Monday, June 30, 2008

"The Most Beautiful Sound" ?

In the musical "West Side Story" the most beautiful sound is a single word "Maria." In the 2008 presidential race one of the presumptive nominees thinks the most beautiful sound in the world is "the Muslim call to prayer."* I can think of lots of other candidates (pun intended) for "most beautiful sound in the world." BUT I can state with absolute certainty that the "most beautiful sound in the world" isn't and never will be the Muslim call to prayer. What I'm really wondering is how a person who thinks the Muslim call to prayer is the most beautiful sound in the world ever got so far down the presumptive presidential path in these United States of America.

The Muslim call to prayer rings out five times a day: at dawn, midday, middle of the afternoon, just after sunset and two hours after sunset in the evening from the minaret of the mosque by the muezzin calling Muslims near and far to "hasten to prayer."

Responding to this call (especially on Friday afternoon) along with going to the mosque to pray and pledging allegiance to Allah are the essential aspects to become a Muslim. By following the Muslim call to prayer the pagan (infidel) can cross over into the house of Islam. The religion of Islam is based on performance: not making a mistake in the word sequence of prayers in the mosque and responding to the call. When the devotee to Islam travels (even into infidel territory), he is to observe these five times of daily prayer to Allah on his prayer rug (which is an essential item to carry in his luggage) facing in the direction of Mecca.

I learned and was challenged by a Mormon friend in college about their two-year missionary assignment for all Mormon youth. (Those are the guys in white shirts, black trousers walking or riding bicycles to contact people and initiate them to the Mormon faith.) Now I am learning some of the dedication of those who follow the Muslim faith - some of which clearly crosses the line into passionate fanaticism. Be it Mormon or Muslim - neither follows the principles upon which our republic was founded. And neither is Biblical Christianity!

To be a real Christian (a member of God's forever family) requires allegiance to Jesus alone as the "Way, the Truth and the Life." Jesus followed those words with: "No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

Believers (those of the restored heart) MUST see these days and these times as colossal opportunities to be both salt and light in a world gone wild! It is the only hope! We can be salt and light with our living, with our loving and even with how we vote. It's not just important. It's absolutely critical!

*Source: Obama: Man of the World written by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, March 6, 2007.

Renewable Resources

The only time I watch TV is to catch the news or see the weather. I don't even watch all the Steeler games start to finish. That's akin to HERESY in Pittsburgh - big time! This morning I turned on the TV to catch the news and caught an ad for Sea World in Orlando, Florida instead. The first line of the ad was "Fun is a renewable resource."

The ad is intended to entice people to Sea World suggesting that Sea World is where great fun and other positive experiences can be had. The "renewable resource" part is geared to suggest "going green" and "taking care of our planet Earth." I'm not a "greenie" but I think we should all take care of the little patch of earth on which we live (that's another whole blog post).

What the ad started me thinking about is other "renewable resources" of far more value than a visit to Sea World. Restoration, forgiveness, grace, mercy, justice are just a few "renewable resources" that come to my mind this Monday morning.
  • What a gift God gives us in that there is no brokenness in life that He cannot heal and restore!
  • What a gift God give us and models for us in that forgiveness is always ready and available from our loving heavenly Father! He also calls us to have a ready store of forgiveness for others. We have - after all - received huge forgiveness so we should be ready and willing to forgive the much smaller offenses that come our way!
  • What a gift God planned for and gives in that His grace (His favor and smile on us that we can never be good enough to earn but can receive as a free gift because of Jesus) comes in abundant supply over and over again!
  • What a gift God gives us in His mercy! We deserve His anger and frown. Instead He gives us His Son to take our punishment (the death for our sin that we deserve to have to take for ourselves). Then His mercy is nenewable from moment to moment every time we stumble, every time we fall, every time we fail. We are all "screw-ups" in God's eyes, and He still loves and gives His mercy in new supply with the dawn of every day.
  • What a gift God gives in his renewable justice! We all have hurts in life. We all want life to be fair. LIfe just isn't fair. That's a given. But the good news is that God extends both mercy and justice. God promises to fight our battles for us if we are part of His forever family! That's good news! He can and will do a much better job. He may be slower to work justice but, be sure, He will. It is His promise! God always keeps His promises!
  • That's another "renewable resource" - God is always faithful! He does what He says He will do all the time and every time! Our hearts can take hope and comfort from knowing that God's restoration, forgiveness, grace, mercy and justice are only a prayer away and often just given even before we know our need!
If you're looking for restoration, forgiveness, grace, mercy and justice - both for your own heart and in your life as you relate to others - then the invitation (from God) is clear: "Come to Me ... I will give you rest"! (Matthew 11:28)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Out on a Limb

I have been known to take lots of risks in my life. One particularly memorable one was the day I went out on a limb.

Our sons made a swing from the huge oak tree in our back yard. It was rigged from high branches by cables and ropes. The person who wanted to swing would harness themselves into a rock-climbing type harness made of webbing, climb a fairly significant distance up the trunk of the tree and be carefully attached to the ropes and cables by a carabiner(s) linked to the harness. The next step in the process was to hold onto the robe attached to higher branches and inch (in my case) out to almost the end of the branch. The most risk then was to have the guts to step off the branch into nothing but air trusting the harness and rope to keep you safe. The fun was the swing! It was awesome!

One summer Sunday evening after youth group, we all gathered in our back yard to swing and watch others swing. All the girls were sitting on the grass a significant distance away watching. Almost all the guys were having a blast taking turns swinging. I wanted the girls to join in the fun. I went over to them and asked, "If I swing, will you?" They looked at me first in stunned silence and then all said, "Yes."

So I confidently went over and announced that I wanted to swing. It really didn't look so hard from the ground. I'm sure my sons must have been amazed, but they helped me into the harness. I climbed the tree which was a feat in itself, stood up and looked at that long limb. I didn't speak and I don't know what shade of white my face was but I know what I thought, "Self, this has GOT to be one of the stupidest things you've EVER done!"

I was trapped. Either I finished the process I had begun or I would "lose face" with the entire youth group AND the girls wouldn't try to swing. My pride wouldn't let me back down so I very tentatively inched in baby steps out the branch. When I finally got to the end of how far the rope would let me go, it was time to step off. Once again I had the same mental conversation with myself. Once again my pride made me gulp, take a deep breath (which I thought might be my last) and step off into mid-air.

It was awesome! I loved the swing! I loved it so much that I actually did it twice! What I would have missed had I not taken the risk! I may die ten years sooner because of the time scared off my life by the experience but I'm so glad I took the risk!

Just this morning I was reading a devotional by Max Lucado - "Your God is a Good God." It talks about taking risks for Jesus. It says "... take great risks for God! The only mistake is not to risk taking one."

Then Max Lucado, in his uniquely creative way, applies this principle to the story Jesus told about the three servants and what they each did with the money their master gave them. (Matthew 25:14-30) Servants #1 and #2 both took the money they were given and invested it and increased it. They took risk. Servant #3 took his money and buried it in a hole in the ground. In his fear of risk and failure, he lost everything. He was unwilling to go out on a limb.

Max Lucado suggests a really thought-provoking contrast between the servants:

Servants #1 & #2 Servant #3

vs. 16 - "went and put his money to work" vs. 18 - "dug and hid ... his ... money"

invested buried

Max Lucado's conclusion is: The first two went out on a limb. The third hugged the trunk.The master wouldn't stand for it. Brace yourself for the force of his response. "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest" (vv. 26--27).Whoa. What just happened? Why the blowtorch? Find the answer in the missing phrase. The master repeated the assessment of the servant, word for word, with one exclusion. Did you note it? "I knew you to be a hard man" (v. 24). The master didn't repeat the description he wouldn't accept.The servant levied a cruel judgment by calling the master a hard man. The servant used the exact word for "hard" that Christ used to describe stiff-necked and stubborn Pharisees (see Matt. 19:8; Acts 7:51). The writer of Hebrews employed the term to beg readers not to harden their hearts (3:8). The one-talent servant called his master stiff-necked, stubborn, and hard. His sin was not mismanagement, but misunderstanding. Was his master hard? He gave multimillion-dollar gifts to undeserving servants; he honored the two-talent worker as much as the five; he stood face to face with both at homecoming and announced before the audiences of heaven and hell, "Well done, good and faithful servant."Was this a hard master? Infinitely good, graciously abundant, yes. But hard? No.The one-talent servant never knew his master. He should have. He lived under his roof and shared his address. He knew his face, his name, but he never knew his master's heart. And, as a result, he broke it. (Your God is A Good God, Max Lucado)

Getting to know the Master's (that would be Jesus) heart? That's what Servant #3 failed to do. He had no clue that the Master was gracious and good. He was stuck in his fear "hugging the trunk."

That is just where I was up that tree. I had the choice: hug the trunk or go out on the limb. What sent me out on the limb wasn't high principles so much as pride but my pride forced me to step off in faith. I took the risk and experienced the thrill! If my fear had won, if I had never taken the risk of inching out on that limb, I would have missed a great adventure.

When we know God's heart, then taking risk isn't so scary. We know God is good all the time no matter how things look or what happens. It's worth the risk for the thrill of building God's kingdom, for the great adventure of loving God and loving others. Beginning A Restoration Church is taking a risk, for sure, but with God in the equation (and we see His fingerprints over and over again), we believe taking the risk (going out on a limb) is going to be an adventure with God that builds His kingdom in amazing ways!

We believe God is good all the time. We believe this is His adventure. We believe His heart is guiding us. We walk in faith - out on the limb and even stepping off into mid-air - because we know He is giving us His heart for the South Hills of Pittsburgh and especially for those who know they are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually broken. We boldly risk holding out our hands of help along with God's love, acceptance, forgiveness and hope!

That's the path to radical heart restoration for us all! It is a risk with a guarantee: God's promise - "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified ... for the Lord your God goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you to never leave us." (Deuteronomy 31:5)!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Weeds, Life and My Heart

Recently I was in Virginia. When I'm there, there are at least two "must" stops: seeing our children and grandchildren and going to Ukrop's. Ukrop's is a wonderful grocery store. When I went there recently, I saw a sign that said something like "Due to circumstances beyond our control we are unable to offer our usual selection of prepared food today." That was exactly what I came for (along with bar-b-que sauce) so I was bummed!

Well, I'm about three months behind in my gardening this summer "due to circumstances beyond my control"! Guess what that means?! WEEDS and more weeds!

We live about 70 feet above a busy highway and our "bank" is quite a challenge to tame even partway down. However, if I start early and stay with it, I can stay ahead of the very aggressive weeds. Not this year! This year the weeds are way ahead of me. Some of them are taller than my head. One of the most prolific is a vine that is multiplying like Jack's beanstalk. Yesterday I was trying to dig some of the vine up. It's a precarious job because I am also standing on a pretty steep bank above that busy highway. I certainly don't want to fall off my bank into the traffic.

I discovered yesterday that this vine has roots bigger than most trees and wherever these roots travel in the soil the vine is popping up. I'm not sure anything short of a big dose of Round-Up is going to do the vine in. The only problem is that Round-Up doesn't discriminate. There are plants and trees on that hillside I don't want to kill.

My struggles with this nasty vine made me think of the story Jesus told about the man who was broadcasting seed. Some of these seed - perfectly good seed - fell among hearty weeds (like my vine). Jesus said the weeds strangled the plants that tried to grow from the good seed.

When Jesus explained what He meant by His story of the seed, He said the seed that fell in the weeds and got strangled were like people who hear the truth of God's Word, who hear the Gospel. Jesus said these people do hear God's truth but then what they heard "is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money and having fun." (Luke 8:7, The Message)

Thus my vine becomes an opportunity to learn (in addition to being a lot of hard work to manage). It reminds me that "worrying about tomorrow, making money and having fun" can get a choke-hold on my heart. Making money and having fun and even preparation for tomorrow are not evil things in and of themselves. The problem is when these things become my focus to the exclusion of what is more important and valuable!

Jesus also said, "... do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. ... where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:22 - 23, 34 - NIV)

Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be standing listening to Jesus that day so long ago? If you knew Him for Who He is, then surely His words would send shivers down your spine! Here is God's greatest Treasure speaking in code, saying, "Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also!" When our hearts treasure Him above all else, then we don't have to worry about food, clothes or even tomorrow. Even when "circumstances are out of our control," He is still on His throne! He is always and forever Jesus, the King!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

George Carlin Dies of Heart Failure

This week (Sunday, June 22nd) the irreverent commedian George Carlin died of heart failure. He wasn't just a funny man with irreverent jokes. He was demonstrably a man with a black heart. He never knew "heart restoration." He died of physical heart failure. I am all but sure that he died of spiritual heart failure as well. His own words condemn him. His story is the story of a life badly lived and sadly died. His words confirm it.

The internet says, "If you love to laugh, you’ll be crying today. George Carlin was one of the few people who could make ponytails on guys look cool." George Carlin was no role model to follow. He was a man on a road to nowhere or worse.

George Carlin needed what he never had - heart restoration. He needed Jesus! I know he didn't want Jesus. He clearly said so. But it's not rocket science to know that George Carlin needed Jesus. We all do! We are all as badly broken as George Carlin was. For us, there is still hope for heart restoration. For George Carlin it's over!

"A Heart That Won't Quit"

"A Heart That Won't Quit"! I stole the title for today's blog post from Joni Eareckson Tada's wonderful devotional Diamonds in the Dust for June 25. I just love this devotional book. I know that I am a daughter of the King of kings. I guess that makes me a diamond, but I don't always feel or act or think like a diamond. That's my bad! Many days I'm a "diamond in the dust."

Just last week I was talking to a new friend at my grandson's birthday party. I happen to know that she thinks my grandchildren are something of a handful. I don't know exactly what she said to me, but my response was, "Well, my grandmother used to say: It's harder to raise race horses than cabbages but then you have a lot more when you get through." My new friend stood in a totally silent pause for some long seconds before she responded, "I never heard that before but it's a great description of what raising some children is all about (or words to that effect) ."

I come from a long line of "race horses" and John and I have perpetuated "race horses" in our children and grandchildren. That's not bragging. It's just the truth! There are many times in each generaton of those "race horses" from stories I've heard about former family generations and from my own life experience when "race horses" presented more as cabbages but underneath beat the heart of a race horse. It's that heart that produces the "race horse" in the end!

I recently read a story from the life of the famous missionary David Livingston. Livingston went to Africa from England in the 1800's. Apparently some friends sent a communication to Livingston offering to send men to help him in his mission. They ended their letter with the question, "Have you found a good road into your area yet?" Livingston's response was: "If you have men who will only come if there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."

That's the heart of a "race horse" Christian! One who will still come and serve "if there is no road at all"! Of course, there is always a "road" but it may be well obscured! God alone may know the way. But His sure promise is to "never leave us or forsake us" (Hebrews 13:5b)! God is even better than Garmin, TomTom or OnStar.

Joni relates how she had to be lifted from her wheelchair and laid on the couch in her office four times in one day due to "shallow breathing and skyrocketing high blood pressure." She honestly shares what she mumbled under her breath, "Where do I go to resign from this stupid paralysis?" I just have a sense that Joni has asked that question before and will ask it again and again. She has a heart that won't quit. Jesus is with her, so she will keep going on in her place "where there is no road at all" until she finally goes to heaven and gets to resign from her paralysis to trade her present body in for one that is brand-spanking new!

God calls us to be willing to walk where there is no road. All He asks is faithful obedience. God calls us to step outside our comfort zones to follow him. God is absolutely in the business of stretching our faith especially when we walk where we cannot see a path. It is only on that path, pursuing that adventure of obedience that I (and we) plumb the depths of God's faithfulness!

I don't know what this adventure of obedience looks like for you. I'm too busy discovering what it looks like for me. It's risky to walk "by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7)! It is on that often "invisible" road that God gets the total glory for what He is doing in my heart and in my world! We have to go to the place of KNOWING we can't go there on our own for Him to get the glory!

Joni knows that. When she gets out of her wheelchair, someone has to lift her. She can't do it on her own. When I walk with Jesus today to some place outside my comfort zone or when you do the same, we can do so only because God has given us hearts for Him and hearts for a broken world around us - hearts that won't quit until Jesus comes back!

"Lord, give me a heart today that won't quit - a heart that knows I can't live this day on my own - a heart that follows You even where there is no path!"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another Lesson Learned From Grandchildren - Fond Memories and Happy Hearts

My grandchildren absolutely love to have tea parties when they come to visit. Sometimes we do simple. Other times not. We have "tea partied" on a quilt in the back yard with juice and cookies. We have dressed up as prince and princesses and brought out the bunny tea set and really "tea partied" hearty. Sometimes we invite a guest to join us. Sometimes not.

Last week when Matthew, Abby and Clara were here we had a tea party. We invited "Miss Sarah." We had china cups painted with roses filled with tea or apple juice. We had miniture vanilla wafers and strawberries.

Then after Matthew, Abby and Clara went home I noticed how the dollhouse was set up. Very carefully five people were placed around the dining room table (just like we were) with a tea set and other goodies on the table. All the chairs were drawn closely together. It took me several "looks" to understand. They were freezing a moment of special memory! They left the dollhouse dolls at a perpetual tea party.

I knew they really like tea parties, but now I know that tea parties touch their hearts. It's a special memory. I expect that when I am older and grayer and they are all grown up with boys and girls of their own that they will perpetuate the tea party tradition. Tea parties make them heart happy!

Sometimes it's the most simple things that reach our hearts and recall memories of long ago to make our hearts smile as we remember. In our families, in our homes, in our churches we need to intentionally build heart memories. They are the bonds that tie us together in love and make happy hearts!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lessons Learned From Grandchildren - Gratitude

There are three particular little people in my life who have been visiting me recently. It is interesting what I learn from them. It is easy to see things they still need to learn about life, but what surprises me is what I learn about life from them.

My grandson had a birthday party Thursday. I think he had about 20 friends who joined him for minature golf, cake and fun. Each child invited was a special someone to Matthew. The most interesting thing to me was watching Matthew open his gifts. It started with singing "Happy Birthday." All those kids and a number of adults sang, and I watched Matthew's face. From where I was standing I had a ringside seat. He grinned. He rolled his eyes. He was totally estatic! It was so fun to watch!

Then when he started opening the gifts, I was amazed. Matthew has enough toys to stock a good toy store so even finding something he doesn't already have is challenging. However, every single gift was received with such absolute and obvious joy and gratitude!

That's the part I am holding in my heart to keep - those "pictures" to remember. We should all have such appreciation and joy and gratitude. LIke Matthew, our gratitude should just bust out all over our faces from our hearts! It is a beautiful thing!

Gratitude has to come from deep in the heart. To prepare one's heart for gratitude, perhaps it's a little like what happened to Matthew. First his heart bloomed with the joy of feeling very loved as everyone sang "Happy Birthday." It was love that brought him to gratitude. His gratitude was a beautiful gift to my heart. I want to walk through this day with the same kind of gleeful abandon and joyous gratitude!

When the ancient poet wrote "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Ps. 118:24), he wasn't speaking about a particular (or special) day. He was talking about any and every day - living with the attitude of gratitude! This attitude of gratitude can only come from a heart in the process of restoration. Only the Great Restorer of hearts can do that! And God's heart restoration process starts with His love: "... God has poured out His love into our hearts ... " (Romans 5:5)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making Memories To Last Forever

I haven't had a chance to post in almost a week. In case anyone out there misses my blog, I'll be back. In addition to the rest of living, I've been making memories with my grandchildren. These moments are too precious to waste. Once the opportunity of this day or yesterday or tomorrow is gone, it won't ever come again.

My grandchildren are growing up quickly. Chances to do things together, to go places, to read and to play make memories that will last forever. I know because I can still remember my grandmother's smell (a good thing) when she would lie down with me to coax me to take an afternoon nap.

My grandson will never have another nine-year-old birthday party. The one tomorrow is the only one he'll ever have.

Yesterday afternoon I walked in my front yard and saw so many weeds in my flower beds I was horrified, but those weeds will only grow stronger for a few more days. Meanwhile I'm investing in hearts and memories! I'll be back soon!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Child-Proof Medicine Caps

My husband has had his left arm in a sling for about a month following surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. His sling wasn't one-of-a-kind, but it was certainly "the mother of all slings" I've ever seen. The object was to keep his left shoulder as immobile as possible for initial healing.

At the same time, he was dealing with significant pain. It just isn't possible to open a child-proof cap with one hand - or at least for an adult to do so. My grandchildren might could defeat the child-proof cap with one hand, but certainly no adult can.

I seem to encounter a lot of things that are difficult to open. Take the packaging for toys made in Asia and shipped to the USA. They are so encased in molded plastic and twist-tied to their backing that it takes heavy duty clippers (and even small explosives) to open some of them. I guess they are child-proofed, too!

And then this morning I encountered the almost bomb-proof packaging for our black lab's flea and tick medicine. It's a bear to open taking both tools and brawn!

There's a life parallel here, I think. In a sense, life comes packaged. Life comes packaged in various "protective wrappings.". We struggle to get past the wrappings. Jesus made a promise in John 10:10: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full(est possible measure)." We want life to be as good as it can get. We want to skip over the hard parts of life and just get to the fun, easy part of living.

There is a way to living life in full measure. It's God's way! He alone has the code. He is ready and willing to help get past the packaging or untwist the cap, but He waits for us to give up and turn things over to Him. The Frank Sinatra code: "I did it my way" doesn't work.

Paul said, "... God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Cor. 9:8, NIV) That's a pretty awesome description of what life can and should be!

We simply have to hand over the "bottle" or the "package" (which is our life) - give it up to Him! That's when He begins the work of restoration. That's when he takes my hard heart I hand Him and He restores it to be a living, breathing work of His grace for all the world to see! The only thing holding up the process is my holding onto my life with my grubby little fists rather than giving it over to the One Who fixes broken things and makes everything new - the great God of restoration!

There's a wonderful chorus we sing at A Restoration Church written by Keith Green:

My eyes are dry. My faith is old.
My heart is hard. My prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be: Alive to You and dead to me.
But what can be done for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine.
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love.
Please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood.

That's what restoration looks like: new tears for dry eyes, new living faith for hard hearts, warm prayers instead of cold and coming alive to God and His Spirit, washed in the wine of His blood!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hot and Thirsty!

This morning a local Pittsburgh TV channel showed workers trying to fix a water main break and residents lining up to get water from "water buffalos" brought in by their township. I didn't get details so I "Googled" - "Pittsburgh residents without water" - and found that at least four different areas in and around the city are without water due to water main breaks. The particular area I saw on TV apparently has not had water for eight days and can expect two more days or more without water.

So I guess the conclusion is that Pittsburgh is a hot and thirsty city - at least in some parts. In Manorville, (according to one news article I found) Nancy Pierce can see gallons and gallons of water from her home. She lives facing the Allegheny River. But the water in the river isn't safe to drink. It is sort of like the words spoken by the Ancient Mariner (written by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge): "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink." Almost every news story I read emphasized the necessity of boiling water for the residents of areas effected by the water shortages.

Especially in hot weather, the human body craves water. Our bodies scream to us that we need to rehydrate.

Jesus Himself craved water one hot day. John 4 describes Jesus' encounter with a woman at a well where he sat down to rest. The woman came alone in the heat of the day (at noon) to draw water. She was a pariah in her village because of the wild life she chose to live - had lived with five husbands and was now living with a man she wasn't married to. (The Bible is such an honest book!) She didn't come when the other women did. She didn't want to face their stares, cold shoulders and jeers. So, she came alone.

Jesus asked her for a drink. Just the simple request for water started a conversation that changed her life forever. Jesus knew that she needed far more than water for her body. Her heart needed the "Living Water" which He is! Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water (the water from the well) will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst - not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life." (The Message, vs. 13 - 14))

The woman at the well got water for both her body and her heart that hot awesome day when she met Jesus. Her life and heart were changed forever. And her story changed her entire village!

Jeremiah 2:13 describes the other response to being heart thirsty: "My people have committed a compound sin: they've walked out on Me, the Fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns - cisterns that leak (are broken), cisterns that are no better than sieves." (The Message)

The thirsty people in Pittsburgh don't have water due to a broken water main (a broken cistern). They are isolated to a few areas in the city. But all across this city people are heart thirsty. They desperately need God's "water of life." It's the only way to get a restored heart (and cure heart thirst)!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

23,010 Mornings and Counting

Today is my parents' 64th wedding anniversary. That means (except for the year or so they spent apart while my father served his country as captain of a US Navy ship during WW2) that they have gone to bed and waked up approximately 23,010 times and counting. They still - after all these days and years - go up the stairs to their room each evening together. They may not always get up at the same time, but they always disappear to bed at approximately the same time.

Last night when I spoke with them they were planning to do their traditional wedding anniversary thing of driving up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, having lunch and "taking a hike." They are both 87. I was thinking about that hike a little while ago. I don't think I plan to be hiking (especially on a hot June day in North Carolina) when I'm 67 much less 87.

Their love affair has brought six children, 21 grandchildren and 12 plus great-grandchildren so far. Their love has lasted through good times and tough times. My father has always described my mother as "the most beautiful woman in the world" and I'm confident that she is exactly that to his eyes! He still opens doors for her and carries things like groceries in for her.

One day I was talking to them on the phone from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. My mother said she had to go get ready to go to her water aerobics class. All of a sudden I realized I was talking and no one was on the other end. Mother had gone to get ready for her class, and my dad immediately put the phone down and went out to start the car for her. Never mind that I was talking on the phone to them!

They met almost 72 years ago on a hot summer afternoon near where they now live. My dad was at the Naval Academy, and my mother was a counselor at a Christian camp. Daddy stood looking over "the girls" with his cousin. He picked out the girl in the green checked skirt as the one he wanted to meet. And, as they say, the rest is history!

What in the world does this story - sweet as it is - have to do with A Restoration Church? Well, a lot because, you see, my parents know what God's restoring love and grace is in their own hearts. They model His love and grace in living color to all who know them. When I think of my parents and their years together, I can't help but also think of the words Steve Green sings in "Find Us Faithful":

We're pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift though all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

What an awesome legacy! It's one restoration heart leading the way and modeling the way for others! It is family love and bonds that show our broken world just what family needs to be!

Monday, June 9, 2008

We Live in a Very Broken World!

How can a 7-year-old girl take a 10-month-old baby and "throw" her on the concrete floor not just once but at least twice killing the baby? What a horror! The answer in a sentence is that we live in a very, very broken world! People do dastardly things to themselves and each other. Sometimes the consequences are too terrible to contemplate.

This particular "news item" happened in my city. Pittsburgh is no more or less broken than any other place on earth. We are all broken. As some say ("Pittsburghese"), we all need fixed. Sin has broken us all. We are born broken and only get more broken as we live life unless God shows up. Only God can fix the broken places to make us stronger where we are broken.

This 7-year-old little girl might have thought in her child's mind that she would only shut the baby (Marcia Poston) up or perhaps she was angry and acted out. Whatever the reason, brokenness caused the problem and brokenness follows in grief and pain that will last for a lifetime.

A Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh wants to be a vehicle of God's restoring love, light and grace in our broken world. God is bringing us together to love Him more and to love each other more as we demonstrate to a watching world that God is all about restoration!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hartford, Have a Heart!

Stunning surveillance video of a street in Hartford, Connecticut from the evening of May 30th shows 78-year-old Angel Torres stepping out to cross a street when suddenly two vehicles came out of "nowhere" and hit Torres tossing him in the air like a rag doll. The two vehicles were driving in a reckless manner including running a red light and driving on the wrong side of the road. Neither vehicle stopped. The video is so heart-stopping because it continues after the hit-and-run accident. Torres lies in the street obviously broken. Cars pass. Trucks pass. One dump truck even pauses briefly and then drives on. People step out of buildings to look, but no one approaches Torres.

FINALLY a police car arrives on the scene! Apparently three 911 calls were placed by by-standers, but NO ONE rushed to Torres' aid until the police arrived. As of yesterday, Torres was in critical condition, fighting for his life and paralyzed from the neck down.

What captured my attention wasn't that Torres was struck or even that the culprit hit and ran though that is a significant issue. What stopped me in my tracks to watch the video is what happened next: NO ONE did anything. It wasn't that no one saw. The video is clear that many someones either drove past or walked near, some even pausing for significant periods of time to gawk but no one helped beyond a 911 call.

The "deja vu" of this event is, of course, Luke 10:25 - 37: the story of the good Samaritan Jesus told. Jesus told this particular parable (a story about common, everyday experience to teach God's truth) to answer two questions:

  • How can I get into God's forever family?
  • Who exactly is "my neighbor"?

Jesus answered the question: "How can I get into God's forever family?" by drawing a legal respnse from the questioner. Jesus throws another question back in response: "What does the Law say?" The answer comes back (directly quoting from the Jewish Law - Deuteronomy 6:5) "Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence ... and love your neighbor as well as you do yourself." (vs. 27)

Then the dialogue gets really interesting. Jesus responds, "Good answer! Do it and you'll live." The next sentence reveals the questioner's heart, "Looking for a loophole, he asked, 'And just how would you define neighbor?' " Jesus' answer to that question is the story of the good Samaritan. Remember what happened? It is eerily a precursor to this incident in Hartford, CT!

A man walking on a road (like Angel Torres) is struck by robbers and left for dead. At least two men passed by and intentionally crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid getting too close to the injured man. To make matters worse, these two men were both religious types.

Finally a man came along who was actually a social outcast. He stopped, rendered aid, took the injured man to a place for long-term care and even paid for it all (present and future expenses).

Then Jesus presses his point to the questioner: "What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked ... ? ... Go and do the same." (Scripture quotes taken from or suggested by The Message.)

What was it about that man from Samaria? What is it about the people who passed by in Hartford? It is a matter of heart. The condition of the heart makes all the difference! To callously look suffering in the face and do nothing has eternal consequences! It ranks right up next to loving God to carefully love our neighbor well!

It is easy to pontificate - Hartford, have a heart! It's much harder to apply these principles where you and I live. It may even be costly in time, energy, commitment and expense. But it's not only the right thing, it's the main thing! It's God's thing, and He stands willing and ready to work such restoration in our hearts until we are ready to love our neighbor well!

Friday, June 6, 2008

God's Heart

At a Restoration Church gathering here in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, we are committed to having God's heart for the South Hills and beyond. Joni Eareckson Tadi challenged my understanding of what this means in her succinct devotional for June 5 (Diamonds in the Dust) on the "Heart of Jesus."

She reflects on the various healings Jesus did while He walked this earth. She ponders what He was thinking and feeling when He told the paralyzed man to "take up his bed and walk" or when He spit on blind eyes to bring sight and myriad other encounters with people who struggled with some disability. Joni rejects the notion that Jesus did all these wonderful miracles ONLY to prove His power and authority as the Messiah of God. These wondrous signs did indeed prove Jesus' power over death and life. But they also reveal God's heart.

Joni writes, "Christ did not use helpless people to advance His own agenda. He did not enlist hurting men and women only as audio-visual aids to teach an important lesson about Himself. "

People who struggle with "a different way of being" in whatever form: autistic, blind, deaf, epileptic, lame, missing a vital chromosome or even paralyzed (among many other issues) do so as part of the effects of sin not on necessarily on that particular individual but inbred into the human race because of sin. But there is another aspect to suffering. Suffering is a part of God's plan.

I was struck with this truth years ago when I read the wonderful little book Don't Waste Your Sorrows. The author points out that suffering in and of itself is not necessarily related to sin because suffering is a part of the nature of God Himself. God Himself anguishes over His children. God Himself sent His one and only Son to die on a cross all for His larger plan. And in all this suffering, God's plan is always to show His great mercy, grace and love at the point of our greatest need.

It is mind-boggling that God would want to have a relationship with His creature especially when we are such dolts and so unfaithful, but He does. And because He does, He reaches out to us at exactly that particular point of our greatest need to show His love and strength.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says it well, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. ... "

Joni ends her devotional with this prayer, "Lord, may I never doubt what's on Your mind and heart when I suffer. You are full of love and compassion. Thank You for only permitting in my life what I am able to endure with Your grace. Bless You for Your unfailing love." For a woman who has spent over 40 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, that's pretty powerful! The beauty of her faith and her appreciation for God's love for her even with the body she has that daily reminds her of her need for God's restoration now and in the world to come challenges my heart to model God's heart in my world - the South Hills of Pittsburgh!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins Lose Quest for Stanley Cup

Front page, above the fold of today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a very sad picture. It features Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin kneeling on the ice in front of the ice-encased image of the Stanley Cup and the words "Stanley Cup Final." The sub-headline declares "The final fury ends ...!

No one likes to lose unless there is something terribly skewed in their psyche. Losing is never fun. Losing always hurts.

Yesterday I heard Lanny Davis - attorney and former White House counsel to former President Bill Clinton and now STRONG Hillary for President supporter - talking about Hillary's apparently failed run for the White House. He said that neither she nor her supporters were emotionally ready for her to concede at this point in time. Now that is skewed! She lost. The fair rules of winning and losing require sportsmanship and character enough to be a good loser as well as a gracious victor.

Back to the Stanley Cup finals, I have to confess that I didn't see either the game last night (unless a few seconds here and there count) nor the nail-biter Monday night when the Penguins pulled off a win by one in the third overtime (unless a few mintues seated on the couch count). (Sometimes a girl has to do what she has to do which was sleep in my case!) The picture of Penguin Malkin on the ice is a classic study in dejection and disappointment.

We all lose. We may also have some wins along the way. Losing is a big learner! Losing teaches emotional strength and builds character. Paul the Apostle talks to the Corinthian church about not "losing heart." (2 Cor. 4:1) He is talking about faithful, plucky obedience even when we lose! He is talking about how our heart focus matters in the wins and losses of life. He is talking about winning well and losing with grace. He is talking about getting up to try and try again. We have to do that. Hillary has to do that. The Penguins have to do that. And we will all learn and sharpen our strength and character in the painful process of "not losing heart"!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Korean Bananas and Jesus

My friend from China is moving to North Carolina from Pittsburgh. She is in the flurry of packing boxes galore. She told me this morning that she realized she has nine sets of china. Each piece needs to be packed with care. That's a LOT of pieces!

Then she told me about Korean bananas. She said there's a Korean saying: "Koreans always eat bad bananas." She explained that they always eat the most ripe bananas first. While they are eating over-ripe bananas, the others are also becoming over-ripe.

She applied the "Korean bananas" to her packing. She said she has been saving some of her china sets for something special rather than using them in the fear that some might be broken. She said, "I'm going to start using all my china and just enjoy it. What's the point of just leaving it on the shelf safe when life is so short?"

Jesus said something very similar and even more practical: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19 - 21)

It is a matter of perspective. Is our frame of reference here and now? OR do our eyes focus heavenward while we walk through life? Where and what do we treasure?

It becomes a matter of the heart. Simply put, "where your treasure is is where your heart is, too"!

If this world isn't our final destination, if we are just "passing through" on our way to God's Town (heaven), if we are really citizens (ultimately) of heaven - then our focus changes, our treasures change, our values are restored to where they should be! Jesus said it, "... where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Learning to treasure the right things is a process of restoration. It's not where our hearts naturally go! Our sinner hearts long to heap up treasures on this earth. When God begins His restoration in our hearts, then what we treasure changes. We can walk through life without all the "baggage" of stuff that makes us so weary and leaves us so empty. We may still have nine sets of china or whatever (tools, computer gadgets, whatever you value and stockpile) but we see those "treasures" differently.

Koreans don't have to eat bad bananas. The solution to eating bad bananas is making better choices. We don't have to hang onto all the stuff we accumulate and call treasure. We have to make better choices. In the end, it's the condition of our hearts that matters most!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Porky Pig's Gospel

Porky Pig's Gospel? This past Sunday the sermon at a Restoration Church was on the text: Romans 14:8 - 9. The main points were:
  • PPP-urpose
  • PPP- eace
  • PPP-erspective
Are you starting to get why it should have been titled "Porky Pig's Gospel"?

Remember how Porky just couldn't say his "PPPP's"? He stuttered. Well, there was no stuttering Sunday. It was totally clear!

The PPP-urpose of the Gospel is to bring us from death to life! We are dead spiritually unless God's Spirit gives our dead spirit life.

The PPP-eace of the Gospel is that through the Gospel (God's good news: He sent Jesus to take our place of punishment on the cross) we find peace with God. Our sin pits us against God and makes God and us at extreme odds - enemies. Jesus brings us peace because He lived a perfect life, died in our place and then came back to life again on that first Easter morning. Jesus proved His power over both life and death.

The PPP-erspective of the Gospel is that our view of both life and death is turned upside down. We see living as coming first before dying. That's the view from earth. Vs. 9 of Romans 14 turns life first followed by death upside down: "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living." Get the upside-down part? Vs. 8 describes the order from our perspective: "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Jesus' perfect life and death demonstrate in "living color" that real life has to come AFTER death or it's not really life at all - rather only a process to death.

Jesus makes it possible for us to live eternally as sons and daughters in God's forever family! And "Th-th-th-that's all folks!"

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Hide 'n Seek" isn't Always a Game!

Did you know the Bible talks a lot about playing "hide 'n seek"? It's always a deadly game, however. Jeremiah 3 is one place we find a game of "hide 'n seek" in the Bible:

God: "Come back, wandering children!" (3:14) (from The Message)

God's Children (Israel then, us now): "We're here! We've come back to you. ... " (3:22)

A couple of blog submissions back ("Cinderella Gone"), I described briefly some of what happened the night I ran over my 6-year-old son. There is a "hide 'n seek" aspect to his story. We had shared supper with friends. It was time to go home. We began to call our sons. One came; the other didn't. We looked and called all over the house and yard. Finally I said I'd take son #1 home and start the bedtime routine while dad stayed to look for son #2.

I got in my car (parked at the curb on the street) and backed up. My friend started screaming. I jumped out of the car and couldn't believe what I saw. My son was under the back tire of the car. The tire was on top of him. He was lying face down in the dirt and leaves that had collected at the curb. I jumped back into the car and pulled forward. This is the scariest part of all! Fortunately he was unconscious. If he had moved the slightest bit, I could have driven over his head when I pulled forward. However, getting the car off him quickly probably saved his life.

(That same week in our town a mail person got out of her car and it rolled back on her. Her rescuers waited until enough men came to lift the car off her. By then she was dead. The news account "Preacher's wife runs over son" was on the front page of the paper along with the article about the mail person.)

The truth is that my young son was playing a deadly game of hide 'n seek. He didn't want to come when we called. He wanted to stay and play with his friend. So he chose a very risky hiding place - crouched behind my car.

When my son regained consciousness - still lying in the street but turned very carefully face up by our doctor friend - his first words were chilling, "Daddy, I'm gonna die. Please don't let me die." and later "That car was really heavy." I can smile at the irony now, but then it far too desperate for a smile. I too thought he might die.

Like Israel (and me) in Jeremiah 3, my son intended to hide. He chose not to come when we called. In his six-year-old mind the goal was to stay and play with his friend. He was simply playing a deadly game of hide 'n seek.

How many times in life am I like my young son? In reading and reflecting on the game of hide 'n seek described in Jeremiah 3, I have to admit that I'm often the one who is hiding. I'm the one who chooses not to come when I'm called. I foolishly think that no one knows or sees my new hiding place. I ignore the danger of my bad choices. I sometimes ignore my Father's voice when He calls this wandering child to come. I contemplate times in life when I was lost and didn't even know it. I wonder how many times in my life God has come calling and seeking when I was "hiding" in a dangerous place but had no clue that danger lurks.

We all lose our way. We all make bad choices. We all pick hiding places that are dangerously ingenious but deadly.

What’s important is not that we “goof up” but how we respond when we do! Do we know to cry, “Here I am, Daddy! Help me out of this place!” OR do we foolishly and stubbornly try to find our own answers to life’s questions and solve life’s problems all by ourselves? When God comes calling (the Seeker), do I (or you) stay crouched in hiding?

All it takes to reverse this “game” we play with ourselves and God is for us to call to Him, “Here! I’m right here, Father! I don’t want to hide anymore!”

I saw my own heart in the words of the ancient prophet Jeremiah this morning. I am the one in desperate need of being found and rescued by my Father, The King. I choose foolish things and places that I think are safe. This morning I know my Father is calling and seeking. My Father – The King – is so willing to seek me anytime anywhere in any corner of the world. He even sent His Son to die in my place so real restoration for this old heart of mine that chooses to hide when He’s seeking is possible!

A favorite verse is 2 Chronicles 16:9: “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. ...” Do you get the picture? God is seeking. He wants to scoop you and me up in His arms and say, “I’m so glad I found you!” Being found is just the best!