitude as, for example, Hudson Bay. Moscow is only four degrees farther north, as is Novosibirsk, Siberia. It’s July, but if a cold front drops down from the North Sea, the temperature can drop from 85 to 55 overnight.. At fifty-one degrees north latitude, you get brisk autumn days in the middle of July.

But the biggest difference is the light. The sun acts differently this far north. It seems to be traveling across the sky in a normal, middle-latitude manner until it starts to dip toward the horizon. At that point, the whole process of setting first slows down and then stops.

It’s like the sun’s playing peek-a-boo with the horizon. At about 8pm, it dips below it, but it doesn’t really set. Instead it lingers just out of sight, delivering a long, slow twilight that lasts until after 10pm. Two, two-and-a-half hours of twilight. It’s not truly dark until after 11.

I guess I thought vaguely that Europeans were somehow genetically or culturally disposed to be great artists. Now I think it could just be this light–these rich, low slung rays that flow through everything like honey, turning a stand of trees into a shimmering green screen with gold seeping through it.

And God said, “Let there be northern light.” And there was northern light.

Can’t Sleep

Can’t sleep. You could be anywhere in the world, and it’s all the same. Can’t sleep is can’t sleep. You could be sitting staring at a bamboo screen in China or a lace curtain in Belgium. Doesn’t matter. You’re not seeing anything anyway. You’re staring at nothing and nothing is the same everywhere.

Did You bring me half way around the world to be wheezing so hard I can’t sleep? Thoughts like that. Not worth the neurons they’re printed on. I know it. I know I can’t pay any attention to what I think after about 10pm, even on a normal night. On a night like this? Fa’ gedda ‘bout it.

Still, You seem so little offended by the question that an answer appears. It comes to mind how deeply my friend and I talked about You this afternoon and how refreshed she was, here in the European desert. Was is worth this whole trip and these sleepless nights?

Yes.

Now I’m thinking about recording this wheezing on my iPhone. It’s symphonic. It’s not just the regular whistles and squeaks. There’s a sub-bass rumble, high creaks, crackles, and a gurgling, backed-up-sink sound effect. It’s the stupidest thing in the world to lie awake listening to.

It’s definitely better than yesterday, though. It was so hard to breathe last night, I couldn’t lie down without gagging. That scared me. You had to reassure me–and I swear I heard a patient, fatherly smile in it–that I wasn’t going to die of bronchitis in Belgium. But I was scared and I asked You over and over again to heal me. In the last hours of the night, I sat hunched on the edge of the bed whispering, from the depths of my heart, “Son of David, don’t pass me by. Son of David, don’t pass me by.”

And You didn’t. “Wait for the dawn,” is what I heard. I knew You meant, “Healing is coming. Wait for it. I’m coming. Wait for Me.” And I did. And the dawn came and I watched it grow and, sure enough, I lay back down and fell asleep to it. And when I woke up, I knew You’d been there. I could feel the difference. Recovery had set in. It hasn’t reached all the wheezes yet, but it will. You’ve been here. I’ll sleep again.

The Kitten Chronicles: Elf

So. It was a Peruvian afternoon in April of last year. Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Warm and still sunny in Lima but not hot. I was buying something at the tienda (store) that Olinda, our landlady, runs on the first floor of our building. She was counting my change out into my hand when she looked over my shoulder and said, “Allá, Mira, Pamela. Tu gatito,” which is to say, “Look. There’s your kitten, Pam.”

I turned and looked and there was a little kitten, maybe the size of a man’s fist, mewing and toddling away from us down the street. I hesitated, the usual thought detaining me: I can’t take care of a cat!. Then some movement further down the street caught my eye and I looked. One of our neighborhood pit bulls was headed straight for the kitten, eyes on an afternoon snack.

Nope. No way. Not on my watch. So I trotted over and scooped up the kitten.

babyhand2 And, of course, as soon as I picked her up there was no more question about it. I had a cat. She was white with rust-colored patches, which is why Olinda called her my cat (I’m also white with rust-colored patches.) She was dirty and covered with fleas. I took her straight to the local vet, two streets down the hill. The vet cleaned her off with a combination of warm water and flea killer. I bought food right there, took the kitten home, fed her, built her a cozy bed.

She ate and slept, ate and slept for two days, then started exploring her new home. I named her Elf because she looked like one. The young lady who’s house sitting for me in Lima is taking care of Elf until I get home. She’ll be a year old soon. I miss her.

favorite spot