Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes It's Gotta Be Drastic

From Luke 9:51-62

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."

Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."

Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

This and a quote that my Friend "Advocate Mom" posted on her facebook page, really got me thinking this morning.

"This isn’t just wishwashy ‘manifest your life’ bull crap. If you don’t actually decide what you want to do, you won’t do much of anything."
Everett Bogue

How many of us have things we plan to do for God someday? Or a big idea of something that we think God is calling us to do? It could be anything, big or small, but it is on our list of things to do someday. And someday never comes. We always have one more thing that has to happen first. First, I need to be married. Or, once the kids are born. Then once the kids are in school. Then, once the kids are out of school. Then, once the kids are out of the house (which for some us may never happen!!!). And then we start with ... once teh kids are married, and their kids are born, and their kids are in school.... and eventually life is over and we never do the big thing.

Jesus had to do things drastically. He asked people to leave everything, to not look back, and to follow HIm. He didn't say -- go ahead and tie up lose ends. He said, "Come, Follow Me. NOW!"

So do you have that one thing? Is God calling you to do it now? There are no excuses, according to Jesus, nothing that needs to be done first. It's just time.

We are approaching a stage in our lives when it's time for our next big thing. Adopting twelve kids was a pretty big thing. But I'm excited about what the next thing is God has for us as a family. And once it is revealed, I'm going to plunge in.

So what's your next big thing? It's time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Returning to Folly

Psalm 85:8-13 (New International Version)

8 I will listen to what God the LORD will say;
he promises peace to his people, his saints—
but let them not return to folly.

9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.

13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.

I love this passage because it talks about great things. Peace, salvation, love, faithfulness, righteousness, a good harvest....

But i love the line "but let them not return to their folly." It's almost as though God is worried that if he gives us some good times we will forget Him and turn away and do our own thing.

When we are in times of crisis when we have no strength of our own, it seems natural as humans to understand our need for God. We move away from some of our "folly" (defined as A lack of good sense, understanding, or foresight. An act or instance of foolishness: We get careless and move away from God.

So here God says -- hey, I'm giving you good stuff. But don't forget about me when I do. Don't let times of peace drive you away from me, but to me, just like the hard times do.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Sides of the Same Coin

from Psalm 82:3-4

Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people

This past Sunday my husband preached on Love God/Love Neighbor. The text was the Good Samaritan and he talked about the need for us to follow the command of Jesus that summed up the whole law -- Love God, and Love your Neighbor as yourself.

I have been reading A Whole in Our Gospel lately which is more on this theme.

The point is this: If we love God we will do things like take care of the poor -- rescuing them and giving justice. We will take care of orphans and deliver others from evil. It just happens. It's not a choice. We do not do all this stuff to earn God's approval or love, we do it as an automatic outflow of our relationship with God. And that's a good good thing. If we are in right relationship with God the people around us benefit. Period.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Whose Strength?

Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:11

When we do things in our own strength, we are glorified. Sure, it feels good to accomplish something and to know that we have done it, but that is the only reward.

There is something, however, about coming to that point when our strength is gone. To have to rely on God's strength in order to serve and to let HIm have the glory.

I could write much more but I think the words to this Steven Curtis Chapman song "His Strength is Perfect" sum it up better than I could:

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength,
But sometimes I wonder what He can do through me;
No great success to show, No glory on my own,
Yet in my weakness He is there to let me know . . .


We can only know
The power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes;
His strength in us begins
Where ours comes to an end.
He hears our humble cry and proves again . . .

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone;
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on.
Raised in His power, the weak become strong;
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.

If you'd rather watch it ....

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gripping Hope

From Lamentations 3 (The Message)

I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God's loyal love couldn't have run out,
his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He's all I've got left.

God's loyal love couldn't have run out,
his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He's all I've got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It's a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It's a good thing when you're young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The "worst" is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won't ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard

Lately we've had some hard days emotionally. Not one horrible thing, but a compilation of years of mistakes our children have made that we somehow manage to blame ourselves for, asking how we could have done things differently. It is very difficult to hold on to hope.

But I'm going to do it. It's the only way I can manage. I am going to "keep a grip on hope" and "wait for hope to appear," remembering that God's mercies are "new every morning." The hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, that has it's origin in this Scripture, has been a backdrop for most of my life and it remains one.

Hope and faith have to do with seeing beyond now. They have to do with looking forward, not back, with relying on the things we can't see. To possess either hope or faith, we have to let go of the need to know the details, to see the road ahead, but simply to rest in peace knowing that God sees, God knows, and God cares. He can show me as much of the path as I need to see for today, but the rest I can place on HIs shoulders.

Simplistic, probably. True, definitely. Effective if you can manage it, most certainly. I'm keeping my grip on hope.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Filthy Rag Righteousness

From Isaiah 64:

4Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins.

8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look upon us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

This Scripture so describes humanity -- week, failing humanity. I was raised in the holiness tradition which prepared me very well to be a pious, righteous person who worked very hard to remain as flawless as I could be. And since I am a black and white thinker, I was good at it. I avoided all the pitfalls of most people's adolescence --- I never smoked, drank, did drugs. Was a virgin at 32 when I married (I know, i know TMI). I didn't even dance and I didn't go to a movie until I was 18. I picked up all the "rules" handed on by my parents, but I somehow missed their spirit of forgiveness and acceptance of those who did not toe the mark. In retrospect that part of them has always been very clear, but I didn't catch it.

So instead of the pitfalls of those nasty outward sins, I fell into others -- gossip, being judgmental, un-forgiving, and not at all gracious. I would spray my opinions about others sins all over them, feeling I had to point them out, and in the process lost many friends. I learned that if you draw a line in the sand, it immediately becomes a circle, with the other person on the outside. If the line stays drawn, they eventually walk away.

But as I have matured I have found myself, though still outwardly avoiding most addictions (not quite overcome food yet, for example), I have recognized those inward sins that line me right up with the rest of the world. And in recognizing that my own "righteous acts" are like filthy rags, I can be freed to receive grace and to offer it to others.

Realizing I"m human has not been easy. Putting myself in the same category as those I spent years feeling I was better than has been humbling but very necessary. And yet it is very freeing to recognize that my own acts are not my salvation. To see God as the potter, and me as clay, often unyielding, stubborn and hardening until God sends something my way to soften me up and help me be more moldable, is the best way to move forward.

Isaiah's plea is one that goes unanswered in this particular passage, but we know from Scripture that God did not remain angry with us forever because of our sin. He sent Jesus. And now we are all products of that grace -- not holy because of our own doing, but righteous in HIS sight because of Christ's death.

Mold me, potter God, that I might become more of the person you want me to be.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Prophet's Discouragement

From the time I was a teenager I took Spiritual Gifts tests that always resulted in me having the gift of prophecy. While most people think this is about telling the future it's really something a bit different. I like this definition by Daniel Borchers (and no I don't know who he is) but he says:

...the ability to recognize sinful behavior and a driving compulsion to confront individuals, groups and/or cultures. The gift of prophecy is the ability to communicate God’s Word with power, conviction, and clarity, and to apply it to the specific situation of the hearers.” ... Prophecy refers to speaking the truth, especially regarding right and wrong.

It basically means seeing things that don't fit and pointing them out. But having the "gift" stinks sometimes, because it's easier to shut up than it is to confront anyone about anything. I have tamed way down and sometimes just convinced myself that this "truth" I see so clearly is really just my not-so-humble opinion and that I should shut my mouth. In fact, I have done this so much that the last time I took the test, prophecy wasn't showing as one of my gifts. I think that after years of attempting to manage this "gift" I feel like Isaiah did when he wrote these words in Isaiah 49.

But I said, "I have labored to no purpose;
I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.
Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand,
and my reward is with my God."

I get discouraged, as well, when people want to shut me down or shut me up. The messages that I proclaim are not ones that people want to hear many times. They don't want to hear about grace and mercy, they want to hear about justice. They don't want to hear about forgiveness and loving their enemies, they want to hear about revenge. They don't want to be confronted about their anger, they want to have me say it is justified and allow them to continue to remain in negative patterns. When I see something clearly in Scripture, they don't want me to repeat it if it disagrees with what they are thinking. And so I try to shut myself up. Isaiah was at the same point and yet he realized that his reward was with God and not with other people.

And God's response:

5 And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength-

6 he says:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

In other words, "you're doing good, isaiah -- in fact, you got bigger things coming! I have big plans for you. Stop being discouraged, you're going to bring salvation to the whole earth!"

Many of the ideas that I talk to people are not my own. They are straight from Scripture. And yet I have backed down and lately concluded that I"m not going to be able to make a difference because people don't want to hear it. Life has gotten all messy, and simplistic answers don't seem to fit, or so people say. But do they fit? Is it really possible that God is just asking us to do what he called us to do, walk the path ahead, do what is right, speak out when we should, remain convinced God is in charge, and move forward? It might be simplistic, but it's truth.

This morning I heard a song on the radio and I caught a few words I hadn't heard in it before.

I’m not sittin’ down ’til I’m older
And I’m not shuttin’ up ’til it’s over
Raise your hands and shout if you’re with me
Then once we start it won’t make a difference

If you wanna live life loud, throw your hands up
If you wanna scream and shout, lemme hear you
Takin’ all the fakers out if you’re with me
Everybody work it, just keep living

Thirty years ago when I was approaching seventeen I was convinced that I was going to live life loud. I was going to make a difference. I was going to change the world. I'm approaching 47 now, my life more than half over. But am I really done?

I hope not And I hope you're not either. Come on everybody, let's live life loud!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Love Your Enemies...(or your children)

Back to the Moravian text from Luke Chapter 6

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

I would never call my children my enemies, but I can't help but put the most difficult ones into this passage and have it have great meaning to me. Kids with attachment disorder often perceive us as the enemy, and thus maybe the word fits in a strange sort of way.

Sometimes I get caught in the bind of withdrawing things from the children who withdraw things from me. If they aren't going to give, then neither am I. If they won't do their part, why should I?

So the Scripture above got my attention. It includes the golden rule, obviously, but the next paragraph hit me between the eyes. It's counter-cultural to love an enemy and be continuously doing good to them. But note: The reward does not come from the enemy. The reward comes from GOd and it isn't always an immediate one either.

I so want to be gracious and merciful, even when my children are not, but it's not an easy task. Sometimes I confess to being irritable and crabby with them, frustrated at their inability to love me back the way I feel I should be loved.

I guess the bottom line is that some days I live like a "common sinner" instead of living like a forgiven, redeemed, beloved child of God. Adoptive parenting has taught me what it must feel like to be God -- as he forgives, and forgives, and forgives us, loves us when we don't love Him in return, and continues to seek us out, to give us those things we need graciously, as we rebel, run, refuse, and do wrong.

I needed to read this passage this morning. I can't say I enjoyed reading it, but I needed it. ANd let me throw in this extra for those who are with me on this one. It's the same version in the Message translation and the language used is almost shocking.

27-30"To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

31-34"Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35-36"I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

37-38"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."

I'm going to try to live this way today and remember the way that God loves me.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More on Suffering

1 Peter 5:10

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Powerful verse. Some thoughts:

1) We are going to suffer and for some reason, God waits and let's us suffer for a little while. He doesn't jump in and end the suffering immediately. Instead he let's us feel our pain.

2) God is the God of ALL grace. Grace -- unmerited favor. We don't deserve God's goodness, but he gives it to us anyway.

3) We've been called to God's eternal glory. That shadow seems to overshadow the suffering, doesn't it?

And then Paul says that God himself will do four things for us. Let's define the words as these definitions make the verse so much more powerful:

Restore: bring back to its former state; to bring back from a state of ruin, decay, disease, or the like; to repair; to renew; to recover.

Confirm: To make firm or firmer; to add strength to; to establish; To strengthen in judgment or purpose; To give new assurance of the truth of; to render certain; to verify;

Strengthen: To make strong or stronger; to add strength to;

Establish: To make stable or firm; to fix immovably or firmly; to set (a thing) in a place and make it stable there; to settle;

Suffering comes to us as I mentioned yesterday, so that we can comfort others. But it also comes so that we can experience God's grace in new ways. Life is a cycle of suffering and being restored, confirmed, strengthened and established so we can face the next round. But instead of a spiral down, it's a spiral up, each time as we go around the circle we are closer to God and stronger than the time before.

During my years as an adoptive parent this has proven so true for me. I can look back -- and so can you -- to my regular blog and see how God has taught me and made me a better person through the hard things we have been through.

Suffering today? After a little while God is going to burst through and restore... confirm... strengthen.... and establish you. AFter all, he IS the God of all grace and you were called according to his eternal purpose.

Simplistic? Possibly. But maybe not so much. Maybe it just makes a whole lot of sense.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You're the Reason I'm Suffering

For some reason, my Moravian Text Email didn't come this morning so I had to go to a "Random Scripture Generator" to provide my passage for reflection this morning. I was amazed as to how much it applied to our lives.

From 2 Corinthians Chapter 1:

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

NObody chooses suffering. At least not intentionally. It's unamerican. In fact, one of the hardest things about my job is that I am actually encouraging people to do hard things, and that is not something we are accustomed to. But hard things do come whether we want them to, even to "normal" people who don't choose them.

Remember the old song by Andre Crouch, "Through it all?" Part of it says, and I quote from memory:

So I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys,
and I thank Him for the storms He's brought me through;
For if i never had a problem, I'd never know that He could solve them,
I'd never know what faith in God could do."

Paul explains all this to the Corinthians in a very logical way. He says:

1) We should praise God in our troubles because it is during those times that we can experience God's comfort.

2) When we experience trouble and then God's comfort, it empowers and enables us to then share that comfort with others when they are in times of trouble.

In fact, he even takes it a step further and suggests that being able to comfort others is the very reason why any of us have troubles in the first place ... so that we can identify with others and help them in their times of distress. And finally, Paul says:

3) We can have a firm hope because we know that all of us can not only share in our sufferings, but also in our comfort.

My past five years of blogging and reading blogs have certainly shown me that this is true. Whether folks want to put it in religious terms or not, we have done a lot of sharing in sufferings and in comforting one another.

SO it's all YOUR fault you know, that I suffer. :-) It's so that I can experience God's comfort and then pass it on to you.

I had a poster when I was a kid that said:

Trouble shared is trouble halved,
joy shared is joy doubled.

Let's halve our trouble, and double our joy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Above and Beyond What I Think i Need

In order to select my Scripture to reflect on each day (when I am consistently using this blog) I use the Moravian Texts which are emailed to me daily. There are three scripture passages to read through and then a prayer at the end.

The following is from Luke Chapter Five (verses are marked)

17One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."

21The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."

Now I'm no preacher, but I do know that every good preacher has three points. And in the above passage I, of course, see three things:

1) Sometimes we need help to get in front of Jesus. There are days when we are just too week or too upset or too stressed to find our way to Him. We have to rely on our friends to get us to Jesus in order for us to ask Him for what we need.

2) Sometimes when we take someone to Jesus, He doesn't do what we expect. We think we know what others need. In fact, they think they know. But God can see a deeper need and sometimes He meets that need first. It's our responsibility not to criticize but to simply watch God work in ways that God knows are best.

3) in God's timing He does amazing things that fill us with awe. The people took their friend to Jesus to see him healed. His sins were forgiven AND he was healed. If we can be patient and wait, sometimes all we ask of God is provided with even more stuff added on at the end.

Three concise points, but we need to ask ourselves:

Who do I know that needs to be taken to Jesus today?

Do I need someone to help me get to Jesus?

What do I think I need God to do for me? Is it what God thinks I need?

Do I really believe that God can do exceeding abundantly above all that I ask or think, doing even more than I think I need?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Fortress

God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. Psalm 62:6

After reading this I decided to look up the term fortress. It means, "place which is fortified, secure place, stronghold." I went on to read about fortifications.

Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defense in warfare. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs. The term is derived from the Latin fortis ("strong") and facere ("to make").

In looking at my life I can see that I have built many fortresses for myself. Places that I felt were safe and strong, whether they be internally or externally. I have accumulated what I have needed to build safe places for myself and I have encouraged others, when I speak and write, to do the same thing.

But the verse above does not say "God is ONE of my rocks, one of my fortresses." The Psalmist didn't even leave it at "God is my rock and my salvation." He said, "God ALONE is my rock and my salvation, my fortress." That statement really had an impact on me this morning.

If I want to live in a world where I am not shaken, then God ALONE must be the fortress I turn to. I can not run to my own constructions.... I must rely on God.

And I can imagine, that when I get to that place, I will notice that things are a lot less shaky for me internally than they have ever been, regardless of external circumstances.