Keep Me Close

I’ve been studying in Psalm 61 this week. It is one of David’s prayers, and it provides a very important key to his relationship with God.

• lead me to the rock that is higher than I

• my refuge

• a strong tower against the foe

• to dwell in your tent forever

• shelter of your wings

• enthroned in God’s presence forever

When we pray, we tend to ask for things. They can be good and vital (God, deliver us from this pandemic!), but they should not be our only prayers.

We can learn much from David, whom God called the apple of His eye, and we can learn much from this prayer. There was one thing David wanted above all else.

Essentially, he was asking, “God, keep me close to you.”

My God, I want that too!

Celebrating Jesus while praying!

Tammy C

Be Careful What You Pray For

I read a book in December, a seemingly simple Christmas novel, that convicted me as much as anything ever has outside the Bible. In it, a woman experiences being ignored in her public agony, and it changes her forever.

Without going into the book’s details, let me just say that everything centers around a few words she writes, a prayer. I have it on my wall, and I’ve prayed it many times since finishing the book.

Give me eyes to see what isn’t shown,

Ears to hear what isn’t said,

Hands to do what You want,

And the courage to not walk away.

This prayer has helped me as I’ve tried to be more sensitive to those around me in the past few weeks. I’ve never been the most observant person, taking the pictures people present at face value most of the time, but I’m trying to really watch and listen, especially for that still, small voice.

And then, today, I was tested. I was in the fast food drive through and saw a man who had fallen and was trying to get up. I didn’t want to get out of line and go help him, hoped the line would hurry and I could just swing back by after getting my food to make sure he’d managed it. After all, I was a woman, and alone, and…

Hey, I’m just being transparent here. The first time I heard God whisper, “and the courage to not walk away,” I ignored Him. (Yes! I know!) I kept my eyes on the man through hearing those words yet again – as the line didn’t move an inch. And then, after watching him almost get up only to fall back down, I got out of line.

I knew going in that he was most likely drunk. I knew when he spoke that he surely was. Still, I kept hearing “and the courage to not walk away.” I called another man over and together we helped him stand. I picked up his dropped bag to hand it over and knew exactly what I was smelling on his breath.

We got him up and helped him brace himself. The other man left after getting assurances that he didn’t want us to call 911. I stayed, because I knew it wasn’t over.

I didn’t do any great thing. I let him talk. I listened. I prayed for him. I didn’t offer to buy him a meal or take him anywhere. I just… I just acknowledged his humanity and the fact that even if you’re homeless you are worthy of being treated as a human being.

I got back in my car, went to order (no line-imagine that) and headed home nearly in tears, shame-filled tears. Only weeks ago, I’d have just prayed a quick, “Send him help” prayer and then shut my ears in case I was the help God wanted to send. Even today, I almost didn’t have the courage to not walk away.

And that knowledge hurts.

I’m going to keep praying that prayer, asking God to help me become more like Him. I hope that if I pass by you and you are hurting I have the courage to stop and at least listen. If I fail, please forgive me, and pray with me that I do have the courage next time.

I am being careful what I pray for, because it’s what I want.

The novel is A Cinderella Christmas, by Amanda Tru

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

Revisiting the Furnace

Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?

The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while. 

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?

But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”

I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…

They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.

Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed. 

What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there. 

We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”

Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.

As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually. 

Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”

Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life.  I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames. 

Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.

And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.

So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be  an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

He is I AM

Jesus said to His disciples, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58)

I’m sure you’ve heard someone, at some point, refer to a Scripture as having leapt off the page while they were reading. This is one of those verses for me. There I was, reading along, when suddenly I SAW Jesus say, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

I’ve heard this verse used to support Jesus’ divinity, as it hearkens back to God’s declaration to Moses, but the revelation I gained in that moment was entirely different.

Picture me sitting there, stunned expression on my face, realizing that He’s saying “I AM before Abraham,” that even though He was standing there talking to them He was also, at the same time, before Abraham was born!

The revelation hit me in a moment, but it took my brain weeks to process it. Throughout my days, I kept going back to the thought the way you keep returning to a pot that’s simmering on the stove. I even pulled out my concordance and sought out similar times when God made such references to Himself.

You see, I’d always heard it taught that God was saying, “I am _________ (insert your need in the blank,” meaning He is whatever you need.
I am your Savior.
I am your deliverer.
I am your healer.
I am your provider.

This is all true, and lines up with the very names of God. The challenge is that Scripture isn’t two-dimensional. You can look at it one way today and see that it means one thing, and realize tomorrow that it means that and much more. The challenge is to keep from getting locked into only one view.

As I meditated on Jesus’ declaration, God lifted another verse from the page. “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) It was as if He were writing me a personal message.

Be still and know that I AM
~God

It’s a fact: Time is meaningless to God. Yes, we find it hard to comprehend this truth, because it’s almost everything to us, but I’m convinced that its only use to God is that it helps us keep our own lives in order. Well, perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but you get my point.

Through the weeks, I slowly gained an understanding that GOD IS, that even as God IS with me as I type this, He IS also with Moses in the desert and Adam in the garden. At first, it was almost like a mental exercise. I’d been given a new piece of information and was slowly grasping what it meant, what its significance would be in my life. Like watching the sun slowly creep up over mountains, I knew something was coming. And I was actively watching for it.

And then the day dawned.

We’d been dealing with CPS (Child Protective Services). The report was completely bogus but, like everyone else who has ever been accused, we had been doing our part to prove wrong the accusations made against us. On “that” day, I walked out my front door, heading to the mailbox, and I suddenly GOT IT. Even as I took those steps, I prayed something along the lines of, “Daddy, you’re in all times at once, so I ask that you do whatever you have to do three days ago for there to be a letter in the mailbox today saying, ‘We’re so sorry. We’ve found nothing wrong. We’re dropping the whole thing.’”

The letter was there. It didn’t say, “We’re so sorry,” but I really didn’t care. That was the day my prayer life radically changed, the day I realized that what I call retroactive prayers are a thing.

Have you ever received a prayer request at noon for a surgery that was taking place at seven, and felt terrible because the surgery was surely over and all you could pray for was a swift healing? But you can still pray in such situations! God, who is with you when you get the request, is – at that same moment – with the person before they go into surgery, in surgery, and as they come out. Truly, since God isn’t bound by time, there’s almost no such thing as “too late” for Him. (Almost. There are definite spots in Scripture where God declares to man that time is up.) I mean that literally.

We’ve heard it said that when a man is dead he’s dead, that you might as well stop praying for him. As a Protestant who doesn’t believe in Purgatory, I understand where that teaching comes from, but I don’t entirely agree. Not anymore.

The fact is that the same God who is with me now is – even now – with a specific young lady I’m thinking of who died in a car wreck, and He is capable of reaching out to her in those last few moments and saving her soul. Yes, I asked Him to as I learned about her. It is true that, even at the end, she might have resisted Him, but I still have the ability, the right, to ask Him to try. He told me so Himself.

Be still and know that I AM.
~God

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

“I can tell you he’s not brain dead.”

No one wants to hear the words “brain dead” in relation to anyone they know. No one wants to think about the implications. Not wanting something doesn’t keep it from happening.

On Sunday evening, April 30th, my husband inhaled his dinner and nothing I tried helped. The EMTs got there quickly, and shortly after they got him into the ambulance the food obstructed his airway completely and he went into cardiac arrest.

I learned this after I arrived at the hospital, where I was told that the EMT’s had been doing CPR on him when he arrived, and they had his heart beating again within two to three minutes after getting him into the ER. They’d also removed the obstruction and intubated him. I’m ignorant – was ignorant – enough about such matters that I didn’t realize what wasn’t being said until two hours later.

Mind you, I got people praying right away!

Roughly two hours later, the Intinsivist called me aside and explained the situation. For a young man in good health, you have about 2 minutes of oxygen loss to the brain before you have to worry about brain damage. For a man Jack’s age, and with his medical history, you have 11-12 seconds. They’d been working on him for somewhere between two and six minutes. Also, Jack had yet to regain consciousness, his pupils were dilated, and they were only sluggishly responding to light.

In other words, the doctor wasn’t telling me Jack might have brain damage. He was telling he would have brain damage; it was only a matter of how much. This was when he told me, “I can tell you he’s not brain dead. We have seen signs of brain activity.”

I can’t even begin to explain what I felt at that point. I went to see him as they prepared to chill his body to alleviate the damage as much as possible. They were prepping for other things as well, so I got ready for a move to the ICU waiting room.

Again, prayer warriors were lifting him up. Also, I had some strong support in the room with me, which was good since it was 12:30 AM before we heard anything else.

At that point, another doctor came and got my sister and me. He asked if I knew what all they’d planned to do and I gave him the list, ending with, “and…put him on ice.” (I still can’t remember what they called it.)

“Yes,” he responded, nodding. “On that, there’s been a change of plan. We’ve had him sedated, of course, because of the intubation, but a little while ago he awoke on his own. He’s groggy, but responding to our commands. We won’t be instituting ________ protocols.”

I HAD to clarify. “You’re saying you see no reason to think there’s brain damage.”

“Right,” he agreed as he opened the door.

His ICU nurse told me repeatedly, “You have no idea how lucky he is!” Jack was one of three of the five choking patients they’d had recently who had lived. The two they lost died because of the very lack of oxygen Jack experienced. But…

By 4:00 the next afternoon, he had been moved to a regular room. Two days later, he was transported to rehab. Seven days after that, I took him home. Yesterday, on May 17, the man they expected to either die or come out of this a vegetable walked into church.

But. God.

May 20 EDIT/ADDITION

We saw his primary care today. I’d texted him immediately after my first meeting with the nurse. 

He looked at Jack and said, “What I did not tell your wife is that, when I got that first text, I knew you were gone.”

And again I say…

But. God. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

The Next Show Starts In…

You walk in the door carrying your take-out coffee and get offended when you’re told you’ll have to leave it outside. You let your cell phone ring repeatedly. You let your child wander around. When you can tell it’s getting close to the end you start gathering your stuff together, and right before the official end you walk out the door.

It’s all pretty standard behavior in a movie theater, but I’m talking about church. I’ve seen all of this through the years, and much more, and it sickens me that we’ve reached a place culturally where such behavior is acceptable (by some) even in God’s house.

People leaving during the altar call is the worst. There are souls hanging in the balance. If we really are Christians we should be praying for those around us. Unfortunately too many seem to think they’re in a theater and the altar call is like the credits: Let’s leave now to beat the rush.

Celebrating Jesus anyway!

Tammy C

The Art of Listening

I know what it is to hear God’s voice; we’ve had that kind of relationship for decades. Even so, since I began working with a new prayer journal last December, my relationship with Him and my experience with hearing His voice have been revolutionized.

This journal has a section specifically set aside for listening to Him. Every day, when I come to that section, I literally shut up and take dictation. That first day it felt slightly awkward, but it wasn’t long before I was sitting there in awe, writing as fast as I could while trying to process what He was saying. The experience was, and still is, AMAZING.

It’s not possible to entirely “get” what He’s saying as He speaks it, of course, so I then go back and read what I’ve written and talk to Him about what He’s said. He has opened my eyes to astounding things this way, and in letting Him talk freely (instead of me interrupting Him) I find that we get on topics I’d never have dreamed of. He tells me things that blow my mind, give me instruction, encourage me…

One advantage of this method is that I have what He’s said written down and can go back to refer to it at any time I wish…or any time He tells me to. This morning was one of those times, and while reading I came across one section I wanted to share with you. He was talking about the close relationship I have with Him where, among other things, He tells me secrets just like a best friend would.

This is what life should have been all along, the relationship I desire with everyone. You are no more special than anyone else. You have merely developed the art of listening and learned to trust your ability to hear.

 

Trusting myself to hear has been a big deal – meaning a big challenge. God and I have conversations throughout the day, and sometimes when I ask Him questions His answers surprise me. At those points, I’ll pause and ask, “Was that You or was that me?” I can almost hear Him chuckle as He answers, “That was Me.” So my faith in my own ability to hear has been growing.

But still, the first key to the truly tight relationship we should all desire to have with God (or anyone else) is in the first part of that last sentence. Develop the art of listening.

I have desired this type of relationship for most of my life. Who’d have thought that it would start with something so simple as me learning how to shut up and listen?

Well… you probably figured it out a long time ago. Sometimes I can be a bit slow.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C