Saturday, August 23, 2008

“One, Two, Threeee … “

It is every Mother’s mantra at some point of frustration! It’s a feeble attempt to coerce a recalcitrant child to action even if it works. How much better to somehow build into a child’s heart the desire to come, to obey right away.

My father is a Navy man. He expected obedience (almost with military precision). My siblings and I respected our parents in a huge way. We wanted to obey more than we didn’t.

My dad’s principle for parent/child instruction/response veered close to Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s discription in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.

(With apologies to Tennyson) I think my dad’s version is closer to:

Theirs* not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or (risk) die.
Into the valley of Life rode the six Robesons.

(*as in his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren
Note: This is not threat nor inappropriate punishment – No, never think that! He just instructed us that instant obedience was very important because it could mean the difference between being safe and being caught up in danger.)

Take a gander at Luke 14:12-24. Three times Jesus repeats:

“… invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (vs. 13-14a)

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (Luke 14:21)
“Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be full.” (Luke 14:23)

I’m guessing Jesus has a parental perspective here. He wants recalcitrant children like you and me to obey! It is important for our sakes. It is crucial for the sake of the Kingdom!

Like the six Robeson children who wanted to obey more than not out of love and respect, we should want to obey Jesus because it’s the right thing to do. We obey Jesus because we love Him. It is good for our own hearts. It’s the way to build God’s kingdom!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That Good Ole' Comfort Zone!

Comfort Zone? It's that place where most of us like to hang out. It's also that place it's very easy to get "creeped out" when we have to leave.

While I drank my coffee this AM, I turned on a brief glimpse of the news. There was no "news" except for the storm named Fay, but a guy (who shall remain nameless or you'd figure out which news outlet I watch) was interviewing Howard Wolfson.

Howard Wolfson was Communications Director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Mr. Wolfson was asked about a certain presidential candidate. It was interesting. O, not what he said. That was pretty much the same old, same old. What was interesting was the clear tension on his face and around his jaw. He was in a tight spot and being asked tough questions and he didn't like it.

All of a sudden the interviewer - quite unexpectedly - asked Mr. Wolfson, "Before you go, tell us your favorite video game of all time." It was amazing! After a startled second or two, all those tense muscles relaxed. Mr. Wolfson broke into a genuine smile, reached far into his sixth grade past and answered, "Galactica."

It was an interesting, totally disarming moment. But it was more, it was a classic illustration of comfort zones. We all have them. We all like to be in them. It is where we are most comfortable.

Comfort zones are great places to kick back and relax, but they are not places to get stuck. Pushing myself out of that good ole' comfort zone is something I practice regularly. It's a good thing to do.

At A Restoration Church we are pushing ourselves well out of our comfort zones with our focus to reach out to persons and families affected by disability with the love and hope of the Gospel. If you are willing to push into pioneer territory, come along. We'd love to "hang out with you"!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Character and Conduct

It seems like a no-brainer - character and conduct! The two should go together like peanut butter and jelly or like green eggs and ham - especially in presidential candidates and actually in all who aspire to lead.

In our post-modern world, we have taken a turn in the road from objective to subjective, from absolute to relative, from truth to whatever works for you and on and on. We have also taken a turn away from foundationally knowing that character matters. We hear and even say or think that a person's private life (even public figures like presidents) is what they do on their own time and is nobody's business. Thus the wedge between character and conduct begins to widen.

Character determines conduct or should! Character is who a person is in the bedrock of their soul. Character is who and person is and what a person does when no one but God is looking. Character is built and developed. Character determines our values and thus guides our actions. Character matters! So does conduct.

The problem is that we (the world of 2008) have divorced the two - character and conduct - so that we minimize the value of character and shut our eyes to conduct that comes from flawed or missing character. After all, if we examine the relationship of character to conduct too closely, then accountibility follows. And accountibility is fundamentally scary!

There is another problem: we demand perfection as in "no dirty laundry" in public figures - at least the ones who don't follow our philosophical base and we tolerate almost anything when the public figure is doing what we champion.

This is twisted thinking and practice! The business of restored hearts demands by very definition that something is wrong and needs restoration. Builders don't restore brand-new houses. There's no need. What God calls us to is restoration, grace, mercy and justice. (Micah 6:8)

The fact is that all our character is flawed and damaged by sin. We are born that way.

It is only in the process of restoration through the truths of the Gospel that God builds His character deeply into our souls. From the inside out we begin to reflect His character and truth rather than the twisted character and lies which constitute who we are from birth because of sin.

God's process of heart restoration is all about His buildling His character - even infusing His character - as He scrapes away all the bad stuff and replaces it with the new. That's what restoration is - getting rid of the old and broken and replacing it with new. God is the Great Restorer!

God knows and cares about character and conduct. God also knows that repentance (followed by forgiveness) is possible and restoration is real when the Gospel begins to work its way into one heart at a time!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Follow-Up on Saddleback Forum

Rick Warren and Saddleback Church took their risk last night. I don't know that I have ever seen a more fair, even-handed "forum."

Rick Warren had exactly the same pleasant, affirming manner toward both candidates: Barak Obama and John McCain. Rick Warren asked each in exactly the same manner the very same questions. The only exception is that John McCain fielded his questions a bit more crisply than did Obama so there were time for a few additional questions for Sen. McCain.

Watching the people and pastor of Saddleback Church, I was struck with the civility and true Christian spirit that permeated the atmosphere. Rick Warren was probing the beliefs and character of both presidential candidates last night. In doing so, he revealed a lot about his own faith and character qualities. The people of Saddleback (judging from the applause) aren't all going to robotically vote for one or the other of the candidates. There seemed to be a significant number of supporters for each in the audience yet they all behaved in a manner that honored God.

I think we saw a blazing illustration last night of where the church needs to be in society. There was no raging rhetoric last night. There was no discourtesy. There was respect and fairness - in my view - all the way around.

When our brothers and sisters (like those at Saddleback Church) show their faith is such a dramatic way, we should applaud them and give glory to God that His church is finally acting like it should at least in that corner of southern California! My guess is that God is working in and among the members and friends of Saddleback Church. My guess is also that God showed up last night and was pleased with what He saw.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Separation of Church and State?

Separation of church and state? It's a hot button topic for sure.

Recently I took a 3-week internship at the Christian Institute on Disability in California. One question I heard asked by several lecturers talking about bioethics and other current issues related to disability is "Where was the church?" "Where is the church?"

I'm not sure the church has ever played a more prominent role in a presidential election - certainly not since John Kennedy ran for president as the first Roman Catholic. In this presidential election cycle most prominent have been the sermons and rhetoric of Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Chicago, Obama's former pastor.

Tonight Pastor Rick Warren - known world-wide for his book The Purpose Driven Life - is going to interview both Barak Obama and John McCain. Some may say "the church" should not step into the arena of presidential politics. But if Christians are going to do what Jesus said - be salt and light in a very sick world - then we need to know who the presidential candidates are and what they believe so we know where they are grounded. Rick Warren may or may not be up to such an awesome assignment, but - at least - he is taking the risk.

And that's where the church (which is ALL who have hearts being restored by the grace, love and power of God's Gospel) should be - in the arena and on the cutting edge of what some have called "societal evolution." If we don't risk to make a difference, who will?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fit for the King

I have a recipe called "Cabbage Fit for a King." It's pretty good with cheese, cabbage, sausage and tomatoes. It's a great dish on cold winter evenings that is delicious enough to serve for company or take to a special dinner.

This morning I was reading Joni Eareckson Tada's devotional from her book Pearls of Great Price*. (I received a copy of that book when I was out at Joni Headquarters this summer. It's even personally signed by Joni.) Joni's devotional today has to do with being "ripe for the Kingdom" related to bananas. I could totally track with her description of how she buys bananas. I too buy green bananas. Unlike Joni, I can't stand bananas but other people here like them so I buy them green. I too don't consider them fit for human consumption after they turn all mushy with lots of spots - yuck!

Joni relates the statement about the Scottish Covenanter pastor Richard Cameron who was martyred in 1680 for the bold stand he took against the earthly king of England in defense of his loyalty to the heavenly King of Kings. The statement was that Richard Cameron was "ripe for glory" (aka: "fit for the King"). Cameron and his small band of warriors against the crown fround themselves faced by a far superior force. They were quickly overrun. Cameron prayed just before the final battle that ended his life, "Lord, spare the green and take the ripe." (Apparently Cameron believed God "shops" similarly to how I choose bananas.)

One thing I learned when my dear brother Ed went to heaven is the truth of Job 14:5. Ed was a vital recently retired Marine who had lived an exciting career doing what he loved as an officer in the USMC. He never got a serious scratch from his service to his country as far as I know. Just two weeks after he retired he was out bush-hogging a hillside on his North Carolina farm. The tractor turned over on him and crushed his chest. "(Ed's) days were determined; you (God the King) have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." (Job 14:5, NIV)

It was not an accident that Saturday afternoon when Ed left the bounds of this earth for heaven. He was "fit for the King"! One of my questions for God when I get to heaven is why was God's clock wound just that way, but the fact remains that it was. Ed's time had been set before the foundations of the earth were laid and he could live not a moment longer nor die a moment sooner.

Ed had learned (sometimes through hard process) to live and love each day in the beauty of God's restoration of Ed's heart. When Ed went to heaven, he was fit for THE KING! His heart is now completely restored.

Living here in our world isn't always easy. It often isn't fun, but God calls us to live each moment ready to live and ready to die (aka: "fit for the King")! It's the way of the restoration heart!

Then at just the right moment - when God Who sees and knows all decrees - we become "fit for the King" in a moment. That's the moment of true and final restoration as well!

*If you would like to read Joni's devotional, go to "Joni and Friends Home Page" and search for "daily devotional" for August 15, 2008.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Write in Sand or Carve in Stone?

Two friends walk in the desert. As they walk, they talk and eventually argue. One friend got very angry and punched the other in the face.

The friend who got punched winced and then bent to write in the hot sand, "My friend just hit me."

They walk on across the hot sand until they reach an oasis. After quenching their thirst, they decide to take a swim. One friend got stuck in the mud in the bottom of the pool and started to drown. The one stuck was also the one who got punched.

The other friend rescued his friend from the mud and pulled him to safety on the shore. The rescued friend found a chisel and hammer and carved into a stone these words: "Today my good friend rescued me."

The rescuer just had to ask, "I hit you and you wrote in the sand. Now you write on stone. Why?"

The friend responded, "When we experience hurt at the hand of another, we should record our hurt in sand so the winds of forgiveness can blow it away. BUT when someone does something good and kind, then we must engrave that memory in stone where no wind can ever erase it so the memory will remain."

The moral is for us to learn:
  • to write our hurts in sand and then blow on the sand with the grace of forgiveness.
  • to carve our blessings and joys in stone.
When our blessings are carved in stone, then as one stone stacks upon another in life, we collect remembrances of stone to remind us of God's grace and love toward us. When we know God's grace and love for us, then we can forgive with free and loving hearts! It's the path to restoration!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Giving and Receiving

My mother fell and broke her wrist ten days ago. I'm not happy about her pain or her having to be in a cast with limited activity for six weeks or more. But in a weird kind of way I'm happy she broke her wrist. Hang with me on this!
My mother is a pretty amazing lady! So are both my parents. They are both 87, and they both think and act much younger. That's a good thing most of the time, but it also means that it's hard to keep up with them. They are pretty independent. And they are both now and always have been people who care deeply about others. They have servant hearts.
Well, a broken wrist is a different way to live on a temporary basis. It's also an opportunity for others to turn love and caring back toward my parents. My parents have spent their lives loving and caring about others in all kinds of ways. Now for a season their children, other family and friends are "lined up" to be hands and feet and heart for them.
There's just one small problem: There may be more blessing in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35), but when one has a giving kind of heart and life it's not always easy to receive. It takes a kind of paradigm shift: out of giving mode to receiving.
In life there are basically two kinds of people: givers and takers. Think about it. For givers to be what they are to their core there must be takers to take their giving. For takers to be who they are there must be someone to give what is taken. Like the old song says, "You can't have one without the other."
I have a friend who has a simple plaque on the wall in her den. It says simply, "Balance." It hangs there prominently to remind her and all who pass there that life requires balance when we get it right.
My parents are graciously trying to allow others to do for them what they would rather be doing for others. That's their gift to us - letting us help! So, you see, even in their receiving they are still giving.
Isn't it interesting that God's Kingdom is filled with life principles that turn "normal logic" on its head? To be willing to give and also to be willing to receive both require some heart reconstruction - God's process of restoration. One doesn't exist without the other and both are gifts - giving and receiving!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Larry King and the Chapmans

Thursday night I made a point to watch "Larry King Live." I don't normally watch Larry King's program, but I saw that the Steven Curtis Chapman family were being interviewed by Larry King. I wanted to see what they would say. I wondered what questions Larry King would ask them. Of course, the interview centered on the death May 21, 2008 of their youngest daughter Maria Sue.

Maria Sue was playing outside that day in May. She wanted to "do the monkey bars." She just wasn't tall enough to reach them. When she saw her beloved brother Will driving down the drive, she ran toward him. She knew he would lift her up high enough to reach the monkey bars. Will didn't see her coming. All he knew was that the SUV hit something. And in a moment's time Maria Sue was lifted far higher than the monkey bars. She went straight into Jesus' arms.

What captivated me during the King interview was the honest, calm faith the Chapman family demonstrated. God showed up in Larry King's studio for all the world to see. Larry King honestly stated that he just didn't understand their faith, but he clearly saw the power of God's restoring grace in the five Chapmans he interviewed.

Apparently Will told Larry King as they left the set that he was going to pray for him to really "get it." Larry King doesn't understand (by his own admission) how God can be enough for such an incredibly tough time. But he also saw in living color a powerful demonstration of God's work to bring peace and purpose even in the most severe pain and loss!

The world is clammoring for real faith! Only real hearts restored by God's love and grace can demonstrate real faith to a world dying and lost - to hearts desperately in need of restoration. Actually that's exactly why there's A Restoration Church forming in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - to demonstrate God's power to restore broken hearts and lives! It's a compelling message! It's the heart of the Gospel!

Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC) has written many wonderful songs. One of them is titled "Yours." Since Maria Sue went to heaven, SCC has added another verse to "Yours":

I've walked the valley of death's shadow
So deep and dark that I could barely breathe
I've had to let go of more than I could bear
And questioned everythng that I believe
But still even here in this great darkness
A comfort and hope come breaking through
All I can say in life or death
God we belong to you.

In the lyrics of "Yours" SCC writes of streets in London, Uganda, Singapore, Manila and Shanghai and how it all belongs to God "from the stars in the sky to the depths of the ocean floor ... it's all yours, God"!

I started thinking about the streets of Pittsburgh. Without permission I want to "tweak" SCC's lyrics:

"I walk the streets of [Pittsburgh] and notice in the faces passing by
something that makes me stop and listen
My heart grows heavy with the cry: Where is the hope for [Pittsburgh] ?
You whisper and my heart begins to soar as I'm reminded every street in [Pittsburgh] is Yours ...
And I hear children's voices singing of a God who heals and rescues and restores
And I'm reminded that every child in [Steeler Town] is Yours ...
It's all Yours, God - all our dreams are Yours
It's all Yours, God - all our plans are Yours, God ...
It's all Yours, God - everything is Yours!"

And because it all belongs to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords then we can pray and work and live as A Restoration Church confident that He Who began this good work will finish what He has started! (Philippians 1:6)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"When Pretty Things Get Broken"

Today I've been listening to a new CD I got while we were in California at Joni and Friends International Headquarters. One song "When Pretty Things Get Broken" by Joni Eareckson Tada is hauntingly beautiful and reminiscent of her own life:

My life was just like china, a lovely thing to me,
Full of porcelain promises of all that I might be.
But fragile things do slip and fall as ev'rybody knows,
And when my vase came crashing down those tears began to flow.

But don't we all cry when pretty things get broken?
Don't we all sigh at such an awful loss?
Jesus will dry those tears as He has spoken
'Cause He was the One broken on the cross.

But Jesus is the Porcelain Prince.
His promises won't break.
His holy Word holds fast and sure.
His love no one can shake.

So if your life is shattered by sorrow, pain or sin,
His healing love will reach right down and make you whole again.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a beautiful woman. She is beautiful inside and out! Is her body broken? Yes! For more than 41 years she's been in a wheelchair. It's not easy. There is even pain that a quadriplegic feels deep in the bones and gut apparently, but Joni is NOT a broken woman! And Jesus is the reason! He has restored her heart and given her a song and a beautiful smile even on those days when that chair and the pain are almost too much.

I remember that September Saturday afternoon in 1977 when my neck was broken. I was out running errands. The trunk of my new car was actually filled with greenware (porcelain in its green state ready to be prepared for firing). The greenware was actually the pieces for many nativity sets I planned to paint to be Christmas gifts for my brothers, sisters and parents. The car came out of nowhere from behind and hit me full force when I was stopped in traffic. My car crunched. I crunched. The greenware crunched. Greenware isn't a pretty thing. It's just in the process of becoming a pretty thing. Most of what was in my trunk was shattered into powder. It never would be what it could have been.

My story turns out better (at least physically) than Joni's but only by the grace of God. Actually I think our necks broke in almost the same place which makes my story even more remarkable. Why did God protect me from paralysis and allow Joni to be in a wheelchair? Well, I don't have all of that answer. BUT what I know is that God is good all the time. God was with Joni in the Chesapeake Bay 41 years ago, and God was with me that Saturday afternoon. Very few people know my name and story, but people all over the world know and love Joni just because she is in that chair! God has used her life and ministry in incredible ways mostly because she is paralyzed.

But more significant than that is the story of what God has done in both Joni's heart and mine over the years. God has taken brokenness and brought restoration. God gives grace for each and every day no matter what happens.

God has powerfully demonstrated that He uses the weak things (and people) to demonstrate His incredible strength to a world dying for need of restoration in both Joni's life and mine. God has proved His faithfulness to us both. God has made His promise true: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision (substitute "paralysis") or uncircumcision (substitute "not paralysis") has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." (Galatians 5:6)

"Faith expressing itself in love" is the true demonstration of heart restoration!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Flowers in the Blood

It comes from generations back in more than one direction - this flowers in the blood thing. My grandmother used to stop and pick flowers on the side of the road. She always said that they were there for the taking as the roadside didn't belong to anyone.

My mother loves flowers, too. We always had beautiful gardens around our home. Sometimes we lived in very simple houses but there were still flowers. Later we lived in larger homes with landscapes created by my mother as a frame for our home.

When my husband and I married, the reception was in the gardens of our home. Since we were engaged for three years, mother had actually planned and planted flowers exactly the colors of the wedding attendants' dresses - a bright fuchsia pink with other colors as accents.

My parents now live on top of a mountain in North Carolina. Once again Mother has planned and planted lovely gardens all around. The other night she thought she saw some blooming bushes at the edge of the yard - actually a little way down the mountainside. She decided to walk (at dusk) down to pick some. I don't know if she picked any flowers or not. She fell in her progress down the mountain on very rough ground and broke her wrist. Being the plunky 87-year-old she is, she had to wait for my dad to look for her and come to help her up but she still went to church the next morning as usual. At that point she didn't even know her wrist was broken.

I guess she might say it wasn't worth the fall for the flowers given that she'll spend the next six weeks in a cast and sling and it's her right arm. But with flowers in her blood she just might not say so. It is flowers in the blood that feed the heart with beauty.

I had to grow up and have my own yard to learn that. I never found "yard work" particularly enjoyable growing up. But now I know the joy that flowers in the blood can bring. We have a rather steep bank in front of our home that drops about 70 feet to the highway below. Little by little we have tamed some of that bank and planted things that bloom there. I love the growth that our rather short Pittsburgh growing season brings to ferns and flowers. I guess it's the flowers in my blood, too.

It wasn't by accident that God placed his first creation in a beautiful garden. God created us to have flowers in our blood - to enjoy the beauty of His creation. Sin came and wrecked God's plan for a time but the day is coming when God promises to make all things new - to restore His creation to all He intended it to be in the beginning. That restoration will be a beautiful thing!

In the meantime, we work among the thorns and thistles to bring beauty of even an imperfect sort while we wait for God's coming restoration. I spent part of today "reclaiming" my yard from the thorns and thistles that had sprung up during the last several weeks. There is still more to be done, but the flowers in my blood will call me to stay on task.

Water, Water Everywhere!!!

Two weeks ago I spent a week in the southern California desert at Murrieta Springs. We stayed on the very lovely campus of Calvary Chapel Bible College. The hot springs flow downhill to bubble up in rock pools all along the path through the campus ending at the beautiful fishing lake. We were there for a Family Retreat sponsored by Joni and Friends International.

Family Retreats are five-day summer "get-aways" across the United States and now even in several foreign locations. These Family Retreats are specifically designed to serve families and individuals affected by disability.

As I walked around the CCBC campus, I marveled at how lovely it was even in the heat of noon (not my favorite time of day). There are the springs and then there are the fountains - many of them. It is as though one is never far from the sound and sight of running water. It truly is a place where there is "water, water everywhere." (from "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner")

Since I was serving as a "short term missionary (STM)" at a camp/retreat designed to serve families and individuals affected by disability, I reflected on the unique appropriateness of that setting particularly for people who have either a visual or hearing disability. For those who struggle with hearing, there is the beauty of the water in rock pools, fountains, other pools and the lake. For those disabled in sight, there is the constant sound of running water. There is hardly a place to walk or sit where running water cannot be heard.

My memories of this lovely setting will long be in my heart as real "keeper treasures"!

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well outside Samaria one hot day. (John 4:1-42) She came seeking water. She came alone. She came when she thought no one else would be around. She knew she was the town pariah - shunned because of the life she had chosen to live. She was an outcast among the Samaritans. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews and considered outcasts. To be an outcast from the outcasts is about as low as one can go.

Like the woman who encountered Jesus at the well over 2,000 years ago, we all need water for our bodies (It's the one thing we absolutely cannot live without!). But, even more, we need the Living Water Jesus offered to her and offers to us as well!

I happen to be a "pale-face" in the literal sense. The sun and I are not great friends. The sun does bad things to my skin particularly in the hot hours of the day. For years my family have laughed at me when we went to the beach. There they were soaking up rays while I was slathered in the highest degree sunscreen, sunglasses and hat for brief periods of time.

It takes more than sunscreen and moisturizer to replenish sun-damaged skin. AND it takes a lot more to replenish the sin-damaged heart! Only Living Water will do! Jesus offers Himself to every sin-damaged heart. He invites us to come to Him and drink deeply of the water He gives which is the spring to eternal life. Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water (the water from the well outside Samaria) 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 artisan spring within, gushing fountains of endless life." (John 4:13-14, The Message)

So, my friend, drink deeply! Gulp it up! Be refreshed deep in your soul by that Living Water Who is God Himself - Jesus! Now, that's heart restoration at its best!