Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Joel 2:25

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
"Then I will make up to you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten, The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you.

Restoration, what a great topic.  Isn't that what we all dream of--to have everything that has been taken from us, either emotionally or physically, restored?   Don't we all want for God to fill some huge hole in our lives?

Once, I had a pastor who talked all the time about the "God shaped hole" in each of us.  We each have one, a place that nothing seems to fill.  Some of us come by the God shaped hole due to terrible events in our lives.  Perhaps a man with no father, a child who was traumatized, or someone who was born with a disorder.  Some of us just have a God shaped hole because, well, there is no God in our lives.

I used to think of our lives as roads.  As we continue in life we tend to lose a few stones here, get marked up here, and pretty soon, we are damaged and covered in potholes.  They start small, but the more traffic that we endure, the deeper those potholes become.

So we hope that God will come along and fill those holes, making our road nice and smooth.  But God doesn't do that.  

What?  He doesn't?  He's a God of restoration!  

Yes..but he also goes FURTHER--he restores and ADDS!  He wants to do more than make a smooth road, he wants to overfill and mound your potholes over with blessings!  Let's look at Job.  He lost everything:  his fortune, his family, his friends and his health.  And God restored him.  BUT he went above and beyond.  He not only restored these, he gave above and beyond what Job had lost.

That is our God. Always doing more than we expect.  We put our head down and we pray in our human condition for what we feel is huge.  And God must look down at us as a loving father who is all powerful, shake his head and say to Himself, "Is that all you want?  But I can give you so much more, child.  I want to provide more."

Why do we put our human limitations on the only totally powerful being in existence?  How many blessings do we miss because we ask too small and believe too little?

Is there anything that our God cannot do?

Friday, July 27, 2012

James 2:15-17

15  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “ Go in peace, [a]be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is [b]dead, being by itself.

I don't often watch the 700 Club, but when I do, I learn something.  A few days back, there was a guest on the club who had been sexually abused as a young girl.  She taught me much, and opened my eyes to how useless my hands have been of late.

She indicated that the church is mostly mute to the needs of people who are severely broken by life.  The church likes to pat their heads, say "God will carry you," or "Well we shall keep you in prayer," and not ever recognize that we are to BE the answer to that prayer.

If our faith is not including works, works that COST us something, then of what use is our faith?  If we are not brave enough to step out and DO what the Lord has asked us to do, then our faith will have no oxygen on which to survive.  Our works allow God to bless us, to increase our knowledge of hurts and injustices, and better serve his people.  Basically, practice makes perfect.  Our faith is perfected in our doing.

The child who is being abused needs a voice.  Are you willing to be that voice, make that call?

The woman who has been raped needs to learn trust.  She needs to feel worth and value, do you have a job for her, a volunteer position, time to hear her cry?

The addicted man needs medical attention.  He needs protection from the elements, and he needs boundaries.  Are you willing to give those to him?

The suicidal needs to feel value, not judgment.  He needs hope in the portion of his life he has lost hope.  Do you have hope that you can provide?  

The widow needs a caregiver, someone to listen, someone to let her cry.  She needs support for her children, time spent with them by good Christian men.  She needs someone to come do the heavy work, and to pray with her.

All these needs, and literally millions of hands that are idle.  A wise woman recently told me that instead of social clubs, the churches need to be hospitals.  We need to roll up our sleeves, scrub to the elbows and wade in.

I am not saying that you don't have many responsibilities as a Christian, surely you must first to your own walk, then to the walk of your family--being what God has called you to be.  Then, wade in, and let's do some surgery.  Let's get covered in blood, knowing that God has called us to be Samaritans, not Levites who walk by keeping our hands clean.

It's time to remove excuses, and truly claim the name of the one who walked among the lepers...risking all for those close and those near... doing the hard things, in His name.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Luke 22:48

"But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"

I have had conversations with several people, some believers, some not, about being used and betrayed by those close to you.  One woman, in particular, has become a hero to me--how she has overcome adversity and a chasm of depression, moving on to helping others by auctioning a car to help others who are suicidal.
This is a treasure, a person who has been in the depths and once surfacing, goes back into the water to save others!

What do all these stories have in common?  Are they all stories of abuse, hurt, terror?  Yes.  Were people's lives impacted and nearly destroyed due to the betrayal of others?  Yes.  Was there financial loss and emotional upheaval?  Yes.  However, the most important commonality is none of these.  The most important thread that was weaved throughout is the brokenness of the human being.

We are all broken.  Some of us hide it better than others.  Some of us are calm, business like, professional--much like Drew Peterson, who is on trial this week, others are transparent, but there is something broken in each one, no matter how well it is hidden. Peterson is accused of murdering at least two women, abusing them mentally and physically.  No one listened to the women, because he was so able to be calm and rational, until it was too late.   We look on people like Peterson as monsters, but inside each of us is a Drew Peterson.  Because we are all as filthy rags to the Lord.  We all are human and built into us is a desire for self, a desire to have our way, a desire to control others and control situations for our own good.

So how then, do we answer betrayal?  How do we respond to the person who is close to us, part of our inner circle, as was Judas, who betrays us with a kiss?  Someone who instead of coming to God, strikes out, in anger, due to inability to handle situations, due to a need for the spotlight...whatever.

We could rail against them, we can judge them, we can hate...but in reality, all of those responses hurt only ourselves.  A person who is broken will not be touched by your hurt, they may, in fact, have no empathy.  

And, when you think about it, Judas  was created by God, and his actions are  part of the redemption story.  He serves to remind us that even our Savior was hurt by those in his inner circle.  There is truly nothing in our lives that our Savior has not felt, walked and lived.

What did Jesus do at the moment of betrayal?  He simply let the person know he knew it was betrayal.  "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"   That's it.

The odds were stacked against the Lord. Those who knew the law used it against him in every way they could.  They found someone to betray Jesus, they dragged him from court to court to court, pressing false charges, using the law to undermine him.  If you were to look on Christ from a human perspective, he lost.  He was crucified for crimes that were not his.  He had loved totally and in exchange, he was scourged, spit upon, abused, and murdered.  Yet, we know that the balance of justice is not in the hands of humans or mortal courts.  The balance of justice is in the hands of the Lord, and He is still on his throne.

How much better to do what we must to protect others, to ensure that the cycle cannot continue, and then forgive.  Forgive and pray ...because as much as you have been hurt, the person who has betrayed you is in pain or will be.  They need forgiveness from the Lord, and we are all His children.  They are as YOU are...in need of a Savior.

Once you have forgiven, you can move on to forgive yourself for being naive, for allowing yourself to be betrayed.  Then you can help others.  You may not donate a car for auction, but we can all do small things.  We each can find someone else who is walking in the path we have trod, whom we can hold, hug, listen to, dry their tears.  We can donate time and energy to an organization that helps others.

And we can be thankful that in our depravity, when we betrayed our Savior, he reminded us our sin, and called us back to him.

When offered the ability to forgive, to redeem, to restore...can we do any less if we call ourselves by His name?

My wise pastor reminded us this week that there is more to being a Christian than words.  If we don't walk in His footsteps, then no matter what we call ourselves, God knows what we are.  He knows if we have laid ourselves down for him...and are willing to do the hard things.  Forgiveness and restoration--is hard.  As it was for Him, so it is ....even for us.

Friday, July 20, 2012

James 4:14

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

We are in shock as a nation.  We stare at the television and wonder--what causes a person to walk into a crowded theater and take, steal and destroy?  What spawned this creature...this person who could care so little for others that only his own pain and his own comfort mattered?

Was it his parents?  Was it his friends?  Did no one see this coming?  Who caused this?  Is it the gun laws?  Is it the lack of arts in the schools?  We want to blame.  We want to be assured that this cannot happen to OUR families, to US!  

But in reality, these situations are the doing of our entire society.  We have made these monsters, because inside, we are these monsters.   We make excuses, just as this man did.  We do not follow the laws of God, we follow our own conscience.  We decide what we should feel convicted of, instead of looking to see what God says is right and wrong.  We choose the easy path, instead of the right path.  We commit violence to one another...and we give reasons why our causing of pain is justified.  Why ripping apart the fabric of our society is alright.  When in reality, God says clearly....it is not.

When Christians cannot and do not walk in His footsteps, deciding instead to create our own path--as if we know better--how can we expect that our society will not degrade.  How can we expect that we will be protected...and that God will overlook our transgressions?  Forgiveness there is, but the effects of our sin is not wiped out by forgiveness.  We will still live with our decisions, as will our children, and their children, just as Israel did throughout the scriptures.  

As Christians, we like to point at everyone else.  We are sure that atheism is causing this moral mess--we point and we shout.  But Atheists who don't believe are not causing those who WANT to believe to wander from the church.  It is those of us not living our faith that do that.

We point at the homosexual marriage movement...but when we as mothers and fathers cannot do the hard work of marriage, and have the same divorce rate as unbelievers--what hope is there for the world?  Who is showing love, two committed persons who stand up for one another but are the same sex, or two Christians who take one another to court (against the scriptures clearly) and who destroy what God says "no man should put asunder?"  

We point at the schools, but how many of us go INTO the schools to bring messages of hope and of love.  How many of us sit beside the child of abuse and give them a hug...how many of us speak up when we should, and instead wait--hoping that our own intervention will be enough?  How many of us take kids whose parents have NOT helped them learn and tutor them, patiently land lovingly?  

The causes of Colorado....are the same as when Columbine happened.  We can only point to ourselves.  God didn't cause it.  The parents didn't cause it....no one person caused it.  The blame rests on us as a community.  It is time that we quit talking about "doing the right thing" and actually DO the right thing.  

Life, we see, is short.  There isn't a lot of time to say "I'm sorry," or to do that thing you know is right...but you've been putting off.  There isn't a lot of time to mend wounds of long ago, or to make good on promises made--taking a child to fly that kite, calling someone you promised to touch base with, being accountable to God--to do what He calls us to--even when it's not the easiest thing for US.  

If only...in his depression, someone had done this for the Colorado shooter.  If only he lived in a world where people didn't say "I care" but showed they care. If only he saw in the body of the church Christ and him crucified--giving of all he was for his bride--instead of broken people, broken families that beget more broken families, pastors who have affairs, Christian businessmen who are using unfair measures.   If only we didn't say "I was nothing and Christ gave all for me," but "I am Christ for he lives in me, and I will reach out to those who need me.--and I will be one whom others can see Christ within!"

If you had only one more day, what would you heal, instead of destroying?  Who would you love instead of shunning?  What would you give instead of taking?  What if tomorrow were the day that God demanded your answers.  Who would you blame?  Who can we blame?  What should our response to tragedy be....

What is your response?

Monday, July 9, 2012

1 Corinthians 3:1-7

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, whocomforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in [a]any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are [b]ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

Everyone talks about transparency in the church today.  We are told to "be transparent."   We are instructed that this is the model of Christ, to be open and honest, not to wear our "church faces" but to be "real."

But is that what we really want?  

Do you really want to know that the man sitting beside you in church is divorcing his wife for little reason, without counseling, without attempting to reconcile?   Do you really want to know that the woman sitting next to you slept with the man next door?   Do you really want to know that the teenager right up the pew from you has run away three times and considers walking into traffic all the time?

If you knew, what would you DO? 

Would you preach to them?  Or would you love them?  Would you call to accountability in sin?  Or, do you not want to "get involved?"  Would you pray with them, offer financial help, spiritual help, a place to stay?  

For you see, allowing them to be truly transparent means you have to GET INVOLVED.  We are supposed to be brothers and sisters.  We are supposed to be family.  Family does not leave when the going gets tough--it stays.  It prays hard.  It works hard, it gives up some of what it has for other members. Family is forgiving, and family is not condescending.  And family can be real...even when it's inconvenient.

When Layne got cancer, we got real with everyone very quickly.  We had to do so.  There was no time for false smiles, or brave fronts.  We needed prayer, we needed help with the kids and business, we needed people who could hear us cry and not get tired of it.  There were very few of those, however...and we learned quickly who our true friends were.

Transparency is messy.  You might have a husband and wife in your living room crying and ranting at one another.  You may have a teenager weeping or eating you out of house and home every Saturday while she pours her heart out.  You might have to hear of abuse, of pain, of mental illness, of things that terrify you personally.  And you may not be able to turn it off in half an hour.  Because real life, if you are transparent, is MESSY.  But Jesus would wade into the mess...would you?

I once had a pastor who would ask, "How are you doing?" and then, after you replied, he'd say, "Now, how are you REALLY doing?"   That was a man who understood that we wear our masks, and that we don't believe that our church family wants us to be transparent.

This week, when someone tries to be transparent with you...think that about that age old saying:  What would Jesus do...   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Psalm 94 (all) Especially Vs 19

"When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul."

Most of the readers of this blog are accustomed to reading about miracles.  People love to read about miracles--about when God overcomes and evil is vanquished.  It's a bit like reading a fairy tale, isn't it?  Things are sad, or scary, and God comes to the rescue.  He rides in like a knight in shining armor and all ends well.  Marriages are saved, people are healed who should die, money falls from heaven.

What about when that doesn't happen?  What about when life happens and God does not save the person?  Is that still a miracle?  Is God still working?

This has been a serious question for me for months.  Sometimes, you feel like Joan of Arc of the faith...standing against the evils of the world with your soul full of belief.  Sometimes, you feel as if your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.  You feel alone.  You're in the desert of your faith.  Is God still there?

Yes, He is.  This has been a rough season for me in faith.  I have had people say to me things that didn't seem right, biblically.  It caused me to wonder--is what I believe in real?  Am I making this all up in my head after all this time?  Did Layne die because people die, or did God really take him home?   If God led me through obvious miracles to make a decision...was that for my sake for the sake of others?  Could he, WOULD he lead me to the desert?

I began to read the scriptures.  God loved the people of Israel, they are his chosen people.  He walked with many of the prophets and talked to them in ways you and I will probably never know on this side of heaven. Can you imagine?  To have a conversation with God Almighty?

Yet, let's look at what Israel has endured:  Slavery, forty years in a desert, having it's leader die before entering the Promised Land, a period of hundreds of years with NO CONTACT with God, no prophets, no whispers from heaven.  The destruction of the temple, and of course, the Holocaust and being surrounded by enemies who seek her death.

And these are God's CHOSEN ones.  So, is he here?  Is he watching Israel?  Yes! And none of this is a surprise to God.  When others abuse and use Israel, when Iran rants and raves, yet, God protects her.  She suffers, but in her suffering, she is refined.

And so it is with us.  Not every story has a happy ending, because the ending is not going to happen on this earth.  It's difficult, sometimes, life is really, really hard.  We don't understand.  We are attacked and we are mistreated--Jesus told us it would be so. Sometimes, we cause it, sometimes, there is nothing we can do to stem the storm, as it is with cancer.  But in this difficult time, God can work.  God IS working.  He's doing HIS will.  He's teaching, he's refining.  He is not impotent...though sometimes we think he is.  Sometimes, I have thought so, but yet, he has brought to me others who I can uplift and who uplift me.  That is the miracle my friends.  That is the miracle.