Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Many Faces of Disability

I just watched a movie. Actually it was a training film for the 60 or so of us who are training today to be “short term missionaries” at “Joni Camp.” The setting is those pre-flight moments on an airplane.

On one side of the aisle is a man working on his computer (“computer man”). In the three seats across the aisle is a family leaving on vacation: father on the aisle, young daughter in the middle, mother at the window. The “computer guy” tells the attendant that he plans to sleep through any food on the flight.

Then a mother and daughter enter and sit next to “computer man.” The daughter is obviously disabled with some cognitive issues. The mother looks weary and worn. She tries to subdue her daughter to no avail. The daughter is anxiously looking out the window for a glimpse of her loved grandfather who has apparently gone to heaven recently.

The vacationing father asks the attendant for alternate seating. As the dialogue and action progress, it is very apparent that he isn’t asking for his family but for the mother and daughter across the aisle. After several tense conversations with the flight attendant and the vacationing father and then the flight attendant and the disabled girl’s mother, the mother gets up and follows the attendant to the rear to see what seats are available.

While she is gone, the daughter engages the “computer guy.” She is agitated and persistent in pointing out the window and calling out her grandfather’s name. The “computer guy” gently and willingly encourages the girl to move to the middle seat so she can see out the window. When the girl yawns, he allows her to lay her tired head on his shoulder. She falls asleep before her mother returns.

When her mother returns anticipating that they will move to the back of the plane, the “computer guy” shushes her and says, “No, it’s fine. Let her sleep.” The mother looks at him like she’s seen an angel.

The movie ends with the obvious and sad implication that disability comes in obvious in-your-face forms and also in other guises. The father who didn’t want his vacation disturbed could perhaps be seen as defending his own turf/family vacation. But he certainly could never be seen as having a loving, kind heart toward others.

The “lesson” of the film clip is that disability shows up in disguise in disabled hearts when we fail or refuse to consider others better than ourselves as God requires. Only the God Who redeems and restores hearts can give us the kind of love that cares more about others and their needs than we do about our own!

Extreme Make-Over for Heaven's Sake!

I'm not sure - probably not - but it's just possible that if there's a heaven on earth I might have stumbled into it this week. I'm at "Joni Camp" in Murrieta Hot Springs, California. The location for this Joni and Friends Family Retreat is Calvary Chapel Bible College's extremely lovely campus. Last night after we arrived I went to the "Roman Spa" where water from the hot springs flows into a gigantic mosaic-tiled hot tub. O, my goodness! How my sore muscles relished that treat!

The theme for this week of opportunity to serve as a "short term missionary" for Joni Eareckson Tada's ministry through Family Retreats is construction - as in "Extreme Make-Over." Our shirts say simply, "Let's Do It!" - just like the TV show. The verse on the back reads "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13) This is big time stuff - the stuff of eternity! "Joni Camp" this week is all about the stuff of eternity built into individual hearts as God begins or continues his work of restoration one heart at a time.

Joni and Friends Family Retreats is a unique concept bringing willing servant volunteers together with persons and families affected by disability. For five days these special persons and families experience fun and rest under the umbrella of God's love in the hands, feet and care of volunteers (like me). I don't know if there's a "money back" guarantee, but it would be a totally safe offer.

I visited a Family Retreat last summer as an observer. I don't know that I have ever seen more of God's love in action than I did at Spruce Lake in Pennsylvania. I was amazed that so many (30 or more) families affected by disability could gather in one spot and all be "loved on" so well as God touched volunteers and participants alike with His redeeming love.

I remember being nervous last summer - wondering if I "knew" enough to face people with needs I didn't know much about, wondering how in the world this concept of Family Retreats could ever be put into action. What I learned then was that it's not about knowing - it's all about being and loving! It's a five-day living picture of what heaven truly will be like when God takes all of His "forever family" to live with Him. The big difference betweend heaven and now is that all our disabilities (whatever form they may take) will be healed forever in heaven. That's a promise! That's the best and most extreme make-over of all!


Coming from Pittsburgh I am up-close and personally familiar with all kinds of construction. The theme for the Joni and Friends Family Retreat 2008 in Murrieta, CA is "Extreme Make-Over" taking off from the popular TV show on Home and Garden Network. Only this extreme make-over has more to do with hearts than anything else!

For five wonderful days families and individuals are coming to this beautiful spot for rest and refreshment - restoration. For five great days more than sixty "short term missionaries" (one of whom is me) have the incredible privilege of coming alongside one of these families or individuals to serve them. Right now we're all busily making welcome signs for "our" family or person and others are "constructing a house" for a stage backdrop.

Jesus must be looking down from heaven with a smile. He Himself worked in a carpenter's shop when he lived on earth. He is definitely in the business of heart restoration! It will be awesome to participate in God's great work of restoration this week. I expect my own heart to be restored as I serve others. So, "Let's do it!"

Monday, July 21, 2008

California Lutheran University and Laundry

God showed up in the laundry room at CA Lutheran U tonight! Who would think that an "old" lady and a crippled guy doing laundry would encounter two cool black guys also doing laundry? Who would think Jesus might be found in a college dorm laundry room? But Jesus did show up there! There were no hymns or Scripture or sermons - nothing like that!

It's really quite simple - being friendly - getting to know two strangers and being started - by God's grace - in a laundry room. I can't say these two guys know they have encountered Jesus tonight, but they have.

These guys might forget the "old" lady, but I just bet it'll be a long time before they forget the guy on the skateboard talking openly and honestly about being twisted and crippled.

It's obvious these guys are more than a little intrigued with Amos' story of Joni and Friends International Institute of Disability and some of what we've learned this week. They never heard of Joni Eareckson Tada and her ministry's Family
Retreats (“Joni Camp”). But I don’t think they will soon forget their encounter with Amos tonight.

When Amos pulled his body off his skateboard and “hopped” onto one of the dryers I knew this was a “God thing” for these two guys – an encounter planned by God Himself. I watched the guys' faces as Amos talked about how crawling builds upper body strength. They were obviously impressed with such a compelling object lesson right before their eyes.

But, more than that - they were seeing Jesus shining forth in a broken body with a beautiful being-restored heart!

I don't normally expect God to show up in the laundry room - especially in a CA Lutheran U dorm. BUT I know God showed up at CA Lutheran U tonight, and it was a beautiful thing to watch!
(Amos personally approved this blog submission.)

A Being-Restored Heart in a Twisted Body

J. Paul Getty left a legacy of art and architecture. On canvas and in stone he left treasures to wow the world. He made his fortune in the early to mid-20th century amassing billions.

I visited "The Getty" (J. Paul Getty's museum) the other day. It sits high atop a hill in southern California. There are more than five multi-storied buildings to house Getty's collection of rare and beautiful treasures, exotic gardens and waterfalls around the spacious central plaza.

There must be something fundamentally wrong with me because I'm finding a little art, pieces of furniture, manuscript pages, sculpture and pottery go a long way.

One of my companions on this "field trip" is a fabulous young man named Amos. Amos challenges me to my core. Amos is touring "The Getty" on a skateboard today. That's just how he gets around!

When Amos was born, the doc twisted his hips in the birth canal during delivery. The twist broke Amos' back and permanently damaged his spinal cord. Amos' body is twisted from his lower chest down. He cannot walk. He has a different way of sitting. Pretty much the practicalities of living I mostly take for granted are challenges for Amos.

I overheard Amos say: "I'm not handicapped. I'm not disabled. I just have a twisted body."

Amos isn't angry. Amos isn't bitter. Amos knows and loves Jesus! Amos' heart is being restored by God's love and grace! Someday God will untwist Amos' body, too. For now, Amos is just rolling along through life with Jesus! My heart won't be the same after meeting him. Just spending time getting to know him and learning his heart has "blessed my socks off"!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Heart Idols and Restoration

A friend and I sat over lunch recently and talked about idols. It was interesting. We started talking about statues and icons, but then we quickly moved into a discussion of things much more relevant to our own hearts - those idols we have that we don't like to think about.

In the Old Testament (Genesis 31:25ff) there is the story of Rachel (wife of Jacob) who actually hid her idols under her skirts and was willing to lie to protect these hidden idols. My friend and I concluded that we play games with "idols" too and that just about anything or anyone can become so important that they slip out of the right place in our hearts into a distorted place and become an idol.

We talked about how we need each other to help us be accountable. We talked about how much we need God's constant and continued restoration of our hearts to make us aware when our hearts are getting off track.

A few years ago I taught a Bible study on Ecclesiastes. That's the question the author ("Teacher" who may have been King Solomon) ponders all through his writings. What are the things that we chase after that we think will be the final thing that will finally make us happy? It's like chasing a bubble. Just as we reach to grasp it, it bursts and we see what we were chasing so hard wasn't really what we thought.

The message of Ecclesiastes (as is that of all of Scripture) is that only when we find our center, our reason to be in God Himself will we find that life really, really matters. And the only way that's going to happen is for God to do an extreme make-over of our hearts - restoration!


I took a walk down memory lane today. My uncle is writing a book and he wanted me to write some memories about my grandparent's home. Of course, I could probably write my own book about that subject 'cause I do have lots of memories of visits there, but it was fun just thinking and remembering and then trying to put it all down in some semblance of order.

He asked me to write memories of a house, of a property basically. Guess what? I found I couldn't write just about a house and its grounds. That house and those grounds only have meaning as they connect to people I love, things I did and saw.

As I mentally wandered down memory lane from room-to-room in my grandparent's home, every single memory was tied to a person I loved and who loved me. In fact, about ten years ago that same house I remember where my grandparents lived was open for a garden tour. My husband and I went. It wasn't the same! So much had changed as much of their property was sold to make an exclusive residential area filled with other beautiful homes. The house no longer sits on the bank of the James River. There are other houses between "Merry Point" and the James now.

What is wonderful is knowing all the legacy of happy memories I have and all the love I experienced at the spot. Those memories are part of who I am - not because of a house. It was the people and the love we shared that made the difference!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life

In recent memory there are two "block-buster" Christian publications that both morphed into mega-money-making and deliriously successful endeavors as well as spectacular splashes in the "Christian marketplace" and the publishing world in general: The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose Driven Life. Often this kind of spectacular success "ruins" ministry. Success is difficult to handle particularly when it also involves ministry. Unless such success is accompanied by a heart God is continuing to restore there is such a temptation to be proud, arrogant and a host of other heart and character issues.

It may seem upside-down but the reality is that handling "success" God's way is often far more challenging than dealing with adversity. Both success and adversity require seeking God's help in the continuing process of heart restoration! No matter what life brings, we all need Jesus every day in every way!

A friend recently sent me an interview Rick Warren gave which I read with great interest. (Just in case you've been living under a rock somewhere, Rick Warren is the senior pastor of the mega-Saddleback Church in California as well as the author of The Purpose Driven Life.) The interviewer was Paul Bradshaw.

What stood out to me in the interview was that Rick Warren seems to have been challenged since writing his book to put what he wrote into practice. For me the book was interesting but didn't particularly grab my heart. From reading the interview it seems that God has brought circumstances into Rick Warren's life that have grabbed his heart as he has lived both some good and some difficult circumstances since writing his book.

Here are some compelling quotes from the article:
  • the purpose of life is preparation for eternity.
  • Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one or you're getting ready to go into ... one.
  • God is more interested in your character than your comfort.
  • If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, ... one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.
  • God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do. That's why we're called human beings not human doings.
Now here's the clincher: you may think that Rick Warren can say all these things because he is such a raving financial success from his book sales. He's on easy street so he can have such a "positive" attitude. Rick Warren did write a very successful book. But, he is also facing a serious life challenge. His wife Kay has breast cancer. God is giving Rick and Kay Warren an opportunity to shine in the spot-light of their success (from the book) as they demonstrate God's faithfulness in living with adversity.

The truth for us all is that life does have challenges. They may be huge or they may be small. What God is most interested in is how we respond to those challenges. AND the good news is that God is standing ready and willing to give us His strength and His grace to face whatever life brings!

The best news is that no matter what happens in the life of the one who loves and trusts Jesus every day brings God's smile when we walk hand-in-hand with Him!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clueless Before the Gathering Storm

Jesus Talks More About Rightside UP
What in the World is Jesus Talking About?

Our sermon for today is based on Luke 12:54-59. (Each Sunday we have a page for children and anyone else who wants to take it to read. The children's version has pictures and things to do. This is just the text of the page.)

You may find these verses hard to figure out. Well, here’s a little secret: so do I! I wonder if Jesus’ main men and His other followers were scratching their heads and straining their brains, too, when they heard Jesus speak these words:

Then Jesus turned to talk to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’ – and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’ – and you’re right.

[Jesus continued] You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell Me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.

You don’t have to be a genius to understand these things. Just use your common sense, the kind you’d use if, while being taken to court, you decided to settle up with your accuser on the way, knowing that if the case went to the judge you’d probably go to jail and pay every last penny of the fine. That’s the kind of decision I’m asking you to make.
(Luke 12:54-59, The Message)

Let’s see if we can figure out what Jesus is saying to them and us.

Notice that Jesus turns from talking to His main men while the crowd “listened in” to talking directly to the crowd while His disciples listened. The crowd heard Jesus tell His main men (Luke 12:49-53) that He had come to start a fire on the earth (when He sent the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on the heads of the people waiting to be the first Christian church in Acts 2:3) and that He came to earth to change everything, turn everything rightside UP (by dying on the cross and then rising from the dead). Then Jesus said that process of making things change to rightside UP from upside down was going to be hard – that it was even going to cause families to fight against each other. (Luke 12:51 - 53)

Here's the big picture: Jesus was going to die soon. That was the only way for Him to turn things rightside up. It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate that apple (or whatever it was). Ever since, we are all sinners. We are born that way. Our hearts are all messed up. We think, say and do all kinds of bad things because we don’t love God or other people like we should. There is absolutely nothing we can do to FIX our broken hearts – broken by sin. Our world is also broken by sin.

Jesus came to FIX what is broken – turn things rightside up again! One word for what He came to do is RESTORATION. That’s why our church is named A Restoration Church. We want God to fix our hearts and to help us reach out to other people who also need God to fix or restore them.

Jesus is telling them – warning them – that before He makes things better (restores), things are going to get a whole lot worse. He is going to die on the cross. That was a very sad day for all the people who loved Jesus. They thought He was gone forever. They just didn’t understand.

Jesus came back to life three days later on the very first Easter morning. That’s when He turned things rightside up! But that process of restoration in our hearts and in our world is still happening. It’s not over yet! We still need God to do lots of work fixing us up, making us and our world rightside up!

These people in this crowd had Jesus standing right there in front of them but they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand. They didn’t have a clue about what God was doing through Jesus.

Jesus talks in code again. He tells them (and us) that if they see a black cloud in the sky they know a thunderstorm is coming. Duh! That’s not hard.

Actually in Israel there are two kinds of storms: either the hot winds from the desert that bring heat and sandstorms or the clouds from the Mediterranean Sea that bring rain. Jesus says that when we feel a hot wind blowing that we know right away that it’s going to be a hot day.

Then Jesus gives the main message He wants them to understand: “You know how to tell a change in the weather, but you have no clue what God is doing right here right now right in front of your face.” They weren’t even looking to try to figure out what God was doing. Jesus was the Promised Savior. Way back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned, God told them that one day He would send a Savior to take care of the “sin problem.” (Genesis 3:15)

Right here, right now, right in front of their faces Jesus, the Promised One for real, was standing talking to them and they didn’t have a clue! And the saddest thing of all is that many of the people listening to Jesus that day and ever since have missed that He is the Savior because they were/are paying more attention to clouds in the sky or whatever than they were/are trying to find God.

There is something else about sin:
· We all have it. We are all sinners.
· We can’t fix our sin problem. No one can except Jesus.
· We are in big trouble with God until our sin problem gets fixed.
· Jesus is the only “Fix”!

That’s the rest of what these verses are talking about. Jesus tells them if a policeman arrests us and hauls us into court because we owe somebody some money or something, that we would be real interested in “settling up” with the person we owed so we could stay out of jail.

Did you ever play Monopoly? One of the corner squares in Monopoly is “Jail.” One good card to draw is the “Get out of jail free” card.

God punishes sin. We are all sinners so we are going to have to face God about our sin unless Jesus steps in to help us. He’s the only One Who can “fix” things with God. What Jesus did for us is really, really awesome! All we have to do is let Him take our punishment and then love Him because He did! Jesus is the easiest Person to love ever!

Jesus is our “get-out-of-jail-free” Person! God knows we are all sinners! We can’t fool God. God absolutely will not allow us to get away with being sinners and not taking our punishment for all the bad things we have done. The Bible says the punishment for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) That’s even worse than jail – being dead. The only way to get out of trouble with God is to love Jesus and let Him take our punishment for us. That’s what Jesus did when He died on the cross – He took your and my punishment for us!

Jesus calls it “common sense.” (Luke 12:57) What it is is stupid to choose jail (death) when Jesus wants to be our “get-out-of-jail-free” Person, our Savior. You can do that right here, right now. You can ask Jesus to be your Savior. He will take care of your sin problem. Best of all, He will make you a part of God’s forever family!

Jesus is THE KING! These people were about to miss Jesus, the King, the Promised One because they weren’t looking for Him. We don’t want to do that!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Unconditional Love - Anyway and Always!

We had a sleep-over at our house the other night - five-year-old twins and their ten-year-old sister. As part of the bedtime ritual I let the twins select two books they wanted me to read them. One they selected was Dr. Bryan Chappel's I'll Love You Anyway and Always. It's the story of Katy.

Katy waters the plants in the backyard. Her mother tells her to water all the plants except her father's orchid (Do I hear echoes of Genesis 2:15 - 17?). Katy diligently waters all the other plants and then decides that she'll break the "rules" and water the orchid anyway. She thinks she knows more than her mom. She wants to surprise and please her dad.

The orchid dies because it was watered and the watering was too much. Dad walks in the backyard and spies the dying orchid. (More echoes of Genesis 3:8ff?) He asks, "What happened to my orchid?" Katy knows she's busted so she admits watering the orchid.

Later Katy starts to worry, "Daddy, will you still love me?"

Katy's dad answers (Dr. Chappel has a daughter named Katy.), "Because you disobeyed you and I are both sad. But nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you. I'll love you anyway and always."

The rest of the book goes through Biblical history from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham and Sarah to Moses to King David to the birth of God's own Son Jesus. Each page ends on the refrain, "I'll love you anyway and always." Then Katy's dad (as preachers do) goes to preaching. He tells Katy: "Katy, now you know ... why nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you. The way God loves us is the way we should love each other. ... I will love you anyway and always."

Then Katy's little brother Taylor sneaks into her room and eats her chocolate teddy bear. Katy is really mad at Taylor until she remembers what she has learned about God's love from her father's forgiveness for what she did to the orchid. It is then that Katy scoops Taylor up for a big hug and an even bigger assurance of her love, "... I'll love you anyway and always."

Like a tune that runs around and around in my head, that phrase "I'll love you anyway and always" has been making its circle in my head for two days. Only God really, really has that kind of unconditional love that always forgives, but it's the model for the kind of love He wants us to have.

Many, if not most, people we encounter have never known unconditional love either from God or another human. They have been conditioned to believe that they are only loved by their performance so they try harder and harder. Nothing works! They have never heard or understood the Gospel of God's amazing unconditional love. They have never loved or been loved that way.

Jesus said our purpose is to love God first and best and then to model God's love as we show that same unconditional, forgiving, serving love to others! (Mark 12:29-30)

Here's the real deal! Only God loves anyway and always perfectly! Only God can put that kind of "anyway and always" love in our hearts! That's part of God's process of restoration one heart at a time!