Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Reality" Education? Sad Stuff!

A news item today is about the five-year-old autistic kindergartener named Alex Barton. Alex has autism. By definition, autism is a neurological developmental disorder that presents in "inappropriate" and even socially unacceptable verbal and nonverbal communication and deficient social interaction. Autistic children are locked in their box of autism to varying degrees depending on the severity of their particular disability or "different way of being."

Alex's mother learned what was happening at school when Alex came home and told her that 14 people voted him out of the class. She went to the teacher to investigate. The teacher confirmed that she had Alex stand at the front of the class while his classmates described what they disliked about him. Then they voted 14-2 to kick Alex out of class.

There is no mention of whether Alex had a vote in this process. Probably not.

It is almost too much to wrap my brain around - a teacher deliberately subjecting a child to ridicule from his peers and then a vote to reject that child! One newscaster commented that she didn't know who to feel most sorry for in the story - Alex or his classmates who are being taught by such a despicable "social experiment." Incredible!

Then the story twists and turns down other bizzare paths:
  • The teacher, Wendy Portillo, has tenure.
  • The St. Lucie County School District Superintendent Michael Lannon said there is an on-going investigation. He stated that their findings will be released in the next 2 - 3 weeks. "We will not push things under the rug and we will not stick our heads under the sand. We will deal with it," Lannon said.
" with it..." ? Wonder what that means: fire the teacher, reeducate the other students, soothe the hurt in Alex's heart?! "Deal with it" might be impossible except to put a bandaid on the problem. Alex and Alex's mother will probably not soon forget. The other students have been done a grave disservice as well.

The teacher stated that her intention was to correct Alex's behavior. (For the record, both the teacher and the school principal knew Alex is autistic.) Such shenanigans on the part of ANY authority figure are hardly going to correct behavior - ridicule and shame aren't the path to correction and restoration ever!

So, what comes next in this world gone mad we live in? Is this a new social order slithering out from under a rock? Do people now get shamed and ridiculed and then voted out of the church or the family as well? This isn't "reality"! This is madness!!!

What needs to come next is change and repentance! This kind of thinking as exhibited by Alex's teacher is the sad consequence of a world with no moral or spiritual underpinnings tied to God's standards as we find them in the Bible. It is the consequence of selfishness grown gigantic.

We live in a world badly in need of restoration! The kind of restoration we need begins in the heart! Too bad one of the two children who voted "NO" didn't stand up and say, "This is just plain mean!"

This isn't "reality" - this is the stuff of nightmares!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stephen Curtis Chapman and His Cinderella Gone

My heart hurts for Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman and their children - Emily, Will, Caleb, Shaoey and Stevey Joy. Their daughter and sister Maria went to live in heaven yesterday, and their hearts are raw and bleeding!

About a year ago I discovered the wonderful book Steven Curtis Chapman wrote with his friend Scotty Smith, Restoring Broken Things. I read it with my heart and was blessed more than I can say by their honesty and real faith to believe that restoration is possible for all of us who are broken (and that includes all of creation and all people everywhere)! My own brokenness drives me to Jesus and their book helps me along that path!

The scary thing about writing a book or a blog or teaching a Bible class or preaching a sermon or writing Christian songs is that sometimes God pushes us and stretches us beyond what we know by circumstances of life. God challenges us to do more than write or say truth - to really, really live truth even in the most broken times!

I'm sure the Chapman family is reeling from the same challenge today. God is calling them to really, really live truth in this most broken time! Yesterday one of the Chapman teenage sons accidently drove their SUV over his little sister Maria. Her broken body gave up its fight and she went to heaven to be with Jesus forever. That's great for Maria, but it's pretty crappy for a lot of other people who loved her who are still stuck "in restoration mode"!

Another reason my heart hurts for the Chapman family is that I came very close to living what they are living today. In September 1978 I ran over my six-year-old son. It was an accident, too. In my case God chose to leave David with us. His body, too, was broken from the Chevy Caprice that literally stopped on top of him. God was so, so good to protect our David so that this (the story of my running over him) is only one story in a long line of "adventures" he has lived and lived through! God could have chosen another ending to our story like He did for Maria yesterday.

The truth is that in both cases God is good and still the King! It's the only truth we can live in and make sense out of all the brokenness that surrounds us in this very broken world filled with very broken people!

On the cover of Restoring Broken Things, there is a picture of a broken pot and the words of Jesus: "Behold, I make ALL THINGS NEW." (Rev. 21:5) For Maria Chapman that's exactly what she is experiencing today. She is brand-spanking new in heaven with Jesus! That's pretty awesome! She is no longer broken in any way!

But for her family there is a huge hole in their hearts. I doubt Steven Curtis Chapman dreamed when he wrote the song, "Cinderella," how prophetic the lyrics would prove to be:

So I will dance with Cinderella while she is here in my arms ...
Oh, I will dance with Cinderella. I don't want to miss even one song.
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight and she'll be gone ...
And she'll be gone. She will be gone!

BUT the best news of all and the ONLY hope for the Chapman family and for all of us who are living in the midst of brokenness is that Jesus is in the business of restoration - some of it happens now and all of restoration happens someday! It's His promise to His children, and we can count on it! He promises to restore broken things forever! AND HE WILL! And, for Christians, death doesn't separate - it just delays the grand reunion someday! And that's also God's sure promise for all who love His Son Jesus!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Celebrate Diversity!

Did you ever contemplate how dull life would be without diversity? Everyone would look the same, talk the same, walk the same, like the same things and on and on.

In parenting such dullness is often longingly contemplated (especially by parents) when children respond to their siblings with jealousy or competitiveness. Yesterday I watched a very funny video: It sums up sibling rivalry (as I experienced it both as a sibling and a parent) with accurate humor, I think.

The two sons in the video are obviously totally different in personality and perspective. My bet is that the son in the chair is the oldest. He just acts like an oldest child. But he's not perfect no matter how straight he parts his hair - notice the nail-biting!

These two brothers aren't celebrating their diversity. They are both totally bugged by the diversity of the other! Celebrating diversity is a component of maturity so the brothers will have to grow into the maturity of appreciating their differences. Parents also have to learn to appreciate the differences in their children.

I remember well the day I began to appreciate the polar differences in our sons. One was playing community league football on the field and behind the stands the other was carving an intricate "city" into a mountain of construction sand. A light bulb came on for me that Saturday morning. Both my sons are gifted, and both have quirks. It's not better or worse; it's just different!

Inside the chest of each of my sons beats a heart that loves passionately. In the mind of each of my sons there are wheels that turn endlessly. But neither loves or thinks alike. It's not better or worse; it's just different!

It's these complexities and differences that bring beauty to the tapestry God is weaving in our family! It's the very differences that make for beauty in our family.

It's the same in the church family. God brings people with different strengths, different needs, different backgrounds together and weaves them into a family of faith that shines brighter against the darkness than it ever would were the diversity not there.

At A Restoration Church we are learning to celebrate our diversity. We are learning to appreciate our strengths and to stand together where we are weak. God brings the radical restoration of the Gospel to our hearts and then to our church family so we can share His life-changing Gospel with the community around us. At A Restoration Church we celebrate diversity! Come celebrate with us! We may be different but we're better for our diversity! God is taking those diverse threads (people) and weaving them together into beauty that He alone can bring!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Banned from Church by Law for Autism

Did you read or see the item in this morning's news about the autistic Minnesota boy who has been banned from church? Adam Race has autism. His family sits on the back pew of the catholic church where they have attended for 12 years. Yesterday AM when Adam's family started to church, the sheriff of their county stopped them and told Adam's mom that if she even stepped one foot inside the church she would be arrested.

Since last Sunday (Mother's Day) the parish priest sought legal advice and obtained an injunction against Adam and his family barring them from attending their church, St. Joseph. Father Daniel Walz sought the restraining order after the family attended Mother's Day services at St. Joseph's. Mrs. Race was actually ticketed for appearing at church on Mother's Day.


There is another church. This one is right here in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - Southminster Presbyterian. They have just completed the lengthy process of confirmation for a daughter in their church who also has autism. Her name is Hannah. She is 16-years-old. Hannah doesn't speak so structuring a confirmation program she could complete so she could join Southminster and be admitted to membership and be allowed to take communion with her family was a challenging process. The staff and members of Southminister are justly proud of their efforts in Hannah's behalf.

Autism is a difficult problem for a family and a church. Autistic children are often so tortured within themselves that they inappropriately express themselves - particularly in tightly controlled social environments such as a worship service. St. Joseph's chose the easy way - just ban the Race family from church. Then the priest and others at St. Joseph can pretend "the problem" named Adam just went away. All in the name of God couched in terms of taking care of the greater good of others who also worship at St. Joseph.

Southminster chose a more challenging path. I recently attended a Saturday seminar at Southminster on autism. It was specifically designed to address the issue of the church in regard to autism. I went to the module on "Welcoming." A number of ideas were floated about how to integrate and welcome children and families effected by autism into the life and worship of the church. Injunctions and tickets and courts and officers of the law were not mentioned even one time!

I'm not the mother of an autistic child, and I can only imagine the pain of loving your child and wanting your child to experience the best of life even through the prism of autism. I have a good friend who has an autistic son who is over 50. I have worshipped with my friend and her husband and son. It was a privilege and a pleasure!

I am the mother of two grown sons. Through the years my sons didn't always behave well in church. I got lots of "well-meaning" advice about what to do and how to do it beginning when my first son was less than a year old. I just had boys with "ants in their pants" but they weren't always still or quiet in church. I just did the best I could.

I imagine Adam's mother would say the same thing. I'm doing the best I can!

Somehow I can't picture Jesus calling in the law in a case like Adam's. We know Jesus met many individuals who struggled with all kinds of issues - some of which made them "socially unacceptable" in the eyes of society in the first century. But, over and over, the Biblical record attests that Jesus stopped, even interrupting what He was doing to give aid and bring healing.

There is the account of one son who even threw himself into fire at times. When his desperate father approached Jesus, Jesus immediately stopped and healed the son. Jesus took time for a specific conversation with the father and then Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up to stand healed in front of the crowd. (Mark 9)

In the South Hills of Pittsburgh another church is beginning. It is A Restoration Church. A Restoration Church is committed to restoring lives through the Gospel. We welcome people from all walks of life, all circumstances - the physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually broken. We offer love, acceptance, forgiveness, hope and love. We know that in truth we are all broken and badly in need of God's loving restoration. God's love, grace and mercy bring radical restoration to us all! That's what we're all about at A Restoration Church. If you know your own brokenness, then we have a place just for you! We all need God's fixing process! I suspect some of God's loving restoration needs to be applied in Minnesota, too!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Planting is Fun!

It's spring, and in Pittsburgh it is only just now starting to get warm enough to plant and garden. BUT that's not the kind of planting I have in mind. I'm thinking of planting a church. A lot of people have trouble even wrapping their minds around the idea of "planting a church." What does that mean? How in the world do you plant a church? Why in the world would anyone plant a church? Aren't there already enough churches to go around?

Well, here's the scoop! Church planting means multiplying. It means doing exactly what Jesus said to do:
  • Go and tell people about the Gospel so they come to be part of God's forever family, too.
  • Then bring those people into a context where they can grow and strengthen and even bloom in their faith so this wonderful process duplicates itself in Kingdom multiplication over and over and over again until Jesus comes back to earth!

The truth is that all churches either need to be in revitalization mode or planting mode to keep from getting stagnant. Churches have life cycles just like people and even plants, and decline is a part of the life cycle unless active measures are taken to keep vitality going. AND sometimes even active measures don't stave off the effects of aging no matter what we do! But that's another blog post ...

A Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh is a church plant! Church planting like planting a garden is a lot of hard work, but it's also a lot of fun! I was thinking about that today as we were setting up for worship tomorrow and for our lunch gathering after. I bet there's no where else in the city of Pittsburgh that twin boys (age 5) were working hard to help arrange chairs, carry plastic bins, carry in groceries and just generally give a lot of life and energy to the project of setting up for tomorrow's worship. It's pretty cool! Tomorrow those same two boys will take a turn at helping take up the offering. Their sister who is a born teacher at 10 takes the children out for a brief time of explaining the children's page we have each week that goes along with the theme for that week. Where else but in a church plant would two five-year-olds and a ten-year-old have the opportunity to develop gifts of serving in the church at such young ages? It's fun!

I think the statistics say that less than 10% of all church attenders are really "comfortable" church planting. It takes a certain kind of "pioneer heart." In my case, however I'm in the 100% category because that's what I am doing! And it's spring, and my "pioneer heart" says, "Let's get on with it!"

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the Grip of Grace

Yesterday I read Joni Eareckson Tada's "From the Heart" letter in her April issue of "Joni and Friends Newsletter." She describes how she needs help (helping hands) because her hands don't move. She's been a quadriplegic for over forty years. She needs the hands of others to dress, to reach things, to eat, to hold books and on and on. She has a team of friends who serve her daily by coming and getting her up and dressed and ready for the day.

Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay at age 17 and broke her neck. She wouldn't have survived the accident except that a crab bit her sister's toe causing her sister to turn around and call to Joni. Then she saw Joni floating face-down in the water.

Joni describes in her writings (her books) the emotional and spiritual and physical sturggles she encountered and endured in the aftermath of her accident. There were many times she wanted her life to be over as living seemed just too hard.

One of her stories is about a friend who snuck into her dark hospital room, lay on the floor facing up so Joni could see her face (as Joni was lying upside down in a Stryker frame) and sang hymns to and with Joni.

Once a friend - my sister - did something similar for me. She came into my hospital room and slept on the tile floor to be with me. It was a dark time! Her presence was a gift of love that still wraps my heart in warmth.

God was faithful to Joni. He brought her through the pain to be a shining testimony of God's grace. Joni is a living example of being kept in the grip of God's grace! In the painful process of learning to live with a body that doesn't move, Joni received a heart transformed by God's grace and love. Today she heads the fabulous ministry - Joni and Friends International.

After my husband, a young teenage friend and I went to one of Joni and Friends Family Retreats last summer just to observe, our young friend came home and told her mother, "O, Mommy, you could just feel the love of Jesus there everywhere!" This coming summer nine people from A Restoration Church will be spending an entire week at a Joni Family Retreat being hands, feet and a loving heart for a person or family with "a special way of being."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Heart Sight" is Better Than Eye Sight!

There was once a blind girl who was bitter and angry because she was blind. She hated her blindness. She hated life and everyone in it except for her boyfriend. Even through her blind bitterness, his love for her touched her heart. One day she said to him, "If only I could see, I would marry you."

Time passed and one day she heard that someone had donated a pair of eyes for her. She had surgery to replace her blind eyes, and when she was healed and the bandages were removed, the first person she saw was her boyfriend. She was startled to discover that he too was blind. He had no eyes. She was repulsed by his blindness. She not only refused to keep her promise and marry him; she sent him away.

Sometime later he wrote her a note: "Take good care of your eyes. They are very special eyes. They were given to you with great hope and love. You see, before your eyes were yours, they were mine."

There's a far worse blindness than not seeing with physical eyes! It is blindness of the heart. The girl's bitterness blinded her heart so severely that even when she could see with her eyes, her heart remained hopelessly blind!

Life without sight would be very, very hard BUT life with a blind heart is far worse!

Modern medicine can cut and sew. Surgeons can even replace sightless eyes with sighted, donated ones. How incredible to be blind and then to see! But to physically see and have a blind heart is a very dark place to live!

This story is probably apocryphal but the truth found in the story is very real. There is a blindness far worse than the loss of sight. That's being blind of heart! God is in the business of restoring sight to blind hearts!

That's the very reason there's a new church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We want blind hearts to see. We understand that only God can bring such restoration to blind hearts!

When Jesus walked the earth he healed many people of physical blindness. Jesus also healed even more people of "heart blindness." In fact, that's one reason some people hated Him so much. People with small minds and blind hearts hated Jesus because they feared being healed to the core of their hearts. They feared the pain and exposure of losing a blind heart, of seeing with their hearts! They feared the commitment of a "sighted" heart.

Hearts that see not only are compelled by the needs of people, but such hearts MUST do something for such need. That something often requires inconvenience and sacrifice. That something may even be misunderstood by others looking on.

When God restores hearts and removes "blindness," then we can see our world through God's eyes. That's the ONLY way past bitterness and selfishness to real love for the lonely and lost and rejected and needy hearts all around you and me!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thanks, Mom!

I just read an email from a friend. It was about mothers. And it started me thinking ...

Remember those days when the only times your kids talked to you (or so it seemed) were when you were on the phone? Remember those times when it seemed like you were only a pair of hands to fix this or tie that or open something else. It gets worse, doesn't it? What about the clock mom? "What time is it?" Of the chauffeur mom? "Be sure to pick me up right at 4:30. I hate you to be late." (That might even come from the child who is mostly always late now and it's no biggie!)

I remember a "best friend" asking me when I was newly married with one son (and she was newly married with no child and still going to school and feeling very important), "How can you just bury yourself away doing nothing but being married and a mom?" I was flabbergasted then and still am. I didn't feel buried away nor did I feel like I was wasting my education and abilities. To the contrary, I felt I was using it all in the most important job in the world. Almost forty years later I still feel that way!

Back to the email. The author told of receiving a book on the great cathedrals of Europe from a friend (probably one with no kids and a flourishing "career.") The inscription inside read: "To Carol, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees." How cool is that?! Carol's friend saw what my friend didn't - she saw value and purpose in undercover heroes!

That's just what a mother is: an undercover hero!!!

Why a book on the great cathedrals of Europe? Did you ever think about it? How many of the great cathedrals of Europe can you bring to mind? Notre Dame, St. Peter's, Westminster ... Now, here's another question: who designed and built these great edifices? Duh! Unless that's your niche of knowledge you probably can't come up with a single name. These designers and builders gave lifetimes and made huge sacrifices to leave enduring structures of beauty. Most of them had to know that only God might remember their names, see and record their hard work and sacrifice. How like a mother, isn't it?

Then the email made one more point. Which is the more valuable treasure for the heart of a mother - to hear your child extol your hard work getting up at the crack of dawn to prepare for a holiday meal or your hours of planning and putting together some special family memory OR just to hear your child say to a friend he or she has brought home, "Come on in. You're gonna LOVE it here!"

My friend who didn't see purpose and value in being "just" a wife and mother probably still doesn't "get" it, but that's okay. It's the undercover hero moms of the world who raised the men and women who grew up to live and love and make a difference in our world! It's these undercover hero moms who spend their days assisting God in His work of restoration. The heart of a child is the greatest venue for restoration I know, and moms (and grandmoms) get to be God's specially placed assistant in this incredible process!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Israel!

Today marks the beginning of some very special festivities: the state of Israel is turning 60 years old on May 14, 2008! Apparently the party starts today .

For Israel to become a nation state is no small feat. No nation on the face of the earth has EVER faced more opposition (for thousands and thousands of years) from the time of Abraham until now! Surrounded by hostile enemies and a tiny nation by any standard, Israel has stood tall and often alone against the raging tides of warfare, world opinion/opposition and blatant terrorism.

I had the privilege of visiting Israel a few years ago. I didn't particularly want to go, but from the time I stepped off the plane and visited the house of Simon the tanner (Acts 10:5 - 6) in Joppa (my first evening in Israel) my life was changed forever. I can never read my Bible or teach the Bible now without new eyes and a new heart. Visiting Israel made my Bible come alive! Visiting Israel and actually seeing the places I had read and known about since childhood gave me a whole new perspective. I would go again in a minute and hope to do so someday.

Go, Israel! Happy Birthday to God's people in the "land of promise"! Shalom!

We should pray for God's peace (shalom) in Jerusalem and all of Israel. We should pray for our Jewish friends in Israel and around the world - for them to find and come to know the true Messiah of God, Yeshua (Jesus). We should pray for heart restoration in Israel. That would be the best way to celebrate 60 years as a nation - to finally find, recognize and know the Messiah, the Promised One (Gen. 3:15)! Then there would be a birthday celebration on earth and in heaven (Luke 15:7, 10) !

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Insomnia and/or Heart Trouble

In the Gospel of John (chapter 3) there is a fascinating account of the midnight encounter Jesus had with a man who had a troubled heart. His name was Nicodemus. He was a man of position and influence. So much so, he was probably sneeking in to see Jesus under cover of night. Perhaps his thoughts, ponderings and questions were keeping Nick awake at night. Perhaps he was tossing and turning on his bed until finally, this particular night, he just got up out of bed and snuck off to see Jesus.

When I was a little girl (four years old), we were visiting my grandparents. At one meal we were all sitting around the large dining table when the discussion turned to my grandmother's "heart trouble." In our terms today, she probably had angina. We just called it "heart trouble." She described it as heart trouble, too. I loved to listen to adult conversation, but finally I just couldn't stand it any longer so I piped up, "Grandmother, don't you know that the Bible says, 'Don't let your heart be troubled?'"
Well, everyone got a jolt and a laugh and the family got a story to tell over and over!

The fact is that in John 14:1 Jesus spoke these very words, "Don't let your heart be troubled. Don't even let it be afraid. Trust in God. Trust also in Me." Jesus was talking to His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. He knew they were in for the shock of their lives in the coming hours and days. These were the last words He would be able to give them to guide and comfort them. "Don't let THIS (My coming arrest, trial, death and burial) throw you. You trust God, don't you? Trust Me." (The Message)

I didn't understand anything about the medical implications of angina and didn't even know the word. But I did understand that behind the physical world of pain and trouble (even in my grandmother's heart), there is the King of All (God) Who is big enough to take care of any need and trouble. I got that because my parents (particularly my mother) had taught me John 14:1 and many other verses. I had tucked these verses deep in my own heart for times when I needed to take them out to think about and hang onto!

Well, back to Nick and his midnight meeting with Jesus. Nick needed a dose of heart medicine. Nick's heart needed Jesus! As he and Jesus sat and talked that night, Jesus explained to Nick that he needed to open his heart to God's truth. In that conversation Jesus spoke one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, "This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in Him is acquitted; ..." (The Message, John 3:16 - 18)

You may also suffer "heart trouble" like Nick did. You may have spiritual questions. OR your brand of "heart trouble" may be of a different sort. You may be troubled by some addiction in your life, something that has you in a choke hold - like drugs or alcohol or even an obsession with food. You may have financial worries or some physical illness like cancer or be pregnant and not want to be. Your home may be breaking up or you might be so miserable living there that you wish it would. Whatever your personal brand of "heart trouble," Jesus has the answer for you just like He did for Nick that night so long ago.

Whatever particular brand of "heart trouble" you face, you need to know that God loves you. God sees your heart. God knows your particular need. God will forgive you and give you a whole new life. God is in the restoration business. God specializes in new beginnings!

For Nick in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago and for you - the answer to "spiritual insomnia and heart trouble" is the same: Come to God through faith in His Son Jesus. It's simple! It's the only way to get into God's forever family! And it's the only path to God no matter what anyone else might tell you - through Jesus, the only Savior!

Actually that's what we're all about at A Restoration Church in the South Hills of Pittsburgh! Come gather with us if you have "spiritual insomnia and/or heart trouble." We have been there and done that, too! We are now in the process of God's restoring our hearts by His love and grace, and we'd love to have you come along with us on this exciting journey!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Safe Lifting Instructions

If you ever had your "back go out" from moving in a wrong direction or picking something up incorredtly, you know how much (after the fact) you wish you could rewind and do it right.

Physical therapists make their living teaching people how to strengthen muscles. They deal specifically with how to lift things safely. They usually come in after the damage is done. They are part of the process of "rewinding and doing it right."

My husband is doing some physical therapy right now for an injured shoulder and following surgery on his leg. The therapist comes to our house and puts him through his paces. She gives him excercises to strength the damaged muscles.

One of these exercises is particularly fascinating to me. The patient elevates his leg on a chair or the bed with the foot free hanging over the edge in a relaxed position. Then using the ankle to rotate the foot, the exercise is to pretend the foot is a pencil and to "draw" through the alphabet from A to Z.

Well, techniques for protecting our ligaments and muscles are a good thing, and we should all practice safe lifting. You know the drill: lift with your legs and not with your shoulders or back.

The Bible also has some very practical "safe lifting instructions" for "weight-bearing." Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:28 - 30) Sounds upside down, doesn't it? If you and I are already crushed by burdens, then how in the world does taking another burden (aka "take My yoke upon you") do anything but add more weight to an already overwhelming load?

In the ancient middle east (and possibly even today) the way a young ox was trained to carry a load was to yoke that ox with an older, experienced ox. Then the two together would carry the load - that's the "... learn from Me" part. Jesus' words are words of promise and comfort -

  • He is the gentle teacher with the humble, loving heart.
  • There is rest even when life brings crusing loads.
  • When the burden comes from the Savior and is carried in concert with Him, then "easy" and "light" seem possible.
Eugene Peterson describes living with loads and lifting loads with the Savior as "the unforced rhythm of grace." (The Message, Matt. 11:29) It's the path to a restored heart!

Psalm 68:19 gives another wonderful promise: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."

Life has loads to carry. It's a given! God's safe lifting instructions are always to let Him help us carry the load. And the implied promise in Psalm 68:19 is that when we falter and are too weary to keep putting one foot in front of the other under the weight of the load that our great Savior God will daily carry our burden for us!

There's a wonderful old hymn that sums it all up:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,

His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief there is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks—
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Frank E. Graeff, 1901

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Look of Sincere, Centered Love

There's an old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." (St. Ambrose, 387 AD) It doesn't come from the Bible, but it was first spoken in a somewhat theological context. The story is that St. Augustine traveled to Milan, Italy where Ambrose was Bishop. Augustine noticed that the people of Milan did not fast on Saturday as did people in Rome. When Augustine started to judge Milanians because their practice was different, Ambrose gave his advice which eventually has come to be edited down to, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul spends most of the book he wrote to the church in Rome explaining the Gospel (chapters 1 - 11). Then Paul fills the last four chapters of the book with very practical ways we can put legs and arms, hands and feet on the Gospel in our own hearts and in our loving service to God and our neighbors. In Romans 12 Paul talks about "sincere love" (vs. 9). The Greek word translated "sincere" is the same word we get "hypocrite" from. ("Anupokritos" which is actually the antonym of hypocrite meaning "without hypocrisy.")

In ancient Greece "hypocrite" first described someone who wore a mask in a play - either tragic or comic. So Paul's readers immediately connected - understanding that love "without hypocrisy" involves being real (no mask). Real love has no strings, no conditions! Real love comes from bold hearts willing to risk the pain of rejection by loving with abandon! Real love has no hidden agenda. Real love is self-less, not self-serving!

The Message renders Romans 12:6 - 21 in very practical terms:

  • If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else.
  • If you help, just help, don't take over.
  • If you teach, stick to your teaching.
  • If you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy.
  • If you're put in charge, don't manipulate.
  • If you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond.
  • If you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.

Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Real, sincere love takes bold risks - goes and loves where it may not be safe - gives without counting the cost and is the REALLY REAL Thing! Real love can only come from a heart being restored by God's love!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Restoration Heart Progress Measurement Meter: Sincere Love

At "Restoration Heart" we think and write a lot about what having a heart in the process of being restored by God's love and grace is all about. That's a good thing!

But, how do we measure quantitatively what progress in the restoration process looks like? There is no test or meter known to industry or science that measures "heart restoration" in the emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical aspects of life.

Lately I've been facing some challenges that are stretching the restoration process in my own heart. I've had more responsibilities than usual. I've had more things to think about and process than usual. I've had more people in my life with pressing needs. I've been getting less sleep than usual and the list goes on.

I'm discovering something. The above list has become a pretty significant "measurement meter" of how far the process of God's restoration of my heart is going. There's no tangible read or print-out of this "intangible" progress, but my heart knows that my restoration process needs more work!

God still has work to do in my heart, but my sure hope is that God always keeps His promises. God promises to keep working away on my heart until His restoration is complete. "He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion ... " (Phil. 1:6, NIV) Eugene Peterson renders this verse: "There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish ... " (The Message)

Restoring hearts is lengthy work and totally hopeless unless God is the Initiator and Completer. Our great and only hope of sure heart restoration is that He is the Great Restorer!

The Biblical image of the Potter and the clay comes to mind. A cracked pot can't fix itself. Only the Potter can recast the flawed clay by grinding it down and turning it back into raw clay for restoration.

Another great determination of how much progress I am making in heart restoration is in how much I can love God and others sincerely. In Romans 12:9, Paul reminds us how the Gospel demonstrably changes us, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” The Message says, "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it! "

What is "sincere love"? "Sincere" comes from Latin: "sine cera." The literal translation of "sincere" is "without (sine) wax (cera).

In New Testament times it was common practice to hide cracks in pottery by filling them with wax. Thus vendors could pass flawed pottery off as having more value. The proof came when the test of heat melted the wax and revealed the flaws. Quality pottery products bore the stamp "sine cera" to indicate purity and "unaltered with wax" quality - not a fake. "Sine cera" was the "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval in the first century.

When the Gospel is centered in our hearts, then sincere love results. God calls us to love God and others purely, truly and sincerely. The Restorer-God shows us the way of sincere love in the heart of the Gospel: Jesus put on our skin, came and walked and lived in our neighborhood and died in our place paying a debt we owed but could never pay because God loves you and me.

It is this very same radical, sincere love that we have to offer our world. When we love sincerely, the whole world sees love coming from a restored heart! That's more than a good thing! It's a very good thing!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jelly glass or Waterford Crystal?

Do you know how to tell when a crystal glass is highest quality? You thump it with your finger and listen carefully. If all you get back is a "thud" from your thump, then it's probably the quality of a jelly glass - just plain and ordinary. But if what you hear is the tinkle of a clear bell sound, then the more beautiful the song the glass "sings," the more exquisite the quality of the piece in your hand.

Lately my life has had some amazing, on-going challenges. I'm finding myself weary in the process of just living. Just getting through the day consumes a huge amount of energy. I feel so like a jelly glass - and a pretty empty one at that! I don't want to be in "thud mode." "Thud mode" is a dead-end street until I consider that being in "thud mode" just might be an opportunity to show what I'm like deep inside.

Like the most beautiful leaded crystal, the process of getting there is somewhat arduous but the result is beautiful. The finest crystal sparkles brightly and may even pick up the rainbow spectrum of light. It "rings” when struck when it's the real thing!

You have the thuds and thumps of life, too: the bottom that falls out of a box, the spilled glass of milk, notice of an IRS audit, flat tires, burnt toast (or, in my case, burnt hard-boiled eggs last week - three of them! Ugh!). These things catch us by surprise and when they pile up, it is easy to be buried. There is a long list of these "thuds" - stalls in traffic, a long line in the grocery store, clean but unfolded clothes, the "tyrrany of the urgent" and the list goes on!

Yesterday a friend stopped by and saw some of my "thuds" - my piles of paper and receipts I was sorting thru and my unfolded clothes. She said she wished her guy could see my stuff as then she might get more of a pass. My pride makes me ashamed to be so behind, but there is comfort in knowing a friend understands because she's been there, too.

Jesus said that it's what's in the heart that matters. He said what we say and do comes from the character of who we are. (Luke 6:45) Thumps and thuds get down to who we really are. They expose the real us, and often the thumps and thuds come so quickly that what we are slips out before we can sqush it back down or whip on our mask.

We can learn from the thumps and thuds of life if we have the courage to ask God to reach deep into our hearts and bring change where it matters most: in heart restoration. Then when the thuds and thumps of life come (AND THEY WILL !), we will know there's purpose to those thuds and thumps putting them to work at prodding you and me to work hard on heart restoration - to let God do His work deeply and surely to build His character into our hearts. THEN - and only then - is there hope for jelly glasses. It's that restoration process that makes the crystal "sing" eventually!

In the world of jelly glasses, there's no hope for change. In people there is always hope of restoration! In people that's how God takes "jelly glasses" and turns them into fine crystal through His process of restoration. God even makes us a promise: All thumps and thuds can work together for our good and God's glory when we seek Him first and love Him deeply from the heart! (my paraphrase of Rom. 8:28)

It's the thumps and thuds along with God's work of restoration that can turn jelly glasses (like me) into works of beauty that sing above all the thumps and thuds. I want to be Waterford crystal not a jelly glass, and I'm a work in process.