Friday, July 30, 2010

Wonder What Jesus Thinks???

I have never read any of her books, but I know she is famous for her vampire stories. She is also famous for her startling turn to Christian faith. In 2005 Anne Rice announced she was returning to the faith of her childhood. After years spent groping in darkness and making a fortune writing about the forces of evil and darkness she turned to Jesus, the Light of the World.
On Wednesday of this week she announced, "I quit being a Christian." She isn't done with Jesus. She's done with Christians. She just doesn't fit the mold. She holds to her pre-Jesus values - many of which turn Christians and traditional faith on its head: pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-artificial birth control, pro-Democrat, pro-secular humanism, pro-science, etc.
While I don't agree with her positions on these issues and others, it saddens me that she hasn't found acceptance for where she is on her faith journey by other believers.
She also says, "I remain commited to Christ as always."
Is she confused and conflicted? Probably, but that's no excuse for the Christians who haven't reached out to be real in their faith toward her. Is her "being done with Christianity" so hard to understand? Not for me, because - even with my own traditional Christian world-and-life views I have experienced a lot of painful rejection from so-called Christians.
Anne Rice and I probably don't know any of the same people who claim to carry the name of Christ and the brand Christian. BUT we've both felt pain and rejection from those who should have been companions on the journey.
I wonder what Jesus thinks about all this. I have an idea that he is very sad. What Anne Rice is looking for is REAL! She wants Christians to accept her where she is not where she may get to be as she gets further along in her faith journey. I'm sure there's a lot about faith and being real she has to learn. So do I!
Jesus came, lived, died and lives forever for people like Anne Rice and me. He always took people just where they were. He loved and accepted them even if they didn't have a set of "acceptable" values. He even defended a woman caught in the ultimate departure from "traditional" values (John 8:1-11) - the adultress who was thrown at his feet by the church leaders of His day. He said to her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin!" Jesus didn't give the woman a theological or moral exam. He looked into her heart and saw her pain.
Shame on those Christians who have rejected Anne Rice! In their legalism they have dealt potentially mortal heart-hurts to Anne. They just might get the shock of their next life in eternity when they encounter a gay person or Democrat or feminist or secular humanist walking the streets of gold.
Jesus is perfectly capable of taking care of patterns of thought and lifestyle! He deals with hearts - even when that heart belongs to a head not quite "straight" even by Biblical standards! Who are we to say and do otherwise?
Where is our heart when we "cause one of these 'little ones' (aka new believer in Jesus)to stumble" (Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2)? Jesus doesn't stutter when He says we would be better off with concrete shoes at the bottom of the ocean!
Concrete hearts don't get us very far on our own journey with Jesus! What WOULD Jesus think? What DOES He think about Anne Rice and her rejection of Christianity but not Jesus? I think He's probably willing to work with her right where she is in her head. Jesus does His work in the heart. The head stuff comes along as He changes our hearts! That goes for me too!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Being a Christian Means Having a Wounded Heart

"Conversion (becoming a Christian and the process of being a Christian) is not the smooth, easy-going process some men (and women) seem to think. It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts; but without wounding there is no saving ... Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the (thin, young branch) must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound." (John Bunyan)
Jesus said, "I am the Vine, you are the branches. ... without Me you can do nothing! (John 15:5)
Has your heart been broken so you can love and serve the great King and others with God's love?

Friday, July 23, 2010


I have a very wise son. I'm not sure how he got that way, but he amazes me sometimes. Not long ago he was talking about a "situation" he was trying to work through. It was one of those hard relational things where the other party was totally convinced they were right with a "holy fervor"! It wasn't an easy time for my son and his family, but his response to this difficult, painful relationship was what blessed my heart so much:
"Mom, I just have to think how much Jesus loved me and how much He suffered on the cross for me. If Jesus who never deserved to die could die such a terrible death so I can be forgiven, then who am I to deny grace to someone who has offended me? Forgiveness isn't an option when I consider how much I have been forgiven!"
Wow! I hope I can hold that in my heart so the next time I need those wise words I will remember and respond in kind!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A "Spooky" Love Story

The movie The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of a man who constantly flips back and forth between time travel and his normal life. He never knows where he will find himself next. You might say it's a love story with a sci-fi twist. The time traveler loves his wife. They were childhood sweetheats. His love reached across time and space from his heart to hers. He misses her when he's off on his travels.

There is a time traveler love story in Acts that has a similar twist. (Acts 8:26-40) Philip is a follower of Jesus and a missionary to the half-breed, social outcasts in Samaria. Philip gets a message from an angel to take a walk on a specific road and go a certain direction. He encounters a black man, a eunuch, who is part of the royal court in Ethiopia traveling back from Jerusalem. As this man rode along in his chariot he was reading to pass the time. He chose to read the scroll/book of Isaiah.

Note: This is interesting because it shows God's plan for the continent of Africa. Long before we knew there was a continent or it was named Africa, God knew and was working to bring His Gospel to what has often been called the dark continent. Today the Gospel is growing on steriods in Africa! It is no longer the dark continent to the Gospel.

God's love was reaching across time and space to this man in a chariot to open his eyes and his heart to the good news about Jesus.

In a sense this unnamed man from Ethiopia was reading an ancient love story. Philip climbed up into the man's chariot, rode a ways with him and explained what he was reading to him. The African man believed what he read. When they passed a stream or pond, he asked Philip to baptize him.

Up to this point in the story, God is working outside time and space to change the Ethiopian man's heart. Then the story turns really spooky:

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again ...
(vs. 39-40)

It is spooky for us to think someone can just be gone - poof! - and reappear somewhere else far away in the blink of an eye, but this is God's MO
(modus operandi - mode of operation). God travels through time and space all the time. In fact, the truth is that God goes even farther than that. God can be more than one place at a time all at the same time which is even more spooky!

God is the True Time Traveler! Like the man in the movie, God is after your heart and mine. He loves each of us enough to travel through time and space to woo and win our hearts and bring us into His forever family! God's love is literally an extraterrestral love affair. AND it's so much more than a nice story. The fact that God is the ultimate Time Traveler means that He is already in the middle of your day today, your day tomorrow and was in the middle of your yesterday! In a word, God is in the middle of your story! Think about it! It's pretty awesome! It's a spooky love story of cosmic proportions!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A New Heart!

Once there was a very pretty little pig named Isabelle. Isabelle belonged to Mrs. Lady. Mrs. Lady bathed Isabelle every day and dressed her in frilly dresses. Mrs. Lady and Isabelle took walks together every day. Lady was very proud of Isabelle, her pet pig.
One day when Lady and Isabelle took their walk, they passed some other pigs who were wallowing in a big mud puddle.
That was when the trouble began!
Isabelle yanked her leash right out of Lady's hand and ran as fast as her chubby little legs would go straight for the other pigs and their mud puddle. Isabelle dived right in the middle of the mud puddle!
Lady was horrified! She scolded Isabelle and promptly drug her out of the mud.
Isabelle squealed all the way home. Then Isabelle squeeled some more when Lady started scrubbing all the mud away. Lady scrubbed and scrubbed. Soon Isabelle was her normal pink pig self!
The next day Lady dressed Isabelle in a pretty dress and hat and took her for a walk. As they were walking, they came to a mud puddle ... What do you guess happened?
Isabelle ran as fast as her chubby little legs would carry her straight into the mud puddle. She rolled and splashed in the mud grunting and squealing with great glee!
Of course Lady was horrified. She was mad, too! She really, really scolded Isabelle all the way home!
Lady took Isabelle home and the scrubbing began all over again. This routine went on day after day. Finally Lady was so sad, mad and disgusted with Isabelle that she decided Isabelle would be better off as bacon rather than Lady's pet.
Lady told Isabelle that if she ever jumped into another mud puddle she was going straight to the butcher to be bacon.
Isabelle was sad and scared. She didn't know what to do. In her heart she was a pig, and pigs naturally like mud puddles! No matter how hard Isabelle tried, she knew she just couldn't stay away from mud puddles. Mud puddles are one thing pigs do best.
That night Isabelle dreamed about a beautiful fairy. The fairy asked Isabelle (in the dream), "Isabelle, would you like to change and never want to jump into another mud puddle?"
"O, yes!" Isabelle said to the fairy.
The fairy said, "Isabelle, I can help you. I can give you a heart transplant. I can cut out your pig heart and give you a lamb heart instead. Lambs don't like mud puddles. Lambs like clean green grass."
Isabelle was really scared, but she told the fairy to "go for it"!
The next day Lady and Isabelle went walking one last time.
Lady didn't know it yet, but Isabelle was a different pig. She ran and rolled on the clean green grass. She followed Lady everywhere she went. When they passed some pigs wallowing in a mud puddle, Isabelle didn't even blink. For the first time ever, she had no interest in mud. In fact she wanted to stay as far away as possible from nasty, yukky mud! Isabelle had a new heart! Isabelle looked like a pig on the outside, but she was really a lamb on the inside!
Isabelle and Lady and the fairy are only part of a made-up story. Fairies can't change pig's hearts. Fairies don't do heart transplants except in made-up stories.
BUT Isabelle helps me understand how God looks at my heart.
I am like Isabelle. I like to wallow in the mud of sin. That's just what sinners do, and I am a sinner. I have a heart that "likes" to sin. Trying harder is not the way out of the "sin cycle"!
Only God can change my heart. Only God does heart transplants - cutting out hearts bent to sin. You and I can't stop being sinners any more than Isabelle can stop being a pig.
It's hard to "be good." We all need new hearts. God comes to us and says, "Give me your heart and I will give you a new heart." (Ezekiel 36:26) When God gives us a new heart, then we want to love and obey God. God changes us on the inside!
Just remember: That change is a process not a point action. The good news is that God isn't finished with me yet no matter how much I goof things up! He's in the process of making my heart new.
In Romans 6:1-14 Paul talks about what God thinks:
So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? ... we left the old country of sin behind; ... we entered the new country of grace - a new life in a new land! ...
Could it be any clearer? Our old way was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life - no longer at sin's beck and call! ... When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don't give it the time of day. Don't even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time - remember, you've been raised from the dead! - into God's way of doing things. Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God. (Romans 6:1-14, The Message)
Jesus said, "I am the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Problem with Weeds!

I spent a few days the last week in the hospital. As we drove up the drive on my way home again, I looked at the flower beds around my front door. I was horrified! That "ground cover" I had only a little of for the past six years or so had suddenly exploded. It wasn't a pretty sight!
This morning as soon as it was light I pulled on old clothes and went out to attack those pesky weeds. By my calculation I have at least eight more hours at the task and then some ... There's a BIG problem with weeds: They have lots of little roots! These are particularly nasty in that regard!
I'm sure some of the roots have gone to ground to fight another day, but I'll be there with shovel and trowel in hand - ready and waiting! I'm on the offense with boots on the ground!
As I weeded, I contemplated ... what about those things in my life that seem so okay that really have deep, twisted roots that end up being pretty ugly in the end? I need to work on those, too!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Shepherds Trump Cowboys!

You have seen the movies of the old wild west. The cowboy rides behind waves of cattle as they pass head by head. The dusty trail goes forever into the sunset. The cowboy is hard working, slow talking and his horse is his best friend. The cowboy goes for days without seeing or talking to another human being. He sits around his lonely campfire staring into the night sky and sleeps under the stars.

I am reminded by Max Lucado in A Gentle Thunder that cowboys have nothing on shepherds. While the cowbody is an American hero who rides off into the sunset, the shepherd is the hero of Biblical and heavenly proportions.

Like the cowboy, the shepherd spends lots of lonely time with animals under the sun and the stars. BUT there are huge differences between cowboys and shepherds. Here are some of Max Lucado's observations:
  • The shepherd loves his sheep; the cowboy doesn't even want to love his cows.
  • The cowboy drives his cows to the slaughter house; the shepherd leads his sheep to green pastures.
  • The cowboy likes Black Angus steak and hamburger; the shepherd wants wool from the sheep.
  • The herd has many cowboys; the flock has only one shepherd. Remember that Jesus talks about the sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and come at his call.
  • The shepherd knows the name of every lamb, ewe and ram; the cowboy knows the other cowboys.

Jesus never called Himself the Good Cowboy. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep (that would be you and me) by name and lays down his life for his sheep. The Good Shepherd protects, provides and takes care of His sheep. The shepherd literally sleeps in the door of the sheepfold. Danger had to come across his body to get to the sheep.

We live in a dangerous world where it is easy to walk off the cliff or be under attack by some savage beast. Only the Good Shepherd is there to pull us back from danger and to even put His own body in the path of danger for you and me! The Good Shepherd NEVER leads us to the slaughter house. He leads us home - according to Psalm 23 - where we will live with the Good Shepherd forever. The only catch is He HAS to be our Good Shepherd! My Good Shepherd trumps the cowboy any day of the week! And I'm so glad!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Heart-Deep Faith

Joni Eareckson Tada describes Corrie ten Boom's funeral in a devotional posted on line (Taken from Joni's book More Precious Than Silver). Joni talks about the simplicity of Corrie's faith and walk with Jesus, about how Corrie ten Boom's faith journey resonated from her heart. (Joni and Friends Daily Devotional, 5/02/10 at

Reading what Joni wrote caused me to reflect on my own faith journey. I wonder if people will remember me for simple faith straight from the heart. I surely hope so because that's the kind of faith that lasts into eternity. That is also the kind of faith that draws others to want the Jesus they see in me.

People long to see restoration that is heart deep! I want them to see that kind of heart restoration in me!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Saving Grace

I have never watched "Saving Grace," and there is slim chance I ever will. Besides I think it's been cancelled. I just don't spend much time watching TV - got too much else to do.
It may be a stretch to relate the other kind of saving grace to the TV show. Saving Grace comes to you and me at great expense to the One Who provides that grace! Saving Grace comes at absolutely no cost to you and me. It is a free gift of inestimable value! Jesus purchased grace with His life's blood!
A favorite hymn captures some of the significance of grace. "... Tune my heart to sing Thy grace." What does that mean? "Tune my heart ... " Does God have this great tuning fork in the sky that He uses to reach down to tune hearts? Hardly!
Changing only one letter in "tune" explains what it means: "...Turn my heart to sing Thy grace." It is God's work in my heart and yours that turns my heart from my preoccupations to know and appreciate and live out His gift and work of grace in my heart!
The hymn continues: "O, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be ... " If and when God's grace floods and changes my heart, then my days must be (constrained) lived in the humility that God's grace is a free gift for which I should and must live gratefully.
When I live gratefully knowing what a great debt I owe for God's grace to me, then I must love God first and best and love others well! That means I must forgive because grace is the vehicle of forgiveness for me! Every day calls me to model the Gospel as I live and be.
When my heart is shaped by such incredible, overwhelming grace, I am free and constrained to care for others with all the grace, hope and love of the Gospel!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Safe or Sorry?

I just finished a really interesting little book by David Powlison, God's Love. He makes the powerful point that God's love is so much better than unconditional. God's love isn't the wishy, washy stuff of the unconditional love touted by the psycho-babble of our culture. Powlison says God's love is too great and strong, too wonderful to be unconditional. If I understand what Powlison is saying (and I think I do), then the love God has for me and for you does ask for something in return. God wants our hearts! God wants to change who and what we are with His incredible, life-giving and life-altering love!
In C.S. Lewis' classic tale The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe there is a scene when Lucy asks Mr. Beaver whether Aslan (the great lion from beyond the sea) is safe. Lucy is concerned. Mr. Beaver tells her quite seriously, "No, he isn't safe but he is good."
What a beautiful picture of God's love Lewis paints: God's love isn't safe. God's love changes us to the very core of our being. God's love pushes our hearts to move from our zone of comfort to go places and take extreme risks for the sake of God's Kingdom. Empowered by God's love we dare to be salt and light! God's love pushes me (and you) to be and do all God's love is changing us to be and be able to do. God's love propels me out of safe into the grand adventure of knowing and loving God and showing God's love to a dark and dying world.
Powlison says, "Unconditional love feels safe, but the problem is that there is no power to it." (p. 6)
God's love isn't safe. It wasn't safe for Jesus. God's love embodied in the Person of His dearly loved Son Jesus intrudes intimately, personally and actively to every dark corner of my heart exposing my sin and shame and then changing my heart so I too can reflect His love to a watching world. God never accepts me just as I am leaving me to "be"! God loves me (and you) too much not to radically change who and what we are for our good and for His glory! That may not be safe, but it sure isn't sorry!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gift from God

She's a little doll - bubbly, happy, bouncy, adorable! She's gonna be my granddaughter soon. Her name is Vania, "gift from God" in Hebrew. She is all that and more! She never stops smiling. She makes it her personal mission to cheer anyone and everyone up.

When I first saw Vania, she was wearing a darling ruffled jean skirt and trendy white top. Her long blond hair was in a cute pony tail. She gave me a big smile and kept coming back to give me hugs.

Vania is God's beautiful gift! So is her mother ... and her two brothers!

A year ago my dear son thought he'd never find a girl he would love and who would love him. I too lacked the faith to believe God could and would send that special someone to the North Carolina mountains where our son lives, works, hunts and fishes among other pursuits. Thankfully God works even when my faith is small!

Part of this special restoration story is that Vania's mother even likes to coon hunt. Tho' another day finds her in 4-inch designer heels.

You know what? God is good all the time! All the time God is good! He heals broken hearts! He restores brokenness! He makes beauty from ashes! Wow!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Empty is the E in Easter! That's KEY!

Empty - It's a word we use often.
  • We say the car is "empty" and we don't mean no people are in it. We mean there's no gas in the tank.
  • We say the glass is "half empty" or "half full." The measure is exactly the same amount. The difference is how we look at the glass' contents.
  • We say the can of Coke is empty or our plate is empty.
  • We say someone's promises are empty meaning they don't keep their word.
  • And on and on ...............
On Easter Sunday we talk about the empty grave. There is no more significant way to say "empty"! Joseph of Arimithea gave his tomb to Jesus. That tomb stands empty to this very day.

God doesn't make empty promises! He always keeps His word! He promised the very first sinners - Adam and Eve - that He would someday send a Savior (Genesis 3:15) Long years passed. Then God sent Jesus to live and die. Jesus came and died to make a trade with us - with anyone who believes in Him. Jesus trades His perfect life (His righteousness) for all our brokenness and sin and shame!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

The cross is nothing without the empty tomb. It's the two together that make Easter! Together they make all the difference in life and death! And because God always keeps His promises those aren't empty words!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Today I was talking with some 3rd and 4th graders who told me that Easter was all about Jesus dying. I shocked them when I said, "No, that's not what Easter is all about." They wanted to know what I meant.
I reminded them that when Jesus died there were two men hanging on crosses on either side of Him. Both of these men were being crucified for the crime of robbery. They all three died that day so long ago, but only one of the three became the Savior of the world.
Jesus did have to live a perfect life to qualify Him to die. Otherwise He would have died for His own sin just like the two thieves who died that day.
John the Baptist proclaimed three years before that terrible, awful day outside Jerusalem approximately 1980 years ago: "See the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) He spoke about Jesus.
Jesus died to demonstrate how seriously God takes "mercy rather than sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). Jesus' death proved God's value of mercy over sacrifice because God extends His mercy toward us at the cost of the life of His only Son, Jesus.
Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt. 9:13)
Jesus' death rendered all other sacrifices unnecessary forever!
On the cross Jesus cried, "It is finished!" (John 19:30) The sacrifice was and is complete!
However, one more thing had to happen in order to validate the death Jesus died. Two thieves also died that day. The dying wasn't where the power to change hearts comes from. Jesus came back to life on the first Easter Sunday morning to PROVE for all the world to see that He conquered sin and death. He alone can take my sin and shame and do something that matters! That goes for you and your heart, too!
AND that's basically what I explained to my 3rd and 4th grade friends. I think they "got it"!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Servant Heart

A servant heart? Where? When? Really?

Yesterday at A Restoration Church I saw a servant heart in living, stunning action. Most of us were buzzing around like worker bees cleaning up, resetting the rooms where we worship, putting up, washing up. All the servant hearts were in full blown motion!

Then I saw a most amazing thing! My friend who mostly tools around in her power wheelchair - and who often sits in the middle of the hubbub and bemoans that she can't help - found a job she could do. Her hands shake, and she has trouble gripping things. Yesterday she found something to do and it was amazing to watch!

She got the sponge mop and began "joy sticking" her way around the room pushing the mop, stopping wherever there was a tougher patch. There she rubbed a little harder.

Another friend with MS that is beginning to advance pretty rapidly was packing and even carrying bins to our storage area.

Another friend lost her husband just a few weeks ago, but she brought the main dish yesterday and stood at the sink washing dishes until the last one was clean and dry.

My friend who has just recently joined us for worship started to leave, stopped and jumped in to help - quickly and efficiently.

We have a fellowship meal together after worship. Our 6'6" Ukrainian pianist and friend who just loves to eat good food doesn't get his food or sit down until he's pushed keyboard, speakers and other bulky items to the storage area.

AND there were others - all pitching in to do whatever their hands found to do. Almost everyone was putting Ecclesiastes 9:10 into motion: "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might."

BUT the MOST amazing snapshot of a servant heart I saw was my friend in the power chair - the one with the biggest excuse to just sit and wait - mopping the floor in two big rooms. WOW!

Heart Ache

My heart aches this morning. Things are happening to rock my world - seismic changes on a Richter scale off the charts! Where to turn, what to do?

Here's where I'm going to camp out:

Proverbs 21:1 - The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases!

Anyone wanna go camping with me?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Paddy's Day!
I've been wearing green today and thinking about rainbows. That black pot filled with gold at the end of the rainbow just probably isn't ever going to happen - at least to me. That started me thinking!
There was gold at the bottom of the first rainbow. I'm talking about the first one God painted in the sky. God said the rainbow would forever stand as a symbol and reminder that God's grace covers all the ugliness sin has, does or ever will cause. That's the real gold at the end of the rainbow. It's called grace! It is a beautiful thing!
And whenever you or I ever trace a rainbow through whatever storms come, we can stand firm on God's promise to give grace greater than all our sin!
It's a promise from God's heart to mine and yours! Think about that today!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Showing Mercy and Winching Trees

The snow fell with a vengeance February 5-6, 2010 in Pittsburgh - two feet and more over the next days and weeks. I looked out our living room windows late that Friday evening and saw a huge tree lying across three cars parked in front of our garage. Fortunately enough snow fell before the tree did that there was little or no damage to the cars.
By Saturday morning almost every evergreen in our yard was flat on the ground under the weight of the heavy snow.
Now a month later enough snow has melted that yesterday with great effort and a cable winch we were able to get one of the biggest trees upright and anchored to three of our neighbor's trees until we can make more permanent arrangements for anchors.
During the last month, we up-righted some of the smaller evergreens and braced them with ladders, a push broom in one case and various rakes. The ladders, rakes and push broom are still bracing trees. The presentation is more than a little strange.
Yesterday as we were winching the largest tree slowly up, up, up until it was mostly standing straight again, it occurred to me that we were in the middle of a life parable.
People - like our evergreens - get crushed and flattened by the weight of life. People crushed by their life circumstances need someone to come alongside to "winch" him or her up-right again.
It is hard work reaching out hand and heart, spending the time and effort necessary to "pull up" a crushed, battered, storm ravaged friend.
Today my body feels the effects of all that effort yesterday. My neck is so stiff I can hardly move. My back hurts so bad that I cannot stand straight. I'm walking carefully and slow.
Caring about others, showing mercy can be hard work. Progress may be slow. The effort may be painful BUT - in the end - it can make all the difference! God calls us to care. God calls us to do the hard work of showing mercy!
Our trees remind me of all the crushed people in my world who need a loving heart and a helping hand to stand up again.
Getting up and standing tall once again isn't over with one effort. It is an on-going process! It's like our neighbor's three trees anchoring the one tree.
Showing mercy is hard work! Showing mercy is more than a bandaid. Showing mercy can be costly BUT - in the end - it's worth it all! AND it's what God calls us to be and do!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Old Book and Tears in a Bottle

Far from being a musty, dusty ancient book, the Bible is an incredibly honest letter from God as up-to-date, relevant and direct as any media presentation. God talks quite honestly about how He responds to things He doesn't like. Proverbs talks about seven things God hates, and it's not a pretty list:
  • a proud look
  • a lying tongue
  • hands that shed innocent blood
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes
  • feet that run to mischief
  • a false witness who speaks lies
  • anyone who causes strife between brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19)
That's a list of seven but the list goes on! God hates divorce, sin, spiritual snobs and more. God haes the mess we make of the beautiful creation He planned and spoke into being!

Joni Eareckson Tada writes, "Besides sin, God has a strong distaste for suffering. ... In Judges 10:16 God is watching the Amonites beat up on God's people. The Jews cry out in prayer and toss out their idols. Finally - here's the line - God "could bear Israel's misery no longer." His tenderness was roused by human anguish. ... Suffering to God, is distasteful, to say the least. God is truly grieved at how we've ruined the world and abused each other. This grief is partly why He gave the Ten Commandments: Don't murder, He says - I hate unjust killling. Don't commit adultery - I despise seeing families ripped apart." (Joni Eareckson Tada, When God Weeps, p. 80)

When we come teeth-rattling smack-up against all the ugliness of life in all its unvarnished glory, GOD CARES! When we face ugly, condescending pride raining on our heads or lies spoken in dark corners to damage our hearts and reputations or evil hands that shed innocent blood or hearts that just delight in dreaming up evil schemes or feet that run to mischief and destruction or a false witness who speaks lies or ANYONE who stirs up trouble between "brothers" - It's in those painful life situations when we suffer that we are most likely to find God's hand reaching out to wipe away our tears!

When we cry bitter tears over unjust treatment at the hands of others, God comes in to take our side, to stand with us, indeed to take careful note of our tears. God told King Hezekiah, "I have heard your prayer and I have seen your tears." (Is. 38:5, 2 Kings 20:5) Psalm 56:8 tells us that God keeps track of our tears - both written and visual records. God records each tear in His "Tear Journal." God keeps a few of our tears' DNA for His tear bottle (lachrymatory)!

Why does God care about my tears and yours? Can it be they speak a special language that reaches the very heart of God? It must be so! The same caring God is also the One who promises to wipe every tear away on that wonderful day when He also makes everything NEW! (Rev. 21:5)

Our tears either drive us further into the darkness of our own pity parties or they propel us into the loving arms of Jesus!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Respect Comes From the Heart

I teach Latin at a Christian study center. Yesterday I observed two girls obviously and openly disrespect the center administrator. One thing led to another until I found myself involved in the process of seeking repentance leading to forgiveness and reconciliation. The process didn't go very well!
I was astonished that neither girl was willing to own up to the blatant offense nor was either willing to apologize.
Acknowledging wrong, confessing personal responsibility, asking forgiveness and even being willing to make any restitution required seems a no-brainer for any believer in Jesus.
It was so sad for me to watch playing out in live technicolor a process that flew in the face of all that God requires of us. It was alarming to realize that our culture has drifted so far from our Biblical moorings that we have apparently (as a nation and individually) lost all sense of sin and shame, consequences, grace and forgiveness.
The great epiphany for me was that respect in name only is not respect at all. Respect has to come from the heart. That's key! THEN when disrespectful actions and attitudes happen, there is common framework to deal with the heart issues. Only when our hearts are changed by God's loving grace can we ever understand the egregious nature of our offense.
Then there is the whole issue of what Jesus did on the cross - taking my sin and shame and giving me His grace, forgiveness and righteousness!
Jesus spoke about the truth that our hearts determine our attitudes and actions:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
John Donne wrote, "Batter my heart, three-Person God ... and make me new!"
Restoration starts in the heart and God alone can accomplish real, lasting restoration!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Broken Feet?

I've been thinking about feet lately. It's winter in western PA. That means snow and cold and dry hands and feet among other things. I have several spots on both feet that just plain hurt. My friend Debbie says Super Glue is the best remedy. In case you need to know, careful application of Super Glue to a crack in hands or feet allows the crack to heal from the inside out. It also takes the pain away in about 30 seconds, and I'm all for that!

The Bible talks about feet - beautiful feet and crippled feet. Isaiah 52:7 says the feet that bring REAL hope and change are beautiful. How beautiful ... are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who ... say, "Your God reigns!" Jesus healed people with "broken" feet. Peter and John healed a beggar with "broken" feet. (Acts 3:1-10) King David brought the son of his best friend (Mephibosheth, King Saul's son Jonathan's son) who was "crippled in both feet" to live in the palace and eat with the King. (2 Samuel 9:1-10)

I'm thinking feet have a heart connection. Where my feet go depends on the condition of my heart. Do my feet take me places I shouldn't go? Do my feet reflect laziness? Do my feet take me to people who need a caring touch? I'm thinking that "broken" feet can't go far, but when God fixes "broken" feet then His Gospel can bring REAL hope and change!

Lord, fix my "broken" feet (and heart) today so they can take me to care about people in need with the loving heart only You can give! Help my "broken" feet to carry Your Gospel today!

Dr. Paul Brand talks about feet in his wonderful book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made:

After World War II German students volunteered to help rebuild a cathedral in England ... As the work progressed, debate broke out on how to best restore a large statue of Jesus with His arms outstretched ... Careful patching could repair all damage to the statue except for ... [the] hands ... Finally the workers reached a decision ... The statue of Jesus has no hands, and the inscription now reads, "Christ has no hands but ours." (p. 206)

Jesus has no feet but our feet in the world today! Where are your (and my) feet gonna take us today?

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Canine Heart Lesson

Our wonderful black Lab Susie left us two weeks ago. She isn't here, and we miss her terribly. She taught us lots of life lessons. Those lessons live on in our hearts!

Some time ago, I made some notes for this blog related to lessons we learned from Susie.

Susie didn't bark. We don't know if she could or if sometime before she came to us she lost that ability. We know she barked before she came to us. Perhaps she was so happy that she didn't feel the need to bark. Susie communicated with her eyes, her tongue and her "stance." When she wanted a treat she would "lick her lips" - it was a clear message. When we took her out to walk, she would "bound" down our driveway and keep looking over her shoulder to be sure one or both of us were following. She loved for me to run with her.

The night she died, she just kept looking straight into my eyes. I knew she was telling me something; I just didn't know what the awful truth was she was communicating. She was dying very soon. I think she knew that. I think she wanted to say, "Thank you for a wonderful life." I think she wanted to say, "I'm going away." All of a sudden her head fell and she collapsed. She was gone!

After she got so sick, she didn't bound down the drive any more. She would very painfully get up and get down very slowly.

One day not too long ago, I was walking her down our steep driveway. All of a sudden her ears stood straight up. I glanced down the drive to see a bunch of deer running across our drive much further down the drive. She didn't bark. But she knew and remembered younger days when she might have gone in chase of those deer.

Susie taught me a "heart lesson": There are people in my world who also have no voice. They may be almost "invisible" living in the shadows. Many of these are people affected by some disability - emotional, physical, mental and certainly spiritual. Susie taught me that I can "hear" and "see" those with "no voice" when God opens my heart! Susie taught me to watch for communication even when there is no voice.

That's what we are doing in ministry to individuals and families affected by brokenness. God is opening our hearts to hear and see - even the unspoken need. Who would think we could learn such a powerful lesson from a dearly loved old black lab?

William Cowper was disabled by severe depression and other emotional brokenness. He spoke in and through his pain in his wonderful hymns. In 1774 he penned these lines:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill
He measures up His bright designs and works His sov'reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

... Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

I'm looking for God's wonders today! I want to hear His voice! I have learned that God's voice sometimes thunders and sometimes it's just a still, small voice. Either way my heart needs to hear and respond!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ending or Beginning?

NOTE: Restoration Heart has been on an extended "vacation" due to neglect and the tyranny of the urgent! I'm back....................... !

There are many "endings" in life and it seems their "tribe" increases:

  • Too little money and too many bills
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a home
  • Lies, deceit, slander from "friends"
  • Rejection by family and significant others
  • Reaching the threshold of heaven personally or with a loved one
  • Foolish choices and their consequences
  • Growing old(er)
  • Depression
  • Disease and disability
  • Taxes and the IRS
  • Too much to do and too little time
  • Unrelenting pain of all kinds
  • Fear of the future
  • Dillusion with government and alarming changes in society

All these circumstances and heart-breaking "milestones" happen and more beside! It may even seem like the end! You may wish for the end!

In the last two weeks, we reached "the end" with our beloved Susie. Susie was our black lab - 13 years old - and one of the greatest gifts we ever received! We never expected her to leave us so quickly and so suddenly. Exactly two weeks ago today our wonderful vet told us that "nothing matters any more." We went to the appoointment with a list of food and snacks wanting counsel on changes we should make or not. We left knowing it wasn't going to matter. Dr. Jim grabbed John's and my hands as we turned to leave the exam room with Susie. He prayed with us thanking the Lord for our wonderful Susie. She was sick beyond healing! No food or care was going to change her plight. Dr. Jim couldn't even hear her heart beat due to all the fluid that was in her chest and belly.

On a scale of 1 to 10 expecially up against the list above, losing our sweet Susie seems way down the list. BUT when our hearts are involved in the pain and loss we experience, the loss - the "ending" - the depth of the pain is HUGE!

Last night I watched a video - "When Disability Hits Home" - which features interviews with Chuck Colson and R.C. Sproul. Each man opens his heart about how his own pain over his seriously disabled grandchild "crashes" into his theology of the sovereignty of God and the ways of God. In the video Joni Eareckson Tada helps tell their stories as well as being living evidence of her own loss and pain. Joni, Chuck and R.C. all affirm their confidence in God!

Most people in our world would consider such devastating circumstances and heart pain clear evidence that God is absent and not benevolent or benign! NOT TRUE!

The truth is that no matter now final the end seems - no matter how pain may drive us to wish this is the end - It is NOT THE END! God is still God! God is still on His throne! God did walk into our world and put on our skin and live in our neighborhood in the Person of Jesus! (John 1:14, The Message)

The end hasn't come. It may be just around the next curve or miles down the road. That doesn't matter! For those who know and love Jesus the end is not the end anyway. It is the beginning of restoration of all that is painful and broken!

Jesus came to meet people - all kinds of people at his or her point of need. He acted to comfort the broken! He didn't just pat them on the head or shoulder and wish them well. He knelt to wash dirty feet. His healing hand touched blind eyes, mute tongues, crippled feet and hands and broken minds.

My heart prayer for you today is that God will reach into your brokenness - that brokenness that seems so final - and bring you restoration. Your brokenness and pain may seem beyond repair or escape. Hang on to Jesus! He WILL take care of you! He still kneels to wash dirty feet and touch blind eyes! Your broken heart matters to Him! Remember this isn't the end when it's the beginning of restoration. That's something ONLY God can do!