Monday, November 24, 2008

Because sometimes, life is just messy

Hey y'all! My sincerest apologies for just leaving y'all hanging. I know it has been well over a month since I posted anything at all, and even tonight I don't have much time to say much, as I am sitting in class trying not to let the click, click, click of the keyboard be too much of a distraction to anyone. Whoa, that was a long sentence. Life has change a bit for me over the past few months. Ok, it has changed drastically, and I just have to say that sometimes, life is just messy. Those sweet little "Christian" answers that so easily rolled off the tongue several months ago seem shallow and empty these days, as I feel like a dream I once held so tightly has all but slipped away.
Ok, maybe not totally slipped away, but has been drastically altered; as I went from being a homeschooling, Bible-teaching, stay at home housewife (living the dream), to a full-time student (again), full-time nurse (again), pregnant (again), having to leave my kids with others to raise so that I can work. Sometimes, life is just messy.
And so, as much as my mind has been reeling with thoughts with share, time has been limited, hormones have been flowing, and brain has been occupied with thoughts of healthcare communication. My heart is full of questions as I battle anger and resentment to this incredible change of plans. I have wondered where God is in the midst of it all. Those simple answers such as "God will provide" don't sit as well on the heart as I am standing in line with my food stamps application.
Anyway, life is just messy sometimes, and right now I am wading through a particularly thick part. But I'm still standing, head above water, and as I find a new balance and a new normal, I will share more of this interesting journey. Thanks for hanging with me, and for those who have asked, thanks for your concern. I'm here, and I'll get back to you. Until next time, grace and peace. I certainly need more of that these days.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Called to Be Set Apart, Part 3

These principles are difficult to translate over into our present age. But this is meant for us, now, just as it was meant for Jesus’ listeners then. These principles not simply meant for when we arrive to Heaven. This applies to us now, not resisting an evil person, turning the other cheek, giving up coat and tunic, walking a second mile. That is meant for us today as well. This comes down to our allegiance.

Many of you know that last week my husband was granted US citizenship. It was interesting timing as these thoughts have been rolling around my head for quite some time. And as they called the people within the stadium to rise to their feet and place their hands on their hearts to pledge allegiance to flag, I could not do it. I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. I thought of the many times that God warns His children not to worship any other gods. I thought of the words of Paul who told us very clearly that our citizenship is in Heaven. And I could not rise, place my hand over my heart, and pledge my undivided allegiance to a flag made by man, representing an empire created by human imagination. Whether the pledge says “under God” or not, the pledge is to an empire and not to God Himself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that my husband will carry the same passport as the girls and I, as it will simplify and streamline many of our travel obstacles. I also greatly appreciate many of the simplicities of life based on how things are set up here. But I struggle with the empire values, and cannot pledge my allegiance to it, because this could all be removed in an instant, and I would still pledge my allegiance to Christ the Messiah, regardless of which passport we carry. Now before you stone me for being an ungrateful traitor, let’s take it back to Scripture.

Jesus had warned his followers that they were to live the kingdom of God in this world, regardless of where in the world they were, and that the world would hate them for it. They were not to blend in to be like everyone else, but were to live distinct lives, severed from the peoples of the nations. The powers that be would drag them before governors and courts, beat them and insult them, feed them to beasts, and hang them on crosses. Look at what happened to Jesus himself. And hate his followers is what the world did – at least for the first couple of hundred years.

The young early church lived within the messy collision of kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome. The more the early Christians reflected on the life and message of their Messiah, and the more they tried to live the way of the gospel, the harder they collided with the state and its hopes and dreams, militaries and markets. In fact, Christians in those first few hundred years were called atheists because they no longer believed in the Roman gospel; they no longer had any faith in the state as savior of the world. They were called “renegades” and “rebels,” “enemies of the human race.” They refused to serve in the Roman military, refusing to pick up arms against another human being, just as Jesus himself told Peter to lower his sword against the Roman soldier. And so they themselves became the targets of violence and persecution.

Before there was Christianity or Christendom or even really a church, the movement of people following after Jesus became known as the Way, because their way of living stood in stark contrast to the ways of empire. They believed that new life through Jesus had begun, right now. Jesus’ constant reiteration of his vision of the kingdom of God coming on earth still rang in their ears. They believed the kingdom’s coming was so immanent, they could not help but start living it now.

Take a look at Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Among themselves, they had completely eradicated poverty and formed a treasury for all. They had become a nation unto God while living in the midst of the empire, completely subversive to the empire around them. There was no welfare from the government. There was no outside aid or government funding. God provided resources through His Church. They were forsaking all that the empire had to offer, choosing rather simplicity and contentment to build and edify each other. Those who had too much gave it away, and those who had too little were brought up to par.

I found this quote from a first century follower of the Way and found it quite compelling:
“We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.”
So, as beautiful as this sounds, it leaves me wondering what happened? How did this fall apart? The problem is that the followers of the Way went from being on the fringes of the empire, the outcasts and rebels of the society, to being baptized into the empire. The system that Jesus himself had rejected became the backbone of it all.

In the year 306 AD, a Roman Emperor named Constantine took over power. He was a military conqueror, and as legend has it, in the year 312, won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge after seeing a sign of the cross and hearing a voice say, “In this you will conquer.” It is interesting, considering that for Jesus the cross meant refusal of worldly ways of conquering. But the battle was won and in 313 AD the Edict of Milan was passed, which granted religious tolerance to all religions, especially Christianity.

Emperor Theodosius ruled Rome from 379 to 395 and proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the Empire, making it a crime not to be a Christian. It wasn’t long after that that the persecuted became the persecutor, and the church became the church of the militant and triumphant. The kingdom of God that had been known through a king who rules with a towel draped over his arm to wash feet, riding a donkey, and carrying a cross had become the empire of Christendom. In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church began to burn its enemies alive.

Now, these days we certainly aren’t burning our enemies alive, not literally at least. But I can easily say, the church is not known for the servant love that Jesus demonstrated. Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal and powerful. We saw this in the persecuted Church of Ethiopia this past summer. The Church is small and struggling, and yet loving and growing, and loving and growing. They are being forced to return to Jesus for absolutely everything because the powers of the government oppose them. And so they grow and struggle and give all they have, and love and grow and struggle and give all they have. It is amazing and humbling to see.

You see, when the empire took over Christianity, the doors of the church flew wide open for all to enter, but at a very great cost. Repentance, rebirth and conversion were exchanged for cheap grace, and the integrity of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus faded. The humility and servanthood that He taught and demonstrated were overlooked for power and influence. Christianity began to face an identity crisis as they tried to make disciples of all nations by imperial influence. Instead they baptized the empire itself, producing what so many liberal and conservative Christians today actually want – an entire empire run on the blood of Jesus Christ, a holy Christian state.

I found this quote in a very challenging book that I’ve been reading:
The greatest sin of political imagination is thinking there is no other way except the filthy rotten system we have today. Is it possible we can’t see the destructiveness of our economy and system not because we don’t know it’s terrible but because deep down we feel that it’s necessary and that therefore it’s hopeless to criticize it?
These days we have a president, not a Caesar, and so we don’t actually call him Son of God. We call him president. And we say that we can support a president while also worshiping Jesus as the Son of God. But how is that possible? Scripture says that you cannot serve two masters.

For one says that we must love our enemies, and the other says that we must kill them; one promotes the economics of competition, while the other admonishes the forgiveness of debts. To which do we pledge our allegiance?

For Jesus and his followers, the central question was, “How do we live faithfully to God?” But then the Church inherited a kingdom. And it wasn’t the kind of servant kingdom Jesus imagined and incarnated, not the kingdom of the slaughtered lamb; it was the dominant and coercive force in charge of the world.

And instead of faithfulness, the question became, how do we run the world as Christians?
How do I run this profit-driven corporation as a Christian?
How can we make culture more Christian?
How would a responsible Christian run this war?
How can we put a Christian into office to influence the life standard of this whole empire?

The history of the church has been largely a history of “believers” refusing to believe in the way of the crucified Nazarene and instead giving in to the very temptations he resisted – power, relevancy, spectacle.

We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church’s imagination. For those who might disagree with that, think about how much of the conversation about the two current candidates has been about their religious views. Which man is more Christian? Which man votes more Christian values? What if I agree with a some of one, but not all? And some of the other, but not all? Churches have begun to endorse candidates from the pulpits, risking losing their tax-exempt status, saying it’s their God-given responsibility to name God’s candidate. I have to say that that is just hog-wash. It has no place in God’s church. Whether some would call the tax-exemption hush money or not, the Church has no business getting involved in worldly affairs such as this. We have seen it in country after country, where the Church itself becomes divided along party lines. Pastors start saying things like, “if you don’t vote for so-and-so, you’re not welcome in this church,” or even questioning a person’s salvation based on how they vote. That’s ridiculous!

The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world’s largest superpower have bent the church’s identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds “guiding the course of history” a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual values of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love.

Maybe we, as a body of believers, need to rethink our involvement in the business and ways of this world. Our responsibility and allegiance, first and foremost, belongs to the One who died for us. And this is not the Way that He modeled for us. Let us re-imagine what the Christian life could/should look like. I know for me, I want to be part of a revolution. My soul is hungry for a revolution. One that is marked by radical living, stunning humility and sacrifice, compassion and love, community and servanthood. I want to be a part of recreating the Way of Jesus, not just on Sunday mornings, or Monday nights, or life groups gatherings, but life and every aspect of it. Maybe you’d like to join me in exploring what that would look like. Maybe you’d like to imagine with me what it would be like to truly live set apart.

Grace and peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Called to Be Set Apart, Part 2

****Today we will continue with the talk. Much of the talk today, and tomorrow's as well was inspired by/taken from Scripture and a very dangerous book called "Jesus for President." I don't like the title of the book, but found the teaching to be very challenging and in line with Scripture. It tends to go against cultural teaching and cultural norms, which tends to ruffle feathers. But does it line up with the Word of God? That is the question to be asked.****

In Africa there is a tribe called the Maasai. They are generally located in southwestern Kenya into Tanzania, but you can find patches of them spread out all over those regions. When we were in Africa, I always loved seeing a group of Maasai men because they stand out so incredibly as such a beautiful people with a rich heritage that they are proud of.

They are easily identified wherever they go by their characteristic Maasai clothing, which is typically a bright red and blue checkered cloth wrapped around them, with brightly colored beads around their necks. Their earlobes are typically pierced, with large, LARGE holes left in their lobes so that they hang low. They are typically shepherds or herdsmen, so I usually see them with a large wooden walking stick.

They are characterized with loyalty and honesty. Everyone that I have talked to about the Maasai, simply say, “Ah, good men. You can trust a Maasai.” They are indeed warriors of old, and one can see that they are proud of their heritage, but they are known by their integrity, among each other, and outside their tribe as well. They stand out wherever they are as they cling to their identity as a tribe. It is easy to pick a Maasai out of a group; it is easy to know who they are. They cling to who they are, regardless of where they are, staying true to the nature and the legacy that has been created for them.

Every time I would see one, I was left wondering, ‘What would this world be like if we as Christ followers had such a reputation?’ What if others were to say of us as Christ followers, “Ah, those Christians. Good people. Men and women of integrity. You can always trust a Christian.” What if we were that easy to pick out of a crowd? Instead, I hear often that the Church is classified as angry, judgmental, hypocritical, harsh. It’s not really appealing or attractive to an on looking world.

We talk about reclaiming America for God, all the while I am wondering if America is what God wants us to reclaim, an empire just like Rome in Jesus’ time, with the ideas of consumerism, greed, and lust almost overwhelming us as a people. I wonder if God doesn’t want to reclaim us alone, outside of the empire of America, followers of the Way who look to Him as King, president, decision maker, provider, protector.

I wonder if we as a body of believers shouldn’t be looking to redefine the Church as a nation set apart, united from one congregation to the next, rather than divided by party lines or worldly labels like “liberal” and “conservative”, driving the empire and its values out of us as a united body, rather than us launching an offensive to drive the wrongs out of the empire. But rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God’s kingdom, we assume America is God’s hope for the world, even when it doesn’t look like Christ.

In order for us to think about what it looks like to be set apart from the nations around us, I want us to look at the teachings of Jesus and the formation and life of the early Church. I am hoping that by looking at this, we can draw out a better picture of what it is that we as a people have strayed from. There came a point in our history that we said, “We want to be like all the other nations.” It was not God’s way. It was not the Way of Jesus. It’s time that we as a body explore, question, and struggle with what we are doing so that we might once again be truly set apart. It’s time for a revolution.

Jesus came at such a time in history when there was a powerful empire ruling over most of the world. It was a superpower, not too different from out own today. It was a violent time in history, as the word of Caesar was: Submit to Rome or die. Jesus, as the Messiah, became the hope of Israel to overtake the Roman government and reclaim their nation for God. Many of the messages and teachings that Jesus gave in His time here on earth were directly subversive to the Roman government, hijacking their words and terminology and redeeming them for Kingdom glory.

Even the Christmas story itself, penned by Luke, was inspiring to the Jews of that day who were looking for hope from the ruling empire, as it talked about a Savior being born, a Messiah, the Lord. These were words that the Jews knew quite well, but had heard them in relation to Caesar. Caesar was called Savior, even Son of God, and Messiah. So, according to Rome, they already had a Savior. His name was Caesar. And Caesar had a gospel; it was “Submit to the empire or die.” But now in Jesus a different kind of Savior was being proclaimed, and he had a different kind of gospel and a different kind of Kingdom.

Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, peculiar, and set-apart people that began with Abraham being called to the wilderness. He was calling them to reject the ways of the empire, the values of the dominant and militant, and return to a simple Way. He didn’t pray for the world in order to make governments more religious and have their laws reflect more religious values; He wasn’t hoping to redeem the government and nation of Rome.

He called Israel to be the light of the world – to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world. This sort of political language doesn’t exactly harmonize with the contemporary church language of “reclaiming America for God.”

What Jesus taught for us as His followers was this: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39). He taught us sacrificial love, humble and submissive. He taught enemy love with imagination. Jesus teaches us to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms. He invites us to transcend both passivity and violence through a third way. He teaches us that indeed freedom is actually free, that it is a reflection of the state of the heart.

For instance, look with me in Matthew 5, starting at verse 38:

You have heard that it as said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”

(This command was given to the Jewish people back in Exodus 21:24, and it too was meant to set the people apart. This was a limitation on evil done, so that violence would not escalate in retaliation. For instance, if someone cut off your finger, you could not turn around and cut off their arm for revenge. This was a limiting factor of justice to set the people of Israel apart from the warring, violent nations around them. And now here, Jesus takes it one step further.)

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. (Well, now that’s new.)

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

(Now, what Jesus is describing here is a slap. In orderly Jewish culture, a person would hit someone only with the right hand. If you hit someone with the left hand, you could be banished for ten days. So a person would have to use a backslap to hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand, like an abusive husband to a wife, or a master to a slave. It was a slap to insult, degrade, and humiliate, a slap meant for an inferior. By turning the cheek, the person made the abuser look them in the eye, and the abuser could now only hit them with a fist, as an equal. By turning the cheek, the other person said, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” Do not cower and do not punch back. Make sure the person looks into your eyes and sees your sacred humanity, and it will become increasingly harder for that person to hurt you.

And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Take off all of your clothes and hand them over, exposing the sickness of their greed. Nakedness was taboo for Jews, but the shame fell less on the naked party and more on the person who look on or cause the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27) (93). Following Jesus’ suggestion would be a way of saying, “You want my coat. You can have it. You can even have my undies. But you cannot have my soul or my dignity.”

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

For a first-century Jew, it was common to be asked to walk a mile with a soldier to carry their supplies. Jesus was saying to walk it with them willingly, even further than asked. Get to know them, not as an enemy but as a person. Talk with them and woo them into our movement by your love.

As Jesus taught such things, no doubt that He angered and upset a number of people. The people were looking for a conqueror. They were looking for someone to overthrow the empire of Herod once and for all and reclaim Israel for God. Reclaim Israel for God. Sound familiar?

We'll finish it up tomorrow. Grace and peace in all things, y'all.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Called to Be Set Apart, Part 1

****This is from a talk that I gave to a women's gathering this past Monday night. While some received it and are contemplating it, some have rejected it altogether. Either way is okay, for it was for me to simply put it out there, to challenge, and to give us all something to chew on. We are all still bonded by the blood of Christ that covers us, and I will cling to that. Enjoy.***

I am a firm lover of the Word of God. I stand in awe of its transformational power for our individual lives, because I am living proof of it. If there ever was a mess in life, it was me. Many of you already know my story or have heard my testimony shared before, but so that everyone is on the same page, I’ll give you the nutshell version.

I didn’t grow up in the church, necessarily, but had some rather rough beginnings. At the age of 18, I was a victim of rape, and rather than talk to someone and seek help, I self-medicated with any drug or alcohol I could get my hands on. By the time I was 19 years old I could not stand to be sober and could not imagine life without my drugs. I was very scared, hateful and angry to everyone who dared cross my path. I moved out to Tucson in the summer of ’97 with my family, supposedly for a fresh start, but all it meant for me was fresh set of drug dealers.

In December of 1999, though, everything changed. Jesus met me in such a desperate place, in such a desperate way, that all I could say was, “If you don’t save me, I know I’ll die. I just know that I’ll die.” Thus began the transformation of me, with God systematically cleaning out the dross of my life and replacing it with a little bit more of a reflection of him.

I tell you this so that no one in here makes the mistake of thinking that I’ve got it all together. I was an absolute wreck of a life, and on many levels, am still quite a mess. But by God’s grace, He has transformed me into something that He chooses to use for His glory, and continues to transform me by the power of His Word and His grace and mercy in my life.

I have come to realize through this journey that when God is trying to teach me something new, He generally sets up themes for me to learn from. This is probably because I am such a hard head, but it just seems to take me a while to catch on to something new. So, these past few months, He has graciously been speaking to me about being set apart. And since He’s been speaking to me about, I’m going to share it with you.

The reason being is that this is a huge concept, and I am finding that it is increasingly difficult to put into practice in this day and age. When God speaks in His Word about us being His chosen people, being a royal priesthood, being a sanctified nation, what does that look like in normal, everyday lives? How do we live that out? Are we living that out?

I do not pretend to have any answers here. I am not a professional theologian and I am not paid clergy. I am a seeker of truth, and I am hoping that, if nothing else, I raise up lots of questions within you to struggle with. Maybe together, as a people united, we can struggle together and flesh out what it means to be set apart.

Let’s start by looking at some Scripture to determine what it is that God actually said in His Word to us as His children. We’re going to start in Exodus:

- Exodus 19:5-6 – Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
- God called His people a “treasured possession unto Him.” They were distinct as a holy nation, made distinct among the nations by the lives that they lived and the ways that they interacted with each other.

- Leviticus 20:26 – You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
- KJV – for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people.
• The Hebrew word for severed, and set apart is badal – separate, divide, to make a distinction, difference, to withdraw from, to set apart
• God severed His people apart from the other nations, to be different, withdrew them from the people around them.

- Deuteronomy 7:6 – For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

- Deuteronomy 10:14-15 – To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.

It is here that we are going to make the transition from the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Covenant. So where we have seen the Word of the Lord speaking about a holy nation, He has been speaking directly to Israel. But here we see that He is also referring to us, as followers of Christ, as being part of that holy nation.

- Galatians 3:28-29 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

- 1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So, if this is the Word, what do we do with it? How now shall we live according to the Word which we have heard? What does it mean for us as followers of Christ to live lives that are holy unto the Lord, set apart for Him, distinct among the peoples? I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to look just like everyone else.

Even the ancient Israelites struggled with that. Look at 1 Samuel 8, starting in verse 4 through the end of the chapter.

Here is a nation that was called out by the King of kings Himself. YAHWE literally severed the nation of Israel from all the other nations, withdrew them from other peoples, fought battles on their behalf, and led them to the land that had been promised to them for centuries. He had called them by name to be different from the other nations, and yet their cry was to look like all the other nations. Their request to be like everyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to get into routines and habits here, to-do lists, chores and errands, so that really and truly, at the end of the day, my life doesn’t look much different than my neighbor, who doesn’t know Christ. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll wake up early, on a good day, and have my quiet time with the Lord. We pray before we eat a meal and give thanks at the end of the day.

But what about the rest of the day, the part of the day where I actually have to interact with the world to get my chores and errands done? Am I set apart? Would anybody else be able to identify me as a follower of Christ, other than by the cross around my neck? So what does it mean for us, in this day and age, to be a holy nation? How did Christ intend for us to live? be continued tomorrow.
Grace and peace, y'all.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And Then, We Were Thieves!

So Friday morning is typically an outing day for the girls and me. I like to take them to do something special on Fridays, like going to the zoo or the park. Something fun, a mommy/daughters special day. So this past Friday I decided to take them to the Tucson Children's Museum. I had been hearing about it from my other girlfriends and decided to check it out.
It was great. Very interactive for the girls with lots of things to see and do. Right up until Toria decided to pee on the floor. That would be my potty-trained toddler, who decided to stand in the middle of the Enchanted Rainforest and piddle, right on the floor, as she is telling me that she is peeing on the floor. WHAT??? Not, mama, I need to go potty, as usual, but mama, look, I'm peeing on the floor. WHAT??? IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?? WHAT??? ARE??? YOU??? DOING????!!!
Well, we had a wet, not so fun walk to the bathroom, which seemed like a mile and a half away with a sloshy child and wet shoes. After lots of toilet paper for the drying effect (of course we didn't have a change of clothes with us. SHE'S POTTY TRAINED!! evidently only most of the time), and regaining composure, we returned to the museum play area to try again. We enjoyed the music room where the girls got to bang of the different types of drums and shake the handbells. The girls had a blast in this room and went from instrument to instrument, shaking and banging on everything they could get their hands on.
We ventured from there to the 6th Avenue Market area, where the kids get to push around a pint-sized shopping cart and fill it with groceries to take for check-out. They get to weigh out produce and ring them up at a cash register. I thought this would be so much fun for the girls, so I found a place to "park" the stroller, grabbed Juju out of it, and turned around to grab Toria's hand for the shopping experience. Except that Toria wasn't there. Or anywhere. Quick scan of the room. No Toria. Enter frantic mom. Walk quickly. Stay calm. Don't freak out. She has to be here somewhere. Close. Her legs are small. She couldn't have gone that far. Scanning, scanning, looking. No Toria. Walk becomes brisk, from room to room, bordering run. Franticly scanning. No Toria. Panic. Check the dinosaurs. No Toria. Check the music room. She had fun in there. No Toria. Panic, fright. By now I am running to the front desk to report my child as missing, and who do I see sitting on the computer by the front door. Toria. Hug her or beat her? Hug her or beat her? Tough decision. Hug her, then beat her.
It was in that moment that my shoe broke. The bottom of my sandal came unglued, to match my attitude at the moment. So every step that I took, the shoe doubled under itself, making walking with the shoe quite a joke.
It was in that moment, that I opened the front door of the museum and escorted everyone out. Fun Friday over. Going home. I removed the shoe, walked with one shoe on, baby in stroller, toddler holding on to stroller, tightly, quickly to the van. Fun Friday done.
After I got everyone loaded into the van and was about halfway home, I reached into my purse to grab something, only to notice that "someone" had slipped one of the handbells from the music room into said purse. Little one liked the handbells so much, she decided we needed to have one for our own collection. Now we're thieves. Even better. Fun Friday Finished.
We'll be making another trip to the Tucson Children's Museum, not for another fun day. No, that won't be for a while now. We have to return said stolen property. Ah, the joys of parenting.
Grace and peace. Especially for Fun Fridays.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Finally, an E-mail Worth Passing On

Ok, so this was sent to me. I don't know if this is actually practical, but it sure does sound good on paper. It sounds much better than where we are headed right now. Enjoy:

I'm against the $85,000,000,000.00 bailout of AIG.

Instead, I'm in favor of giving $85,000,000,000 to America in
a We Deserve It Dividend.

To make the math simple, let's assume there are 200,000,000
bonafide U.S. Citizens 18+.

Our population is about 301,000,000 +/- counting every man, woman
and child. So 200,000,000 might be a fair stab at adults 18 and up..

So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $85 billon that equals $425,000.00.

My plan is to give $425,0 00 to every person 18+ as a
We Deserve It Dividend.

Of course, it would NOT be tax free.
So let's assume a tax rate of 30%.

Every individual 18+ has to pay $127,500.00 in taxes.
That sends $25,500,000,000 right back to Uncle Sam.

But it means that every adult 18+ has $297,500.00 in their pocket.
A husband and wife has $595,000.00.

What would you do with $297,500.00 to $595,000.00 in your family?
Pay off your mortgage - housing crisis solved.
Repay college loans - what a great boost to new grads
Put away money for college - it'll be there
Save in a bank - create money to loan to entrepreneurs.
Buy a new car - create jobs
Invest in the market - capital drives growth
Pay for your parent's medical insurance - health care improves
Enable Deadbeat Dads to come clean or else

Remember this is for every adult U S Citizen 18+ including the folks
who lost their jobs at Lehman Brothers and every other compan y
that is cutting back. And of course, for those serving in our Armed Forces.

If we're going to re-distribute wealth let's really do it...instead of trickling out
a puny $1000.00 economic incentive that is being proposed by one of our candidates for President.

If we're going to do an $85 billion bailout, let's bail out every adult U S Citizen 18+!

As for AIG - liquidate it.
Sell off its parts.
Let American General go back to being American General.
Sell off the real estate.
Let the private sector bargain hunters cut it up and clean it up.

Here's my rationale. We deserve it and AIG doesn't.

Sure it's a crazy idea that can work.

But can you imagine the Coast-To-Coast Block Party!

How do you spell Economic Boom?

I trust my fellow adult Americans to know how to use the $85 Billion
We Deserve It Dividend more than the geniuses at AIG or in Washington DC .

And remember, The Family plan only really costs $59.5 Billion because $25.5 Billion is returned instantly in taxes to Uncle Sam.

hehe. um, yes please.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thoughts on Citizenship


Well, I just spent the morning with my family at our city convention center with about 4,000 other people watching my husband being sworn is as a US citizen. Now, not all four thousand people were there for my husband, but they should have been because he's just that great. There were about 1,900 other people who took the oath of citizenship along with my man. We cheered, flags were waved, songs were sung, speeches were spoken, and then oaths were sworn with right hands lifted high. And it all just has me thinking. Uh-oh. That's usually a problem.

Now don't get me wrong; I am ecstatic that his citizenship went through. We will now be able to travel as a family under the same passports, enter the same lines without questions and go through the same embassies for visas. That makes me so happy. I guess I am just wondering about where our citizenship belongs in the first place.

As I listened to the many men and women this morning recite the pledge of allegiance, I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would not bow down to pay homage to an idol made by human hands (Daniel 3). I just wonder if they would have pledged their allegiance to a flag created by human hands, representing an empire created by the human imagination. Now granted, said empire had good goals at one point in time, and on many levels still does, but still remains to be an empire. And where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down the idol that represented the empire of King Nebuchadnezzar, but chose rather to be thrown into the fiery furnace over compromising their allegiance, I just wonder if sometimes we have missed the mark a bit with all our national pride and claiming God's blessings on this particular empire.

Now before you label me a traitor and put together a lynch mob, hear me out. I'm just thinking out loud here what it means to live out loud the words that we read on a daily basis. Because somehow, I feel in my heart of hearts, that we are far from the picture of the early Church, and still missing the mark of what Jesus laid out for us. Here's what I mean: Throughout Scripture we are told over and over again that our citizenship is not here on earth, not belonging to any one nation but that we are a people unto Himself, called to be set apart and live differently than the rest of the world. For instance:
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
Leviticus 20:26

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.
Deuteronomy 10:14-15

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28-29

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9
I could fill this post with the Scripture that I found regarding citizenship and being a nation of people, holy priests, set apart for God. What does that mean for us? Does it mean that we retreat to live communal lives centered around fulfilling this picture? I haven't completely ruled that out yet, but from what I see of the early Church, they were still in the mix of the empire in which they were living. They were set apart, among the empire of the world. Even harder.

No where in Scripture do I see that Jesus taught His followers to fight back in retaliation for wrong done. No where did He teach them to assemble an army and stand their ground with weapons and force. Jesus Himself certainly didn't fight back, when He had all reason, all authority, and all power to do so. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God fought for the people, protecting them, swallowing up armies and chariots. God instructed them that vengeance belongs only to God, which is a good way of saying, “Vengeance is not for you.” It is the forbidden fruit. God scolded the people over and over for taking things into their own hands. Jesus carried that through by teaching a message that was so subversive to the Roman empire, whose policy was to demand allegiance or give death.

Jesus taught His followers during those times of the violent Roman empire to turn the other cheek if they were slapped. He did not teach them to fight back, or defend, or stand up for themselves, or that freedom is not free. He said turn the other cheek. You see, in turning the other cheek, you lift your chin back up, and look the offender in the eye. By turning the cheek, the person says, "I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that." Do not cower and do not punch back. Make sure the person looks into yours eyes and sees your sacred humanity, and it will become increasingly harder for that person to hurt you ("Jesus for President" p. 92).

That's a hard thing to think about, especially in this day and age that is full of terrorism and such hatred among the nations. Jesus is also the one who told us that we should not resist an evil person. How do you live that out? He told us that if we are dragged to court and our shirt is demanded of us, to give our coat as well. And if we are called upon to walk a mile with a Roman soldier, or Muslim sheik, to walk two instead. Offer yourself for the second mile. Be inconvenienced. Get to know him and demonstrate absolute radical unconditional love. These make no sense in our day and age, and application of the Word seems so completely distant.

I wonder if we, as a body of Christ followers, have aligned ourselves more with our "blessed" nation than we have with the Church of God. The Church of God is a transnational body, united by the blood of Christ. Rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God’s kingdom, we assume America is God’s hope for the world, even when it doesn’t look like Christ. I just wonder about pledging allegiance to an empire. Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters, which translates to me that we cannot pledge our undivided allegiance to two kingdoms.

Someone sent me an email a few days ago with a picture of Barack Obama on a stage with a few other politicians. There was an American flag behind them, and all but Obama had their hand over their heart pledging allegiance to said flag. This email was bashing his patriotism, or seemingly lack thereof. I really thought that I had been vocal enough about these slanderous emails and such so that folks would stop sending them to me, but evidently there are some who have not read previous blog posts. Anyhow, it made me wonder. There is a large Christian majority that slammed his lack of patriotism, but maybe we need to check our own patriotism. Is it right for us, as followers of Jesus Christ, to place our hands over our hearts and pledge our undivided allegiance to a flag of human creation, representing an empire of human imagination? I think of the bravery and courage and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego taking their strong, silent stand, holding firm in their allegiance to the one true God. They so honored God with their firm stand that Jesus met them in the fire to stand with them.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

Grace and peace y'all. Journey on.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hair Help

Ok, y'all. I am quite challenged when it comes to hair type of issues. So I find myself in quite a quandary. I recently got my hair chopped off. It was a post-Africa, need to feel pretty again and not so plain, sort of an impulse. And while I like my new do, it requires that I use "product" in my hair. I am most definitely a rookie to using "product," so my question is, for those who use it regularly, once you put it in, how do you get it out?
I am using a "root booster" (is it taboo to share your hair fix secrets?), and I'm pretty sure that it has permanently changed the composition of my hair. Seriously. I can't seem to wash it out. I haven't used it in 2 days now, but when I blow dry my hair, it is most definitely still there.
Is there something I am missing? Some sort of beauty secret to get the stuff out of the hair when shampoo, multiple washings, just doesn't seem to do the trick?
Just thought I'd put it out there. I'm sure there is someone out there who can help me!
Grace and peace in the meantime, even for funky hair issues.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Princess Indeed

At one point or another in every little girl’s life, she has dreamt of being a princess. It seems to be inherent in the makeup of a girl, who envisions herself as a beauty to be pursued and fought for. She dreams of the handsome prince riding up on a white stallion, sword drawn, shield over arm, ready to wage war on anyone who stands in the way of his love. As youths, we would drape pillowcases down the back of our head and prance around in mother’s high-heeled shoes, as only a princess could. We would play dress-up with feathery boas and paint makeup all over our faces. We would dream of growing up and living out that fairy tale story of a Prince Charming whisking us away to a far-off and romantic land to live happily ever after.

We would watch Disney creations such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and imagine how romantic it would be to live as a princess. Even as we grew up, we would see movies such as “Pretty Woman” and think to ourselves that the fairy tale really can happen. Somewhere in the midst of all of the drama though, we either forgot or were never told to begin with that we are indeed already princesses. We already have a claim to royalty and are already part of the royal bloodline. Every single one of us.

You see, in the beginning God made heaven and earth and everything that we see around us. And then He made man and woman, in His image. In His own image we were made, in the image of the Most High King. So we are all His from the beginning by way of creation alone. But God doesn’t stop there. It wasn’t enough for Him to simply be our Creator. He desired a relationship with us as sons and daughters. In Ephesians 1:4-6, it says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” God specifically chose us to be His children. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12-13).” This was the Creator’s deliberate choice to have us in constant relationship with Him, not as a taskmaster or drill sergeant, but as a Father who loves and adores His children would guide and direct them.

Let me say it this way: It’s like the difference between paternity and fatherhood. Paternity describes a relationship in which a man is responsible for the physical existence of a child; fatherhood describes an intimate, loving relationship, chalked full of guidance, discipline, rebuking and loving. In the sense of paternity, we are all children of God because we are His creation. Psalm 139 says His hands formed us in our mothers’ womb. But in the sense of fatherhood, we are children of God only when he makes his gracious approach to us, as stated in Ephesians 1:4-6, we respond to Him and then enter into a relationship with Him.

1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” The love that comes from our Father in Heaven is so outlandish, so exotic, so out-of-this-world. There is nothing to which we can compare that sort of love here on earth, and our minds are not capable of understanding such selfless love. But it is by this magnificent love that the we are given the titles of “children of God.” By the authority of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I have officially been given the title of “Child of the Most High King,” and for us women, that translates over into “Princess.”

Grace and peace, y'all. Praying that you are living out the reality of your title.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cultural Christianity

So, last week a Rabbi from a local Jewish synagogue came to our church, a non-denominational evangelical church, to share with us the general beliefs of modern-day Judaism. I don't know why it's taken me so long to write about it because it has been on my heart continuously since that day. Truly, it fascinates me to no end, and on some level, I think that it should fascinate all of us as followers of Christ, because they were, and still are, God's chosen people first.

Now, before you blast me for that last comment, yes, I totally agree that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). But Scripture also says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16)."

Paul goes on in Romans 9:1-5 to say,
"I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."
Amen, indeed! There is no denying that Israel was God's chosen nation first. In my heart, it makes it more special, then, that I can be a part of that chosen nation, not by birthright, as one born of the Jewish family, but by the adoption of my Heavenly Father into that glorious family! Paul continues on in that same chapter to say,
"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring."
Um, yeah, so that would be us, those who call on the name of Jesus, those who have believed the promise of the Messiah in Jesus Christ. We are regarded as Abraham's offspring! As my dear uncle would say, If that don't set you on fire, your wood must be wet! Seriously, that lights up my heart to know that I am regarded as a child of Abraham, as part of the lineage of Jesus Christ, to be a part of the people of the patriarchs, and the covenant and the temple worship! This is all very exciting stuff!

But, I digress. This rabbi was telling us about what it means to be a "cultural Jew." There was a question asked of him by a lady in the audience, stating that she plays cards with a handful of Jewish ladies on a regular basis. The Jewish ladies were saying that they do not regularly go to the synagogue, but that they are more "cultural Jews." So the question was to simply understand what it means to be a "cultural Jew."

So the rabbi began to share with us that, for the most part, Jews are known for being people of deed and not creed, saying that they are not heavy into theology, but more try to live out what it is to be a Jew. He was saying that it was not burdensome to live out the 613 laws that are in place for the Jewish people, because it is simply what they know of life. They don't know any other way of living other than to follow the Jewish law. Now, while this has some very difficult implications, such as trying to earn your way into Heaven, it also has some incredibly beautiful implications. Hang with me for a moment while I try to unravel these thoughts.

From birth, a Jew is taught that he/she is a Jew, part of God's chosen nation, called to be set apart and live life differently than the rest of the world. Daughters are taught by mothers how to live a life that brings honor to their God; sons are taught by fathers what it means to be a man who follows the commands of God. They learn from the earliest age that they are to do this and not do that because they are called to be different. They learn from the very beginning that they are to live lives that are set apart, visibly different from the surrounding world. To me, this is fascinating, and quite inspiring. They live the way that they live because it was taught to them by those whom have gone before them. This is how we live as a people. If they walk away from Judaism, they walk away from everything they know of life. It is that ingrained in their minds and hearts. There is no separating the two. They are not Jews for Saturday services, and then live "normal" lives the rest of the week. It defines everything that they do, how they think, how they eat, how they speak. To walk away from that would be to walk away from life altogether.

What if we, as followers of Christ, as those living in the promise, were defined in such a way? What if we were so distinct in our thoughts, speech, dress, how we eat, how we interact with others? What if we were cultural Christians? And truly, if we were living that out, turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, walking the extra mile, giving our cloak and tunic, we would be creating Kingdom culture.

See, it's not about living up to the 613 laws of the Book of the Law, or earning our way into Heaven. This much we know. We've got that down. But sometimes I can't help but wonder if we are just a bit too comfortable with the grace that has been so freely offered to us, to the point of being irreverent. Where we have so shaken off tradition and ritual for the sake of speaking and living freely from the heart, I just wonder if we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

If we are a people who dress like the rest of the world for the sake of keeping up with the latest fashion trends, are we truly set apart? Are we clothed in strength and dignity, or are we a stumbling block to our brothers' eyes because we want to feel beautiful? If we are a people who speak like the world around us, are we truly set apart? Are you engaging in the trash-talk of candidates, gossiping about others around you, or are you keeping the words of your mouth wholesome and edifying? If we are spending money like the world around us, gathering more gadgets or keeping up with the latest just for the sake of having it all, or are we taking care of each other so that none has too much or too little?

Don't you think it's time that we redefine ourselves and how the world sees us? While we as a body are fantastic (sometimes too good) at pointing out what is wrong with this world, we are rarely part of the solution for the world. Let us, as a people united, strive to redefine our culture. By "our culture," I mean the culture of the body of Christ, living as the Holy Nation that God has invited us to be a part of, living as a people who are set apart from those around us. And I don't mean in a superior, we've got it all figured out, sort of hierarchy way. But more of a humble, servant sort of way. Like the Way of Jesus. Let us be defined by that, teaching our children from the earliest of ages that they do or don't do certain things because we are called be different, set apart, children of the Most High King.

This may require some reevaluating of current living, and that can be a very good thing. Why do you do the things that you do? Where did you learn to do such things? Who laid your foundation? How could you create more of Kingdom culture in your life? Are you now living such a compelling life, entrenched in the Way of Christ, that if you walked away from it, you would lose everything? Or would you simply lose a Sunday service and everything else would be the same? I don't mean to step on toes. Well, maybe I do, but oh so gently, and with the utmost of love for you. I just think that we can do this better.

In all things, friends, there is Grace and peace.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shaping Up

So, now that we are officially back, it's time to get busy on the body again. For quite some time I have been struggling with the status of my post-baby (x2) body. Truly, I can't blame it on the babies anymore, as the youngest is now 18months old. I will blame it on a lack of self-control, a sweet tooth with too much control, and not enough discipline to make it right.

Well, it seems that three months in Africa will cure a sweet tooth, as my cravings are certainly not what they used to be. In fact, I purchased some Toblerone chocolate in the airport, so excited to see chocolate again, but never opened it to actual savor the sweetness. I just haven't been wanting it.

So, I have begun working out again (ugh) and trying to reclaim the body that was. I started a walk/run program from Runner's World, with the hopes of being able to run a 5k race at the end of 8 weeks. I dread posting this up here, as it seems that I have not been great about finishing things that I start. So now, it's official. I can be held accountable.

I walked/jogged on Monday morning, walked on Tuesday morning, and am now waiting for the girls to wake up so that I may load them in the stroller for a walk/run this morning.

I have found a 5k race on October 25th that I am shooting for. I'll keep you posted. Grace and peace y'all.

I'll try to get some pictures from Africa up and give a wrap-up report of sorts. Thanks for hanging with me!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Love One Another

Goodness. Time flies by, and I neglect my duties. Sorry!! We are back in the states now and getting settled back in. The jetlag is starting to wear off and we are finding our new routines here. I must say that we came back at a very ugly time politically speaking. I know that things are going to get much worse before they get any better, but I just have to say this to get it out there and off my chest.

Stop slandering the name of a fellow Christ follower!

Seriously folks, you know who you are if you are doing it. It is wrong and goes against everything that we claim to believe as followers of the Way of Jesus.

Jesus said in John 13:15, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

And in John 13:34-35, He said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

What is going in the political arena just makes my heart sick. You have to know that I am not necessarily a fan of Barack Obama. Politically speaking, I have not yet made my decision and am still considering lots of different issues (because it really is about more than just abortion and gay marriage). But the man claims to be a follower of Christ Jesus, just as I do, and I know that I am not wise enough or holy enough to judge him. I do not sit on any sort of throne that I may judge his state of salvation or his sincerity to love the Lord. Truth be told, neither do you.

You want to talk politics? That's great. Stick to the issues. You may or may not agree with the plans and strategies that he has put forth should he become president. That's okay. Scripture says, "Come, let us reason together." But in reasoning together, you do not tear down the very character of the human being.

But when you start slandering his character, when you start calling him names like terrorist, communist, or Bible mocker, you are no longer talking politics. You are defaming the person, who was created in the very same of image of God that you were.

This just breaks my heart because it shows the great disconnect that is too alive in the Church. Jesus told us that if we love one another all men will know that we are His disciples. I hear bold "Christians" who have stood up and called Obama some horrendous names and stretched truths and pulled many words of any sort of context for the sake of political gain. The Jesus that I know and adore would not be a part of that conversation, but might have a few names of His own, such as Pharisee.

I have just begun reading a very interesting book called "Jesus for President" (which I think every follower of Christ should read, by the way) when I came across this statement:
Some of us may remember a Sunday school tune: "His banner over me, his banner over you, is love, love, love." This is another way of saying his banner, and not Rome's banner, is over me. And his banner means "love, love, love," not Rome's "freedom, peace, and security." We wave the banner for Jesus and not for Rome, the United States of America, or any other nation or empire that vies for our allegiance.

But it wasn't as if Jesus wanted Rome's power or wanted to gain a foothold in the culture wars of his time. He didn't want to climb Caesar's throne. This political language doesn't harmonize with the contemporary church project of "reclaiming America for God." Precisely the opposite: Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, peculiar, and set-apart people that began with Abraham. He didn't pray for the world in order to make governments more religious: he called Israel to be the light of the world - to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world.
I found that very timely and very interesting in light of all the smearing of names that is happening. Whoever wins this political battle, so be it. But for heaven's sake, be a good ambassador of Jesus in the meantime. Are you talking about issues and the best course of action for the country as a whole, or are slandering the character of a human being, one who claims to be on the same journey as you, one who bears the same image of the Creator as you? Don't disgrace Jesus or His Way for the sake of political agendas.

What does the Scripture say...What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

Mercy. Let us end well, brothers and sisters, that our behavior and heart attitude is glorifying to God in all situations. That we are bringing Him honor in all things that we do. Tearing down one of His children is not how to bring Him honor. We are to build each other, edify, and yes, challenge. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. But we are not sharpening, edifying, or building anything other than political agendas when we are sending around emails full of unsubstantiated lies and half-truths, posting YouTube videos on blogs that are just down right mean, not to mention way off base and out of context. This is not how we build the Church. This is how we drive others away. Why would the world want to be a part of such a divisive and judgmental group of people?

We are called to be different...a peculiar people, known for our love of each other. Honestly, it is not your call to say whether or not Barack Obama is a follower of Christ. He says that he is. The King of kings is the only One worthy of determining his heart condition. It is not for any of the rest of us to judge, but to love him as we would any other brother of the Church.

Let us end this well, brothers and sisters. Let us rise above the ways of this world and live according to the calling which we have received. Let us love.

Grace and peace y'all. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who Is Jesus to You?

Hello there. How are you today? How is life treating you? Really, truthfully, how are you doing? Allow me to ask you a question: Do you know of Jesus? What do you know of Him? Who is Jesus to you? What does that mean for your life? Are you experiencing the life transformation through Jesus?

Before Jesus went to be at the right hand of the Throne of God, He told us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. We are to tell everyone we see, every place we go, about the life changing power and love of Jesus Christ.

I am to be about my Father’s business, and it should be on my lips at all times. My every conversation should be infused with life-giving power, and that only happens if I am talking about or talking to Jesus.

I have often thought that my spiritual gifts do not include evangelism per se, but more teaching and discipleship, as if I am excused from interacting with others until they are ready to be discipled. But that does not excuse me from speaking about Jesus. He should be a part of my normal, everyday conversations. As Scripture says, “I believe, therefore I speak.” If He really is all who I claim He is in my life, why do I not speak His name more often throughout the normal course of my day?

It’s time to start. I believe, therefore I speak.

So, who is Jesus to you? Are you experiencing His life changing power? If you do not know Him or are not living in His power, I would love to be able to tell you about this One man who changed the course of all history, and of life itself.

Be blessed, friends, with the Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 18, 2008

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another. Seriously.

I cannot believe that it has been over a week since I wrote anything. Please forgive me. Somehow time has just slipped away, and one thing becomes another, and then important things have not gotten done. But stay with me. I’m getting back on track. I’ve got a lot of thoughts swirling tonight, so hang with me and hold on tight.

I want to start by thanking you for praying for my ear situation. I’ll tell you what; the hem of His garment has proven to be much stronger than any antibiotic out there. My ear is as good as new and I give all praise to Jesus for the healing.

But I’ll tell you that as soon as there was relief in the ear, there was pain elsewhere. I am inclined to think that there is one who doesn’t want me to believe God on this issue, or any other issue for that matter. But I am believing nonetheless, and learning more about God and His world in the process. Last week I had been battling a UTI (urinary tract infection), and I thought that I could just drink more water and flush it out. Dumb. Water is an issue here in Kenya, as in it is expensive and not as available as opening a tap in the states and filling a glass. All that to say that water is a bit hard to come by, so flushing out an infection by drinking lots of water here in Kenya is quite difficult. Needless to say, my plan did not work, and by Saturday morning, the infection had traveled my bladder and kidney.

That is some serious pain, y’all, so much so that I could not stand up straight. So my husband took me to a local hospital to get some treatment. That was an experience. Now, granted, there were no goats walking around the halls like the hospital that we visited in Ghana. Toria came down with malaria while we were in northern Ghana last year, and the hospital there was a HUGE step of faith for me, as I watched goats walk down the walkways. There were no goats at the one here in Kenya, just very interesting people.

I am seeing more and more as we travel that people are so incredibly interesting all over the world, and are in such desperate need of a renewal of the mind (Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2). You see, it seems that people everywhere have forgotten that we as human beings have more in common with each other than we do have that separates us.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Did you catch that? God created man in his own image. First and foremost, we each as human beings bear the image of the Almighty Creator of the universe. We each bear the same image of the King of kings. Every single one of us, whether it is acknowledged or not, bears the same image of God. Then He created them male and female. So first He made us as image bearers, then He differentiated us.

So why is it that we first differentiate each other before we see what binds us together? Back to the hospital story, the lady who was tending to my painful situation began to ask my husband about our children, whether they were black children or white children. To be completely honest, it was by God’s grace alone that I was in so much pain, because otherwise my tongue would have caused me to sin greatly in that situation. My husband graciously replied that we do not use such stupid language. Our children are children. That’s enough. I swooned a bit as I fell more in love with him, even in my pathetic state at that point.

Let me add to that, though, for those who like to use the term “mixed babies.” I have heard it often, probably not mal-intended, but used none-the-less. There is nothing mixed about a child. Allow me to say that again. There is absolutely nothing mixed or half-breed anything about any child anywhere in the world. These children, as are all children, are wholly sanctified by their Maker, formed with all the creativity and beauty of an amazing God who enjoys painting brilliant sunsets across the evening sky and colorful rainbows in a fresh rain-filled atmosphere. I just need to put that out there. Please do not label what God has created whole as half-anything, as mixed anything.

Ok, back on target. So after running a test on my urine, they determined that I had a raging bladder and kidney infection, which is what I was trying to tell them the whole time we were there. So they decided to give me a dose of IV antibiotics first to get the treatment started quickly. As we were sitting in the treatment room receiving my dose, they brought a sick child into the same room to receive a treatment of some sort as well. We protested at having someone else in the room while I was being treated, which they quickly disregarded. Then the lady taking care of the child told the child not to cry because the white lady wasn’t crying. And everyone knows that white people are weak and cry at everything. So if I could endure the treatment without crying, then certainly the child could do the same.

Again, by God’s grace I was too weak and in too much pain to stand up and tongue whip her for such remarks, but my husband was quick to tell her that not only was she lying to the child, her talk was stupid. Can I just say that I adore him? Seriously y’all. Adore him.

Focus. Renewing of the mind is what is needed. Those types of things don’t just happen here in Kenya. We recently saw an advertisement for a news broadcast being shown in the states called “Is the US ready for a black man to be President?” What a stupid question. Is it not enough that he is a man? He needs to be called a black man? Is he not a man? Maybe I missed it, but have the other candidates been referred to as “white men”? No, for some reason it is enough to acknowledge them as men. I just wonder if God looks at His children and refers to them as black or white, or any other color. No, in fact, Scripture says that He refers to us by name. So, He does not call me “white Shauna” and someone else “black so-and-so.” No, it is enough to call us by name. Because whatever color He decided we would be, we first bear His image. I wonder if that is what He sees first. His own image reflected back to Him, after all, He put it there. I wonder if He ever says, “Black what? That’s my child. That’s enough.”

Acts 17:26-28 says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

Rev was telling me the other day about a conversation he had overheard between two Kenyan women who were talking about us. They were assuming that Rev was a foreigner and did not understand their language, so they were speaking boldly. They were saying that he had only married me for money, because I wasn’t even beautiful, and that they could easily seduce him and steal him away from me with their beauty. Then they began insulting my shoes, saying that I was a Westerner but wasn’t even up with fashion.

Ouch. That hurt. I mean, if they don’t think I’m beautiful, that’s one thing, but don’t talk about my shoes. That’s really…high schoolish. Honestly, though, there is a time in my life that those words would have wounded me deeply, but as I sat there listening to it, that still, small voice in my heart kept saying over and over again, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

You see, I didn’t choose my skin color, or my weak eyes, or my ears. I did not form them with my hands, but they were formed by my Creator, and He says I am fearfully and wonderfully made. He says I am beautiful (Song of Songs 4:1). I’m prone to believe that word over a couple of women who judge by worldly standards and evil perspectives. I’ve seen the beautiful work of my Lord. I have seen how creative He is and how high His standards of excellence and beauty are. If He says I’m beautiful, I believe it with everything in me.

We are separated by things that should not divide us, and the blood that was poured out over us is too often taken for granted as not being enough to unite us. The image that was put in us at creation does not bring us together, yet we are divided over petty things such as the tinting on our skin. Renewing of the mind. That is what we need. All over the world. Renewing of the mind.

For those concerned, my bladder/kidney situation is all but resolved. I am still taking antibiotics to finish up the course, but all pain is gone and seems to have returned to normal. I feel like these thoughts tonight may have been a bit all over the place, but that’s where I am right now. Hope you can find some sense in it somewhere.

Maybe there are some assumptions or dividing ideas that you are holding onto, aware or not. Ask for God to reveal them to you so that you may deal appropriately with them.

Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Ask Him. We are called to be Ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. We cannot work for reconciliation in others when we ourselves have not yet been reconciled. Ask Him. He is faithful to let you know.

In all things, friends, there is Grace and Peace. Love y'all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Touching His Garment

Friends, first please let me apologize for not getting anything new up to the site in quite some time. I've had a bit of writer's block lately, and can't seem to form much of a thought, much less a sentence. Forgive me. I thought I would share this with you tonight though, as this is what's on my mind.

I’ve had an ear infection for almost a month now. I’ve had two rounds of antibiotics, though they have not been a full course, but all that I had access to. So, my ear has felt better for a little while, and then pain comes back quite intensely. It had been feeling quite better for a few days, but when I awoke this morning, the pain was back, and this evening, it is so intense that I am unable to move my jaw without great pain.

As I was mulling over my pain this evening, I began to think about the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. According to the Gospel of Mark, she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd that was around him and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” And indeed she was healed.

You see, at some point, someone came and told this woman about Jesus. Someone told her of the things that He had been doing and the miracles that He was able to perform. Someone told her the story of Jesus, and it so touched her soul, it so fueled her with hope that she made a conscious decision to go after Him. She decided to risk everything, even to the point of risking her life, in order to simply touch the hem of his garment.

According to Leviticus 15:25-32, “When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.

“When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge.

“You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.

“These are the regulations for a man with a discharge, for anyone made unclean by an emission of semen, for a woman in her monthly period, for a man or a woman with a discharge, and for a man who lies with a woman who is ceremonially unclean.”

This brings to mind several thoughts, first of which is absolute gratitude and praise that we do not live under Law of Moses, but live under the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). But it also makes me wonder why, when God Himself created our bodies to function in this manner (at least to have regular monthly periods), why does He then call it unclean, enough so to defile His dwelling place? That is probably a discussion that should be saved for another time, but it was just a thought. Back to the original point.

This poor woman had been considered unclean for 12 years, unable to touch anyone without making them unclean, unable to sit or lie anywhere without making it unclean. I cannot imagine what a lonely life that would lead to, what despair and hopelessness that would lead to. Probably enough to cause a woman to risk life and limb looking for healing, willing to be stoned to death for the consequences of touching a man, a rabbi, while in such an unclean state. She would rather die trying to be healed, than simply stay in the hopeless state that she had found herself. Scripture says that she had given everything looking for a cure, and she only became worse.

But then there was Jesus. Hope. Healing. Jesus. She made a choice that day, a premeditated act to go against all that her culture had ever taught her, to set aside all other things that would hold her back, and as the crowd pressed in around him, she did it. She reached out her hand and touched the hem of his garment, the tassel of his robe, and immediately she was healed. Scripture says that power went out from Jesus and she was healed in that moment.

Tonight I am making the same choice. I want to touch the hem of His garment. I am asking for Your healing power, Savior. I am asking to be healed. I have exhausted my resources here, and instead of getting better, the pain has grown worse. If only I can touch Your clothes, I will be healed. Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known (Habbakkuk 3:2). You’ve done it before, as I see in Your Word. Do it again Jesus. Heal me, Adonai, that I may be freed from this suffering.

Grace and Peace, y'all.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Apply it to the Heart

The last day that I spent in Ethiopia was a free day for me. The training session that I was teaching ended on Wednesday, and the earliest flight out that I could get was Friday morning, so Thursday was a free day. That morning, I had read in Proverbs 24:32:

“I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw.”

That verse really struck my heart funny for some reason, and asked God to give me eyes to see and observe the world around me, wisdom to apply it to my heart and learn a lesson from what I see.

Ain’t God grand in His faithfulness?

I had the unique privilege of spending the day with some old friends of ours who had relocated to Addis Ababa back in March of this year. They work with an organization called Youth for Christ, and they have a vision to reach the lost and vulnerable children of the world with the overwhelming love of Christ, starting with a small group of orphans in Addis. We spent the morning sitting at a small café in Addis, sipping on macchiatos and tea as they shared with me their vision, the calling which they received from Christ, and how God is so faithful to bring it to pass. As they spoke about their love for these children, who seem so disposable and forgotten by their own people, I heard Jesus in their language, and His unshakeable love for children.

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:36-37

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but his disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
Mark 10:13-16

Jesus took the children in his arms. The Everlasting King of Kings took into His arms what society considered disposable, throwaway, not worthy of being in His presence (who among us is?). Jesus took them in His arms.

What is it to receive the kingdom of God like a little child? What does that mean or look like? As I sat with my friends and listened to stories of ways that Jesus is transforming the lives of the orphans that they are working with, I began to understand what it means. When these children received Christ into their hearts, they welcomed Him with every ounce of hope that He had to bring, every bit of optimism that they have never known before. Many, if not all, of the children come from very rough backgrounds, and have known the world to be a very cruel place. They receive Christ from the inside out, and from the mouths of babes come profound words of faith and intercession. These children are learning at their tender ages to seek after and believe God for absolutely everything.

They told me the story of one of the young boys who had lived on the streets for quite some time. He has come to know Christ in such deep and profound ways; ways that most professing “Christians” have never experienced Him. At one point quite recently, this boy received a gift of 3000 Ethiopian birr (equivalent of about $300 USD). He had never had this much money in all of his life and so was quite broken over the gift itself. He went and exchanged the 3-1000 birr bill into 3000-1 birr bills (did you follow that?) and went before the Lord to inquire what to do with the money. He prayed over every single bill and did nothing with them without the leading and direction of God.

Ok, seriously, that was lesson enough for me in stewardship and trusting God for provisions and His faithfulness and a few others. But the day went on.

As we walked through Addis Ababa, they were very intentional to stop and talk with as many of the street children and homeless folks as they possibly could. To most anyone else, these people were invisible, bothersome, a nuisance, but I watched my friends stop and talk, smile, shake their hands, ask their names. Yes, they were asked for money repeatedly, but they simply gave them answers and continued talking with them.

We had lunch at a little restaurant in central Addis and continued our conversations, and as the meal ended, I watched my friends wrap up every bit of food that was left on the table to carry with them. Even the bread rolls were wrapped into little napkins and put into bags or purses to carry with them. When I asked about all the food being wrapped up, the simple response was, “Just in case someone is hungry.”

They weren’t referring to themselves. As we continued our journey across town, they proceeded to give away all that they were carrying with them to the hungry mouths that were asking. They even stopped at a little shop to buy some water and crackers for a hungry mama and baby after they had run out of everything else.

Over the time that they have been there, they have gotten know many of the kids who are living on the streets and are continuing to minister to them. No, they can’t save all of them and some might even argue that they are promoting the homelessness/begging, but what I saw that day was incredibly beautiful, and I know in the midst of it all, I saw God moving, warming hearts and planting seeds. What I saw were some people who are so completely sold out to serving Christ, that absolutely everything that they do, live and breath is very intentional in seeing their vision come to pass.

What I observed that day I have applied to my heart and learned a very powerful lesson. What about you? How are you being intentional in the vision you have? Do you know your calling? What is your vision for God’s Kingdom? How are you achieving it? Let us be a people who are able to learn, who are able to apply lessons to our hearts and action to our lives so that our theology is not mere academics, but life.

Grace and peace to you all. Love you!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lesson from Ethiopia

As I process all that we saw and did in Ethiopia, I am humbled a great deal by some of the lessons that God taught me. One is as follows:

From the time that we arrived in Addis Ababa, we were either traveling or teaching. Our day would begin quite early with trying to get the girls, and ourselves, dressed, fed, and out the door. We would teach all day long, and then were usually guests in someone’s home for dinner at the end of the day. By the time we would arrive back to our room, it was usually quite late. Needless to say, it was quite difficult to find time to wash our clothes. Washing machines are not found in these parts, and hand-washing clothes does take some time, and energy.

So by time we arrived back in Addis Ababa from Nazareth, we as a family were quite out of clean clothes. The girls had reworn all that they could possibly rewear, but any mommy of a toddler and pre-toddler knows that a child does not have to wear the clothes very long before they are quite dirty. So after wearing the same clothes for a few days, they were quite filthy. And between the food, the rain, and the mud, the shirts and pants were able to stand and walk on their own without any body standing in them. They were quite ripe.

At one point, we tried to hire someone to wash the clothes for us, but the lady saw that we were foreigners and tried to take advantage of the situation. She was offering to charge us quite a bit of money for each piece of clothing that needed to be washed. We could neither afford to pay her said price, nor had the desire to be robbed by said washer.

So, by the time that someone criticized me for not having my children properly dressed for the weather of Addis Ababa, it was all I could do to not properly put him in his place, to make sure that he was aware of the fact that we had come by invitation to do trainings, that we had been busy traveling and teaching since we had arrived in the country, and were not able to find anyone who was willing to help us with the washing of our clothes. I believe that my tongue was bleeding as I bit down in frustration and attempted restraint. You see, as a mother and a wife, I feel quite responsible to be sure that my family is taken care of with all that they need. So when I am in a position that will not allow me to take care of my family, I feel great pressure and frustration.

So it came to the point where I was teaching during the day, and had to wash clothes by hand in the bath at night. Much to my shame, my attitude at that point was quite negative, and I found myself grumbling to my husband about the situation rather than simply doing what needed to be done and moving on.

That night, God brought to my mind an encounter that we experienced last year while we were in Northern Ghana. We were introduced to an American "missionary" couple that had been in Ghana for about 10years now. They have a very nice house, built on a very nice compound with very nice high brick walls all around the compound, and a very big guard at the gate controlling who is able to enter the compound. They have two children who have now grown up in Ghana, and yet they do not speak one word of the any of the three main languages that are spoken there, nor do they have any Ghanaian friends or interact with any Ghanaian people. In fact, they rarely leave their “little America” compound.

One might say, “So what? They are protecting their family.” The problem is, the local Ghanaian people see that these “missionaries” don’t actually want anything to do with the people. They are there to do projects among them, to “fix” them. That is what the locals shared with us. They will receive anything that the “missionaries” are giving out, because they are doing several different projects, but the Ghanaians feel rejected by the missionaries, unaccepted in who they are, less than. So when it comes times for the missionaries to preach the gospel, the message is rejected along with the messengers. Their attitude toward the local people had become a great hindrance to the spread of the gospel.

As God was reminding me of the words from the Ghanaians, I felt a great amount of shame and remorse for my behavior and attitude. Was I too good to do my own laundry, even if by hand? Did I come to be taken care of, or did I come to serve others? Was my bad attitude becoming a hindrance to the spread of the gospel?

The problem was, I was trying to serve Jesus without any sort of sacrifice or struggle. Yes, I was teaching throughout the day, but God provided me the strength to stand and the words to speak. But then at the end of the day, I was wanting to be served rather than serving, and it lead to a grumbling, complaining heart rather than one of gratitude and joy to be experiencing the things that I been honored enough to see, hear, and know. And I had allowed something as small and petty as dirty laundry to rob me of my joy and remove my spirit of servanthood. I am not so important or so proud as to not be able to do my family’s laundry, even at the end of a long day. I had blown it, and in God’s great grace and mercy, He let me know.

What was missing was the cross. You see, the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. He came to teach, to heal, to love, and at the end of the day, He came to carry a cross for the redemption and salvation of all mankind. So if what we are doing does not somehow have some aspect of suffering, some aspect of sacrifice in it, is it truly of Christ? Even if it is simply doing laundry, quietly, humbly, thanking God for the opportunity to serve.

I pray that my downfall would encourage you to not take the same path. Grace and peace to you all, as I accept the same from my Lord