Saturday, January 26, 2008

No Blogs Here for a Week or So

For the next week or so, I will not be blogging but - never fear - I'll be back!

Apologetix Concert

Last night I attended an Apologetix concert. I had never heard this band before. In fact, until very recently, I never heard of this band. Being there stretched my comfort zone.
One reason was the presentation: flashing lights, very loud music, young teens standing at the foot of the stage screaming and twirling their heads and bodies, etc. This is easily the first rock concert I ever attended in sixty years plus of living.
Another reason the concert stretched my comfort zone is that I didn't have the "code." Apologetix is a Christian rock parody band. They specialize in Biblical/Christian lyrics put to the tunes of rock hits from the 1960's to the 1990's and up to now. I have never followed popular music starting with any time. I bet I was the only person in the place who was unable to connect with any single song.
I think the idea behind Apologetix is quite clever. I applaud their creativity. Obviously I'm not their target audience either.
However, I can connect with experiencing their concert on a totally unexpected level. I needed the "code" to participate fully in the concert. Without the "code," I was lost at the start. Forget all the personal preference issues - there is still the "code" issue which was huge last night.
That started me thinking. Are there other areas where I just don't have the "code"? Sometimes that's a good thing, but often it's not.
Ray Boltz and Steve Green both sing "People Need the Lord." It's a great song with compelling lyrics: Everyday they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain, living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?
We are called to take His light to a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost for sharing Life with one who's lost?
Through His love our hearts can feel all the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life only we can share.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For peo-ple need the Lord. People need the Lord

SO how to "take His light to a world where wrong seems right ... (and) through His love our hearts can feel all the grief they bear" unless I get the "code" of how to "feel their silent pain" and love people in the "grief they bear" with Jesus' love.
What's the "code"? It's having a heart that's underconstruction, that's in the process of God's loving restoration so I can go and love and care and give my life however, whenever, wherever to take Jesus to people who are at the end of "broken dreams" - whatever form that brokenness takes. It's pretty simple: it's just following Jesus to the places and people He would go and find and love and help were He on earth today!
I missed the words Apologetix sang last night. (I could have used a lyrics sheet.) The lights and music were outside my comfort zone, but I got something very valuable from the concert. I got the affirmation that my comfort zone isn't where I need to stay. There's a world of people outside my personal comfort zone who need Jesus, and I just might be their link to Him.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Parable of Disability

This story may or may not be true, but it's a pretty cool parable of life.
Passing by the field, you might think the two horses grazing there were pretty much like any other two horses in a field. But, if you stop to really notice, you might learn that the larger of the two horses is blind. His owner has chosen to let him live his last days safely in the pasture where he is comfortable. That is pretty awesome. If you look and listen carefully, you will hear the steady tinkle of a bell. You might discover from close observation that the other horse has a small bell attached to her halter. If you stand awhile observing the horses in the field, you might notice that the blind horse follows his friend by the sound of her bell and that she is very careful to be sure he is following. The blind horse follows the lead of the bell whether around the pasture or back to the shelter of the barn at night.
What a beautiful picture of what life in God's economy looks like! God doesn't do throw-aways. He even invites the poor, the blind, the lame and the crippled to His party. (Luke 14:13 & 21)
Like the owner of the blind horse, God places value on life even when there is disability. Like the blind horse's owner, God makes provision for those who struggle. Luke 14 more than suggests that those who are poor, crippled, lame, blind, etc. are singled out for special honor in God's Kingdom.
At a Restoration Church we want to be the little horse with the bell. We want to lovingly protect and care for those who may struggle with poverty, disability or other needs.
Jesus said, "Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind." (Luke 14:21, NLT) There's no passivity here - there's action: Go! Go quickly! Make it happen NOW - go and find those who have needs and lead them to the shelter of Jesus' love.
Those are the people we want to find and bring to a Restoration Church.
The truth is that we are all broken. We all need the loving touch of God's restoration. There is a hidden world of isolated people - lonely people, people isolated by shame or disability or just the endless challenges of care-giving - these are the people who need to "hear our bell." The world is filled with lonely hearts broken in body and spirit who need to know that they matter and especially that they matter to God and His people. Those are the people - the hearts - that we want to find and love at a Restoration Church for Jesus' sake!
We know this is a great challenge. We hardly know how to start except to "GO, find, seek" ! We all "need fixed" (as we say in Pittsburgh)! Only God can fix the broken places and make us stronger where we are broken.
God brings us together to love Him and to love each other as we demonstrate to the watching world that God is all about restoration! That's exactly why a Restoration Church is committed to restoring lives through the Gospel - and to offering love, hope, help, grace and restored dignity through faith in Jesus Christ to the lonely and disenfranchised of the South Hills of Pittsburgh and beyond!
Our bell may not be very loud but we are ringing it in faithful obedience to the Lord who calls us all to care and love and GO! We are committed to GOing into the streets and alleys of the South Hills of Pittsburgh seeking broken, lonely people who needs God's love.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What are Friends for?

I’m a “best friends” kind of girl. I don’t enjoy wandering into a crowd and pumping flesh and making nice with total strangers. That’s not my “poison” of choice.
What I enjoy is getting to know someone, coming to love them and settling into a mutual friendship where we share our lives and hearts. There’s just one little problem to having those kind of friendships – they can be messy. They can consume time and energy. Besides, all my best friends happen to be sinners – just like me!
It’s not that I hang with a “bad” crowd. It’s just that starting with myself – the real truth is that we are all sinners to the very core of our hearts: me, you, everyone. And that’s the problem that intrudes in all relationships – having a sinner’s heart!
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor like you love yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Think about it. You and I must face the darkness in our own hearts and see the need we have for restoration – for restoration hearts – before we can love anyone else deeply. To love myself, I have to see my own failure, know my need and be willing to be real about my own heart.
We can try to fool ourselves and others. We can keep our mask tightly in place, but all the while we are side-stepping the truth and living a lie. How can I ever love another person with real love and accept them just where they are unless I know how great my own need is. Only a heart that knows the Savior is ever ready to reach out to another sinner with that same gracious love.
The very men Jesus spoke to about loving their neighbor were His greatest critics. They looked down their long crooked noses and self-righteously deemed everyone (except others just like them) as undeserving and worthy of distain. That’s why they felt perfectly justified in stepping around a bleeding and broken traveler in their path.
When Jesus told the story of the Samaritan stranger who stopped to help the fellow traveler, the “religious types” in the audience just didn’t get the point. They didn’t want to get it! Getting it would mean they would have to admit their own need, and they were not willing to go there even in their own hearts and certainly not in any public way.
When we know how greatly our hearts need Jesus, when we know how deeply we need restoration – then we can get down and dirty with other sinners (just like me) in their own need - to offer them the same love and mercy we have received. The Samaritan traveler who stopped to help the beaten up stranger didn’t kneel in the dirt without getting blood and dirt on his own clothes and hands.
When you and I see ourselves as great sinners, then we don’t look upon other sinners with distain but rather knowing that there but for the grace of God go I. Then we know that we are all kept in the grip of God’s grace together. We don’t deserve God’s gracious restoration. We can never earn God’s love AND we will never have real love to offer “a neighbor” until our own hearts have been bathed in God’s restoring grace!
That’s why there’s a need for restoration hearts and for a Restoration Church in the South Hills and anywhere else – because sinners need other sinners as best friends. Friends who will get down in the dirt (and blood) and offer love and be love’s heart and hands and feet!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hanging Out With Jesus!

Recently I heard someone "dropping names." The person was naming people he genuinely knew, but they were rich and famous and it grated on my ears to hear. That started me thinking: how did Jesus spend His time and who did He spend it with?
We know Jesus knew some pretty "rich and famous" people: Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and even Jarius (ruler of the synagogue whose daughter died). Yet the only record we have of Jesus' contact with them is at night in the dark for Nicodemus, after Jesus died for Joseph and in a dire crisis for Jarius.
The rest of the time Jesus spent His days and nights with very ordinary people in a fairly local area. We know he grew up in the small hill town of Nazareth and worked as a common laborer in a carpenter's shop. From the Gospel accounts, we know he spent a lot of time in northern Galilee around Capernaum. He spent some time east of Jerusalem at Bethany with his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Think about it. Where did Jesus spend most of His time? What was He doing? Who did He hang around with? He hung around with the dirty (like lepers), the outcast (like a tax collector who was regarded as a traitor and a mad man who lived in a cemetery), the shunned (like the woman who had been bleeding for many years). His critics charged that He was a friend to sinners. Indeed He was!
I guess that's how I know there's hope for me! No matter what - Jesus is willing to hang out with me!
AND that's also how I know He can use me to build His kingdom. But I have to go where the dirty, outcast and shunned are because they will never come to me.
Those dirty outcasts who are shunned by society can spot a fake a mile off so I need to take my "being restored heart" with me so I can love them with the same love Jesus has for them.
Jesus put it very plainly, "When you give a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed ... " (Luke 14:12 - 14)
And that's exactly why there's a Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - because that's exactly what Jesus would do and who He would invite!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My husband is a pastor. Pastors are called upon to do many things. Probably the most unusual request my husband has ever received in his pastoral role is to officiate at a funeral service. Pastors participate in funeral services all the time, so what's so unusual about that?
The uniqueness is in the circumstances surrounding that funeral service. The focus of the service was a group of women - all of whom had had an abortion. One woman in particular asked John to help her put closure on a terrible choice she made many years before - the choice to abort her baby.
She made her choice scared and alone. She made her choice outside a framework of Biblical parameters. She made her choice for expediency.
Today - January 22 - is the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion. In those 35 years millions and millions of unborn children have been murdered by abortion.
The crucial question is "When does life begin?" If life begins at birth, then abortion isn't really such a big deal.
In China, once a baby takes its first breath, then it is safe from euthanasia by law. Prior to breathing, however, the baby can be euthanized legally in China. In China the definition of life is taking the first breath.
However, if life begins the moment the egg and sperm connect. From that instant on, the life process proceeds until birth takes place. OR if life begins at some intermediate point between conception and viable birth, then it is from that time on that life exists prior to birth.
These are all technical ethical, moral and scientific considerations for which we have no definitive answer.
There is one additional ethical and moral choice which is: is abortion indicated either to save the mother's life or due to significant birth defects? There are no quick or easy answers to most of these questions.
One thing we do know, however, is that there is significant emotional trauma (particularly for the mother) connected with a decision to abort a baby. These mothers, like our friend who asked for a funeral for her aborted baby, suffer life-long grief and pain from a poor choice made years before.
Organizations like WEBA (Women Exploited By Abortion) are specifically designed to minister to these women in their pain. In our country alone over 4000 women a day choose death for their unborn child by abortion.
In Deuteronomy 30:19, God tells us to "Choose life so that you and your children will live..."
Everyday in America thousands of women and teenagers seek medically-induced abortions. Often the women and teenagers who seek to have an abortion have been deceived to believe that their pregnancy is little more than a mass of tissue, a non-living blood clot. Most of them would recoil in horror if they realized that an abortion always stops the beating heart of a baby.
While "pro-choice" feminists push abortion as a "woman's right," the truth is that women are being exploited by abortion. Our friend knew the pain and loss of that exploitation and wanted "closure" through appropriate repentance, forgiveness and giving her abortion choice over to the God Who forgives all sin confessed to Him.

My husband agreed (after serious study and prayer) to hold the funeral service. It was an occasion of great joy in the end. A number of women attended who had also chosen abortion. They too heard of God's love, grace and forgiveness. It was "abortion evangelism" and God used all that pain to advance His kingdom. God healed hurting hearts in that cemetery that day as only He can! It was beautiful to see.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Roe v. Wade and Me

My personal encounter with abortion occurred some years ago when a church member called to ask me to come stay with their children while he took his pregnant wife to the hospital due to some cramping and bleeding she was experiencing.
Then sometime in the middle of that night the husband called to ask me to come to the hospital. One of our sons came to take my place as baby-sitter. I went to the hospital.
What I encountered there was uncomfortable, disturbing and extremely intense. The doctor was pushing for abortion. There was NO discussion of trying less drastic measures to save the baby's life.
The wife wanted to have the abortion. The husband was devastated. I learned later that this particular doctor was widely known for her very pro-choice position (strongly in favor of abortion). That long evening didn't end well for either the baby or that family or me!
I suppose the doctor benefited the most from the experience as she probably got paid. There was no discussion that evening except by the husband and me that there might be long term consequences for proceeding with the abortion.
I remember the doctor looking me straight in the eye and saying, "This is no one's business but hers. This is no big deal. The sooner it is done the better."
I can't tell you plus or minus what the long-term effect on that family is, but I know it was one of those ministry moments that will haunt me forever. In this case abortion left its awful mark even on me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Remembering Roe v. Wade

35 terrible years after Roe v. Wade - 35 years of legalized abortions and millions of babies slaughtered in the name of choice and convenience - we remember Roe v. Wade as the nightmare that has shaped and damaged lives forever!
"Jane Roe" was the faceless, silent woman who would be famous for the Supreme Court's landmark decision to legalize abortion. Abortion is easily the single most galvanizing issue in our culture since the US "Civil War." Whether for LIFE or choice, the issue of abortion has dramatically impacted our society. Roe v. Wade made it possible to walk into an abortion clinic (often even without parental permission) and kill the child living in utero.
No one warns the mother of the years of grief, guilt and agony she will experience as a result of her choice to abort her baby. Widely disseminated is the idea that the "fetus" is not a baby - that it's just a blob of tissue. The logical conclusion is then that getting rid of unwanted tissue has no moral consequence - of little more significance than taking a bath and scrubbing off dirt.
Roe v. Wade was so much more than a judicial case and judgment. Roe v. Wade opened the gate for all kinds of brokenness. "Jane Roe" (aka Norma McCorvey) floundered for many years with substance abuse and guilt. 12 years ago Norma met a man who had the answer for her battered heart. His name is Jesus!
According to today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Norma McCorvey finally found the peace she sought in the "change of heart that turned her life around." Jesus restored her heart and filled the empty spaces with Himself! So this Tuesday Norma McCorvey (aka "Jane Roe") will participate in the March for Life in Washington DC - another story of restoration happening one heart at a time!

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Eyes Have It!

Heidi is a little girl who comes to the mountains of Switzerland when she is about 8 years old. An aunt/cousin leaves her with her grandfather. The grandfather appears to all the world to be a crotchety even mean old man. The story is fiction but there is a beautiful central point that speaks truth. Heidi dispels darkness and disseminates love everywhere she goes, and it makes a huge difference. In fact, it changes her world - wherever she is - one heart at a time.

There is a lot of "darkness" in the story. The "darkness" in the story of Heidi produces blindness. Some of that blindness is temporary and fixable. Some is not.

The only person in the story who is physically blind is "the grandmother." She isn't Heidi's grandmother. She is Peter's (the goatherd neighbor boy) grandmother.

Peter is only a little older than Heidi. Each morning he takes his and Heidi's grandfather's goats up to the high pasture to graze.

"The grandmother" is old and blind. When she first meets Heidi, she runs her hands and fingers very carefully over Heidi's face so she can "see" Heidi. She "sees" with her fingers.

A blind person can "see." Blind people actually talk about "seeing." It is startling to hear a blind person talk about "seeing." Some blind people actually see more clearly than many sighted individuals.

Most of the people in Heidi are blind in some way. But there are at least three people in the Heidi story who see pretty clearly. One of them is Peter's grandmother. She sees Heidi's heart and encourages Heidi to cast her light and love near and far. Heidi and Clara's grandmother are the other two people who can "see."

"The grandfather" lives in darkness and isolation because he chooses to do so. He knows the pain of loss, and he has put up a tall wall around his heart to protect it from further hurt. In the process he is hurt in all kinds of ways. He makes a regular practice of lashing out at anyone who tries to be kind just because he is protecting his heart.

Peter is "blind," too. Peter thinks that love has to be hoarded. He doesn't understand until the end of the story that love blooms when it is shared and even given away.

Clara is Heidi's city friend. Heidi goes to live with Clara as her companion. Clara is frail and spends her days in a wheelchair. Clara is "blind" because she is selfish and totally self-absorbed. Before the story is over, Heidi reaches Clara's heart and dispels the darkness there.

There are others with sight issues in the story: Clara's father is one. Most, if not all of them, are eventually touched by Heidi's love.

Heidi found the secret to pushing back darkness: it happens one heart at a time!

As I grow older, my eyes don't work as well as they once did. Christmas day I found myself trying to read a story to the people assembled around our dining room table. I didn't have my glasses, and I didn't want to interrupt the moment to get them. Once I started reading, I realized that I wasn't seeing well at all. It was scary! I got through the story but it was extremely challenging. I just don't see as well as I once did.

However, living without sight is much less risky and scary really than living with a blind heart! God knows that which is why He's in the business of restoration - one blind heart at a time!

There are a number of places in the Bible that talk about God seeing and even about God's eyes. One of my favorites is 2 Chronicles 16:9: "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. ... "

Put a little differently: God is always looking for restored (or being restored) hearts willing to do whatever it takes to love, serve and obey Him. Those are the hearts God uses to do His work! God sees and uses hearts - not perfect hearts - but hearts (and people) who know how greatly they need God's loving restoration. God goes to any length to seek out such servants and promises to strengthen them for the task of building His Kingdom.

Heidi's grandfather was afraid to trust and to love. It was just too risky! It just seemed safer to push people away and live without love all alone behind his self-constructed wall.

We fear the same vulnerability for the very same reason - the risk of pain and loss. We even push God away. We miss the truth that He is looking (with His eyes of love) for hearts that trust Him and are committed to Him. The Father delights in being strong when we are weak or scared. The Father delights to see our hearts and to work there to produce restoration. When we know and experience God's acceptance and love, then we are more willing to risk in relationship with other people - one heart at a time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Those Pesky Instructions - What are They Really for?

It happens every year. Something has to be assembled at our house for Christmas - some gift. This year it turned out to be gas logs for our fireplace. (And, first glance at the instructions, it turned out they weren't the right thing, so back they went to be exchanged. They are still sitting in their box as far as I know.)

Through the years, many boxes have come and gone. Inside each was a bunch of papers with very detailed instructions about assembling the pieces so that in the end they will resemble the picture on the outside of the box. (Assuming, of course, that all necessary parts are included in the box!)

I have one approach to such projects, and my husband has a totally different one. I want to take the shortest, straightest, fastest line from the jumble of pieces to the resemblance of the picture on the front of the box. I am frustrated and threatened by the complexity of the instructions. The truth is that I would prefer to either hand the instructions off to someone else or leave them in the bottom of the box. Neither approach is particularly helpful in getting pieces assembled into the whole whatever that looks like the picture on the box.

John, on the other hand, is quite delighted to pull out all the pieces and carefully read through the instructions. He may enjoy "variations on the theme" of the instructions simply because he does like to "reinvent the wheel," but he finds reading the instructions interesting in and of themselves. My eyes glaze over and I freeze at the thought of having to plod through the instructions.

John also likes to be left alone to assemble "the whatever" so he can concentrate. Time is of no consequence as the goal is to follow the instructions and carefully put the item together. Neither of us enjoys being in the vicinity when the other is assembling somethiing. I drive John crazy with my get-it-done approach. He drives me crazy with his willingness to take however long it takes to methodically address the task. His way is much safer and also possibly much more productive over the long haul. He successfully puts many more such projects together than I do. (Actually it's no contest as I am quite happy to leave that chore to him under most circumstances.)

This is a parable of life. Life comes with instructions. We have many, many sets of them sitting on various shelves and places in our home. We sometimes even carry these instructions around with us from place to place. HOWEVER the instructions are only helpful when we open them and read what they have to say and begin the process of applying the instructions to the circumstances of life in that day. These instructions for life have many counterfeits, but the real thing is God's Word! God has told us what to do to make life work.

Therein is another parable. The manufacturer of the product is best able to detail instructions for assembly. The Creator knows how life works and why. His instructions are the ones that work. His instructions are also the only ones that will get us to look like the "picture on the box" - what the Designer/Creator intended in the first place.

I think God is far less concerned with whether we just read the instructions than He is with whether we use those instructions to enter into the relationship He wants to have with us. He wants us to engage with His instructions (the Bible) and with Him. We can read the instructions all day, but unless God's instructions connect with our hearts and our hearts connect with God's heart, we are going through motions with no substance and no purpose being served in the end.

The Bible is full of all kinds of instructions. It is easy to get lost in the details of the instructions. Many people have. Jesus boiled all the instructions down to just two (that's more my speed): Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

We can try to do life assembly either doing it "my way" or studying the instructions so minutely that we get lost in the instructions and miss the main point. Assembling life (making life work) is not the final goal in this life project. Life works best in relationship: relationship with God and with each other. Jesus said it: Loving God with all my heart is the only instruction that really counts. When I do that, then I love my neighbor as a natural consequence of loving God totally.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. It just takes a heart willing to love God and follow His instructions - even when they seem pesky!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Life in a Box

What makes you happy? What are things that make you mad?

Think about yesterday as today is probably too new. Did anything make you mad yesterday? Can you remember?

Something made me mad. I was really upset that my husband complained about the food I fixed. He didn't help fix it, and I'm totally unused to having him complain about my food. I guess that's something.

Getting mad, however, was a choice I made. I chose to let what someone else said get "under my skin."

That same husband tells a story about a woman he met years ago. He says she is the most joyful Christian he ever met. Well, that's interesting when you know the rest of the story.

She lived (even as an adult) with her sister and her husband. She spent all her days in a small box on wheels. Only her head peeped out of the box. She had no legs or arms. She was born that way. But she never stopped smiling! I'm sure she had her moments, but she smiled and laughed a lot. She was contagiously full of laughter and life! She knew Jesus, and that made a difference in how she lived!

Living in a box - now that's something worth complaining about or even being mad at God about! Getting mad about being served the same food at consecutive meals or even getting mad because someone pointed that out - as my sister says, "That's small beans!"

Living in a box with no arms or legs - that's cause to be angry, sad and even self-absorbed. But the girl in the box was none of those things. She was happy and content! She was interested in other people! She was willing to wait for someone to move her box or comb her hair or cover her when she was cold. What an incredible life!

Actually she wasn't particularly special, and she would tell you that, too. She was only smiling and happy and content because she knew Jesus. Her heart was on the path of restoration!

Remembering her makes me feel pretty foolish about things that cause me to complain! Getting angry over "small beans" is pretty silly when I think of the girl in the box.

It is all about where our hearts are and our perspective because of what's in our hearts. Getting mad and complaining about things that don't matter all that much says more about my heart than anything else! Am I (Are you) gutsy enough to ask God to stop me in my complaining tracks and to show me what does really matter today?

The girl in the box says it all - it's all about what's in the heart!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Power of Love Trumps Love of Power!

Rock musician guitarist Jimi Hendrix wrote: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, there will be peace on earth." I doubt he understood the truth he revealed.

I listen to the amazing field of presidential wanna-bees and I see a startling "love of power" and quest to get it.

I have had my own experience with those who love power at the expense of the power of love.

When Jesus hung on a Roman cross more than 20 centuries ago, he was put there by those who loved power. The Jewish leaders and Roman officials and murderous mob all wanted to crucify Jesus. They were threatened by His life of love. The leaders and officials feared that His love might trump their power.

When Jesus came to earth about 33 years prior to His death, angels sang, "Glory to God ... and peace on earth!" They signaled the truth that Love in human form (the baby Jesus) was born that night in Bethlehem. Their song said that the triumph of love brings peace.

Those who hated Him and His Love, those who were threatened by Jesus chose power over all! They even thought love is weakness and that power is strength.

They got it all wrong. They hung Love on a cross. They tried to kill Love. But, in the end, the world will know that the power of true love (God's love) always trumps those who love power.

Sadly, however, there is a love for power that hides in all our hearts. Only as God works to restore our hearts can we learn that love is stronger than power every time - maybe not here and now - but always in the end! The power of Love will always trump the love of power! And only then will there be peace on earth!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What is the church?

Remember the children's rhyme (with motions), "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people."? What is the church in the rhyme? It's the building with people inside. So, even the rhyme almost gets it right.

On the night before Jesus died, he introduced His disciples to a radical concept: it is the "Fellowship of the Towel." Pittsburghers understand that as we have our own 'fellowship of the towel" - the terrible towel that we wave at Steeler games. Jesus wasn't talking about the terrible towel and Steelers, however. He spoke of His betrayal and death. He illustrated His body broken and blood spilled. He talked about what would come after His death and resurrection. Jesus' "Fellowship of the Towel" was His showing His followers how to serve others when He served them by washing their feet and wiping them with a towel. His main men didn't understand, but they heard His words. His disciples didn't get it, but they did let Jesus wash their feet as He initiated them into the "Fellowship of the Towel."

On that astonishing evening, Jesus told His disciples that they would literally become His body here on earth. He told them that the Holy Spirit would help them represent Jesus to the world.

Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the US Senate, flew into Washington, DC one evening. As he looked at the city's lights from his airplane window, he tried to spy his church - Fourth Presbyterian Church. Somehow he coldn't pick it out of the darkness, but he could see the lights of the Capitol, White House and many other government buildings. Suddenly he realized a wonderful truth: he was looking at his church represented by THOSE buildings. Members of his congregation worked in those buildings. They were being the Body of Christ (the Church) as they worked and lived and all the hours in-between.

The church isn't bricks and mortar or even a steeple. The church is people living and loving and serving the Lord of the church wherever life takes them. The church is "the Fellowship of the Towel"! The church is marked by thousands of points of light across our nation's capitol (and wherever else) pushing back the darkness as Christian believers "BE the church"!

"BEing the church" is us - believers in Jesus Christ, the people whose hearts are being restored by His Gospel! The church is us 24/7 showing Jesus' love with our hands and feet and hearts to a world lost in darkness. The church is us being willing to serve others at the point of their need - even washing dirty feet!

What the world needs now is love shown by restored hearts who love Jesus! The world doesn't need bricks or steeples. The world needs Jesus! And ONLY a restored heart - restored and being restored by the Gospel of Jesus Christ - can BE the church and show Jesus to the world!

We don't go to church. We are the church: the "Fellowship of the Towel"! It's something to think about!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Disaster, Disaster Everywhere! What Is One to Think?

The evening news has the story of a murdered pregnant Marine in North Carolina. It also has the developing story of O.J. Simpson and his legal troubles which seem to be mounting by the moment. Former Olympic star and five-time medal winner Marion Jones not only has lost her medals but is now facing 6 months in jail, 2 years probation and 800 hours of community service. At least she took it on the chin like an adult and stood before the cameras and said she respected the decision of the court and judge today and hoped that others would learn from her mistakes.
Earlier today I was in the grocery store and found sad pictures of Britney Spears splashed on the front page of various magazines with even sadder headlines.
This world is a terrible place. People lie and cheat and steal. People do all they can to get away with even murder. Do we hear and see so much that it becomes commonplace? Does it even shock us anymore?
Is there outrage that the murder of a pregnant Marine is only one count of murder rather than two even though she was over eight months pregnant? (I had one of my sons at six months pregnant, and he is certainly a living human being - and was then as well!) Will the laws of North Carolina (criminal code) change to include the charge of murder for killing an unborn child?
What a mess we and our world are in! Talk about restoration - God's loving, restoring grace has never been more needed than in our world on this cold January 2008 evening.
Restoration begins one heart at a time as God works! God's restoring Gospel is the only hope for our messed-up lives and world.
When those in my home and my sphere of influence see God bringing restoration to my heart and that restoration beginning to overflow in my actions toward both God and others, then that little light of God's restoration begins to push back the darkness. Then the process of restoration spreads one heart at a time!

A Milestone Birthday

Today is my dad's 87th birthday. He's a pretty awesome guy to have for a father. He understands and lives 24/7 what a heart and life restored by Jesus looks like. He pretty much always has. What an incredible heritage for me and his other five children and more than 21 grandchildren and soon to be a dozen (and counting) great-grandchildren!
These days you can catch him a lot sitting with his Bible on his knees reading. He may not move as fast as he used to, but he hasn't changed a bit how he lives. His faithful living consistently demonstrates his heart restored by Jesus.
87 years is a long time to live. Chances are he has less time more to live than he already has lived. Sometime he's gonna just step over into the next life - eternity with Jesus. I don't like to think about that, but that's pretty selfish of me. It will be a wonderful transition for him! He will have a whole new body in heaven. The drag of years and various other things will no longer hang around. He will be free and whole. No more doctor visits, no more medicines, not even any more daily walks up his mountain road.
This morning he told me he planned to take a load of trash from the garage to the dump. He won't have to do that in heaven either.
This restoration business is pretty awesome when I consider where it leads in the end!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Astonished Heart

I saw a refreshing definition of Christians recently: a group of astonished hearts living and loving Jesus and each other. I like that - astonished hearts!
Remember your own excitement when you first became a believer. Perhaps you have seen new believers just bubbling over with their new-found faith. It's really contagious! The description "astonished heart" is the reason why.
It is radically astonishing that the Lord of all creation would put on our skin and move into our neighborhood for the purpose of literally taking our place - making the ultimate terrible trade. "God made Him who knew no sin to became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21)
It's the ultimate reality of trading places - not a show on Home and Garden TV - but the deepest truth when Jesus took my place and my punishment and made the unbelievable trade of His righteous life for all my sin! No wonder my heart is astonished!
Is your heart astonished? It is the beauty of an astonished and being restored heart that shows Jesus for all the world to see.
I'm finding an amazing resonance with people in this whole business of brokenness and our need for restoration. We all know - deep in our hearts - that it's true: we are broken and need to be fixed.
Just yesterday walking in a neighborhood passing out flyers inviting people to church we encountered a man who wasn't very interested in ANOTHER church. He even said something like, "A new church - O, we really need more churches - about as much as we need more banks and hospitals." He wasn't engaging with the idea until we talked about how we are all broken in various ways and in need of God's loving, restoring work. He stopped, turned and softly acknowledged, "Yeah, we all need that." I've seen it happen over and over.
The astonishing, restoring work of the Gospel is appealing in this world-gone-mad where we live. The astonishing, restoring work of the Gospel captures the attention and imagination of even a man on the street who thinks we need more churches like we need more banks or hospitals. His implied answer was "NOT" ! But faced with the astonishment of restoration for brokenness struck a resonating cord deep within his heart. It's astonishing to see!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"Counter-cultural" Living and Serving

There’s something pretty radical about a Restoration Church – this new church being planted in the South Hills! It is “counter-cultural”!

When I think “counter-cultural,” I think 1970’s and hippies and Beatles and bell-bottom polyester suits with loud flowered shirts and all the rest. When I think “counter-cultural,” I think “rebellion” against tradition and the status quo. AND all those thoughts flow through my mind on a decidedly negative path.

But think about it – as I am doing. As we swim down the mainstream of life, what is the predominant message? Isn’t it to swim as fast (and even furiously) as we can, to keep moving faster and faster, to never be seen as resting in the shallows and to sweep anyone who gets in our way out of the way?

Hasn’t that same mind-set crept into the church? Bigger is better. Success is measured by numbers and noses. Glitz, glamour and entertainment have taken the place of worship and connection with people and their needs.

Then I look at the Gospels and the life of Jesus. I see a Man on a mission, but I don’t see Him in a hurry. I don’t see him concerned with counting either numbers or noses. True, He found Himself in large crowds for a time. But, in the end, He was alone – forsaken by both man and God. His body was buried in a borrowed tomb.

Jesus even stopped in the middle of an urgent mission to follow a prominent leader (Jarius) whose daughter was sick and dying. Jesus stopped because a woman touched the hem of His robe as He pushed through the crowd. He had time for her: an untouchable, an outcast, a reject by society (and the Law). She had been bleeding for many long years. Women were pronounced (by the Law) unclean and untouchable when they were bleeding – whether for a few days each month or for years.

At a Restoration Church, we want to serve the needs of others. We particularly want to focus on people with special needs of brokenness. That includes all those Jesus talks about in Luke 14:12 – 14: “… when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind … “ And, in truth, it includes us all because we are all broken in various ways. We all desperatly need all our brokenness restored by our King and Creator, Jesus!

To serve the needs of others by being a Restoration Church, God will need to start a work of restoration in each of our hearts. And then we need to work hard to get to know each other and love each other well just as Jesus loves us. We need to intentionally put our own agendas aside to put the needs of others first – much like Jesus did on His way to Jarius’ house when He stopped for the woman who touched Him.

This is “counter-cultural” living and serving! This is what God is calling restored hearts to be and do!

Monday, January 7, 2008

God's Helpers

A Restoration Church is starting in the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

I was just thinking today about some of the unusual helpers God is using in the process of building His church.

One has black hair and big brown eyes. She is very quiet and sweet. Her name is Susie. She has the ability to capture hearts quickly with her sweet gentle spirit. The people she meets in the doctor's office or at the "hair dresser" all love her. Who could find an invitation to church threatening in the presence of such a sweet, loveable dog?

These helpers are two. They are both very small. They help in amazing ways given their size and age. One may take up the offering. The other may join in joyful praise as we sing. One or both may share a concern during our sharing time or even offer to pray aloud. Who can be threatened by sharing or singing or praying when one or another of our resident four-year-old twins are such happy, willing participants?

There are other examples, but the point is that God uses unexpected helpers in unexpected ways to do His work in His world. I guess that means He can use just about anybody with a willing heart! It is certainly something to think about!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Wanna B" President??? !!!

I don't know about you but I'm sick of the current cycle of presidential campaign! Maybe that's the subtle strategy after all. When thoughtful voters get so sick of hearing about this and that candidate "ad nauseum," it clears the way for apathy to set in. I'm fighting that apathy myself while trying to learn and stay informed on the various candidates.
The other problem besides the incessant TV coverage of interviews, debates, snipping and on and on is the "who factor." Did you ever wonder why anyone would want to run for president? It is akin to painting a target on your back and on the backs of your spouse and children and digging in for at least four years of attack and abuse! No wonder "the best of the best" don't want the job! The power and prestige and certainly name recognition come with the job as well as a huge load of responsibility. And then there's also that "target factor"!
Perhaps our political process needs restoring before we see life and culture as we know it totally crash and burn.
Reading my Old Testament reminds me that God's people over and over lived through the cycle of rebellion against God, repentance and then restoration back to "favored nation status" with the God of the universe. Over and over God patiently restores His wayward children and gently nudges (and even sometimes uses more radical means to nudge) their hearts toward home (a restored relationship with God).
This presidential election cycle is making me think that God's people imbedded in our culture need to take a serious look at why God put us in place. He put us here to be salt and light. We are imbedded agents to push back darkness and to bring the flavor of God's truth to the particular spot where we live and work.
No, I can't imagine anyone wanting to be president. Yes, I can understand why we are left with the field of candidates we have.

I'll just stick with the challenge of being salt and light here in the South Hills of PIttsburgh. That's a big enough challenge!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lima Beans and the Gospel ?

I don't think I would have ever thought the Gospel and lima beans had anything to do with each other in any way. Mark Labberton's article - "The Lima Bean Gospel" (Christianity Today, January 2008 issue) correlates the two with challenging insights about the church and believers and how we live out (or fail to live out) the truths of the Gospel before the watching world. Mark Labberton's main thesis is that our ability to live God's amazing Gospel of grace is directly proportional to the size of that Gospel in our own hearts.

I also agree with Pastor Luke Camera (church planter in Paris, France). He writes on his blog that the correlation of lima beans to the Gospel may be a huge gap in the author's personal experience with lima beans.

At our house we had lima beans for Christmas dinner 2007. Lima beans are delicious cooked properly (long) and seasoned with salt, pepper and real butter. They are less than delicious undercooked and improperly seasoned which is how most people are acquainted with the lima bean.

But back to the Gospel (and lima beans)! It is a compelling and challenging concept Labberton raises. Is it true that our connection with the Gospel makes that wonderful Gospel look way small for all the world to see? Labberton says, "The good news is so much bigger than we make it out to be."

Our God is NOT too small. His Gospel is NOT small at all! His Son, the Lord of all creation, is NOT small either.

The smallness comes in our hearts. Our mission is to be salt and light in a dark and rotten world. When we diminish the Gospel in any way, we show a false gospel to the world. If the watching world sees butterbeans rather than the glorious Gospel, then it is because our hearts are hard and shriveled (like some butterbeans).

Mark Labberton observes: "The love of Jesus Christ, through whom God is reconciling the whole world to himself, is no lima bean. ... The primary evidence that the gospel is no lima bean is meant to be the compelling, sacrificial love and justice vividly lived and humbly witnessed to by Christ's body." (Hmmm! That's you and me, baby! We are Christ's body here on earth for now. We are as good as it gets, and sadly that's mostly not so good!)

Jesus said that all men will know we have the living Gospel in our hearts by one evidence alone: how well we love one another! (John 13:35) We are called to restored hearts that are filled with over-flowing love demonstrated in how we live and relate to others.

Love isn't some abstract concept. Nor is love a cliche for books, novels or songs. The love we find in the Gospel has hands and feet that reach out and go and give even when it's difficult or unpopular or misunderstood! This Gospel isn't small at all! To our shame, we make the Gospel appear small because our own hearts are small, shriveled and hard. We need God's restoring grace for this day and every other day! We need restored hearts so we can live God's Gospel before the watching world in terms they see and understand and find compelling.

Labberton concludes, "The church cannot afford to give the impression that the particularity of the gospel only shines on us. If we love as we have been loved, the immensity and scope of God's intimate and cosmic gospel in Jesus Christ will be more evidently the salt and light of the world. We will be far more like Jesus described us - tangy and tangible Good News. And that is no lima bean gospel." (from Christianity Today, 1/08)

Lima beans are delicious on my plate and in my mouth (when properly prepared). But lima beans are not heart healthy food in any spiritual sense. Lima beans are food. The Gospel belongs to you and me and needs to live everyday in new and fresh ways in our hearts! Only the Gospel can restore brokenness in our hearts! Only the Gospel living in my heart (and yours) can shine in darkness to push back that darkness. Only the Gospel living in my heart can provide preservation in cultures bent to rot and decay!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

How or Wow??? !!!

I'm thinking about this new year 2008. I'm thinking that it's time for new starts, new attitudes, new ways of connecting with God and others. I'm thinking that there needs to be more focus on the "wow" than on the "how" of living and loving both God and others.

I'm thinking my heart needs the "wow" much more than the "how"!

It may be a personality thing! It may be how your or my brain is wired to some extent. But I'm wondering if we stay living in the "how" because the "wow" is so much scarier. The "how" can be an escape from risk. To live in the "how" of life just requires the facts. It means we can live by rules and plans, set goals (Nothing wrong with that!) and not deal with what drives the "how" living we are more comfortable with.

Facts and the "how" are good and necessary. Blowing off the "how" and living totally in the "wow" brought the bohemic lifestyles of the 1970's. Blowing off the "how" and living totally in the "wow" brings the hedonism of this new 21st century. Walking across the news on a regular basis are outstanding examples of living only in the "wow" - Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and most recently Pamela Anderson. Pamela Anderson decided to party New Year's Eve and left her two sons (ages 10 and 11) alone in a hotel room in Los Vegas.

We need the "how" to balance the "wow" but without any "wow" the "how" becomes pretty mundane. Hopefully this isn't sounding too much like a Dr. Seuss book!

We need "how living." BUT we also need "WOW living"! It's living beyond the "how" into the "wow" that pushes my heart to live and love even when it's hard, even when I don't really want to think more of someone else's needs than my own. The "wow" takes a lot more work than the "how."

Hiding in the "how" of living is ever so much easier and feels safer. There is none of the hard work of relationships, of conflict resolution or of loving and serving others. The "how" feels like order and control. Living in the "how" allows me to set rigid boxes for life. It is a whole lot easier and much less messy to stick to "how-living." There's just one small problem: that's not the way of the restored heart!

God restores my heart (and yours) so we can live in the balance of both the "how" and the "wow"! He sets our hearts free to live and love in ways that include the "how" but "pop" with the "wow"!

For 2008 I want God to push my being-restored-heart beyond "how-living" to "wow-living"! The first step on that path is finding the Gospel and its truths new and fresh every day for my heart. I need God's forgiving grace for my own heart every day. Then and only then can I live in God's gripping grace to love and serve others in "wow-living"!