Monday, September 12, 2011

Grace for the Ungrateful

Luke 17:11-19 (The Message) says:

"It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

Taking a good look at them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."

=They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus' feet, so grateful. He couldn't thank him enough -- and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, "Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?" Then he said to him, "Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you."

I was listening to a sermon on my Iphone this morning by Tullian Tchividjian, who is the grandson of Billy Graham and who pastors the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The sermon series is called "Pictures of Grace" and I was listening to the second sermon.

He points out that the most surprising thing about this story is that Jesus healed them all KNOWING that only one of them was going to say thank you. I was very convicted by what he said next.

He commented that all of us are more than willing to do nice things for people who we know will appreciate it and who will remember to say thank you. But we are reluctant to serve the ungrateful, especially those we know are not going to express any thanks at all for what we do.

It hit me how un-Christlike and ungracious I am in this area. For some reason when we adopted a bunch of kids we convinced ourselves that somehow they should be and would be grateful for what we had done for them. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. In fact the kids were the opposite of grateful -- they had a sense of entitlement and were rude and disrespectful. And so years ago I began to resent doing things for those who would not say thank you.

So it's time for me to re-frame my thinking. Identifying with Jesus in this aspect of his suffering might just be what it will take for me to move beyond myself and to recognize that grace is not fair and it is not about me.

When I fully understand grace and how undeserving I am of all that God has done for me, it should move me to extend grace to others, regardless of whether or not they will respond with gratitude or express their thanks.

I am challenging myself -- and you -- to make a point to do something nice for someone who you know won't let you know that the appreciate it. Think of one of the most ungrateful people you know and then make a point to extend grace to them, regardless of the results.

I am so glad that God doesn't choose to bless me only on the days that He knows I will remember to say thank you....

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Weaker I get the Stronger I Become.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 in the message says:

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it's all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size -- abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

All of us have something -- in this post I refer to it as a Chair. It is something hard that God has given us. Paul refers to it as a handicap above.

But what amazing words Paul has about those things... he basically is saying that we need to embrace and appreciate hardship as a GIFT. Wow is that counter to all that we as humans want to do! We want to hate it. We want to complain about it. We tend to get bitter and resentful and critical because God has given us this hard thing (or sometimes, because we have unknowingly chosen it).

What an amazing concept -- the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

To me it is a mystery. One I think about in tears today. But I'm finding it to be true in my life and it is such a profound blessing.

The weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Hope Has No Data

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:24-26

This morning before church I wrote in my adoption blog about how I was feeling a sense of hope about the coming school year. If you have followed my blogs you'll know why we have reason for disappointment -- there have been many times in the past where I have had hope that ends up not turning out so well.

So I went to church with this sense of a possibility of hope for our next year and sat down and began, as the service continued, to feel that same sense of hope in regards to our next year as a church as well.

And then my husband's voice chimed into my head. "Where's your data?"

For the past 15 years I have been telling him, "It's bound to get better." And yet it hasn't. In fact, most times it has gotten worse. And so he has began to ask me when I begin to express hope and anticipation about good possibilities ahead, "Where is your data?"

This morning I felt myself asking God that question and this is the response I kept getting over and over again. "Hope that is seen is no hope at all." Obviously this verse had been one I had memorized once a long time ago and God used it to help me realize something. Hope has no data.

It takes me back to this passage in Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Maybe I've been through those stages long enough to realize that I have a hope that is not going to disappoint me. Sure, things may not turn out the way I had planned, but this hope -- this hope that is not seen -- is NOT going to disappoint.

I'm thankful that God had a response for me today.... I don't need data. I just need hope in the One who has promised to never disappoint....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

What's My Focus?

"So they called the two apostles back in and told them that they must never, for any reason, teach anything about the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered, 'Do you think God wants us to obey you or to obey him? We cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard.'" Acts 4:18-20 CEV

In finishing up Joni's book "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God'Sovereignty", I was very challenged by a paragraph where she quotes Dave Powlison, who at the time of the writing of the book was battling cancer but able to face the challenges of the disease while keeping an emotional balance. He tells Joni his secret, and she quotes him in the book.

Joni, I have learned that for every one sentence you say to others about your cancer, say ten sentences about your God, your hope, and what He is teaching you, and the small blessings of each day. For every hour you spend researching or discussing your cancer, spend ten hours researching and discussing and serving your Lord. Relate all you are learning about cancer back to Him and His purpose, and you won't become obsessed (with fears and doubts).

Wow. While I don't have physical disabilities, I do have a "chair" like I talked about yesterday. I am parenting difficult children who have mental illnesses, developmental delays, and emotional and behavioral disorders. Some have organic brain damage due to prenatal exposure to alcohol. And so the challenge to me came across very clearly:

For every one sentence, particularly the negative ones, that I say about parenting my kids, I need to say ten sentences about my God, my hope, and what He is teaching me and the small blessings of each day. And while I don't research my children's issues as much as I used to, the rest can apply as well.

One of the things that I have noticed about people who get together for "support" for any hard thing, is that the support group meetings can get negative. But what if we were to practice this rule?

So today, I'm asking you -- when it comes to your "chair", that I mentioned yesterday, where is your focus? Is it on the situation of your life or on the One who can and does sustain you through that situation?

The apostles, in the verses above, said that they would not be able to stop talking about what they had seen and heard. And I imagine that they weren't talking about just the difficult things that they had seen and heard -- the suffering of Jesus, the pain of watching him die, the diseases and troubles of the people around him -- but they were talking about the One who in the midst of those things not only healed and helped, but conquered death.

If our focus is on Jesus -- we won't be able to keep quiet about what we've seen and heard -- and at the heart of every conversation we have is going to be God's power and provision in our lives.

I'm hoping as I write, speak and educate others about my children and what it is like to parent them, that I can keep my focus on the One who is teaching me more than I ever imagined through my life with them.

Want to join me in shifting focus?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What is your Chair?

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Phillipians 3:10-11

I have been reading through Joni Eareckson Tada's book, "A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God'Sovereignty" and I must admit that while it is very true and I agree with what she is saying, that it is a hard book to read. But it's a book I need to read.

She wrestles with questions that we all ask -- why God heals some people and why He doesn't heal others, why suffering exists when He could take it away with but a thought in our direction. And many of her conclusions are not what we want to hear. She talks about how there is growth through pain, about how our relationship with God is deepened through our struggles.

When Bart and I were heading to bed last night, I told him that Joni -- after spending over 40 years as a quadriplegic and now battling chronic pain and breast cancer, said in her book that she would not trade the depth of the relationship she has with God for her chair (wheelchair).

And Bart said, "Don't you think everyone has their own chair?"

And it got me thinking about how that works -- how we each have things that we go through -- some of them publicaly and many privately, that are our "cross to bear." And we would prefer for God to take those things from us -- because we don't want to go through them. But instead HE knows that we need them.

The task then, is not for us to focus on how to get rid of those things that force us closer to God's heart, but to learn from them and grow closer to Him.

So I ask you to join me in asking these questions:

What is my wheelchair? What are the things that I view as difficult in my life? Am I running away from the purpose God has for me in them? Or am I willing to accept them and grow closer to God because of them? Will I allow them to produce fruit in me? Am I really willing to participate in His suffering, as Paul wrote, in order to experience the power of his resurrection?

Tough tough questions. In one section of her book, Joni writes:

My Christian life became a wounding work and remains so during this current crisis of chronic pain. My heart has been set to God's like a grafting cut into the living heart of an apple tree. Whether I like it or not, it has been heart to heart and back to back, with so much doubt and fear, heartache and tears. It has definitely not been a smooth, easy-going process -- and to this day it isn't.


Friend, you may be going through a time of wounding right now and, if you are, take heart, because your heart is being set to God's, and there is no saving work apart from pain. Your life will produce so much more fruit from it all -- fruit that you probably won't even see or know about.

For those whom God loves, He grafts.

Just remember what I have learned these many years: Apart from Him, you can do nothing. But IN HIM, with his life sap flowing through your branch and leaves, you have strength for everything. He said so.

And somehow, the result of all that cutting and wounding, grafting and healing, will be fruit beyond what you have ever produced.

I'm praying that God will help me to learn how to sit back and relax in my "chair", knowing full well that He has a purpose and that He knows why I'm here, how long I'll be here, and what the results will be.

Because if all my energy is spent in the struggle to fight the fact that I'm in this particular chair, then I won't have the energy to embrace the God who sits in it with me and learn the lessons He has for me.

Teach me, Lord, what you have for me to learn today...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Make Me Like Jesus

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Last night was Maundy Thursday . I went to church feeling quite unstable. One son had had a meltdown. Two others were being ten times more obnoxious than usual. Even the "good kids" weren't happy about going church on a Thursday night when their friends were all out socializing. I had a conversation with an adult child that made me profoundly sad. I was emotionally spent.

When I got there Bart preached a profound sermon.... He talked about family dysfunction and how Jesus knew all about that. He sat at a table at the last supper with his disciples knowing that one was a betrayer, one of them was a denier, and the other ten were going to run away as soon as trouble come. And yet He shared a meal with them -- He remained true to Himself -- and he served them, even washing their feet.

I couldn't help but think of my children. There are twelve of them. Through the years some of them have done those things to us. They have denied being part of our family and told us repeatedly that we aren't our "real parents." They have betrayed us -- lied, stolen our things and money, and made false allegations against us. They "run away" from us emotionally when things are difficult.

I started to think about all of the years that I had asked God to make me like Jesus. But I realized it was never my wish to be made like Jesus when it comes to His suffering. I'll take the glory, but keep the suffering, thank you very much.

I confess that I have not been looking forward to the weekend. Our kids who live here and have multiple issues make it miserable here during holidays and the kids who don't live here coming back expecting to have a good time which isn't always possible here.

But my call from God this Easter is to be like Jesus -- and sit at a table with those I love so much who have stolen from me, lied to me, used me, and hurt me again and again. And like Jesus, it is my assignment not let them get to me -- to be true to myself, to love them, serve them, share with them and recognize that without God's grace I'm no better than they are.

The above song was playing as I prepared for communion at church last night. I hadn't heard it before and I sat there in tears, realizing for the first time that I needed to be carried to the table to take communion. And when I stood there, it so happened that all eight of our kids that live here were standing around in the same circle with me.

I realized just how much God loves each and every one of them. I realized that sometimes my attitude towards them is not at all like God's. I realized that I am just as broken as they are and just as much in need of the cross, salvation, and God's grace.

It was a humble realization. None of us get to choose how God makes us like Jesus, but it is very clear that it will involve suffering. And this weekend the way that I will share in that suffering is to look with love upon those who have a long history of doing and saying unloving things to me.

I shared all this because maybe your family isn't perfect and your holiday might be difficult as well. And possibly we can encourage each other to have a servant's heart and serve lovingly, remaining true to who we are in the midst of the dysfunction around us.

I have long ago learned that the only person I can change is me. So I'd simply like to conclude my Easter weekend with the knowledge that I did all I could do and then decide that that is enough.

Monday, April 04, 2011

On Not Being Ananias

Acts 9:10-17 says,
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I have heard two sermons about Ananias in the last 24 hours and have been pondering this idea. What if Ananias had said no?

You know the story -- Saul is knocked to the ground, blinded, and confronted by Jesus for persecuting Him. He is told to go find Ananias.

Then God tells Ananias what to do -- Hey, Ananias, I've got a favor for you -- I need you to pay a visit to the most famous Christian-killer you know --

Wow, fun, huh? Ananias points out a few facts to the Lord, but eventually, because He really was LORD to Ananias, he obeys.

So what if Ananias would have said no?

God would have just picked someone else. Saul still would have become Paul, used by God to convert thousands and to write books that we read and study today. God's plan wouldn't have been messed up.

But Ananias would have been left out of one of the biggest stories in the history of Christianity. As he heard stories about Paul over the next years, he would have had to watch what he missed out on ... this big opportunity to influence one of the most powerful voices in Christian history that mankind has ever known.

Who is God asking you to talk to today? You have no idea who that person might be some day. I think this story and though long, it illustrates my point perfectly and so I share this story:

In the year 1854, a 17-year-old boy was working in a shoe shop in Detroit. He didn't know Christ and had no interest in matters of spirituality or religion. But, he had been forced to go to Sunday school, like a lot of kids these days. One day, his Sunday school teacher went to the shoe shop where this boy was working and said, “Hey, I’m worried about you. I want to talk.” So, they went into the basement of the shoe store, where the Sunday school teacher led the young man to Christ. The Sunday school teacher’s name was Edward Kimball, and the 17-year-old boy’s name was D. L. Moody. We now know that he went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the world, and he shared the gospel with 100 million people. And this was in the age before modern technology. Pretty incredible! And of course, Moody also founded the Moody Bible Institute and Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. His name is well known in the Christian community, even today, more than a hundred years later.

Now, it’s kind of cool to see that Moody went on to influence a man named F.B. Meyer, a London pastor and an intellectual who never focused on Jesus. Meyer’s congregation told him that they wanted this newly famous evangelist, Moody, to come speak to them. So, Meyer reluctantly agreed to let his congregation bring in Moody.

Meyer, who had a lot of intellectual pride and was ashamed of the name of Jesus, invited Moody to do a revival in his church. When Moody showed up, Meyer immediately took a dislike to him. He didn’t like him because Moody was not well dressed, and because he only had a fifth grade education.

Meyer had doctorates, and he was brilliant. So, he kind of looked down on Moody. But, Moody got up to preach in Meyer’s church and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. The power of God was upon him. And, as he spoke, he focused on Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

As such, hundreds upon hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus Christ that day from the pews of Meyer’s beloved church. Because of this, Meyer was embarrassed and consumed with jealousy. After the revival, Moody quietly left, leaving Meyer with his congregation and with his jealousy and anger.

Two weeks later, Meyer was talking with one of his Sunday school teachers, and the teacher said, “You know, I used to focus on all kinds of stuff and never focused on Jesus, but Moody taught me to focus on Jesus. So, I’ve been focusing on Jesus over these last two weeks and I want to tell you about this boy who accepted Jesus during my class.”

As he told the story, Meyer began to weep. The Holy Spirit broke through; he was convicted and supernaturally changed. For the rest of his life, he preached Jesus to all who would listen.

As the years went by, Meyer influenced J. Wilbur Chapman; J. Wilbur Chapman influenced Billy Sunday; then Billy Sunday influenced Mordecai Ham. And it was Mordecai Ham who led Billy Graham to Christ. Get it? Spiritual dominoes.

You see, it’s incredible, the power of the gospel. To think of Edward Kimball, D.L. Moody, F.B. Meyer, J. Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham, and then Billy Graham, all in a row, one going to the next, and then the next, by the power of Christ, only serves to tell us that we need not fear. We should share the gospel with confidence and joy.

When we tell someone about Jesus, we have no way of knowing what the domino effect is going to be. In our lifetime, we may not even be aware of the full harvest of souls brought to the kingdom of God simply because we remain faithful to the call. So, please be faithful.

When Billy Graham did come to Christ through the preaching of Mordecai Ham, it was during a tent meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1936. Graham, born in 1920, was 16 years old, didn't know Christ, and was "sowing his oats," as many a young man is known to do. He had a 16-year-old buddy, and they were just hanging out when they thought, “Hey, let's go into this tent and hear what this whacko has to say.”

So they were just clowning around when they went into that tent. Once inside, they realized that there was no room for them; they couldn’t find any seats. So Billy said to his buddy, “Let's get out of here.” As they turned to leave, an usher standing there saw them and said, “Hey, guys.” He put his big arms around their shoulders and said, “You know, hey, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. Let me take you to a seat.” So, the usher took them to a seat and the rest is history.

Billy Graham found Jesus that night, and he went on to take Jesus to the world. That usher could never have known how God was using him that night through his simple yet faithful service.

Have you ever heard of Edward Kimball? I never had. But he started this story. A Sunday School teacher who went to visit a crabby teenager while he was working.... and the rest, well, it's some awesome history.

So if you feel God suggesting it's time to talk to someone about Him, you might wanna do it. Never know when you might be making a huge influence on not only that person, but the generations to come.

(Source: From the sermon of Dr. Jim Dixon, “Sin and Salvation.” Cherry Hills Community Church , Highlands Ranch, Colorado . January 27, 2008.)