Filling Bowls

bowlI’ve rebelled against Revelation for years now.  I would rather have a root canal than watch a science fiction movie, and Revelation feels a lot like the science fiction crescendo of the holiest of books.  Around ten years ago, we were in a Sunday School class that studied the book.  The members of the class enjoyed the study so much, they did it again.  We quit Sunday School.  I mean really, Revelations?  Study that book twice? Yeah, no thank you.

But recently, Jesus invited me back to unfold the pages and unravel the words of that sacred vision recorded by John.  And when Jesus invites, who can resist?

So quietly, tucked under my fuzzy throw, french roast coffee steaming on the table beside me, Bible and journal in hand, I pushed beyond all the books filled with honey and bread of life, and stopped at the last of God’s Words to us.  There I discovered something I’d forgotten.

Maybe when I knew it, it hadn’t mattered as much.

Maybe then, I hadn’t needed it like I do now.

Maybe then, my heart was younger, more naive, and less broken and heavy.

There it was in the fifth chapter of the book.

 And when he (the Lamb of God) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10

Did you catch that?

There are elders in heaven who hold golden bowls.

And those golden bowls are filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints.

That’s you and I–the saints.  And those are our prayers.

Your prayers.  My prayers.

All my prayers, poured out to Jesus.

Every single one.

He’s kept them.  He kept those heart cries and he kept those pleas.

Yours too.  He keeps our conversations in golden bowls.

And see this matters more to me now.  More because I’ve prayed more.  More because I’ve learned answers don’t always come when I want or how I want.  More because the stakes have gotten high in recent years.  More because I’m living life in way over my head.  More because when your husband’s a pastor and you have well over a hundred kids and leaders that you love and ache and fight for daily in prayer, you just really want to know your pleas have purpose.  When people text you saying they’ve lost all hope, and you tell them all you can tell them, and you listen all you can listen, and you finally promise the last resort–prayer, when that happens?  You just want to know that when you go to God with those desperate needs, He’s done something with them.

And I’ve gone.

Again and again.

To my Father with requests and with pleading and with every ounce of fight in me.

Because every single life matters.

When I read those words–golden bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints–I think of all the helplessness I’ve felt in the last few years.  I think of all the times when I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, and there is no way I can ever keep up, or make a real difference.  I think of Haiti, and hungry, hurting hearts in that dry land where there is no water.  I think of how helpless I feel and how the little I do feels so microscopic in light of the magnitude of need in that place on the planet.  I think of my own precious boys, now young men with hearts young and tender and vulnerable.  I think of how desperately I want all that is good and true and real and honorable to fill their minds and souls and lives, and yet what control does a mother truly have over a son she’s taught to fly?  What trajectory can a mother guide when their wings are nearly fully developed and whatever’s in their hearts will determine their path?

But a mother can pray.  And I have prayed.  I have filled bowls.  And those  bowls?  They contain the fragrance of the throneroom of God.  When I cry out to him over the matters that crush my soul with their weight, heaven carries the scent of the incense of my supplication.

Heaven carries the scent of your cries too.

I have a collection of letters from my grandmother. Faded envelopes pasted with now-vintage postage stamps and inked in her telltale cursive slant hold her thoughts recorded on UNICEF cards and stationery–the ones she shared with me when I was young.  I keep them all tucked in a red purse on the top shelf of my closet because her thoughts matter to me.

And God keeps our thoughts because they matter to Him.

Jesus knew I just needed to be reminded of that–so He took me to the end of His Words to show me that in heaven our cries are collected and contained in gold.

John Piper understands these things and spoke about them too.

” . . .what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all God’s great and holy purposes to completion. Which means that the consummation of history will be owing to the supplication of the saints who cry to God day and night. Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.”  (John Piper, The Prayers of the Saints)

 Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.

See sometimes I grow a little faint with the facts as I see them and those bowls remind me that there is more to the story.

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Cor. 4:17,18

And I can’t help but wonder if you’re like me, and you’ve just felt a little helpless sometimes.  Somehow this idea that I can go to God and fill a bowl seems to fill me with courage and will-power to do that simple thing God instructed us to do without ceasing. It gives me a burning urge to fill bowls until they are overflowing and God and all of heaven can’t help but notice the scent of Sarah’s heart poured out.   And isn’t it funny that the thing that’s collected in the golden bowls is not our effort or our hard work or our determined attempts?  It’s that which we’ve surrendered fully to God that gets kept.

It’s in the emptying of our hearts that we will fill heavenly spaces.

Maybe that’s why the Psalmist said it like this:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

And maybe that’s why Peter felt the same:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  I Peter 5:6,7

Because Peter, he spent time with Jesus.  He knew the heart of the God who dressed in flesh.  He knew.

God keeps our prayers.

I can’t think of a better place to leave my burdens, than in the golden goblets in heaven.

And now, now I think I understand a little more about the much to which James referred when he said,

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

In desperate times, some say there isn’t much we can do but pray.

Much indeed.

The much of prayer is the filling of bowls . . . it’s the work of a soul who knows the Savior who saves our prayers and saves our lives and someday will return for us all.

Yes.  Much.

Election Fires: The Only Christian Response

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The mountains surrounding my home are ablaze. We’re 2 months without rain, and the hills are crying out for water.

Once when I was a child we had a brush fire accidentally get out of control out off of Smyrna road where my dad built a cabin with his own hands.  Our six acre parcel, mostly wooded, stood to go up in flames and with it, everything my parents had.  My job was to stand with a green water hose stretched as far from the house as possible and saturate the ground with water.  But now, during the driest 60 days in north Georgia’s history, there are acres–nearly ten thousand of them–desperate for water while raging hot, furious flames cross the land that has, until now, cocooned my childhood in a caldron of oaks, maples, sassafras and buckeyes.

My garden hose lies coiled like a lifeless snake now, powerless against the inferno.  People are pleading and praying for rain.

Remember Sherman and his flames that licked up the south like a ravenous dog?

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He lit a fire with the barns, the homes, and the towns from Atlanta to Savannah.  He was gasoline to a war-weary, deadly dry and thirsty land.  Our soil drank his fuel and we were lit up for two weeks.  It was hell on earth . . . literally.

Little survives a hungry flame.

My husband spent years learning fire’s greedy nature.  She’s a desperate, desert traveler demanding destruction as she quenches her thirst.

And water, when there’s enough of it,  will stop her.  Water will quiet her savage screams for satisfaction.

A country laid to waste with the blaze of a man determined to win.

And when the flames were silenced, I have to wonder, were the smoldering embers worse than the blaze?  Where could we go from that devastation?  What solace, what comfort could be found?

The nation was divided by an imaginary line.  Brothers had fought against brothers.  Mothers wondered if it was one son’s bullet that silenced the beating heart of another son.

A nation that went to war–for state’s rights, yes.  For freedom’s sake, absolutely yes.  For life.  For liberty.  For the pursuit of happiness.

A civil war.

A nation divided.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand.  Mark 3:24

And our nation, y’all?  It’s divided in these days, is it not?

An election that split our nation with hungry flames that lapped up our Facebook feeds and consumed the media with a heat that melted  and ravaged relationships.  People once friends bound by some past history saw that very history consumed in smoke and fire–the flames of a battle fought for values, for morals, for rights, for the futures of our children laid waste, did they not?

And we, the United States of America became ash and ember.

We were consumed.

We were.

I have known the devastation a fire can dole out.  The trailer where my mom and dad made their home in frigid New Hampshire caught fire one night when hay and furnace ignited angry flames anorexic with hunger.  They swallowed my home when I was just wee.

And after a while, when there was nothing left, my parents decided to start fresh; they’d need to move.  I was brought back to these quiet mountains where the dogwood’s pale white petals stretched and yawned as they awoke each spring.  Here in the Appalachians my parents would begin again.  Begin anew.  I barely spoke then.  Words were still taking shape on my lips, but a soul understands when it’s survived something.

And this soul knows that fires can be survived.

This soul knows that nations can be reunited after Sherman’s fire has cooled.

This soul knows that rebuilding will begin with a move.

And Christians, it’s our move.

This, followers of Christ, is our moment.

There’s no denying the destruction any longer.  But if we want to stand, we must reunite this nation.  Jesus taught us the pattern for reuniting, did He not?  He left heaven.  He came to be WITH us.  Then he laid his life down as a bridge to unite us with our Father.  If this nation is not to be divided, it will be our job to lay down our lives and be a bridge.  It’s our model and anything short of Christ’s ways is not of Him.

We have rebuilding orders.

1. Give Grace

Let no filthy talk be heard from your mouths, but only what is good for building up people and meeting the need of the moment. This way you will administer grace to those who hear you. Eph. 4:29 

Grace–that blanket of acceptance and love that holds no strings, knots no one up in per-requisite requirements, and simply says, “My favor is yours because I’ve been unconditionally and lavishly favored by The Grace Giver.”  If we are followers of Christ, we will dole out grace upon grace because:

We have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. John 1:16

Our words, our posts, our memes, our responses–they will quiet flames if they are only good for the building up of people, for the meeting the needs of the moment.

We will rebuild our nation as we BUILD UP those who disagree with us, not just those who agree.  Anything less does NOT find its source in Jesus Christ.

2.  Stop the Bleeding

Be completely humble and gentle.  Be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Eph.4:2

War means death and injury.  There are always casualties–those we find wounded and bleeding.  On both sides of the equation, we’ve wounded.

If we claim Jesus, then we will gently, patiently, humbly mend wounds.  That means having a conversation with people we don’t understand.  It means asking why they are hurting.  It means asking why they are angry.  It means identifying the wounds and finding the right salve.  No wounded human needs to be told if they are right or wrong in that moment.  We don’t attack a man trapped in a car, legs broken, and blood gushing from his stomach and tell him why his belief system is wrong.  We STOP the bleeding.  We ask WHERE does it hurt?  This is the bearing with one another Jesus wanted and modeled.  Anything less does NOT find its source in Jesus Christ.

3.  Cover

Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.  I Peter 4:8

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs. Proverbs 10:12

Will I cover or will I stir?

When Noah was vulnerable and drunk, a low point in his life, he had two sons with the decency to walk in backwards and lay a blanket over his naked and bare body, two sons willing to cover that terrible moment in time. The other one exposed him.

Which son will I be?

Will I let love be the the blanket that suffocates, that quenches and quiets this inferno?

I can continue to declare why one side is right and another side is wrong.  I can continue to expose what this side or that side said.  I can be a billboard of blame or I can be a blanket of love.  Anything less does NOT find its source in Jesus Christ.

4.  LOVE ALL

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:43-48

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31

There is no real alternative for a follower of Christ.  There are those who will say love isn’t love if it doesn’t tell people why they are wrong and insist they repent.  There are those who will say love is the weak response of a wimpy Christian.  And to that I will say this:  Love is what God demonstrated for us WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS.  And if we do not love, we cannot share truth.  We earn the right to share truth by first sharing love.  Anything less DOES NOT find its source in God.

Love is patient

Love is kind

It does not envy

Love does not boast

Love is not proud

Love does not dishonor others

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not easily angered

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

God is setting this standard.  Let us lay down our weapons.  Lay down our matches and our kindling and our gasoline.  Let us pick up our hoses and cool one another with the refreshment that comes from Living Water that flows out of the love of God.  What’s done is done.  The flames have had their thirst drenched with the dredges of our most base selves, now let us rise from the ashes and leave the wrongs to be blown away in some soft, spring wind.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

And isn’t the truth just this?  We’re made to make our God’s name famous.  He’s different, isn’t He?  Different than all the other things mankind has found to worship?  Different because He defeated death, defeated evil, defeated all that we despise so that we might be like Him.  Isn’t the truth just this?  God loves.  The God of the universe loves mankind, and it is he and He alone that is a consuming fire satisfied only when He is reunited in eternal relationship with His creation.  Is not that the truth?  God wants us all.

Love always protects

Let us come together and protect now in this moment when there are vulnerable human beings who are afraid.

Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Love alone remains.

When the flames are quieted and we sift through the wreckage, what will we salvage?

Love alone remains.

May this be a reminder to my brothers and sisters who claim Christ–In this moment, we carry the water hose.  We carry Christ.  He does not keep a record of wrongs.  He does not boast.  He is not prideful.  And He invites everyone to His table.  His banner is love.  His invitation is to all mankind.  We are His written and irrevocable invitation to come to Him.

We either invite mankind to come to Him

or

we stone them with our words.

I remember well standing feet from my home pulling as hard as possible on that cool green hose.  I stretched as far as it would reach while hot smoke rose up the hillside making my  cheeks pink and my throat burn.  I’m stretching now too, reaching as far as I can with the water I have.

Wildfires ablaze, and I want to be the rain.

Christians, be Living Water with me.  This is the moment that will define us for years to come.  We will be known by our response.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,  or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. I Peter 2:12-17

We have a job to do. If we consider ourselves redeemed we have one work–to share the gospel–the good news, the coolest water to thirsting mankind.  This is when we know we’re not like Sherman.  He pilfered and looted his way home. We’ll not continue the wreckage, will we?  We’ll stop here and now, and we will rebuild.

We will pick up our hammers and our nails and our boards, we will walk to the homes of those who voted differently, those who wanted some other outcome, those who are bewildered and perplexed and frustrated and angry and even possibly hateful because they are hurting, and we will ask to rebuild their barns, their homes, their lives.

We will do just what Jesus said to do.  We will.  Because it is our identity.  It is who we are, and anything less DOES NOT find its source in Christ.

And if you happened here today, and you are frightened.  If you happened here today, and you are hurting because your person didn’t win and you see this as the potential beginning of the end.  If you happened here and you’re angry, can I just say to you, that there are countless believers devoted to bridging this gap.  Please don’t throw out Jesus because someone who claimed Him misrepresented Him.  The Jesus here in this blog is the only Jesus of the Bible.  Anything less does NOT find its source in Christ.

Please don’t turn from God because someone tried to beat you over the head with Him.

God?  He’s near you in this.  He’s with you in this time.  And so are we.  Where can we begin to rebuild with you?

He invites you.

There is love.  It’s something different.  It’s called Living Water and it is free, abundant, and all consuming.

Let the flames be extinguished.

Let love rise from ash and form a bridge that unites.

It’s our move, Christians.

Let’s carry the hose that extinguishes flames, and once they’re silenced, let’s go build bridges.

Because in the end, isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

When I look out over the horizon, I still see the smoke hanging herself over my mountains.  And I pray for rain.

But on this earth, we are that rain, aren’t we?

I think so.

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Values Voting: A Christian Asks Questions

In our home, when there are disagreements, they always come down to values.   (What? You thought pastor’s families didn’t have disagreements?  Hah, welcome to the truth.)

I value order.  One of my boys values order.

My husband does not.  One of my boys does not.

Needless to say, sometimes the disorderly 2 in our home begin to take over.  In any given moment if I value order over harmony and peace and you happen to be over—welcome to the fireworks show!  I’m not saying anything new, really.  James already said it himself—Why are there fights and quarrels among you?  Because of YOUR desires that battle within you.

We tend to value what we desire.  The tricky thing about values is that you can value one thing, I can value another, and neither of us is necessarily wrong.  But humans often try to canonize their values.  And sometimes that’s dead, dead wrong.

In fact the only, ONLY time it’s right is when we can attach scripture that speaks directly to that value.  Then and only then is it divine because it’s source is God, not our personal desires.

So I live in a place where God and country are supremely held values.  I live in a place where the words conservative, republican, and Christian are often considered synonyms.  And I live in a place where truth is sometimes mistaken for a republican platform.

I do.

And don’t misunderstand me or my heart.  I’m not pointing fingers.  I love this land we still call Dixie.

But truth only comes in the person of Christ and his written Word.  And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, than I have to wonder if we who claim Christ are certifiable.  The louder we shout the less we are heard.

And unborn babies still die.

Because we are fighting for platforms instead of souls.  We’re fighting Washington when the enemy is Satan.  We’re fighting politics instead of making disciples.  And to one another we speak a language that is understood and makes sense.  We share values.  We speak the values.  We cheer for each other.  It works.  But only with one another.

Meanwhile, to a world that doesn’t share our values, we are a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal.  We aren’t taken seriously not because what we value is wrong but because we’ve confused values and truth, platforms and inspiration.  Our narrowly defined values are not reflective of the broad heart of God.

We have.

I’m in no way suggesting we change scripture to include things that go against God.  I’m well aware that God’s Word is clear that it’s a narrow path to eternal life–But that’s because the path is a person–Christ.  Access to the path is available to all humanity.  What I’m saying, and hear me on this, is that WE AS CHRISTIANS NEED TO ADJUST OUR VALUES TO TRULY REFLECT SCRIPTURE and we need to communicate Christ’s invitation not our condemnation.  We don’t change values from the outside in.  God transforms values when He gives us a new heart and fills us with His Spirit.

Is it possible in our zeal to obey we’re coming across as self-righteous?

I’m reminded of the Pharisees.  The religious right of Christ’s day.

Sincere people.  Following the rules.

They crucified their Messiah.

They did.

But they had their values.  They honored their sabbath.

And they missed the point.

Jesus.  Anointed to save.  Anointed to include ALL.  The Messiah of not just the Jew but the Gentile too.

Jesus.  Enough of Him for all mankind.  Enough of Him to cover our failures in his cloak of righteousness crafted out of His shed blood.  Enough of Him to take us as we are and begin the renovation of our values once we are a part of His eternal family.

God had Isaiah write these words.

Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote,” 

They take my breath away–those words.

What exactly does my reverence for Jesus Christ consist of?  What values have I thought were scripture when in fact they were tradition?  Could I be guilty of having a heart far from the values of my Savior?

Indeed, I could.

I often wonder had I lived during the time of Civil War here in Georgia, would I have stood beside a black woman and held my hand out to her and her babies?  Would I have invited her into my home?  Would I have let my husband travel north and fight against the south?  Would I have discerned the tradition of the south’s faulty thinking?  Or would I have sipped sweet tea and blessed their hearts all the way to the cotton fields?  Would my values then have reflected the heart of God or the culture of the day?

And where am I erring now, Lord?  Show me. Because I understand that where my treasure is, there my heart will be also. 

So that’s it, then, isn’t it?

I must treasure the things God treasures if I desire my heart to be near His heart.

Treasure the things God treasures.

And now I get the chance to vote for the things I treasure . . . the things God treasures.

And I have questions.  Many questions as I consider this election taking place here in America.

  1. If I am to vote my values, then is voting for the lesser of two evils actually voting my personal values?

Is it?  Is voting for a third party throwing away my vote because statistics tell me that is so? Or could it be that if I vote for someone who I do not believe is fit for the office, it is then I’m actually throwing away my right to vote? Is not a vote in its very nature the casting of a ballot for the person or thing which I most want and believe will be best? Is not this idea that I have only two choices a hijacking of my preference under the threat or fear of losing? Woven into the very DNA of democracy is the component of risk—I may or may not get what I personally want, but I will get what the majority want. Except if we keep buying into the idea that voting for a third party is a throw-away, than we are no longer even getting what the majority want. The majority is a fallacy created by a system perpetuated by fear. One person may place a high priority on the appointment of Supreme Court Justices who will align with their personal values  while another may place a high priority on quality of life that universal healthcare affords. Both are related to life. Both.  So we vote. We say what we personally value.

I have to wonder if it is possible that we only throw our vote away when we QUIT saying what we value and instead say what we fear or worse, say nothing at all.

  1. Do we equate character with belief systems? In other words, if a person believes differently than me, does that automatically give me the right to call their character into question?

Here’s an interesting thought:  Mother Teresa. My theology/belief system and hers do not 100 percent line up in every area, yet her character was without question pristine. I mean, hello? She probably has an entire wing of heaven designated for her. Character, it has been said, is what you are when no one is looking. Belief and faith systems are the hooks on which we hang out future and around which we shape our lives. Though faith can influence character, character can still be exemplary regardless of our faith system. In fact, ask a devout Hindu about character.  A truly practicing Hindu will spend their life trying to make good choices because their reincarnation depends on it.

  1. Can God redeem both republicans and democrats?

I’ve often heard the argument that God can change Trump’s heart. True, and I hope my view of God is large enough to recognize that He is also able to change Hillary Clinton’s heart, because after all, He has worked in my own heart. Here’s God’s desire:

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

He loves ALL. I do not have the right or rank to assume only some are worthy of His redemptive power.

  1. Am I expecting the government to carry out the mandates of my faith? In other words, am I saddling the government with the instructions Christ gave specifically to me and the church as a follower of Christ?

If I demand healthcare for all and refuse to help the person without healthcare to cover their cancer treatment costs, am I not a hypocrite? If I demand welfare and refuse to help my neighbor find a job or pay their electric bill when times are tough, am I not a hypocrite? Is it possible that much of what we call “big government” exists because too many (not all) of us who claim to be followers of Christ care little for our neighbor and much for our own comfort. Is it possible that the very source of change I long for in my country begins with me obeying my God’s instruction?

  1. To what extent does God value life? Have I allowed culture within church or society to limit or direct the value that I place on life?

This is worth repeating-worth dissecting.

To what extent does God value life? Have I allowed culture within church or society to limit or direct the value that I place on life? In other words, am I concerned about black lives because culturally we see a trend toward movements such as Black Lives Matter? Am I concerned about abortion because traditionally, the church places high emphasis on this act? Am I less concerned for refugees because many people equate the word refugee with ISIS at worst and at best with a potential threat because of guilt-by-association-ethnicity? When God said to care for the foreigner among us, did He mean that literally? Did he mean it literally when he said the only pure and faultless religion is the one that looks after widows and orphans? Doubtless the republicans have shouted loud their disdain for abortion and Planned Parenthood.  And rightly so.  But let this be said: Hillary Clinton has stood for life too. She championed the cause of foster-children, at risk children, and healthcare reform for children. Were I ever to meet her, I’d thank her for that. I would. The living also deserve life. Children are a voiceless, defenseless lot worthy of a champion. And what candidate is willing to stand for those in sex-trafficking? What candidate is willing to stand for those in slave labor? What candidate is willing to stand for the refugee, the orphan, the homeless? Let us insist on life, PERIOD. And absolutely, let us fight for those precious unborn. All life. All of it. Because this is the extent to which Jesus valued life.  He died for it.  Martyred so we could all live eternally with Him.

I have come that you (ALL of you) may have life and that you may have it to overflowing.

Life for all.

  1. Is God concerned about making America great again? Is that a value He expressed in scripture? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that maybe, just maybe the rise and fall of America is lower on God’s priority list than, say, making His personal name great.  In fact, when we work harder at championing America the Beautiful than we do sharing the Creator of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, I have to wonder if our hearts are far, far from Him.

May I just say something specifically to my precious Christian friends knowing that you know my heart?  We have to be far more careful than anyone else on the planet. The world is watching just as they were the day Jesus hung from a tree, thorns piercing his flesh and the air slowly seeping from his body.

He called no one a name.

He ranted at no one.

He asked only that God forgive.

His work was redemption and when it was complete, He said, “It is finished.” As followers of Christ, our work is the same—that of redemption. We ARE indeed ambassadors, but not for any political party. We are ambassadors for Christ. Jeff recently preached a sermon reminding our home church of that—put on the uniform of an ambassador.

How would Jesus want us to represent Him in this election? Were Jesus on earth, I wonder how He would refer to human beings. How would he refer to people with different opinions than himself? When being crucified he wouldn’t have been wrong to call out, “You murderers!” But He didn’t. He did not do that. I wonder, would he refer to people using titles that describe their belief system? Would he refer to people by their sexual preferences? Would he refer to them by the color of their skin? Would he reference them by their political parties? Their socio-economic status? It pains me that a human being, a flesh and bone creation fashioned to bear the image of God would be categorized by anything other than God’s category: Image-Bearing Creation of the Most High God who made each of us for His pleasure and fame.  When we choose any label other than the ones God gives us as acceptable ways to refer to mankind, we are robbing ourselves and others of our God-given identity.   Remove God from humanity’s identity and we lose. Every single time.

I think about the people who may read this blog, and I want them to know that regardless of my political perspective, my spiritual perspective is this: There is room in my heart and at my table for ALL of God’s creation. Sure, we may disagree on things. My belief system will impact how I live. It will impact how I relate. It will impact my values.  It will impact how I vote. But it will never entitle me to assume I have the right to judge or condemn another human being nor will it entitle me to assume I am superior because my beliefs are different. In fact, my belief system puts all human beings, myself included, into one category–a being fashioned to bear the image of God, a being divinely loved and supremely wanted by a Savior who stopped at nothing, including death to have a relationship with all of us. Let us be so careful to recall our Savior and represent HIM well especially during this intense time in our nation.

And may our values find their source in The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

And may our platform be His Word.

Meanwhile in Haiti: A Christian Perspective on Donald, Hillary, Elections, and Life

The media got swallowed today.  By a video tape some ten years old.
Hurricane Matthew began to settle, yes.
But the rising and falling of storm surges is not really the reason we tune into coverage of a hurricane, is it?
Isn’t it the people who will be impacted that we really care about?  Are they not the real reason we tune in?
Because if that’s the case, then isn’t NOW when the coverage should REALLY begin?
But Donald and Hillary’s war swallows the airwaves.
Meanwhile in Haiti, the death toll rises to over 900.
Meanwhile in Haiti, the number of children without parents, which was 400,000 give or take, has now increased.

haiti-hurricane-3

And meanwhile globally, the number of orphans is somewhere between 143 and 210 million.
But really, who is counting?
Apparently not CNN or FOX News.
And in the United states alone?  415,000 children filtered through the foster system last year.
But again, who is counting?
Because what’s a life when we’ve got crass, crude comments from a man no one would ever have considered nominating for High Moral Character Man of the Year anyway?
What’s a life when we’ve got Benghazi?
What’s a life when politics reign and evangelicals and non-evangelicals get swept away by the hurricane that is an election?
An election trumps a life?  Really?
I can’t speak for non-evangelicals, but I do know that evangelicals were never once called to get tangled up in civilian issues.  In fact, 2Timothy 2: 3,4 speaks directly to this:
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
One could argue the affairs of this life are things like careers or boyfriends and girlfriends.
Or one could accept that maybe, just maybe, the believer has a purpose more fine-tuned and more specific than anything that begins and ends here on earth.
Maybe the purpose Jesus mentioned when He was with us on earth?
And He said to him,  ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  (Matthew 22:37-39)
Maybe the purpose Jesus mentioned when he left us?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
Maybe the purpose the Spirit of God inspired when James wrote:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.( James 1:27)
Jesus.
He’s problematic for us if we take Him seriously.
Because he
DOES
NOT
FIT
With the shouting and the screaming and the name calling and the condemning and the judging.
He doesn’t.
His response to sin?
Christians?  Our SAVIOR’S RESPONSE to sin?
HE
GAVE
HIS
LIFE
He forgave.
He redeemed.
He restored.
He did not name call.
He said, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. (John 8:7)
It’s inconvenient because His responses would apply to both Hillary and Donald.
Both.
And that’s not convenient when we want to amp up a political party to the height of holiness.
As if one is more holy than the other.
Really?
A manmade thing?
Let’s reason.
Let’s think.
No.
None, no not one is righteous. (Rom. 1:10)
Not one.
Not me.
Not you.
Not Donald.
Not Hillary.
Do we REALLY think we are so holy that we can verbally throw stones?
And you know how people say things like, “It’s a distraction tactic!  Stick to the issues.”?
They are SO very right.
It IS a distraction tactic, but not by the media, bless them.
By the enemy.
Did we already forget that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood?  Our battle is not with a democrat or a republican, a male or a female, a homosexual or a heterosexual.
Our battle is against principalities and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And may I just ask this question?
Who among us has spent as much or more time making disciples this week as we have spent listening to political commentary?

Really?

Because that, my friends, is the distraction.

It’s a distraction from the marching orders our Savior gave us.

Love.

Feed.

Restore.

Heal.

Make disciples.

Then teach them.

Then make more disciples.
There are some 500,000 homeless here in the United States alone.
Are we, the believers, caring for the poor?  Actually DOING the caring?
Focus.
Focus on the priorities of Jesus Christ.
YES, he values life.
Life of the unborn.
Life of the born.
Life of the lesbian.
Life of the drug addict.
Life of the orphan.
Life of the lost soul.
All of it.
Every, single bit of human life because every single human life carries an eternal soul.
Do politics matter?
I understand that’s a bigger question than I can answer when philosophers and theologians have battled and wrestled and discussed this for centuries.
But ultimately, Jesus made this comment about politics, Give to Caesar what is Caeasar’s. (Mark 12:17)
And the Holy Spirit inspired these words:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:1-2
So, believer?
We should pay our taxes.
We should obey the law.
And beyond that . . . well, now we have to stick to the Bible.
And the Bible tells us that God said:
It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. (Daniel 2:21)
Now that is a political game-changer, is it not?
Because it turns out it isn’t elections that put kings in place.

It is our God.

And it isn’t about a leftist agenda or a right-wing agenda; it is about the agenda and purpose of our sovereign God.  And if somehow the democrats or republicans can demote our God’s supreme authority over elections, then our God is absolutely not worth our time.  If we elevate the right or the left to a position of authority over God’s purposes, then we have deified a donkey and an elephant.  We who claim to worship the one true God have literally created an idol out of an abstract political machine.  This is not Bible-believing. 

We get so worked up over civilian affairs and somehow assume there are new answers.  We discard the Bible and wrestle the issues like a steer in a rodeo when we could be putting feet to the instructions of our Savior.

In the end?

OUR GOD WINS.

Not Hillary. Not Donald.

YAWEH God.

And then the Holy Spirit added, For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.  (Romans 13:6)
Somehow, this repositions the establishment, the media, and the republican and democratic candidates to servants not of one another, but servants of the MOST HIGH GOD.
Why?
Job knew why.  I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)
No election gets to thwart God’s ultimate plans.  So, what IS the purpose of God?
Jesus said this,  I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. ( John 5:30.)
Then he died.
He rose.
He redeemed all mankind.
The purpose of God?
That all mankind would be in a relationship with Him.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.( 2 Peter 3:9)  God desires all mankind to be in a relationship with Him.

Do we vote?  Of course we do.  But we do not allow an election to derail God’s purpose in our lives.  Politics may be complicated, but our marching orders are simple.  Our gameplan is already outlined in scripture.  We just need to obey.

More than anything I’m pained by this:
That evangelicals are more known for endorsing or condemning mere human beings than for finding homes for the 415,000 children in foster care in the United States.
That evangelicals are more known for political name-calling than we are for uniting and sending aid to Haiti where cholera, malnourishment, and homelessness will take human lives like a thief in the night while we’ve fallen asleep at the watch.
I am a follower of Christ and I neither endorse Donald Trump nor condemn him.
I neither endorse Hillary Clinton nor condemn her.
Were I to meet either of them, do you know how I would view them?
How God would desire me to view them?
As human beings made in His divine image.
They are not my enemy.
They are not the enemy of the United States.

And they are certainly NOT the enemy of evangelicals.  They are the very people evangelicals should develop relationships with!

They are mere fallen human beings.
JUST
LIKE
ME
Just like me.
Were I to meet them my goal would be the goal Jesus gave me, Make disciples.
Only Jesus can transform.
Do I accept the words of Donald Trump caught on tape over a decade ago?

Goodness gracious, a resounding and resolute NO.  Absolutely not.

And were I to meet him, I’d say this, “Mr. Trump, your comments were absolutely wrong.  You did NOT value female life.  You saw it as an object with which you could pleasure yourself instead of a reflection of the image of God.  You were so wrong and you will give an account for that.  But not to me. In the words of Jesus Christ, ‘Go and sin no more.’  Want to have coffee and discuss this Jesus that said He wouldn’t condemn you, but He’d give you a drink that would so satisfy your thirst that you wouldn’t go looking to women for your soul needs again?”
And the same could be said to Hillary of Benghazi.
Believers, let us join together in a single voice that insists on this one thing:

We will BE ABOUT OUR FATHER’S AGENDA, and under no circumstances will we be known for spewing venomous talk, angry rhetoric, hateful facebook posts, mean-spirited mudslinging, or shaking a proverbial self-righteous fist of condemnation at either candidate.

We will love all humanity.  That is what Jesus Christ did to the point of death.
He loved.
Does the election matter?  Of course it does.  We do in fact stand to lose civil and religious freedoms.  We do in fact get to vote our values, our beliefs, our priorities.  I understand about Supreme Court Justices, and I understand about losing religious freedom in the name of political correctness.
I also understand that my God is sovereign.  and if He’s sovereign than not even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice I don’t agree with can change HIS PURPOSES.
So, does the election matter? It matters tremendously.
But there is a far more important value that all believers should fight for.
Eternity.
In the end, I don’t get to take the president with me to eternity, but I do get to take souls.
Go.  Make Disciples.  Instead of making enemies, make a cake and deliver it to your neighbor.
No more distractions.  Instead of being side-swiped by the latest scandal, deliver the scandalous grace of Jesus.
No more name calling.  Instead let’s call out to the name of above all names.
No more condemnation.  Instead let’s connect sinners to living water.
There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
Let us be about our Father’s purposes.
Let us do that.
Because wouldn’t it be amazing if the media had to report this:
“Surprisingly, our ratings dropped when we shifted from covering ways to help victims of the devastating Hurricane Matthew to what we thought was a big ticket political scandal.  Surprisingly evangelicals quit watching because they were busy helping the hurting.”
So, meanwhile, in Haiti—there are ways we can help.
Consider giving to this organization where the money can be specifically designated to Hurricane relief and every penny will go directly to just that:
http://www.newlife4kids.org/
  • Maintaining our Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti of 130 children. We continue to be a “Rescue Center” for abandoned, handicapped, orphaned and children with severe malnutrition and disease, nursing them back to health.
    2) We have a staff of forty including nanny’s, a doctor, two nurses, physical therapists, cooks, etc…
    3) Our children’s home budget is over 160,000 per year as we also have much medical costs and unexpected emergencies.
    4) We provide all medical care and schooling for the children. The young adults go through training programs and trade school that they might reach they’re full potential, spiritually and naturally, and become Christ centered and productive citizens.
Or consider giving to this organization:  www.mohhaiti.org where you can also designate your funds.  They’re replacing tarp shelters with block homes.  They’re educating Haitians.  They’re giving  Haitians prosthetic limbs FREE OF CHARGE.  They’re providing medical care.  They’re providing food.  And there’s no CEO making hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps the best thing a believer can do in a time like this is turn off the TV and the news and turn to our original mandates.
Love.
Let us be found loving.

It’s what our Father does, and it is who He is.

Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.  He that does not love does not know God, for God is love.  Beloved, Let us love one another.  (I John 4:7,8)

Cinnamon Rolls and Holes

I make these cinnamon rolls out of biscuit dough.  Not going to pretend they’re even remotely average.  They’re not.  They will make you quit every diet you ever intended to go on for eternity and beyond.  They’re that good.

And they aren’t even hard to do. (Let’s face it, anything I cook can be done by a first grader.)

It’s just biscuits.

couple cups of flour

some baking powder

dash of salt

butter

buttermilk

mix it

roll it

Roll it out thin.

It’s a trick, you know.  The thinner you roll it out, the more little rings you get when you roll it back together.

After it’s rolled thin, you spread softened butter over it and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar across the surface.  Liberally.  We are talking about butter, right?  Then you roll it up into a tube, cut the rolls in 1 inch slices, and bake it.

I always ice them.

Except Nate likes me to save him one without icing. And I do because his eyes sparkle, and I’ll do anything in this wide world for him.

2

But sometimes, when I roll it out, I get carried away. I want a big batch, so I roll it too thin causing the dough to separate.  I’ll go to spread the butter and a hole will open up, tear away.

Too thin to hold together.

And that’s me sometimes.  Rolled out too thin.

And holes form.

I can’t hold everything.

Things spill out.

Long ago the obvious things spilled through holes I wanted to mend but just couldn’t seem to get it together. The boys’ scrapbooks–Nate had a sports one and Cort had a nature one.  They are packed away, unfinished, on a shelf in the basement.

And the files of family video clips labeled by year and saved on my computer that I planned to burn to discs each year–the audio-visual capturing of all the big moments–sit still tucked into the digital memory bank of a hard-drive.

Date nights.  I don’t really know what else to say.  They fell through a hole.  But I do love that man, my husband.

My garden.  Man I loved growing beets and tomatoes and basil.  I loved watching them start into the earth as specks–just bits of hard, crusted hope–and push their way up toward hot, summer sun.  I could hold a warm, ripe tomato in my hand and it felt more priceless than any diamond.

I have this neighbor–she leaves cucumbers and tomatoes by her mailbox with a sign:  FREE.  They’re her extras.

But I want to knock on her door and tell her they’re priceless.

Because mine fell through a hole a long time ago.  A hobby I just can’t hold onto any longer.

Sometimes though, I see the dough of life getting thin, and then I realize it’s more than a date night or a few photos slipping silently through the cavity I’ve created.

I think, Dear Lord, is that my boy falling through that hole?

Like I was just rolling it out a little more to fit a few more rings of life into the coil.  You know?

Rolling cause this person needs this.

And that person needs that.

And there’s another phone call.

Another email.

Another text.

Another.

And that’s the thing.  Every another is another swipe with my rolling pin–pushing and pressing and pulling.

And that’s how holes are formed.

And that’s how you lose ones you love.

It’s how you lose yourself too.  And I don’t mean the selfish part of self.  I mean the fiber that God wove together, fashioned with His hands and formed in His likeness part of self.

You never stopped the loving.  The fierce loving.  The anothers just kept coming.  Over and over like waves on a soft-sandy beach erasing castles.

I watched that happen this past summer.  We sneaked down to a spot in South Carolina to catch our breath, and  watched this man build a castle with his two kids.  They stayed all day.  And when the tide came back, they stood and watched as it slowly claimed the castle, one wave at a time.

Wave on wave on wave.

And when it was gone, I wanted to cry.

Because they’d never get that back.

There that morning, gone that evening.

I didn’t really want to cry for them.  My heart hurt because I knew I had holes.

A friend from Ontario posted a photo of our birthday boy, Cort, on facebook.  The photo was taken years before.

corton

 

I didn’t remember the moment.

Could not remember it.

A hole held my memory.

The memory of a moment with my child.

Because somehow that baby boy is gone.  He doesn’t ask to be tucked in.  He doesn’t need me to make him lunch.  His head slipped beyond my own this year.  Just slipped right past me reaching for the heavens.

Corton 14.jpg

 

Somehow, when they’re wee, it seems there’s so much space in front of us.  So much space to form them, to shape them, to help them write their story. To love them.

But time is just a blink in eternity.  And we aren’t meant for time, we’re intended for eternity.

The great human conundrum is not so much about making the most of every moment, but about whether what we make of the moment will be for time’s sake or for eternity’s sake.

Became time dissolves.

But eternity greets us when the final wave washes the sands of calendar-measured moments away.

And it lasts, eternity.  Eternity lasts.

We have to learn to roll the dough just thin enough to hold the things God gives us.

When a hole forms, we’ve spread the dough beyond what God has given us. 

23

It’s just biscuit dough, you know?

It’s not like it’s spiritual.  Not a verse from the Bible.  Not doctrine, for heaven’s sake.

But when it’s rolled out just perfect, it makes the most beautiful things.

They warm hearts and bring smiles every single time.

They’re a gift.

Our lives are too.

We should take care when we roll ourselves out.

Just enough to hold the sweet and the spice God gives us.

The real thing about biscuit dough that I love is this.

Holes can be patched.  Some of the toppings have to go, some dough gets moved, and the hole is mended.

It’s never too late to stop rolling.

Just stop.

Let ourselves be what we were meant to be and don’t press further than just that.

Here’s a funny thing.

That little boy that shared his loaves?  The one from the gospels?  His momma didn’t hear about the multitudes and bake extra.

It was actually Jesus.

He’s the one that did the multiplying.

In His hands, Jesus multiplied the loaves.

In His hands, He’ll multiply us too.  That’s his job.

Because breaks and holes should never be formed by our hands.

Left to ourselves–there are chasms and cavities that mean something falls through, but given to Him, a break is the very thing that fills.

And He instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He spoke a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples to the people.
 Matt. 14:19

 

 

 

Because they all take flight . . . A Father’s heart for his graduate.

I have 2 years before this moment–this crushing, exhilarating, suffocating, freeing, terrifying, breathtaking moment–when my eldest graduates.  Thank God for the gift of time–the priceless number of days we are allotted with our children.  But in 2 years, I’ll stare this moment down and Lord help me, I’ll probably need to be committed somewhere.

I am not even remotely kidding.

The day they graduate signifies so much, doesn’t it?  It’s this end of the apron string.  It’s the last couple inches before the end of the high dive.  It’s the edge of the cliff.

It’s the moment when you truly know you’ve had the most influence you’ll have, and they are flying . . .

ready or not.

Working with youth, we hear a LOT of graduation speeches, a lot of final charges, and this one, among many stands out.  After hearing him share his heart for his daughter, we asked the father, Todd, to give us a copy of his final charge.  While the graduation season is finished, and most parents are looking for new computers and mini-fridges for their upcoming freshman college students, now seemed the best time to share these words again with the world.

The speeches and admonishments and cheesy cards with Hallmark advice have all dwindled to a trickle, and it’s my prayer that his wise words will have space amidst this quieter season–space to be heard.  I challenge you to share them with your children who are leaving home for the first time.  Share them with your children who are getting married.  Share them with your children who are returning to high school.  Because whether they are going to high school or college or Africa, every child must know this central truth–they were made for a purpose and that purpose should paint and shade every single thing they do.

Life and time–they’re gifts.

But they are truly meant for a purpose, and if our children don’t have that purpose defined biblically, mark my words, the world will be more than happy to define it for them.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

So, I believe in a world that will constantly shout to your children what their purpose is, these truths must be shared.  These are the truths our children need to know.  These are the truths that children can go back to, can align their priorities and decisions with.  These are the truths that will nurture the soul.

Here are Todd’s words to his second graduate.

My Beautiful child,

Even though we’ve walked this path with another child, it still seems remarkable that once again one of our babies is graduating high school. It is one of life’s more conspicuous milestones, so it begs for reflection which I have been doing as we have navigated these last few months. You came into this world in the early morning hours of that September day in what I can describe as the most awful, helpless feeling that I have ever experienced in my life, but as the sun went down on that very same day, I cannot remember experiencing a more satisfying peace as the fears of the day’s events were finally laid to rest. You’ll often hear parents say that a difficult birth was an omen of things to come for a challenging child, but I have no such thoughts. I have so enjoyed being your dad, watching you grow, making wonderful memories and just being a spectator in your many activities. Over the last couple of years mom and I both have seen an amazing change as you have matured into the lovely, young woman you have become.

Landmarks like this make us parents feel old and you kids feel smarter and more accomplished than you’ll one day become. It is a break in the timeline of life, leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood. You are transitioning from having many decisions being made for you, to having to figure things out on your own. Since you will remain home for the time being, life may not seem altogether different, but without a doubt, life has changed. Oh, we’ll still be here for you and will gladly lend a hand, offer advice and help you through life’s adversities, but I’m guessing you’ll ask less, need less, and choose to figure things out on your own more often than in the past. Our desire as mom and dad is that you do make this transition. Our concern as mom and dad is that even as you call on us less that you continue to call on the One who created you and do so even more.  

The subtle and many times very deliberate influences of the world can be most enticing. I think of the advice I recently heard at a graduation ceremony–“to do whatever makes you happy.” This seems harmless on the surface, but all too many people choose to follow this advice and it leads to heartache, regret, disappointment and sometimes even despair. Another bit of advice given at the ceremony was to “put in the extra hours and stress necessary to get the raise.” This is a never ending cycle. There will always be another job, another lure of more money or the seduction of a once in a lifetime opportunity that will distract you from what’s really important…what really matters…what you were created to do – that is to worship God–meaning, live life to bring honor to God. Let your decisions be, not just seasoned, but saturated with biblical truth. The extra hours and stress to gain a promotion will lead to extra hours and stress to maintain the same level of expectation. This is not to say don’t work hard. I’ve been preaching diligence and conscientiousness even before you kids could understand what those words meant. It is essential to have a good work ethic and do things thoroughly and completely to the best of your ability, but your motivation should be greater than personal achievement.

                Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life. And he who has it will abide in satisfaction.

You have demonstrated, specifically in these last 2 years, that you have the focus and determination to take the academics seriously and I have no doubt that you will do well at the undertakings you choose to pursue, so my only concern is your heart. You see, your academics will be measured. You’ll be graded on each class which will reflect on your overall GPA. You may be recognized on the Dean’s List; you may choose to pursue a double major; you’ll leave school having learned a second language and possibly studied abroad; you will be more accomplished, brighter, bolder and more articulate. Ultimately, upon graduation, you’ll be given a diploma that will be a visual acknowledgement of this fine accomplishment. As a dad, I will be very proud of the hard work you put in to have achieved this success. But what will it mean if along the way you forfeit your faith? This would be crushing to mom and I. Worldly success will NEVER offer the satisfaction to which the verse in Proverbs speaks. That satisfaction offers peace and comfort. There is something completely satisfying knowing you are right where God would want you. It is the cool glass of water that quenches a desperate thirst, the warm blanket on a cold night, it is the arm of encouragement wrapped around you, the words that uplift, it is a joy that overflows, even in sorrow God has the ability to ease the burden, provide hope and help you persevere. There is no other place you want to be than in His presence and enjoying that satisfaction.

                Psalm 16:11 You (God) will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 The pleasures God speaks of are not in agreement with what the world would define as pleasures which often lead to guilt and shame or are simply just fleeting. On the contrary, God’s pleasures for you are ones that lead to fulfillment and satisfaction, joy and peace, they confirm to you that you are right where you need to be.

As you mature, the academic accomplishments and subsequent career that you have set your sights on will be achieved or may even be replaced with new desires that are deemed to be more worthy, but as long as the foundation of your faith remains solid and as long as your focus remains steadfast on the One who created you then you will live the life of the Christian who finishes well.

                1 Cor 10:31 – Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

So my charge to you…Go do all that you want to do, but put God first. Always make time to read the Word, pray, disciple and serve. If you live life in this order, the things you accomplish will be all the sweeter. On the contrary, if you find you’re too busy for these things, then you’ve become the focus instead of God. Countless tomorrows will come and go if you don’t purpose to put God first.

                JC Ryle – Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan does not care about how spiritual your intentions are or how holy your resolutions, if only they are determined to be done tomorrow.

So where the advice was given to “put in the extra hours and stress to get the raise” and “do what makes you happy,” I say instead, think of life in reverse. If you were at the end of your life just mere moments from standing before your Father in heaven, what would you like to be remembered for? Live-life-for- that.

Maybe not so ironically your life-verse sums it up very well…

                Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.          

I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!

                                                              Daddy

May our children soar, may they fly, but may they always do so lifted on the air of the true purpose for which they were created–to make their Savior famous, to seek His kingdom . . . then and only then will all the things that are necessary for their lives be added unto them.

And fellow moms and dads, to you, I say this:

The words our children will take the most seriously from us are those we have lived by ourselves.

May we be found faithful.

XO

The Haiti Blogs: When We Can’t Make Sense Of It All

It’s raining today in our North Georgia mountains–one of those long, soft, misty spring rains that just won’t stop.  My boys are going camping, so the rain is  unwelcome.  It’s a trip far into the woods to celebrate a big birthday for one of their friends.  It’s been on the books for probably 2 months.  We’ve had gorgeous weather all week, and now rain.

I’m watching it wash my cars, water my plants, fill the low spots in the yard, and drown out all the earth worms, and I’m praying, “Lord, would you hold it off for the boys?”

And I remember.

Like the rain washes the fogginess from my brain.

The tin roofs in Haiti.  How many of them were there?  Tin held down with rocks and broken cement.  Tin salvaged from other projects.  Tin filled with holes.

My boys may be wet tonight while they camp, but they’ll come home to a dry house.

For so many Haitians, home is flooded wet when rains fall.

DSC_0904

Me–a child of God, sitting dry under a shingled roof.

A Haitian baby–a child of God, sleeps with belly distended from hunger in his mother’s arms while she squats under a 12 inch overhang waiting out the storm.

A friend–a child of God, sleeps in the hospital tonight.  Cancer’s been removed, but what treatment lies ahead?

A husband in Ecuador–a child of God, mourns his wife’s death.  An earthquake swallowed her life’s breath.

We don’t make sense of these things.

We can’t.

We can’t explain why survival is a hobby and past time for my youngest boy but the only way of life for the boy who begged me to sponsor him back in Haiti.

We can’t explain why the lump in my breast a couple months back was just a fatty cyst but for another it is cancer.

We can’t explain why one child is born without a heartbeat and another is born, lungs filled with air, heart pumping, and healthy.

We can’t explain why one good parent raises a child who aces all the tests and rises the corporate ladder and another good parent raises a drug addict.

We can’t explain why one is accepted into the program and another is denied despite her tremendous effort.

We just can’t.

But I know them.  These people.  I know they love Jesus.

And I know Jesus loves them.

I do.

I remember His Words–they were about His people the Jews, but we were grafted into this beautiful love that is our Savior.  We get to savor these words too.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”(Isaiah 43:1-7)

We get to savor our Savior who gathers us from the east and from the west.

We get to revel in our Redeemer who calls us by name.

We get to cry out to our Creator who promises that we are precious in His sight.

We get to live out of the love of this God who says He formed us, He made us, and he crafted us . . .

for

his

glory.

The intended destiny of the cancer patient and the orphan and the hungry and the hurting and the healthy and the wealthy and the successful and the homosexual and the heterosexual and the Arab and the American is that they were ALL–

Every

Single

One

created to bring this one and only God glory.

We don’t have to share skin color or socioeconomic status to share the same purpose.  I have to quit understanding in human terms like Middle-Eastern or African, upper-class or poor, educated or illiterate and begin to understand others as God does–mankind.  Created beings created by a Creator for His own pleasure and glory. 

HE said it Himself.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
    and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
    I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13     Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  (Isaiah 43:10-13)

He said in no uncertain terms this beautiful declaration of destiny.

We are HIS Witnesses.

We were chosen

to KNOW

and

to BELIEVE

that HE AND HE ALONE is the LORD and there is no salvation apart from HIM.

From always–

from eternity past–it was always HIM.

By HIM and THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM all things were created.

It’s all for Him.

All to make HIM famous–He’s the one that rescues, that brings salvation, that carries us through the fire, that keeps us floating when the river rages, that carries us across oceans deep.  He doesn’t always heal on earth.  He doesn’t always grant physical provision on earth.

But there is one thing He does do when we can’t make sense of it all–we can know this one thing–He holds us in the palm of His hands.  Nothing can pluck us from His hand.  (John 10:28)

He holds us–our souls when the earth shakes and the rain wont relent.

That He does.

The rest?

The rest we will have to wait to fully understand.

Until then–He won’t relent from this relentless love.  It’s WHO HE IS.

from ancient of days.

And us?  Those of us who call Him Savior?

We get to bear witness to this great truth–

that we know the one true God because He’s redeemed us, He’s called us by name.