Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Grace Through the Right

A wound.  A war of words.  A flash of anger.  Something dark churns within and seeks to rise forth, threatening to dominate speech, seeking to spew retort, and narrowing focus on the chronology of events and utterances.  Fellowship is broken and isolation ensues.  We seek to fill painful voids with others, substituting relationship for relationship lost. 

Or perhaps we withdraw completely, searching out serenity through solitude. Vain attempts are made to conceal and lessen the effects of conflict within; a ripe environment for accusations to thrive.  The unavoidable analysis of others feeds a swelling indictment against our transgressors.  The acidic decay of bitterness erodes faith in humanity deforming hope to despair, transforming joy to melancholy as we question our maker's intent in permitting the injustices of others.

Perhaps we search the antithesis of seclusion by wading into the crowd, obscurity in numbers.  We search out the maelstrom of the masses as we seek to supplant introspection with activity.  Contemplation is muted for the roar of distraction.  Avoidance of self is the goal as we disengage our own depth of suffering and occupy our thoughts and calendar with obligations, service, and the pursuit of purpose.

We are well acquainted with the scriptural axiom to "turn the cheek" but what happens when offense so severe ensues that we are certain that to offer another targeted blow will only result in our own beheading?  Where do we draw the line at grace for others and the right to defend?  Additionally, when does our own righteousness of action permit the right to judge and sentence others?  Is there ever a point when damage so severe has been enacted upon us that we have the right to permanently isolate the offender with no hope of reprieve?  These are weighty questions from one who struggles daily with forgiveness of others and of self.

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.  He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matt 18:23-35 (NLT)

"From your heart"...

I hate this passage of scripture because even though I would seek every right to justify my defensive and self protective measures against another, make every argument for self-preservation and the protection of my family, Jesus' words ravage and annihilate any argument I can muster for the permanent isolation of others seeking forgiveness, no matter the nature of the offense.  Where "an eye for an eye" was law, His life and demonstrated love raise the bar to anger towards another no longer being a secretive within the heart but a murderous indictment against self as it corrodes intent and eats at the soul, slowly sapping strength and will. 

And forgiveness?  Certainly we can attempt to appreciate the sin debt and resultant damnation removed from all who call upon Him, but I often choose to argue that I am not God.  I do not have it within to wipe every slate.  But this feeble dissent is again overwhelmed by the power of an eternal sacrifice made on my behalf, one in which I am called to "daily take up" my own cross.  My ultimate desire should always be to emulate the one who made my fellowship with the Majesty in Heaven possible.  This cannot be done if I reserve my right to hold out on complete and unconditional forgiveness of others - even before they ask.  Failure to do so imprisons only myself as I strive in futility to grow and expand in the depth of my journey with Him.  The calling is clear.

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Colossians 3:12-14

In this verse,  the forgiveness the Lord enacted towards us is defined by the Greek word 'charizomai'.  It means to give graciously and freely, to bestow, to restore one to another.  This same word is used in the verse to describe how our actions towards others should occur.  One and the same, we are called to 'charizomai' others.

It is false to say this is not within me - for He is within me.  My nature was reborn for holiness when salvation occurred and to fail to call upon His strength and wisdom to perform the above is willful neglect of command.  Relationship with the offender may never fully be restored and certainly it will not remain unaltered.  Where my sinless and perfectly untainted Holy creator sat within the moral eternal right to leave me forever severed from life and love and in darkness, His overcast grace was spread over humanity for all time for those who will receive it.  Though right was present, grace was enacted.  Just as the debtor in the parable, the expectation is clear - when given opportunity, I am to walk out grace through the right as well.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Straightened Path

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

These are the opening verses of one of my favorite pieces of literature, Canto I of Dante Alighieri's Divine ComedyInferno.  I first read this text in my twenties and I now find a kinship with the author the older I get as Dante wrote the work later in life, in part, reflecting upon his own mortality and the divergent paths of the course of his existence and of others.

Today I am praying for a family and this has me reflecting.  Though their path in life is not identical to my bride's and mine, they are, none-the-less, engaged in challenges and trials that my bride and I can relate to.  Today they are in the midst of events, some would call the apex of trial, and my heart, along with the hearts of many are with them.  Through a path consciously chosen, loss has encompassed them and as many seek to comfort, console, and support, many others will question "why?"  Why did they choose to walk towards apparent heartache?  Why did they purpose to pursue a course that would leave them wounded?  Why would people do this?

A few years ago I recall sitting at a table at a conference hosted by the Chosen Ministry asking myself this same question.  I was at a fork in the road.  At that point in our lives, we had already lost a daughter to miscarriage and watched as God had miraculously retrieved our other two children from the jaws of death due to near fatal birth defects and cellular blood deficiencies.  We knew we would have no more biological children and I was content.  Through God's providence, I had a healthy son and a healthy daughter.  My bride, a cancer survivor, was on the mend and we had even been blessed with a new job with significantly higher income so I could provide for them all.  Everything was as it should be and the future was bright.  Except I was at a table listening to a man named Tom Davis tell me that it wasn't - that my contentment was a death sentence to others.

Next to me sat my beautiful bride who had convinced me we needed to be here, listening to this man.  For years before she knew in her heart that God had called her to a larger family than we would generate ourselves, but her husband was not so willing to engage this wild notion.   After all, who could predict the outcome of such a venture?  Who would unnecessarily invite government intrusion and oversight into their home by organizations such as the Department of Child and Family Services?  Why would one embrace the unpredictable nature of bringing troubled children into one's home?  Domestically these kids might not even be able to stay as they might be returned to birth families in the foster system.  Internationally, a family could get stuck with a nightmare on their hands.  And what of the expense of it all?  Wouldn't this sideline any fiscal security?  These were darkened woods that no one would intentionally venture into, would they?

Through the course of the evening, my fears were eroded as my conscience was mercilessly exposed to wave after wave of truth.  God's passion for the fatherless and the abandoned was relentlessly and repeatedly brought forth in verses such as Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalm 10:14, Isaiah 1:17, John 14:18, and James 1:27, to name a few.  The Father's instructions were clear - to truly claim His compassion and love, one must embrace His heart for the orphan and the abandoned, for we were each of us orphans before adoption into His majestic family.  Convinced there was no more clear calling in the Word to marry faith and action, we stepped from the broad route of comfortable acknowledgement and onto the path of compassion for "the least of these".

The journey has transformed us and continues to do so.  We have encountered deep loss, experienced mountain top joys, marveled at God's provision, called out in despair, and been amazed as adoption entered our own home.  We have witnessed His restorative work and been broken upon the damages of man-made solutions to neglect and abuse.   We've seen the light of joy flicker and die in small eyes, replaced by dull survival-ism and knowledge of loss. 

Foreign soil has been tread upon and small ones speaking foreign tongues have been held and loved on, permitting a glimpse of the Father's sheer joy in each of us.  Death has been witnessed in those same lands and oppressive and seemingly insurmountable poverty and disease has been encountered.  But on those darkened paths, a faint chorus of small voices singing is still heard, thick with African accent "...the Lord will bless someone today, the Lord will bless someone today..."

This path does not permit "coasting" or resting on laurels.  It's comfort was never promised.  Often the surroundings are imposing.  This path inexorably leads away from what seems logical often causing others to question our intents, sometimes even seeking to hamper our course of travel in the name of love for us or for our own good.  In truth, we've discovered this journey even makes others uncomfortable.  This is literally the hating mother, father, wife and children that Jesus spoke of in Luke 14:26 - following Him when those closest oppose you.

But this path has never been trodden alone.  I have never ceased to marvel that no matter how dark the wood around becomes, no matter how isolating the circumstances, in the midst of it all, there is one continually present who has never left our side.  Sometimes He was ignored for the chaos in our minds, but He was ever present, none-the-less.  And this one knows the path all too well, for He is the one who blazed the trail our feet pursue.  Having, himself, traversed into the depths of Hell, this one gently reminds

"Lean on, trust in, and be confident in me with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge me, and I will direct and make straight and plain your paths."
Proverbs 3:5,6 AMP

He is the one who never leaves or abandons.  Regardless of the imposing nature of the wood or the storm around us, when we embrace His calling to pursue His way He will illuminate before us a straightened path working towards an eternal glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Through His Eyes

This week a news cast made its way across one of my news feeds I subscribe to that left me heartsick, angry, and filled with judgement.  I watched in stunned disbelief as a reporter interviewed a middle aged woman.  Her niece, a mother of two small toddlers, had left with the woman and left the children unattended in a home.  In their brief absence, the home had caught fire and one of the children, a three year old had died.  The air was charged with emotion as neighbors excitedly recounted unsuccessful efforts to enter the home upon hearing noises and cries inside.  One neighbor recounted lifeless limp bodies being carried out by emergency personnel like small dolls.  A grieved fireman leaned against a truck.  A mother was inconsolable.  I, too, grieved for them.  Senseless was the word that came to my mind - but this was not the tipping point for me.

The news reporter continued to interview the aunt and as she continued to speak it became evident she saw nothing wrong with leaving the children unattended and was perplexed how a fire could have broken out.  She even went so far as to begin blaming the kids for getting into things unattended.  Then, with sudden realization, she stated with anxiety that she really needed to get back into the house to see if her purse was in the debris - it contained her food stamps.

I was outraged by this woman.  How depraved, how cold, how inhuman?  FOOD STAMPS?  Your niece just lost one of her children due to your participatory negligence and all you care about is your food stamps?  To have been able to reach through the screen....

My judgement, my outrage, my anger, I suspect, would not be uncommon. In fact, I would challenge that most would argue that to feel otherwise would be inhuman.   The phrase "there's a special place in hell...." would almost cross lips as loathing for this individual and their transgressions against defined decency settled upon the average parent.  What have we become where life has so little value that food stamps weigh as heavily upon the mind as the light in a small child's eyes? 

Here we can further contemplate what has brought us to this point as a society, as a race?  Death is all around us.  We dispose of the unborn by the millions.  Life is cheapened daily in our speech, in our dress, in our choices, our attitudes towards others.  The value of our neighbor has dissipated.  To love God as we love ourselves is a tall order but to love our neighbor....we can't even see them, we don't even know who they are.

Regardless, this woman's actions above tips the scales - don't they?  I mean who among decent people would ever condone behaviors such as hers.  Who would ever put children at risk or put forth such a blatant disregard for others over self?  She truly deserves punishment, doesn't she?  On the scale of "I took some office supplies from work" to "hell-bound in hurry" she bought the express ticket, right?

I find it interesting that only people generate a sliding scale of "sinfulness" and resultant judgement.  Jesus never did this.  The Bible simply says in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and missed the mark".  We are so welcoming of the overwhelming grace of God's forgiveness for our own lives and yet so quick to remove it in others'.  For them we demand a system of retribution and earned reconciliation.  For this woman, how many would have hellfire licking her heels?  That's my impulse.  What of the half-truth I told today?  "But that's something everyone trips up on once and a while..."  It's no less damnable than rape, no less a death sentence than theft.  It is no less separating me from a Holy and sinless God than pedophilia, murder, pornography, addictions, foul language, gossipping and a whole host of other sins that destroy the mind and body of the offender and others.

My actions are no less repugnant, no less out of character, no less shameful and far removed from my intended creative purpose than that of the above listed woman's.  Neither are yours.  It is the tragic state of all mankind.  This is not to trivialize the tragedy of the above events.  Death was the consequence of actions.  Calamity ensued and loss and grief followed swiftly. 

But such is our state as well as spelled out in Romans 6:23.  The price of our sin is death.  Eternal calamity, loss and grief are on its heels.  In looking at each and every one of us, this is what our Lord saw.  This is what broke His heart, moved Him with compassion, and ultimately led Him to the eternal sacrifice of the ages.  With the overcast grace of the sacrifice of the Cross and the Resurrection we are each of us able to step out of damnation into life.  But in this state, we have no rights whatsoever to cast judgement upon others or the depravity of their actions.  Some will be scarcely noticeable.  Some will be horrific.  God's commands to us are this;  Love me with everything in you, love your neighbor as much as yourself.  There is no sliding scale of sin ommitting anyone from being a recipient of that love, no judgement seat that any of us get to sit in to determine who is worthy. 

As we pursue God and our neighbor we'll become less concerned with figuring out why the world is broken and who should pay for it and the associated judgement that comes with such mental wrestlings.  Rather we'll live more purposeful, becoming His hands and feet as we embrace His calling to love.  We'll begin to see people as he sees people, see death and suffering as he does.  In pursuing Him rather than justice, we'll see a sin-laiden world through the cross.  We will find ourselves becoming the outpouring of grace towards others.  We'll see others through His eyes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Bowl and a Towel

It sat folded at the end of the table.  There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing of note.  It was a plain piece of cloth made of a solid weave.  This simple towel had a very base function - the wiping of feet dirty feet.  Among the common man better cloths were utilized for the washing and drying of hands.  The houses of the wealthy were adorned with silks and linens.  This fabric had no place among the wealthy.  This textile would wipe the road filth and dust from legs, ankles, and toes.  It was an unimportant weave in the background of an evening meal.
The bowl was plain, unadorned, and unremarkable.  Serving platters and dining boards would all be placed on the table in preparation of the meal.  This bowl would sit in the corner, unheeded until necessary.  Like the towel, this bowl had a lowly function.  Like the towel, this receptacle was of little importance to the planned events of the approaching evening.
As the meal hour approached they began to arrive.  First one, then two and three, then a half dozen, ten, and finally the room was filled.  The smells of the evening's feast made hungry mouths salivate in anticipation.  The room was permeated with the din of conversations and discussions.  Some were jovial, some were heated, all were impassioned.  One man sat quietly taking it all in. 
This man had been observing the rest for some time, listening to the myriad conversations.  Occasionally a smile would cross his face and slowly melt.  It was evident he was absorbing from the rest, drinking in their words.  If one were to study this man for long, one would note a wave of sorrow pass over his face as if some distant memory or premonition would occasionally remove him from the moment.  As the room's volume soared, trays laden with food began to be brought out and the occupants eagerly engaged the fare and the conversations with renewed vigor.  There were even debates among some as to which of them were more important and who among them were worthy of  highest honor.
Quietly the man stood and walked over by the empty bowl.  Turning his back to the meal he removed his outer cloak and garments and stripped naked to the waist.  All discussions died to a murmur as he took the folded towel from the corner of the the table and wrapped his waistline with it.  He then proceeded to fill the bowl with water from a nearby pitcher.  Kneeling by those at the head of the table, he quietly began removing their dust laden sandals.  The room was now silent except for the sound of sprinkling water as he wordlessly washed road grime and dirt from their feet.  Using the towel, he dabbed water and remaining mud from their legs and feet.  First one, then another, he moved on to the next and then on the next as the observers gaped in nervous astonishment.
In each of their minds was the singular thought that this was the task of servants and slaves!  He who was performing this act, was no slave.  Each of them firmly believed he was chosen to rule.  As he gently bathed and caressed each foot, cleansing away past traffic and erasing evidence of paths traveled, each of them could only marvel that they should be the ones performing this act for Him, not this reversal of roles as it was playing out. 
Finally the last to be washed raised his hands in refusal.  Pride would not see the teacher stoop below the disciple.   "Unless I do this, you will have no part of me" was the reply.  Pride had no place here.  He went further to explain that each of them should be ready and ever willing to follow his example even to engage in, what is perceived to be the lowest act, to serve each other.  This was his way, humble, compassionate, and filled with love for one another.
Often we remember the "Last Supper" for the communion elements, as we should.  We remember it, too, for relevance of the Passover Feast to the Crucifixion and rightly so.  We'll even remember it for the calling out of a traitor and his 30 pieces of silver.  Far too seldom do we remember it for the lesson taught by a bowl and a towel.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

If the Shoe Fits

I would tell you about the things they put me through
The pain I've been subjected to
But the Lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But I think your pulse would start to rush

Now I'm not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things I do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes

These lyrics are from a song and a band I used to regularly listen to a few moons ago.  I happened upon it recently and it struck a bit of a chord with me.  I'm pretty sure they do not share my worldview or even faith-views.  The words of this song speak of pain, a darkened road traveled and the permissible nature of paths chosen as a result - not exactly uplifting material.  None-the-less, there is a grain of truth in this that I find of interest and worth exploring in relationship to today's conversations regarding compassion, grace, and salvation.

Recent life events have placed my family firmly in the cross hairs of those who would criticize, judge, and cast stones.  It is, by now, no secret in these writings that friendships have been sacrificed, family has parted company, betrayals have been present, and few have truly been in the trenches with us for the duration.  For this I can honestly say I am thankful.  I am beginning to come to the place where I do not begrudge.  Rather I begin to identify with our Savior in Luke 14:25-27 where relationships with others are to be viewed as secondary in correlation to our fellowship and desire to follow our Lord - even at the expense of earthly relationships.

And where some would point to my past mistakes as evidence of missed callings and an incorrect perception of the Lord's will for my family; all I can say is "Try walking in my shoes".  But this ballad didn't recently catch my attention to become a personal anthem in which to chant to others in self defense.  Rather, what caught me was the notion that I have been failing to take note of the paths that others have been traversing to place them in the path of needed grace.  I have been lacking in my willingness to acknowledge the myriad routes others have been brought forth from and unwilling to readily offer deprived compassion.  As a result, I have often been blinded to the individual's heart condition, judging by appearances as many listed above have done to me.

In the verses from above, Jesus tells us we must take up our cross.  This is a familiar catch phrase in Christian Verbology 101, but we have so far to go in truly exploring the depth of the meaning of this simple phrase.  Repeatedly we read of Jesus' compassion for the individual and the masses.  It moved him, it directed him, it caused him to alter planned paths of travel, planned appointments, made him late for dinners, caused him to weep, at times made his stomach churn as it moved his inner most being.  This compassion caused him to engage on the recipients level - not sin, but engage.  In this state, he could relate, he could look the person in the eye and say "I know where your shoes have walked - I understand."

He knelt by the prostitute after those bent on her death had left muttering for being themselves shamed.  In kneeling next to her, he could look her in the face and say "I know where you've been, I know the darkened streets you've walked, I know about the men and it doesn't affect me - just stop doing it."  He could call to a height-challenged-cheat of a tax collector, call him out of the branches of  a look out tree and look him in the eye and say "I know about it all, I know you've stolen from your neighbors, I know no one likes you, but I don't care - I want to eat with you".  He can look at you and I and recite every despicable thought and action we've engaged in and looking us squarely in the face say "I know where you've walked, what you've done.  I know where your shoes have been and I don't care - I still want you."

This compassion, this grace, this love is the Cross.  This is the cross we are to daily pick up and walk out towards others.  This is the oil that binds the deepest wounds that are daily moving about us in the guises and facades that people cover over their hearts and minds.  This is Christ in us shining forth.  If the world around us saw this they wouldn't see the individual "christian" - they would see a Savior, they would see hope, they would see a purpose and a future.  They would see love.  Too often we want to share the gospel without engaging the heart and the heart cannot be engaged without compassion for the individual.  We have to walk in the love and compassion of our Lord before we can reach the one needing Heaven's touch.  The love of our Savior has to be present in us to be effective towards others - this requires understanding the path of another.  These are shoes we must all choose to walk in.

Friday, August 30, 2013


I saw a man today who stopped me cold.  I witnessed him from a distance and only in partial profile as he walked.  From where I witnessed on the sidewalk, his familiar gait held my gaze as he turned into the building across the street.  I never saw his face but his mannerisms, his step, even the cut of his hair and its color made my heart leap painfully.  This man was the mirror image of a dear friend who had passed in recent years.  I watched him from across the street until he vanished into the interior of the building he had entered, abruptly realizing that I myself had stopped walking.

Continuing on my way, my tasks began to melt from my mind as memories flooded.  My friend was a mentor, often a counselor, full of anecdotal proverbs and humor.  My friend inspired others, was strong in his convictions, was private with his emotions but protective of his family.  My friend built up others and affected many.  He was a principled man of integrity and character and unyielding in the face of adversity.  I miss my friend.

I miss his unique laughter.  I miss the camaraderie I often felt in his presence.  I miss our friendship.  There it is.  I miss our communion, our regular interaction of person.  He is present with our Father, dancing before the Throne now and I would never rob any person of that privilege.  But a part of me is now absent in his absence.  But a friend's passing isn't the only absence in many hearts.

What of friendship severed through betrayal?  What of damage done?  What of family that abandons during trial?  What of those who claim the same Savior, fill the same sanctuary, but pay little heed to those across the aisle?  What of those who promise prayer during adversity and present only silence? 

Do we, any of us, walk these lines - ignoring the individual in our midst, letting cheerful words of "encouragement" empty of substantive action vomit forth upon those who are looking for that glimmer of Christ's compassion from others?  Compassion defined is to "endure with".  My friend was compassionate.  Our camaraderie was filled with compassion for there was much "enduring with" in our friendship. 

We are encouraged in the Word to be compassionate towards each other.  This is not a grand idea or noble characteristic to aspire to.  It does not require a short term missions trip to far off lands or even a large charity effort.  Compassion will certainly move you to engage in these, but it is something more.  Compassion should always be on you, ready to be shown to the person hurting in the office next to yours or the person in line behind you at the store.  We should be putting it on every day like a garment.

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Colossians 3:12

When others are experiencing the ghosts of remembrance of lost friendships, failed marriages and broken families it is compassion that is the healing balm to their wounded hearts.  When sickness and suffering assail, it is compassion, not a casserole that binds the wounds, knits hearts, and strengthens.  When death encroaches, whether it be physical or the death of dreams and aspirations, it is compassion, not a card that conveys the fullness of the love of Christ.  But we shy from offering it because compassion requires that we give something - our own heart.  We have to give a piece of our self to another to be truly compassionate and most are unwilling to take this step.  It is impossible to be fully compassionate from a distance.  One cannot be disengaged and be compassionate.

So in this, we have found it much easier to quiet the teachings on compassion, to gloss over the example our Lord set before us; to turn scriptures where Jesus was wrenched in his heart and being with compassion to heal and move into the masses into Sunday School stories of crowds happily gathered at his feet.  In doing so, we create a disjointed and schizophrenic caricature of our Savior as a sometimes moody teacher and sometimes happy child-loving shepherd rather than the constant passionate, humble, gentle, compassionate, loving Lord that He is.

Though I do not believe people's spirits roam the earth post mortem, I am thankful to have seen my friend's "ghost" today.  It reminded me of a great many things my Savior is calling me to walk out.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Diamonds in the Rough


Dinner.  A collection of small and larger faces gathered around our table, eagerly chatting away.  Food is an afterthought for some, and the only thought for others as reminders have to be given to use utensils - not hands, lean over plates - not over your neighbor, eat vegetables - not only bread, and to take a drink of water every so often.  Our family is large by many's standards, though smaller than several of our friends'.  None-the-less the myriad skin tones, personalities, capacities for volume and ages are the facets of this treasure. 

But like any diamond in the rough, there are flaws.  We are, everyone of us, imperfect people living in a shared space under the same roof.  More often than not, our home does not run like a finely tuned engine but more like a carriage drawn by several horses all wanting to go different directions.  My bride and I take turns with the reigns while the other sits shotgun and we continually wrestle to steer the herd, never ceasing to be amazed at the ingenuity and creativity of active minds, who very often find trouble on the roadside to exploration.  A five-year old discovering the primary color wheel is a good thing - unless it's in marker and on the wall.  Our speech-impaired son building confidence to speak loudly is desired - just not at 5:30 in the morning.  Our daughter mastering educational games on the iPad makes us proud - but not when she sneaks said iPad after having been put on electronic blackout for lying. 

There are times when I catch myself unconsciously locked in a stare with one of my children.  During those times, the only thought typically going through my mind is "What makes you tick?"  For this I am continually at a loss.  Certainly I can point to specific characteristics in some of my children that are directly from my bride and I but there are volumes of psychoanalytical data regarding my progeny that I simply am not privy to.  Characteristics in young personalities that I am trusting God to develop as we endeavor to raise them in His Word.

There are, however, many things I see in my children that I also see in myself and this causes me to marvel (and at times to be concerned). Where they seem to have certain characteristics inherently in their DNA, I find that I have grown into these over the course of decades.  Yet the similarities are startling.

I note a small boy who has difficulty speaking, and is uncomfortable doing so except to those closest to him.  When he missteps, often rather than seeking a father's forgiveness, he will try to hide his crime or seek solitude.  His continual battle is to overcome his challenges rather than giving up and settling for a life that is less than intended, despite the difficulties imposed upon him by his past.  How often has this described me?

I note a daughter who has the security of a father's love, but something within still pulls at her to push the boundaries of the permissible.  Vibrant and independent, she readily becomes fiercely temperamental and in those times her beauty as a child can become diminished for the ugliness of her actions.  But she always longs for her father's heart, always expects ready acceptance.  I readily recognize myself in her.

I note another small boy who has undeservedly suffered the consequences of the self centered-ness of others.  The love of a caring family, a circle of trusted brothers, sisters, and friends - these are his greatest desires in a world where he has known little but upheaval and wave after wave of uncertainty crashing upon him.  Though he now has a loving home, the slightest tremor or hint of insecurity sends him spiraling into the lashing out and choosing of actions known to be wrong in an attempt to secure known consequences to right his world.  What measures do we take to regain control?

I note another small girl, who like her brother, has suffered cruelties at the hands of others.  Her response?  To injure in return.  She yearns for a family's affection, craves the protectiveness of a father's embrace yet continually when fears arise or she senses a lack of control, she responds in open rebellion, choosing self-preservationist instinct over submission, rebellion over repentance.  In this state, rage drives actions, anger against her past and those who would seek to impose order and safety upon her for in this state she sees no one else, only herself and the world's transgressions against her.  In this state, she is truly alone.  How lonely have we become in the night?

I note an eldest son and older brother.  He has opened arms to siblings, continually being reminded that he is the example they look to.  He works hard to protect and help those closest to him.  A tender heart generates continual concern for others, but a simmering anger builds as friends and family abandon.  He fronts a jovial exterior but deep wounds cause him to question the faithfulness of others, to question what is professed versus what is actually lived.  He is increasingly becoming skeptical of the motivations of people, often choosing solitude over crowds.  Have you ever withdrawn from the masses?

In each of these reflective facets I can note tendencies I wrestle with, challenges to my own walk with the Lord.  I am thankful that in each of these, I have the privilege of daily encouraging, daily praying with, and when necessary, daily correcting my children.  Very often, watching my children sleeping late at night I thank God for the privilege of raising them, yet I am flesh, I fail often.  How much more perfect is the Father's love towards me?  How much more infinite His patience, His delight, His joy in my existence, my supplications, my joys.  How much more heartfelt His grief in my sorrows and wise His perspective in the eternal weight of glory they are working out in my life.

My children are not perfect either and they never will be.  Outlined are struggles each of them faces but these are far from the sum total of their person or of their potential.  Each of them is a glorious created being that has forever changed who I am for their simple presence in my life.  Each of them hold mine and my bride's hearts in their hands.  Each of them is an ever changing work in progress as they seek their parents' approval and blessing.  Like them, we all stumble as we grow in our day-to-day with our Father.  We will never know the fullness of our created perfection until we submit to the Master as He removes flaw after flaw to reveal more and more of our created beauty.  Until then, we are all simply diamonds in the rough.


Friday, July 19, 2013

A Prison Preferred

 A grocery outing.  Simple enough.  Restock the pantry.  But for my bride, this is rarely without incident.  In a home with five young active children every errand is an adventure and every excursion is weighed for its necessity.  This junket proved no different.

From the start, behavior was challenging.  A van full of children with energy and looking for a release.  Adding fuel to this combustible are three approaching birthdays where every trip to a store is filled with potential promise, particularly as two of these children have never had a proper birthday party in their short and trauma filled lives.  The trip was hectic, with three of the four children dancing around the cart, running up and down aisles, pining for treats, cereals, toys, etc.  The youngest was placed firmly in the seat of the cart as we have learned long ago that his short legs quickly find trouble when left to wander.  After a marathon gauntlet of "NO, put that back!  NO, we're not getting that.  NO, TAKE THAT OUT OF THE CART!" my bride was ready to check out and proceeded to get into one of the lengthy lines.

It was then she noted that of all of our children the youngest, who is normally a healthy contributor to our chaos, was uncharacteristically quiet.  As spider-sense tingled, instinct kicked in and she began to search our young one.  First his face, then his body, then his... chocolate covered hands?  Her investigation yielded a four year old boy who had stolen his first candy bar and was quietly sitting on his unwrapped pilfering breaking off piece-after-piece unnoticed and putting them into his mouth to melt away when mother wasn't looking.  But no matter how good he was, the evidence on his hands and clothing still indicted.  Obviously shock was a bit of a reaction, along with chastisement and some ire as the candy bar was taken from him and given to the cashier to throw away as my bride apologetically paid for it.  He could not, after all, be permitted to continue enjoying the fruit of his crime. 

My bride then exited the store, loaded the children into the van and then proceeded to load the groceries into the rear of the vehicle.  When she returned to the front of the van after depositing the cart, she found a four-year old boy crying hysterically.  As it turns out, his siblings had convinced him that his crime was, in fact, a severe crime demanding severe punishment and that he would be shortly visited by the police and hauled away to jail.  One of my daughters even taunted "Oh, hear that?  Sounds like the sirens are getting closer - those are for you.  You're going to jail."  Another joined in "You won't like it either, I know what it's like!"  My bride had to console him that he was not, in fact, going to jail, that no one was going to take him, that even though he had done something wrong - the candy bar had been paid for, and that the price and penalty for his crime had been taken care of.  He started to calm with this realization.  Then my bride informed our young one that he would still have to "talk to daddy tonight when he gets home".  With this, our youngest started to wail afresh with renewed outbursts of anguish. 

When my bride recounted the above to me, laughter was the obvious response.  But so was a twinge of sadness in that I questioned what would make a small boy rather go to jail than talk to his father who loves him?  Days later, this has created for me an illustration worthy of self-examination.

How often have I missed it, missed God's calling, missed His direction or directive for my life and known it?  How often has disobedience come into play in my life or maybe it is simply those areas that I feel the tug to relinquish but I hold onto tightly refusing to let go?  How often are we imprisoned by our unwillingness to approach Him with the things that keep us from self-harm, potential developed, created plan perfected?  Have you ever, in your heart, desired your jail, your prison, your lines in the sand over facing the truth and admonitions of "Daddy"?

We can't play games with this Father or His Word for He cuts away falsehoods and requires reaction to truth as stated;

"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

Our reaction?  We either come into line with this Word and become changed or we stay imprisoned in ourselves, staying blinded, muted, and dulled for this existence.  God wants to unlock and free every part of His plan for our lives through us which will bring us ultimate purpose, unlocking our fullest potential and bring Him ultimate glory.  It is for this we were created - to be vessels of His love overflowing.  And when we stumble, repentance is a whispered breath away; the path to freedom and restoration.  There may be those telling us that our trespasses are too severe, perhaps we convince ourselves that the stain of our actions have made us permanently unworthy.  There will always be people judging us, condemning others but like my son, we each are privileged to know that our debt has been paid, our crimes have been accounted for, but we still have a responsibility to approach the Father.  If we shy from this, if we attempt our own path of glorification and satisfaction, we are, in effect preferring a prison over a parent.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Cost of a Child

Court; a dreaded word for my bride and I.  It has become a regular visitor on our life's calendar that brings with it frustration, and often tears.  We are foster-parents and court is a necessary part of the journey in healing families and children who have been taken from parents. 

Regardless of the love and nurturing hearts of any foster-family, my bride and I have discovered that we are, in the court's eyes, "care-givers" - nothing more.  It is deemed that attorneys know better what is in the children's best interests, what their needs are and how to best fulfill those needs rather than the ones who live with these children 24 hours a day.  Inestimable hours have been spent in phone conversations with counselors, health professionals, case workers and their supervisors - all on behalf of the children and their welfare.  There exists a polarization of professional opinions and we find ourselves living our own lives by committee fighting for common sense to rule out.  Nothing can be done on behalf of these young ones without a myriad of individual agencies reviewing and voicing input. 

This is is the price for those who would foster-parent or adopt children who have suffered abuse and trauma.

This is also a path we have consciously chosen.  Our greatest reward in this journey, our greatest vindication will be to watch two small children grow to maturity with the knowledge that they are loved, that they possess worth, and that they can accomplish anything they set their minds and wills to.  If we have nothing more than a season to instill this, then we will pray over seed sown and a full harvest in hearts and minds.  Should it become something more permanent, then we will endeavor to raise up the next Godly generation.  Regardless, there is a cost - yet this cost is rarely discussed freely or openly.  Private people endure private pain.  When engaging conversation, so very often our trials and heartaches remain hidden.  After all, who wants to walk around with their emotions on their sleeve even if strength for the next day seems an impossibility?  So adoptive and foster families keep their struggles to themselves.  Many walk with a knowing light in our eyes, often able to relate, but rarely willing to share to the uninitiated.

I tire of the notion that we have to lure, beg or somehow trick people into being interested in orphan care and adoption by avoiding the realities of the journey.  The truth is it will cost you.  It will be difficult.  Yes it will be the most stretching, taxing endeavor you've ever embarked upon.  There are rewards and joys in the journey, but here is the bottom line:  you will not remain unaltered or undamaged.  As you confront stratified systems and the injustices of others, as you witness hell's carnage in small lives you will weep. 

But far, far more importantly - it's God's heart.  It's that simple.  His passion for the fatherless is the only means by which any of us can hope to see His face and avoid damnation with a host of fallen angelic insurrectionists.  His passion for the fatherless is the love that causes Him to pursue you - the fatherless.  Adoption is His cosmic model.  How often have we prayed to emulate His character, his persona in our lives?  For those who have embarked upon this journey to love the fatherless, the will and the heart of the Father have been revealed and fuels the energies and passions.

Further, ponder this:  When you commit yourself to the fatherless, when you foster-parent, when you adopt that child who has witnessed hell, abandonment, uncertain days - you will pay for someone else's misdeeds.  You will pay the price for their crimes against the innocent.  The price may be minor as in night terrors, bed-wetting, clinging, and constant interruptions to sleep for security's sake.  It may be more severe with emotional and psychological disconnect, tantrums, physical or cognitive delays requiring specialists, physicians, counselors, and psychologists.  No matter the severity - you will bear the burden of another's sins. 

Is this fair?  No, it is certainly most unfair and this child has known little of "fair" in their brief years.  But before you despair or back away indicating "not-for-me" you should remember: there is One who paid the ultimate price unfairly.  Like the foster or adoptive parent, the One who paid for these crimes didn't deserve what was placed upon Him.  None-the-less, His payment secured a life and a new start, a second chance...a thousandth chance if needed... for a new family of sons and daughters. 

And it's a broken family, a messed up family.  This "mixed" family has imperfect people of all colors, sizes and demeanors in it.  Some in this family get along with each other and some still have yet to learn the lessons of selfless love.  But each calls upon a Father who loves them infinitely.  His most favoured Son paid dearly for the crimes of others to bring brothers and sisters into the Father's family.  But with a gaze of penetrating compassion the Son looks to us and says:

"If anyone desires to be My disciple, let him deny himself, disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests and take up his cross and follow Me, cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also".
Matthew 16:24 AMP

 This is the cost of a child.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Serving a Dead God

Sunday morning alter call. An invitation is made, earnest prayers are offered. When response occurs, salvation ensues and a miracle takes place that very often escapes the natural senses and is thereby diminished in many minds for the truth of its grandeur; an event that causes Heaven itself to pause in celebration and angels to erupt in praise. Eternal death and separation is purged and eternal life bursts forth transforming the spirit.  For us so often bound by a handful of sensory perceptions, minutes pass as platform music ceases and we await an exit prayer to resume the remainder of our day.

Or perhaps no one responds and the question is simply "how many know Him as Lord?" Often hands are raised, not in celebration or in exuberant ownership of adoption into His eternal living family, but rather out of an obligatory response where we'd prefer not to be perceived as having problems in our faith-walk. (Litmus test - try keeping your hand down next time the question is posed and witness where your pride takes you.)

Mid-week; is He in your car on the way home? In your office, next to you while you hold the tools of your trade, or firmly in your thoughts as move through your day with children in tow? Where is your God? Do you feel his presence at all?  Or do you have Him neatly compartmentalized in morning quiet times, evening meal prayers, and bedtime devotions? Surrounded by people passing through this plane towards eternity, do you walk through your days in mental isolation as you formulate plans, tasks, conversations and correspondences?  Do you move through your days until it is time to pull the covers in darkness only to repeat the process again?  Where is your God?

To the external observer, is He alive in you and through you or is He a ritual, a rite of afterlife salvation that is practiced with regularity to avoid hellfire?  Church attendance, charitable works, contributions, and even a reigning in of your tongue all noted by others - you have become yet another devout follower of religion. The world has many with little power to transform or rise above the chains that shackle the flesh.

Or does your God revolutionize the way you touch your world, walk through it, relate to those within it? Does He empower you to move beyond your own limitations and strengths into something far beyond you, your flesh and your capabilities? Do you walk in joy when hell is erupting around you? Are you capable of reaching out to others when wave after wave washes against your foundations, trying to pull you down into the current? Are you able to persevere when others abandon?  When friend and family turn on you, do you know in your heart of hearts the power of a Father who states "I will never leave you or forsake you"?

There is a continual call for intimacy laden throughout His Word. God yearns for us to enter into deep relationship with Him; the kind where moment by moment we are in touch with His thoughts and person.

"Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

"Never stop praying."  Prayer; the simple act of communication. "But how can I seriously continually talk to God;  continually be in contact with someone I cannot see?" In a society where phones and mobile devices are set to chime with every social network update from friends and family, is continual communication such a difficult concept to grasp?  Do we stumble over the mental roadblock of formulating just how we could possibly spend the entirety of our day in fellowship with the One who is far more interested in us than any one person on our "friends" list and who knows us far more intimately than any family member or spouse. 

"At that time you will ask (pray) in My Name; and I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for it will be unnecessary.  For the Father Himself tenderly loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out from the Father."
John 16:26-27  AMP

His wish is that we would desire to step beyond knowing about Him and come to know Him, personally, with similar passion.  But our careless and nonchalant irreverence towards this greatest eternal love affair is often what keeps us from witnessing the miraculous and truly wonderful in our own lives.  It has always been His goal that we become so energized by the life we have in Him that we cease being entangled by the eternally trivial that weighs down most who walk this plane.  This does not mean storms do not arise or that need is never present.

"The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance to the full, till it overflows."
John 10:10 AMP

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."
Matthew 6:33 NLT

This is the relationship that empowers, it is this pursuit of person that energizes and brings life into death transforming worlds and spheres of influence.  This is the beacon that shatters religion and makes a mockery of man's institutions of ritual. It is the force that draws men to Him; the believer living out the love and life of Christ, literally Christ in us, for the world to see. When others witness hell erupting and God's life pouring forth from you, the paradox fascinates, draws, inspires and tugs at the hearts and minds of a world desperately searching for substance. All too familiar are the gods of self-appeasement and ritual that change little in the human condition.  But in witnessing God in action through His children's lives, they will know that you do not serve a dead, but a very real, living, and powerful God.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


"Gethsemane".  The very name brings images of darkness, struggle, the spilling of blood, and betrayal.  Ponder for a minute why this simple garden geography has taken its place in history as sacred ground still venerated by the masses.  No temples or monuments of note were present.  Was it because of the One who walked there in the hours before His death?  He walked many places, partook of a passover meal, healed the sick - all in the hours/days before His death.  Of all the geographies visited and footsteps taken in the dust over the span of a brief number of years, what causes this grove to possess such weight in our thinking?

The power of Gethsemane is not in who visited, but in what was tested.  Faith was tested.  Will was tested.  Trust was tested.  "How could these be tested of the Son of God?  Certainly He would never lose faith in His father"  Have you ever lost faith in your Heavenly Father?  Doubted direction or consequence of obedience?  Have you ever lost trust in the One who is immutable, having placed your eyes on the imposing nature the mountains in your path?

"So it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brethren in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful, sympathetic, and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins.  For because He Himself, in His humanity, has suffered in being tempted, tested, and tried, He is able immediately to run to the cry of, assist, relieve those who are being tempted and tested and tried and who therefore are being exposed to suffering."
Hebrews 2:17-18  AMP

In this, we know that Jesus did not approach this garden as a super-human, demigod empowered to withstand through the sheer force of identity.  A man walked into that grove, asking close friends to wait and pray as he stepped further into the night.  In that darkness obedience was buffeted, fear descended, and the overwhelming weight of physical and emotional torment yet to be suffered crashed down.  A knowledge of hell on earth was present as every sensible option screamed "WALK AWAY - YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS!  THERE HAS TO BE ANOTHER WAY!"  A pounding heart, tears burning eyes, a body tormented to the point of blood droplets forming.  Would a loving Father truly ask His child to step into darkness?

Surrender.  "Not my will..."

Surrender.  This is the Father's desire for each of us.  Complete, total, surrender.  But what if His leading turns downward into darkness.  What if the One calling for complete trust leads us into, what to any sensible mind, could only result in pain, loss, or sacrifice.  Are we willing to trust Him with our eternal lives?  Are we willing to trust that the Omniscient One knows a far greater eternal outcome than our personal comfort or safety can secure?  Will we step into darkness when we cannot know the end or the sum total of the risks; step forward simply because it is He who asks?  Or like the would-be-disciple in Luke 9:61, do we cautiously place our commitment?  "I will follow, but...."

What is being asked may seem impossible, improbable, and unlikely to turn out well.  The storm you find yourself in may cause you to daily cling ever more tightly to Him and His word.  Friends and family may abandon as they fail to understand your path, fail to share your conviction.  There may be days were each breath is an act of faith and every step forward is born of willful determination in the valley through which you tread.  Will you surrender to His will to continue or will you opt for a less painful relationship - one born out of lines in the sand to remain uncrossed and hidden portions of your heart to remain untouched?  He loves you regardless and salvation is already achieved by faith in His Son.  But will you surrender and let Him lead you to your greatest potential and impact on a sinful and dying race?

"Not my will..."  Like Him, the key to your Gethsemane is surrender.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Building Sand Castles

Mid-life, middle of the road.  Nothing exceptional on the surface, from my perspective.  That is my self-portrayal.  This is not a statement of disappointment or of defeat.  I have accolades.  I have achievements.  I have certifications, awards and even pins marking appreciation of service.  I can point to policies, both local and even on the state level that have been impacted by work I have been involved with.  I can point to facilities and claim "I helped build that".  All of these, however, are of temporal value, forgotten with a few brief years passage and all are subject to be replaced, undone, or destroyed.

I am familiar with many who, starting midlife like I am, are chasing this "American Dream" in whatever translation modern vernacular has modified it.  It may simply be not to be working well into their 60s or 70s.  It may be to get that bigger boat.  It may be just to get out of debt to buy a home while rates are down.  It may be to push the kids out the door as soon as possible so that the real party can begin...

Every bit of news regarding pensions adjustments, a change in benefits, interest rates and the like stirs a frenzy of concerned conversations among co-workers. Should a 401K be looked at?  What about a 457b plan?  Maybe there's a better life insurance policy out there.  AFLAC?  Personally, I need more wisdom in areas of financial planning.  But the overwhelming worry and concern that regularly boils to the surface always takes me aback.  What happened to Carpe Dieme - seizing all of the day, or as a certain Galilean Carpenter once put it

"...don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes".
Matthew 6:34 MSG

But this is not typically how we handle our lives.  "Protect at all costs" is our motto.  Protect your lifestyle, your comforts, your finances, your future.  In this we tightly hold onto those things we deem necessary for the ideal that we have formulated of a "good" and "enjoyable" life.  Continually we strive to maintain firm footing while planning for modest expansion or improvement.  We look at others and believe their utopia could be our utopia.  Their paradise should be the model for ours, no matter how distorted, dysfunctional or dishonorable the backdrop of their personalities, their family welfare or their moral compasses.  We pour our efforts, our energies, and our lives into building personal promised-lands.  The great folly in this is the failure to note that we are all perched on the seashores of eternity and all of our works, our efforts, our aspirations and labors are subject to a continual state of erosion by the ebb and flow of the tides of time. 

But there is One who lives beyond time.  His ways are timeless and the following of His precepts yield rewards of eternal, and indestructible priceless-ness.  Very often these benefits of lasting value are not readily accepted or embraced this side of the seashore.  We crave the short term glorification, the "smell of the new", the physical gratification to the senses, all the while denying the call to live deeper, better, more significantly.   C.S. Lewis once put it this way:

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - The Weight of Glory

"...too easily pleased..."
By new homes
By bigger accounts
By better vacations
By better vehicles
By being in the "right" circles of influence and friends

All while ignoring the eternal, the truly significant. 

I was recently saddened by an individual who claimed to have heard God's will for my life (Danger Will Robinson).  In their honest and loving admonition, they warned that in pursuing adoption and foster-care, in pursuing the orphan and the fatherless, I had robbed my family of blessings and security, of well-being and a future and that if I continued down this path, I was turning a deaf ear to God's will for my life and losing out on God's blessings.  They claimed, as evidence, the difficulties and hardships our family has faced in the adoption and raising of one child from a trauma and abuse background and the difficulties and challenges we currently are facing in parenting two additional young foster-children from abuse and trauma backgrounds - the outbursts, the tantrums, the nightmares, the therapy appointments, the long talks into the night and the tears.

Frankly, this shocked and hurt my bride and I.  Anger quickly rose within each of us as we read and re-read this letter of concern.  A host of responses and justifications formulated in our minds as we prepared to answer, what we viewed as an attack.  But something else arose that overcame that anger.  Peace.  Knowledge.  Wisdom.  The remembered Word and the promises contained within.  James 1:27 instinctively poured forth. Other Scriptures immediately came to mind.

"And whoever receives and accepts and welcomes one little child like this for My sake and in My name receives and accepts and welcomes Me."
Matthew 18:5

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ "
Matthew 25:40

"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed."
Psalms 82:3

"Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless;  plead the case of the widow."
Isaiah 1:17

We were both brought to peace as we were reassured that we were, in fact, exactly in the center of our Father's will.  The evidence was in the blessings that have been blossoming around us in provision, deeper friendships, and the strengthening of character and relationships through trial.  Our marriage is strengthened and our resolve has been forged anew to pursue the calling that we know to be certain - to lay aside our lives and take up our cross and follow our Savior, no matter what that looks like, no matter if others understand or approve of it.  Will the enemy of our souls throw obstacles, attacks and challenges at us as we endeavor to pursue our Savior whole-heartedly?  Will he sit back idly as any believer seeks to follow Christs' admonition to live this eternal life to the fullest? 

The tribulation and trial that others claim as evidence of poor planning, bad choices, foolish thinking - these were all promised.  Jesus stated that we would encounter resistance, difficulties and challenges when we seek to follow after Him, even that others would think us foolish.  We would even confront Hell as the Living Word within us touches this sin-laden plane to bring life and forever alter souls.  Engaging in this course is costly - it will cost all of you.  It is selling everything you have to get that one field with secret priceless treasure buried in it (Matthew 13:44). 

This is building into the eternal, investing into those things that will outlast the tides of time as they lick at the sandcastles of others.  We are all admonished to pursue this way of life.  The comforts, technologies, and conveniences of our society and our times are a good thing and should be enjoyed, but should never be worshipped and sought above the effort and the cost of investing in lives, for these former things will pass away, but the eternal worth of the soul and the effort we place towards pursuing our Creator and extending Christ's selfless love to the human being will stand forever.  Anything other is simply building castles in the sand....

Friday, March 22, 2013

When the Tree Doesn't Fall Far from the Apple

Exhausted and exasperated I collapsed on the couch.  Looking over at my bride we just stared at each other in disbelief, hoping for some sense of solace from each other.  Why was this happening?  How were we failing?  In adjoining rooms we could hear them.  Small feet on hardwood floors, the occasional giggle, a voiced exclamation - all sounds that drove our blood pressure higher and higher.  These were the clamor of  willful and stubborn disobedience, the sounds of a war that had been waging for days.  The children were supposed to be in bed, having been punished by an early retirement for a day's worth of misbehavior and fighting.  A fog of rebellion had enveloped not one or two of them, but all four of my youngest and now all four were purposefully in full mutiny in complete denial of consequences and lacking remorse for actions.

Had it been only one child, I would have rationalized the behavioral choices on time, events and environment.  Depending on the child, I would have even delved into parental psychoanalysis of past trauma and abuse and its after-effects once removed.  Had it been two children, I would have surmised personality conflict, possibly one child feeding off of the other's behaviors.  But to have four small individuals simultaneously insubordinate, defying parental directives, seemingly looking for ways in which to do the exact opposite of every instruction given to them for days on end; this war of wills was draining my bride and I of all energy and joy.  Nineteenth century boarding schools began to look more favorable as we longed for even one day of serenity and bliss away from the maelstrom of misbehavior.  Blessed with an eleven-year old of developing culinary skills, it is a sad indictment when this child says "Mom, I can tell by the look on your face you need brownies!" and he proceeds to bake a pan of calorie laden warm soft goodness. 

For reasons I cannot explain, I seem to have zeroed in on one of my children as his actions evoke the most frustration, the greatest hair pulling, and the absolute highest lack of consistent logic.  He is the youngest and his behaviors are not born out of ignorance because he knows exactly what right and wrong are, knows what good rewards and bad consequences await and for reasons unexplained simply does not care.  "Nap time" translates "Dance party in my room".  "Time out chair" equates to "I'll go see what my sister is doing in the other room?".  "No talking at bedtime" means "Let's all sing!"  "Go back to bed" at 5:30 am computes "What a great time to play dolls in my sister's room!"  Even "use toilet paper after certain bathroom functions" can be interpreted at will and if at all, said paper usually ends up in the trash canister despite continual reminders and verbal chastisements.

Every one of these children has garnered our absolute devotion and affection.  To each of these we are committed parents and love them more than they will ever know.  But in honesty, there are days when we are outnumbered and we have trouble with this math.  How can four little bodies "out-will" two determined loving parents especially when I am certain they could never work well enough together to make it a combined team effort?  It's hard enough to get them to share the Wii remotes.  Sometimes it feels like a variant home-version of Survivor and my bride and I would love nothing more than to be voted off the island.  How could each child repetitively disobey, repetitively choose an incorrect course of action expecting somehow to dodge consequences, and repetitively expect me to look down into their eyes as if they were the greatest thing alive?  After being sent to bed early for the third night in a row, my daughter looks at me expectantly and sweetly says "hugs and kisses?"  What keeps them coming back to me for love and affirmation after repeated offense?

In thinking on my youngest, I recently caught a glimpse of myself in him.  How often do I stumble before my Father, choosing my ways over His commands?  How often do I perform this action repeatedly and on how many issues?  What areas of my life have I failed to obediently submit and which areas am I continually and willfully holding onto my will.  I know His Word, I've witnessed His goodness.  I've even benefited from His love and blessings yet there are still choices I make that are contrary to His will, contrary to His desires.  And like the small ones in my home, I always come back expecting. 

But unlike the small ones in my home, we have a Father whose love is flawless in its perfection and without limit.  Our Father does not grow frustrated by our misdeeds or missteps.  In fact, our actions don't puzzle Him at all for He knows us intimately, knows what makes us tick, knows our weaknesses and our strengths, knows every flaw.  He never throws His hands up in exasperation, no matter how we choose to live this life.  Rather, His arms are always open to receive us, to guide us back to a path of life and promise.  

He's not a God of second chances.  He's a God of "millionth" chances and I continue to test that number.  None of us, no matter how badly we misstep, behave, or sin, can outperform or overshadow the overwhelming victory that was achieved once for all at the cross.  If we could, Jesus wouldn't be who he claimed to be and none of this would matter anyway.  But thankfully He rose again, making it possible for us to come to our Father at will, something He deeply longs for.

When next we look at our children or the children of others as they misbehave, or encounter challenges, let's remember that we, too, are all children regularly making our own missteps.  But we have a perfect Father modeling the perfect response to those mistakes and choices. 

If we freely admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just true to His own nature and promises and will forgive our sins, dismiss our lawlessness, and continuously cleanse us from all unrighteousness, everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action.
I John 1:9 AMP

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—
Zechariah 2:8 NIV

Monday, March 18, 2013

One Man

Though you weren't there, no doubt by now you've heard about it.  The fanfare, the celebration, the  masses.  People gathered from all walks of life, all backgrounds.  All of them congregating to usher in hope, to celebrate God's man, his chosen.  Men, women, children - all excitedly brandishing token symbols of devotion and praises of honour.  A parade was formed and fervor rose in anticipation of the arrival of this single man, of his appearance and revelation. 

Born of lowly status he had made a name for himself as a benefactor to the poor, ministering to masses, even circulating regularly with them and surrounding himself with them - something, unfortunately, that was uncommon for those in his position and culture.  He refused the wealth of coffers and of comfortable homes, choosing rather to live simply, more as a hermit in lowly abodes to place himself more closely with those he regularly ministered to.  Rather than sequestering himself with the learned or the scholarly, he often traveled in open public and was often readily accessible to those who sought him.  And now, finally, with the full support of those masses and many from abroad, this man was elevated in status and adulation.  The exuberance was intoxicating to those in the throng.  Countless numbers were caught up in the celebration.

A week later those same masses called for his death as he stood before them, torn and beaten beyond recognition.  For this man was not an elected church official or some representative of ordination.  This man was the son of a simple tradesman from a small country town far to the north. This man had defied religious convention, ignoring social protocols making many uncomfortable with his willingness to engage even those of inferior lineage or of Godless races.  Regularly he had made a mockery of the  rigid ordinations of men and the strictly held observances that immobilized his culture.   Where condemnation for violation was prescribed, his message was unabashed love.  Where penitence and payment were preached, debated, and even haggled over, his actions demonstrated unconditional mercy and forgiveness.  Where bloodshed was demanded, his way was reconciliation. 

Often those who upheld the doctrines and tenants of God's word openly argued with him, and he frustrated them every time.  Consider debating the word of God with the one who was the living Word (John 1:1-14).  He restored worth to the prostitute, introduced the color spectrum to the blind man, gave legs for running to the lame, purged a host of demons from a boy and cast them into livestock.  He gave thanks over a child's small lunch of bread and fish until it fed thousands.  He called a friend back from death and even heard the cries of several men whose flesh was being eaten away by the rotting disease of leprosy - stopping the progression dead in its tracks, restoring limbs. 

This one man drew the masses in adulation and praise.  This one man was favored and honoured.  This one man spent the entirety of his ministry giving himself to others and innumerable multitudes were affected.  Crowds gathered when he entered a region.  This man was known throughout his culture.  Word of his comings and goings were heralded from community to community.  This one man gathered large throngs of followers as many assembled to hear his words and witness his works. 

Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!”
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:8-11 NLT

This one man was killed by many of those same masses, in a sham trial, put on by the religious conservatives of his day, enforced by an occupying government.

In watching the events of the past week and the religious fervor that has swept the planet, I am thankful for the attention that is being paid to faith, and spiritual issues.  Watching flags from multiple nations waving in crowds numbering tens of thousands all unified under the banner of Christ is a spectacle that is awe inspiring.  But in the viewing, I am reminded that one day, all nations, all flags will gather and be cast at the feet of one man.  Not the man who was just named head of a church, but the man who walked this sphere healing the sick, enraging demons, reclaiming the dead, and lifting the scorned from the dust.  A man who was cruelly executed on a device of Roman torture designed for the depraved of society, entering the viciousness of hell, conquering once for all.  This one man rose again, overcoming death and securing my salvation and eternity with him. 

I will celebrate this one man.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:8-10 ESV