Monday, December 17, 2012

Heart of a Father - Part Two

  Like an angry virus the news spread throughout the land.  Young children murdered, innocents slain, lives cut short.  News agencies commandeered airwaves.  Online news services refreshed, updated, and rewrote multiple times an hour - all clamoring to bring forth the latest facts, the most recent unaccounted snippets of truth.  Many of us found ourselves shackled to the grief and senseless nature of a tragedy unfolding as it pulled us down, bringing us face to face with the most hellish of human depravity.  Shocked, captivated, and saddened most gave pause throughout the day as we pondered the nature of such demonic actions, such hell-bent fury upon the most precious and innocent of us all. 

Of less notoriety here in the United States, but of no less senseless nature, simultaneously 7500 miles away across the globe a man attacks nearly two dozen school children with a knife, seeking to kill and slaughter those who are no less precious.   He succeeds in severely injuring several before being subdued.  Again, our minds struggle to grasp the depravity, the depths of chaotic wickedness that would drive men to such action. 

It is comfortable for us to pin the labels "insane" or "unwell" on these men.  We yearn for the clues that link the unraveling of their sanity, the breaking of their threads to reality, for certainly no rational individual would contemplate such actions let alone carry them out.  The spiritual among us will go so far as to mention "God-less" or "demonic" and all of these prognoses carry truth.  But in so labeling do we seek to distance ourselves from these men and their mental/spiritual plight?  Isn't it easier to diagnose them with some mental or spiritual malady and then write them off as "lost" rather than seeing their actions as symptomatic of the spiritual state of our nation or of the world around us as hell encroaches and darkness enshrouds men's souls?

Today, while waiting for my doctor's appointment, I saw the faces of  the victims for the first time.  Most of the photos captured sweet young children, faces filled with hope, laughter, and joy.  Some eyes twinkled in the slight mischievous light that only a young energetic and "creative" child can generate.  All were filled with life, promise, and beauty.  All said goodbye to parents, friends, and loved ones for the final time a few days ago before being violently taken from this earth.  As a parent I found my throat constricting as grief and sorrow clutched at my chest and my eyes starting to burn at the thought of trees with gifts that would remain unopened and birthdays that would never occur.  The "embarrassment" of tears was averted as I was interrupted by a nurse calling me into my appointment, but this sorrow brings weight upon the soul for all who would ponder the light that has been lost in this world for these small ones taken.  Such musing brings an overwhelming desire to hold my own six year-olds, my four-year old, and my ten-year old. 

Yet I am moved as a father and by my experiences as a parent.  And though I love my children in a manner that is beyond my ability to put into words, I am assured there is One who loves each of us infinitely greater still.  So often our Bibles seem to us to exemplify a God that sits distantly on His heavenly plane weighing the wickedness or holy intent of men's actions while dispassionately monitoring affairs of man as the whole of creation marches towards the prophesied ending of all things as spelled out in the last book.  The cross is our ticket to board the "life-train" and other than this, we pretty much simply need to follow some core guidelines and do our best to help others get on board as well.  Yet in this thinking, we fail to fully comprehend the heart of One who cherishes us above all else, who calls us His masterpieces - beyond the intracies of the smallest molecules or the churnings of the brightest galactic clusters.

I am certain the God who is called Love, the God who has promised that he knows the depths of our sorrows and the heights of our joys, the God who loved us so passionately He gave even his own Son as a ransom for every one of us so we could have the opportunity to be reconciled to Him and join Him in His family - - I am certain my Father was infinitely more moved by the events of a few days ago than I or any other being on this planet was.  Where was he during this?  I recently heard a commentary that I feel speaks very well to this question by Mike Huckabee entitled 'Where Was God?'

We are children of a Father who is moved by our sorrows, has compassion on our grief, and takes joy in our joys.  He loves us infinitely more than we know how to love each other or ourselves.  I was recently reminded of this in a post by Sammy Adebiyi centered around the shortest verse in the Bible.

"Jesus wept." - John 11:35

Consider the context.  A friend, Lazarus, has died, maybe thirty years old - far too young.  Sisters and other family members are grief stricken, hearts torn.  Jesus has known his friend is dead for days, knows what he is going to do, knows what is about to transpire - yet he is still moved with compassion and grief, he is still moved by the sorrow of his beloved friends and the families, the loved ones gathered.  He doesn't stroll into town with a smirk on his face and a "I know something you don't" demeanor.  His love for each of us, his ultimate compassion that puts him in the moment every time and causes him to be "God WITH us" moved him to weeping in spite of the fact that he alone knew what was about to occur.  He wept.  He still weeps.

He is Immanuel - God is with us! 

God is with the families of those savagely and violently taken just days ago - His heart breaks for them.

God is with small children who witnessed atrocities and their families as they struggle to put their world back together in a sensible manner - his heart aches for them to let Him comfort them.

God is with the families of 30,000 children who, today alone, have died from preventable diseases and hunger - His heart yearns for us to act.

God is with us - even when we don't reach for Him, He is with us longing for each of us to pursue the heart of the Father.

"I will not leave you as orphans comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, helpless; I will come back to you."

John 14:18  AMP

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Family Tree

There it stood; the culmination of at least two day's toil.  Illuminate, light reflecting from countless metallic and glass surfaces.  Home-made ornaments nested throughout and store bought ornaments hovering from invisible hooks.  Before us was our family Christmas Tree.  We all stood back and gazed upon our handiwork...and it was ugly.

Perhaps "ugly" is too strong a word.  Gaudy?  Unshapely.  Certainly it had none of the "splendor" of the trees of years past.  It was shorter, for one.  And the lights? For some reason the lights never did seem to lay on the branches in the evenly spaced concentric patterns that we preferred despite my best efforts in placement.  The ornaments seemed mis-matched.  It simply looked a hodgepodge of illumination, crafts, and ceramics - messy.  And this was par for the course with this particular tree.

Our story in obtaining our less than perfect tree was one for the books.  Our family of seven donned winter gear in preparation of a trek to a countryside tree farm.  Our foster children had never been to a tree farm, never even been permitted to get a tree before - so this was a very special occasion.  Bundled like miniature Stay-Puffs all of our children bounded through an evergreen forest laughing the day away.  Photo ops were golden as they took turns with the saw, cutting down our prize possession.  The only problem was that dad forgot the rope and bungee cords for tying the tree to the top of the van.

A bundled family of seven, all straddling a tree inside the van like a pine-people clown car.  The only way our human-lumber Jenga puzzle was possible was for my bride to ride in the back seat in the middle at the point of the tree like a blond angel.  Pine needles encroached every seat and with every stop the trunk of the tree slid forward tapping the radio "seek" button changing the channel for us to random musical selections.  Our laughter was near non-stop and our memories were priceless. 

In putting up our tree, I misplaced the lights on the tree and my bride rearranged my blunders - a nearly annual occurrence, children danced and jumped around excitedly.  Again, our foster children had never partaken of this tradition of decorating the tree and this was only our adopted son's third Christmas excursion so this was a special occasion.  Ornaments were hung, clustered too close together, and splayed all over the tree, and within minutes most fell off and had to be rehung by my bride - her previous work and efforts undone by the over exuberance of our children.  When we were all done, my bride and I were less than thrilled with the outcome.  Something was still not right.  As I mentioned before - messy. 

None-the-less the kids were dancing in front of it and each of them donned a smile larger than their own faces as the spirit of the moment was full upon them.  We darkened the house so they could marvel at the spectacle of the illuminated tree and silhouetted in front of it they all held hands and began to sing:

Fah who For-aze, Dah who dor-aze
Welcome Christmas, Come this way!

After my laughter subsided it hit me - it was right in front of me in the scene of my dancing children; this tree was the perfect picture of our family, a picture of adoption and foster care - messy, pieced together, not always perfect, but full of love, joy, and God's presence. 

There are sure to be giftings in the opening and healing of damaged hearts.  There are also sure to be disappointments as we cope with failed solutions and institutions that have been brought about outside of the Body of Christ and apart from God's heart for the orphan and the defenseless.  It is a difficult and challenging road to embark upon and expectations have a way of forcibly changing in the journey but the reward of rescuing hearts and seeing a future brought to life in small eyes where only dull "survival-ism" previously existed far out-ways the risk. 

This is but a picture of God's work in our own lives and the lengths Jesus was willing to go to redeem us to adoption as sons and daughters.

"For He foreordained us, destined us, planned in love for us to be adopted, revealed as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will because it pleased Him and was His kind intent"
Ephesians 1:5  AMP

I'm looking at my family tree a little differently this year.  I'm thankful for what it represents, for small hands of various skin tones and with various last names that have decorated it.  It's not a perfect tree, it's not even the tallest tree, but it's our tree, it's my bride's tree and it's my tree, my children's tree and together I know that God has placed it in our home for a reason and we will cherish it as we celebrate the Savior who brought us all into His family tree.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What I'm Not Thankful For

Like many, I've lately been inundated with constant reminders to frame my mind for the holiday of thanks, to dwell on the good things in my life.  At the secular, liberal university I work for that will not even acknowledge the name of the holiday for its christian/pilgrim heritage, but calls our annual dinner an "Appreciation Luncheon", we were even encouraged to engage in a moment of silence to "reflect" both before and after the meal in zen-like fashion.  But like most I've witnessed, I've been far too caught up in the day-to-day living of my life to actually set aside serious time to ponder the innumerable blessings that have crossed my path beyond normal prayer time or personal devotional time. 

Juxtapositioned against this nagging cry for remembrance is an onslaught of commercials, mailed fliers, and media ads all designed to pull me from my bed at obscene hours of the night to stand in lines with hundreds of others in the hopeful attempt of acquiring that gift or prize that will stretch our holiday dollar significantly further and bestow desired electronics, toys, and even educational materials upon my home and extended family.  With the reminder that I have plenty comes an urgency to obtain more. 

We, in America, are birthed into blessing, raised through blessing, daily partake of blessing in quantity and fashion that far surpasses every nation around this sphere.  It is often difficult for us to adjust the lens to refocus either in the micro or the macroscopic to peer outside of our routine to truly analyze just how truly blessed we are.  Often it takes face-to-face confrontation with catastrophe, sickness, or even death to realign our sights to this truth. But this heightened perception is often fleeting lasting months, maybe years if we are lucky.  Further, this "truth" is actually only a partial truth because it is based on material gain, a warm home, and a full stomach.  Rarely do we push past the physical to the eternal.

I finally succumbed and began to allow my mind to recount the blessings of my thanksgiving and they were, no doubt, many.  But continually, the trials and storms of this past year crept into my mental list and like flies over a summer picnic plate, I kept trying to shoo them away.  Why would I be thankful for some of the darkest hours of my life that occurred nearly a year ago?  Why would thanksgiving ever be offered for the rugged nature of the terrain I felt I had climbed over through the course of the past year?  Betrayals, sicknesses, a very real devil trying to bring a very real hell into my home.  The myriad challenges of adoption and foster-care.  Trials at work, family relationship trials.  Frustrated, I was ready to give up this mental exercise and find a spray can of OFF or Bug-b-gone. 

It was then that the Lord recalled this very brief verse to my remembrance:

"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

How many of us are thankful for the valleys?  I mean truly appreciative for the journey through those darkened paths?  Faith was tested, character challenged, our very core was exposed and the metal of which we are made was made known to us where previously we might easily have deceived even ourselves.  How many dark journeys have you made this past year?  What storms have you navigated?  What growth occurred as a result?  Is it praiseworthy?  Would you be the person you are today without the path traveled?  How did God shape you in that crucible?

"In everything..."

Often I've felt the pangs of regret, of mis-steps and despair through those vales, but I have been brought to the truth that I am grateful for the journey as they have forged new strengths within.  Even now I can name potential darkenings on the horizon.  Will I shy from living, cringe from risk?  Or will I surrender all and allow the one who has numbered my follicles to possibly lead me into those trials.

"In everything..."

I am certainly thankful for my bride and beautiful children, as always.  However, this year, what I am not thankful for is the "stuff" of my American life, my car, my four walls, my indoor plumbing, my large meals.  I've now visited extraordinary people in other nations who have none of these things and are phenomenally more in tune with God's joy than I.  No, what I am thankful for is the valley and the darkened wood, the trial and the storm.  Though these are not the only means, I am thankful that these will continue to shape and to mold me, continually perfecting me into the desired express image of my Lord.  "In everything..."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sharpening the Sword

 Reflex.  Action.  Damage.  It occurred in that order, within mere seconds and the effects were immediate.  A perceived injustice, a blinding flash of steel clad words honed to sharpness in tone, a wounded heart gaping as shock benumbed perception. 

The recipient; a six-year old boy.  His crime; disobedience in a correctable and minor issue.  The blade was mine.  It was the sword of my words.  Smoothly, effortlessly they slid from the sheath.  My anger that day sharpened their edge, my impatience brought them to bear with velocity.  Repeatedly this child had been instructed not to touch the chore chart, not to erase other children's accomplishments.  Family laws were purposefully violated.  Punishment was eminent.  My anger was just.  But in the end, rather than learning correction, a child learned fear.  Where instruction should have been strengthened, character was weakened.  This blade cuts both ways, the user often a victim of the same collateral damages. 

Continually we sharpen and hone the words that shape our lives through our attitudes and perceptions.  Yet continually we ignore this same very basic, very critical truth.  Our words shape our lives.  Not our jobs, not our relatives, not our circumstances, not our children's behavior, but our words.  We are created spirit beings made in the image of the One who created us and He brings forth realities through His spoken word.  We are created with the exact same capacity and yet most of us fail to walk this out on a day-to-day basis.  Why do we stumble so?

The third chapter of the book of James focuses intently on the power of the tongue/spoken word.  In it we read the tongue is wild and unruly, that "no man can tame" it.  No one in their own strength can fully tame, fully control, or direct the tongue and the language proceeding from it.   In one moment we're praising the Lord with it and the next we're speaking ill of people who are made in His image (James 3:9).  Our words are sharp and can be deadly, dealing great damage, even destroying lives.  James also states that like a spark in dry forest, setting the whole ablaze, this tiny member called the tongue sets the whole course of our lives on fire.  In reading these verses, one begins to despair of their own strength in controlling this most unruled of members, this most hell-bent of body organs. 

But that is the point.  No follower of Christ should ever be considering the notion that they can walk through this life without daily divine intervention - without continual supernatural empowerment.  These words of ours proceed from this tongue out of the overflow of what is fed into our minds and hearts through our eyes and ears.  "Garbage in...." is not modern slang, but a principled truth revealed thousands of years ago by the Father in His word.  This is why Hebrews calls attention to the power of God's spoken word.

"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power making it active, operative, energizing, and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and the immortal spirit, and of joints and marrow of the deepest parts of our nature, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart."
Hebrews 4:12 AMP

The writer isn't referencing some static, dead book of scriptures - the Word of God is infinitely beyond this.  It is even today an active, alive, and energetic entity performing what it was sent to do.  In John, the first chapter, we read that the Word became flesh.  We need to get it out of our heads that God's word is ink on a page and realize it is alive and upholding everything around us, even our very lives.  In Matthew 5:18, Jesus stated that this Word will outlast even the known earth and heavens.  It is alive, it is eternal, it is powerful, it is present here as it was when it was spoken  It will perform its speaker's intent and when we echo this Word, we are speaking that same intent into our own lives.

Our words, likewise, have eternal ramifications - as we are endowed, in the image of our Father, with this same power.  When His Word proceeds from our mouths, life is brought forth, hearts are restored, people are met in their lack and their lack is overwhelmed by His provision and love.  The surgical work listed above occurs and healing commences, whether we speak into our own lives or the lives of others.

When our words flow from the abundance of fear, frustration, or anger, the sword cuts viciously, wounding ourselves and others without prudence, creating further damage in accordance with Hell's designs, slicing at any target unfortunate to have crossed paths with them.  In our strength and limitation, we bring destruction, in His, we bring life.  We will all continue to sharpen the sword of our words.  How we use it and the existence we choose to possess, is up to us.

"The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences."
Proverbs 18:21

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why We Adopted

I was cleaning files from my computer and I found this journal entry saved in an obscure file-of-a-file.  It was written in early 2010 prior to even having obtained our foster license.  Looking back through the journeys over mountains and through valleys this writing brings personal perspective that God knows what He is doing even when we don't and we can trust Him.  We have since adopted domestically and are blessed to currently foster two additional children.  I share this now for those weighing the issues surrounding the topic and urge every reader to support adoption and those pursuing it.  November is National Adoption Month.  God is the author of adoption, bringing us into His family and He blesses those who follow in His footsteps. 
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
John 14:18 ESV


The word has a myriad of profound and personal meanings depending on what your experiences are in life. To some it may reference the broken and discarded. To some, it may conjure images of a day of deliverance and life. To some a chance for the pitter-patter of small feet when the womb has been closed. No doubt, most associate a transition from abandonment to loving care. I’ve been struggling with what this word means to me as it has seemed to dance all over the spectrum in front of me, somewhat larger than my ability to grasp. As I increasingly feel the draw and pull of God’s will toward the international orphan crisis, adoption is continually in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers, but continually I have wrestled with this concept.

My experience with it is limited. Growing up, I had only one close friend who was adopted and her adopted family was comparatively well-to-do. Her adoptive parents could not have children so they adopted two girls. She was domestically adopted; a Caucasian girl to Caucasian parents so there were no cultural issue to contend with. She has only mentioned the matter once or twice in the near two decades I’ve known her so it really has been a non-issue, as if it were swept under the rug and were to remain there. To my knowledge she has never met her birth mother and I do not think she will ever have any ties to her genetic heritage, for she has been adopted and loved into a new one, one that is all encompassing and sufficient for her.

While growing up, I heard of other adopted children, but, again, had little real experience with them. In grade school and high school, I witnessed troubled children who attended school for a grade or two or sometimes not even a whole year as they bounced around in the foster care system. These troubled youth were always considered social outcasts, very often having behavioral problems or being completely introverted and isolated children. Some I attempted to befriend. Some seemed beyond befriending. Some were here and gone too quickly.

From this limited perspective, one can imagine how my head must have spun when my bride asked if I would consider adoption, international adoption no less. In a stable American home with a decent income and two, now healthy, children why would one purposely invite that kind of hardship into one’s life? Why would a family who already has so many challenges to raise, feed, clothe, educate, save for college and weddings, intentionally step out to incur that kind of tremendous expense and additional challenges? After all, my childhood friend had been from a “wealthy” family and her parents had only adopted because they couldn’t have their own children. That’s why families adopted, right? Adoption was to fill the voids, to heal hurting would-be parents’ aching hearts. There are so many who can’t have children, they need to adopt the orphans in the world waiting on parents.

Sounds cold doesn’t it? How many of us have rationalized along those lines of thought before? If not the orphan, then how about the hungry along the roadside with his sign, or the filthy man pushing his cart down the sidewalk with his cans and other “collectables”? “There are social services in place to help those people.” How many times have I turned the channel because I can’t stand to look at those starving children and that man’s plea for my cents a day to feed them? Make it applicable in every circumstance. What about the young man who came into the back of the church by himself that you just couldn’t quite make it back to welcome and get to know, or the young mother in the store you saw struggling with her bags and her children with no father around to help that you convinced yourself she’d be offended if you offered?

You see I made a mistake a while ago. I came from a family who is very much like most of the inhabitants of this great land…content. Here’s what I mean: the pursuit of contentment also runs deep in my blood, it is an American right. We’ve earned it. My grandparents are of the era who fought in world wars, my father is a veteran, I’m a child of technology and my kids are surrounded by it to the point they will never know a world without it. Particular to my upbringing is the desire to reach that plateau of solace: that lifestyle of getting the income, providing for the family, paying off the house, and meeting all of the bills and living comfortably without major interruption. Hard work yields just rewards. Plan for college, plan for the “normal” events of life and enjoy. This is what American Christians are called to do, right? Put extra in the offering when the missionary or evangelist preaches in our churches, even pay our tithes, but keep everything according to the Americanized plan of God’s prosperity.

Then I began to realize something. I was pursuing the creation rather than the creator. I was pursuing the things and lifestyle of this world rather than the one who created all things. I watched my bride and marveled. She has never been one to be impressed by cars, jewelry or flashy trivial things (some men are saying “where do I find one of those women?”). Her heart was never drawn to the vacation destination or the travel experience.  What matters to her is a crayon artwork drawn by her kids or that I remembered her favorite flavor of sorbet is pineapple, or that she can get the jumper for our daughter at a garage sale for 25 cents when it would have cost 25 dollars retail. I saw her heart for the orphan and the outcast. It was this heart that originally drew me to her over 17 years ago.

What was my “mistake”? I began to ask God to soften my hard heart, to give me a heart for people, to help me become compassionate. What I did not realize is that true compassion is to “suffer with”. It literally means to share one’s burdens, to empathize with on more than just an intellectual level but on the level of the heart and emotion – to be so moved by the condition of another to be moved to action. I did not crow up with this compassion. Too often, when I have been hurt I have often chosen to remove and forget the individual rather than repair and rebuild.

Does this mean my childhood home was cruel or without pity? No more than most any other. We were simply content. This does not mean we were wealthy or did not struggle to pay the bills. It simply means that like most Christians, our sphere of action/interaction with others was comfortable to us and and it did not enlarge much as I grew. We turned the channel when the unpleasant truths came on.  Like most Americans, we remained blissfully ignorant of the realities of the world outside of our borders. 147 Million Orphans? I don’t want to hear that number. 30,000 kids dying today from preventable diseases including starvation; don’t make me responsible for that! Everyone’s got a need. You can’t meet them all! 
Adoption: back to the word. I had the pleasure of attending the Adoption and Orphan Awareness Conference this past weekend in Normal, IL. Foremost I realized I was not simply a single individual with a limited ability to change the world. I was part something much larger than myself. The hearts that were knit at that event and drawn together collectively are infinitely more effective than the sum of the individuals because of Who is drawing us - and He is working globally. My favorite quote from the weekend was “What God favors, he funds, and he favors the orphan”. Very directly, as my bride and I have started this journey of investigating adoption, more and more roadblocks and mountains seemed to be coming into view, chief among them was how we can put together the finances for this. Certainly we’ve heard many local testimonies as to how God has funded these efforts for local families, but the more we uncovered the process, the more we felt weighted down. It was this realization that God did indeed favor this for us and would see it through, would flatten all opposition, would prove faithful in every way if we will simply follow his leading in this journey that freed us.

Still, God needed to do something to change the definition of adoption in my heart. Yes I’ve seen the children, yes my heart is softened towards them and I yearn to be a tool in my maker’s hand to help feed, clothe, and provide for them. Firmly, I believe that James 1:27 encapsulates Jesus’ statement to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” for the widows and the orphans are the most needy and very often helpless of our societies. But the full weight of adoption still eluded me until I turned to Ephesians 1:4-6 in which the Word says:

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Then I began to think about my role in adoption. Just as I, a father who is seeking to bring a child out of death and poverty into life and health to live with me in prosperity here in the U.S., so much more did my Heavenly Father do this when he paid the ultimate cost to bring me out of death, poverty and disease into his household of life, provision, and health. The comparison cannot be measured. As much as I feel this desire growing within me, God has already achieved this with far more love than I can comprehend. Just as he is the perfect father and ultimate example for me as a father, so he is the perfect Adoptive father and ultimate example in this context as well. They are one and the same. He is the original author of adoption and knows the struggles in this process. He knows every hurdle and roadblock and can easily level them all. Ours to hold his course and obey and he will see it done.

Needless to say my bride and I are walking much taller after this weekend. We have found a new commitment to this calling, not only for our family but from other families and we have felt the shackles of self doubt and fear fall away. Much work remains. We are still required to obey, to follow, and to trust and this is not always easy. But the freedom is in knowing HE IS ABLE, even when we are not.

For more information on domestic and international adoption and orphan care visit these great sites:
Known To Me
Chosen Ministry
The Forgotten Initiative
147 Million Orphans

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Results

Election day has come and gone.  Nearly a year's worth of campaigning on the national stage all culminating upon the results of the voting public across this nation.  State and local elections determined legislators, auditors, clerks, and constitutional amendments.  Did you feel the energy?  Did you feel the excitement throughout the day as media outlets tripped over each other discussing outcome projections?  Anxiously, caffeinated reporters poured forth statistical analysis and number crunching through our televisions.  Into the evening radio DJs excitedly recounted the latest precinct and state projections.  Better than any play-by-play sporting event, the elections throughout this land impacted more than a friendly wager, or bragging rights among friends.  They will, in part, determine the course of events for years to come in our nation, in our state, and in our local governments. 

Regardless of your voting choices, regardless of whether you voted for those who were victorious in their election/re-election bids or were defeated, most all of us would agree that there is a more acute awareness of the directions our states and our nation are heading and our part in electing leaders who will represent the values we cherish.  Many vote to maintain beliefs or directions our governments and policy makers are moving towards that they agree with.  Many vote to unseat those same policy makers and replace them with others of different values.  Most will passionately vote for the representation of their convictions embodied in a single individual.  Many vote in fear - fear of either the incumbent or the challenger retaining/obtaining office and what the ramifications will be.  Network ratings skyrocket as we all tune in for the latest information.  Uncertainty hangs apprehensively over the day like a low cloud and many are energized by this doubt, by this lack of knowledge of the future. 

Those who have voted for the victors feel a sense of relief, a sense that there is a continued hope for improvement.  Those who voted for the defeated feel a sense of doubt, a dread that conditions will continue to decline and worsen.  One way or the other, most have either felt their hopes lifted or dashed in the rising up or casting down of men.  And the enemy of our souls revels in our misplaced trust and fears.

I was centered and encouraged by a timely post by my brother on the KTM website a couple of weeks ago.  Like most, I feel I was placing a great deal of this nation's future, including my own and my children's upon the upcoming elections.  I was buying into the fervor.  But we often forget, as Christians, we are treading on foreign soil. We are citizens of another country, possessing a higher residency.  There is a clock ticking and a plan unfolding that surpasses our prayers, our plans, our hopes, and our dreams.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power.  He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.  He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light."
Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

Is this a call to disengage and retreat from the affairs of men, only monitoring the outcome of the actions of others because "God's in control"?  Do we hide behind the oft quoted credo "witness everyday and if you have to use words" by never speaking of or exemplifying the power of Heaven or of a Risen Savior?  What if I were to tell you that we, as "little-Christs" are to be more active than ever in the affairs of mankind, in the governance of men, in the direction of the societal tug-of-war? 

Very recently a United States Ambassador was killed on foreign soil.  I hope this sparked some semblance of outrage within you as it did for me.  Why?  Because this person, this man represented our governance, our ideals, our values and our legitimacy in a foreign land.  His death was an affront and an assault to, not only his family, but to our entire nation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:20 you are called an Ambassador, only this office is of a much higher order and prominence than the man who just lost his life.  Paul reconfirms this office in referring to himself in Ephesians 6:20.  It is an office that you have been elected to by a landslide majority. 

Jesus stated your election in Matthew 24 and again in Mark 13.  The word for the elect, eklektos, translates "to be selected for an office, the best of its kind or class, excellence".  God didn't choose losers.  He didn't pick worthless nobodies that He could do nothing with.  He doesn't select people who are capable of only taking up space, breathing air, and using up resources.  He has specifically chosen you to be the change in the world around you;  to transform the foreign soil you daily tread as his elect ambassador.  But, as with any elected position, it is an office that you yourself must confirm.

Picture the winners of last night's high profile election races.  What if, instead of giving victory speeches after their elections had been confirmed, they quietly slipped out the back door and went to the local fast food chain for a burger, trying to inconspicuously keep from drawing attention to themselves as they quietly sat in a corner, head down, chasing fries with a soda.  Nervously glancing around they are always watchful to make sure no one in particular takes too much interest in them, stares for too long.  Absurd, right?  You expect them to victoriously seize the platform dias and with authority proclaim their rights to their new office and proclaim their plan for the future, regardless of how many times you've heard it on the campaign trail.  Why are we content to remain "anonymous" in our position as God's Elect?  What does the Word have to say about this?

"Because of this, brethren, be all the more solicitous and eager to make sure to ratify, to strengthen, to make steadfast your calling and election; for if you do this, you will never stumble or fall.  Thus there will be richly and abundantly provided for you entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
2 Peter 1:10-11 AMP

I love how the New Living Translation puts verse 11:
"Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
2 Peter 1:11 NLT

Picture that parade.  No presidential entry has begun to compare.

In the verses prior this, Peter describes the path to strengthening and ratifying your election.  Take the time to read these because this is one office we should all endeavor to be career politicians in. 

And the challengers to your election?  The Father owns the polling place, the courts, and is the Judge and He has already ruled in favor of you and removed all legitimacy in the enemy's claims for all eternity.  The polls are closed and you have overwhelmingly been declared the winner.  Time to step onto the stage -this way, sir/madame...

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love."
2 John 1:6

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trophy Scars


We all have them. 

Some are products of daring and bravado.  Some are the end results of negligence.  Some are the remnants of the handiwork of a skilled surgeon's precise incisions.  All are points of healing that have left us marked and changed forever. 


Some represent deep painful wounds.  Some were merely scratches.  Some were born of a source of deep pain.  Some were formed by injuries scarcely noticed until blood was seen.  Some scars are deep, penetrating down into muscle and interconnected tissues.  Some are barely noticeable, light pencil-thin discolorations on the surface of our skin.  Each one of them drew blood, many of them a great deal of blood.

One day a little four-year old boy decided it would be fun to lay on his belly on one of the dining room chairs while mother fixed dinner.  Shifting his weight to and fro, he loved the thrill of the rocking motion.  Back and forth, back and forth....the legs on one side rose just a little and he giggle in delight.  Again, back and forth.  He had little notion that the chair could actually tip over; that it would send him cascading forward, head first.  This small child landed solidly with a wet, crunching "thud" directly on his chin, splitting it wide.  Frantically the mother gathered her wailing son up as blood ran down his neck, staining her shirt and rushed him to the hospital.  Hours later, a line of hairy stitches was newly present to hold skin together where blood once poured. 

To this day, I still bear this scar.  I can show my children exactly where I landed and feel the knot on the bones of my chin.  Did I die that day?  Did my wound take me from this life?  No; sutures were sewn, healing occurred, and though I had "funny bumps" on my chin, life went on.  I also learned not rock on dining room chairs on my stomach. 

Every one of us has these stories.  Every one of these stories, in its own manner, is a story of overcoming where bodies mended and life continued.  But these stories of physical recovery are, believe it or not, the easy ones; whether you've recovered from that paper cut that caused you to grit your teeth or you've endured the ruthless marathon of surgeries that forced therapies and tissue rebuilding. 

The deepest scars are those forced through the internal wounding of the heart.  And we all have those don't we?  Betrayals, injustices, broken relationships; people who simply did not fulfill their end of our perceived expectations.  Often, we'll ignore the scalpel in our own hand as we focus on the blade in theirs.  Words continue to cut past tissue and marrow to the very core of our beings and the damage is devastating.  A shell of pride is defensively constructed to protect and conceal a heart hemorrhaging insecurity, starving for self-worth, and pierced by the sharp pain of lost fellowship.  A return volley is exchanged or, worse - the deafening oppression of silence as relationship is broken.

He sat on the hillside overlooking the city.  The sun had set and the moon was just rising casting pale luminance upon the landscape.  He had sent the others away as he needed some time to himself.  He could smell the cook fires, taste the acrid perfume of the smoke rising from the valley.  Vast and sprawling, the city stretched throughout the valley where the masses were still bustling below.  He could hear carts moving on paved streets as shop keeps moved their wares for the day.  Throngs moved through the canyons of buildings, making their way from the day's work to homes and families.  Mothers called children and the night's watch was heralded as torches blazed here and there, reflecting off of the occasional armored soldier's helm or jeweled wealthy.  Rivers of humanity flowing, lost.  His love for them pierced his heart painfully.  Lost, all of them.  Tears welled as a knot choked his throat.  How he longed for them to accept him, to listen and receive him.  Couldn't they see?  Why did they reject him so?  Why did their leaders fear him and despise him?  Couldn't they open their eyes and see the truth?  Why couldn't they open their hearts to his love for them?

"O Jerusalem, you who continue to kill the prophets and to stone those who are sent to you! How often I have desired and yearned to gather your children together around Me, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not!"
Luke 13:34 AMP

We are quite familiar with the notion of a Saviors' bloodied body, torn and broken for our redemption.  Have we ever pondered a Saviors' torn heart, scarred with loss beyond description.  Have we ever pondered that we serve a Savior that has "imperfections"?  These imperfections are the scars that he willingly bore and continues to bear for each of us, for all humanity.  He had Thomas touch them, He wants us to look at them, He wears them proudly because His scars are the continual reminder of a price paid and a victory won.  His scars are a beacon across the heavens that proclaim the finality of His lordship and victory over the powers of hell and the purchase of His beloved from damnation. 

Picture the anguish of carefully walking one's life in complete sinless obedience only to become a murdering, rapist, pedophile, thief, who was a heathen, drunkard, drug-addict, spouse-abusing, swearing, adulterous, child-abusing, deviant criminal subject to the extreme penalties of all laws regarding these behaviors;  this is what was laid upon His shoulders - this is the rejection that pierced His heart as His most beloved Father turned from Him as he hung on those timbers He was cruelly nailed to by those He sought to love.  And why? 

"Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame."
Hebrews 12:2

Many of us have scars on our hearts.  Many are closed over festering wounds that plague us still, continually bringing dull heartache.  Some have kept us from approaching a risen Savior and Holy God for the shame of what lies beneath.  Jesus understands what it is to turn heartache to victory, pain to triumph.  Forgiveness is His model for the release of infection, confession His antiseptic for healing.  Scars will be present, but hearts will be strengthened and reunited in the trial rather than left as collateral damage in the wake of words. 

Though we do not love the pain, we can learn to appreciate the growth that comes as a result of the wounding.  We can learn to appreciate our scars because they can each be trophies of achievements accomplished, of hearts strengthened, of victories won.  When we examine the beauty in His scars, we'll see the value of our own.

"The scar on my arm is fading. I pray that the manner in which I obtained that scar does not fade from my mind..."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Regardless of your bent towards or against the right to or harm in celebrating the Halloween festivities, I find interesting our culture's preoccupation and revelry of the fearful during this time of year.  I cannot flip through the television channels during any part of the day without confronting Jason, Freddy, or any number of other fiends spawned from the limits of our nightmares.  And we enjoy these - at least someone does or they wouldn't be on television, wouldn't have been box office successes in the theaters. 

But, for the most part, we all compartmentalize this fear into the harmless "carnival-ride" variety with little impact on our day-to-day lives.  Once the season is over with we go our merry way...walking in the fears that truly bind us - the fear of living our own lives to their God intended potentials. 

I am fond of the verse in Hebrews that states
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb 11:1 NKJ

Along with many other verses, it underscores the reality that all existence hinges upon faith - that faith is the creative force behind everything.  By faith God spoke the worlds into existence.  By faith we obtain salvation.  By faith we exist, live, and shape our future. 

But fear is also a form of faith.  Fear is faith in death and the power of the grave over a risen Savior.  It is faith in powers outside of the Word of God.  It is faith in the whispered lies of the enemy over the promises of the Father.  Fear is born of ignorance where faith is walked out in knowledge.  Fear is faith in the enemy's ability to steal, kill, and destroy with little or no restraint ignoring a new blood covenant that has been cut between God and mankind - a covenant that names you the redeemed, capable, healed, more than sufficient victor in this life.

And we walk in so many fears.  I could name several that I alone struggle with.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, fear of pain - the list goes on.  We are familiar with the psychological term "phobia" derived from the Greek word for fear.  The list of documented phobias is enormous.  What do you think of the below sampling from this exhaustive list of medically documented fears?

Aulophobia- Fear of flutes
Barophobia- Fear of gravity
Chionophobia- Fear of snow
Dendrophobia- Fear of trees
Euphobia- Fear of hearing good news
Geniophobia- Fear of chins
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia- Fear of long words (my favorite)
Ideophobia- Fear of ideas
Koniophobia- Fear of dust
Lachanophobia- Fear of vegetables.
Metrophobia- Fear of poetry
Nostophobia- Fear of returning home
Omphalophobia- Fear of belly buttons
Politicophobia- Fear of politicians (timely - don't you think?)
Rhytiphobia- Fear of getting wrinkles
Soceraphobia- Fear of In-laws
Thaasophobia- Fear of sitting
Uranophobia- Fear of heaven
Verbophobia- Fear of words
Walloonphobia- Fear of the Walloons (a french speaking culture in Belgium)
Xerophobia- Fear of dryness
Zemmiphobia- Fear of the great mole rat.

Though somewhat humorous, the above list is also tragic.  Every one of the above listed conditions is a documented phobia that has tormented and bound some individual, no matter how absurd it might seem to the average person.  These fears have ruled lives.  What fears are ruling yours?  This is a hard look but one I need to make because I am at a crossroads and God is calling for His faith filled children to step over the lies of the enemy and walk in the freedom they are called to so that they can effect the change on this earth that He desires. 

The great news is we are not required to undertake this in our own strength.  We'd fail if we were.  Bear with me as these scriptures are a bit of repeat from a recent previous post, but the truth here is potent.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

This word "power" literally means the backing of armies/forces.  God's strength, might, and forces are backing the power that he has placed within each of us.  And the enemy of our souls recognizes that power and hates it.  He will do everything to keep us from realizing we possess it from keeping us in condemnation and feelings of unworthiness to outright depression through hardship and sickness.

"For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood contending only with physical opponents, but against the despotisms, against the powers, against the master spirits who are the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly supernatural sphere."
Ephesians 6:12 AMP

How many are already well aware of this?  I doubt many of you had to physically contend with very many people today, but how many felt that tug, that pull, that gnawing of emotion, drawing of will, assault upon your peace?  It could have been the rude person in line in front of you or the confrontation you had with a loved one.  It might have been concern for plans that have been circulating in your mind for days upon days, weeks upon weeks.  Concern, worry; these are names we give to our fears to delude ourselves into the lie that we are not actually fearful.  "I'm just worried about..."   "I'm just a little concerned..."  Do these worries and concerns follow you to bed, chase you into your dreams?  Look what the Lord said to Solomon;

"When you lie down, you shall not be afraid; yes, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet."
Proverbs 3:24  ESV

When is the last time you enjoyed "sweet-sleep"?  Peace?  Tranquility of soul?  We would indeed serve a cruel Father if He were to dangle this in front of us as a promise and never deliver, but that has never been His character.  If He states it, it is His intent that we receive it.  Jesus said to his diciples:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

We are the victors in this eternal endgame, not because of any merit of our own, not because of anything we have or haven't done, but simply because of who resides within us and His incomprehensible love for us.  When we catch a glimpse of this love and simply reciprocate, fear melts away.

"There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love."
1 John 4:18  MSG

So refuse to live in fear of what God has called you to.  If it were up to you to succeed, you'd fail everytime.  It's His plan - trust Him, trust His love, trust his wisdom.  Pursue Him passionately and let your love feast for Him and others cause fear to take flight.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trapped Within

This month of October has been an active month in my family, in my life.  I've scarce adjusted to the fact that we are in the tenth month of the year and already I am looking to flip the calendar page to the next month.  Very many and numerous challenges have presented themselves at work, within our home, with the social agencies with whom we work in foster-care, with our health, with the public offices that I hold, with problems friends have been encountering - all of these having the cumulative effect of creating that "perfect storm", the perfect gathering of events that have drawn down strength and will week after week, day after day.  I would love to relay the testimony that I have championed the faith in walking upon the waves of trials and tribulation, laughing at the enemy through it all. 

I'd wager that Peter is in good company in this area with many of us wringing out overcoats and in need of a clothes line but he, at least, had the sense to call out for a sturdy hand.  In my introverted-male-I-can-do-this folly, I have a tendency to let the waves close over my head, holding others at bay while I try to make the adjustments forced upon me by entities outside of my control.  The result is often a very stressed out, inverted, spewing volcano of silent brooding locked within a body that has recently been rebelling against its owner.  In my wisdom, I see my marriage struggling as a result so I "try" harder rather than connecting.  I see my work load compounding, so I redouble my efforts, stealing limited energies from my family, rather than speak to my employer.  I see my children acting out so I demand stricter obedience and impose harsher punishments rather than spend more quality time with them.

Needless to say the equation isn't working.  Increased effort to increased pressures has only been leading a worse "me".  I have been trapped within myself as I feel the crushing weight of the growing responsibilities and demands of life.  Further, I feel trapped in a life that I am ill-suited and unequipped to manage in my own strength...

...and there has been the problem all along.

Why is it such a reflexive reaction to address the challenges and trials of this life in our own strength, with our own mental prowess and reasonings?  Where I fail, continually fail is that my reflex is in my own strength, and not my Father's.  Where I am trapped is in my own limitations, instead of walking in the limitless supply of his capability, knowledge, and wisdom.  Where I fail to walk out love, is when I am self-absorbed in what the world is doing to me rather than what God has called me to do, to be in the world, to my family, to my bride.

And this isn't some spiritual force I have to muster or dragging of the flesh to the Word that has to occur.  This power to draw from is already within.  It is as present as the oxygen in my lungs.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

The Greek word for "power" here means two potent things.  It means "excellence of soul" and it means "a power dependent upon wealth, numbers, and armies/forces/hosts".

Agape is "a love feast".

The Greek for "self-discipline" is to "curb one's impulses, to keep safe and sound, fence in, block off, protect".

This verse is a power pill of spiritual truth that I need before my eyes daily.  God has already placed His Spirit within us.  His Spirit, gives explosive power for moral excellence and is backed by the armies of heaven, enforced by the God of the angel armies (I love how the Message Bible puts this).  Further we're empowered to always exude a love feast to others, even when this headache-y, tired, run-down flesh doesn't always feel like it.  And most importantly, I am empowered to build a hedge of protection around my home, my family, and my life through the Word by controlling my impulses, my tongue, what is before my eyes and ears.  This Word is life and power and when pursued diligently it protects and upholds.  When spoken into any situation it affects the course of that situation. 

Where I have been relying upon my strength to overcome the challenges of the last month, I had given only a polite nod to the very real truth that

"...we are not wrestling with flesh and blood contending only with physical opponents, but against the despotisms, against the powers, against the master spirits who are the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly supernatural sphere."
Ephesians 6:12 AMP

And be warned; when you move to rescue hearts and invade the territory of the broken you will draw the attention and malice of the enemy.  It is no coincidence that in traveling to Africa, in fostering two children, in adopting another, the greatest victory the enemy could have against me would be for me to become a harsh, impatient, and withdrawn husband and father in his own home - to hurt and harden the ones I am called upon to serve as Christ served the church.  No greater personal loss could occur than for me to openly proclaim James 1:27 to the masses and model a self-centered lifestyle driven in my moods and bents by the difficulties and challenges continually faced.  "But how can I change who I am?  How can I stop this?"

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

This peace is the "blessed state of a soul assured and confident of its salvation through Christ, unafraid of death because of the reward on the other side of it".   It is the paradigm shift of the eternal versus the here and now only.  We (I most particularly) need to live for the eternal every single day, every hour.  It is only in the perspective of God's eternal provision, His residing Spirit, and abilities that He has equipped us with versus our own limited flesh that we can be fully free in this world.  When we walk in these, we'll no longer be trapped within.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rap Sheets

This one hits a raw spot for me and some will know why.  I've recently had the unfortunate experience of helping to put a man behind bars.  This person deservedly needs to be taken out of society's picture to protect another.  Two things particularly will enrage me to violence; 1.) the purposeful harm of children and 2.) the purposeful harm of defenseless women.  I have been gnawing on much rage these past weeks as a result.  None-the-less, it is an unpleasant and messy affair and has, obviously, garnered the hatred of this individual towards myself, my friend, and my family.  The friend I seek to protect from this individual is innocent in the affair other than seeking to extricate themselves from a demonic and consuming history of abuse and fear. 

As with all whom I would consider "adversaries", I have begun to study this individual - to learn as much about them as I can.  I have poured over online public records.  Little to my surprise, I have learned of an extensive history of court appearances, sentencings, and read about a track record of abuse, drug use, criminal activity, and an overall disregard for society's laws.  But this is never enough for me.  I desire to study what motivates the mind, what has shaped it, formed its thinking to action and behavioral patterns.  This has led me down the path of investigating this person's parents, siblings, etc.; all in the effort to compile a composite of their upbringing and values.  Again, not surprisingly, I've learned of a history of repeated law-breaking by the parents and siblings, disregard for societal norms, abuses, domestic disturbances, and even imprisonments.

How very, very easy for me to sit justified.  I, in my spotless criminal record staring down a small book of copied printed materials numbering nearly a hundred pages on the offenses of others. 

"Thank you Lord I am not like them".

" ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’  Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’  Jesus commented, 'This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God.'  "
Luke 9:11-14 MSG

We have all carried a rap sheet.  The first entry on mine was "Joshua was born".  Only our sentence wasn't so light as a 6'x8' room with bars, a bunk, and a toilet.  Our sentence involved an eternity of moral darkness, torment, and horror as we found ourselves terribly alone with a host of fallen angels and others as lost as ourselves.  This was the damnation created for the fallen ones that Adam bought into and condemned our entire race to with the disobedience in the garden.  This was the end God never desired for us. 

But in the only miraculous manner in which He alone could, God provided the once-for-all, overwhelming bond-payment for our trespasses - the ones you and I were born with. That payment was the blood of His most cherished Son and it obliterates your record, fulfilling the maximum penalty and sentence.  Ponder this.  Ponder yourself the above listed offender and that the above physical description of the countless pages of offense  are yours, only infinitely longer.  Ponder the failures, mistakes, swearing, moral misteps, and terrible misdeeds you've embarked upon.  Ponder that document suddenly and irrevocably expunged - wiped clean - spotless. When the Judge looks at your criminal activity report now, He sees only an empty white page.  Crisp.  Clean.  Not even a speck of lint on it.  Blank.

Because of this blood, God looks at you in His court and sees His righteous, His holy, His coveted and marvelously sinless child.  You have access to Him through this blood and He cannot be approached by filth or sin so this says much on your state when you approach him with a repentant heart, doesn't it?  From the scripture above, Jesus would rather we be the stumbling 'tax man' than the pious pharisee, because when we approach Him with this repentant heart, He can wipe away even the daily Rap Sheets.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Broken Pedestals

I was in store some time back when I happened to get in line several people behind a person that many in the local Christian community would recognize.  This individual started and heads a local ministry that has helped countless people and the ministry cross-networks with other ministries to truly perform the work of Christ in our area.  Though I do not personally know this individual, I've seen them at many of the charitable and Christian functions that I've attended, heard their ministry's work on the local Christian radio station, and even contributed to funding their ministry myself.  In fact, I would go so far to say that for many, this person's accomplishments in the name of Jesus and in love are something to not only be admired but are also inspirational.  After all, this person has laid their lives down for others and others' lives have been changed as a result.  People have come to know the love of God through this person's obedience in loving our neighbor as ourselves and taking up our cross. In a sense, this individual was a local "Christian Celebrity", whether they wanted to be or not. 

But here was the problem for me;  today this person was yelling at their kids.  And I'm not talking about the "NO-you-can't-have-that-now-put-it-back" kind of yelling.  This person's face was visibly twisted as eyes filled with anger bored into their children.  They hissed "I SAID STOP IT!" and their children shrank back, shoulders slumping in compliance as their crushed spirits withdrew.

Again, I was some distance away in our line so I know others heard this.  I continued to monitor the scene as inconspicuously as I could and this individual proceeded forward, paid for their goods, and marched out of the store, smoldering in the flame of anger with kids following in silence.  I was shocked.  This person was a community leader, a CHRISTIAN community leader.  This person headed a respected ministry.  Why would they display such open hostility towards their own family members?  Questions immediately began to flood my mind.  Perhaps they were having marital problems, perhaps the home life was bad, perhaps the kids were unknowingly rebellious.  Maybe the ministry was struggling and the stresses were too much.  Maybe they weren't balancing the home/ministry/personal-walk-with-God ratios well.  Even so, what would drive one to publicly snap in such an ugly manner towards their own children?  Suddenly the thought was interjected - "Maybe their ministry isn't such a good ministry."

Here's one:  Maybe this person, like me, is simply human.

How many of us have positioned others in a certain light of expectation in our minds?  Perhaps we wouldn't go so far as to call it "hero-worship" but all of us have individuals in our lives that we expect to walk a higher road; people we've positioned on pedestals of higher moral ground.  I don't think I would be alone to state that though I often wrestle with my own failures and stumblings, there are those I hold in a high regard - in part - because I don't necessarily perceive those individuals as struggling with my particular frailties or perhaps they "seem" to have this Christian journey figured out better than I do. 

How many of us, however, are quick to lose respect or quickly tempted to judge when that individual falls?  It could be as simple as yelling at the kids to marital infidelity.  Do we find ourselves trying to understand what that individual is struggling with or do we feel hurt and disappointed that these people somehow let us down by not succeeding every second of every day in their own Christian walk?  Do we get comfortable in our own failures holding others to a higher standard in our minds because "that's just who they are"? 

I'll admit - I've found myself doing this.  I've found myself comparing my life, my mis-steps, my sin to others and at times justifying my actions with the philosophy that because I'm not as holy, committed, or faithful as that individual, because I'm not as "far in my spiritual walk" as they, that I am somehow justified in my failure - though still in need of repentance.  If that person falls, however, how many of us have our cover blown - our excuses removed?  When will we stop living our lives comparing against each other and fully live them for Him - the only one who weighs the soul? 

This past week I was challenged by my favorite radio broadcaster with this:  What if we truly thought of others how we want them to think of us - all of the time?  I am quick to excuse myself with the thoughts of "You don't know what I'm dealing with today" or "I didn't mean to say it that way" and I often hope to find an understanding ear.  I always desire that others would know that I have the best of intentions and that, though the wrong action may have resulted or the wrong words may have come out, I tried my best.  How often am I willing to extend this grace to others?  How often do you? 

What if we all always assumed the best of intentions of everyone? Sure, I'm painting the sky with rainbows and lollipops are now growing in forests with marshmallows falling from the sky, but don't miss the question.  What if we truly did love others as Christ has loved us, as He continues to love us?  Wouldn't that include grace for wrongs both intentional and unintended?  Would "turning the other cheek" suddenly be so foreign?  Would forgiveness?

God's grace towards us is literally "overcast" - as in cast far past our ability to violate it.  The image of this "overcast grace" is of a bed sheet being spread over a bed.  His grace, His love - they are infinite and they cover it all.  I am so very thankful for this in my own life - but this knowledge should challenge me to walk this out towards others as well in the areas of expectations, failures, and even forgiveness.  Certainly the enemy of our souls would desire us to look at the man rather than the God who holds up the man.  This angel of light would always draw our attention to the failures or successes of others in justifying or condemning ourselves - causing us to ignore the immutable truth that

"...there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death."
Romans 8:1-2

If Christ is not condemning, then why am I?  In entertaining the fleeting thoughts of failed ministry and personal imperfection of another, I had before me a path of thinking that would lead to condemnation, a lack of grace, and even division in the body and this is perfectly within the enemy's plans for keeping all of us from truly uniting as the loving Body of Christ - each and every imperfect one of us.  Some people are quick to anger, some people talk too much, some people don't talk at all, some smell bad, some are "take-charge" leaders and some are introverts.  Some wear slacks and dresses and some wear ripped out jeans and t-shirts.  Some occasionally swear and some are quick to judge those who do. 

Every one of us is human and imperfectly walking out this salvation that God has called us to.  From the stay-at-home mother, to the "Christian-celebrity" to your pastor;  we are all human beings who get tripped up with sin and depend daily upon the "overcast grace" of His infinite love - a love we are to imitate towards each other.  As for me; I will be less critical of the individual who falls, who disappoints my foolish expectations of near-perfection, who tumbles from a broken pedestal that I placed them on in the first place.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hate is not Holy

Enjoying the free-speech demonstrations and the myriad social viewpoints and opinions of working on a large, liberal university, I've recently been stirred by a series of quotes and pictures on a social media site, all of them under the statement "Hate is not Holy".  The entire series is anti-Christian/anti-conservative in most all of its material.  I am exposed to its images by a friend who continues to post them in agreement with their message and I don't blame my friend one bit.  They are in line with my friend's views and thinking.  In fact, I don't disagree with the statement at all:  "Hate is not Holy".  Many who favor this site's messages have probably been burned by the condemnation and hate of moralistic and judgemental Christians; professing love for Christ while persecuting or ostracizing those who don't fall in line with God's Word or at least their interpretation of it.  How many people have we damaged and pushed toward hell in this manner?

I'll state it again - I agree.   Hate is not Holy.  Hate is never acceptable.  Hate speech is never condoned.  Judging people, putting people down for their moral inferiority, and demeaning others is never a right.  The bizarre paradox is that those who profess this mantra often do not hold to these truths with regards to Christianity.  Tolerance for all but those who profess Christ.  It's not actually bizarre at all when we take Jesus at his word:

"And you will be hated ,despised, by everyone because you bear My name"
Luke 21:17 AMP

We need to recognize that there is a spiritual struggle and that there is a power within those who bear the name of Jesus that all of those in darkness will work to silence, even though they do not themselves understand why or what they work against.

But returning again to the statement - Hate is not Holy.  This mantra has been bouncing in my head for some time now and I ponder its significance.  Never, is there a cause for me to reach out to another human being with anything other than the love of Christ.  Never.  In fact, I'm emphatically warned against the dangers of judging others.  Hatred cannot be a part of my vocabulary, cannot be one of my motivations when acting, it has no place in my life.  This is further buttressed by simple but immutable statements from the Word where Jesus says "Love others as I have loved you".  He didn't say "Judge everybody because I judge everybody".  There is no room for condemnation of others here, only love.

But here is the flip side of this coin...

Hate is not Holy - but Holiness demands purity.  Why do we agree that we should love others publicly but live holy only privately?  Why do we treat these two concepts as oil and water? Have we become so comfortable with society's "tolerance" that we are willing to watch people slip into an eternity filled with the horror of absence of God's life and the presence of every demonic torment suddenly revealed as this mortal body is shed?   It is easy to be moved by the images of starving, dying children.  What of the images of the reality of dying people all around us daily?

"You're being judgemental!"

The very definition of holiness is to be "set apart", "sacred", "pure", "untainted".  Hate is not Holy, but true holiness cannot abide the continuance of that which tarnishes and lessens or else it ceases to be sacred and becomes common - and God, the God who resides within the believer is truly Holy. 

"Who are you to define sin or immoral behavior?  Who are you to define what's 'holy' ?" 

I am no one - I don't have to be - it's not my Word; it's His and God's Word does not change to fit society's whims, passions, or popular agendas.  That is why it has withstood millenia and will withstand until the end of time far beyond this sphere or the heavens.  It is immutable and unchangeable, regardless of how men try to bend it to their use or justification. 

"You're preaching intolerance!" 

If I saw my daughter regularly pushing a needle into her arm, would you fault me for being "intolerant" of the drugs and doing everything within my power to remove her from them for my love of her?  Yet the very things that God's Word has spelled out as trespasses against not only Him, but against our own well-being, things that damage and destroy us, we scream out "INTOLERANT" when someone dares approach with words of life or truth revealing scripture. 

God is intolerant of sin, He is intolerant of death and that which destroys His beloved.  He went to lengths that are unimaginable to keep everyone one of us from said destruction because there is no one, not a single human being who was not headed to the same damnable end.  His work to rescue us from a fate of horror and destruction culminated when He sacrificed the one person that He loved most.  This statement has become so cliche to us in the salvation message that we gloss over when we hear it, but we each need to focus intently on this from time to time.  Picture the person you love the most and amplify that love infinitely then YOU, willingly choose to lose that person by allowing them to be sacrificed to horrors and agonies and then further condemn that person for a race of people who reject you again, and again, and again...all to exchange your beloved's life for theirs'. 

Does this trading of lives agree with you?  He would do it AGAIN.  For you.  For your neighbor next door.  For that belligerent, unpleasant co-worker.  For that obnoxious and overly pious person in authority - the one who's heart you're sure is rotten.  He'd do it again for the murderer, the rapist, the child molester.  He would do it for the man selling little bags of powder on the street corner and the broken woman selling her body to interested men.  His love has no limits and we are commanded to love like He loves.

His love, however, was not free - every drop of blood that spattered from the cat of nine digging into muscle to veins bursting from driven iron spikes was eternally priceless.  Can one now understand that this Holy, Holy, Holy Father and Son who have already reached across eternity and once for all over-provided the sacrifice necessary to remove mankind from a hell-damning sin - can one now see that there is no "compromise" with regards to that which only leads to death and an eternity of separation from Him for His most beloved lost children?

No there is no tolerance for the very thing that killed His son, but because of the sacrifice, He is now able to look upon a new race of adopted Sons and Daughters - each of them holy, sacred, set apart - as He is holy.  Our part;  we have to leave the garbage behind, our rights, our flesh, our "I WANT IT MY WAY" attitudes.  We have to abandon our demand that He lessen who He is so we can remain a little bit of who we were.  When we ask this of Him, we ask the impossible.  There is no holiness in this only contempt -contempt for His sacrifice, contempt for His love, hatred for Him.

Hate is not holy, but Holiness cannot claim to love and sit silent, for silence in the presence of a world slipping towards hell is a far more hateful action.

Monday, September 10, 2012


 "ENOUGH!  I can't take anymore!"  These are the words I heard proceeding from my mouth as I muttered to myself in frustration this past weekend.  For those who follow these posts, last weekend's activities and stresses were simply a warm up.  Round two, was far worse.  Though I am not in favor of these writings becoming a theater for complaint or a stage upon which to proclaim to the world "look how difficult my life can be...",  at times, I cannot help but spill over some of the more, shall we say, septic details.  You'll see what I mean.

This past weekend, my family was revisited by our old nemesis the flu....again.  And again...and again.  A family of seven and four of us were crippled under the intestinal churnings of a viral and microbial gut twister that necessitated frequent trips to the restroom.  With seven people in the house, I've pondered if we shouldn't install revolving doors anyway.  This past weekend was confirmation.  It's amazing how long a six year old can take....

This past weekend, however, we seemed to have garnered the special attention of the enemy of our souls as he sought to pull us completely out of our Christianity.  I imagine his thoughts went something like this:

"Now that we have them sick, what can we do to two parents under the weather, with two sick children that will overwhelm them and have them pulling their hair out and praying for world's end?  Yes, the other three acting out is a decent answer.  Certainly, interject a little tension on the 'fosterparent-agency' relationship side of things, that's not bad.  OH!  I'VE GOT IT!  Since they're sick with the flu, why not have their entire sewer system fail and all of their toilets, sinks, and shower back-up into their house?  It will be like hell on earth!"

It was.

Toilets bubbling over.  Water coming UP the bathtub drain.  One very desperate germ-a-phobic bride staring at me in OMG-open mouthed amazement as aqueduct-Armageddon unleashed before our very eyes.  And then a small, high-pitched voice, vocalizing our nightmare; "mommy, I have to go to the bathroom..."

Six hours later, after procuring tools, purchasing home-owner plumbing repair items, tearing apart and re-assembling my bathroom and toilets (and a whole lot of nasty), I successfully stood up, sore, smelly, and victorious.  A plumber I am not, but today, I was enough of a handyman to save my family!  To them, I was a superhero with a capital "P" on my chest (I'll let you figure that one out).  My bride promised to kiss me as soon as I showered and thoroughly decontaminated myself and though the day went in the absolute opposite direction I had ever imagined it could, I went to bed feeling good about my ability to take care of my family...

...until it happened again the next day.  We were already going to have to miss church for the sheer number of people under the weather under our roof when my sweet daughter nearly overflowed the toilet again.  I was in bed, not feeling well when the shriek went up "IT'S DOING IT AGAIN!"  Again, I had to take apart a toilet, open up sewer lines, work in filth and all of the things we just don't want to think about here, do we?  But this time, I was failing.  Nothing was working.  I was getting desperate.  I called a friend for tools and he did not have what I was needing.  There were no answers on the phone with the rental facilities.  I began to panic.  Kids had to go to the restroom.  My bride had to resort to taking them to the local gas station (which is always clean).  Standing over an open sewer hole in my bathroom, feeling the nagging cramping sensations of the flu-bug gnawing at my own body, I finally cracked.  "ENOUGH!!!  I can't take this anymore!"

Ever have one of those Elijah moments (1 Kings 19:3-5)? You know, those times where you seriously ponder if God shouldn't just take you because your life seems so miserable at that moment that you'd just rather not fret with this temporal any longer?

To shorten an already long story, thanks to additional tools procurement, continued work, and most importantly, prayers by my bride and children, repairs were made, a sewer line cleared, a toilet was rebuilt and a family was returned to sanity. 

What stuck with me throughout all of this was the word "enough".  I began to ponder and roll it around in my thinking.  I had come to what I deemed my stress breaking point and exclaimed this word, in negative connotation.   Like Elijah, I had had my fill and was fed up with what was happening to me.  I won't go so far to say I was ready to hop a flaming chariot out of here, but I certainly would have welcomed Ed McMahon at the door with a cash-able check.  My "enough" was that I was tired of the assault and I wanted it to cease.  It was my white flag.  "Enough already - I surrender -I'm defeated."

But there are other uses for this word.  In Isaiah we read that God has had His fill as He conveys that He seeks relationship, not rote obedience to regulations.

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats."
Isaiah 1:11

We all try to make sure there is enough in the checkbook to pay the bills, buy the groceries.  Some have turned this into an obsession to gather more and more unto themselves.  To those, God has said:

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless."
Ecclesiastes 5:10

We are blessed in this nation because most of us will not leave the dinner table tonight until we've had enough food to satisfy; whether they be the rounded healthy meals consisting of the proper breads-to-meats-to-vegetable ratios or junk food like pizza and pop.  We tend overwhelmingly to have enough than not. 

Many of us struggle with insecurities.  We're not smart enough, young enough, old enough, thin enough, liked enough, talented enough, capable enough.  Just as was asked in Job, God would ask you:

"Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?"
Job 15:11

You see, to God - you are enough.  You were enough 2,000 years ago when he gave up His only Son.  If you were the only human being to trample the grass of this earth, you would be enough for Him.  Enough is more than just satisfying.  Enough is abundance, it's ample, it's sufficient, it's plentiful.  Look it up, see what it means. You are all of these things to God. You aren't some deficiency in His plans that He has to make allowance for.  To Him, you were enough to set this whole world in motion.  To Him, you were enough to scatter the stars across the heavens for, you were enough to balance the tides and call forth the mountains.  You are important enough to Him that in Jeremiah He states;

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;"
Jeremiah 1:5

In fact, Jesus tells us in Luke 12:7 that we are important enough to the Father that He has even numbered the hairs on our head.  Who counts head hair?  Apparently One who is so profoundly in love with you to desire to know exactly how many you have left.

You were important enough for Him to place you exactly where you are, right in the middle of your own life.  Whether it be raising your kids, or working your job, or engaging that difficult individual; It could be as taxing as fixing the sewer or, more importantly, navigating that monstrous storm that has blown upon your family - you are enough because He is enough and He is in love with you!  Find your security in Him and His Word.  By yourself and in your own strength, you'll always come up short.  But in Him, you'll always have more than enough!