Sometimes we’re a garden hose, sometimes a kitchen sponge

The apostle Paul didn’t start out to be scripture writer. Or a Roman prisoner. Or a shipwreck survivor. Or a fugitive.

He didn’t intend to be anything but good at his job, using his life-long religious training. And he was good at his job – very good. Certain he was following God’s will, Paul became good at stomping out this new Way, this rebellious faction threatening the stability of his way of life.

Even though Paul’s way of life was not ideal, having to live under captivity and rule by a foreign, godless Roman king, it was relatively peaceful. A “Pharisee of the Pharisees,” well educated and trained by the renowned Gamaliel, Paul was at or near the top of his chosen profession. Influential. Powerful.

But then… on the road to Damascus… things changed. Over the next few years Paul went from being a Pharisee to a follower of Jesus, then an evangelist sharing his personal testimony, a teacher expounding Christ in all the scriptures, a pastor shepherding his growing flock through perilous times, to an apostle traveling the civilized world establishing a chain of churches as he went.

How did he fulfill all those roles, moving from place to place, from his own culture, society, and nation throughout the rest of his life? He described that assignment as “being all things to all men” in order to win some of them to Christ. (I Cor. 9:22)

Paul could relate to the Jews as a Jew, because he was a Jew. And he could relate to the Romans as a Roman, because he was a Roman citizen. No matter the people, place or circumstances, Paul found a way to get the message of the Kingdom across. At various times and in various places, he served as the Holy Spirit’s

Conduit / Sponge / Radiator / Magnet / Thermostat / Fire-starter

And probably many other things.

GardenHoseHow do you transmit God’s intentions to somebody else? His desire (intention, wishes, will) to interact with them, by way of you?

I used to pray to be his conduit (visualizing a garden hose), a pipeline for him to transmit through. Or perhaps an electrical cord, plugged into Him as my power source.

Conveying his interest, his passion and compassion to people by way of words, prayers, lessons to a class, touches, simple conversations, emails, blog articles, meals if they’re sick, money if they need it, books to read, answers to questions, references to needed materials, smiles, encouragement, hugs – you name it – he finds a way to do it.

Whenever I meet someone on purpose or by accident, I pray, Lord, help me to help them. Then whatever comes to mind or just seems appropriate, that’s what I do.

spongeSometimes I change that prayer to Lord, make me your sponge, because sometimes I’m the one in need. My own sinuses are clogged, my ankle hurts or my back itches. Every cell in my body needs his healing touch.

Maybe my mood has taken a nosedive, something has gone wrong with my finances, or my family, or my car – and I need the Lord to fill me up before I can help somebody else.

So I ask him to fill my mind, my spirit, my soul, my body, my very self with his presence. And then ask him to “squeeze me out” like his kitchen sponge, when I come across someone else who needs his presence, wherever they may be.

Occasionally I need to be his radiator, radiating out from me his interest, grace, love, compassion and power when I’m not in a position to actually say or do anything in particular. Like when driving down the road and I see someone walking or riding a bicycle, or another driver who the Lord indicates is a bit needy today – I just let the Holy Spirit pray through me whatever it is he knows they need right this moment.

It may be while walking down a grocery store aisle. I’ll see somebody at a distance that I do not know, another shopper or a clerk. I can’t know what their life is like, whether they know the Lord as their savior or not. But I can let him radiate his love and kindness through me by way of a smile or a friendly “hello,” just a simple gesture. He will take it from there.

Lately I’ve discovered that the Lord can make us a magnet, too. Sometimes I’m in a meeting at church, sometimes in a mall store – and for some reason unknown to me, a person I don’t know begins to gravitate in my direction.

I’ll smile and say Hello, How are you, and generally they will say a few sentences. When we go our separate ways, I’ll say, Have a blessed day and they will thank me – having no idea that little interaction was God’s doing. I’ll continue praying for them for a little while, until the Lord seems to say, Okay, that did it.

Occasionally that happens with someone I know. One church friend made a bee-line to me before the service started recently. “I just had to come hug you. I always feel better when I hug you,” she said. It wasn’t a thank-you for anything, I think she just felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and wanted to be near it.

ThermostatYears ago I realized that believers could be thermostats and not just thermometers. When the atmosphere at home or work seemed tense, agitated, frustrated, or just “off” in some way, I discovered my own attitude could make a difference.

Instead of entering into the disorder, I could add peace to the situation by my demeanor, a silent prayer, or quietness. It didn’t completely solve problems all by itself, but it did make positive changes in the way those problems were approached.

FirestarterAlong the way, from time to time the Lord also uses people to be fire-starters. He does something through them, their words, their prayers, their commands or their touch, something so supernatural that a fire is ignited in the souls and spirits of desperate or doubting people.

People need to know that God actually does exist, Jesus is for real, and he loves them. He will use the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to do that, perhaps a miraculous instantaneous answer to prayer, something so undeniably supernatural that it can only be explained by God’s intervention.

See What Paul Did While Weak https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/what-paul-did-while-weak/.

Just reading through the gospels and the book of Acts, it’s obvious that Father God has a multifaceted delivery system. Now as then, no two people are alike, no two cultures are alike, no two eras are alike. Whatever will convey his heart and his message, that’s what he uses.

Sometimes we’re his garden hose, sometimes his kitchen sponge.

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The Art of Teaching

bible-jesus-disciples1-1024x576Observe. Do. Show and tell.

Or tell and show…

“Teaching teachers how to teach,” is what I called it, The Art of Teaching class I once taught in the 1980s.

Students ranged in age from 18 to 20-something. In this small Bible college, the class contained about twenty students with only a couple of them women. All came with the essential life-changing experience of being born again. Most came believing themselves called to ministry whether as pastor, missionary, Sunday School teacher, or secular worker with a spiritual mindset. Some came seeking direction, unsure of what came next for them.

Learning lots of things, students found some subjects fascinating, some dull. Theology. Hermeneutics. Bible history. Faith. Grace vs Law. Hope. The Gospel. The Trinity. The Holy Spirit. And then this class.

My goal was to impart strategies and methods of teaching, basic practical ways to connect with people of all ages, ways to relate and communicate the gospel from a pulpit, a kindergarten or a factory floor.

Methods ranged from incorporating flannel-graphs to handouts to overhead projectors to skits to field work. Non-verbal communication was a big hit. “She was a pretty girl.” Try that with emphasis on separate words, or eye movement, or grimace, or pauses, or changes of inflection.

Prepare yourself, not your sermon, I told them. Pray. Ask the Lord what he wants to say. Study, make an outline, pray again. Choose scripture passages, illustrations, personal examples, pray more.

Get the message in your heart and not just on your paper. By your final outline, you’ll know it so well you may not need the outline. Then open your mouth and let the Holy Spirit fill it.

One class assignment was to imagine yourself as a Bible-time object, then write a first-person narrative describing a day in the “life” of that object. For those less than creatively imaginative, I offered a list of suggestions: A plank of wood in the town Jesus grew up in. A brick in the floor of a synagogue. A sycamore tree along the streets of Jericho.

The papers were remarkable. Several were humorous, others serious, a few poignant and heart-felt. Many were works of art. How well the students conveyed their story told me, unlike any exam could ever do, how successfully I had reached my goal.

Our essential text for the course was the gospels, our prime example Jesus the Teacher. Raised in the small town of Nazareth just up the hill from a busy trade route, the Great Trunk Road section of Via Maris, (see http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/nazareth.html) he learned a trade that took him out into the community, getting to know people. Making friends, and possible future disciples… (see https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/strangers/)

By the time he began his ministry, Jesus was a master at connecting and communicating with people from every walk of life. Well versed in the scriptures, he offered synagogue teachings on the Sabbath. On week days he preached sermons on every imaginable subject to crowds on mountain sides. Everywhere he went, he demonstrated with signs and miracles the truth of what he said — the kingdom of God is at hand.

His messages to followers while walking back and forth from Galilee to Jerusalem were filled with illustrations from the landscape, even when accompanying the disciples on touristy tours around the temple. Dinner tables opened conversations with wealthy tax collectors.

He could discuss weather signs with farmers or religious doctrine with Pharisees, even give work advice to Roman soldiers. Fishing boats or temple grounds, any and all locales provided appropriate lessons. Jesus didn’t pass up any opportunity.

And neither should we, was my point. Observe. take note and take notes. Study what Jesus did and see how he did it, then do what Jesus did. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Talk with people. Relate, communicate and minister. Prepare your heart and you’ll do it well.

Scriptures to browse:

The Holy Spirit will teach you and remind you – John 14:26
Teaching others to teach also – II Tim. 2:2
The farmer must be first partaker of his fruit – II Tim. 2:6
You can’t give what you don’t have – Acts 3:6

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit – and us –

The other day I was lying down, not watching television or reading a book, just thinking about various things, and asked myself a question. Why am I here?

Meaning, why am I doing volunteer work, writing for a missions organization. Why am I writing blogs. Why am I writing, period. And the larger question not articulated – why am I still here on earth, not in heaven.

I wasn’t really praying so I didn’t expect the Lord to answer that question. But he surprised me. He instantly answered, as is his usual style when I pray. “Because it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to me.”

That sounded like a Bible verse so I dragged out my Strong’s Concordance, laying it on the bed. I found the reference, turned to it in the Bible I keep on the night stand and read the passage. It’s from Acts 15:28, part of a letter the apostles wrote to Gentile believers.

I laid the Bible on my dresser, still open to that page, then lay back down and let that phrase roll around in my mind, not asking any more questions, just thinking.

Part of that phrase seemed odd to me: “to the Holy Spirit and us.” And us? As if US had any choice in the matter?

The Holy Spirit began to expound on his choice of an answer to my question.

We all have a choice in the matter. We can refuse any of Father God’s requests. Any of his offers. Any of his assignments. Many people do.

We’re not robots, despite some theology about God’s sovereignty. Of course, if we think he will just give up and go away, we’re badly mistaken. He’s very persuasive and very persistent. He won’t give up easy.

He’d like us to go his way without all the messy complications we tend to create for ourselves. If we continually decline, however, he will eventually let us go our own way. We’ll suffer the consequences – not punishment, just consequences. I did, for a while.

I remember the day he told me, “You’ll be a teacher.” It was a simple statement of fact made in a clear, quiet voice. I was in the first grade, sitting in a McKenzie School classroom at the time. I didn’t give him any argument or request any explanation, just took it as one person passing along a bit of information to another.

Of course, I was only 6 years old at the time – what did I know? I’d probably heard wrong, I thought in later years when I was preparing to become a nuclear physicist. Making all A’s on advanced math and science classes in junior high and high school, becoming a teacher was the last thing on my mind.

Entering college with the highest math score they’d ever had, my career path was set, I thought. Then I fell in love, got married and dropped out of college. Horrified everyone I knew, all my family who’d had such high hopes for me. I took a job as a secretary, teaching myself to type from a book.

To digress…

When I was barely old enough to hold a pencil I started writing. Meditations. Stories. Poetry. Letters. Greeting cards. I made excellent grades in English composition. Later on I wrote articles on Bible subjects, two of which were published in a national magazine.

In the late 1970’s I began writing Esther’s Petition, a print newsletter of Bible studies that was circulated to a few hundred people. It didn’t last long, postage was too expensive. But I read, studied, learned, made notes and outlines for my own use in teaching Bible college and Sunday School courses. Note that word, “teaching.”

I had become a teacher. Not of math, not of science, not even of English or literature, and not with a college degree. A teacher of the Bible. The detour had been a little circuitous from first grade days, but the Holy Spirit had been right all along. I could almost feel his amusement the day it dawned on me, as I recalled that first grade statement of fact.

Then one day… clearly and just as determinedly, the Holy Spirit spoke again as if he was standing right by my shoulder. “Write.”

Now, editing for other writers, businessmen and women, had become part of my secular occupation in the 1980’s, but writing anything for others to read had been put on a back burner.

I was busy, taking care of Tim and our business, being involved with politics and other things. I ignored the suggestion. But as though he was following me around, staying right behind my shoulder, every now and then he whispered that one little word, “write.” Not too loud, not too annoying, just persistent.

After several months of stubbornness, I gave in. I started writing again. “Family Memories” newspaper columns. Secular novels and short stories online, personal history articles for myself and a few relatives. After Tim died I began a blog about him. And I started Esther’s Petition again, blog entries instead of paper newsletters this time.

Recently I’ve started another blog, Speaking of Heaven. I have no idea who will read that one; we’ll see. It’s very different…

So why am I here? To write, I guess. Because it seems good to the Holy Spirit, and to me. Patient and persistent, at least he hasn’t written me off as a lost cause yet.

What is Truth?

(From the Esther’s Petition archives.)

Disciple – that’s who an often misquoted, quoted out of context and misused scripture verse really applies to. Jesus said (John 8:31-32) “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

You won’t know the truth if you aren’t his disciples. You won’t learn it, acquire it, or discover it, except by holding to his teaching. Only when you are his disciple, holding to his teaching, will you know the truth. Only when you are his disciple will you know the truth and that truth will then set (make in the KJV) you free.

Hmmm. Disciple, what is that, exactly? To me it’s one who follows/obeys the leading, instruction, example, principles, teaching of his master. Holding to it. Clasping, owning, adhering, sticking to it.

Truth? There’s a word with weighty, explosive, controversial definitions sometimes. What is truth? People ask. Pilate asked (John 18:38). Don’t we all want to know? Jesus said there was a way to know the truth, just hold to his teachings and thus be his disciple. We’ll know it, recognize it, experience it, be able to define it and enjoy it, once we’ve gotten to that point.

And then the truth we know at that point will make us free. No other way will we know the – not a, not some, not a kind of, but the – truth. No other way will we be made free.

Free, now there’s another interesting word…