Monthly Archives: January 2012

Why AIDS Orphans?

Standard

When I was five years old a missionary came home from China – or maybe Japan – and taught our kindergarten Sunday School class at church.  She told us often about her life as a missionary.  I don’t remember a whole lot of the details of what she told us, but I remember that her face was radiant when she talked about it.  Her face was always radiant, really, but it almost glowed like that “Touched By An Angel” special effect when she talked about her “people”.

“My people” she would say.  I loved her, so I loved them.

I can’t remember her name – but she was the one who first told me about Jesus – and I believed every word she said.  She loved us and we all knew it.   If Jesus loved like she loved, who wouldn’t want to be his?   Nobody made me feel as warm and cherished as that dear lady did, and those brief months of wonderful have made all the difference in my life.

I have always known that I wanted to love people that way.  And yet I have also known that it isn’t always so easy.

I have also always known that I wanted to serve as a missionary some day – but that hasn’t been all that easy either.

Missionaries come in all flavors of course, but I wanted to be willing to “leave houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields” for Jesus’ sake.  That hasn’t happened yet.  It might not happen.

But if it does, I know what I’d do if I had the chance.

Do you know what the biggest problem of AIDS is today?  It’s not the disease itself – horrible and devastating as that is.  It’s the destruction it leaves behind.  There are an estimated 12 million orphans in Africa alone who are orphaned because of AIDS (this estimate is probably low).  The disease does not only steal their parents, it steals their life in a family unit, their security of someone protecting and caring for them, their standing in the community, their education – everything.  With a whole generation being wiped out because of the disease, and aging grandparents dying off as well, there is a continent full of children who are growing up never knowing what the loving care of an intact family unit is like.  Just think for a moment what it would be like to never know what it is like to be in a family.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the resulting consequences can be for a child who is never loved long enough or well enough to make emotional bonds with other human beings.  Apart from all the vulnerability that child experiences, real damage happens in their hearts and minds.  It isn’t pretty – in fact it’s one of the scariest pictures that can be painted for society.   There are groups who would seek to control them.  And any cursory knowledge of gang mentality should alarm us to the growing menace of what millions of disconnected, poor, uneducated and hungry men and women could do.   It’s something only God can change – but he uses people like you and people like me.

Who will speak up for these young and tortured souls?  Who will feed them?  Protect them? Educate them?  Who will love them so that they, too, can love the next generation?

Who will love these children the way my missionary Sunday School teacher loved me?  Who will shine the glory of God into their young lives?  Who will motivate them to say, “When I grow up, I want to shine like that, too!”?

Why AIDS orphans?  Why not!

I know I can’t change the whole world – but I could still make a world of difference to one or two or a hundred.  So could you.

Start small but pray big.

Here are a couple of places to begin:  Because our hearts are where our treasures are – perhaps you could start by investing some treasure in sponsoring a child through Compassion International – they are doing a tremendous job of lifting children out of poverty in Jesus’ name!  Medicine, education, community support – all in the context of Christian love.

Start writing to missionaries your church supports – ask them how you can pray for them.  You never know, just becoming informed might lead to working more closely with them to show Christ’s love to those they’re ministering to.

Start ministering to someone in your neighborhood – look for ways to become part of someone else’s life.  Maybe God won’t call you to serve children affected by AIDS – maybe he’ll call you to serve the elderly who have no visitors in that nursing home down the road… or the moms in your church who are struggling to hold it all together… or the toddlers in the nursery who want to hear that story “just one more time”.

Ask the Elders or leaders of your church to help you discern what you might best be fitted for.  You are definitely fitted for some important service in Christ’s kingdom – don’t waste your life never really pursuing what God knit you together to do.  When you find it, you will do the most good and you will be the most happy!

Maybe God will call you to do some small but necessary task at the Crisis Pregnancy center near you – or maybe he’ll ask you to leave everything that’s familiar and comfortable and follow him to some far off place where everything is a challenge and nothing is easy.  Let’s not ask the questions “why here?” or “why that” as much as we ask ourselves – truly and honestly ask ourselves, “why not?”

 

Advertisements

How Much More?

Standard

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11 continues to surprise me.  How much more?  Some more?  A bit more?  A lot more?  This is one of those passages that I’ve always passed over pretty quickly – “yes, I know, earthly parents give good gifts, God gives better ones, right?”

Well, yes.  But the answer is so, so much richer when we consider who is the giver of more.

Through the faithful teaching of the word, our church is being led to really consider what Jesus was longing to communicate to his disciples when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  It’s been a slow, but considerate approach and one that has unearthed treasures I didn’t really know were there.

You can almost feel the ache as Jesus asks his followers to pray believing that God wants to answer their prayers. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”  And then he tells them why – because “everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.”

But if I’m honest, I don’t genuinely believe that – or at least sometimes I don’t really believe it applies to me.  I don’t pray believing that God will answer my prayers.  I pray believing that if I happen to figure out what God wants me to pray for, and it also happens to coincide with His sovereign will, then maybe, sometimes, I’ll see the answer to my prayers.

At best what I really believe is that God will change my mind about my prayers or that I’ll get some better information later that makes me know the right way to pray.  But at worst I’m tempted to believe sometimes that there’s some secret cosmic joke he’s playing at my expense – or if I’m a little less self-absorbed, at the expense of mankind.

But I don’t normally have the guts to say that sort of thing out loud.  First of all I know it isn’t true, and secondly, I’m pretty sure that the other Christians in my life don’t think it’s true either, and I don’t want them to think badly of me.

But if I’m honest, really honest, my prayer life uncovers the sham and shows that in the darkest parts of my heart, I don’t really believe I am heard by a loving Father who wants to give, find and open anything of value to me.  As our pastor said it yesterday, “We’ve done the sub-conscious cost-benefit analysis and in light of what prayer has done for me in the past – it’s not really worth it.”

What a truth that ought to be a lie!  Is that really what I believe?

Like the neighbor who pounded on the door after everyone has gone to bed, knowing that if he pounded long enough his neighbor would respond to his need, we need to know that in our perpetual state of desperate need God will always answer our prayers.

Like you, though, there have been many times in my life when I have begged the Lord to intercede on my behalf yet he remained silent and seemingly uninvolved.  What are we to make of this?  What of the many times when we ask, seek, and knock and find nothing to show for it?

This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did – Jesus know exactly what this is like, for he had prayers that went “unanswered” as well.

In the garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he died, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.”  And then again, when he was crucified but not yet dead, he cried, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

The “answer” to both of those prayers was silence.  Yet the answer to both of those prayers was profound intervention.  Was God unkind or malicious or disinterested when he remained silent and did not change the circumstances for Christ?  NO!  He was kind and gracious and actively engaged through his silence and the work that He was accomplishing through Christ.

Sometimes the most loving thing God can do for us is to remain silent.  We learn to wait.  We learn to trust.  We learn to bear burdens and ask in our need for our faith to be increased.  We learn to see God at work in ways that we hadn’t realized before.  We learn that God is faithful, and true, and slow to anger.  We learn that he loves us.

And if we’re teachable, we learn that when we, like Christ can say, “yet not my will, but yours be done,” we will wait and see what good gifts await.

Jesus asked, which one of you fathers will give your son a snake if he asks for a fish?  Or which one of you, when your son asks for an egg will give him a scorpion instead?

Why do I listen and believe that God is not for me?  Why do I entertain lies that convince me that God is just toying with me?

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”  What will it take for me to believe that God will only give good gifts when I ask?

How many times has my unbelieving heart missed the good things that God is giving to me because I am looking for bad things that he has lovingly withheld?

I cannot allow this to undermine my confidence in God’s faithfulness.  I cannot allow this to convince me to quit asking, seeking, and knocking.

How much more?  Well, he’s already answered that one:  Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen.   (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Emily Makes a Speech

Standard

Surprising in its spontaneous simplicity, Emmy, a mentally challenged young girl made a speech the other day that made adults cry and children celebrate.

My youngest four kids are involved in a competitive speech and debate league and Mondays are “club” days.  Emily – Emmy is no stranger to us.  She has been cheerfully tagging along with her big sister for months playing with dolls or games or wheeling her friend Cari around in her wheel chair while the club members work on their speaking skills.  Cari doesn’t speak, but Emmy normally keeps up the conversation with basic and repeated phrases.

“What are you going to do today?” is usually the first thing Emmy says to me when she sees me.  “What are you going to do tonight?” is what she normally says when it’s time to go home.  She doesn’t always listen for the answer, but she always asks.

But this past Monday something was very different.  Our youngest club members (our “Juniors”) were having their big “competition”.  All of these 6-11 year olds were dressed up in their very best “tournament attire”.  They had all practiced and memorized their 5-10 minute speeches.  There was palpable energy and everyone enjoys watching them give their speeches and giving them helpful feedback.  There was excitement and Emmy knew something was up.

She came to me after things had already started and said, “I want to go in there” meaning she wanted to go into one of the rooms where kids were giving speeches.   It’s courteous to wait until a speaker is done before entering the room and I was in the middle of something, so  I said, “Emmy, we’ll have to find the Junior’s coach, she’ll tell you when you can go in.”  Then she said, “I want to make a speech.”

I wasn’t sure what I was hearing.  “Uhh… OK, we’ll still have to find the coach.”

I needed to finish what I was working on so I didn’t get right up to help her find the coach – but that didn’t matter – Emily found her.   “I want to make a speech,” she said again.

Emily had found the coach in the midst of an “Impromptu” round – a competition where students pick a topic out of an envelope and have to make up a 3-5 minute speech on the spot.  Emily chose “cookies”.

Her speech was only a little about cookies – it was really about what Jesus means to her.  It was a little disorganized and didn’t follow all the “rules” we set up for speeches, but it was beautiful.

Emily simply loves Jesus and knows that He loves her.  Her determination to participate with all the other kids was remarkable.  At the beginning of the year she hardly spoke to anyone and here, a few months later, she was standing in front of peers telling them about her life with Jesus.

Emmy came out of the room beaming.  “I made a speech,” she told me in her straight-forward, halting way, but that couldn’t hide the fact that every muscle she possessed was smiling.  The adults standing around were truly happy with her, but then the younger kids started coming out of the room.

“Emmy gave a speech!”  “Emmy got up and spoke!” was the repeated news.  THEY were just as happy as she was!  Emily couldn’t stop smiling, but several of us got teary.

God reached out to our little speech and debate club on Monday through a child society pushes to the side.  He showed us that His work in her life is real and meaningful.

And He showed us that His work THROUGH her life is effective and powerful.

Emmy’s mom wrote us thank-you note the next day, but it is we who are the ones who need to give thanks.

Thank you Emmy for a great speech, but thank you the most for showing us a little bit of God’s glory.  You’re a treasure.

Confessions of a Veteran Mom

Standard

Confessions of a Veteran Mom

I confess…

…to sneaking chocolate chips out of the cupboard when my kids aren’t looking.

… to answering, “Nophing,” when they ask, “what are you eating?”

… that over the years my husband and I have occasionally asked eachother why we ever started having kids in the first place

… that there have been long stretches of time where I’ve only changed the sheets on my kids beds when someone wet the bed or threw up on them.

…that sometimes, I like talking about being a mom more than I actually like being the mom.

… to taking longer showers than necessary because the water drowns out the noise.

… that I have actually asked the question, “SNAKE?  WHAT SNAKE??”

… that even though I love to grow vegetables, I sometimes only eat them out of a sense of duty.

…to reading books in 15 minute increments… often in the bathroom.

… to sometimes hiding in the bathroom and that when I hear one of my kids calling for me I quickly put the lid down and sit down so that I can yell, “I’m on the potty!”

… to dreaming about the days when my husband and I will have some time alone…

… to recently arguing with one of our teenagers that, no, I really don’t want them all to stay home for ever and am actually looking forward to the day when she and all the rest of her siblings are living somewhere else!

… that I can talk with another woman for two solid hours and not run out of things to say.

… that “Once-A-Month” cooking all in one day is a mean-spirited joke!

… that no matter how hard I’ve worked at making good-tasting, nutritious meals for my family, the babies would still rather eat the dog’s food.

… that there have been times when I thought, “If I hear that kid whine just one more time I’m going to send him into orbit!”

…that only other people’s children are playing three instruments, doing all their chores cheerfully, and never argue with their parents.

… that while motherhood is the hardest, most demanding job I’ve ever encountered, I can’t imagine living my life without these beautiful, wonderful, soul-stretching people that God has given us for – what turns out to be – such a short time.  That though we may have struggled in the most excruciating ways, I wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything in this world.

I’m not THAT bad… right?

Standard

We finally got to see the movie, “The Help”.   OK as far as cinematography and all the stuff that critics and real movie aficionados notice – but for me, a movie is always really about the story.

Set in the early 1960’s, it tells the story of black women who were maids to white women at a time our country still hadn’t figured out that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.  The courage and tenacity of these particular black women – so full of strength and conviction, courage and will – is something good stories are made of.  It’s not unique to black maids in the 60’s, but has been echoed and repeated throughout the world and throughout millennia.

What strikes me in these kinds of stories are the peripheral villains.  Not the overt bullies, whose irrational but all-consuming hatred drive them to persecute and seek to destroy what is right and good and pure.  But the secondary ones – the ones who look away, or cave to peer pressure, or just remain silent in the face of what they know to be wrong.  These are the characters that make me squirm.  I know that these are what good stories are made of, but I fear it is what I am made of as well.

I wonder what kind of woman I would have been in the early 1960’s in the deep South – would I have been a racist?  If I had been a German woman in the 30’s, would I have harbored Jews?   Would I have been willing to host a house church in Communist China?  Or share the gospel in Taliban-run Afghanistan?

It’s so easy to let time and distance make me think better of myself than I ought.  But if I’m honest, I must also ask – what horrors are there today that I look away from rather than fight against with courage no matter the cost?  What battle grounds are God’s people neglecting for the sake of our comfort, safety, and beds?

Yesterday was Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was shocked again at the atrocities that are done to millions of people each year world-wide in the name of choice, economics, preference.  But I was also shocked when I realized that I really haven’t even thought about it much since the last time someone else brought it up!  It’s right outside my door and I pretend to not know about it.

Proverbs 24:11-12 says:  Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back.  If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul?  And will He not render to man according to his work?

Those are sobering words to me.  Of course I know it’s going on – I just don’t spend the kind of time or attention or money or effort on it that I should.

How about Africa’s street children where poverty and attachment disorder is a way of life?  Muslim countries where women are abused and treated as less than animals?  Places where Christians face execution for their faith?

These things make me cringe because I know that I am not exhausted in the efforts to do all that I can do to make a difference.  I do some things – when I think about – but I know I don’t think about it enough.  And I’m sure that I couldn’t stand before the Lord and say, “I did everything I could think to do.”

I wish I could rationalize my complacence somehow, but I can’t.  James 4: 17 doesn’t let us off the hook:

“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Something of importance to note is that the previous  verses talk about what we plan to do without thinking – really thinking – about what we’re saying, as well as the brevity of our lives.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’  But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

These passages are so familiar to us that it’s easy not to put these thoughts together.  Not only are we not to presume upon God the continuing of our days, but we need to do the things that we know are right to do while we have time and breath to do them.

It’s more comforting to think of myself in terms of comparison to those around me.  I’m not that bad… right?  But the Bible doesn’t do that.  God judges me through the blood of Jesus – I’m his and nothing can ruin that.  But he asks me to be faithful – I WANT to be faithful.  But I am so easily distracted by searching out my own ease and comfort rather than His glory.

Lord, search my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me.  Cleanse me and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Open my eyes, Lord, to your holiness, and help me to see that which you have ordained for me.  Let me not shrink back in fear from doing your will.  God, give me courage to stand with the righteous.  Give me wisdom, Lord to know where that is. Increase my faith, oh Lord I pray, so that I can come to you and hear you, and you alone say, “well done my good and faithful servant.”

It all depends on your perspective

Standard

“The story is told of three women washing clothes.  A passerby asked each what she was doing.

“Washing clothes” was the first answer.

“A bit of household drudgery” was the second.

“I’m mothering three young children who some day will fill important and useful spheres in life, and wash-day is a part of my grand task in caring for these souls who shall live forever” was the third.

from, The Shaping of a Christian Family, by Elisabeth Elliot

I love this story.  I made a cross-stitch of it once.  It has reframed many days filled with what might otherwise be seen as hum-drum and ordinary… boring is word I never use about my life.

You see, if we can see that even the most menial, mindless, repetitive tasks that we are called to do have an eternal purpose, we become happier to do them.

Colossians 3:17 reminds us: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

And then verses 23-24 go further: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.”

So let me ask you – what is your perspective on those dull, seemingly endless tasks of your day-to-day life?  Can you look at them as part of a much bigger, much more important work?  Can you see how cleaning bathrooms, or washing clothes, or filing, or scanning columns of numbers, or reading, or writing – or whatever it is that you find dull and menial – is actually part of preparing the way for you or someone else to “fill important and useful spheres in life”?

As mothers, we are discipling the next generation of mothers, fathers, church members, community members, leaders, pastors, workers, business owners… you get the idea.  We’re raising men and women, who will hopefully influence the next generation to do everything they do “heartily, as unto the Lord” as well.  And we have a lot of influence on how well that will go.

When we grumble and complain about the things God gives us to do, we communicate to those around us that we don’t see the purpose in what we’re doing.  And what THAT communicates is that we don’t believe that this stuff HAS a purpose.  But it does.

It all depends on your perspective.

You say WHAT to your kids??

Standard

Yesterday my youngest came to me and told me that her friend’s friend’s grandmother died.  It was an event far enough removed that there was really no emotion attached to the news for either of us, except that we were glad to know that this particular grandma loved Jesus and is now heaven.  My daughter looked up at me and said something I’ve often said to her:  Everybody dies.

I repeat the refrain with regularity in my home.   Everybody dies.

My work as a cardiac nurse might make me a bit more aware of human mortality, but still, we all know the death rate here is 100%.

On the occasions when someone outside the family has heard me say this, it has usually been met with shock, and then the question, “Why would you say something like that to your little kids?”

The answer is simple:  it is the truth.  Everyone, great or small, old or young, healthy or ill – at some point in his or her life dies.  And barring Christ’s intervening second return, no one gets out of it.

The important question then is this:  so what?

What difference does that information make to us?  I have found that thinking about the end of my life makes a huge difference on how I live my life.

One of my favorite books is John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life because in it he captures the essence of what I’m trying to communicate to my children.  We don’t live forever.  How we live our lives until our deaths matters.  Our lives are not experiments that we get to keep trying over and over again until we “get it right.”  At some point in time, each and every one of us will stop getting another chance to do the things we mean to do.  At some point, it’s over.

I know that not everyone examines his or her own mortality like this.  In fact, most people shun the thought.  It makes them feel creepy and unsettled.  To that I say, “GOOD!  It’s supposed to!”

It often takes death staring us right in the face to make itself personally known.  But it really does change our perspective on things when we realize that life is short, and that every minute is a precious gift.

I loved working on the Heart Unit because people who have just had a major cardiac event get this.  Cancer patients get this.  People who have narrowly escaped a fatal accident get this.  You’ve heard these people talk in different terms – with different emphasis on what’s really important.  And, when this truth has really penetrated our understanding, life is palpably different afterward.  It’s as if they see colors more brilliantly, hear sounds more clearly, notice things that previously were like visual white noise.  In short, the really important things can no longer be crowded out by the incessant clamor of trivial stuff.  And that’s the point of telling my loved ones that everybody dies.

In Matthew 6 Jesus taught us to “not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Later he goes on, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

The things that we run after, like food, and clothes, and houses (and all those other “things” we work so hard to acquire or maintain) are not the important things.  But they so often take up not just our time and efforts, but our thoughts and hopes and dreams as well.

Jesus doesn’t leave us there – he doesn’t just say, stop doing that stupid chasing after silly stuff.  He continues and tells that since the above is true (life is more than “things” and earthly cares) don’t worry about them – everyone else worries about them, but you – YOU – have a heavenly Father who knows you need these things.  He clothes the flowers in splendor, doesn’t he?  He takes care of the birds, doesn’t he?  Don’t you know that you are so, so much more valuable to Him than flowers that fade in a matter of days or birds that can be bought with a few coins?  If He takes such meticulous care with things of such little value, don’t you see how much more care He will take of you?  He says, No, YOU, believer, spend your efforts and resources seeking after what is the most important – the Kingdom- ME- and my righteousness.  I’ll take care of the things you need, don’t worry about them.  YOU keep your eyes on me.

Piper writes:  “You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.”  That one great thing is what Jesus told us – seek me, know me, follow me, love me.  In doing this, we bring him the most glory. In doing this we show Him to those around us.  In doing this, we are happiest.

I want to live with the important things in the front of my thinking – always.  An in order to do that, I need to be reminded that I don’t have time to waste – and more pointedly, I don’t have a life to waste.  I have one life and I’d like it to be one that is fruitful and productive in ways that please and honor God.  I don’t want to waste precious minutes chasing around after food, or clothes, or “stuff” – I want to use it up seeking to know God better and better and better, and in the process of doing that, make Him known to those around me.  I want to teach my children to do the same.  I want you to know the unbelievable joy of casting off the heavy, depressing weight of the unimportant cares of this world and do this, too.  Everybody dies – including me, and including you.  Live for what’s really important.