Friday, February 29, 2008

Husbands, Hurricanes, Heartaches and Happiness

I have a really good friend. Her life hasn't been easy. She has faced a lot of challenges and heartbreaks. Here's one example:

Her husband was dying from prostate cancer. He was already under hospice at home. Meanwhile a hurricane was predicted to come thru her town. At or about 5 AM one morning her husband went to heaven. At or about 5 PM the SAME day the hurricane struck with all its fury and blew a huge oak tree over on her house crashing through the roof and literally destroying the house.

Now if anyone would have reason for a "pity party," my guess is that she would qualify - especially that day!

Do you know what she said? She said, "Well, I'm so glad God took Curt home first before the tree crashed into the house so we didn't have to try to move Curt in the hurricane." Later she said, "In the same day I lost my husband and my house, and I'm still standing and still smiling."

Now, what is her problem? If anyone had a reason to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over her head, seems like she did. What made the difference? Why didn't she respond by crashing or hiding? Why didn't she blame God for two "terrible" things happening to her all in the same day?

She has discovered a wonderful truth: God doesn't take hard times away or keep them from happening. God doesn't always fix broken stuff like husbands dying or even broken houses. Sometimes God leaves us to live with broken circumstances. WHY?

Isn't God powerful enough and good enough to take care of the broken stuff in life? Yes, He is! He is both powerful and very, very good. The truth is that God's goodness doesn't always feel or look good when we're living in the broken places in life.

The deal is that God cares more about restoring hearts than he does about fixing husbands or houses. God wants to restore my heart so I can live with Him forever. Sometimes that process is very painful because it involves letting go of the things I depend on for security and comfort. It involves turning to God alone. It means dying to all the things I think are important. It is then that God can demonstrate His restoration of my heart both to me and to the watching world!

God didn't fix Susan's husband (until he got to heaven) or her house. But God did fix Susan's heart, and that's a process that is still happening. God is still working on restoring Susan's heart. God is still working on restoring my heart!

God wants to work on restoring your heart, too. At A Restoration Church we care about the broken things in your life. We would like to walk with you through the process of God's restoration!

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It all started when God said, 'Light up the darkness!' and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful."

"If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. ... So, we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life (restoration), not a day goes by without his unfolding grace." (2 Corinthians 4:5-9, 16 - The Message)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pittsburgh's Terrible Towel and Disability

Yesterday a Pittsburgh legend died - Myron Cope. Myron Cope was a legend.

  • His unique voice and broadcasting style became the voice of Pittsburgh Steeler's football games.

  • His ingenuous idea of the "Terrible Towel" will live long into the future. The Terrible Towel is essential gear for Pittsburgh Steeler fans! It is a small yellow towel printed in large black letters - "Terrible Towel." The Terrible Towel is twirled by loyal Steeler fans at memorable moments or just any old time during Steeler games or Steeler celebrations.

Reading Myron Cope's biographical information yesterday gave me some further insights into the man. I learned that he has an autistic son Daniel who lives at Allegheny Valley School here in Pittsburgh. Myron Cope donated all the royalties and rights from the sales of the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School.

What strikes me most about Myron Cope isn't his fame as a sports announcer or even his invention of the Terrible Towel - what impresses me about Myron Cope is that behind his fame was a family dealing with disability. And Myron Cope had a heart to help other families dealing with disability. He donated all the rights to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School.

I went to the web and read about Allegheny Valley School. At just one of their locations here in Pittsburgh, they take care of 184 residents in five residential buildings and six group homes. Daniel Cope is one of those residents. I was stunned to read that those residents range in age from 15 to 87.

The "disabled world" is a large people group in our culture. Many families impacted by disability struggle with all the challenges their loved one and they face. There is a lonliness in that struggle.

There are some wonderful ministries stepping up to bat to reach out a helping hand. One of them is Joni Eareckson Tada's Joni and Friends Family Retreats held all over the country for a week just for the entire family of a disabled person to come and be specially loved for that week. My husband and I had the opportunity to observe one of those camps last summer. I will never forget what I saw and learned. I saw a level of love in action that was beyond incredible!

What strikes me most about Myron Cope is that he knew the pain disability brings to a family as well as the joy of loving that disabled person. I wonder if many people knew this rest of the story about Myron Cope.

We aren't Allegheny Valley School, but A Restoration Church is just beginning in the South Hills of Pittsburgh because we too realize that there is a world of brokenness in many forms. We want to reach out a loving, helping hand to bring God's love, grace and mercy to that brokenness wherever we find it.

We welcome you to be part of God's story as we pray, work, worship and reach out with God's love!

Winter or Spring?

Yesterday I spent several hours in the frigid cold shoveling snow. I shoveled and the snow continued to come so before long, there was more snow to shovel. I started the day shoveling snow, and I ended the day shoveling snow.

I thought about spring. I saw my poor frozen daffodils who stuck their heads out too early this year.

C.S. Lewis wrote a story with a setting much like my garden at the moment. There is snow and ice everywhere. My daffodils who woke up too soon are frozen as they stand. The land where Lewis’ story is set is Narnia. Narnia is the land where it is “always winter but never Christmas.” The point is that Narnia is frozen in all that is hard and cold about winter with none of the celebration and joy.

Narnia is an imaginary land where we can learn many spiritual lessons. Narnia is a world frozen in the spell of evil (cast by the White Witch). The land and the creatures who live there are all under the Witch’s spell. Her grip is strong, and there is only one power who can break her spell.

Lewis describes what is needed to break the spell of evil over Narnia:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again

We don’t live in Narnia. We live in the real world where sin has left such a mark and evil has such a terrible choke-hold that wrongs seem right, winter seems forever, hearts are cold and sorrows last on and on.

But spring will come bursting from beneath the cold and snow even in Pittsburgh!

Spring can also come to my heart and yours long before the seasons change. Jesus comes to push back the evil in my own heart. Jesus comes to make wrongs right. Jesus breaks the choke-hold of sin on my heart. Jesus brings warming love and grace to my cold heart. Jesus is the Lord of restoration, and He is on the move!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Fidel Fades"

"Fidel Fades Away" - That is the headline banner across the front page of today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with a picture of Fidel's profile in shadow.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I first heard the news that Fidel had stepped down to turn the reins of Cuba over to his younger brother, Raul. I wondered if it is possible for such a brutal dictator who governed with an iron fist for almost half a century to just "fade away."

The cartoon on the Tribune's editorial page gets it more right, I think. It features a depiction of the Devil talking to a few of his minion demons who are standing with placards at the foot of the steps down to Hell. One placard reads "Got cigars?" The artist BISH captions his drawing, Calm down, boys ... that's not what they meant when they said Castro was "stepping down."

He might go out with a bang like the recent Hezbollah terror mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh. Suspected in some of the deadliest terrorist attacks for over 25 years, Imad Mughniyeh was supposedly a role model (scary thought!) for Osama bin Laden. He died a flaming death in Syria a week ago on Valentine's Day.

But, there's just something about "fade away" that isn't right and doesn't fit to describe Fidel Castro. There's the irony of Fidel calling himself "President of Cuba" when he was really a despot who proclaimed himself to be "president." And there is the long trail of tears and bodies Castro leaves in his wake! It's hard to "fade" from the very tragic human reality of all that suffering!

If I were numbered among those who escaped from Castro's Cuba, I don't think "fade" would be the word I would want to see heralding the end of his reign of terror.

It does, however, seem to be a sign of how calloused we are to mayhem and suffering that "fade" is okay to describe such devastation as the end of all the terrors Castro pepetrated on Cuba's people and ecomomy and culture. Why are we so timid about calling it what it is? Castro is an evil man -- even if he is physically sick.

Is Fidel Castro beyond God's grace? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that we need to have hearts more sensitive to the plight of millions who suffer and have suffered at the hands of such cruel men around the world.

President George W. Bush is in Rwanda Africa is speaking out against the genocide that has devastated the people of that region. President Bush said that the situation in Darfur and the lessons we should have learned from the brutal 1994 Rwandan genocide should be a clarion trumpet call across the world to stand against such evil. The call and responsibility for Christians is even greater!

When we know God's grace and love, then we need to take tough stands against injustice and evil wherever that evil raises it's ugly head! God calls us to action!

I seriously doubt that members of the Cuban community in Florida would ever consider it appropriate for such a villian as Fidel Castro to "fade away." Many of them bear on their persons the marks of tortue before their escape from "Castro's paradise." I'm old enough to remember well all the boat and raft and whatever would float loads of people desperately trying to escape from the so-called "paradise."

We cannot and must not turn away from the suffering around us if we ever hope to push back the darkness with the Light of Jesus' love! We must boldly speak the truth and seek to right wrongs where we can. It's God's way to live in this world that is in such desperate need of restoration!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jumping Off Faith

Jumping off - scary stuff! This morning on ABC's Good Morning America one of the features was a very scary jump/plunge off the Taj Mahal Trump Casino at Atlantic City, NJ. First there was a very attractive girl in full harness who stepped off the edge - maybe a tad gingerly - and hung by the harness and cable. The main feature was Chris Cuomo, male anchor of the Good Morning Show. He was also in full harness attached to cables.

The announcer said the two were going to drop more than 30 feet per second from the top. Chris appeared absolutely terrified as he slid very tentatively to the edge and finally came off into the air suspended by cables attached to his harness. Quickly the drop started!

I've been there and done something like that. Some years ago we had a huge oak tree in our back yard. Our sons rigged up a cable swing high in the tree. The deal was that you climbed up the trunk of the tree on small wooden "steps" nailed in place to reach the first branches pretty high up. Then attached to a cable and in full harness the object was to hold one cable and walk out one of the limbs to its outer edge. The challenge was to step off supported only by the cable attached to the harness. That necessitated letting go of the other cable. Sounds like no big deal, maybe, but I assure you it was one of the scariest things I've ever done!

No big deal - that's what I thought, too. Our church youth group were watching. There was a great deal of pride connected with my challenge, and I learned that truly "pride goes before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)

Our sons both demonstrated the "swing." Then most of the guys participated even one who was "scared spitless." He survived the swing, but I don't think his parents ever forgave our sons for letting him do something so scary. The girls were all sitting on the ground a very safe distance away but close enough to see. None of them planned to participate.

I decided to issue a challenge. If I would go up and swing, would they? They all said, "Yes."

So I proceeded to climb the tree. I was all rigged in a harness attached to a very secure cable. I held the other cable and started to literally inch out the limb. I have participated in some pretty scary adventures in my lifetime, but this one ranks right up there at the top. I was telling myself the entire time: "This has got to be the stupidest thing you have ever done, self!" I knew I couldn't bale in front of the youth group. I was one of their leaders. I was trapped and also "scared spitless."

I could totally identify with Chris on ABC this morning. Been there, done that - not as high or as fast but high enough and fast enough!

Like Chris on the edge of the Taj Mahal roof today, I finally got out to the end of the limb. It was time to step off into mid-air, and I truly didn't know if I could do it. It was a sheer act of will and great faith in the harness, cable and my sons and great hope that God was watching. I dug deep for courage and finally stepped off and swung. It was fun! The swing was great! It was the process of getting there that was sheer torture! Believe it or not, I even did it again! It wasn't much less scary the next time either but the swing was almost worth the fear.

The object of the tree swing was an exercise in faith. My son Duncan pointed that out at the beginning. He talked about the harness and the cables. He said we place faith in the harness and cable being strong and secure. That's how we can step off into mid-air.

Well, in my case, I don't know how much faith I had in the harness or cables or my sons or even God - to tell the truth. In all honesty, I stepped off to save my reputation - to save face!

But I did learn a great faith lesson that day! It is absolutely true: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) AND sometimes that's only a teeny tiny bit of "beinig sure" and "certain." BUT the great thing is that faith is also not something we muster up. Faith is a gift God gives us just when we need it most! (Eph. 2:8) WOW!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pink Killer - Breast Cancer

The women on the University of Pittsburgh's basketball team lost their game to the University of Conneticut yesterday. They scored less points through the basket than Conneticut did.

BUT the women players, the coaches and the fans of the University of Pittsburgh's women's basketball team scored big at that game. It was "Pink the Peterson" Day to raise awareness for breast cancer and its victims. At almost any PIttsburgh event, there is a sea of black and gold. Not at this game! Everyone including the Pitt team wore pink - even the Pitt panther mascot.

It was especially neat because one of the players on Pitt's team lost her mother last fall due to breast cancer. What an outpouring of support for Phro!

My own grandmother died from cancer that probably started as breast or ovarian cancer, but - by the time she was diagnosed - was so far advanced that she had metastasis everywhere. It's an ugly disease. It's a killer.

Kudos to Coach B and her coaches and players for a great campaign against the Pink Killer yesterday! You won even if the score didn't reflect the victory!

Shame on us in the church of Jesus Christ when we don't show the same concern for social ills than others who have much less reason!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Champ

I have a friend who just scored the winning basket in overtime for her basketball team. I'm sorry I missed the game particularly since I hear it was quite exciting with the overtime win and included two parents being kicked out of the game for "unsportsmanlike" conduct.

I'm proud of my friend for making the points that decided the game. That's a great achievement and a wonderful memory! Her parents are particularly proud of her, but I have a pretty clear idea that they would be equally proud had she missed her shot. They just love and applaud her. That's a great legacy to give a kid!

Wonder how the two kids whose parents were kicked out of the game feel. That's a bummer - tho' not something that is rare - for parents to be so involved in their kid's sport that the parent is almost playing the game more than the kid. It gets all wrapped up in ego and a lot of other stuff. It's sad.

It also sends a pretty clear message to the kid: if you do well, if you win, I'll be proud of you BUT you better be sure you win.

We live in a very broken world. Parents are broken and still trying to be parents. Kids are broken and trying to grow up.

The only answer for brokenness is restoration! What does restoration look like?

Another friend showed me a beautiful but broken stained glass window in her home yesterday. We had already spent some time reflecting on brokenness and restoration as we shared our hearts with each other. Then as we looked at her window and talked about what needed to be done, the process of restoration seemed pretty clear. She had already talked with a master craftsman who she plans to hire to do the work. The process will involve more brokenness before restoration occurs. The window will have to come down and the broken panels be removed and new glass put in their place. New leading will follow. Then the window will be rehung. But the window is quite old so there's a very good (almost certain) chance that it is not possible to match the broken panels exactly. The glass is a rare color and pattern. So the window restored will take a slightly different look but it will be strong and straight. It won't be in danger of crashing or even bowing in on itself and ruining the entire window any longer once it's restored.

Wow! So restoration must be a process that involves pain but also the promise of getting back to before the brokenness with greater beauty and strength just because of the restoration process. There is a lot that needs restoration in my heart, in people I meet - just about everywhere. And if you happen upon a person or place where the need for restoration is denied, then be clear that it's probably needed there more than anywhere else. So, let the process of restoration begin!

Earning the Right to Care

People need Jesus! That is a no-brainer. The compelling and challenging question is how to reach those people in ways that connect with them at their point of need so they are willing to let you and me into their life to love, serve and walk with them. We have to earn the right to be part of people's lives in significant ways.

We literally stumble over and brush shoulders with many, many people in any given day whose needs are huge. They may hide their needs really well, but that doesn't negate the truth that many people cry inside while they smile outside and most would rather die than admit it. How can we do more than stumble over or brush shoulders? How can we reduce the "many, many" to one heart at a time?

At a Restoration Church beginning in the South Hills of Pittsburgh we intentionally envision and plan ways to meet people at their point of need. Points of need can be almost anything. The issues may even be what I saw described as "closet issues." "Closet issues" are things we try to hide even from ourselves. The list of needs is almost endless and as varied as there are people who need.

Anyone who sits around contemplating whether there is need for us (people who love Jesus) to connect with a world needing light - lost in darkness - is "just wasting time" (as my Grandfather used to say: "If you're waiting on me, you're just wasting time.").

Jesus challenges us in Luke 14:16-24 to intentionally encounter people who need the Gospel in three ways:
  1. The front door to the church and the Gospel: that's the regular invitations to the party (vs. 16) which vs. 18 tells us they "all alike (implies all who received party invitations)" started making excuses for why they couldn't RSVP positively. The banquet is prepared. The party is all ready. But no guests respond to the invitation. They make lame excuses. O, their excuses sound real but they wait to bring them up until it's time to go to the party. That's pretty lame!So, Jesus introduces ...
  2. The servant door to the church and the Gospel: That's the party host's angry instruction to his servants to "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." (vs. 21) How do the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame respond to the invitation to the party? They need help! Someone has to lead them if they are blind. Someone has to carry them if they are crippled or assist them if they are lame. If these named needy invitees to the party get there it is only because someone cares enough to serve them into the church and into the Gospel. So, the servers bring the poor, crippled, blind and lame to the party, but there are still empty places at the banquet table which the servants report to their master. So, he broadens the invitation to include ...
  3. The back door to the church and the Gospel: In olden days when etiquette was known and practiced, servants were directed to the back door. Laborers and trades people were also directed to go to the back door. These "back door folk" need more than help. They need to be compelled to come to the party! (vs. 23) These are the people who aren't used to being invited to parties and feel inferior/inadequate to come. Their manners, their speech, their clothes are just what they are. There is the fear factor for the "back door folk." From the "roads and country lanes" the new invitees to this party are first found and then compelled to come.
Just how do we "make/compel" these "back door folk" into the church and the Gospel? We love them there. We sacrifice time and energy for them. We show them love and care like they have never seen so that they are truly compelled by God's love and grace in human form. That's how we earn the right to care. That's how we reach our world for Jesus one heart at a time! That's how the fear factor fades away. That's what we are all about at a Restoration Church in the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

Jesus says that there is eventually no more room at this party - not one single seat left. But each person there is there because someone intentionally came to them and served and loved them and reassured them and accepted them just as they are. This is a process that involves sacrifice and loving service! The process may not be either convenient or easy. This process may even be painful and slow (think of helping a crippled person to the party). But, the point Jesus makes is that we earn the right to love them, serve them and walk with them as we gently lead them to Jesus one heart at a time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Have a Heart!

Today is my favorite holiday - Valentine's Day! I don't know why but I've loved this day since I was a little girl - even more than Christmas! And that's saying something since I really love holidays. I love the special memories they make and the decorations and the food and the music and all the rest that goes with well-celebrated holidays.

When I was about six, I gave a Valentine tea for my mother. I invited her friends. I made heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The friends came in their furs and we all pretended it was a big deal even if it was only a little six-year-old girl saying "I love you" to her mother. I guess that is a big deal - come to think of it!

This morning I found a really sweet card and a bouquet of fresh flowers on the kitchen counter when I got up to make coffee. That's all the up-side of Valentine's.

Somehow my thoughts have turned to thinking about a little different slant on this special day. Actually a phone conversation with a friend probably prompted my thoughts. She was reflecting on a difficult time we had gone through together and how it was now behind us and how cool that was.

That hard time was pretty ugly in all kinds of ways. There were certainly people involved who intended evil. I supppose that puts them and their actions in the class of "enemy." In Matthew 5:43 - 48 Jesus talked about such people and their actions. He had some pretty radical things to say. He said, "Love your enemies." I sometimes struggle with loving family and friends much less enemies.
In vs. 44 Jesus describes one way we can start the process of loving an enemy: pray for them. There is a parallel passage in Luke 6:27 - 36. Jesus goes even further there. He instructs His disciples (those who follow Him), "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you."

What does loving an enemy look like? Loving an enemy isn't just a thought in the mind or a declaration on the lips. Loving an enemy is an action of the heart that is radical.

When God's love grips my heart with grace, then I see that I am truly a big sinner who is loved and cherished by God anyway. WOW! If God can love me, then I guess I need to work on this concept of love that extends to my "enemy" - to that person or persons who have perpetrated evil toward me. (There's a real sense in which the category "sinner" makes me - and you - an enemy of God.)

Only when I understand the depth of God's love for me and how radical it is that I can ever begin to offer that same radical love to others - even those who don't want my love because they wish me ill or worse. It becomes a matter of wanting for even an enemy to experience the same radical love I have found and experienced.

Think about it! That's how Jesus loved. He loved even His enemies. It wasn't a very self-protecting thing for Jesus to do: love His enemies. He just made more enemies in the process. But Jesus lived and demonstrated "Love in skin" (John 1:14)!

"In the presence of His enemies" Jesus practiced RADICAL LOVE! When evil encounters such radical love there are only two options: evil either runs away or it is changed/restored!

In his book Bold Love, Dan Allender defines offering love to an enemy: "Love can be defined as the free gift that voluntarily cancels the debt in order to free the debtor to become what he might be if he experiences the joy of restoration."

We cannot (and should never) force love on an enemy. That would not be loving. Our love extended to an enemy may be rejected, but that's not on our head (or heart). Our responsibility is to have a radical heart of love even to our enemies! That is only possible when we have experienced God's radical love and restoration in our own hearts!

What a great way to celebrate Valentine's Day! It's no longer a little girl "playing dress-up" and having tea. It's radical love in action due to God's loving restoration! It happens one heart at a time!

Disabled Dumped By Police

Sometimes the news is more amazing than a fairy story! We expect villains to appear in Snow White (the wicked Queen) or Cinderella (the evil stepmother and her two daughters).

But we hardly imagine a story like the one currently on the news: "Quadriplegic Dumped By Police." It's also interesting that this story only came to light (even though there were at least four deputies present when the incident occurred) after the media ran a tape of the incident. That is also amazing! I don't think I'd be dumping a paralyzed man out of his wheelchair in a room where I knew the incident was being taped. Especially when the supposed reason was that the man was saying stuff that "was silly." Well, it so, it got more silly or worse before the incident was over.

It all started because 14-year quadriplegic Brian Sterner was cited for blocking an intersection in his mini-Cooper fitted with hand controls. Then he was taken to county jail for processing. Well, so far, it's pretty silly! Then, in full view of a camera, Sterner is dumped out of the wheelchair onto the floor and frisked. Amazing!

But this whole incident speaks to the difficulty the disabled have being assimilated into society - being accepted. They are different. They deal with many challenges, but many disabled people function incredibly well in overcoming their disabilities.

Recently I met a man named Frank. Frank lives in a wheelchair when he's not in bed. Frank has a terminal neurological disease. He cannot walk. He has great difficulty talking. He can hardly even scratch his nose if it itches because he has lost so much control and coordination. Frank needs help to do almost everything.

Inside Frank's broken body is a mind and a heart that function very well. Frank recently received a master's degree. Frank's body disguises the man inside who has a mind that works quite well, even better than most. But to discover Frank's mind and heart takes effort. It is hard to even understand his words.

There is a sense in which most people treat the disabled like Frank and Brian either actually or symbolically like those sheriff's deputies in Tampa treated Brian. We see the disabled as people to "dump." What a tragedy!

There are many disabled people who have a great deal to contribute in the world and in the church if you and I only take the time to get past the brokenness! That's one reason there's a new church forming in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - a Restoration Church. We want to intentionally tap into the disabled community both for ministry to them and for them to minister to us! In that process God is writing many restoration stories!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Roger Clemens, Trainer McNamee, Steriods and LIES

I'm not much of a baseball fan. I think I prefer to watch paint dry. Roger Clemens is a name I have heard somewhere here and there. I have certainly not followed his career and know little or nothing about the man.

Roger Clemens is in a heap of trouble at this point in time. The trouble centers around whether or not Mr. Clemens chose injections of HGH (human growth hormone) or other steroids to enhance his performance as a baseball player.

I just watched a few minutes of the FOX News coverage of the live House hearing related to the accusations and their credibility. I have no idea where the truth lies or whether the real truth will ever be known.

There are, however, some very interesting and disturbing aspects to this situation. The trainer McNamee looks for all the world to me to be a lier who is almost enjoying the notoriety his lies are bringing to him and to his former client, Roger Clemens. In the space of less than five minutes watching these hearings, Rep. Dan Burton from Indiana brought up discrepencies in things Trainer McNamee has sworn to in statements. In each case, Rep. Burton read a statement (all of which run counter to what McNamee is now claiming) and asked, "Is this a lie?" Each time (almost with glee) McNamee asserted that "Yes, that was a lie but now isn't." (my words not his)

I look forward to catching one of the "body language pundits" on various news analysis programs and what he or she has to say about both Mr. Clemens' body language and McNamee's.

Whether Mr. Clemens used steroids or not speaks to his integrity as a professional athlete and there are certainly ramifications to his betraying that trust if he has. Many young girls and boys make heroes from sports figures. When one falls due to lack of integrity, it is a serious matter

If Mr. Clemens used steroids, then he is wrong and guilty as charged. He is also lying in the testimony he is giving to Congress and others. However, looking at the two men my guess is that Roger Clemens is the more credible. He certainly has the most to lose.

In earlier testimony according to FOX News, McNamee said, "I have no reason to lie, and every reason not to. If I do lie I will be prosecuted," he said. "All that I was ever told was to tell the truth to the best of my ability, and that is what I have done. I told the investigators that I injected three people, two of whom, I believe, confirm my account. The third is sitting at this table."

YET inside the space of less than five minutes, I heard McNamee confess to Congressman Burton over and over again that what he said before and what he was saying now are not the same and that he lied before but is telling the truth now. Congressman Burton read directly from transcripts statements McNamee once said and now denies as to their truthfulness. At the very least, McNamee is not a very credible witness nor is he very believable.

So, who is the liar? I certainly don't know. Maybe both men are not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Clearly - by his own admission McNamee is a liar over and over again.

However, the point of this post has nothing to do with baseball and steroids except as a focus for emphasis. The real point is that lies are destructive. Anyone can lie and destroy another's reputation. Once the lies are cast into the wind the damage is done.

Roger Clemens knows this. "No matter what we discuss here today, I am never going to have my name restored, but I've got to try and set the record straight," Clemens said with his chief accuser (Brian McNamee) sitting at the same table.

People who lie and destort truth to gain their own ends with no care for the destruction they do to the reputation of another person may never have to answer for their lies in this life. But God doesn't take such destructive lies lightly. God sees the heart. God knows the intent of the heart. The lying heart shows itself in lying words and actions. God says, "A good name is more desirable than great riches ... " (Prov. 22:1)

Regardless of how the congressional hearings conclude regarding Roger Clemens, he is probably correct that his name will be tainted with these accusations forever whether they are true or not.

Lies wreck awful destruction on the reputations and lives of people against whom they are directed! It is ugly and often unfair, but God is in the business of working ALL THINGS for our good and the ultimate glory of His kingdom.

God's grace is big enough for even the intentional and untrue destruction of a person's reputation. The consequences of such lies may be severe indeed. Those consequences may last for a lifetime, but the truth is that God's grace can bring beauty even from such ashes as a deliberately destroyed reputation.

God is in the business of building His Kingdom. To do so, He uses sinners every time. God can only use sinners who know their hearts are desperately in need of God's loving restoration. God uses sinners who have experienced God's grace and restoration to reach out to others with the message that God is in the business of restoration!

God is looking for hearts needing restoration. They are the building stones God will use to build His Kingdom here on earth.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Romney, Mormons and Evangelism

I am not confused about whether Mormons are Christians. They are not. The "gospel" they have is no gospel at all.

Years ago in college I knew a Mormon guy. Part of what he had factored into his life was to spend two years as a Mormon missionary "evangelizing" for his faith - you know, one of a pair of guys with bicycles wearing suits.

Yesterday Mitt Romney was in the news for withdrawing from the presidential campaign 2008. If nothing else, he certainly understands economics. Crunching the noses of delegates and the numbers of contributions must have convinced him to retreat to fight another day.

As "being restored" believers there is a lot we could learn from the Mormons. We need their evangelistic zeal. We have the Truth (John 14:6), and we handle it lightly. Most of us don't factor into our lives two intentional years of being a missionary.

We also need their clean-cut family values. Look at the Romney family. Of course, they may have "cleaned up" for the presidential campaign run, but I don't think so. They have lived in the public eye for a long time. I saw an interview with the Romney sons. It was quite clear that they genuinely enjoy each other. Once again, we have the Way but as being restored believers we don't model Him in our family relationships like we should.

We have the Life! We walk in a world screaming for meaning and life and restoration. Living and sharing that Life takes time, energy and even sacrifice. It takes being willing to live and love others in ways that show them Jesus!

"Restoration" and "Restoration Heart" are simply words or titles unless we live and model God's restoration to a broken world!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Death in Baghdad Marketplaces - Death by Disability

On February 3, 2008 two women strolled through two different markets in Baghdad, Iraq. Many more people other than the two women were in these two markets that day, but these two were distinctive for several reasons. Postmortem examination of their bodies reveals that both had Down syndrome. Both also had bombs strapped to their bodies: one in a vest, the other in a backpack. They passed by security and evaded inspection because they were known to be local beggars. Also, because they were woman male security forces were reluctant to search them due to the restrictions of Islamic law.

Apparently people with disabilities often beg in Baghdad's markets so there was nothing particularly unusual about these two women except for the small but significant detail that they were both walking bombs. Apparently the bombs strapped to their bodies were detonated by remote control.

The women probbly didn't even know they were walking bombs. Like most Down syndrome people, they were most likely very compliant and sweet-natured so would be unlikely to process the danger both to themselves and others.

The markets targeted are interesting. One was a "pet market" and the other was a "pigeon market." Neither would logically cross the radar as targets for terrorists. That's the nature of this terrorist enemy - there is no value of life and the rules of engagement constantly change. The only thing that counts is accomplishing their terrorism goals. They strike in totally unexpected places and ways.

The total killed in the two bombings was close to 100 people with many more wounded. In the process, shops, stalls and wares were also destroyed. One commander on the ground reported that these particular bombings are a new "low" for al-Qaeda.

The devastating aftermath of these blasts stands in stark contrast to what God calls us to do and be in our own marketplaces. Rather than walking death, God calls us to be walking life (restoration) in a world gone mad. That only happens as God's restoring grace invades one heart at a time! Then restored hearts "stroll" through the marketplaces of our world spreading light and life rather than death and destruction. And that's precisely why there is a Restoration Church starting in the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Groundhog Day, Hillary and the Super Bowl

Groundhog Day has come and gone ... and good ole' Phil has fancifully proclaimed six more weeks of winter (which in western PA really means at least three more months of winter or winter-like weather).

Then there is the flurry of presidential election speeches, debates and accusations flying through the airwaves. The only sure thing is what I heard one radio talk show host say on his radio program: "The sure thing about Super Tuesday is that obamaroddymcromney is going to be the clear winner." Got that right!

Whether it's Phil at Punxsutawney or Super Tuesday primaries, it's all pretty surface. It's a show for Groundhog Phil to pop out of his "media" hole and run back in. It has nothing to do with weather and whether winter will last one more week or three more months.

Watching Hillary and Bill enter their polling place yesterday to vote was amazing! All spifed up to the nines, they were smiling and waving - especially Hillary! Then the best part was her shrugging out of her coat while invisible hands caught it and she continued to grin and wave!

Last night I heard Hillary squeezed out one more tear for whatever reason. What have we come to that we cast votes for the most powerful position in the world on such shallow "qualifications"?

Just living with someone with the position and expertise doesn't qualify ANYONE else any where! My mother has lived with my dad for over sixty years but not a single minute of that living and loving qualifies her to quarterback the Navy football team which my dad did quite well many years ago. It's pretty idiotic, isn't it? Yet Hillary Clinton makes much the same claim as to her qualifications to be President of the United States of America.

Hillary has never run a city, county or state. A convincing argument could be made that she doesn't even know how to run her own home. She herself said she doesn't bake cookies! Eight years living in the White House doesn't constitute experience for the pay grade of President! When Dick Morris, former Clinton advisor who has seen the light, heard that Hillary was claiming qualification to be President based on 8 years living in the White House quipped, "... so has the pastry chef."

O, and not to forget Super Bowl 2008! The cheaters almost won. Some say they lost because they didn't cheat for once. And then there are the coaches - both "Grumpy Old Men"! Both come across as cranky, condescending and almost impossible to like - a great counterpoint to the coaches of Super Bown 2007: the man of integrity and faith Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears. Watching the TV in this house, we were rooting for the Giants as much because we don't want cheaters to win as because we like the team. But the icing on the Super Bowl cake was the video of New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, literally running off the field and into the tunnel with 1 second left to play. Talk about role models and sportsmanship!

We live in a world sadly and badly in need of restoration! It seems like a world gone mad except for the sovereign hand of God putting His fingerprints on history and working His restoring grace into the hearts of those who love and serve Him.