Wednesday, November 26, 2008

just GO

Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50)

How many times have I read this story of Jesus anointed by the sinful woman and wept? I could always relate to her, full of thanksgiving for His forgiveness and acceptance.

But this time, I looked at it afresh, and saw the word GO. And I heard the Father saying to me...

"Just GO--do not look back, analyze, wonder, fret, manage backwards---just go! For reasons you will never understand this side of eternity, I have moved you with My hand for such a time as this---out of there AND into here. You have learned, you have been obedient, but do NOT waste time looking back, indeed GO in peace. Go knowing that I am with you and them."

Thank You, Father. Help me to love You much by showing these, Your beloved in Newark, my love---indeed Your love through me.

"Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much." (Luke 7:44-47)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You're the God of this city

You're the God of this City
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You are

In the morning I leave suburbia and take a long and winding road to work. Through the park, golden leaves, geese on still waters, under bridges, with water fountains around the bend. And in the distance, there is the Cathedral Basilica towering above the homes. The worship music is a perfect sound track to my drive, until finally I find myself in the inner city of Newark.

Over 8 decades ago, my father was born in a house only steps from where I work. As a young adult, he worked there and later moved his business to East Orange. The house he grew up in was torn down to build a highway, and the business places left when the 1960's riots broke out. The wealthy who made their residence in the area quickly abandoned the place, moving further and further into the suburbs, leaving the poor behind.

I find myself now in the midst of that neighborhood, working shoulder to shoulder with people who make their homes where my parents worked so hard to escape. We talked about Thanksgiving today at work. The menu may be slightly different, but the concept is always the same. Thanksgiving is a time for food and family, no matter where you live, what color your skin, or where you make your home.

21 years ago, I left the corporation that was the largest maker of computers in the world. I left a job with great benefits, a great salary, and a great future. If you had told me in 1987 that I would not return to full time work for 21 years, to raise my children at home and to be a part time secretary in a church setting, I would have told you that you were crazy.

And today I find myself working full time for the largest homeless shelter in Newark. In Kingdom currency, it's quite a promotion, one that I am honored that the Lord has given me. Every morning I pray that He would enable me to serve well in the new corner of His vineyard where He has placed me.

Each day I am sure that greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

one small thing

They were planning a meeting today for the clients at our homeless shelter. (Read: clients=the homeless) The man in charge was having a hard time getting them to show up, so I volunteered to bring some baked goods, as an incentive. "You mean you'll pick up some donuts?" he asked. "Oh no," I replied. "I'll bake something myself."

This morning as I waited for the quick breads to finish baking, I read the account of Jesus, intending to just pass through the village of Nain. Instead, He found Himself in the middle of a funeral procession for a young man who was the only son of a widow. Scriptures tell us, "When the Lord saw her, His heart overflowed with compassion."

Jesus was able to raise the dead that day, and restored the young man to his mother. He did it because His heart overflowed with compassion.

Today, I could not give the clients all that was needed. I could not give these people a job or a home in the suburbs. I cannot heal their addictions or theirmphysical or emotional pain.

But I can still show the love of Christ by this one small thing. I baked them bread this morning. And hopefully in that, spread the love of Christ.

They praised God, saying... “God has visited his people today.” See Luke 7:11-17.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Be Still

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm

They had a party for me yesterday, after church.
There were flowers and gifts and food, notes of
appreciation, and two Terry Boch songs, written just for me!

Everything a girl could want.

And yet I want to sit and cry.

The new office is getting easier to manage. I feel the
presence and power of God in this place.
I feel His love for these new people I serve.
I don't smell the smells and recoil. Instead, I want
to step into the ball and swing.

The woman I prayed for Friday came in to see me today.
I felt her connection and her determination to hold
onto her program and our Father.

And yet I want to sit and cry.

I don't want it to be over, this part of my life!!
I need to let it go, and yet I so want to hold on.
The ocean is rising, the thunder roars.
There is no where to run, no where to hide.
It encompasses me, grabs my ankle and won't let go
as the water rises over my face.

I will soar with You above the storm
--Yes I know that
but I cannot feel that now.

Hold onto me, Father. I asked for this and
I know You are near. Help me burn the ships,
so the temptation to return will not
overwhelm me in the flood.

Father, You are King over the Flood

I know I only have to be still
and You will let it wash over me
and it will be ok.

Hold my hand, Beloved. Hold tight!

And I will be still
and know that You are God.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Today in the field

They are called clients. The people who live in the homeless shelter where I work. They are the poor, the mentally challenged, the addicted, the formerly incarcerated, or just down on their luck. In the course of my day, some come to visit me.

Today, the woman who came and sat in my chair wept quietly, the tears streaming down her face. The heroin has seduced her back into it's lair and she felt regret and trapped. I suggested that she talk to someone on staff who could help her, but she refused. Against orders from my boss, I asked if I could pray for her, she was willing, and so I did.

I continued to pray for her as I drove home, unable to shake the sight of her, the pain she felt. My problems shrunk in the shadow of hers.

And yet, later I thought about my own sin, how it has seduced me back into it's lair and how I feel regret and trapped. How am I different from her? Is her sin so big and mine so small? Is my sin less deadly, more appropriate somehow because I can still go home to my house and make dinner for my family and pretend better that things are ok?

Why is she a client and I am not?

In the church, we are all clients. We all have our sins, some more secret than others, but there none the less. I may be able to pretend that I am living the life, but the truth be told, I am just as needy as she.

Like her, I must confess, pray, get help to change. Every day.

Romans 3:22-24
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Christina's Sweet 16 Letter

Shuffling through stuff on my office PC, I found this letter I wrote to Christina on her 16th birthday. This December, she will be 20 already, but still it is sweet to remember life when she was 16, so, here's the letter:
Christmas Morning 2003
Dear Christina,
Sixteen years ago this morning I woke up in strange surroundings all alone. I was in a hospital not far from here. And that morning the nurses brought me a large red Christmas stocking, with an infant inside. She had on a tiny red Santa cap with a white pomp-pomp on the top; she had a head full of silky black hair and perfect little lips. And she was the best Christmas present ever.

We called her Christina.

My life had never been the same since. Although there were sacrifices to stay home with you, I never regretted a thing. I count all the things I could have been, could have done, could have had, as rubbish compared to the joy of being able to be home and raise you, care for you, love you and enjoy you. You have been a treasure and it has been a great privilege, a gift from God Himself, to be your mom.

But now, you are a young woman and the time has come for you to fly away like the beautiful butterfly you have morphed into. I am impressed by your great wisdom, your tenderhearted love for your sister and your friends, your faith. I am awed by how you care for yourself; how you can do things I can't do, like your running in track, your life guarding, your sweet way with small children, your fashion sense, your maturity shown in counseling your friends. The freedom that I give you, I do with confidence that you want to do the right things and that you have the strength of character to influence your friends to do the right things, instead of going along with what they want to do. It is with confidence that I watch you walk into your future because I am certain of your commitment to Christ, and that He has great plans for your life.

One thing to remember is the two-sided truth revealed to us in God's word:
  • "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) and
  • "...without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

When God is encouraging us to do something, we can trust Him to meet us at our point of weakness and help us overcome all the obstacles that come our way. As we obey Him, He is faithful to help us do what we cannot. Everyone is afraid at times, but no matter how you may feel on the inside; remember that courage is not about not feeling fear. It is about doing what you need to do in spite of the fear. Courage is not only important for men. Women need to be courageous too. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but take courage; be confident, certain and undaunted! For I have overcome the world! " (John 16:33)

On the other hand, we need to remember that all our strength comes from God, from "abiding in" Him through prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship and service. We need to love Him and follow Him in with boundless enthusiasm. As we need air and water and food, we need Him. As we need a map and directions when we are lost in the dark, we need Him. And the best part is, He is always there, just a prayer away. Jesus said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). He has always kept that promise for me.

Because you have always wanted to do the right thing, since you were very small, I have not had to punish you very much. Unfortunately, I have found in my life, wanting to do the right thing is not enough. Because we are breathing, we will continue in this life to do the wrong thing. And when we do the wrong things, the Holy Spirit convicts us. But don't feel bad when God is convicting you; it means He loves you. "My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you and don’t be discouraged when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes those He accepts as His children." (Hebrews 12:5-6) I know the Holy Spirit continues to convict you in your heart when you are doing the wrong thing. Don't ignore Him, embrace Him and ask for forgiveness. "If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of every wrong." (1 John 1:9) Our relationship with God, and with others, deepens as we practice the discipline of confession. It is a hard thing to do, but it is so worthwhile.

The other thing to remember is success in life cannot be measured by how much you have, own or do. "But godliness with contentment is great wealth. After all, we didn't bring anything with us when we came into this world, and we certainly can't carry anything with us when we die. So if you have enough food and clothing, let us be content." (1Timothy 6:6-7) Success is not about how many people know your name, or think you are great. Success is measured by making a difference in the lives of people. We cannot take any thing with us when we die, but we can take other people. Jesus said, "You know that in this world, kings are tyrants and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give My life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) I expect you to have great success in life. Don't let anyone tell you that there is any other way to succeed but God's way.

Christina, I love you. These next few years will be difficult for our relationship as we navigate the waters of your new independence and my taking a step back in managing your life. It is a dance we will need to learn together and we will be stepping on each other’s toes. It is a happy and exciting time, and a sad and scary time for us. But please know that I have confidence in you and in God who loves and cares for you.

The change that results from whole hearted devotion to Christ

The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. 1 Peter 3:1-4 MSG

It has been two years now since Al committed his life to Christ, and a good time to reflect on that, from my point of view. People ask me, how has Al changed? Now would be a good time to share how life is different now that he has crossed the line of faith.

First, I now urge, even more strongly, women who are yet unmarried to only commit to a man who is whole-heartedly devoted to Christ. I am amazed at the difference this has made in our life together.

I did not have to instruct or encourage Al to change. It happened by the exclusive and mighty power of the Spirit of Christ. He reads his Bible daily, listens to praise music, reads Christian books---his current interest is in the marriage relationship. He desires to be a godly husband and is pursuing that goal in a passionate way.

He prays with me. He cries with me. He gives me Godly counsel, he is much more patient to hear about my issues and shares his with me. He pursues me, makes sure we have enough quality time together. He leaves me notes, he reads to me, he calls me at work, he has given me gifts unlike before this time. He has become my best friend. He has become an even sweeter lover.

He will accept my rebuke of his sins (of course, I need to be gentle and respectful), and he thoughtfully considers my words. Even if sometimes emotions are too hot for an immediate positive response, he always comes back to me later. He says he’s SORRY and admits when he is wrong.

Two years later, I still am amazed at this blessing from God. I am awed by the power of the Spirit to transform and this has given me hope to pray for the most difficult issues.

I would also like to share, from my current perspective, what to do if you are still waiting for this transformation to happen in your husband. If I would give a word of advice, it would be this…

While you wait, pursue a holy life, devoted to Jesus.

It is not easy to do this as a woman married to a man who is uncommitted to God. But doing this will accomplish two things.

First, we can not impart what we do not have. As we are changed by the power of the Spirit, that change effects others, especially those in our household. The beauty of inner holiness is very attractive.

Second, as we wait, Jesus longs to strengthen us, console us, fulfill our every need, and be the husband to us we do not yet have. Do not allow the busy-ness of the world to pull you away from this. Draw near to Jesus by reading His Word, worship, prayer and fellowship with other believers. Cry out to Him when you are weary, let others lift you up in prayer, praise Him when you are impatient, go to His Word when you are confused. Jesus never disappoints.

Jesus is even more desirous of a commitment from your husband than you are. As you allow Jesus to change you, He can use you to draw your husband to Himself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Job in the Field

Psalm 37:3-5

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in Him and He will do this:

One of my oldest fears about being "called" by God was thinking He would ask me to be a nun, or worse yet, to be a missionary in Africa or something like that. I was so relieved when I heard Pastor Ed’s teaching on this subject, saying that God does not work that way. He works on our hearts over a period of time until His desire for us becomes our desire.

God has been working on me for quite a while, from several different directions. He had given me a passion to be more active in the community and outside of the church. He had allowed concerns about finances to arise in our family. This past spring, as our youngest daughter, Debbie, graduated high school and was accepted into Kean University, the concern over tuition began to overwhelm me and I sought God in prayer for a full-time position. My position at MCC has been part-time.

At the Leadership Summit in August of this year, I was so torn up by Bill Hybels last talk. "Relentless" was the title, about Mother Theresa and the passion God put in her heart to help the poor and sick in Calcutta. I remember feeling so sad because I wanted to continue to serve Christ, but knew I needed to find full time employment. I didn't want to join a secular company and was concerned on how I would adjust to that after being secluded in the church for so long.

However, when I was first offered an interview with Urban Renewal Corp, a non-profit homeless shelter in Newark, I didn't even want to go. As God and I discussed the matter in the car on the way there, He told me, "I am not going to make you do anything. You will have to WANT this."

When I met the man behind the place, he so impressed me as someone who was doing Christ's work, although he is a not a committed Christ-follower. He was a businessman who fell into this because of his big heart. He is serious about serving the homeless, his program is impressive and comprehensive.

On Wednesday of this week, I was offered a position as Executive Assistant to the CEO of Urban Renewal, and because they needed to fill the position immediately, I began work on Thursday. I will be working also at MCC next week, and then off hours with the MCC staff as long as it takes to assure a smooth transition.

How fitting that God is sending me also to the mission field, even if it is only a few miles south of my home! I will still be able to make it home for dinner. God is indeed merciful!

This is something that I have been prayerful and patient about and I am confident that I am following God. I am sure that He will also provide what is needed at MCC to fill the gap I am leaving, because He loves us and always provides for His people.

It has been an honor and a privilege and a joy to serve Christ at MCC and I expect to continue to do so, just no longer 9-5.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

He has filled our hearts with wonder

This past week has been tumultuous. As always, everything speeds up in September, but for us Ruglios, this is an extreme.

Currently, I work as a church secretary part time, and although I love my job and the people I work with, I have felt God has been leading me to change to full time employment.

Since May I have been working on writing and rewriting my resume, meeting with career counselors and employment agencies, emailing cover letters to potential employers, networking and asking for prayer. This week, I landed my first two interviews and it felt real enough to tell my Bible study group, the MOPS team and my boss of my leaving. All were so sweet, hating to see me go and wondering how life would go on at the church as I have been such a standard there for now 13 years.

My first interview on Thursday was amazing – a man who may be not be committed to Christ, as we would see it, yet doing Christ’s work, caring for the homeless in a warehouse in Newark with a vast comprehensive program. I was enthralled and encouraged.

I returned to church to work on Friday, pensive and sad and concerned for the people and the work still yet to be accomplished here at Montclair. As is my habit, I sat in the balcony Friday afternoon, finishing the Sunday service PowerPoint, listening to the worship team on CD. One of the songs was Made to Worship (Chris Tomlin), which was in the song list for this Sunday. Through the evening and the next day, it keep playing in my head, Pastor Jeff’s voice and the worship team singing to me over and over.

Today, I stood in the service and as Pastor Jeff began to sing the bridge of that song, I opened my eyes, and stopped worshipping to watch him as he sang it live. And as he did, I said to myself – It’s not him!

And I felt the Father say to me, “No, it is not him, it was never him, but it was Me all along, singing over you as you served Me. I only used his voice.” And I smiled.

How often we fall into the trap of thinking that the Spiritual Gift is attached to the person who ministers to you! Whether it is singing or preaching or even in the Gift of service, we forget - it is Him.

It is not me who served the Body of Christ here at Montclair. It was Christ all along, He only used my hands. And when I leave, He will still be here, using someone else’s hands. How sweet to know that it was never me, it was always Him.

All we are
And all we have
Is all a gift from God that we receive
Brought to life
We open up our eyes
To see the majesty and glory of the King

He has filled our hearts with wonder
So that we always remember

You and I were made to worship
You and I are called to love
You and I are forgiven and free
When you and I embrace surrender
When you and I choose to believe
Then you and I will see who we were meant to be

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Looking at photos of others’ family vacations, I thought about how it is impossible to capture on film the beauty and wonder of the beach. How can you transcribe to a photo the warmth of the water, the smell of the surf, the feel of the sand on your feet, different at every hour of the day? At mid-day, the sand is scalding hot at the top of the beach, and sweetly cold at the water’s edge. By evening time, the sand is refreshingly cool, almost a surprise as you slip off your sandals and slide your feet into it. Even the sounds shift: some days, barely a wave, as the water laps gentle onto the shore. Other times, when the surf is high due to a storm, many miles away, it crashes with a boom that echoes all the way to the beach house.

Mostly we walked, together and separately, rediscovering our relationship with each other and the Lord.

As I walked the beach and drank in the sights, sounds, smells and feels, I talked to Jesus. Often He answered me there. Mostly, He was patient and kind and listened as I unloaded my burdens at His feet, wept my frustrations, and sang with thankfulness over the blessings.

I walked the dog daily down our dusty, sandy street. I walked past the tiny homes, in perfectly spaced rows, close enough to the ground to peer in the windows and see the pictures and paneling, the TV sets and messy kitchen tables. I could hear the phones ring, the babies cry, smell the bacon and barbecue. I felt the breeze on my face, the heat of the sun on my arms, and the lumps of pebbles and indents of ditches in the road.

Al and I walked to the bay at Chadwick, stopping as we crossed over the bridge, watching the divers, the fish, the boats, the houses under construction, the fishermen, the birds. In the evening we would walk to Wawa, buy ice cream and carry it to the Chadwick beach boardwalk and eat it on a bench as we watched the moon rise. Other evenings we would walk to the bay side at Ocean Beach 2 and watch the sun set and the stars come out slowly as we sat on a bench looking out at the bay. As we sat, we talked and prayed and laughed and cried, hugged and giggled, and then returned, exhausted, read briefly before collapsing into bed, ending another day.

We enjoyed our grandson, our mornings at Sunday services, talks with neighbors, rides in the boat, especially when the boat got stuck on a grassy island in the middle of the bay, the wind rushing at us, trapping us in shallow water. That was exciting!

What I learned on My Summer Vacation

There was a quality of a study break to this vacation. I read a lot, attended a women’s Bible study and the Leadership Summit. Even saw some movies. I found something to be learned in everything I did. Here’s the summary
  1. It is important to take time to process hurts and deal with it, whether through prayer, journaling, or whatever it takes. Sharing with others is gossip; it is sin and leads to more pain. Sharing with God is prayer and leads to peace. “If I march though life pretending to smile while inside I bleed, I am dishonouring the relationship.” (Yancey, Prayer)
  2. While it is important to take action at times to resolve hurts, always show respect, especially to the men in my life. Because if I do not, I will only succeed in hurting them and not resolving the issue. I do not want to vent indiscriminately; it is not productive. The actions I do need to take always lead to peace and reconciliation, and include encouragement, mercy and kindness, checking my motives and attitudes before the Throne of the King.
  3. Submission is voluntary, a sign of controlling our power, like keeping a fire safe in a fire place. I found out that rowing in different directions gets us no where but tired. It is not so much as about trusting them, but trusting God Himself, who has put others in authority above me. Even Jesus chose to submit to earthly authorities, like His parents and religious and political leaders. He did more than just teach it. He did it. The Lord of Glory Himself will fight for me if I have faith and hold my peace.
  4. Interruptions are for God’s glory. We can find something in every interruption and trial to learn, to grow, or to bless, if we tune into God’s power.
  5. Free will is sacred. (Bruce Almighty, care of Steve McC) God Himself does not violate our free will, even when to do so would be in our best interests. He allows us to make our choices and mistakes and then accepts, forgives and heals us when it’s all over. Can we do less for our children?
  6. Ministry kills IT. (Leadership Summit, Craig Groeschel) “I discovered I had become a full-time pastor and a part-time follower of Christ.” Gulp! Everyone needs time to regroup. I took this seriously this summer, and our Father blessed and refreshed me.
  7. The gospel is a romance not a formula. (Don Miller) Seek to explain our relationship and not list the rules.
  8. Children are sacred. (Monsters Inc.) It is worthwhile to sacrifice everything for them.
  9. There comes a time to let them swim on their own. (Finding Nemo) Everyone needs to grow up sometime. It’s scary, dangerous, messy, inconvenient, emotionally wrenching, but you cannot postpone this step without destroying the relationship, or your child.
  10. Keep the baby, find a new guy. (Juno) The movie was cute but in the end, the end seemed too easy to be realistic. I think Christina made the better choice to keep the baby and ditch the guy. You can always find a new guy :)
  11. Bring it on, God!” (Leadership Summit, Catherine Rohr, Bill Hybels) Pray and then get out of the way. But be prepared for the waiting, have a relentless spirit that will outlast the opposition. Callings are holy, precious things.
  12. “Help, I am a leader trapped in a woman’s body...No mistake was made in heaven when God gave you a gift of leadership or teaching.” (Gifted to Lead, Nancy Beach)
  13. AND THE OTHER SIDE – “I love to think of our personal ‘callings’ as invitations to be part of something divine. When I am invited to a friend’s house for a party, I don’t go over and try to run things. I don’t plan dinner, set the table, invite the guests, clean up the part as the invitee, is simply to show up, go with the flow, and enjoy the festivities.” (He Speaks to Me, Priscilla Shirer)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

He's all we need

Come, let us sing a song
A song that reminds us we belong
To Jesus
He's all we need.

It is playing in my head, the song with Sandy Patti belting out the lyrics.

I'm reading Donald Millers' book, Searching For God Knows What, and he talks about how when sin entered Eden, and fellowship with God was broken, humanity began to search for self-meaning from other people. He talks about how people strive to tear each other down, and look for prestige to impress other people, with fancy cars, expensive houses, fashionable clothes, extraordinary accomplishments, good looks, and outstanding athletic abilities. We search for love from other people.

Well, Donald, you must have been reading my script too. I have made a career out of trying to make others happy. Beyond serving them to the glory of God, which is what I am supposed to be doing, I find myself getting depressed when I am not pleasing others, when I am not making them happy.

As if anything can make someone happy, but that is another story...

But as I wash dishes this morning, this song runs through my head and reminds me that Jesus is all we need. It doesn't matter if my daughter, my husband, my dear friend, my boss, or my mom are displeased with me today, or if they forget to call, or compliment me on my latest accomplishment.

Jesus is all I need.

And He loves me, He sees me, He has not forgotten me. You know, He wanted me to know He had not forgotten me so much, that He woke this woman up in a dream, had her call Patsy Clairmont, to tell her that, just for me. Well, ok, for you too!!

So, come, let us sing a song that reminds us that we belong to Jesus. He's all we need.

Monday, June 16, 2008

no go outside

My grandson Gio, soon to be age 2, is learning new words. One is his favorites is "go outside." The lad loves to go outside so much that he has figured out how to open the doors and climb down the stairs, so we are careful to lock the doors. The other day I discovered that the little bugger can now OPEN THE LOCK!

Sounds amazing, funny even but for us it is scary because we realize he can get outside, into the street really, without us even knowing. I made a big deal of stooping down to his level and saying, with all the seriousness I could muster, "Gio no go outside by yourself! Only go outside with mama or grandpa, or grandma, or aunt Debbie." As I kept repeating "no!" Mama Christina instructed me, "Mom, tell Gio it's dangerous to go outside. Don't tell him just no." And I wondered to myself, what does Gio understand about dangerous?

Today I pondered how this is like us when we sin. We are tall enough and able to "open the lock." God has given us free will and we can make our choices and we are able to do what we want. It occurred to me that it is not that God is angry with us, as much as He understands the danger that we face when we do not follow His truth. Like Gio, we cannot grasp the danger. Like us parents and grandparents, it is not like we want to stifle the fun, as much as we desire to protect and keep safe.

When we cannot not understand God's truth, we can still choose to trust and believe God and obey because we know He is a good and great God.

Or we can do what we like, and face the consequences.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

giving it a name

My friend Stephanie had an operation six weeks ago and complications have caused her great pain ever since. Finally this week she found a doctor who could give a name to her medical issue.

What power there is in being able to name something! Almost like you suddenly have power over it in some way. You know what you are fighting, what you are dealing with. You can talk about it with more confidence and intelligence.

You can accept it, deal with it, and move on.

My therapist gave me the coolest tool. It is called "The Feeling Wheel". And what it is simply, is a list of feeling words, arranged in such a way as to be able to pinpoint more exactly how one is feeling. Co-dependents, like me, have trouble identifying their feelings.

So I have been doing this.

Envy was the last one. Hard to name, because, well, it's a sin. But in the end, I know what to do with sin. Confess it, and then my Beloved offers me forgiveness.

Today's was a bunch of words: rejected, discouraged, inadequate, insignificant which also translates to scared. Not a fun group of feelings to look in the face. But when I did, when I named the feelings, confessed them to myself and to God, He gave me His power over them. I knew what I was fighting, what I was dealing with. I accepted it, dealt with it and moved on.

Moving on. That's what I want to be doing.

note: Find "The Feeling Wheel" online via

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

12 ordinary men

Matthew 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.

And who are these incredible men? Men who can heal and have powers even over principalities and powers?

Fishermen, tax collector, political activist? Just regular Joes, ordinary men.

They will be the first preachers of the gospel, and yet, their only training was to have watched the Master. Their only qualification was their willingness to go.

Beloved, send me! Must I stay home because You have created me a woman? Then why did you put this longing in my heart to more greatly serve You? Is there another qualification I must have? Why then did you send them, these 12 ordinary men, and yet, I cannot go?

Your ways are unsearchable, help me to trust them.

But this time, just this time, can you please send this ordinary woman?

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Testimony: A Love Story

My testimony, by Barbara Ruglio, presented at the Mothers Of PreSchoolers (MOPS) Spring Tea

When I began to think of sharing a story with you, my first task was to decide which one, because a woman of my age has many stories. I decided to tell you my love story. It is a story about a girl, some toads, her prince, and about how the story never ends there.

A lost girl

My favorite stories start when the heroine becomes of age, so I’ll start there too. I grew up in Belleville, not far from here, and attended Belleville High School and after that Montclair State College. Like all teens, I was searching for myself, and I found I had a talent for math, and for taking tests. Because of that, I graduated close to the top of my class in high school, Suma Cum Laude in college, with a BA degree in Math, a teaching certificate K-12, and a minor in computer science.

After student teaching, I decided that teaching was not for me. I wanted something much more glamorous, so I took a job at IBM as a computer programmer. In 1977, they were hiring like crazy. The office was filled with top-notch graduates, smart and ambitious, plus the current staff, men with gray at their temples, all in business suits, treating us new-hires, like equals. It was heady stuff. If you asked me what my goal in life was at that point, it was to be rich and famous, and as I looked around myself each day, I felt I had arrived. Relatively quickly, I moved up the ranks from team member to team leader, from project leader to manager.

My romantic life was not running as smoothly, however. I first fell in love in my sophomore year of high school with a junior I had met in an advanced math class. His name was Tony and he was an athlete, a gentleman and a scholar. Unlike some of the other boys in my classes, Tony had the good looks and charm that others had to wait to grow into. Eventually, my young heart was crushed by our breakup, his subsequent dating of other girls and his leaving town for college. Recently I talked to a mutual friend who told me that Tony had been married three times. God was indeed merciful to me.

I spent my college years exclusively involved with Stan, an ambitious young man who wanted to become a dentist like his father. Unfortunately, he also wanted a wife to stay home, cook, clean and iron his sheets, plus finance him thought dental school. He ridiculed my success, and was troubled by it because of his own academic insecurities. When I joined IBM, the light bulb went on, and I left him. But the damaged was done, and I spent the next two years not dating at all.

Enter the hero

A friend of mine was concerned that it had been two years since I had a date. Mostly she wanted to match me up with her cousin Al. Al and I had met previously 7 years ago, when we were both 17. At that time, we could not have been less interested in each other. But, 7 years later, I discovered that Al was one of those who had "grown into himself." We felt comfortable with each other immediately, and eventually fell in love and married in 1981.

My decision to marry Al was not something I did lightly. I had mistakenly attached myself to other men before and I was looking for a man of good character and someone who loved me for who I was. Al was all that. There were only two draw backs. One was, he worked nights, but I thought that would change as soon as he had the opportunity to work the day shift. The other was that he was unable to share with me on a deep emotional level. However, I thought that his other good qualities overshadowed that, and besides, isn’t that what girl friends are for?

Enter the real Hero

While my career and my marriage were settled by age 26, my spiritual journey was more complicated. It is difficult to pinpoint when Jesus and I started our relationship together. There are things I remember from childhood that when I recall them, I know now they were Jesus, trying to get my attention.

I grew up in a Catholic church, went to CCD, received my sacraments, and attended church. I had good experiences and bad experiences there, as most people do in any church environment. I was in awe of the nuns, in their black habits and large crosses on their chest and the wedding rings they wore. "We’re married to Jesus," they told us. Most of them seemed to have a spiritual depth and understanding that was beyond what other mere mortals had, but they were not able to explain it in a way I could understand. I remember desiring what they had, and yet, I did not. I wanted to live a "normal" life, with a husband and children, with a home and a car, like my mom and dad. They spoke of a "calling" and I wanted that, and was terrified of it, all at the same time.

When I turned 18, I left the church, but not God. We continued to have conversations, God and I, but I no longer thought it was necessary to follow the doctrine of the church I grew up in. However, being church-less left me spiritually ship-wrecked. Being connected with God, I found, is difficult to do on your own. By age 25, I was more open to getting re-connected to others. My friend Joan approached me and said she had been hosting a Bible-study in her apartment and invited me to come. Thus in 1980, I began to study the Bible in small groups.

In 1987, something extraordinary happened to me that affected all three of these aspects of my life: my career, my romance, and my spiritual journey. I became pregnant with my first child, Christina. Christina was due at Christmas time, and I had been attending a Catholic church in Montclair. As the season of Christmas drew near, and I grew swollen too, I felt a distinct affinity with Mary, the mother of Christ, in a way I never had before. The wonder of the new life, the fear of how I would care for her, the concern of how this child would affect my career and my marriage, was something I pondered as Mary did in scripture. Christina was born on Christmas Eve in 1987, and with that, I entered the mysterious world of motherhood, never to return to the other side.

I had taken a one year leave of absence from work, and at first, fully intended to return. Before Christina was born, I was still a woman who did not understand the great love a mother has for her child. After Christina was born, however, I remember looking at one particular day care center and leaving hugging my tiny baby to my chest and saying to her, "Never will I leave you in that place!" Of course, I didn’t give it much of a chance because, honestly, my heart’s desire was not to return to work. By summer, God had sealed the bargain for me. I got the news that my IBM department was moving to Connecticut (the joke was that IBM really stands for “I’ve Been Moved”). They were also downsizing, the first time ever for IBM. The package that year was the best of all the ones that followed, too good for a woman with a new baby to refuse: one year’s salary and two years of continued benefits.

In spite of that excellent package, leaving IBM was a great act of faith. In essence, we cut our income in half. I gave up my dream of being rich and famous, the business suits, expensive lunches, and business travel. I gave it up for poopy diapers, oatmeal faces, and being able to stroll my baby in the afternoons. Truthfully, many times I have looked back, but never with enough regret to make me want to return to where I was. Even now, knowing what I know and giving up what I did, I can tell you, it was worth it. Not for what it did for my daughters, that story is yet to be told. It was worth it for what it did for me.

What exactly He was proposing, and saying yes

All this time, I continued to attend Bible studies, but I was careful never to become "fanatical" about it, you know the way some people were, who just kind of lost their minds and their whole life began to revolve around religion. I thought that was silly and a dangerous thing, something that I, my family and friends ridiculed and avoided. Although I had continued to meet with friends and study the Bible, and I knew a lot more facts about God, I never became fanatical about it.

But that summer when Christina was a baby, I went to a Christian seminar with a friend from my current Bible study. The speaker read two Bible verses that I had never read before. It was Revelation 3:15-16 and it said, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." The speaker explained that this meant that Jesus does not want us to be half-hearted about Him, He wants us to be a fanatic. Suddenly I understood. It was not enough to believe the standard information about Jesus: that He was the Son of God; that He died and rose again, and lives forever in heaven. That belief had to be deep enough to make a difference in my life. Jesus wanted me to commit to Him totally.

The speaker said, "If you are unsure if you did make that commitment to Jesus, make today the day that you are sure." So that day, June 24, 1988, I drew a sign in my seminar notebook, and put the date inside. I prayed the prayer and committed my life to Jesus Christ. Later I realized that that day was Christina’s 6-month birthday. I would never forget that date and the commitment I made on that folding chair, praying with the man on the video tape. That day changed my whole life, just as getting married and having children did. It colored my world, and suddenly everything took on new meaning.

One of the things that had held me back from making that commitment to Jesus was I knew I would be entering into another mysterious world, and I would have to leave my husband, and my family and my friends back on the other side. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. But I finally realized that I had to make that commitment, even if it meant separating myself from those other people I so deeply loved.

Trying to explain

At first, I tried to tell them about Jesus, and my deeper faith. They did not understand. Some family members ridiculed me. Others just nodded. Al treated my desire for spiritual things as just another hobby, a better one than some of the other habits I had, especially staying out late with friends drinking at bars.

It is not that Al and my family were not Christian in their beliefs. They were. They believed, as I had, all the essential information: the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the virgin birth of Jesus, that He suffered, died and was buried, and rose again on the third day. It is just that this knowledge was not making any difference in their lives. They were not on a walk of faith. They did not have the intimate relationship with Jesus as I did.

I tried and tried to explain it. The response I continued to get was, "oh yeah? That’s nice for you. What else is on TV?" Finally frustrated, I gave up and just was quiet about what I did and what I believed. I felt like the nuns. I had moved into their world, and could no better explain what was different, or what had happened to me than they could.

When I started attending Montclair Community Church, my new friends here encouraged me to explain my faith again, especially to Al. They prayed for him, tried to get him to attend church social events, Bible studies and services. With each spiritual activity, I prayed fervently, "Please, Father, let this be the time!" But the Holy Spirit had His own timing, and it was not mine.

The Bible was clear on what I was to do. If Al was not interested in leaving me, which he wasn’t, I was to stay with him. My presence, even as the only one committed in this way to Jesus, sanctified my home, which is a fancy religious word, so let me explain. Because I was committed to Jesus, my family was set apart, like we put the fancy china in a different cabinet and use it only for holidays. We were like fine china to God, and He was able to work in our family, even though I was the only one committed in this way. I continued to pursue my faith, teach my daughters, bringing them to church without Al. I thank God that He led me to a church with people who never made me feel uncomfortable to attend without my husband, and always were exceptionally warm to him when they saw him.

Being myself, sharing myself

Eventually I stopped inviting Al to do "church things" with us. Instead, I devoted myself to my daughters and my work and ministry at church. I had joined the church staff as a part-time administrative assistant, led a Bible study and was involved in other activities. As I continued my faith journey, it seemed like I was leaving Al further and further behind, that we were becoming more and more disconnected. I think this is a problem for many parents as their children and work demand more and more of their time and energy.

Finally, I realized I needed to reconnect with Al, even though at first, I didn’t know how. He was still working nights and was still unable to share himself emotionally with me. But I realized that if I shared my faith walk with him, and my emotional struggles, even if he could not enter into the conversation himself as I would have liked, it was better than not trying at all. So I did this. I am not saying this is a magic formula to produce the results that happened for me. I am just telling it as part of my story.

I believe the real magic was in prayer: my prayers, the prayers of my daughters and dear friends. My friends continued to pray when I struggled and wanted to give up. I had always prayed for my husband’s safety, especially since he worked driving a truck at night. Eventually I began to pray the scary prayer: “Father God, do whatever you need to do to get Al’s attention!”

And God, in His faithfulness and mercy, got Al’s attention while still keeping him safe. One night, on his way back to the plant in his truck, he was hit broadside by a Mack truck, almost sliding into nearby gas lines. Although the impact alone could have killed him, he left the truck that night with a cut on one finger. Later Al told me what he was afraid to tell anyone else for fear they would think he was crazy: he felt an angel protected him that night. Al also told me that was a turning point in his faith.

Going deeper still

It was a year and a half later before I understood what really happened to Al that night. Meanwhile, although I had committed my life to Jesus, He continued to pursue me as a lover would, encouraging me to grow into a deeper and deeper relationship with Him. I began to better understand the nature of that relationship, and became better at explaining it, so let me try now with you.

When I was attending church as a child, or Bible study groups as an adult, it was like I was "dating" Jesus, like I had dated Al, and the others before him. I was checking Jesus out, making sure of His character, and that He really loved me for who I was. But finally, when I was ready (even though it took a really, really long time!), Jesus popped the question. Jesus didn’t want to "just date" me forever, He wanted to "marry" me. He wanted me to become His bride and for us to be together forever. Just like the symbolism of the nun’s ring, He wanted that with me. Me!

And as I explored this, I realized that Jesus didn’t even want my love for Al to surpass my love for Him. This is difficult to understand, and took me a very long time, but I finally got it, and here it is in a nutshell.

The greatest love we will ever experience, and the greatest love choice we will ever make is not about what career we will choose, or what man we will marry, or even if we choose to stay home with our children or not. Our greatest love, if we choose it, is to enter into a love relationship with Jesus. And He is there and available for all of us. We don’t have to be smart, or pretty, or young, or a good cook. Jesus wants us, He pursues us, and loves us just as we are.

I think this revelation was a turning point for me, that God wanted me to experience as well as all the turning points He orchestrated for Al. Just before our 25th wedding anniversary, I understood, and even wrote in my blog, that my love for Jesus had surpassed my devotion to Al, this man I so deeply loved, had two children with, and was married to for 25 years. Even if Al never changed, never shared my faith, Jesus was enough.

Watching him turn, watching him grow

For our 25th wedding anniversary, Al and I went to Pennsylvania, just to be alone and to celebrate. I was reading a Christian book entitled The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. As was my habit now, I read parts aloud to Al and we talked about spiritual things, and I restated, for what seemed like the millionth time, what it meant to commit your life to Jesus. And that night, October 10, 2006, the night before our 25th wedding anniversary, Al committed his life to Jesus too. Another date we’ll never forget.

Working in the church as I had been, I saw a lot of different families’ lives. I understood that there are no guarantees of a total transformation when a man makes a commitment to Christ. Still I wanted and prayed for Al to make a commitment for his own sake, even though I knew that it might not make a big difference in the quality of my married life.

I could not have been more mistaken. Al, who mostly read computer and car magazines, now not only reads the Bible daily, but also has been reading Christian relationship books. Now he reads them to me. I never prayed for Al to become emotionally deeper, although I wanted this desperately. I had under estimated how important this was in marriage. But God gave this to me too.

Al blossomed emotionally and now, he is my best and closest friend, in a way he could never be before. His commitment to Jesus changed everything, our marriage, his parenting, how he looks at his job, even our sex life. It has, as they say, "rocked our world."

This could be you

When I was asked to tell this story on Monday, I was not certain I would have enough time to do it justice. So as is my habit, I walked my dog and talked to Jesus. I wanted to make sure He wanted me to do this, because I needed His help in a major way. So I prayed and said to Him, "Jesus, if You are not in this, I do not want to do this, because without Your help, I just can’t."

And not to sound too mysterious, so hang in here with me, ok? I heard Jesus say to me "Do you really think if you did this, I would not be with you? Besides, this is not your story." Jesus said, "This is My story. I’ve just written it with your life."

Jesus longs to write His story into all of our lives. He wants to have a love story with you. But it must begin with you choosing Him. Jesus pursues us with a persistent and patient passion, but He never forces us.

I don’t know where you are this morning in your relationship with Jesus. If you are not "dating" Jesus yet, I hope my story has introduced you to Him. I hope it encourages you to start checking Him out. He really is a great God.

If you have already been introduced, and are "dating" Jesus, seeing if He has good character and if loves you just the way you are, I hope my story has assured you that He does.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Praise Report - Al's New Job

Here's an encouraging praise report from Al, written originally to friends who had prayed about his job transition. It is so good, I want to include it here...

I want to thank you both for your prayers about my new job, for we serve a BIG GOD. One that changes us from the inside out, in ways we don't understand. Please allow me to tell this little story, that happen last week, so I may honor God from my heart.

One night last week, at work, by chance, I spoke to a man named Joe and asked how he was doing. I could see his heart was heavy. He started to say that this job was getting to him, that the job he does now is to serve others, and that was tearing him down and for the 25 years he been in the business, he has never felt so low. Joe was affected by the last round of cutbacks. He went from being in the first group out the door to being last out of the building, That meant that he had to load everyone else's truck, serving them, when before he was used to them loading his. He wanted to go back to being served as first route out the building.

Joe got me to think about that my old job, the one I loved doing in Wall Township, (even though there was Spiritual warfare going on) was like the new job that he hated. We both changed jobs, but I find that I have adapted, and Joe has not and seems to be getting more bitter. I know the difference is God in my life.

I know the first 5 weeks on this new job were very hard on me. I miss the men I worked with for 20 years. The emotional part of it was tough.

As an old time worker I didn't think I would be doing interstate driving again or after 35 years in the newspaper business, I didn't think I would feel like a rookie again, having to drive with the big rigs on the highway and not knowing the routine and the people I work with.

I clung to God like I was hugging Him, as the weeks passed, I was starting to adapt, I was starting to change, and the closeness to God was growing. Now God showed me that through this, to lean on Him for the strength I need each night. To drive with the 18 wheelers who fly by me at 80 + mph, New Yorkers who love to cut off truckers, and to work with 100 different men who I never worked with before.

My home life changed too. I was a person who was always watching the time, anxious not to be late for work, but now God has given me the patience and self control that is needed to enjoy the evening I have ( I leave for work at 9 pm )

There was a surprise that God had given Barb and I that was unforeseen. The joy of every married couple is to go bed ( sleep ) at night together. This is something that Barb and I only enjoy fully during our vacation until recently. As the weeks passed my time coming home got early to the point that we were in bed ( sleeping ) together for a brief time each early morning. God surely works things out and surprises us. What a gift he given us!!!!!!

All this to say, thank you for your prayers for me, for our family and praise God for his perfect plans for us.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

be the Body

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:1,27

What is church? This is a question I have been mulling over as we have studied Spiritual Gifts, and have been meeting to talk about a "next generation" ministry. An important question.

Pastor Mark has been talking about a new "next generation" church service, and what we want it to be...not just great music, but to encounter the presence of God...not just good teaching, to but to hear the voice of God...not just a chance to sit around with friend and eat free bagels and sip coffee, but to experience true fellowship of believers. And that's great. Love that. But is that it? Do we then go home to our own lives and come back next week?

A church is about not only salvation, but the process of sanctification. How do we facilitate that? Yes, there must be more.

It takes more than a teacher and a musician, even more than nursery workers and people with a hospitality gift. It takes a whole body. That is what Paul is talking about here.

People need to be shepherded. They need to be encouraged, they need to be shown mercy. They need hospitality during the week, as well as on Sunday. They need all the spiritual gifts. They need each other, because no one person, even a great pastor, can possibly be all we need. Until we all are called out and encouraged and empowered to become part of the church and its functioning body, we cannot fulfill our mission as Christ has given it to us.

Yes, we are all not yet fit for ministry. But is anyone ever really fit? I mean, really? We need to be educated, but we also need to be anointed. The anointing of the Spirit is not something we can read about and learn. It is a miraculous gift from the Spirit we cannot control.

We make the mistake of separating the ministry into the lay people and the "called."

I am sorry, but if you are saved, this is the deal....that was the call! All saints are called. We are not only called out of our sins, we are called to serve, and until we get that, our church body will be missing limbs, organs, important stuff.

It is not about Sunday, it's about every day. It's not about the leaders, it is about we all get to minister, to be part of a team. We all need to get out of our seats, stop being the audience and start finding our places.

The church is a body.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be?

20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Door: Open or Shut?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
--Matthew 7:7-8

Part of the codependent recovery is to accept that what is, is. That's a big struggle for me, Miss "Let's Do Something About This"

And to defend that somewhat, let's just say that the other extreme could be seen as a victim mentality, which I want to avoid at all costs! And also, as believers, we need to believe that all things are possible with God.

But somewhere along the line, sane people realize that they have come to the end of trying, and that it is, in essence, out of their control. Maybe not the end of praying, but certainly the end of trying.

And so, here I am. Not to give up praying though. Jesus directs us to ask, seek and knock... I have asked, and I did seek, but now I come to the knocking part. Knock and the door will be open.

Please open a door for me, Jesus! Show me the next step. Shed Your lights.

And yet, Father, what do I know? You ask us to wait patiently. Psalm 27:14 says, Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Like the church of Philadelphia, I ask for an open door, one from You, that no one can shut. And yet, Lord, I know You may wish that I say here and serve You in this place, and so I will.

I only desire not to miss what You have for me, and not to sin. If what is stirring inside of me is sin---kill it! Let me wait upon You for Your healing. However, if what You are stirring inside of me to be courageous and serve You some other way, please, You open the door. I have tried breaking them down and it only makes me weary. Let me lay it at the foot of the cross and trust You.

And You alone.

7"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-- Rev 3

Saturday, April 12, 2008

the enemy within

20 Do you see a man hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

22 An angry man stirs up strife,
And a furious man abounds in transgression.

23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.

25 The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.

26 Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the LORD.

Proverbs 29

Who is the enemy within? How can I know her? How can I combat her, avoid her, flee from her?

She is Haste. I rush to do things, say things, fix things. Haste is my enemy within. The hero is Patience, Restraint, Thoughtful Prayer and Study, reflecting on the ways and power of Christ who can work through me as I seek Him. He can even work without my actions, and only my prayers.

She is Anger. Righteous anger, selfish anger, it does not matter! When I feed it, it moves from mild to furious and shows no mercy. It trips up humility. Anger is a powerful feeling. It gives the owner of it power to control by force. Christ, in contrast, was angry but did not sin. He did get angry at sin, but never tried to control by His anger. Instead, He sought to woo by His love. God's Love ultimately has more power. There are those who refuse His love, and go their own way, but even then, they are let go.

She is Pride. Pride always trips up he individual who grasps with it. We know our power and position in Christ, and are confident in Him, yet we are mindful of our own state as weak frail dust. That is humility. In humility, there is honor, in pride, dishonor. Pride is a cheater. As we grasp at what we "deserve" Christ can not give us the gift, which must be presented to us for free.

She is Fear of man. She seeks approval from man, and favor from man, thinking the man can help her, but he cannot. He is powerless; he is unstable; he is untrustworthy. Christ alone is worthy of our trust. In Christ alone, we seek justice and approval. He is able and He loves us. He will not forget to answer our messages, forget to pick up the thing we need on the way. He will come through for us in better ways we can ever imagine. He will block our ways with hedges of love when we seek in others what we can only find in Him.

Take off the dirty rags of sin. Put on instead the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, that is patience, kindness, mercy, love, self control, humility and faith.

Even this, I cannot do alone Beloved. Thank You for helping me see. Please sit beside me, my Lover of my soul, and help me remove these dirty rags. Wash me with the water of Your word. Clothe me in Your righteousness alone. I long to be beautiful for You.

Beautiful for You alone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Stir up the gift!

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant...
1 Cor 12:1

It was an important thing to do, to devote these weeks to the study of spiritual gifts. They are important, not something that we should be ignorant about. Learning about them is not a struggle, especially with Pastor Ed's excellent materials. Being able to point out the manifestations of the Spirit's gifts in each other, that too is not a hard thing to do. But this week, we come to the end of the road, we take the "test" and find out, each of us, what gifts we have. Not that there is magic in this test, it is just a tool to point to a truth, something God has planted in each of us, long ago.

What remains is what Paul urges Timothy to do, in his last letter from prison. His final words, include this exhortation to his spiritual son,

... when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you... Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began...

2 Tim 1:5-9

Because of Timothy's genuine faith, he has received spiritual gifts, that God confirmed to Timothy by his brothers in Christ. They confirmed them and prayed for him, laying on of hands.

But using our gifts in ministry is a scary thing. Mostly because our gifts call us to do what we cannot do in ourselves, in our own capabilities and power. This favorite verse, 2 Tim 1:6, is not about having no fear to do whatever we would like, it is about the having the courage to use the gifts God has given to us, the courage to do His will, to choose His way, when to go our own way seems more sensible, more reasonable, more safe.

But through the power of the Spirit, we have the courage to choose His ways, the power to accomplish His will and the sound mind to know His righteousness is best.

Before the world began, He had planned to save us, and not ONLY save us, but to use us in His plan to save the world and to call the world to Himself. He has called us to be His witnesses, His hands to serve, His feet to go, His arms to hold, His voice to comfort, His ears to hear, His heart to love.

We are called to be Jesus with skin on. He has no plan B. Even though He knows better than we do ourselves, how broken and weak we are, He delights to use us. Us!

So stir up, girls, the gift of God which is in you! Identify it! Practice it! Train it! Use it! Delight Him! Delight your friends, family and neighbors with service that is divine! Delight yourselves as you see Christ in you, the hope of glory!

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good...
1 Cor 12:4

Sunday, April 06, 2008

You have covered me with Your Mercy

6 Praise be to the LORD,
for He has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to Him in song.
Psalm 28

Father, You have seen to it that I am covered by Your mercy, Your love. Protect me, Father, from myself, my own sinful desires, my own impatience, my own wayward will that wants it's way.

It is not the enemies that I need to be covered from, not the enemies from without, but the enemy within, who desires to have his way with me. Protect me from his lies, the temptations that I have fallen for before.

Stand next to me, Beloved, tall and strong and powerful. Cover me with Your love and tell him that I am Yours. With the shawl of love and the prayers of the saints, You have covered me. I reach up for Your hand. Lead me beside the quiet waters and remind me of Your love and the wonderful plans You have for me.

I know it was her hands that knitted it, but it is Your love I feel. Bless her for her diligence to do Your will. Bless Your holy name for speaking to her to do it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

on the third day He will restore us

... from Hosea 6:2

On Easter Sunday, Pastor Ed's message was titled, The God of the Third Day. I knew that a week ahead time, as he had been home resting restlessly and preparing his next sermon, so he had his title unusually early. On Friday, I had been doing PowerPoint for this message, complete with scriptures from through both testaments about the third day.

But Sunday morning, it hit me with a fresh and stirring revelation. Usually I am not one to be getting a prophesy, but it feels like it. Of course, I am never sure until it plays out, and I am just as doubtful as the next person in predicting future events. God seldom gives us such a glimpse. And yet this so stirred me, I am writing it here, safely hidden in plain sight in my blog. Perhaps God's purpose for this is just hope. More hope would be a good thing...

Three years ago, three Easters, to be exact, was our first service in the new building, in 2005. Hard to forget, because it was such as crush of work. The Good Friday service was in the old building, and many of us worked all day Saturday to ready the new sanctuary for it's first service, on Easter morning.

It was a stunning success. There was about 450 people in two services, and if numbers count, and they usually do, this was a phenomenon.

But the story continued, and as it sometimes does, it went downhill. From that great number, attendance declined, slightly at first, but it continued. Then Pastor Ed shared with us that he had Parkinson's. Then our youth pastor, PJoe, was put on the liver transplant list, for the third time. He entered surgery just before Christmas, and left in the arms of our Lord. Personally, the decline continued for me, as my oldest, precious, 18 year old daughter told me she was pregnant, then my Bible study co-leader told me she was to have a double mastectomy reconstruction for pre-breast cancer, followed by another beloved sister in Christ having cancer, followed by a crushing blow from other quarters.

Two years went by. The staff and the ministries limbed along. The numbers continued down, the financial situation worsened so much that the last two years, Pastor Ed sent a request for funds for year end.

But behind the scenes, there has been growth...great, solid, enthusiastic, gifted believers have been added to our midst. Finally, a youth pastor has been chosen.

Like the Palm Sunday entrance for Christ, it looked good at first and then the skies darkened and hope was beginning to die, for me at least. But this is our THIRD YEAR. And I believe in the miracle of the Third Day.

Beloved Jesus, please apply the principal to us this year!! Bestow on us Your power and mercy and wisdom this year, Beloved, that we may share it with our community, carry out Your plans, and further Your Kingdom. May Your Kingdom come!


Friday, February 29, 2008

Snakes and doves

16"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove...
21-23"When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived...
26-27"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.
28"Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
Matthew 10:16-28, The Message

Yeah, I want to sign up for this. This is not for sissies, not for a bunch of "girlie girls." This is not for those who desire to "make nice," who want people to like them, who are easily intimidated.

It is about truth and light and loving those people, as Christ would. It is about knowing when to pursue relentlessly in the face of huge obstacles, and when to retreat and shrug our shoulders. But never to back down. And certainly never to deny Him.

Easy to write as I sit here at my desk at church. But it is gut-wrenching to be standing in your mom's kitchen, eye to eye with her, and DOING it.

How to be like a snake and a dove? How to embrace the fine qualities of both: cunning wisdom, and also
inoffensive love? And at the same time to reject the bitter sting of the snake and the weakness of the dove?

The Message of Christ is truth, it is good news to save, but not all will recieve it. When we are rejected, it is easy to take it personally!! "I didn't do that right, at the right time, in the right way." Or, we say it is the other person, "I need to reject and give up on them, and never speak of Christ again to them because they are rejecting Him."

Maybe some of that is true. But God can use all our mistakes. He is a BIG God! We cannot mess up so bad that He cannot redeem it. And people may be rejecting His gospel today, but we should not limit the power of the Holy Spirit, Who can continue to repeat our words of truth and love to this person and make him more open to hear it again on another day.

So with the empowering of the Spirit, given to us when we embraced Christ as Lord and Savior, we have the shrewdness, the gentleness and the courage to do His work, always, with our head on His chest, hearing His heartbeat, with our hand in His, allowing Him to direct us.

It will be hard, messy, dirty, dangerous even.

But He is with us. Always. To the End.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

a love song

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Will you lie with me and just forget the world?

You have given me a new love and a new song.
I can lie in his arms and he reminds me to look to You alone.
You have saved me in a new and deeper way by saving him.
I can say like Elizabeth, "The Lord has done this for me. In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."

And I rise up and I find myself released. There is peace, Your peace. I see Your love for me in his eyes, his touch, his encouragement and I know for sure, Beloved, that not only is he pleased with me, but You are too.

As Mary said, so too, I can say...

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is His name.
His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things...

I will praise Your Name, and I will thank You and trust You, the Faithful Forever One, my God Hero, my Provider.

I will sing a love song. I will sing of my love for him, and we together will sing of our love for You.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The limits of a bad example

Samson said to them, "This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them." ... As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

Judges 15:3, 14-15

Today I was thinking about the limits of a bad example.

I mean, ok, so if we get angry, it is not a good idea to kill a bunch of people with the jawbone of an ass. But what are you supposed to do instead? That is the question!

The options of running away, ignoring the problem, gossiping with your friends, really aren’t the way to deal with it either.

And it is a real problem. We cannot control other people. People will do wrong. They will wound us, anger us, ignore us, etc. What do we do about such things?

Here is where I think the concepts of boundaries and hierarchical relationships help. Boundaries are needed in all areas, for example, You can’t do that in our house, in this office, if you are members of this church, if you attend this school, etc. We need to understand the limits, and then, if they are breached, to know who to go to fix the problem

Even in personal relationships, and even when those in the responsible positions do not solve the problem, then it is up to us to define and impose those boundaries, such as, you cannot say that to me, do that to me, treat me in this way, otherwise, we cannot have a relationship.

And then we need to have the strength to stand our ground, in the face of whining, guilt trips, manipulation and just plain strong-arming
. And still do all in love, always in a spirit that desires forgiveness and reconciliation. All that requires nothing less than a supernatural courage, patience and humility.

I don’t think we are expected to wake up the day after we received Christ as Savior and be ready to do this. It is just too hard, and we get messed up in our own past wounds. I think the best we can hope for is continued improvement and the contrition along the way. I think Christ is well pleased with that.

I still struggle with the pain from time to time, and the other day, I even thought, Does love always have to hurt or is it just me? But then the Lord spoke to my heart. Remember, My child, you live in a fallen world, and humans are fallen people. Their love is not what I intended it to be. You can strive to follow My Son, but you will still have struggles. Let My love alone be sufficient for you, because it will never fail you.

--from Every Heart Restored