Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve: Are You Living A Story Worth Telling?


Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all that I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven. 

A few days ago I started reading the latest book by Don Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I’m only a few pages into it at this point and I’m not sure exactly what the book will hold.  From what I gather, it’s a book about Don’s thoughts and feelings as he took part in the process of turning his memoir into a movie.  A movie about himself. 

If I gather nothing else from this book, there is one line on the first page that really struck a cord with me:

“The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”


There is something truly profound about that statement.  It struck a cord with me, because in so many ways, that is how I want to live my life.  That is the word that I long to be identified by at the end of my story: meaningful.   

There are so many words that could define our lives, aren’t there?  So many words that could describe our very existence.  So many years, experiences, actions and memories can be summarized into one short word.  If you could choose your definition, what would it be? 

Depressed.
Bitter.
Selfish.
Loved.
Rich.
Lonely.
Beautiful.
Self-Absorbed.
Content.
Successful.
Kind.

So many words….so many definitions…so many ways to summarize our story.  But will the words that people choose to place upon our lives make a story worth telling?  Will they make a story that inspires others to live and grow and love?  Will they make a story that brings a smile to God’s face?  Will they make a story that would make us proud to call it our own?

I don’t know about you, but I want to live a story that is worth telling.  I want to live a life that is nothing less than meaningful.  I want to take these precious moments and days and years that God has given me, and give them back to Him in a way that is nothing short of meaningful.  Nothing short of what He meant for it to be. 

At the close of 2009, I challenge you to take a look at your life.  Take a look around you.  Take a look of how far you have come.  Take a look at where you are.  Take a look at who you have become.  Take a look at how you have used your moments and your days. 

And then, look ahead.  Look beyond your mediocre plans for your life and embrace the magnificence that He has designed for you.  Let go of the empty definitions that have been bogging you down and begin to take on those which will give your life purpose and meaning.  Those which you were meant to carry all along. 

This New Year, may you be compelled to live toward meaning.  May you be inspired to live this life as if it were your last to live.  May you be encouraged to define your life by words that you have never been able to use before.  May your life be filled with the seeds of hope, meaning, and purpose that will take root and begin to grow.  This New Year, may you strive to live a story worth telling.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Real Deal About New Years Resolutions:



Philippians 1:6
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is all over.  The floor is lined with remnants of brightly colored paper and curly ribbons.  The anticipation of giving and receiving has subsided.  The sun of this year has slowly set, and we await the dawning of the new year. 

The New Year.  For most, this brings a sense of excitement.  A new beginning of sorts.  A time to refresh, reshape, reprioritize, and rethink the goals of the past. 

But for the forgotten others, the New Year may bring with it a sense of failure.  It may bring with it the disappointment that comes with things hoped for that were not accomplished, things prayed for that were not answered, things dreamed that did not come to pass.  For many, it brings a sense of regret.  Things promised that were not followed through, things started that were not finished, things done that cannot be erased. 

I recently met a woman who dreaded this time of year, loaded with the nonsense of New Years Resolutions.  The time of year when we fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve started fresh. The time of year where we lie to ourselves, trying to believe we have the power to accomplish what we cannot.  The time of year where we set high expectations that can never be accomplished.  The time of year where we set ourselves up for one thing alone- failure. 

There is something pessimistically honest about her perspective.  There is something refreshing hidden beneath the negativity and despair of her statement.  Because, you see, in many ways she is right. 

When we begin to view our success and accomplishments as our sole responsibility- failure is inevitably right around the corner.  There is only so much our feeble humanity can accomplish.  Only so much we can dream, only so much we can try, only so much we can hope.  Only so much we can fail…without growing weary.  Whether we come to this conclusion early in life, or whether we are enlightened the moment before our eternal departure- this one truth we cannot avoid facing: our human limitation. 

Though, unlike this woman, this does not bring me despair- rather, it causes me to rejoice.  It causes me to find freedom from the burdens of accomplishment that I tend to place upon my shoulders.  It causes me bring my chains of human expectation before a God who holds the keys of ultimate sovereignty in His hands.  It causes me to rest in the truth that I am in His care, remembering that the great things He began in me will not be neglected.

It may tarry, but it will come.  It might not be in our limited perspective of time, and it might not be before the new year, but one thing is certain:

He who began a good work in you, will complete it. 

Friends, may your failures and your regrets be replaced with new hope, freedom, and a renewed sense of anticipation as you await the completion of His great works in your life.  Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From Christmas to Crucifixion:




1 Peter 2:24
He Himself bore our sins, in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.

Christmas Eve is right around the corner.  There is lots of excitement building.  John and I are planning on sleeping in, opening our gifts to one another, and enjoying a homemade brunch together, before heading off to spend the holidays with family.  There is so much to be grateful for.  So much to find joy in.

This is Christmas.  Or is it?  You see, for so many of us, Christmas has lost it’s sacredness.  It’s lost it’s awe.  It’s lost it’s meaning in our lives.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate our holiday traditions, to enjoy friends and family, to attend Santa-themed parties, exchange gifts, and enjoy delicious food. 

But we are missing so much by forgetting the foundation of these joys.  I was reminded of this last weekend, preparing for our Bible Study small group.  We have been going through the book of John and our Christmas study happened to land on John 19- the crucifixion of Christ. 

To be honest, I’m not really accustomed to reading about the Crucifixion around Christmas time.  Frankly, we save that for Good Friday.  How silly we are to compartmentalize our Lord in that way, yet we do.

Reading about the crucifixion that day, there was something sobering in remembering that this was the reason Christ was born.  There was something sacred in realizing that this was the intended end when baby Jesus entered into our world.  This was the purpose.  This was the intent. 

Though Jesus gave His life on the cross that day, in reality, He had given his life 33 years before.  He had already given it the instant he received it- the moment of his precious birth. 

This Christmas, I challenge you to truly contemplate the gift of Christ.  This Christmas, as you gather around your tree, I challenge you to stand in reverence as you worship a Lord who humbled himself and hung on his tree in order to bring salvation.  This Christmas, I challenge you to consider the means by which you have been saved, the life that was given for you to truly live, and the wounds that were inflicted allowing us to be healed.

Lord, more than anything else, we thank you for the gift of Christ. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Learning to Hear God's Voice: Gentle Whisper


 
 
Gentle Whisper
1 Kings 19:11-12
Then a great a powerful wind tore the mountains apart, and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

There is something to be said about the gentleness of our God.  There is something to be said about the fact that He is never pushy.  There is something comforting knowing that He is never loud.  He does not choose to enter into our lives with a roar.  He does not resort to force in order to make Himself known.  No, He comes gently.  He comes softly.  He comes sensitively, allowing us to choose whether or not we will be the recipients of His glory and majesty. 

We, on the other hand, find it difficult to fathom that kind of God, for we have developed our own way of making ourselves known.  For most of us that way requires great volume.  It requires generating a loudness that can be heard among the other voices. 

And so, with that mentality, we live our lives looking for a God who comes like a rushing wind.  We spend our time trying to listen for a God that comes like the shattering of the rocks, to see Him in the blaze of a fire, and to feel Him with the intensity of an earthquake. 

And in the end, He is not there.  In the end, we find that we have missed Him.  In the end, we realize that in our search for immensity, we have missed His gentle whisper.  There is something to be said of a God who approaches us with such softness.  A God who requires us to get quiet, to get close, and to get intimate in order to hear his gentle voice whispering in our ears.  A God who does not choose to compete with the clamor and clatter of this world. 

A God who comes into our worlds with the tenderness of a babe, revealing Himself to us as a soft whisper.  A God who can be heard by those who are intimately listening for His voice. 

May you be patient to wait for the wind to pass, for the fire to subside, and for the earthquake be still.  And in the end, may you choose to listen for His gentle whisper in your life. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jesus Wrapped in Papers and Boxes: Learning to Give Yourself




John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

My friend Andrew C. just sent me a video on YouTube that got me thinking.  It’s a promo video for an organization called advent conspiracy, it’s purpose aimed at challenging believers to refocus their priorities this Christmas season.

The video talks about how much money Americans spend every Christmas season: 450 Billion Dollars. The numbers are astounding…and disgusting all at the same time.  Lights, trees, gifts, decorations, food…all the things that we believe will fill us with joy. And at the end of it all, Jesus is thrown out with all the papers and the boxes that we wrapped Him in to begin with.  

And then the video says something profound.  It poses the question, “How did Jesus celebrate?”  The answer: He gave, He gave Himself.  What a sobering thought.  He gave of Himself on so many levels, with everything He had to give.  What a challenge this Christmas season, to let this year be the year we truly celebrate by following in His example. 

Last weekend I got up early to pass out Christmas boxes of food in the projects.  The event was sponsored by the Dream Center Peoria and Food For All. My alarm was set for Saturday morning: 7am.  For those of you who know me…I’m not much of a morning person.  In fact, I hate getting up early…especially on cold winter days.  I have to admit, when my alarm went off that morning I wasn’t in good spirits.  It was a struggle getting up and getting ready…I had to fight my flesh, begging me to stay under the warm covers. 

But, as always, interacting with my friends downtown that morning left me blessed far beyond how I blessed them.  I may have left them with boxes of food that will last them a few weeks, but they left me with smiles full of joy, and hearts full of gratitude that will stir a passion in me for many years to come. 

That’s the crazy thing about giving of yourself.  In the end, it’s a selfish thing.  In the end, you come out more blessed than you ever could have imagined.  In the end, there is left a smile on your face that cannot be wiped away, a high that comes with serving people that cannot be replicated, and a joy so strong that it can not be subdued.  

So this Christmas season, let’s celebrate like Jesus did.  Let’s give of ourselves, to our friends, to our neighbors, to our family, to the poor, to strangers…and ultimately, to our Lord.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spiritual Atrophy: Ashamed of the Gospel



Romans 1:16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…

Overall, I believe that we as a people have become more passive in our interactions with others.  That passivity has seeped into our Christian relations as well.  Relations with other believers, but most importantly, relationships with the lost.

We may go all year without really connecting with others in a deep and significant way, and wonder why our interactions have become so superficial.  We watch person after person enter and then leave our lives, without ever sharing with them the hope in which we have.  And all the time, we are waiting for the “perfect opportunity”- an opportunity which never actually comes.  And all the while, our spiritual muscles begin to lose their strength, as they atrophy in the disease of our passivity. 

Some say this passivity is just happenstance- and that a perfect opportunity to really get honest with people about the gospel will eventually come, if we will only wait for it.  To this, I would disagree.  I used to believe this to be true…until I peeled back the layers of my passivity to find one thing: shame.  In a sense, I was ashamed of the gospel.  I was embarrassed.  I was worried about how to bring it up in conversation, what to say after that, and what people would think of me if I did. 

With the silence of my passivity I was inadvertently doubting the power of the gospel and the power of it’s God. I was allowing my fear of man to dictate my level of obedience rather than my fear of God.  And in the end, I was the one who came out short.  I was the one who missed the opportunities to speak the light of truth into desperate lives.  I was the one who missed out on being used by God, finding the abundance of joy in being in His will. 

Christians, I believe that it’s time for us to step it up- living a life that is in active pursuit of sharing the gospel that has changed our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that the opposite of passivity is an aggressive approach.  I don’t think we need to be standing on street corners waving signs of “Repent” and warning that the end is near (although in a strange way I covet that lack of inhibition that echoes with David that ‘I’ll become even more undignified than this’ if that‘s what it takes for God to be magnified).  But let’s be honest, most of us Christians aren’t even close to that end of the spectrum. 

Let’s begin by taking an active approach in our day to day.  Let’s begin by looking at the platforms that God has given us to share his love and his truth.  Let’s begin with asking the questions that we’re afraid to ask.  Let’s begin by starting those conversation that we’re always waiting for.  Let’s begin by sharing with strangers and with friends the things that our God is doing in our lives.  Let’s begin by taking interest in those we never found interesting.  Let’s begin by taking the gospel seriously, immersing ourselves in it so much so that it is overflowing into the lives around us.  Let’s begin with one person.  Let’s begin with today.

Lord, give us the strength to boldly proclaim with our lips and with our lives that we are “not ashamed of the gospel”.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Remember What's Really Important This Time of Year....




James 1:27 
"Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after Orphans and Widows and their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world"

John and I were just reminiscing about our trip to Egypt in 2008, wondering how the kids are doing, wishing we could be there, and hoping to make it back there soon.  With that spirit, I wanted to post a bit of the email updates we wrote during our time there.  As you read, I want you to remember with us what is truly important this year.  And then...do something.  Do something that will make a difference for someone this holiday season. 

_________________________

Today we visited an orphanage for Handicapped Children and it was Amazing. It was difficult, but most of all rewarding. There are 13 children there in two small apartments next to each other. Most of the kids lay lifeless on the beds, they all are in diapers and most of them cannot speak other than noises. It was amazing to see how they came to life in response to your touch and words.

One boy in particular was such a joy to interact with. His name is Abinoub, he is 9 years old and was born mute, deaf, and blind. He lay motionless on the bed and when I went to hold his hand he jumped into my arms. I just held him for a while and talked to him, even though he couldn't hear. He loved to be held like a baby and rocked back and forth. When we held him like that the biggest smile you could imagine would be on his face and you could feel his joy, I knew that he was aware and felt the love we had for him. The minute I put him down in his crib, he would jump up feeling around for me and once he got a hold of me he wouldn't let go. He was longing to be held, to interact with somone.

So many of the kids responded just to being held and touched. I wish we could have spent all day there just holding the kids and telling them how much we loved them. It was also difficult to interact with them becasue many of them would drool on you, try to eat your clothes, and we could clearly smell the urine on the beds we sat on. But it was even more difficult to look into their eyes and not love them, not touch them, not reach out them.

Yesterday in the main orphanage we go to Deb was counseling on the of girls and she asked me to come into their room in the middle of the session. The girl had asked that I would come in because she wanted to share something with me. When I went into the room Deb asked the girl if she could share her story. She wanted her to. Deb went on to tell me how this girl had just shared her story.

*It's Deb cutting in real quick* She had been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts due to a long history of abuse by her biological father. He had physically abused both her and her mother for many years. Her view of what a father was had been completely tainted by past. She had a scar on her upper arm from where her dad had slit her with a knife. The amazing thing about this story is, just being able to talk to her about the love of God our father, how a real father is supposed to be. Without going into tedious detail, she gave her life to the Lord this day, and it was so amazing being able to be a part of this. She told me that we had already impacted her life so much.

She went on to say that when she first met John, she was blown away with his compassion and gentleness with all the kids...how well he treated them. She said that she immediately wanted to call him "Baba" which means Daddy in Arabic, but she was too shy to do so.

After that, she asked if we could ask him to come in the room and share with him these things. I called John into the room and proceeded to tell her story. Before I knew it, I was just sobbing. We were all sobbing. I held her in my arms as she wiped away MY tears...but more than anything, at that moment, she knew she was loved SO much, by John, by me....and most of all, by the Greatest Lover of all....Christ.

John's Back :)...I never experienced before the feeling of someone looking up to me as their father. As I listened to Deb tell me this girls story it broke my heart and it was difficult to hold back the tears. I can't imagine what it is like to have such an abusive father. As my heart was broken I also realized the power of Christ's love, the healing it can bring, and the Amazing God we serve. So often we think that we aren't doing enough, I had only played with this girl a few games, said hello, talked with her a little bit, but it had such a profound effect on her. How many more people could have their lives changed by God's love and grace if we would only take the time???

We have so much more to share and are trusting God to do even more in the coming week and a half we are here. We will be going to the Red Sea this weekend and will send another update early next week. Continue to keep us in your prayers and even more the kids at the Orphanage.
___________
Happy Holidays Everyone.

Love,
John and Deb

For more information on Christian Orphan Outreach or on how to Sponsor a Child for the Holidays visit our updated website!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heaven is a Wonderful Place...or is it?: A Look at the Description of Eternity



Revelation 21:21
The twelve gates were twelve pearls,  each gate made of a single pearl.  The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. 

I don’t know about you, but when I think of heaven, the description of pearly gates and golden streets doesn’t really move me.  Besides the fact that I’m more of a silver girl, the idea of jewels, gems, glitter and glamor does little to excite me when it comes to the prospect of eternity.  I don’t believe I’m alone in this idea, either.  Just the other day I was speaking to a young girl, completely turned off by the idea of leaving her loved ones here on earth to enter into a mere amusement park made of precious metals and sparkling gems.  No thanks. 

And you know, I totally agree.  If that’s all that heaven is, who really wants it?  I sure don’t.  There has got to be something more than just the fear of Hell pushing us along the road toward heaven.  I was discussing this perspective with my mom the other day on one of our drives. 

We were contemplating the idea of golden streets and pearly gates when we came to an interesting conclusion: God wants to out-do us.  He really does.  He wants to take the things that have become so glorified in our world, and show us that in His world, those things are really nothing at all.  He wants to take the things we have come to call “valuable” in our paradigms, our gold, our diamonds, our glitter and glamor- and turn them into streets for us to trample on in His world.  Just think about it.  Gold will be what we walk on, not what we hang around our necks and place on our fingers. 

It’s as though God is trying to turn our worlds upside down by reminding us that the things that really seem precious to us are hardly good enough to walk on in His presence.  He is making a value statement, reminding us of His greatness in comparison to the things that we have considered great.  This doesn’t just go for gold and pearls, bur for everything else that we have considered valuable.  In His presence, those things will be of little value and worth. 

He is reminding us that in His world, things will be exceedingly greater than we could ever ask for or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  In His world, all the things that have brought us joy, and all the things that have brought us pain will be diminished in the sheer glory of His presence.  A world where every tear will be wiped from our eyes, death will be overcome, mourning will not exist, and our pain will have no existence (Revelation 21:4).  A world where we will experience the fullness of satisfaction, and where our joy will finally be complete.

God wants to out-do us, reminding us that this world is but a morsel of the things that are to come.  So, in that case, to heaven it is…bring on the streets of gold. 

Question for response: What are your thoughts, fears, worries, or perspectives on what Heaven will be like?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Problem with our Interactions with Others:



1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

God has really been challenging me in how I deal with others.  I would have to say that this verse, tucked away in the book of Thessalonians is the theme of the challenge that has been placed on my heart throughout this year. 

Another translation of this verse calls us to “edify” one another.  What a strong word.  Every interaction we are to have with others is meant to be an avenue of growth, encouragement, and lifting each other up.  I don’t know about you, but that hardly describes every interaction I take part in. 

Last year we invited a young couple that we had recently met to our home for a dinner party with some friends.  Although I don’t remember all the details of what we spoke about, I remember sharing stories of God at work in each of our lives.  At the end of the night, the couple that we had just recently met asked if they could pray for us before they left- and we spent the rest of the evening praying and encouraging each other.

When they left that night, even with the dishes still in the sink, and the mess waiting to be cleaned- more than anything I remember feeling edified.  I felt so uplifted and encouraged.  And I remember thinking, “what if all my interactions with others left them feeling this way?”  I wondered why that type of edification was not present in many of my relationships with others…even with believers. 

The reality is, it takes effort to have a life that is lived to build others up.  It takes a deliberate attitude of humility to put them and their needs first.  And frankly, it takes practice.  It’s not a natural human condition to edify others and to build them up.  Our muscles are conditioned for self-gratification.  It takes an exertion of our minds and an extension of our hearts in order to live a life that brings others one step closer to the love of God through their interaction with our love.  But at the end of the day, more than anything, that is what this type of interaction is purposed to do: bring us one step closer to His love. 

Look around and see, this world is filled with too much of the opposite. And unfortunately, our churches have also fallen prey to the antithesis.  Criticism, condemnation, complaining, and ingratitude poison our communities, seep into our interpersonal relationships, and our take hold of our pews.  It’s time we begin to take an active approach.  For that is our only hope. 

I want to live a life that edifies others, more than anything else.  I want to leave their presence with the complete assurance that they felt loved.  I want to look for ways to encourage those around me.  I want to let them know that they are truly appreciated and respected.  I want to be more deliberate in loving this kind of way, and in doing so, deliver to them a fraction of the relentless love of God that is always there to build, uplift, and edify. 

Will you join me? 

Monday, November 30, 2009

How to Kill Worry:




Matthew 6:34 
Do not worry about tomorrow…

Yeah.  I know what you’re thinking, “easier said than done”.  It’s true.

This concept that is all throughout scripture is probably one of the hardest verses to actually follow through.  “Do not murder”, “Do not steal”…those we can probably handle if we really focus, but “Do not worry”, well, that one seems slightly overrated.

I am a worrier.  I find it hard to let go of control and allow life to just happen.  Even today, I find myself preoccupied with a little bit of worry.  Things that can aggressively consume my mind if I’m not careful.

Over the years I’ve come to depend on a few cognitive doctrines to help me wrestle with the intrusiveness of my worry:

  1. Take worry seriously.  Don’t allow yourself to worry about anything- from things as simple as the weather to things as serious as your loved ones.  Worry is like a poison, that can easily spread into every part of your life and eventually conquer your reality.
  2. Remember that worry is not from God.  It’s not an innocent process of “thinking through things” as we may try to justify it.  Worry is directly linked to fear, and where there is fear, there is a lack of faith.  These thoughts are not from God, and the longer we allow them to permeate our mind the more we are distancing ourselves from God’s perspective and pulling away from His presence.  
  3. Consider what worry is replacing: Prayer.  When we worry, we are allowing thoughts that could be devoted to prayer to be sidetracked to fuel for our anxiety.  Worry plays the part of our prayers, and in the end, nothing gets accomplished.  
  4. Remember, something supernatural happens when we deliberately choose to give our worries to God in prayer.  You don’t have to understand it, and you can’t explain it, because it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s guaranteed.  Our Lord promises it.  When we act on what we believe, God exchanges our worry for true, unrivaled peace.  

So whatever is on your mind today, there is only one thing to consider:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

i < You




Philippians 2:3 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves…

I recently posted an article called He < I.  The main concept of that post was to pose a challenge to re-prioritize our lives, allowing God to increase as we decrease. 

This week I have been challenged to take hold of a whole new level of re-prioritizing:  others.  Since Wednesday, I have been home for the holidays.  My family is unique in this way: there are tons of us.  Try to imagine a Thanksgiving gathering with the entire cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and you’ll get a picture of what I mean.

It’s really a beautiful thing, actually.  So many different personalities.  We all come together to form a kaleidoscope of characters.  Everyone with their own unique experiences, perspectives, challenges, and journeys.

The natural product of coming together during holidays is this: to share your lives.  Updating each other on where we are going, what we are doing, and what God is doing in our worlds.  For most of us, we long for this sharing.  We long for this connection with other individuals.  And for most of us, in our natural state, that is our primary purpose in communicating with others- telling our stories.

Although I believe this verse means so many things, the one thing that stands out to me this week is in the area of conversation.  Jesus takes this natural desire for affirmation, and he challenges it.  He challenges us to take our longing to be heard, and exchange it for a longing to listen.  He dares us to put our lives on hold for a moment, making the lives of others our primary purpose.  He urges us to consider others better than ourselves, putting them first in every aspect- including in conversation. 

So these holiday weeks, as you are interacting with friends, family, and loved ones…remember this: consider others better than yourselves.  Take the time to listen actively first, before you attempt to be listened to.  Take the time to ask them questions and really care to know the answers.  Take the time to savor the details of their lives.  Take the time to make their lives important by your attentiveness and consideration.  Take some time to consider others better than yourselves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: No Regrets



Philippians 3:13
Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead...

For me, this year has been filled with an enormous amount of blessing…and a great deal of loss.  John and I have been overwhelmed by the bounty of God’s blessing in our lives this year.  And I wonder sometimes if the losses that we have experienced have been the true catalyst for our sincere joy.  I suppose it’s in the face of loss that one realizes where true joys are to be found.

This year, as some of you know, I lost my dear Uncle Abe.  Shortly after that loss, another dear friend of ours was suddenly taken to heaven.  Last week I went to visit his wife.  I thought it would be a good time of sharing and a time to encourage her in her time of need.  What I didn’t expect, is that she would be the one to challenge and encourage me far beyond what I anticipated.

As we were chatting, she was describing her relationship with her beloved husband.  One thing she said to me I will never forget, “When I look back, I am thankful that I have no regrets about the way we loved each other”. 

I am absolutely challenged by that statement.  And this Thanksgiving, more than anything else, I am challenged to live that out.  I want to be a woman who has no regrets in the way that I love, recognizing every moment as a most precious and temporary gift. 

First and foremost I am thankful for my Lord.  Thankful for the undeserved grace that is lavished upon me every single day, graces that are new every morning.  I want to live a life of no regrets in how I love my Lord.

Second, I am thankful for my precious husband.  I never believed that there was “one special person out there made just for me”, until I met him.  He was fashioned for me, as a gift from my God, in every little way.  I am so thankful for his integrity, his humility, his heart and the love he showers on me everyday.  I want to live a life of no regrets in how I love him.

Thirdly, I am so thankful for my family.  I can’t say my family is perfect- no family is, but I can say with confidence that it’s an incredible thing to be fully and completely loved, supported, and accepted by them- no matter what.  My parents are two of my best friends, and my brother is one of the greatest men to walk the face of this earth.  I want to life a life of no regrets in how I love them. 

Lastly, I am thankful for my friends- for all the special people that God has placed in my life.  Each one of you is a unique piece that could never be replaced.  I want to live a life of no regrets in how I love each of you.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

May we love with no regrets.

For More Daily Devotions: 

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Beauty of Unanswered Questions:




John 14:6
“I am…the truth…”

What if we were a people that asked more questions rather than always having answers? 

I was thinking about the implications of that kind of a life today, as I was hanging out with my friend T [We’ll call her T for short- even though I warned her she might end up in my blog: all friends be forewarned…your conversations with me may end up being read by hundreds of people]. 

T is a 17 year old girl.  I met her on my Saturday morning ministry, and in the past year our weekly interactions have blossomed into a really special friendship.  T lives in a very rough part of town- surrounded by violence, drugs and poverty.  To add to that, she’s had a difficult past- filled with pain, suffering, and tragedy.  But a few months ago, T gave her life to the Lord- in my parked car on the side of her busy street, which I can honestly say, was one of the most amazing moments in my life.

Since that day, our time spent together has, in a way, served a new purpose.  It’s been a time of “reordering” for her.  A time for asking new questions, and for seeking new answers.  Her old ways of thinking are slowly being replaced with new ideas, thoughts, and dreams.   New expectations, beliefs, and values.  But these times of reordering have always included one very important factor: questions.

This day was no different.  “Deb, how do know if you truly love someone?”…

I used to be uncomfortable with questions.  What I mean by that, is that I always assumed I had to offer an answer when someone asked a question.  The past few years I’ve learned to be comfortable with unanswered questions.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to have all the answers….and that in fact, I shouldn’t.  I’ve learned that in questions unanswered by us…we leave room for the greatest Answer of all- the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in the lives of others.  So this time, I reciprocated this question with another one:

“What do you think, T?”
“Hmmm….I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that one.  I’ve never asked myself that before.”

We spent the car ride home exploring love- talking about God’s love for us, our love for each other.  We talked about what true love might resemble- and what it might not.  Each question paving the way into something deeper.  Each question opening the door for other questions.  And so, as it seems, our night ended with unanswered questions. 

Some of you  may be thinking, “what a wasted learning opportunity”.  And many years ago, I would have probably agreed.  But more than anything, I walked away from our interaction today - more confident than ever of the power of my Lord. 

A Lord that not only hears our questions, but places them in our hearts.  A Lord who himself meets many of our questions with more questions.  A Lord who understands that the fruit of an unanswered question is perseverance, faith, and persistence.  A Lord who knows that with each question, he is lovingly drawing us one step closer, one level deeper to the finding where true answers are found…Himself. 

And so may we, my brothers and sisters, be freed to release ourselves from the burden of answers.  May we be challenged to stretch our faith as we trust our Lord with our unanswered questions, and those of our loved ones.  May we allow ourselves to be quiet for a moment, training our spiritual ears to hear the answers whispered by His Holy Spirit.  And may we with confidence believe that in the end He will draw us to the One where true answers are to be found. 

Thank you, Lord, for our unanswered questions.  And thank you, that at the end of our wondering, there we will always find You. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

He > i



John 3:30
He must become greater, I must become less. 

“Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become…appropriately small.” - John Ortberg

It’s amazing how things can sneak up on you.  It’s amazing how things that were originally supposed to be in the background, can so quickly take the forefront.  My husband and I were talking about that tonight and it got me thinking. 

You see, John and I are reaching a new stage in our lives.  In a few months we will most likely be making a huge move….a move to a city unknown.  It can be daunting at times, thinking of all the possibilities.  Tomorrow is a big day, and John is interviewing for a position coveted by thousands of students all over the country.   These interviews may very well be the determining factors of where the next few years of our lives will be spent, and in turn, set the course for our future.  Just the thought of that can be mind boggling.  So many questions could occupy our minds: What if we make the wrong choice?  What if we don‘t get in?  What if we make a bad decision? 

Sadly, little by little, the word WE starts sneaking into the forefront, and HE (God), slowly takes a seat in the back.  Somehow, we get to the point where we have it all backwards.  Somehow, we start believing the lie that this life is really all about us…our lives…our futures…our hopes and dreams…

And then reality hits.  God decides to save us from our small, ignorant and narrow paradigms.  With moments like we experienced tonight.  Life changing questions begin to set in.  God begins to take his rightful place at the front and center of our lives asking:

  • What if this interview is not meant to determine our future- but rather, set the stage for God‘s plans?
  • What if the only reason you are here today is to reach out to someone in this place?
  • What if this is not about you at all, but about bringing me glory?
  • What if your whole life’s “occupation“, had one purpose and one purpose alone- to spread God’s love to a blind and hopeless world?
  • What if all your hopes and dreams were meant only as a backdrop to my real plans?
  • What if God is guiding us through things that are far bigger than ourselves?

Some of these questions are mine to take ownership of, but I know- some of these questions are for you, too.  You, like us, may have allowed things in this life: your future, your unexpected illness, your difficult job, stressful schooling, annoying coworkers, relationships, hopes and dreams, family, ministry, and scariest of all- your self….to take the center stage.  The shift may have been so subtle, that you never noticed it.  It may have been so innocent that no one around you would have even noticed.  Do me a favor, ask yourself this:

What am I preoccupied with throughout the day?  The answer may be painful, but it will be revealing.  Revealing of the true conditions of our hearts.  The true center of our stage.  The truth of who is being made greater and who is being made less. 

May we all take a hard look at our lives, asking God to align our priorities with His.  Asking Him to become infinitely greater, and we to become significantly less.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Prejudice, Pride...and a little Prada:




Matthew 7:1
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

[To judge: to make estimates as to worth, quality, or fitness.  To form an opinion or evaluation.]


I’m sitting at a window seat in a Border’s this morning, high above the city of Chicago, looking out into the busy streets, sipping on my ice-blended peppermint mocha.  The streets below are in a hustle.  Everyone is going somewhere, or at least they pretend.  So many different shapes and shades of people.   It’s fun to watch. 

Every now and again someone will walk by breaking the monotony of human clones….every now and again, someone that stands out in the crowd.  From the underdressed woman, to the overdressed and disheveled homeless man, and everything in between.  My eyes are always drawn to him or her, and so are the eyes of those around them.  I watch, and wonder what their human peers are thinking…whether said out loud, spoken quietly under our breaths, or silently through the sharp gaze of our eyes, we’re always thinking something, aren’t we?

And then, the Voice of reason came.  The Voice that always shatters the bubble of my poisonous thoughts, that always saves me from myself.  It said, “I love them all…each and every one. I love them with a love that rivals the love I have for my Son.  I love them enough to give the world for them, and I did.  I love them, but do you?”

I’m left with that abrasive question ringing in my ears, bruising me down to the core of my pride.  It stings me, and maybe it stings you too, because if we are really honest with ourselves, we will find that we are all guilty…guilty of playing judge. 

I guess I never really understood the severity of judging until recently.  Just by looking at the very definition of judging, one can infer some very dangerous things.  Those of us who have allowed our minds to make room for that level of prejudice have somehow convinced our poor selves that we have been given the authority to make statements of value and worth on fellow human beings.  Human beings who are just as guilty as we.  Human beings who are loved by God.  Human beings who are deemed worthy, valued, and fit.  Those of us who have elevated ourselves to that type of authority have essentially lifted ourselves up to the authority of God himself.  That, my friends, is a terrifying thing.  It’s no wonder that for that very reason- we have called judgment upon ourselves.

More dangerous than those who judge, are those who believe they are free of it.  It’s easy to live in denial, isn’t it?  But a candid look into our hearts and we will realize that we are all guilty.  Maybe for you it’s the black homeless man, sitting on the corner with a cup in his hand.  Maybe it’s the Prada-wearing, Coach-carrying woman walking the streets of Chicago.  Maybe it’s the Bible-toating conservative-gloating Jerry Falwell’s.  Maybe it’s the shy veiled Muslim woman that comes into your store every day.  Maybe it’s the gay couple, holding hands as they cross the street.  Maybe it’s the tattooed youngster, pants hanging below his waist.  Maybe it’s the church…filled with it’s sinners and saints.

For each of us, we will find that we have succumbed to this false authority, allowing ourselves to be the determiners of value and worth.  Today, may we take an honest look at prideful selves and fall desperately on our knees in repentance.

Lord, you alone are the worthy judge.  Forgive us, again…and again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sacrifice and Old Shoes:


Before you get into this, if you haven't yet subscribed to my blog via email, please do.  That way, you'll get an email of new posts any time I update my blog.  Just fill in your email address on the right and then you'll be sent a confirmation...it's pretty simple.

Anyway, I'm camping out in the book of Genesis right now.  I just finished reading the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. Whenever I read this story, it brings me back to an experience I had at church this past year.  A Sunday morning when we learned about sacrifice- and then were asked to give up our shoes.  I wrote a few thoughts on it back then, and pulled them out for reflection.  Check them out.

Mark 10:21-23 (NIV) 
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”


Genesis 22:2
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go...sacrifice him there..."

"This morning, God decided to shake my world up a bit, as He sometimes tends to do.

The sermon this morning was about “Sacrifice”.  I was challenged as I listened to the contrasting stories of Abraham- willing to give up his only son as an offering; and the rich young man- who loved his possessions so much that he chose them rather than Christ.  I sat there and listened.  In my mind I was cheering for Abraham, smiling and soaking in the beauty of that kind of sacrifice.  In my mind I was scoffing at the rich man, who thought his possessions were more valuable than spiritual healing.  How could he?  Didn’t he realize what he was saying no to?  Didn’t he realize that this would be his salvation?  I mean, how truly superficial can someone be?

It’s funny how we tend to compare ourselves with holiness and think we measure up.  To think we have somehow managed to stack up there with the great people of faith, and listen to correction and advice as though it was meant for the one sitting behind us.  And then God decides to shake us up a bit, reminding us of where we really stand- reminding us of how much of our sin His grace truly covers.

Our Pastor then took the next step in talking about sacrifice...in discussing this unfathomable word that brought Christ down to this earth to show us the true meaning of love.  He challenged us to apply this word to our lives...to be a living example of the sacrificial love of Christ.

Oh- okay, I thought.  I got this stuff down.  I wake up early on Saturdays to hang out with the poor of the inner city, I make sure to keep the house clean and dinners delicious for my husband, in fact- I’m even going on a mission trip next month to a third world country- talk about sacrifice...as I mentally went down my list of sacrifices, checking off the boxes, getting holier and holier by the moment.

Our Pastor spoke of the poor and needy that he saw this week, lining up in front of the Church, waiting for the free clothing the Ministry could offer them.  He spoke of their needs, most of them not even owning a decent pair of shoes.  We were challenged to consider their needs, to consider the act of sacrifice, giving to others what they do not have, doing for others what they cannot do. We were challenged to realize how much we had been given, and be able to give back that kind of love...literally.  We were challenged to come up to the altar and lay down our shoes.

My shoes???  You’ve got to be kidding me.  I love these $20.00 shoes, I wear them to work everyday.  They sparkle...and have such a cute little heal...and they’re oh, so comfortable!  How about I just write a check? OR maybe go buy a pair of shoes for the poor...that would be honorable.  Or how about just tell myself that this doesn’t really reflect the condition of my heart...I mean, God REALLY knows my heart.

And then it hit me.  God REALLY does know my heart.  He knows the darkness, the selfishness, the rationalization that lives within it.  Sad, but oh so freeing.  He knows the struggle...he knows the superficial tendencies I have.  He knows the deepest parts of me- the fight between my spirit and my flesh.  I began to cry.  I couldn’t believe what a battle this had been for me, to give up a cheap pair of shoes.  What makes me scoff at the rich young man, when I struggle at the idea of a giving a personal possession?  It hit me then that I had been the rich young man all along...I had been the one blessed with the ease of life, the comforts of America, the freedom of my faith and my religion.  I had been the rich young man all along...in giving what is easy, what is timely, what is practical and convenient.  In giving when I feel like it, when I have extra, and when I know it will make me look good.  My own sort of “wealth”...I call it comfort.

God shook me up real good this morning, and I am so glad he did.  I am so glad He opened my eyes to realizing how much I need him everyday, to teach me what it means to truly love, to truly give.  I had somehow convinced myself that I had it all figured out.

I write this because I want to be held accountable.  I want to be a woman who is known for giving and loving like my Father, like my Savior.  I want to be a woman that offers when it isn’t convenient, and when it stretches my faith.  I want others to be challenged like I’ve been challenged, to live out the love of Christ in the day to day, when eyes are on us, and when they aren’t.

May we choose to follow Christ in giving up our shoes...and in giving up our lives.  Where you lead us Lord, give us the strength to go."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ruthless Mercy: Thoughts on Sodom and Gomorrah



A different perspective on the usual story.


Genesis 19:16
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand, and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters, and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 

Sodom and Gomorrah.  That’s the story in Genesis 19 where this little verse is tucked away.  Sodom and Gomorrah, the story identified with justice and wrath.  God’s punishment on a people who had mocked and defiled Him.  In fact, I believe that this passage is one where many (believers and unbelievers alike) are caught in a web of spiritual and philosophical confusion.  A loving God choosing to act in ruthless judgment. 

It’s easy to focus on that wrath.  It’s easy to allow it to taint every part of who we had believed God to be.  It’s easy to get lost in our own preconceived notions of who God should be, rather than come to terms with who He really says He is.  A God of justice…but most astonishingly, a God of ruthless mercy. 

You see, hidden beneath the fire and brimstone of this chapter, one finds a seed of truth burying its roots into the foundation of His character.  Merciful.  Severely and wholly merciful.  Ruthlessly merciful. 

The evidence for this is clearly seen in God’s interaction with Lot.  Though Lot was himself engrossed in sin, though he was so quick to compromise, though he was living a life with a divided heart- trying to please both God and man; Lot was still under the mercy of his Lord.  Even in the moments of his hesitation, even in the moments of relapsing back into the sin which so easily entangled, God was merciful, and because of His mercy He led them to safety. 

What was the difference between the sin of Lot and of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  What was it about Lot that made God so apt to look favorably upon him, to save him?  What was it about him that made him rest under the mercy of God?  The answer is absolutely nothing.  There was nothing about Lot that made him worthy, no, nothing but the saving grace of his God.  A grace that has been offered to all.  A grace that will only enter into the lives of those who will allow it, those who will accept it. 

It’s comforting to know that.  It’s comforting because I too, like Lot, have my moments of hesitation.  Moments where the temptations around me entice and allure me.  Moments where I willfully compromise.  I’m grateful that through it all, I rest under the assurance of a ruthless mercy.  A mercy that loves me so much it will not allow me to remain where I am.  A mercy that calls me out of my destructive ways and into safety.  A mercy that grasps my hesitating and stubborn hand, and leads me gently into a place of rest. 

Thank you Father, for your ruthless mercy.
_____
For reflection:
  • Is there an area in your life right now in which you are "hesitating" to take the next step that God has called you to take?  What is holding you back? 
  • Are you, like Lot, living a life of compromise in certain parts of your life? Who are the people who are keeping you there?  What are those things that you find it difficult to part with?
  • Have you found it difficult to accept God's undeserved grace and ruthless mercy in your life?  What are the lies that are keeping you from entering into that forgiveness and freedom?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Loving Yourself: Humility vs. Self-deprecation:




Some of you may have read this post before.  I thought it needed to be reiterated.  With such a constant focus on pride, this topic tends to be looked over.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Also, please make sure to subscribe to my blog by email so you can get the lastest reflections! 

Loving Yourself
Mark 12:31

Love your neighbor as yourself.

From the beginning of time there has been a deficit of love in our world.  There has been a deficit of how man loves his God.  There has been a deficit of how man loves one another.  And there has also been a deficit of how man loves himself.

For this reason, these five words hold such powerful insight into the human psyche.  The more I learn about the discipline of psychology, the more I am amazed with how well God knows His people.  There is proof of that knowledge within these words.

The beauty of this verse is that with two words God is relaying a foundational truth that many times goes ignored: “As Yourself”.  You cannot love others, until you have learned to love yourself.  I meet so many Christians who struggle continually with this concept.  I meet Christians who have wrestled with the concept of loving themselves because their lives have been filled with self-denial, self-hatred and self-loathing.  Christians who have never been taught to love themselves.  Christians who mistakenly thought they had found some solace in the words of the Bible that taught them to deny their self, to put others before them, and to consider their selves as nothing.  There is tragedy in this type of degradation.

This type of “denial” is a dangerous misconception.  Masking self-loathing with self-denial is a dangerous road.  Confusing humility with a lack of self worth causes more harm than good.  We are called to love ourselves, to enjoy how God has made us, to delight in our uniqueness, our value, and our worth.  God delights in us, and we also are to delight in who He has created us to be.  We are to love ourselves.

You see, God is not calling us to deny who he has made us to be, but rather, who He has not made us to be.  To deny our sinful nature with its temptations and its downfalls.  To deny our selfishness and our stubbornness.  To deny our lust, our pride, our idolatry.  To deny the things that separate us from God.  And only those things.

Christians, we are called to love ourselves- just as God loves us.  We are called to delight in ourselves as He delights in us.  And when we do, we will find that gates to loving others have never been so easy to walk through.  We will find that loving others becomes so real, so genuine, and so complete.  We will find that in that beautiful exchange of love between our self and our God, we find the strength and motivation to exchange that same love with our neighbors.

Lord, give us the ability to love ourselves as you love us- in order that we may then learn how to truly love others.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Looking for Cheap Hotels:



Romans 10:13-14
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved…How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

To me, the lesson behind these verses is this: urgency.  Urgency in sharing the message of the gospel.  Urgency in sharing His love.  We are a people who have lost our urgency.  We have grown complacent, content, and cold.  We have allowed other things to take priority.  We have stopped looking for opportunities, and even worse, stopped taking opportunities when they come.

The other day my husband and I were driving back home from our trip to San Francisco.  We had been “hotel-shopping” the whole month before- trying to get the best deals for our stay.  We had learned of every hotel within a 3 mile radius of center-city San Francisco.  On our way back to Peoria, we noticed something for the first time: hotels.  There were dozens of them.  Some, within 500 feet of our apartment. 

The funny thing is, before this week, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you the names of hotels in our area.  We had no idea.  The reason is, we were never looking for them.  We never cared.  It had never pertained to us. 

And so goes with our lives.  We become so used to closing our eyes and ears to the things that concern God.  We are not looking for them.  We miss opportunities that God gives us to share His truth.  We are not listening for them.  We live life in auto-pilot, moving forward one day at a time, forgetting our purpose, forgetting our ultimate destination.  Forgetting the ultimate destinations of those around us.  Our spiritual muscles have atrophied, because we have allowed them to waste away in careless complacency. 

That is the sobering reality.  That is the soil in which our urgency must take root.  We are surrounded by those who will not be saved, because they cannot be saved unless they hear, and they cannot hear unless they are told.  We are surrounded every day by men and women who are desperate for truth, desperate for salvation, as we, brothers and sisters, hold that truth selfishly within our grasp.  Unwilling to share.  Unwilling to go there.  Unwilling to acknowledge and face the urgency of their situation. 

I don’t know about you, but that, my friends, compels me toward serious action. 

I leave you with one question: How will you respond?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Save Us From Ourselves:


Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth”. 

I remember hearing this story as a child.  I remember listening as I tried to imagine a group of people trying to build a tall tower brick by brick.  I remember picturing a tower that was so high its peak reached far into the clouds and into the heavens.  I remember envisioning God, looking at this tower that was gaining in on Him, and getting angry at his people for building a tower so high that it invaded his heavens.  Getting so angry that with one flick of his finger the whole tower collided: bricks crumbling, people falling to the ground.

Sounds silly, eh?  A twisted combination of The Tower of Babel and Jack and the Beanstalk.  It sounds silly, until we realize that there are many who still view God in this way, even as adults.  Silly, until we realize that maybe we are the ones, still misunderstanding the intentions of our God, still questioning His love for us. 

You see, more than a cruel story about a controlling God, the tower of Babel is representation of love…God’s love to a misguided people.  It’s the story of God’s love to a people who had forgotten His life-giving role in their lives.  It’s the story of God’s love even in the face of blatant human idolatry.  It’s the story of a God that loved so much, that He so mercifully turned their faces to Him.  I suppose sometimes His mercy can only reach us when it is severe.  Sometimes, in it’s sweet severity, He will take all the towers we have built in our lives, one by one, until the only tower that is left standing is Him. 

He knew the pain that would eventually come as a result of their self-righteousness.  He knew the struggles that would follow their child-like, stubborn, independence.  He knew the grave responsibility of allowing them to become the center of their worlds.  He knew that if He truly loved them, He had to save them from themselves. 

And in an effort to do so, He shattered their worlds.  God will do that sometimes- step in and save us from ourselves.  Save us from our misinterpretations.  Save us from our arrogance and self-centeredness.  Save us from giving glory where glory is not due.  He’ll do that sometimes, by shattering the things we thought good and replacing them with what‘s better, or even what‘s best.  By taking the things we have so wrongly placed before Him, and giving us the chance to seat Him at the rightful throne of our lives. 

It may be painful sometimes, but it will always bring peace.  It may be tainted with confusion, but never without a lasting comfort.  It may cause sorrow, but in time, it will always bring salvation. 

Lord, forgive us for the towers we have built in our lives.  Forgive us that we have sought a name for ourselves and have forsaken your name.  Remove those things in our lives that eclipse our vision of you.  Save us from our Babel.

Save us from ourselves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pizza, Beer, and the Glory of God:


1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

Since listening to John Piper’s sermon last week, my perspective on things has begun to slowly transform.  He challenged Christians to live this life with one focused pursuit- doing the work of God; pointing others to Him through our love.

He reminded us that this life isn’t for “vacation“, that in fact, we will have eternal vacationing- or as he put it, “eternal TV watching” when we enjoy that which we were made for one day: reveling in the presence of our Lord. 

Ironically, the week after I heard this message- John and I were headed for some of our own “vacationing” in San Francisco.  Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think there is anything wrong with vacationing, in fact- I believe we need it.  I sure did.  We need time built into our lives to enjoy relationships, to enjoy our surroundings, and to simply rest.

But, I believe the underlying question John Piper was addressing in his message is this:  what do we live for?  What do we spend our lives in pursuit of?  Unfortunately, too many times the answer is not the glory of God, but rather a long list of meaningless things. 

So for me, this week, I asked God to change my perspective.  I had asked Him to give me a renewed desire for His glory, and a preoccupation with His work.  And here’s what happened:

___

The streets of San Francisco are always in a hustle.  It’s a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people.  On our last evening there, John and I decided to have a picnic at Union Square, the park in the center of the city.  We got our Blondie’s pizza, found a table to sit, and sat to enjoy one another’s company and take in the sights of the city.

As we were eating, I noticed a man sitting in a bench beside us.  I couldn’t help but observe that he looked somber.  He sat alone, and every few minutes, he would pick up his wrinkled brown bag, and take a sip of the drink inside.

I couldn’t get his sad look out of my mind.  No matter what I tried to do to distract myself, I found my eyes would keep wandering back to him, wondering what was causing this man to look so serious.  I felt the prodding of the Holy Spirit getting stronger and stronger, the nagging preoccupation that I had asked God for was being birthed inside of my spirit.  So much so, that I couldn’t make it go away even when I tried. 

I turned to him and said, “Sir, are you hungry?  Would you like a slice of Pizza?  We’re going to have plenty left over.”

“I’m not really hungry, but sure, I will take a slice.”
And so our conversation began.  With one simple slice of pizza, Howard entered into our worlds, and we entered into his.

“Are you from the area?” we asked.  “No, I am from Manhattan, visiting San Francisco because my mom is very sick.”

Through the course of the conversation, we learned many things about Howard.  We learned of his deep concern as he watched his mom suffer through a merciless bout with cancer.  We learned of his many regrets- regrets that he had never invested in her life until now.  We learned of his deep worries, worries that she would soon be gone from his life, though she was the most important thing he had.  We learned about his struggle with religion, knowing a God who only loves when we are good- when we obey the rules.  Howard had broken the “rules”, many of them, he said.  In fact, he even said that he was breaking one of the rules in that  very moment, as he sat there with us, washing the last bite of his pizza down with his beer. 

We learned a lot about Howard that day, and then we shared with Him about the love of the God that we knew.  A God who deeply hurts when we are hurting.  A God who cares greatly for our loved ones.  A God who has the power to heal bodies and repair broken relationships.  A God who forgives us even before we ask.  A God who’s lavish love alone brings us to repentance…not the other way around. 

We prayed with Howard that evening, before we said goodbye.  It was a wonderful moment, and afterward he looked up and said, “Wow, that was a powerful prayer”.  God knew exactly what Howard needed to hear that day, and He gave us the words to convey those things. 

I learned a powerful lesson this week.  First, I learned that I am not diligent enough in doing God’s work.  How many Howard’s have I interacted with- not giving a moment’s thought to their spiritual needs?  How many days have gone by where I have not asked God to give me a preoccupation with His work?  How many opportunities have been missed because I frankly didn’t care enough to take the time. 

Secondly, I learned the important truth that no matter what we are doing- we can be used by God.  We don’t have to be at our Saturday morning church ministry.  We don’t have to be at a homeless shelter feeding the poor.  It doesn’t have to be a special moment.  We don’t have to have special words.  And we certainly don’t have to be a special person.  In fact, He is glorified more because we are not.

The truth is, God can and WILL be glorified in every part of our lives- whether or not we take part in that is our decision.   So this week, friends, whether you eat, or whether you drink, whether you work or stay at home, whether you go for a run or to the grocery store, whether you attend a church service or visit a friend, whether you meet a Howard or an old friend- remember this: do it all for the glory of God.  Amen. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

True Life (in the face of death):


Philippians 1:21
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 

This week I experienced this verse more powerfully than I have ever experienced it before.  This week, the reality of life and death were staring me in the face.  This week, I witnessed the brevity of life, powerless against the impending pledge of death.   You see, this week I said goodbye to a beloved man, as he passed from life into death. 

My Uncle Abe, or Hemo as we affectionately called him- unexpectedly passed away on October 14, 2009 at only 57 years old.  It was a sudden loss and it took us all by surprise.  We were left with feelings of sadness, confusion, regrets, and denial as we faced this hasty new reality.  The pangs of pain and sorrow were so real in those moments.  They still are.  But eventually, the loud noise of sorrow began to part for just a moment- and God began to whisper truth. 

As my husband John and I were traveling the 13 hour trek to the funeral this weekend, we happened to be listening to an old John Piper sermon.  The sermon was regarding the sanctity of life, and John Piper spoke truth that has not stopped ringing in my ears:

Eternal life is more important than temporal life.  But the effect of really believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ is that we spend ourselves in this life, not maximizing our comforts here, but showing His love here- especially for the weak and helpless.  

Piper went on to challenge Christians today, to truly live their lives for Christ- remembering that our eternal vacation awaits us in heaven.  For in that is true gain.  We forget that sometimes, don’t we?  We forget that this life is not meant for earthly gains, but rather, passionate, infatuated, obsessive service for the love of Christ.  We forget that this life isn’t meant to be lived as though it is the only, but rather, whole-hearted preparation for the next.  We tend to spend our lives investing in the here and now.  The salary, the house, the cars, the toys, the fun.  Our life begins to represent that we believe that “to live is self” rather than “to live is Christ”.  But, hear this, to live is Christ…. 

Do we really understand what that means?  Do we really understand what it means to live for Christ?  To live in Christ?  To live IS Christ?  What an important fact to face with the cloud of death still hanging over our heads.  As my late college chancellor used to always say: Only one life, will soon be passed.  Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

To live is Christ, to die is truly gain.  This is life.  True life.  What a sobering reminder.


R.I.P. Hemo: We miss you...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Temptation:


In case you're wondering why I have an apple emblem, read on.  The following post is about temptation.  I was originally looking for a picture of an apple, or some sort of fruit to represent this theme...and then I realized that my searches were pulling up this icon instead.

But you know, there is something truthfully ironic in this.  It makes sense.  In this era, modern technology has become our door to many temptations that we wouldn't otherwise have had.  Things that occupy our time and our minds.  From pornography to IM, facebook, email...end yes, even blogging.  Whether your temptations and addictions stares you in the face as you look at your computer, or whether they come in the form of actual food...we are surrounded by temptations, aren't we?  Take some time today to take ownership of your own.


Genesis 3:4-5
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”

I have come to realize that the most difficult sins to combat are those that come through the softness of subtlety.  Those that are so in line with our natural longings and desires that they sneak their way into our lives.  Those that are so delicately disguised with the taste of truth that our moral pallets can barely tell the difference. 

It makes sense to me that this is how sin entered the world.  It makes sense that the serpent chipped away at a natural, God-given desire, slowly turning the hard stone of truth into a chiseled lie. 

“You will be like God”, he explained.  There is blatant truth in that desire.  You see, to be made in the likeness of God is our highest calling, for we were made in His image.  True obedience, then, is to give oneself to total transformation into His likeness.  God has birthed that desire within us, to draw us to Himself.

And then the subtle lie slipped in.  The lie slipped in, so quickly replacing the desire of being like God, with simply being God.  How easily one can relate to this lie.  A lie that sets the stage for pridefulness and arrogance, blinding us to our true depravity.  A lie that nurtures the seed of control, deceiving us into believing we hold any sort of power.  A lie that quickly shifts our priorities, moving us from Christ-centered to self-centered.  Oh how quickly the lie takes root.  How quickly it misleads. 

What may have started out with good intent led down the path of destruction.  Subtlety.  Delicately.  Dangerously.  We, too, are in the same quiet battle.  Everyday the subtlety of the enemy seeps into our lives, shifting our focus, filling our time, occupying our minds.  He comes quietly, slyly, like a gentle serpent.  If he came with a crashing roar, we would certainly run and hide.  This way, we may never see him until he is there.  Whispering the chorus of temptation into our ears.  Wooing us with words that hold distorted truth.  Nagging on the vulnerability of our natural desires. 

Daughters and sons of God, may we be challenged today, to either look back, or to look forward.  May we be challenged to sift through our day, taking responsibility for where we have strayed.  May we be challenge to shine the light of God’s full truth- exposing the subtle lies that have bled into our lives.  And may we come running into the arms of our Abba, in full restoration and repentance.  There we will find protection.  There we will find safety. 

Thank you, Lord, for your open arms.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pro-Life: What does it REALLY mean...?


If you've been following my blog, you may have noticed a recent entry on "the least of these".  That concept seems to be following me everywhere this week, in what I read, the discussions I have, sermons I have heard...God must be trying to get my attention about something.  Maybe he has always been, and I just finally started listening.

Either way, there was a profound portion in the book I'm reading by Brennan Manning that I had to share.  He is talking about the concept of pro-life, and those who claim to be activists in this area.  It's a challenging thought for anyone who claims to believe in the sanctity of life.

The way we are with each other is the truest test of out faith.  How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car. 

We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death.  We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no "others".

For others.  All others.  That is the vital truth that comes though loud and clear in what Brennan is saying, but more importantly, in what Jesus Christ himself is saying.


Take some time to think about your "pro-life stance" today.  Are you living up to your beliefs?  With your neighbors?  Coworkers?  Enemies? With the poor and the broken right in your city?  With the irritating and the annoying souls you run into everyday?  With the difficult and argumentative?  With the least of these.

Former post regarding the "least of these".










Friday, October 9, 2009

Fear of Rest:


Genesis 2:2
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

There was a time when this little morsel of scripture could have been identified as the bane of my existence.  I could hardly fathom the idea of rest, much less find time for it.  In fact, the seventh day had become the day to catch up on the things I had failed to do during the week.  I had to keep up.  Always fighting to get ahead.  I would have never believed you if you’d told me that there would be a day when I would actually go so far as to enjoy it. 

You see, for me, the concept of rest was synonymous with laziness.  The word was loaded with negative connotations and unrealistic expectation.  For me, rest was the polar opposite of what I believed to be the definition of diligence: working hard for the Lord.  There was no place for it in my equation of life.  There was no place for it my equation of Christianity. 

Looking back, I remember the day that God got a hold of me.  I remember that day because it had profound impact on the rest of my life.  I remember hearing God’s voice, barely audible, shining through like a piercing ray of sunshine in the midst of my haze.  “What are you afraid of?”

He called me out.  Just like that.  Not with a diplomatic, “Are you afraid?”, which leaves room for error on the part of the one questioning.  A convicting what.  After working through my initial self-righteous and defensive responses, I came to the conclusion that He was right.  He was right in calling me out.  He was right in identifying my deepest fears.  He has such a beautiful way of getting to the roots of who we really are.  Exposing the truth.  Challenging us to be real with ourselves, real with Him. 

I was truly afraid.  Afraid of rest.  Afraid of the stillness.  Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the reality of being alone, alone with myself.  Afraid of facing my true worth- without the accomplishments and the endeavors and the successes.  Afraid of being vulnerable, of having the things that I had worked so hard for stripped completely away in those moments.  Afraid to just be.  Afraid to rest. 

The Lord has accomplished a great healing in my life in the area of rest.  In fact, He has transformed the equation of my life.  He has revealed himself more to me in those moments of rest than in any other moments, reminding me that only when I rest can I really be free to trust Him.  Trusting Him with my accomplishments, my endeavors, my successes.  Trusting Him to be the source of my worth and security.  Trusting Him to protect me from the brutal expectations that this world has placed upon me.  Trusting Him to strip away the things that I have worked so hard for, and instead clothe me with His gracious works. 

Yes, I have learned to find my God in the moments of rest, and meeting Him there has had divine impact on my life.  Meeting Him there continues to have impact on my life, exposing the truth, allowing me to come to terms with who He truly is, and who I truly am.  So I leave you with the same question that so challenged me: What are you afraid of?  What is keeping you from rest?

Lord, even with our masks of denial you expose our deepest fears.  Grant us the courage to walk out of the demands of our life, but rather, to walk into the demands of yours…to walk into your rest. 


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Everyday Jesus:

Matthew 25:40
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

The real question is, do we really believe this verse?  I mean, really?  Do we truly believe that the seemingly insignificant interactions that we take part in throughout the day are a real life encounters with the person of Jesus Christ?  I believe it may just be easier to say that we don’t really believe this.  For to say that we do would require a lot of action.  It would require a complete change of life.  I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of adjustment, are you?

That’s a question worth some real time and consideration.  It is a question that will have a vital impact on the way we live our day to day lives.  It is a question that will challenge our priorities and reveal the true state of our hearts.  It is a question that will absolutely transform and redefine our interpersonal relationships. 

You see, according to this scripture, we meet Jesus everyday.  It’s easy to forget that.  It’s so easy to compartmentalize Him to the early morning moments of waking, the prayer times at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (if even that), the moments of bible-reading, prayer, and church attendance.  For some of us “holy ones”, our compartmentalization of our Lord may even span into what we call “ministry”…a time allotted to service.  It’s funny how we somehow believe we have the authority to decide what part of our lives to give him, and what part of our lives to refrain from giving him. 

According to this scripture, we no longer have the authority.  According to the words of our Lord our interactions with Him no longer have their time and place.  According to these words, those whom Jesus calls his own are the ones who have recognized him all throughout their day.  They have acknowledged the everyday Jesus. 

How have they acknowledged him, you may ask?   We find the simple truth hidden in the words of this profound passage.  Our Lord always seems to appear where we least expect him.  Just like He did two thousand years ago through the form of an infant child, He again comes to meet us in the most unexpected ways: through the least of these.  We will find him through the least of these.  We will interact with him through the least of these.  We will serve him, only through the least of these. 

This calls for a true reordering of our worlds, doesn’t it?  For most of us, if we truly come to terms with the our priorities throughout the day, it is not the least of these that we are diligently working to serve.  It is not the least of these whom we strive to impress and awe.  It is not the least of these with whom we spend our time, give our money, and invite into our homes.  It seems as if we have truly missed it.  And in the process, we have also missed our Lord.  Are you ready for a transformation?

Forgive us, Lord, for we have failed to encounter you in the day to day. Instill in us a renewed passion for the least of these, for you yourself came in that form.  Give us the humility it takes to find you there.