Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley's Pictures in Vanity Fair

I'm still playing catch-up on Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. When I heard a request Christmas 2007 for "anything Hannah Montana," I wasn't even sure if it was "Anna Montana" or Hannah Montana. Of course, my friends straightened me out quickly. I've never watched the show. I don't know enough about Billy Ray Cyrus to know that he's "a country legend." And I have no vision of Miley's future.

All that said, however, I have some serious concerns. I can remember when people generally thought Britney Spears was the clean-cut, virginal girl. Whether she started out that way or not, she hasn't ended that way. She's one sad woman now! I hope Miley isn't headed down the same road Britney and many others have traveled. The Hollywood life just does that to people.

Then there's just life in general. The world of 2008 is a landmine strewn landscape for any parents with young daughters they are trying to raise to be women of virtue and integrity. Exhibit A is almost any clothing store that sells clothes for this younger set. Modesty isn't a word that comes to mind when I pass through the junior department of almost any store. It's scary! I have two dearly loved granddaughters. They are far from teens, but they are growing up in this world gone mad and it's scary stuff!

Scripture describes the "King's daughter" as beautiful inside - in her heart. (Psalm 45:13). 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 cautions, "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." ("Avoid every kind of evil" is also well translated "avoid/stay away from even the appearance of evil." Avoiding even an appearance of evil isn't a photo shoot topless with a loosely held satin drape. Avoiding even an appearance of evil isn't a photograph with tongue stuck out and a sexually suggestive look like another photo of Miley I saw this week.

I do know enough about Miley Cyrus to know that she claims some kind of Christian faith. I don't know what she means by that. I seriously doubt she means the same thing I understand "Christian faith" to be. I'm not sure she could be and do what she does and still be a committed Christian - a King's daughter beautiful in her heart. I don't see into her heart, but I can see her actions. I see her pictures - recent and not-so-recent, and they are increasingly sexually suggestive. Sex sells! Miley and her parents and "handlers" know that. It's a very insidious trap!

Miley says she's "embarrassed" by the Vanity Fair pictures. Does "embarrassed" translate into "Oops, this might cost me financially!"? I don't know, but I think it's a fair question.

We see so much ugliness in almost every media that the more we allow ourselves to be bombarded with the stuff of this world, we gradually become less and less sensitive to what is right and pure and true and more and more willing to tolerate a lesser standard. King's daughters are called to the highest standard of living: "whatever is pure, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable ... excellent, praise-worthy" ! (Philippians 4:8) God calls His daughters to demonstrate restored hearts that radiate His beauty from within!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Amazing Grace!

It's a TV citcom. It's a movie on the life and times of William Wilberforce. It's a hymn (words) written by John Newton. AND it's a way to live ... in the grip of God's amazing grace!

A dear friend sent me a UTube video of Whitley Phipps talking about and then singing "Amazing Grace." Wow!

Wintley Phipps explained and demonstrated on a piano keyboard that most "negro spirituals" can be played on the black keys alone. He called the five repetitive black notes the "slave scale." He also called these "spirituals" "west African sorrow chants."

I think the movie "Roots" was my first up-close and personal revelation of what it was like (in small measure, of course) to be a slave in the American colonies (and nation later) from the painful side. In "Roots" it was difficult either to look on or look away from the scenes of slaves crammed into the hold of a ship bound for America. It was difficult to watch what Alex Haley interpreted the life of a slave to be like.

Now, I don't subscribe to all Alex Haley pictured in his interpretation. I don't even know that it is a fair representation. I know for certain that there were strong exceptions to the life of slaves as portrayed in "Roots." But I am also sure that a good case can be made for each incident in the movie to be based on historical fact in some measure.

The pain of slavery birthed these beautiful "spirituals" we know and love. They came from deep in the heart of slaves who longed for home or heaven and only found hope as they lifted their eyes to heaven. The melodies are powerful. The words grab our hearts and stick there. I can just feel the sorrow that bubbles up in both the melodies and the words.

Wintley Phipps said there is a white spiritual, too. It's "Amazing Grace"! The words to "Amazing Grace" were written by John Newton. John Newton was the captain of one of those slave ships that came from west Africa to our shores bringing slaves. One day John Newton found Jesus, and his heart was changed forever! Then he penned the words and matched them with a tune that was going round in his head. The tune is attributed to "unknown."

Wintley Phipps says he wants to meet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in heaven and that then he wants to ask Jesus to introduce him to that slave named "Unknown." Phipps paints a picture of Captain Newton on the deck and bridge of his slave ship hearing faint melodies coming from the hold. Perhaps the tune Newton matched with his words describing God's amazing grace came from his days as a slaver. Most probably it did!

God restored the heart of this renegade rascal John Newton with His amazing grace. Then Newton described his experience with God's amazing grace:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, his Word my hope secures,
He will my Shield and Portion be, as long as life endures.

" 'Twas grace that taught my heart ... " describes the process of restoration in Newton's heart. And it's only grace that brings restoration to any heart!

Isn't it interesting that God's restoring grace can be described and then put to music all on the black keys of the piano? Perhaps there's a subtle message there for me (and you). Sometimes God uses "the black keys" (the hard times, the pain) to bring us to the place of brokenness where God can do His work restoring our hearts. And that's how He brings me (us) to live in the grip of His amazing grace!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I'm Sorry!

"I'm sorry ... " - may be the hardest words to say in the English language!

"I'm sorry ... " This short phrase - very hard to say and harder still to do - is perhaps the most significant key to relationships I know.

In 1970 there was a movie "Love Story" (based on a novel) where the line "Love means never having to say you're sorry" is spoken by the leading lady (Ali MacGraw/Jennifer) who dies before the end of the movie and again by the leading man (Ryan O'Neal/Oliver Barrett IV) at the very end of the movie as a kind of eulogy to Jennifer.

"Love means never having to say you're sorry" became a cutesy phrase that gradually worked its way into our cultural sub-conscience. BUT "Love means never having to say you're sorry" isn't cute! It isn't true! It's actually an awful lie straight from the pit of hell!

Even the likes of John Lennon and the ridiculous Simpsons on TV know better. John Lennon said, "Love means having to say you're sorry every fifteen minutes." The Simpsons watch "Love Story" in the episode "Catch 'Em if You Can" and when the line is spoken Lisa objects, "No, it doesn't!" In the movie "What's Up, Doc?" Ryan O'Neal as another character responds to the same line, "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard." Even Warren Ellis's comic Doktor Sleepless knows better when the good Doktor says, "Hate means never having to say you're sorry."

"...never having to say you're sorry" has NO place in a restoration heart! And that's the main thing! It's NOT God's way to live! What distinguishes walking through life with Jesus from any other "faith system" is the "I'm sorry" routine at its best.

Repentance, grace and forgiveness are the heart of the Gospel. The starting point is a heart-meant "I'm sorry"! There is no magic in the words. The cure is in the intent of the heart to repent (turn in another direction away from the sin or offense) and find God's abundant grace first for our own hearts and then our forgiven hearts can extend forgiveness to others. Only God can make our "I'm sorrys" meaningful! Only God can reach into our unsorry hearts and turn them toward the Gospel!

It's fascinating that the likes of John Lennon and Warren Ellis grasp that "... never having to say, I'm sorry" is NOT the right path in life when there are so many Christians who still don't get it! "... never having to say, I'm Sorry" is a denial of the Gospel!

When Paul talks about sorrow related to repentance and the heart of the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 7:9 - 10, he says, "... your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended ... . Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death."

The restoration heart is willing to do the hard work of saying "I'm sorry" and living out the repentance of Godly sorrow! It's the Gospel! It's why Jesus came - to make a way for us to get past our pride to kneel at His cross and say, "I'm sorry" first to Him and then to each other. AND we have to keep saying "I'm sorry" as often as we must to make things right in the restoration process God has begun in our heart. Saying and meaning "I'm sorry" is the only way to make things right in relationship with each other. God's love makes saying and meaning "I'm sorry" possible and necessary!

Friday, April 18, 2008


"Bitter" is a word recently in the news. "Bitter" is a word I've been contemplating over the last several weeks.

"Bitter" - it's a word, but it also describes a condition of life. Bitter is a choice!

"Bitter" is on the news recently. If Barak Obama could "rewind," I wonder if he would chose another word to describe his perception of some Americans.

What is bitter? Bitter is that taste that turns one's mouth inside out like eating a persimmon before the first frost.

Bitter is collecting offenses - real or imagined - and clutching onto them with a life-and-death grip.

Bitterness is the condition that results. Bitterness has a nasty root that reaches its tentacles deep into our hearts twisting here and there in its death grip. Bitterness squeezes out life and joy - totally ringing our hearts dry.

The Bible has a lot to say about bitterness, what causes it and what to do about it. Peter describes Simon the wizard as "full of bitterness and captive to sin." (Acts 8:23) The writer of Hebrews talks about bitterness: "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble ... " (Heb. 12:15)

It seems Hebrews is saying that when we miss the grace of God, we put outselves in grave danger of having bitterness start to root and grow in our hearts. Bitterness in the heart may be hidden for a time, but eventually it oozes out in our faces and in our actions. The calamity is that hanging on to bitterness can cause us to miss the grace of God! That's a pretty sick trade - about as pitiful as Esau trading his inheritance for a bowl of soup! (Genesis 25:29 - 34)

Bitter isn't a result of our circumstances. Bitter is the choice we make in response to those circumstances. When Paul gives very practical advice for marriage in Colossians, he instructs men, "Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them."

Apparently wives in Paul's day were no different than in 2008. We do things that our husbands use as excuses not to love us as they should. We also don't do things that give our husbands excuses not to love us as they should. Loving when the other person fails is not easy! There are two choices: love even more deeply and unconditionally or be bitter. God's way is to love and not be bitter!

That's just hard stuff! It's unnatural! My heart tends to go to bitter rather than love. The only way I can love through difficulty is for God to restore my heart, to so fill my heart with His grace that there is no room for bitterness to take root!

History tells us that the British army band played "The World Turned Upside Down" the day General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia concluding the American Revolution. For the British the world had turned upside down! They never dreamed their colonists would revolt. They never dreamed the colonists would win the conflict.

A bitter taste may turn one's mouth inside out. Conquering bitterness with God's help as He restores our hearts is also turning a heart upside down. It's not what seems right and natural! It's not what initially "feels" right. But bitterness is NOT God's way! God's path is restoration, and He is the Great Restorer!

And that's why a new church is gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - A Restoration Church! We want to gather people who know their hearts need God's loving restoration. We are works in process - God's process of restoration!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

REAL or "Impeccable"


Jack Graham is the pastor of a mega-church in Dallas, Texas. His church has over 26,000 members according to his website. That's pretty impressive!

However, I think his premise is flawed. He draws his conclusion from the story of the first Christian martyr Stephen (Acts 6 - 7). It is true that in the process of sanctification (becoming more and more like Jesus as you and I walk with Him) that our character should become more and more like that of our Savior whose character was impeccable/flawless/perfect. It is also true from the account we have of Stephen in Acts that he was a man whose heart had been radically restored by Jesus Christ. He is described in Acts 6:5 & 8 as "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" and "full of God's grace and power." It wasn't Stephen's character that was "impeccable." It was Stephen's Savior whose character was "impeccable." It was Jesus in Stephen that gave Stephen the courage to risk his life to proclaim God's truth (Acts 7:55 - 56)!

I believe the most compelling witness to God's restoration isn't "impeccable." It is the humble fellow-sinner who is willing to be honest and open about his or her own need for a Savior bigger than "all my (or your) sin." "Impeccable" is scary and beyond my reach! Living in the reality of God's restoring grace isn't either scary or beyond my reach - mostly because it's not about me and what I can do. It's all about Jesus and what He did on the cross and coming back from the dead! It's all about what Jesus can be and do with and through me!

What the world needs now is not more people trying to be "impeccable." What the world desperately needs now is people willing to step out and risk being real! It is a risk that may feel like dying. It's a risk that may involve sacrifice and pain. Being real hurts! But being real is what draws people to our Savior!

When we appear "impeccable," we are wearing a mask that needs to be ripped off for the sake of God's Kingdom. Only God can give us the courage to live real rather than trying to live "impeccable."

One of the most compelling examples of this kind of real living I have ever seen is Dr. Jack Miller. Jack is in heaven now. Jack learned over the process of his own heart restoration that it's risky to be real but worth the cost. God used Jack in incredible ways, but Jack wasn't impressive like most people count impressive. Jack was humble and simple. He wasn't a great speaker, but he led many people down the path to deeper faith just by being real. Jack boldly talked about his own flaws, and - in doing so - gave others the challenge to step out to boldly do the same for the sake of God's Kingdom.

This kind of real living flies in the face of all that our culture counts as significant. This kind of real living brings heart restoration for me (and you) and challenges others to come along on the journey.

I hope "living an outstanding life for Jesus Christ" doesn't require "impeccable character" because that leaves me in the dust of failure.

Being REAL is best described by the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit (written by Margery Williams):

"There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.
There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.

For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.""Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become real. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.""I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him."

Jesus described this process of becoming real in slightly different terms: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels - a plentiful harvest of new lives." (John 12:24, NLT) That's the way to having a "restoration heart" - being in the dirt, dying, risking while following Jesus! In the end, He's the only one who loves us enough to make us REAL! Just don't make the mistake of confusing REAL with impeccable! AND that's the reason A Restoration Church is gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We aren't "impeccable" but we want to be REAL!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tax Day

It's April 15th - Tax Day all day! Of all the days in the year, Tax Day is the one I like least. It's not the record keeping or adding up the various account categories for deductions that makes Tax Day such a bad day. It's just the idea that so much of what we have to live on goes where I don't see it, can't use it and mostly feel like it's wasted a lot of the time.

I don't think restoration will fix the tax system in our country. It's interesting to reflect that income tax wasn't a part of the founding of our country. In fact, one major cause of the American Revolution against England was "taxation without representation." The colonists had no say in either the amount of the tax or in how the tax was dispersed. And almost everything but air to breathe was taxed in the 1770's!

Income tax in the 16th amendment to the Constitution didn't come into being until 1913. We've come a long way from the 3% income tax in 1913 to over 30% today. We don't need the system restored to what it used to be or even was meant to be. We need it fixed! I don't know what that needs to look like or how it needs to be done.

It does call us all to be more responsible citizens of "the land of the free and the home of the brave" if we hope it will remain brave and free for our children and grandchildren! It calls us to reverse the scary trends of the brightest and best not being willing to pay the cost of high public office. We need to vote intelligently and carefully!

What will restore what is broken in our government and in our society is for more men and women who know what it means to be restored to be God's man or woman standing tall in a world gone mad, willing to pay the price of public office to tilt the balance once again to sanity!

My grandfather was a congressman. I can remember his saying that people don't elect their representatives and then trust them to make informed decisions on their behalf. He believed he was sent to Washington to study the issues, be there to vote and then to vote with his heart and mind clearly focused on what he believed was best for the people he represented. There are still men and women like him in government today. We need to support them with our hearts and our votes!

Then maybe Tax Day won't seem like such a bad word that leaves such a bad taste in my mouth every year!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Black Holes

My son pointed out an article related to black holes and the Internet. Scientists at the University of Washington's Hubble web site have charted a map of the Earth color-coded as to the intensity of duration of these black holes.

You know the drill - you are diligently typing some profound thoughts when all of a sudden either your screen freezes with that hourglass icon that just goes on and on OR a sudden power glitch blinks off power and you lose all your great thoughts OR you accidentally hit just the right wrong key to suddenly lose all the work you've done and not saved. It's one of the MOST frustrating things that can happen to any writer!

According to this news article in the science section on MSNBC.com, these black holes might be attributed to an Internet server momentarily going down or a wireless network cutting out. Another cause might be a "cyber black hole." Research by computer science graduate student Ethan Katz-Bassett at the University of Washington and his faculty advisor Arvind Krishnamurthy has resulted in a program designed to search for these "strange Internet gaps." The result is a graph of the entire Earth and where these glitches (black holes) occur. Their hope is that this data will help Internet service providers track specific network problems and learn better how to deal with them. These computer scientists also hope to improve Internet consistency. After all, we are all increasingly dependant on the Internet for processing and disseminating information. Fine-tuning the system will help us all be more efficient in using the Internet. An additional benefit is that perhaps someone will eventually discover the vast black hole where all this valuable and "brilliant" thinking has vanished and be able to retrieve it once again.

There is another black hole unrelated to the Internet. It's a black hole of the heart! It is where many, many people live (or at least exist)! It's a very scary place where days pass slowly and nights pass even more slowly. It's almost like continuing to live after "flat-lining" on an ekg. The colors of this black hole are mostly unrelieved black with perhaps a little gray or deep blue.

Many famous people have lived in this black hole. Pablo Picasso painted through his black hole experience and expressed his pain in his art works. Others who have struggled in the black hole of depression are: Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Charles Spurgeon, William Cowper, missionary David Brainerd, the great preacher Jonathan Edwards and many others. William Cowper - who wrote some wonderful hymns in the midst of his pain - described his own black hole in terms that resonate in my own heart: "Behind a frowning providence, God hides a smiling face." (Hymn, "God Moves in A Mysterious Way") John Piper, the great Reformed Baptist preacher of our generation, wrote of some of these men in his book, The Swans Are Not Silent, Vol. 2.

Depression can get a choke-hold on its victim. The causes of depression may come from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual origins. The symptoms and results of living in depression are also all over the map of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of life.

Depression is actually almost drowning in down feelings and focusing only on those feelings. Those feelings drive the depressed person to desperate desires to run away, to sit and cry, to commit suicide, to go back to bed and pull the covers up tightly, to avoid family and friends and to simply check out of life in any meaningful way. It is virtually impossible to set goals and accomplish motivational tasks when life seems to be only darkness.

A practical cure for depression is to learn another way to live - not in the pit of one's feelings but rather grounded in God's truth! Hebrews 1:1 describes faith as "being certain of what we do not feel." Only God can bring that kind of certain faith to a heart so desperately in need of God's restoring love! It's important to measure this new kind of living in baby steps and over days rather than hours.

In the games of "Red Light, Green Light" or "Mother, May I?" - two options for actions are taking baby steps or giant steps. There are no giant steps through depression, and it's unrealistic to even think so. There are, however, baby steps as God begins to work His restoring grace deeply into the black hole of a heart desperately in need of restoration! This is something only God can do!

Sometimes He uses someone who has "been there and done that" to come alongside and offer a helping hand and loving heart but, in the end, it is a work God does. His promise is "to comfort us in any trouble." He also promises to bring that comfort through others who have also found that same comfort. Read 2 Corinthians 1:4. It is God's faithful promise to anyone living in the black holes of life!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Heart-Healthy Memories Made!

Today is my granddaughter's sixth birthday. We are going to have a grand celebration with cake and gifts. Family and friends are all invited to come to a "cowgirl birthday" party. She is going to wear a pink cowgirl hat, and we're going to drink pink lemonade. We'll play games like "Pass the Snake" (similar to "Pass the Hot Potato") and "shoot the bottles off the log." There are pink and white balloons, confetti, and pink bandanna napkins. The treat bags for each guest are shaped like a pink cowgirl boot and filled with various goodies. We may even dance "The Hokey Pokey"!

What's the point? The point is to celebrate a milestone of life, but the greater point is to make happy memories for multi-generations of a family!

Years from now when Abby is grown and has her own little girls or boys, she will remember this day, and her heart will smile as she plans special memories and celebrations for her own children!

Families are in grave danger in our culture. We need to set the pace of making happy memories for our children and grandchildren so they will learn the pattern and continue it for generations to come. It's a beautiful thing to see memories made that impress themselves on hearts! It's one way to insure happy, secure children when we make memories and celebrations of big and small happenings! It's a heart-healthy thing to do!

Happy Birthday, Abby!

Behind Bars

Apparently Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean has been apprehended in Morelia, Mexico. He is accused of murdering pregnant Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach near Camp LeJeune, NC. Her partially burned corpse was discovered in a grave in Laurean's backyard in January. It's a grisly story! If he is guilty, he deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars. But if Cpl. Laurean is guilty, it is also true that he brought his life behind bars on himself.

Our culture is peopled by many who spend their life behind bars - not jail bars but bars made of something beside steel. These bars keep people from connecting with others in meaningful ways. Some of these "bars" are physical like being hearing impaired or blind or not having one's legs due to an accident. Some of these "bars" are mental and emotional where some misfunction or pattern of life has "crippled" a person and left them in some dark "prison." Some of these "bars" are spiritual. In fact, there is probably a spiritual component in every "bar."

What are these spiritual "bars" that can imprison a person for life? What about worry or depression? What about a disconnect with understanding God's love? What about the inability to receive and live in the great good news of God's love and forgiveness? All of these spiritual "bars" are stronger than steel in holding a person captive!

Sometimes these "bars" are put in place by bad choices or abuse or neglect. The cause isn't nearly as significant as is the sure reality of the hope of restoration, of freedom!

When they were behind bars in one of the most horrible places on earth, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie found that even there God was with them. Corrie ten Boom writes in The Hiding Place that even at Ravensbruck, "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still."

It is in the deep pits of life that hope seems gone. These deep pits - regardless of the particular pit one is mired in - are a far greater prison than the one Cpl. Laurean may face. There is only one way out: for God's restoring grace to come and shine into the darkness of life bringing hope, peace and love! God's restoration doesn't appear in a vacuum. God sends His servants to be agents of His grace and restoration bringing love and light where there is only despair and hopelessness.

This freeing phenomenon happens only when God has already worked His restoration in hearts who are in turn willing to be used by God to reach out to others at their point of need. It isn't easy to walk through terrible physical, emotional, mental or spiritual pain with another person! Doing so may test us in ways we could never have imagined, but God calls His people whose hearts have experienced God's loving restoration to pass that restoration on to others. It's a chain reaction - one heart at a time!

I don't know what the future holds for Cpl. Laurean. Apparently he doesn't either as the news article of his capture I read described his fear. What I do know is that even for Cpl. Laurean there is hope if God is part of the restoration process!

Corrie ten Boom's wisdom rings in my own heart as well, "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." However, sometimes God calls you and me to be the hands that reach into that pit and offer a loving ray of hope and help! That's the restoration process God's way! AND that's exactly why there's a new church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh called "A Restoration Church."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Wild Week - Part 2

The first week of April blew through our life like a strong March wind. There was all the drama of our return flight to Pittsburgh from our trip to Orlando and the eventual recovery of our "lost luggage." And THEN there is the completely different opportunity to serve a brother and sister in the Lord with some HUGE needs just right now!

Back in November 2007 I received an email from my sister Helen. A friend of hers from high school was possibly facing major cancer surgery at a University of Pittsburgh hospital in the near future. Long story short, we invited him and his wife to bunk at our house during their stay in Pittsburgh - or at least for Sharon to stay here.

I didn't know Keith and Sharon's "story" until now. This same sister unexpectedly walked up to Keith at high school 30 or so years ago and "out of the blue" invited him to a Bible study. He said he would but he didn't come. The next week she asked him again. He said he would but he didn't come. A third week she invited him again. For the third time (reminiscent of Peter on the day Jesus was crucified) Helen invited Keith, he promised to come and she informed him that she "didn't believe him because he had already broken his word to her twice." A third time he didn't show!

A day or so later Helen walked right up to Keith as he was hanging out with some of his buds, stuck her finger in his face and said, "You lied to me!" Then she turned and walked away.

What got Keith to the Bible study eventually wasn't Helen's invitation (tho' the invitation was important as it started the chain of events), it was her exposing "the lie." Keith thought about that. He thought about the fact that his dad always taught him that integrity is precious, that integrity is a quality of character to protect at all cost, that integrity is very difficult to "get back" once it is lost.

That's what finally moved his feet down the path to a house on York Street in Chester, South Carolina, on a certain evening. Keith was so green at Bible study stuff that he didn't even bring a Bible. That evening Helen's (and my) mother taught the Bible study and then challenged Keith with the Gospel privately after. Keith listened with his heart! After all, God is really the reason Keith finally came!

God was chasing Keith! God wanted Keith's heart in His kingdom and for His kingdom! Keith met Jesus, and his life changed forever. Today Keith and Sharon are serving the Lord in middle Pennsylvania at Grace Fellowship Church. You can read about them at http://www.gracefellowshippgm.org/. Click on "News" in the menu on the home page and read Keith's "Jelly Belly Journal." It's the story of his latest adventure with God!

Keith had surgery for his "jelly belly" cancer April 1, 2008. My "wild week" meets up with Keith and Sharon the evening of April 1 and continues. Sharon is staying with us while Keith is in the hospital. We take her across Pittsburgh each morning and go get her each evening (except for the two nights she ended up staying with Keith after he got out of ICU).

What's so amazing about God's astonishing grace is that we have been blessed by Keith and Sharon FAR more than we have been able to serve them! They are incredible servants of Jesus Christ - new friends, new family!

Keith and Sharon know what restoration is all about up front and personal. Keith and Sharon have walked over some really rough ground in their faith journey. They even lost two daughters to a mysterious brain disease. Keith and Sharon have found God faithful and more than adequate to meet every need anytime and all the time!

Did extra time to chauffeur and love and serve this precious brother and sister make this week a bit wilder than usual? Absolutely, but I wouldn't take anything for both the privilege and the opportunity to be so hugely blessed by just hanging around with Sharon especially. Sharon has a restoration heart!

Last night she sat sharing about their deaf ministry at Grace Fellowship while her food grew cold. Her passion for those who cannot hear is compelling! Put that together with all the restoration work God has done in Keith's and Sharon's hearts and these two are a dynamic duo for God's kingdom! "Wild" might be better described as awesomely and amazingly blessed!

God builds His kingdom where and as He wills. He uses a high school girl with the boldness to step outside her comfort zone to dare to issue an invitation to a Bible study to an unlikely candidate. God gives that same girl the faith and guts to persist even in the face of ridicule and rejection. God uses a mother to gently explain the Gospel to a boy until he "gets it" and comes to know Jesus. God used that boy to then invite his own crowd to come with him to the Bible study. Today many of those who came know Jesus. That chain reaction started with the faith of one gutsy girl!

God uses deafness. God uses death. God uses cancer. God builds His kingdom with some very unlikely "bricks" but He is always working to build His kingdom through His restorning Gospel one heart at a time! And that's the real reason there is a Restoration Church beginning in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - God is building His kingdom using unlikely "bricks" but God is doing His work of restoration and it's a beautiful and awesome thing to watch and participate in! You can be part of that restoration story, too!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Restoration: A Wild Week - Part 1

This has been an amazing week so far, and it's only Friday! On Sunday I was in Florida with family for the wedding of a special nephew. The wedding was over and we were all going home.

On Sunday I spent the entire afternoon looking for an apparently "non-existent" motel where I had a reservation confirmation. It was pretty incredible! Every drop-by, every phone call ended the same: "That's not our reservation number." or "No, we don't have a reservation tonight for Holmes." I had my notes from when I made the reservation, but still we came up empty. As the day grew later, we finally gave up. Our grandson suggested (all on his own initiative) that we take his room in their rental condo and he would sleep on the couch. That's where we finally crawled under the covers in the wee hours of Monday morning!

Monday bright and early - though not quite "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" - we roused, dressed and hurried to Disney World to spend a number of hours with our son, wife and grandchildren doing the Disney thing. Our son and daughter-in-law should go into tour planning if their day jobs ever fall through. We kept up quite a pace, rode almost every ride (some more than once) and even managed a sit-down lunch before we hurried off to the airport to return home.

Then the fun really started! We had paper tickets which I thought had been charged against our AmX "membership reward points" - more on that later. The ticket agent had apparently never seen a paper ticket and wasn't even sure they were real. She fiddled with her computer, punched keys and finally said, "Where did you get these? - pointing to the tickets." After more than an hour standing there with her and eventually her supervisor (who also arrived with an attitude, having only heard one side of the story), we were dismissed with our luggage to carry on our own to the baggage check center. Meanwhile we learned that:
  • the first airline "didn't talk" to the airline for the final flight that night (It was a two-part flight.)
  • that we would have to recheck our luggage in Philly (which proved incorrect info and more on that later, too)
  • that we could only get boarding passes to the first flight and would have to walk to the exact extreme end of the terminal to the "other airline" to get boarding passes for the second flight.
  • and that I had made a serious mistake in booking the flight on two different airline and getting paper tickets. That certainly proved true! (And it cost over $30 to get the paper tickets FedX from Arizona.)

Another interesting detail is that the agent was holding both our paper tickets and our photo ID. At one point (and then again) she walked away from her station with both our tickets and ID out of our sight with no explanation for probably at least 15 minutes the first time and maybe 10 minutes the second time. I'm not sure that's legal, but I am certain that she should not have done so without informing me what she was doing.

Then when she came back the first time from wherever she went she very officiously informed me that we better not lose those paper tickets as we would have to pay full price all over again to get on the next plane if we lost them. Never mind that she had walked away out of sight with them already! I did calmly tell her that I thought we could handle that level of responsibility!

The pressure of all the paper ticket questions, boarding passes, walking away with our tickets and ID and even getting the luggage checked could have been defused with a single sentence from the first ticket agent. She didn't need to be familiar with paper tickets to know - and I am sure she did know from all her looking at her computer screen and punching buttons - that the first leg of our return flight on her airline was already being posted at the gate as delayed for more than five hours. That's all - just a simple sentence of info!

By the time she was going to walk away a second time to "see what she could find out about these tickets" (which she implied we must have produced or procured in some unusual or possibly illegal manner even to the point of telling me that I shouldn't have booked them through AmX and only through her airline), I was frustrated enough to say, "Well, hurry up! We are going to miss our flight!"

At that point, she stopped, folded her arms across her chest and said, "Don't you disrespect me or I won't help you at all!" I was stunned to silence! Whatever happened to customer service? Why didn't she just say we had time to sort this out due to the plane delay? Well, I guess that puts it back to customer SERVICE! And this was NON-customer service or worse!

Finally, we took our luggage to the checking point to put it into the system. The same ticket agent hurried up as we were trying to get the baggage check personnel to take our bags. They didn't want the bags because they didn't have proper routing stickers on them (which I already knew). The agent had some paper bar-coded stickers for routing she slapped on the side of each bag. Then they went into the system and we hurried to the other end of the ticketing terminal and secured boarding passes with the second airline for the second plane.

Now all that remained was getting through security with our carry-on bags and selves and getting to the gate. In the interest of hurrying the security inspection along, I had stuffed everything I possibly could into the checked luggage - BIG MISTAKE!

There was over an hour wait to get through the security lines. Still no one gave out the simple but significant information that our plane was on a 5-hour delay. That one piece of info would have made all the difference. We did finally get through security and without the hassle many others around us were experiencing with having their bags opened, inspected, personal items confiscated and disposed and even some who were having their bodies carefully inspected with various electronic gadgets.

After reading the news and seeing the news the following day about the guy they arrested in the same airport with all the necessary parts to make a bomb including full instructions - IN THE SAME AIRPORT, I have to wonder if that was part of all this picture as well. He hadn't shown up yet, but perhaps they were tipped off to his attempt to elude security. I'm just glad we were well back in PA by the time the "bomb guy" tried to get through security!

Of course, once we saw the posted 5-hour delay at the gate, the pace slowed considerably - slowed to stop and wait.

Finally we boarded the plane, took off and landed in another city. We went to the second gate in another terminal and waited again before boarding the second plane on the "other airline the first airline doesn't talk to"! All appeared normal as we pulled away from the gate and slowly moved back and began to taxi into take-off position. All of a sudden, the plane came to a complete stop on the tarmac. Finally the pilot spoke over the speaker system: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Pilot XYZ. We have not been cleared for take-off by air traffic control. Apparently the baggage people went home early today and failed to enter the weight of the baggage into our computer. We are attempting to get a weight for our on-board baggage so we can be cleared for take-off." We waited some more and then without explanation, the plane took off and landed in the second city.

Eventually we boarded the second plane (on the airline the first airline doesn't "talk to"), took off and finally landed back in Pittsburgh. The trip was over. ALL we needed to do was retrieve our checked luggage from the baggage carousel and meet the friend who was picking us up.

Only one small problem: the light and buzzer came on and the carousel revolved but only four pieces of luggage for an entire planeload of passengers came down the shute. NOW we understood: there was no baggage weight because there was no baggage! So now we got to stand in another line to get a claim file reference number so we could go home a see what would happen next!

The end of the story is that we did eventually receive our luggage intact. AND I certainly learned some VERY valuable lessons. I'm still sorting out exactly what they are but I can tell you they include more careful packing of checked luggage, more calculated travel plans including choosing airlines and connecting flights and even contemplation of never flying again! Of course, that punishes me as it precludes any overseas travel - at least until they build tunnels under the oceans which I don't expect in my lifetime.

Now today I get the "final" surprise: the American Express bill came and the tickets weren't charged against my "membership reward points" at all. They were charged to my AmX card for full price! That battle remains to be fought another day as this is Friday, but never fear - it will be fought! Amazing!

Where was God during all this? Where was my own heart? God was there: present and at work though clearly unseen and sometimes unfelt. My heart is another matter. I went from confident to frustrated to scared then harried and rushed to relieved to land at home only to discover we had no luggage. Because of all the "stuff" I chose to put in the checked luggage, I asked God to please find our luggage. I asked all my praying family and friends to pray with me.

God knew all along where the luggage was! No matter where it was, it was never out of His sight! God saw what happened at the first ticket agent's station, and He knew the rest of the story, too! Our tickets and photo ID's were never out of His sight! God knows what the result of the snafu with the tickets being charged in dollars rather than "AmX membership reward points" and He knows how it will all resolve. The problem is not with God! The problem is with my own heart: Can I trust him with things like suitcases and tickets and flight itineraries and even rude, difficult ticket agents? Can I trust Him with long lines and frustrations? In the end, it's a heart issue! I need Jesus every day to work in restoring ways in my heart because without His help I end up trying to muddle through on my own and then I get scared, frustrated, angry, more tired and all the rest.

So it's about restoration here in the South Hills. It's about restoration when we travel. It's about restoration when we are fearful, frustrated and whatever else AND God is still in the business of restoration. Jesus came to make us new from the inside out. It's a process. It may take longer and harder work for some than others - I happen to be a particular hard-core challenge apparently, but the promise is the same: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women! They're His people, He's their God. ... [Then God speaks:] Look! I'm making everything new!" (Rev. 21:4-5, The Message) It's God's sure promise, and He always keeps His word! Restoration is sure for all who give Him their hearts for Him to work at restoring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Life Sentence - Deaf, Part 2

God had a very amazing conversation with the ancient Jewish leader Moses in a very remote spot of desert in the Middle East long ago: "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Exodus 4:11)

One day Jesus encountered a man who was born blind (John 9). Jesus' followers asked Him, "Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Jesus answers clearly and directly: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned ... but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (vs. 2)

Robert is a man who was born deaf. He has faced a similar question: "Are you deaf because your mother had German measles before you were born?"

Robert is a man of true faith, and his answer is equally clear: "I was not born deaf because my mother had measles. I am deaf because God made me this way for His own reasons." Robert believes that God has a plan for his life that includes deafness. Robert's favorite verse of Scripture is Exodus 4:11: "Who makes him deaf? ... Is it not I, the Lord?"

Robert cannot hear. Robert has never heard a singe sound, but Robert hears music in his heart put there by the One Who created him. Robert knows and trusts God to be good all the time! Robert believes that God has a particular purpose for Robert in God's great kingdom particularly because Robert is deaf!

Think about it! Could it be that God has intentionally allowed some of those He loves in a special way to face unique challenges so that God's Kingdom and His church will be stronger and more beautiful as those broken places on each key click (See previous blog - "The Key to Brokenness" posted on April 2.) into their particular place of service and significance as God paints His-Story across the canvas of life and time? Robert says it is so!

In a really beautiful sense, Robert is living out restoration in his "brokenness" as he faithfully fulfills God's purpose for him.

There is a wonderful promise for Robert and you and me in Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Robert may not hear anything else, but his heart hears God singing over him and it's a beautiful song!

The Key to Brokenness

I came home the other night quite late and found a broken key just outside my garage door. The key was bigger than any key I was familiar with and it was only the broken top of a key. I stuck the jagged, broken piece in my pocket - in case it was important. Actually it was intentionally broken (translation: sawed in two) by the other creative mind who lives here so it would fit into his pocket better.

Then today I read an commentary by CBS's Bob Schieffer. Schieffer relates his impressions of an interview with the Dallas pastor, T.D. Jakes. Apparently they discussed brokenness in the interview. Pastor Jakes pointed out that we are all broken in various ways.

A Restoration Church beginning to gather in the South Hills of Pittsburgh is founded on just that very concept: we are all broken and need to be fixed.

Schieffer relates that Pastor Jakes continued in his brokenness analogy to talk about the good side of brokenness - that brokenness can be beneficial. He used the example of a key that is broken and actually must be broken in exactly the right places so that it will fit into a corresponding lock by virtue of its broken parts. What a cool analogy!

Bob Schieffer writes: "A key is broken in all the right places to fit a certain lock. When that key is placed in that lock, there is a quiet click. When we meet a person who is broken in the right places to accommodate our brokenness, there is a click. It can happen in other ways: An introverted person hears that click when he finds a job that can only be done by a person who works well alone; or when we face a life-altering decision. Whether it is a job, or a relationship or even faith, something clicks when we find the place that accommodates our uniqueness, or brokenness."

At a Restoration Church we pray that God will bring us people with whom we will find "the click" of our brokenness with theirs! We cannot "fix" another person's brokenness. We cannot even "fix" our own brokenness. But God can use our brokenness to FIT into another broken heart and life for just the right click (connection of heart-to-heart).

Brokenness is a beautiful thing when it comes from the heart and shines with God's love! Brokenness is a useful thing when it is shared and multiplied one "click" at a time from one heart to another.

We could light up our city of Pittsburgh with each of our brokenness "clicked" together to bring God's light and love to a broken world desperately that "needs fixed" !

Life Sentence - Deaf !

If you see, hear and speak - if you walk on or reach with your own limbs - if you move with reasonable motility, then you may never have thought what life would be like without any of these parts or others that might always be missing or might malfunction later in life.

I was reflecting on living all of life deaf or blind or with some other normal ability of human existence that is hampered in some way. I am frustrated because I don't hear as well as I used to hear. I don't see as well as I used to see. I don't chew as easily as I used to chew... and the list goes on! BUT I have NO IDEA what life without ever having heard a spoken word, without ever having heard the wind blow or the birds sing would be like.

The loss of never having heard one of three sweet little voices of my dearly loved grandchildren saying, "I want to sit with Grandmama." or "I love you, Grandmama." is a loss too colossal to imagine! If I had never heard a sound then the loss of what words really mean when put with sound is so huge!

I understand that people who lose their hearing at some point in life - even very young - still have some understanding of sound and speech. Those who have never heard any sound live in a very silent and very different world from where you and I live. They have never heard sound. When they see words on a page, those symbols (words) are black marks on white but they don't translate into sounds for the person who has never heard. The concept of sound is meaningless to the one who has never heard!

Where is restoration for the one who is deaf? For the one who has lost hearing, where is the restoration of what is lost? For the one who has never heard, where is the restoration of what should have been but never was?

That restoration is found in the Gospel. Now don't think I've gone to preaching! I haven't! It's just the truth! Jesus came to earth, put on our skin and moved into our neighborhood to bring His Gospel of restoration to us. We flawed sinners could never bridge that gap between where we are and where God is. It is impossible! The only way was for Jesus to come and be the bridge.

Jesus brought the gift of restoration to our world! He makes a terrible trade for Him. He takes all our brokenness and gives us all His "never-been-brokenness"! (In theological terms we call it "justification" - making us "just as if" we had never sinned through the Gospel.) In plain words, Jesus exchanges His "never-been-brokenness" for all our broken pieces of life. He gives us the gift of restoration in His Gospel. That's what brought Him to earth and sent Him to die on the cross. He took what we deserved. He paid a debt He didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay!

So what's the deal for the one who has been sentenced to deafness for life? He or she can never bridge the gap to hear. It's impossible! You and I - the hearing able - must come into that silent world with our understanding, with our taking the time to learn to "sign" so we can "talk" to the one who cannot not hear. How could he or she ever "hear" the Gospel unless you or I take the time to "put on that silent skin" and be willing to live in that silent neighborhood? That's the bridge to bringing restoration to one silent soul at a time! It's God's way! It's the Gospel of restoration!