Saturday, December 13, 2008

Church Planting, Disability Ministry and Icy Roads!

Last night I made a discovery about church plantiing. Church planting especially with the vision to minister to individuals and families impacted by disability and icy roads have some things in common!

Winter wonderland describes Pittsburgh's look of the last several days! The huge snowflakes chasing each other to see which can get to the ground first are beautiful. The way below freezing temps keep our white world in place.

Yesterday late afternoon I drove to take supper to a friend. Her daughter - just arrived home for winter break from college - needed a ride to get a prescription filled. So she and I set off - the "back way" - for the pharmacy. We were fine getting there even though my friend commented that she couldn't believe the roads hadn't been salted. I replied that I thought cities were trying to save money by not spreading salt "recklessly" this year - that I read in the paper or heard on the radio that Chicago spent many millions just clearing their roads in one recent snowstorm. We got to the store, discovered they wouldn't process her new insurance card and started home on the same back roads.

We came to the top of the last long hill. A small deer almost darted in front of us at the same moment I realized we were driving down a skating rink road. It must have been black ice covered by a layer of snow. Fortunately we were the only car either way as we mostly slid down the hill. I knew I wasn't in control of the car. I was just trying to stay on the path. At the bottom (where the sign says opposing traffic does not stop) I had no choice but to steer carefully to the left onto her home street which is fairly flat. Fortunately there was no near on-coming traffic!

When we pulled into her drive, she said to me, "That was pretty scary!" That was the moment I processed exactly how scary it was! I guess I'm so used to living in the exciting fast lane of life that it didn't get my adrenaline flowing as much as it did hers.

My husband and I and a brave band of others are starting A Restoration Church in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It's not our first church plant experience, but it is clearly the most exciting. A Restoration Church is unique in our vision to take the Gospel to and to bring into the Kingdom intentionally and especially individuals and families impacted by disability.

Sometimes our forward progress seems well-planned, but mostly this church plant is a lot like that icy road last night. It's a really exciting ride - even dangerously exciting at times - with Someone (that would be the King of the Kingdom) else in control. We are in forward motion with rapidly beating hearts being faithful and working hard for the King to build His Kingdom further here in Pittsburgh!

The analogy may break down at some points, I'm sure, but the essence is that church planting can be a lot like my ride in my car with my young friend down the icy hill last night! We are going where many people don't dare go. We are makinig new friends and taking them along for the ride of their lives. We are taking risks and living on the edge of our comfort zones (and even stepping outside our comfort level) - all for the sake of building God's Kingdom!

Church planting and icy roads do have some things in common!

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Flipping Houses" and Restoring Hearts

"Flipping houses"? It's the practice of buying up dilapidated real estate, fixing it up and then renting or selling it for a profit.
Once (long ago) when I started a business I had no start-up capital so I made one product, sold it and bought materials to make two more, etc. until I had a warehouse full of product to ship to fill customer orders. People who "flip houses" can start with one house and plow the profits back until they have a profitable enterprise going.
I was thinking about this principle recently when I realized that "flipping hearts" for the Kingdom is much the same. One at a time "flipping hearts" requires the investment of time and love for Jesus' sake. One at a time God changes hearts and multiplies our efforts and His life-change to build His Kingdom one heart at a time.
"Flipping houses" takes stuff like bricks and morter, paint and wood and lots and lots of hard work. "Flipping hearts" is much the same! It takes a willingness to boldly love other people for Jesus just like He did when He walked this earth wearing our skin and living in our neighborhood. (John 1:14, The Message) He touched blind eyes and ears. He healed lepers. He spoke or reached out a hand to the dead. He commanded evil spirits to go away and much more.
Jesus got involved in intensely personal ways in people's lives appropriate to their need. In doing so, Jesus modeled His plan for building His Kingdom on earth. It is one heart at a time just loving people at their point of need, and He does the rest! That's God's plan for restoring hearts and lives as He builds His Kingdom one heart at a time!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Disability, Disease and Death - WHY?

This week I had an encounter with death. This week I also encountered disability and disease. My good friend's beautiful Siberian Husky died Monday night. Several good friends live with significantly serious disability. A good friend has terminal cancer. Other close friends live with blindness, neurological disabilities or diseases and the prospect of their pain increasing. Some of these friends will never be better this side of heaven.

Disability, disease and death happen. Why? Where is God? Is He asleep at the switch (or even sending a text message like the engineer in California recently was when his train collided with another train killing and seriously injuring many passengers) when this kind of pain comes?

The WHY? question is our feeble attempt to make some sense out of pain and suffering and death. More often than not, we don't know the answer to WHY? We scream "WHY?" into the darkness of death, disability and disease. Does this kind of terrible pain happen because God is just not powerful enough to stop the big stuff or because it slips past His notice?

Are disability, disease and death part of God's plan? Or are they the result of mis-laid plans or even evil intent? Are disability, disease and death horrible, tragic coincidences? Is evil spinning out of control? Is God either unwilling or incapable of stopping these big three: disability, disease and death?

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrestled with the WHY? question following the death of his son. He concluded that often there are things God just isn't powerful enough to stop - like disability, disease and death. Rabbi Kushner's conclusion is certainly not what the Bible says.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes in her devotional book Pearls of Great Price: It's one thing for God to deliberately let something awful happen for reasons we may not understand, but it would be another for God to wish He could have prevented it, but have one hand tied behind His back. Either God rules, or Satan sets your life's agenda and God is limited to only reacting. In which case, the Almighty would become the devil's clean-up boy. Although God would manage to patch things up, your suffering would be meaningless. ... No, the real tragedy is that any Christian would settle for such darkenss with the light of the Bible shining so clearly. If God didn't control evil, the result would be evil uncontrolled. Our suffering has meaning because " ... His kingdom rules over all." (Psalm 103:19) (from "The Real Tragedy," November 30th)

Nothing else makes sense! Nothing less gives comfort in the midst of disability, disease and death! Only the sure knowledge that God is God and that He is working His plan in the world and in individual hearts brings peace and comfort in the midst of struggling with disability, disease and death!

God's promise is sure: "For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) God always keeps His promises! We can count on that no matter what we encounter. We can be sure that no matter how dark the darkness disability, disease and death may bring that God is there with us in the pain and darkness. He sees and knows what is happening. He is still on His throne, and He does have BOTH hands on the switch. Nothing happens (not even disability, disease or death) outside His plan! His plan is to give hope and a future and not to harm us ever!

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Homesickness" is a longing in the heart for home!

The summer I was six, I went to camp for the first time. Before I went, I discovered Psalm 27:10 - "Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me." I carried that verse in my heart to camp! It kept me from being homesick even one time. In my child's view, "forsake me" included leaving me at camp. My focus was that God would pick up the slack, so to speak. I was able to trust Him to do just that.

"Homesickness" is usually a sadness that might even verge on sickness with a longing for home. When my grandchildren visit and decide at bedtime they want Mommy or Daddy and the tears start, I tell them, "You can go home tomorrow morning. Let's go to sleep now, and I'll call Mom and Dad in the morning if you still want to go home." So far, they always change their mind by morning!

Today the sermon was Luke 17:20 - 37. Jesus answers some questions about the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells His main men (His disciples) that it is a good thing to "long" to see the Kingdom come. This world isn't our final home if we belong to God's forever family! It's okay to be homesick for heaven! I sat there thinking that longing for God's KIngdom to come - for Jesus to come back - longing to go to live forever in heaven is a good thing! In fact, it is what we should feel! We should live every day wanting to be in that better place and ready to go there but still willing to live and work to bring in God's Kingdom on earth as long as we live in this temporary home.

Being homesick for heaven is good! Jesus gives us that longing in our hearts! This world is NOT our real home - thankfully! We are just passing through on our way to our real home if we know and love Jesus!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Be Thankful with a Grateful Heart!

Be Thankful!

"Give thanks with a grateful heart!"
  • Be thankful that you can still make a "wish list." Not having everything you could possibly want means you have something to look forward to!
  • Be thankful when you don't know something. Not knowing everything and knowing it means you still have opportunities to learn.
  • Be thankful for hard times. The difficulties in life push you (and all of us) to grow better (unless we choose to grow bitter which is a VERY bad choice).
  • Be thankful for limitations. They give us challenges to improve as we find ways around them.
  • Be thankful for every new challenge. In them we build both strength and character.
  • Be thankful when you make mistakes. That's how we learn valuable lessons - sometimes the most valuable lessons!
  • Be thankful when you're tired and weary. Then you know your efforts have accomplished something - usually meaningful - that makes a difference.
  • Being thankful for the good things is easy. Being thankful for hard times, setbacks and pain shows a maturity of soul that only God can bring.
  • Be thankful for your troubles, irritations, failures and pain. Then God can turn them into blessings for your heart and demonstrations to the watching world around you that He is the God who can make all things to work for His glory and our good!

~ adapted from author unknown ~

Monday, November 24, 2008

Warm Hands and Warm Hearts!

Last night around 8:30 PM our phone rang. It was a friend who is homebound with a serious illness. Her furnace quit. The temperature last night was below freezing.

Within a little over an hour, one A Restoration Church family brought a heater over to loan her. Then my husband who can sniff a bargain at 70 paces found two heaters for $14 each after the $5 mail-in rebate. It was Sunday night so the places to shop for heaters were limited. Right on his way was a 24-hour drugstore even willing to take them back if they didn't work.

Staying warm on a really cold night is sort of a necessity of life. We need warm hands!

Even more we need warm hearts - touched by the love of God and others! It is a beautiful thing to see hearts warmed by God's love reaching out to others in need of that same warmth with God's love! That's what A Restoration Church is about doing and being in the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What is Truth?

I love to read! I read for pleasure. I read to learn. Usually I have more than one book going at the same time. Recently my husband and I listened to a fascinating "book CD" while we were traveling. It's an exciting novel with intrigue, terrorists, plots and counter plots and more - The Bourne Betrayal.

One line struck me particularly as applicable in other contexts. Two of the Arab terrorists are talking about truth. One says to the other, "There is no truth in the desert. In the desert the sands shift constantly like the truth. ... The law of the desert demands it!"

What a compelling metaphor of life in 2008! Truth has been diluted and disregarded until the lines between truth and lie are so blurred that even "high-powered magnification" makes it difficult to distinguish between them. Truth is no longer considered absolute in most circles - even by some in the church. Truth is thought to shift like desert sands blowing with the winds of whim or personal preference.

What compels me about the statement the terrorist made is WHERE such "truth" exists - IN THE DESERT! We have come to a desert in many ways in our society. Truth is thought to be relative so that what is truth for me may not be truth for you. Truth is considered adjustable and constantly changing.

No wonder we live so badly most of the time! No wonder we love others so badly! We have no standard for a code or to measure where we are on the continuum of values. We have been taught overtly and covertly by media, education and society that our truth, values and ethics are fluid and situational. Few people understand that there is "TRUE TRUTH" (as Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to describe real truth).

In the desert places of life, shifting sand is no place to anchor. Truth that is real and true exists everywhere and anywhere we are. God has given us standards by which to evaluate and process truth in the words of Scripture. We don't get God's truth by osmosis, however. We MUST read it. We must contemplate it. God's truth must sink deeply into our hearts and minds. God's truth must change how we think and act.

Jesus told a story about two men who each built a house. One built his house on shifting sand. The other built his house on the rock. When the storms of life came, Jesus said the house on the sand "went smash"! Jesus said the house on the rock stood firm!

Storms come in life. God's truth, God's love and grace and grounding on the Rock (Jesus Himself) are the ways we can stand even in the storms of life as well as the sunshine! And that is true truth!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Broken Clay, Broken Car and Broken Me

"Life breaks us all and afterwards ... " I heard those words on the radio. Ernest Hemingway wrote them in Farewell to Arms.

I lived a pretty wonderful life and still do. I didn't recognize much brokenness in myself. I didn't see much brokenness anywhere. I was well loved from before my birth. I lived in comfort and even more most of my life. Of course there were minor bumps in the road. There was loss of dearly loved grandparents and other losses. There was the pain of mistakes, broken promises and unexpected disappointments but there was no catastrophe that touched my life directly.

I really didn't know what real brokenness looks like nor had I experienced it.

My personal life metaphor of brokenness can be summed up in the experience of one September Saturday afternoon. I was driving my new car minding my own business when suddenly - out of "nowhere" - a car smashed into the rear of my car. The boxes of green ware porcelain pieces in my trunk were pulverized into powder. My car was pleated like an accordian. My neck was broken. In seconds I was left with broken clay, broken car and broken me.

The broken clay could be replaced with new green ware. The broken car could also be replaced. Broken me required a little more work accompanied by a lot of sweat, tears and pain. I spent months in a halo cast screwed into my skull front and back to immobilize my neck. I endured surgery and significant pain.

If I could turn back the clock and rewind and put the broken pieces back together (clay, car and me), I wouldn't do it. God knew I needed to understand brokenness on a deep personal level. God was working on my heart in the "afterwards" following the accident. God got my attention and taught me to trust Him in the process!

"Life [does] break us all ... " It's what happens in the "afterwards" that matters! Do we learn to trust and cling to God for help, hope and strength? OR do we turn turtle - draw into our shells and even turn bitter deep in our hearts? We do one or the other.

The difference between brokenness leading to trust or brokenness leading to bitterness is in our willingness to walk with God and trust and depend on Him or not. God wants to lead us in His path. God wants to be our hope, help and strength! Even brokenness can be a good thing when God is involved in the "afterwards" process!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dancing With Disabilities

"Dancing with the Stars" is a popular TV show. Among other things the show is designed to pair an "ordinary" person with a celebrity. These two then develop (with professional assistance, of course) at least two dance routines. They practice together and compete against other celeb/non-celeb couples. Apparently the show is mesmerizing for for those who track its progress until one couple finally wins.

At A Restoration Church we are dancing with disabilities! Actually close inspection reveals that we all have some area of brokenness in life. Those of us who have more obvious brokenness are labeled by society as "disabled." What I have learned is that "disability" isn't so much about not being able in some aspect of physical, mental or emotional function as it is about having limitations and challenges outside the "norm." It may be a distinction without a real difference since we all deal with limitations and challenges to some extent. The real distinction comes in the significance of the limitation and challenge.

My friend is blind in one eye. She is significantly more impaired than I am with my sight challenges and limitations in both eyes. I can turn on a brighter light and wear my glasses. My friend's blind eye doesn't benefit from either light or lens. However I probably struggle more with my "sight issues" than she does with hers. She accepts her blind eye and actively and aggressively finds ways to compensate. Not only that, she demonstrates joy and humility in the process.

Dancing with people who have disabilities is far more exciting than "dancing with a star" on TV. Dancing with disabilities is literally people choosing to partner together to share and care for each other in a faith family. The lateral dimension of this dance is enriched by our differences and what we are learning from each other. The vertical dimension of this dance is how we participate together to worship and serve God. In our worship and service each partner in the dance brings his or her own unique contribution to the beauty of that dance. And I imagine God smiles while He watches because, of course, He is our Choreographer!

"Dancing with the Stars" is a glitzy production designed to capture the imagination of the observor. Our dance with disabled people at A Restoration Church isn't about fancy costumes, well choreographed moves and drama. It's about REAL! It is real people willing to share real needs, real joys, real pain and even real failure together in this dance so that we encourage and support each other. It's about learning God's ways and showing God's love. And most of all, it's about God's peace and joy working their way deeply into our hearts in this radical community of faith called A Restoration Church!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Parable of Disability

Two guys met at a camp this past summer in California. This is a very special camp. It is sponsored by Joni and Friends International - one of their Family Retreats. These retreats are structured so that individuals and families affected by disability can come for a week of fun and refreshment and spiritual renewal. Each individual or family who comes gets a special friend assigned just for them - just to "be there" for them during the week. "Being there" includes being a pal, sticking together, talking, sharing the adventure of Family Retreat and practical help as needed. The "friends" (called "short term missionaries/STM's" by Joni and Friends) are individuals (some with obvious disabilities themselves) who come to serve during this week - at their own expense!

Family Retreats (and being an STM friend) is an incredible experience! It is amazing how two strangers can be assigned to each other and how each pairing becomes such an great opportunity for giving and receiving love!

There is a picture of these two guys in my mind. I take it out often just to smile over. They both have big smiles on their faces! One of them is in a wheelchair; the other is riding on the back of the same wheelchair. The one in the wheelchair has a spinal cord injury and brain trauma which have changed his life forever. The one riding on the back also has a spinal cord injury from his birth process gone bad. He too has to use a wheelchair (or sometimes a skateboard) to transport his paralyzed lower body around. Both guys are young adults. They are wheeliing over the grass - two buds together!

Both of these buddies knows his limits but neither is focusing on the limits of his disability in this sunshine moment. Both are celebrating just hanging out together - an experience made all the sweeter by their shared disability!

Parables are stories told to teach truth. This "parable of disabiity" can teach us all:
  • to enjoy all the life we can pack into each moment
  • to focus on what we can do rather than on what we can't
  • to be willing to give love and support to a brother or sister in need - thinking outside-the-box
  • to receive what someone with a different perspective on life can show us

These two friends wheeling across the grass weren't thinking about their limits in that joyous moment. They were celebrating life and friendship. They were showing a better way of handling life's challenges - even the challenge of disability! They gave me something to remember. They unknowingly challenged me to live life with healthy balance. They gave me a whole new way of seeing in their enjoyment of life on that sunny summer afternoon in California!

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Special Olympics" at Church?

Recently John Hall from WORD FM 101.5 asked my husband, "What does a typical Sunday at A Restoration Church look like?"

I got a really great "snap-shot" for an answer this past Sunday.

We always gather for lunch after worship. After we ate and were just sitting talking, our five-year-old twins (sons of one of the pastors) started a game of chase around the tables with Bobby. Three guys running around the tables racing each other doesn't sound so special except that Bobby has no legs. Bobby was racing in his wheelchair - great BIG smile on his face! Nathan and David were running as fast as they could to try to catch up - almost as big smiles on their faces, too! It was fun to watch! It was joy in motion!

O, did I forget to say - Bobby is 32. He was having fun and giving great fun to two little guys who have found a great new friend in Bobby!

At A Restoration Church we intentionally want to provide a loving, joyous, serving church family particularly for individuals and families affected by disability. That's just about all of us in one way or another - disabled, that is! So, together we are learning to be a community of faith and reaching out to others to include them in our joy!

So, I guess that's sort of what a typical Sunday at A Restoration Church "looks like" - It looks like joy in motion! The joy comes from our hearts. We get our joy from Jesus and it is contagious! We'd love for you to come catch some of that joy with us any Sunday!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Disability" Defined

"Disability" is a word accompanied with a world of experience that radically affects living OR "disability" is just a word that applies to OTHER people. Just like the saying that into every life some rain will fall, it is equally almost certain that into every family "disability" in one form or another will happen.

Disability can come with happy events like the birth of a child. Disability can occur as a consequence of life as parents age. Disability can come crashing in through an accident or circumstance that suddenly changes everything. Disability can creep up in a genetic disorder that may present at birth or later in life.

Disability stories are as varied as the families and individuals affected by disability, but everyone has a story who lives with disability. "Disability" isn't a label nor is it a wall. "Disability" is a way of living with challenges that may look as different as any of the milions of individual affected by disability in our world.

In truth, we are all disabled or broken in various ways. That doesn't mean we all qualify for that more convenient parking place with the special sign. No! Those should be reserved and even guarded by those more able for others who need quicker or more convenient access to shopping, schools or church.

Recently my husband and I were in California visiting the famed Getty Museum with its vast art treasures and beautiful gardens. We found that our friend (who was with us, who has legs that don't work due to an accident during his birth and who gets around on a skateboard when he isn't in a wheelchair) was scolded by the guard for being there on a skateboard. It is moments like then and when I see someone very able walking away from parking a car in a spot reserved for handicapped parking that I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in with both feet to advocate for mercy and justice!

Often people with obvious or severe disabilities are marginalized or disenfranchised from normal society including the church.
  • Maybe they have a shorter attention span - so do my grandchildren and they don't fit a particular "disabled" category.
  • Maybe they make different noises to express themselves but then, so do my grandchildren.
  • Maybe they just cannot sit still and are prone to wander around in a room - so do my grandchildren!
Recently I heard an uncle tell his nephew that he was glad he didn't drink anymore since the train ran over him and that he (the uncle) had been praying for him. I was horrified both for the uncle's calloused heart and for the nephew's broken life!

Jesus met a blind man one day (John 9) who was stigmatized for his blindness as either being a result of his own sin or his parents. The general conclusion society of that day drew was that blindness was the result of God's judgement on him and his family. Jesus clearly and sharply refutes both views and says simply that the man was born blind so that God's glory could be seen in the world. God's glory seen through blind eyes - now that's a new view of disability, isn't it?

I recently read an observation by Al Condeluci, Pittsburgh human service advocate and teacher, about group homes. Condeluci said that he lived in two group home situations himself: his college dorm and a military barracks. Condeluci says he didn't enjoy either group home experience. His point was that group homes may not be the best way to deal with people profoundly affected by disability. He advocates inclusion rather than exclusion.

Condeluci observes that conditions like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome cannot be fixed. They are conditions of life. Individuals with CP or Down syndrome can be valued members of society and are wonderful friends to be included in community rather than marginalized. They have conditions that limit them in particular ways, but so do people who are overweight or very tall or very short or very young or very old.

We need to change the way we think and act toward our friends who live with life-altering disabilities. We need to see them as valued friends who can contribute much to enrich our lives when we live in community with them.

That's EXACTLY why there is A Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh! We welcome the opportunity to live, worship and grow into a caring community of grace, faith and love intentionally including individuals and families affected by disability!

What Does A Restoration Church Look Like?

My husband and his partner in ministry were on the radio this week. The host interviewed them about A Restoration Church on WordFM 101.5 in Pittsburgh. They talked about the fact that one of our core values as a church is to intentionally target families affected by disability to invite and include in A Restoration Church. One of the hosts asked, "What does it look like at A Restoration Church on a typical Sunday?"

The answer: "Surprisingly normal." The answer is spot on. A Restoration Church is surprisingly normal! Are there people there with disabilities? You betcha! 100% of those there on any given Sunday are disabled in one way or another. Do we all sit in wheelchairs or talk differently or have difficulty hearing or seeing? No, but the fact remains that we are all disabled no matter how many or who is there!

The dirty little secret is that since Adam and Eve made a very bad choice in a perfect garden a very long time ago - actually at the very beginning of time - we are all broken spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This brokenness is pre-natal, genetic and terminal! It's bone and soul deep! Some brokenness and disability is easily seen - as when a person has no legs or sits in a chair with wheels or walks with a walker or uses a white cane or has a twisted hand. Other brokenness is less apparent on first inspection but equally broken/disabled.

Not all of us think as clearly as others. Some of us need assistance to walk or hear or see. For example, there are a number of people who wear glasses. No one was ever born wearing glasses. Glasses were invented to correct some visual disability or other.

This past Sunday our keyboard player played pretty flawlessly, but today she is having another lazer procedure on her left eye because she doesn't see well out of that eye. Another person sat there looking perfect and beautiful, but she is blind in one eye. No one would know at first glance, however. More than one person there lives with chronic pain. And the list goes on and on ... Not all of us can stand, but we all can rise with our hearts in worship whether we rise with our feet or not.

One more beautiful thing about A Restoration Church: learning where each of us is challenged gives us opportunity to serve each other just like God says the "body of Christ" or church should and must! Starting from the core values of loving God, loving others and serving each other at any particular point of need is God's way to "do church" ALL THE TIME!

In a word, A Restoration Church looks just like YOU! Come gather with us!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rejection and Restoration

It's terrible business - the stuff of rejection! It hurts! It even feels like death! It is certainly no fun!

Can there possibly be any good in rejection? Can God use rejection to work His Gospel of restoration deeply into a battered heart?

Just this morning a long-time friend sent a second email in as many days with his own story of rejection. In his case he has been rejected by others who call themselves a church. He wrote, "... my heart is broken. God will heal it. For now I am not too interested in being around God's people." His honesty is sad but understandable! Some of the cruelest wounds of all are from those who should love us best!

Rejection is a common experience in life. It comes to all of us in time. Try as we may to avoid those times and places where we might encounter rejection of any of its forms, sooner or later rejection finds us all. It is hard to keep pressing on through rejection. There is sometimes wisdom in just standing still or even backing up.

Our great God of restoration will show us His strategy for each situation we encounter. His way, however, is NEVER the path of fear, failure, uncertainty or insecurity or even just being too tired to fight one more battle. He promises faith for our fears, His direction in our failures, His abiding presence ("I am with you always!" Matt. 28:20) in our uncertainty and insecurity and especially His strength in our weakness.

God gives us many examples of real people on the pages of Scripture who faced rejection in many of its forms and even endured severe adversity in that rejection:
  • Joseph trapped in an Egyptian prison simply because he refused to act against his principles and God's rules for life
  • Moses leading God's people in the desert in spite of their grumbling both against God and their leader Moses
  • Jeremiah and many other of God's prophets who preached to people who shut their eyes and their ears to God's truth
  • Hosea who lived a life of rejection when his wife left his home and children to be a prostitute - God called Hosea be a living parable of God's love in the world of his day.
  • And the best example of all - the Son of God who "put on our skin and walked in our neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message). Jesus faced rejection over and over again until it finally put Him on a cross beside a pathway outside Jerusalem!
I don't imagine Jesus enjoyed the rejection. In fact the Bible describes Him as setting His face like flint (hard stone) to go to Jerusalem where He knew He faced certain death on the cross. He set His face like flint because He had to intentionally face and walk into that rejection of all rejections He knew was coming! The crucifixion was an attempt to kill God! Jesus knew what was facing Him!
God has important plans for you and me today. He sends us on a special mission to the part of His world where He has put us. Our mission is to model restoration for the watching world. It's the radical, upside-down aspect of the Gospel that speaks of grace and love as nothing else can!

When the world sees believers willing to endure rejection and remain faithful and obedient regardless, they know they are seeing something out of this world! It is a glimpse of heaven as God reaches down and touches rejection with restoration - with love, mercy and grace!

Sometimes God picks particular ones of His servants to experience rejection. God is not so much concerned with the form of rejection as He is with how we respond! It's an opportunity to turn our upside-down world rightside-up for Jesus! It's also a way to experience God's restoring love in your heart and mine!

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Does a Calloused Heart Look Like?

Last week I saw a very impressive callous on a friend's elbow. My friend named Sue has bone cancer and tumors from spreading breast cancer. The cancer has eaten away part of her spine. She has a large tumor at the top of her right leg and a tumor on her back. Because of these tumors and damage to her neck from the cancer, she hasn't been able to sit in a relaxed way for almost a year. She cannot sit all the way back. She has to lean to the left and take her weight on her left elbow. Consequently her elbow has a callous that is bigger than a silver dollar and about the size of a very small pancake. Callouses form to protect our skin and the tissue and bones underneath from injury. Sometimes we get callouses on our feet or hands when we put pressure on a particular point over and over.

When I used to do a lot of pencil writing, I had a callous on my middle finger's first joint just where I held the pencil tightly.

My friend Sue's elbow has this huge callous because she puts all her weight on that elbow as she sits "like a pretzel" - that's how she describes it!

Yesterday the sermon was about the Prodigal son's older brother. We all know about the son who walked away, spent all his father's money, ended up in a pig pen (not a good place for anyone but especially a Jewish son) and finally decided to go back home. When he got home, his father ran to embrace him, gave him a robe and the family signet ring and threw a huge Bar-B-Q for the lost son who was now found.

Big Brother who stayed close to home and worked hard was really angry that his father would celebrate bad Little Brother's return home! He had a calloused heart! He worked at hanging onto his anger at his brother and father for a long time. His anger was well into boiling stage! To hold all that anger up he had to develop a very calloused heart!

We say: "My, my! What a terrible response for a brother!" - to hate his brother so much he wished him to stay dead!(as in gone to a far country never to return or be heard from again)! But we understand the bad Big Brother's heart easily because we know all about calloused hearts, don't we? We do it, too! We like to hold all that anger in against someone or other. Just like Sue's elbow, that's a lot of weight to hold up - so we soon develop a callous - a calloused heart!

My friend Sue is teaching me what a calloused heart looks like with her calloused elbow. The Prodigal's Big Brother teaches me about my calloused heart by how he acted (read the story in Luke 15) toward his brother.

In a calloused heart, the callous is there to support the anger and to "protect" the heart from the pain of REAL love. Like Sue, when we have a calloused heart, we are also all twisted up inside just like a pretzel! Only God can soften and untwist calloused hearts! The good news is that He can and always will soften and untwist calloused hearts if we are willing! God is in the business of restoring calloused hearts! What great news for this Monday morning!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Walking Dogs is a Church Planting Opportunity!

Did Jesus ever walk a dog? The short answer is, "Probably not." Dogs are mentioned in the Bible a number of times. They apparently roamed around since dogs (probably wild ones) ate the body of Queen Jezebel outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Both Matthew and Mark write about dogs under the table. These dogs must have been family pets. Jesus says dogs licked the beggar named Lazarus' sores.

In Pittsburgh at A Restoration Church plant, dog walking is one way one person is building a bridge to Jesus. It's "out-of-the-box" thinking for sure, but it's an easy way to connect with people. Taking a dog to the park or a Saturday kids' soccer game is instant connection with other dog owners.

One person from A Restoration Church is walking two dogs (Timber and Tandy) almost daily for a friend who has cancer. Last night the two dogs were taking the "church lady" on their usual walk when another dog owner "happened" by. Since Timber is a large Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute (probably bigger than the lady and certainly heavier), the better part of wisdom seemed to be to let the other dog and owner pass. So the two and their lady waited. It was on a hilly street - in Pittsburgh there are more hilly streets than not! Just as the other dog came opposite, Timber lunged dragging both the other dog and the lady. The lady lost her balance when Timber and his leash went "air-borne." The lady slid some distance (like a "human dog sled") down the middle of the hilly street taking dignity, skin, dogs and glasses on a quick downhill collision course with asphalt.

By the time dogs, leashes and lady were sorted out and scraped off the pavement, there was an opportunity to talk to the other dog walker about Jesus. Sitting in the middle of the street surrounded by three dogs and a strange man isn't a traditional place to witness on any paradigm! But in the process of retrieving the dogs and picking her bloodied self up off the street with the stranger's assistance, a short conversation ensued. He was concerned so asked if she lived near-by, etc.

Church planting lessons learned from dog walking:
  • Be warned that church planting can be messy and even painful
  • Be alert for surprising opportunities
  • Be ready for those "God-moments" that pop up quite unexpectedly
  • Be willing to live "outside-the-box" to find Kingdom encounters

Monday, October 6, 2008

What is GOOD?

Lately I have been pondering - things like how to use my time well, how to love well, how to reach out to people with needs and reach out well. My ponderings need to take on hands and feet! I'm pondering how to do that well, too!

The ancient prophet Micah wrote: "He (God) has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) Those words have to walk off the page and jump deeply into my heart before I can act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God!

At A Restoration Church we are gathering people from the South Hills of Pittsburgh who also want to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God. Our passion is for that acting and loving and walking to come from deep in our "being restored" hearts.

It is amazing to ride or walk down a street - any street - and think about the closed doors I pass wondering what goes on inside - wondering what pain that closed door hides! That's really the heart of church planting is to find ways to connect inside people's lives - behind those closed doors - to connect with people's hearts and build a bridge to Jesus!

Bridge building for Jesus is hard work getting down into the grime of life representing the Savior Who showed us the way! Take a read through the Gospel of Luke to see how Jesus went about building a bridge to God with the people He met. Sometimes He was so exhausted that He had to sneak away to recharge His batteries by spending time with His Father! It is interesting that Jesus didn't do His "sneak aways" in the day - they were always night journeys while others slept so He could be back "on the job" when the "multitudes" who followed Him woke up in the morning. That's pretty counter to our culture's idea of "time for self" if we follow the steps of our Master Jesus!

The world of 2008 is a scary place. It's filled with people who are far from the church and very far from the Good News of the Gospel! Most people didn't grow up in a church. If they go to church at all, they belong to the "holly and lilies crowd" (Easter and Christmas)! Yesterday I saw a park filled with people just hanging out, having as much fun as they could, listening to music, eating junk food and wandering around. Some - including me - even had their dogs with them. Yesterday was an example of "taking the church" where people are. It was an act of worship and work in church planting to go where people were gathering and be a presence there to do some initial surveying work toward bridge building.

It is not true that people aren't interested in spiritual things. They are. They are seeking. They have a hole deep in their hearts that only God can fill. The "church" they know by experience or reputation has failed to do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God. The people they meet who carry the name "Christian" for the most part don't do justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God either.

We are missing a huge opportunity! We have the BEST news there ever was! We have all the tools and materials to build that bridge to Jesus. BUT we have to get out of our comfort zones and walk into worlds where we may not be particularly comfortable because that's where people are who need to know Jesus. They are hungry for Him! They just don't know it! They need a bridge to Him! He calls us to be that bridge!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vision for A Restoration Church

"When did John get the vision for A Restoration Church?" Someone asked me that question yesterday. I gave her a milestone answer but have been thinking about other milestones since. There are significant experiences in ministry and life that brought us both to our own brokenness and then to care deeply about brokenness in others.

The church of Jesus Christ in its institutional form (whatever denomination or flavor) can be a very scary place to be broken. Often the wounded become more shattered by the very people who should be embracing and encouraging!

My grandmother had "heart trouble." I don't know her exact diagnosis. I'm not sure she did either, but some doc along the way diagnosed a certain issue with her heart. I was about two when Grandmother's "heart trouble" was discussed by family members in her presence. I piped up to say, "Grandmother, don't you know the Bible says, 'Don't let your heart be troubled.' ?" (John 14:1) Everyone thought my observation was precocious and cute, but it was also a huge life lesson for me in coming years of life and ministry.

ALL of us experience various forms of brokenness in life resulting in "heart trouble" of various forms. Sadly the place where we should find the most comfort - the church - is often the place where there is the most judgment and rejection resulting in more "heart trouble." It is risky to be real! More often than not being broken or being real or just being a sinner in the process of restoration simply heaps more hurt on hearts already crushed! That's when people walk away from Jesus because people (like me and like you) who carry His name don't have God's heart for brokenness.

Our model is Jesus Who took on our skin (leaving heaven to wear a "man suit" for a time) and moved into our world (John 1:14). Matthew 9:35 describes the heart of Jesus for broken people of all kinds, "He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd."

We are surrounded by brokenness - some visible and some hidden but all very real. God calls us to be moved with compassion - motivated to act and care! Our hearts - like Jesus' heart - must be so moved to care that we step out of our comfort zones to do the sometimes even messy business of loving people! It may be risky and costly but it is Kingdom work Jesus modeled. God's Spirit will walk with us among the brokenness we find to give us the grace to love and to literally put hands and feet on that love!

That is what A Restoration Church is all about! We are broken. We know it. We are in the process of restoration. Jesus said He came to help those who know they are broken not those who think they are "just fine, thank you very much"! Jesus came for the broken! (Matt. 9:12) He walks with us both in our own brokeness and as we reach out to others just like us! THAT'S what A Restoration Church is all about!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Presidential Election 2008

Two very different men are running for President of the United States: Barak Obama and John McCain. There are "multi-many" predictions about who is going to win and what precentage each has in any given poll.

People have strong opinions about each candidate and their running mates. Due to various factors actually unrelated to each man's competency to be elected to this highest office in our land (like race and sex and media coverage), this election cycle has probably been one of the most intense of any ever.

Add to that mix the dire predictions about our economy and numbers beyond my ability to comprehend, there is more than a little fear going around. Then, it seems the "Russians are coming" into the western hemisphere for war "games" for the first time since the "cold war" ended. More fear is going around!

I used to say that if so-in-so were elected, I'd move to Australia but given the state of Australia that's probably not a positive option. So it would be easy to be stuck in fear - like Peter was (Matthew 14:30-31) - looking at the waves crashing at my feet and taking my eyes off the One Who put the stars in place. He can certainly control and rule and overrule in the affairs of men made from the very sod He made (Gen. 2:7)!

A recent email reminds me of the truth that no matter who wins the election there are some unchangeable truths for my heart:
  1. The Bible will still have all the answers for living God's way.
  2. Prayer will still work. God will still be listening!
  3. God's Holy Spirit will still be at work restoring hearts and changing lives.
  4. God will still show up when His people worship.
  5. Faithful pastors will still preach God's truth.
  6. God's people will still have reason to praise Him!
  7. Jesus' work on the cross will still work to restore hearts and lives broken by sin.
  8. God's love, grace and mercy will not change.
  9. Jesus will still be the Friend Who sticks closer than a brother.
  10. God's purpose for His creation will still be working out according to His plan and the earth will be filled with "the knowledge of the Lord" as surely as the water covers the sea (Habbakuk 2:14).
So, yes, it does matter that serious Christians vote their conscience in this election, but we must remember that God is still on His throne no matter who wins!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freezer Shock!

Twice in my life I've experienced "freezer shock":
  • Once was early in our marriage when I came home from a week away (in South Carolina summer heat) to find the freezer in our shed in the backyard was unplugged. By some weird circumstance, the power for our shed was also hooked to a community center building just down the hill in the small farming community where we lived. Someone using the community center turned on the power to that building and mistakenly turned the power to our freezer off!
  • The second time was soon after we moved to Pittsburgh. I kept noticing a smell that seemed to get worse and worse and seemed most prominent in the master bathroom. Turned out the disgusting smell came from the laundry-shoot.

In both cases an entire freezer full of meet and other foods had gone to mush and rot. In the case of my Pittsburgh freezer, that included several hand-made gingerbread houses carefully frozen between Christmases. They were mush, too. My handyman husband had unplugged the freezer to use a power tool of some kind and just forgotten to plug it back in.

Both cases of "freezer shock" were disgusting and a lot of yucky work. It is pretty simple to plug an electrical cord into the outlet. In both cases, the right cord (the one connected to the freezer) was left unplugged resulting in loss of perfectly good food, frustration and a whole lot of very yucky, disgusting work!

My "freezer shock" stories illustrate a "life truth"! Being plugged into THE source of power - which is God Himself - is essential in walking with Jesus. Just like plugging into an outlet is a pretty simple exercise, "plugging" into God's power for life is also simple when we follow simple and basic steps:

  • "Plug" in intentionally (just like the electrical cord).
  • "Plug" in consistently (The plug has to connected or tragic consequences result)!

Prayer is our power cord. Our faith grows in direct proportion to our connection to God's spiritual power. When we don't stay connected, our progress toward restoration (actually the sanctification process) flickers and falters.

What I found inside my freezers on both occasions was beyond disgusting and beyond restoration. All that mush was only good for garbage! "Freezer shock" is unexpected, but it follows the natural progression - unplug the freezer and what's inside turns to rot and disgusting mush. Spiritual "freezer shock" is the same. I have to intentionally stay plugged into my only source of spiritual life and strength with consistency. I have to spend time every day seeking God's wisdom for life in reading His Word. I must spend time every day praying - confessing sin, repenting, asking for strength to be light in darkness wherever I go! When I "unplug" things go to mush quickly! Just the "tyranny of the urgent" can cause a disconnect between God and me. And the result is pretty ugly!

God's promise is sure and true: "... the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him." (2 Chronicles 16:9a)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Value of Human Life

My heart hurt when I read in Sunday's Pittsburgh Tribune Review that a 15-year-old girl and her 14-year-old boyfriend buried the body of their stillborn baby in a bag in the ground behind an apartment house. This happened in April 2007. The remains were discovered more than a year later (June 2008). These two kids were "charged as juveniles with concealing the death of a child, abuse of a corpse and conspiracy." Not only that, the man who discovered the body and other "neighbors" found the discovery very disturbing.

What's the deal? Why did my heart hurt? Why were these two charged with breaking laws? Why are neighbors upset? Well, I don't know precise answers for the last two questins but I do know why my heart hurt. It hurts for kids who have to grow up too quickly in a world they don't understand and probably don't have God's truth to guide their lives. They were afraid. They didn't even tell their parents or a trusted teacher. In their fear they acted to hide their shame and guilt.

These young teens live thousands of years away from the Garden of Eden but not so far from the actions of Adam and Eve who also felt shame and guilt and tried to hide. God gave Adam and Eve the answer for their guilt and shame when He sacrificed a lamb and made them fur and leather coats.(Gen. 3) God promised on that terrible day in Eden that one day He would send a Savior. God made good on that promise over 2,000 years ago (the day Jesus died on a cross outside Jerusalem)! Ever since Eden when God had to banish Adam and Eve from the beautiful garden, God has been in the business of restoration - one heart at a time!

Jesus calls us to be salt in a world gone badly wrong and light to push back darkness (Matt. 5:13-16). When we faithfully do so, God does His restoration thing in one heart after another! Then God's Kingdom starts to be on earth the same as it is in heaven in one heart after another!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cake Baking and a Smiling Heart

Just about every day I get a "You Make Me Laugh" email. Today's was just too good to ignore.

*Cake Disaster* Many years ago my just married young cousin moved into an upstairs apartment and invited some of her women friends over for the evening. She put out snacks and then came out with a cake that looked like a disaster. She apologized and said she didn't know what happened to the cake because, she explained, "I even used the high altitude directions because I live upstairs."

I could use a good laugh today so thought you could, too. Besides, Proverbs 15:13 talks about a "A merry heart makes the face cheerful ... " and Proverbs 17:22 echoes "A cheerful heart is good medicine... ."

You might laugh at "Cake Disaster" but just chalk it up to one more "dumb blonde" joke or something. Well, it could be true. My "seminary cake story" is certainly true! Believe-it-or-not!

When we were at seminary, we lived in two rooms. We cooked in the bedroom and washed dishes in the bathroom. It was challenging but fun! We had a two-eye hot plate and a small toaster oven. I could pretty much make anything with those two appliances.

One of the other seminary wives asked me if I would teach her to make a cake. She said she wanted to take a cake to her in-laws for Thanksgiving. I told her I'd be happy to help her and gave her a list of things she needed - cake mix, eggs and icing ingredients. Then I didn't hear from her again until about 8 PM on Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving. She knocked on our door. When I opened the door, she looked very sad and announced, "I couldn't find what I wanted." I asked what she meant. She replied, "I wanted to make a round cake and all I could find were square boxes."

I wasn't sure there were enough hours in that night to help her make a cake. AND just for the record, she was dead serious!

Both cake stories are funny, and it does do the heart good to laugh. Besides, it puts a smile on our faces! So even if cake isn't particularly "heart healthy" physically, it is "heart healthy" to laugh. So, have a "heart healthy" day!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurricane Ike and the Chatsworth Train Crash

Imagine being in the path of Hurricane Ike and almost on the Chatsworth train all at the same time.

Last night I received an email from a great friend who is a student at Biola University. She was almost on the Chatsworth train except that her mother urged her to go to Agoura Hills, CA last weekend by car rather than train. About the same time she was traveling to Agoura Hills, the eye of Hurricane Ike passed right over her home in Houston (with no damage to her home). Amazing given some of the pictures of downtown Houston and east Texas! Amazing that she wasn't on the train! Amazing the she recognizes that God's powerful hand was in all those events swirling around her life!

Another friend's husband WAS on that Metrolink commuter train traveling through Chatsworth from Los Angeles last Friday afternoon (September 12, 2008). He was critically injured. Hard as it may seem, that same God's powerful hand was also in the events swirling around the Chatsworth train wreck! I don't know WHY the freight train and the commuter train collided except for human error but I do know that it was NOT an "accident"! God was not texting or asleep at His switch, and He NEVER is! You can count on that forever!

How in the world could such a tragedy occur? Two trains colliding - one passenger commuter train filled with Friday night commuters rushing home from work for the weekend, one freight train fully loaded with all the weight of its freight. There are already more than 25 people dead, at least 135 injured - most critically.

Apparently this Metrolink commuter would normally wait on a side rail for the southbound freight train to pass. There were four RED warning lights directing the engineer to pull off. The engineer (who died) was texting a young railroad buff just seconds before the crash occurred. So for the price of a few hasty words - people are dead, families are devastated, loss is all over the place from this terrible "accident"!

The truth is that we live in a very broken world. Engineers do "sleep" at the switch while they text message. It's apparently and appalling true!

BUT the greatest truth of all is the one my young friend learned. The same Creator God who made and directed the winds and water of Ike also rules and overrules in even the mistakes of sinful men (and women). Somehow (we cannot understand this side of heaven) HE makes all things "work for the good of those who love Him"! "All things" includes hurricanes and train wrecks! It's the glimmer of hope pointing us to the future world of restoration God is preparing for those He loves who also love Him! We can count on it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Whenever I Feel Afraid ... I Whistle A Happy Tune!"

The financial world seems to be shaking. It's about someone named Fannie and her boyfriend Freddie or something. Obviously I never heard of Fannie and Freddie until a week or so ago. Then there's AIG and Lehman, mega-insurance and global banking firms. I hear and read things about bailouts and so many dollars the words are meaningless.

The political world seems to be shaking - rumors and lies fly around, speeches and ads stream incessantly from the TV, national legislators are passing token bills that seem to address problems but are actually meaningless. Newscasters are falling all over themselves to interview candidates and the mud is flying.

The world in general is shaking - with hurricanes and terrorists and evil of every sort! Hurricane Ike even shook my own backyard this past weekend!

A couple months ago I was actually in a chapel when the world literally started shaking. It was July 29, 2008 in Augoura Hills, CA. I was at Joni and Friends International Headquarters. My husband and I were sitting in the very lovely ("free-standing" as in hanging or appearing to hang) chapel when the world seemed to shift. It wasn't any huge deal, but it was a little reminder that there is a God in heaven Who made it all, Who controls it all, Who knows it all - from the beginning of time to the end! He is the same yesterday, today and forever! Pretty awesome! To top it all off, He is the One Who also loves enough to send His one and only Son to die on a Roman cross and rise from the dead to validate His power over sin and death. Now that's a truth to hang onto when the world is shaking!

It is a song from the "The King and I": "Whenever I Feel Afraid" talks about "I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I'm afraid." It goes on "You may be as brave as you make-believe you are." That "pose" might fool some people and even come "to fool myself as well" but it's not much in the dark hours of the night. The only thing that works in those dark hours is knowing the One Who loves me (Jesus Christ) and died to bring true restoration to my heart so I don't have to be afraid when my world is shaking!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricanes, Babies and Sarah Palin

Hurricane Ike is on a collision path with the Gulf coast set to make landfall somewhere around Texas late tonight or early tomorrow. Well ahead of Ike's arrival, the Texas coast is hurrying to make preparations. The most vulnerable hospital patients in Houston have been evacuated inland.

We learned from the wrath of Katrina that being prepared is far better than being caught. One Katrina survivor is a little boy named Noah Markham. Noah was trapped in a flooded New Orleans hospital. He was so tiny but it took almost a dozen police officers in boats to get him to safety.

It's a pretty exciting story ... and the most amazing part is that Noah was not even born on the day he was rescued! Noah was living in a canister filled with liquid nitrogen. Noah was a frozen embryo/baby.

Sixteen months later little Noah was born into the Markham family after he was implanted into his mother's body.

Noah is living testimony to "right to life." Embryologists tell us that embryos are not part of the organism like the heart or kidney. Embryos are the organism - a living human being in an early stage of development. Without his dramatic rescue by water Noah would not be nor would any other of the rescued "babies" in their embryonic stage of life that these same policemen rescued that day in New Orleans.

Just this week the South Carolina Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said Sarah Palin's "primary qualification [as John McCain's VP pick] seems to be that she hasn't had an abortion."
Under duress Ms. Fowler stepped back from her ridiculous words, but it all fits together in a world where life isn't valued from its beginning. Many people in our world just don't have a clue what to do with people whose beliefs impact their entire world-and-life view. Sarah Palin's views on life are more than just philosophical. She lives them as her recent family history validates.

Hurricane Ike (and Katrina) both provide opportunities to save living human beings - some yet to be born. Taking a stand for life in all its stages is where Sarah Palin chooses to stand. Why is that? It's because her faith impacts her life! It's because she doesn't just think about faith she lives it.

At A Restoration Church we applaud protecting life at every stage! We stand up for that because we know that valuing life at every stage is a rock solid core value!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The End of the World? September 11, 2001 !!!

There are MILESTONES along life's way: birthdays, life-changing accidents, children born, grandchildren born, jobs won and lost and on and on! September 11, 2001 is a milestone moment for every American living today and into the future. Life as we knew it changed forever on that day!

I grew up hearing radio recordings of President Franklin Roosevelt proclaiming "December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy"! These words were in Roosevelt's speech to the joint houses of our Congress asking for them to declare war against the perpetrator of that day: the Empire of Japan.

My father was a first year midshipman attending chapel at the United States Naval Academy that "infamous" Sunday morning. The preacher that day was Peter Marshall, then chaplain of the Senate. My dad still remembers the sermon text and Peter Marshall's comments on the text, "Why, you do not ever know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14, NIV) My dad also remembers that Peter Marshall made a motion with his hand to emphasize the vanishing nature of the mist.

[In the book Peter Marshall, Catherine Marshall (his wife) records that Dr. Marshall actually changed his sermon from his planned text to the one he used as he was driven from Washington to Annapolis, MD. Obviously that was a God thing! Only God knew what was coming that day and in days to come!]

It was later that cold December day that the news broke of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the decimation of our ships and naval forces.

We all learned the truth of James 4:14 seven years ago today when we watched transfixed on the images on our TV screens. How many times could two towers fall and how many times could those same people flee in terror from the coming apocalypse in the streets in New York?

Life as we had known it came to a screeching halt in many ways. If you don't think so, take a flight. Flying will never be the same again, and that's a necessary thing!

We should be on our knees today praying for God's mercy on our nation. We are blessed that there have been no other atrocious attacks on our own soil in these seven years. That is not due to lack of diligence on the part of the terrorists to try. It is a tribute to our wise and brave leaders who have worked tirelessly to protect us. Many, many plots have been foiled in those seven years. We now live in a wiser, more alert but very dangerous world.

God's promise is "If My people ... will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14) God will keep His promise only if we ask Him to truly restore our hearts! We cannot accomplish that with wishing or social programs or trying harder. Repentance is the only path to restoration. Repentance is our only hope as a nation and as individual people!

September 11th is a day of remembrance. For all God's people, it should also be a call to prayer and repentance. September 11th is our opportunity to pray and assess and find (with God's help!) the path to a restored heart!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quasimodo, Pro-Life and Disabilities

Remember Quasimodo? He's only a character in a book named for him (Hunchback of Notre Dame). We can learn from the fictional Quasimodo. Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, was born with severe disabilities including a wart that covered one eye and a severely hunched back (sort of like a hunched over camel). Victor Hugo describes him as "giant who had been broken in pieces and ill soddered together."

Whoever Quasimodo's fictional mother was, she left him at Notre Dame Cathedral where he was found on "Quasimodo Sunday" - thus his name. He lives his life wandering around mostly in the darkness, hiding in the shadows of the great cathedral. His job is to ring the cathedral bells. Even his job damages him causing him to be profoundly deaf. Quasimodo thought himself disgusting and so did people who saw him thus he hid in the shadows.

Because of Sarah Palin's son Trig, people affected by disability are front and center in the news. The church of Jesus Christ as a whole and A Restoration Church in particular need to seize this moment. Never before on such a national and even world-wide stage has the subject of disability been so visible. This is an opportunity to speak truth into darkness about the value of life - every life, even a life like Quasimodo. Life is not valuable because of outward physical beauty. Life is not valuable even because of inner character and strength.

The truth is that we are all broken and marred by sin! In God's eyes (except for the prism of Jesus) we are uglier than Quasimodo. It is only because Jesus makes the terrible trade of His righteous life for all our ugly sin that we have hope of restoration!

Jesus came - literally "putting on our skin" (John 1:14). The ancient prophet Isaiah describes Jesus in graphically uncomplementary terms: "There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away ... " (Isaiah 53:2-3, The Message)
[Note: Isaiah may have been speaking of Jesus on the cross. He could also mean that Jesus was just not a handsome dude - that he was just like us!]

When Jesus came, He made it very plain that He didn't come for those who didn't think they needed Him - for the proud and arrogant. O, He can change proud and arrogant hearts, too - but the focus of Jesus' life was on the Quasimodos he met. That's the picture of Him we see in the Gospels. It takes a kind of "coming to the end of ourselves" to be able to accept with true gratitude God's gift of amazing grace! John Newton (who knew what being an ugly sinner is all about) wrote, "Amazing grace ... that saved a wretch like me ... " Jesus came for wretches and Quasimodos!

Now, here's the kicker: What in the world is the "church" thinking when we don't also embrace the wretches and Quasimodos who cross our path?! They are just like us - in desperate need of God's amazing grace!

What in the world is the church thinking when we don't seize this moment and celebrate God's amazing grace for ALL?! It is definitely a PRO-LIFE moment nationally and internationally!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Menu for a Picnic at A Restoration Church

The Bible has some strange but true stories. This one is about a pretty awesome picnic. It is set in a meadow – a big meadow, big enough for over 5,000 people to find a patch of grass to sit on.

· There are no Mickey D’s nearby and there’s no money even if there were.
· The available food is 5 little rolls and 2 fish in a little boy’s lunchbox.

As evening approached, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. … Bring them to Me. … “ (Matthew 14:15-18)

My mother might try to scratch around in her freezer, pantry and cabinets to find something to fix. She lives in a remote place so she’s used to finding food when a crowd shows up. I don’t know about you but I think I’d be agreeing with the 12 Main Men who came and suggested just sending all the people away before the rumbling in their rummies got too loud!

The most important words in the whole story aren’t “…five loaves of bread and two fish…”
The most important words are “Bring them to Me!”

The prelude to this picnic scene is Jesus’ attempt to get away. Matthew tells us Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (vs. 13) That’s about as “get away” as one can get!

But the crowds followed Jesus and Matthew continues, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (vs. 14) Can you picture it? Here are these thousands of people – some limping, some being carried, others being led – and Jesus isn’t mad because they ruined his “down time.” No, Jesus goes even a step further: He looks on them with love and takes care of their disabilities by healing them. And this healing service went on and on all day until it was almost night and people were starting to get hungry and the disciples were getting nervous.

Jesus speaks the great words, “Bring them to Me!” after He already spent all day healing the sick among them. Now He's moving from Healer to Divine Caterer. He calls for the little lunch right in front of all those people. Jesus was talking about fish and rolls. Do you guess anyone laughed? Well, not for long because He showed what He could do. He made a meal for thousands of people from two little fish and five little rolls.

What are we willing to bring to the hands of Jesus to see what He can do? “Bring them to Me!” We go to the grocery store, school, work, Simmons Farm, the auto repair shop and South HIlls Village mall. Jesus says, “Bring them to Me!”

Jesus wants us to bring more than fish and bread. He wants us to bring people to Him - our family and friends, our neighbors, and even the "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." (Luke 14:13)
That means intentional invitations.

Then God will show us how He will build His church! It's God's menu for a "picnic" at A Restoration Church! He can multiply even very small beginnings! In His hands small becomes abundance just like it did in that meadow long, long ago!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake or a Mess ?!

The other day I was saved from a mess by going back to the instructions. I almost ruined what turned out to be a pretty good pineapple-upside-down cake by trying to do it my way.

God said, “Who do you think made the human mouth? And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind? Isn’t it I, God?” (Exodus 4:11, The Message)

“… mute, deaf, blind … “ We call those things – disabilities. And under disability there is a LONG list! Somewhere on that long list every single living human can find items to check.

Why is there disability in our world? The quick and dirty answer is “sin.” If things weren’t broken… If the world wasn’t broken… If you and I weren’t broken … there would be no disability in our world.

But the truth is that everything is broken and flawed by sin. The truth is that ALL of us are broken and damaged by sin. Sin is ugly to the bone, that’s the truth! In the sense of being broken, we are all broken in various ways.

This isn’t a “blame game” - We are all broken so BLAME GOD! It’s rather a matter of responsibility, which God clearly takes in Exodus 4:11.

It’s also a matter of comfort: the loving, sovereign God Who could have chosen to fix everything long ago has chosen to let us be born with defects or to come to defects so that in our weakness we learn to lean on God. We learn to trust God best when we need Him! God knows that so He gives us ways and challenges that leave us few options. The best option of all is to seek His strength in our weakness no matter what our particular strain of weakness looks like!

Most of all, it’s a matter of trust! Can we trust God to be loving and good as well as powerful and wise?

Back to the pineapple-upside-down cake. I mixed the batter and prepared the melted butter in the dish. Then I almost dumped the batter in without first adding the brown sugar, pineapple and cherries. It would have been an upside down mess if I had done it my way. I was “saved” just barely by checking the recipe, and the cake turned out okay.

God wants us to follow His instructions for life. He wants us to love and trust Him. He promises to be with us. He demonstrated His love the day He sent His Son Jesus to the cross. He is the King! We can trust Him now and forever no matter what!

We can either do life our way or His! His way is always best, and my way is always a mess!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hot Water or Sweet Tea?

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he has being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from the dropsy.* Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not”? But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him … Then he asked them, “If any one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.

We are familiar with scenes of Jesus in “hot water” with the Pharisees all through the Gospels. Here, once again, Jesus is being monitored and inspected. The trap is set. He goes to dinner after church – probably fried chicken. The host and his buddies have invited a man with severe kidney disease (“dropsy”). Now this man was grotesquely swollen from the toxins in his tissues. His kidneys were no longer able to cleanse poison from his system as they should. Today this man would be on dialysis and probably on a transplant list. There was no chance Jesus would miss this man’s need. It was graphic and ugly.

Jesus knows this is a test, so He cuts to the chase, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” And like the song says, “[They] didn’t say a mumbling word.”

Now Jesus knew the REAL problem here. He knew these Pharisees had black hearts. He knew full well he was headed for “hot water” one more time.

BUT Jesus sets the example for us! He does the right thing both for the man and for the men with the black hearts. He heals the man, and He nails the Pharisees, “If any one of you has a son or ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” Luke says, “And they had nothing to say.”

While these Pharisees (religious VIP's) were watching Jesus, He was looking into their hearts. He saw how hard their hearts were. The man had kidney disease. These other men had a fatal heart disease, they were swollen with pride!

There right in front of Jesus they apparently had no shame pushing and shoving to get themselves postured in the best, more important seats!

Jesus gives them the formula for “success” in God’s Kingdom:
· it’s to take the low place
· it’s to give preference to another
· it’s even to intentionally include those normally disenfranchised – “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind

To live this way, God’s way is radical but it’s refreshing to the watching world! It’s every bit as refreshing as a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On the World Stage - Sarah Palin and Family

To be a candidate for public office in these days and in our culture is literally to be in a war zone and deserving of combat pay, in my opinion. I have watched Geoge W. and Laura Bush over the last almost eight years keep going under incredible adversity and attack. Regardless of whether I agree with George W.'s decisions on various issues, I certainly wouldn't want to walk in their shoes. It is just not worth it - neither for the pay grade or the future legacy!

I ask myself whether we should give deference to the public servant who serves in this highest office simply because of the office even when we disagree. I conclude that we will never be able to find the brightest and best to lead us if we continue to attack them so viciously. The cost is just too high!

Now we have a candidate's daughter having her most private life exposed to public view. She is only 16 years old. She may have made "a mistake," but she and her parents are apparently "walking the walk" of what they declare to be a principle of living - right to life for the unborn. They are living out their pro-life position for all the world to see.

Trig Palin is only four months old. He has a disability - Down Syndrome. His parents both (along with his three sisters and older brother) love and treasure him apparently even more! Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential candidate 2008, stood before the world last Friday and declared how much she loves and values her "beautiful baby boy Trig."

Look and listen. You won't find any victim mentality in the Palin family. They feel blessed. Todd Palin, Trig's father, said after the pre-natal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, that the question to ask is not "Why us?" but rather "Why not us?"

When I first read rumors about Trig over the weekend on the web, I wondered. Now his sister's pregnancy (for all the pathos in it), proves without a doubt that Trig is his mother Sarah's child. It is impossible for Bristol to have birthed Trig four months ago and be five months pregnant now. There is irony in that which should shame even the staunchest of critics!

I woldn't want to trade places with the Palins even if they do win and spend at least the next four years in high public office and view. We treat our highest public servants (President and Vice President) so disrespectfully that I wonder why anyone is willing to pay the price. From what I see and know of the Palins, I can only be thankful that they are willing.

They are also demonstrating - for all the world to see - that their professed faith is alive and well!

What an incredible life example of living out professed belief on the world stage - painful - exposing - but also incredibly powerful! The truth of having a restored heart (made new and being made new by Jesus Christ) is most awesomely demonstrated in the difficulties of life - whether it's just an "ordinary" person or a public servant in or running for high office!