Monthly Archives: April 2012

Who takes that kind of risk?

Standard

I was talking with someone I’ve known for a long time about plans we have – hopes and dreams – and he said, “Yeah, you’ll do those things because you guys are risk takers.”

I was quiet.

Really?  I never thought of myself as a risk-taker.  We’re not dare-devils, throw caution to the wind kind of people… are we?

Yesterday I was watching a documentary on a Jewish family whose younger generation has become so hardened against anything non-Jewish that they have almost completely cut themselves off from any outside influences.  Their grandparents had all been Holocaust survivors, and the middle generation, Menachem and his wife, Rivka, were deeply concerned that their sons were in danger of perpetrating a similar view of hatred and non-tolerance that the Nazi’s had unleashed.

So, they decided to take their sons to Poland – the land of their ancestors.  They travelled to the cities where these boys’ grandparents had grown up, and been taken away to concentration camps.  He showed them holy places that had become ruins but the boys mocked their father and laughed at his silly attempts to change their minds.

But then things changed.  Menachem’s wife’s father and two of his brothers had not gone to concentration camps – they survived due to the kindness of neighbors – Poles who couldn’t just hand them over to the Germans.

Menachem, through the aid of translators, was able to find the farm where his wife’s father and uncles were hidden for 28 months during the German occupation.  In fact, they were able to find the young couple, now old, who along with an extended family, had kept the boys hidden and secreted away all that time – literally risking their own lives.  Bent and twisted from age and a hard life, the old woman clearly recalled her memories as if they were last year, not a life-time ago.

It was a beautiful reunion – all those people were there (and many more beside) because of the kindness of these neighbors.  Pictures were exchanged, stories told, and the surprise visit went long into the evening.

But it was haunting as well.  The boys’ mocking tone stopped.  They, too, were moved by the simple kindness of these non-Jews.

Upon returning home, they were glad to report all they had seen to their grandfather – that these farmers had told stories of hiding the boys from searching German soldiers knowing that if the boys had been found, all of them, not just those three Jewish boys, would be killed.  And yet, even the children of their Polish benefactors were able to keep precious silence.

I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful story of the tenBoom family –the Dutch watchmaker’s family who built a secret room in their home so that they could hide Jews and help them escape to safety – who had all been sent to the concentration camp for doing the same thing.  Many of them lost their lives in order to save the lives of others.  The fear that this Polish family described was real and it was well-founded.

The boys, brimming with gratitude for what these poor farmers had endured for the sake of their grandfather and his brothers smiled and asked their grandfather, “So, if things were reversed – you were the Pole and the Jews came to you – would you have hidden them, too?”

With broad and happy grins they waited eagerly for their beloved grandfather’s response.  He started quickly and easily and their hope in him was contagious.

He said, “You know, it was awful in those days.  The killing…  Who takes that kind of risk?”

Stunned, the boys understood their grandfather’s words, but asked, “So…. you wouldn’t take them in?”

“No.”

I’m still shocked by the answer he gave.  Even after all the years of life and joy he’s had because they risked their’s?  Even after he knew the sickening fear had given way to freedom because of what they did?  Even after the mutual hardships that this family bore for their sakes?  Who takes that kind of risk, indeed… who does?  Not many.

Lord, let me always, then, be a risk-taker.  Let me raise my children to do the same.  Let me have boldness like the Hebrew midwives who saved the baby boys.  Let me be like Rahab who hid the spies, like Joshua and Caleb who saw your promises and believed them, and were not afraid.  Let me be like David who knew a great God when he saw a puny giant, and like Paul who could not be made silent through scourgings and shipwrecks and stonings.

The old woman said she had a question for the boys to ask their grandfather:  “Why did he never send a postcard?  Why did he never let us know that he made it out alive?”

His response was chilling.  He said he figured they were indebted to those farmers – that they would want a great deal of money and they couldn’t pay.

I’m sure money would have helped that family over the years, but their indebtedness could hardly be measured in gold.  How does one measure life?  Children?  Grandchildren?  Freedom?

The grandfather was right – he owed a debt he could never repay.

And so did we, until Jesus paid it for us.  Is there anything I would not risk for His sake?

How about you?

Advertisements

Giggling in the bathroom…

Standard

My mother-in-law, Ruth, was not the best housekeeper in the world.  If she were alive today, she would tell you the same thing (we talked about it so I know), so I’m not being indiscreet with any family secrets.  Six kids, 22 grandchildren, dogs, cats, men who liked to “work on cars”, her failing physical condition and just plain old life wore her housekeeping skills down over the years.  But she never turned a soul away who wandered even close to her door.

This led to some challenges as you might imagine.

One summer, one of her beloved granddaughters was getting married.  With an extremely tight budget and typical southern hospitality she rolled up her sleeves and went to work making piles and piles of food.

She also hosted piles and piles of people in her very small, un-air-conditioned home… did I mention it was the end of July in Georgia?

We arrived, six of our own kids in tow, to a house that had been exploding with people and activity for many days already.  After making I don’t even know how many deviled eggs, potato salad and the like, the day was waning and I needed to give my kids baths and get them ready for bed.

But I gotta tell you that one look at that bathroom changed my plans radically.  Without going into the details, there was no way on God’s green earth anyone of my darlings was going to set foot in that bathroom.  It was BAD.

With all of the grace and maturity I could muster, I came out and whispered to my husband that we needed to leave, NOW.  He was in the middle of trying to fix the air-conditioner, so that wasn’t going to happen.

I was furious.  I needed to use the bathroom myself.  I couldn’t believe that all those people had been in and out of that woman’s home, knowing her state of health and affairs and not ONE of them cleaned the bathroom!  Honestly!  What were they thinking?

As I stewed and judged the Lord broke through my nasty rantings – “Why don’t you clean it?”

WHAT?!?!?

“Yes, you heard me.  Why don’t you clean it?”

I never have a good answer for these internal conversations.  But I still argued.  I didn’t make that mess.  I’m not part of this problem.  I would NEVER let my bathroom get like that!  Hmph.  Clean it indeed – it would take hours to clean it.

“But you still haven’t answered my question.  Why don’t you clean it?”

And then the weight of my haughty, ugly, stinking selfish motives came crashing down on my head.  I thought, “If I thought Jesus was coming to this wedding, I’d be happy to clean this bathroom for Him.  Why am I not happy to clean it for her – my husband’s mother?  She NEEDS someone to do it for her – why, indeed, wouldn’t I do it?”

In an instant I knew both the stinging blow of chastisement and the joy of forgiveness.  My wickedly self-righteous heart had been changed by God reminding me, “as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren so you have done it unto me.”

Everything changed in that instant.  Instead of looking for reasons to be disgusted, I started looking for cleaning products.  I couldn’t find any, so my husband and I went on an errand and got loads of them.  We got back and he went back to work on the air-conditioner and I secretly set to work in the bathroom.  It was still BAD, but I had a new perspective and just started tackling the job.

It happened slowly at first – one person knocked, and then another.  As I wondered what they must be thinking about me taking so long I started to chuckle.  It took kind of a long time… let me be frank here – it took me a REALLY long time.  There were lots of knocks on the door.  People began to ask me if I was ok.  Eventually I started to really giggle every time someone knocked (they must have thought I was having terrific problems in there!).

At long last I was able to emerge.  It was good to be victorious over the muck that was in the bathroom.  I never mind cleaning bathrooms now.  I was glad for the chastening of God’s Word in my heart and truly glad for the change in attitude.   I don’t mean to be crass, but now when I have a dirty job to do, I am reminded of that day and I think to myself, “If Jesus were coming I’d be happy to clean this bathroom for him.”

It was good to be victorious over the muck that was in the bathroom that day, but it was better to have the scrubbing and cleansing action that went on in my heart.

Giggling in the process?  Well, that just had to make it more interesting for the people who kept knocking on the door – don’t you think?

Why won’t she jump?

Standard

Some summers ago I had a sweet little bitty girl with a cute, ruffle-y pink bathing suit on with big polka dots, and a princess crown on her head.  I recall with clarity a specific hot summer day when she absolutely and categorically refused to get into the swimming pool with us.  She wanted to, but she could not overcome her fear.  She came close a lot of times.  We tried to coax her into the water by holding her securely.  We tried to hold her hands to help her navigate the steps at her own speed.  We tried to make a game out of jumping in – but nothing, and I mean nothing, could convince that child that this was a good idea.  She spent the day around the pool, but never made it in.

We wondered out loud, “Why won’t she jump?”  We were standing right there – holding her securely – but all we were ever met with was screaming protests.  Who wants to make a child have fun so much that they have to let them scream themselves into believing you?  We didn’t.  So we let her play by the side of the pool – in the shallow, unsatisfying, barely there puddles, while the rest of us enjoyed the depth of the goodness of the wonderfully cool and refreshing water on an oppressively hot summer day.

I know, I know – there were a million “reasons” she didn’t want to get in – unfamiliarity, temperature, sounds, splashes – but they all boiled down to one thing: fear.  She was worried about what was to come if she let herself be drawn in, and there was nothing that we could do or say  that could convince her that she would be OK.

Despite the fact that we had never once neglected her, or failed to keep her safe and sound, she doubted us so much that she could not believe that we would keep her safe in the water.  She was keeping herself safe out of it.

That’s quite a statement from a two-year old.

But don’t we do the same thing every time we worry?

Don’t we resolutely deny the goodness of a loving Father every time we skirt around issues or circumstances in order to avoid what we think He’s calling us to do?  Jump in, God?  What are you, NUTS??

I don’t typically have the guts to address God in quite those terms, but I am, in effect, saying exactly that every time I worry.

“God, you’ve got to be crazy to expect me to go through that!”

“Lord, this is ridiculous!  Only an idiot would go down that road!”

“Look, God, you’ve got this all wrong.  Sensible people just don’t do this sort of thing.”

Luke 12:22ff is where we are in our sermon series at Bethel.  (You can listen to this week’s sermon here – it was piercing.)  Jesus lovingly shows his disciples the folly of worry – how it accomplishes nothing, yet reveals much.

It made me ask myself, “Just what, exactly, do I hope to accomplish when I worry?”

When I go down those imaginary roads of, “what if…?”  I have comforted myself by thinking that I’m trying to figure something out.  I’m usually trying to mentally put some missing piece of the puzzle of my circumstances into place in order to know what’s coming.  I think, “if this (which I’ve had to make up), then that (which I also have to make up), then x, y, and z must surely follow” (which…) You get the picture.  I’ve had to fabricate an entire scenario…. and I feel better with that???  Really?  Rather than trust in a sovereign God, I feel better believing my own lies?

Somehow the foolish part of this seems to be a little clearer to me when I put it in these terms.

Our pastor made a statement that has successfully wedged its way through my protective coating of having things under control:  “What you seek after reveals what you value, and what you worry about reveals what you fear losing.”

Too many times I seek after the wrong things and it is revealed by what I worry about.  Safety, security, ease, comfort … I know I’m not alone, but that is no excuse.

I can picture the scene – Jesus talking to his disciples and telling them stories that reveal their deepest struggles.  It had to be piercing for them, just as it was for me, to see just how foolish their worries have been.  But he loved them, as he does us, and you can hear how he tenderly scoops them up in his arms as it were:  “Do not be afraid little flock”!  “For your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom”!  It’s as if he’s saying, “Trust me!  This is totally under control!”

Next time, instead of worrying about the multitude of things that rob you of joy and reveal your lack of faith in the loving care of Christ the King, jump in and see what wonderful goodness is here for you to enjoy!

How Much is Encouragement Worth?

Standard

I can go a good week and a half on a sincere compliment.  No really – I mean flying high, feeling good, nothing can bring me down kind of happy reveling in knowing something I did really blessed someone or comforted them or they thought was just done well.  I love when that happens!

My children love it, too.  Yesterday, one of my younger kids did an absolutely outstanding job of cleaning the kitchen – it actually gleamed!  I said (in front of other siblings) how pleased I was with the wonderful job that he had done – how he is really growing up and taking pleasure in his own good work – how thankful I was that he had done his best and had done a truly good and thorough job.  I hugged him and as I did, he stood taller and straighter and he couldn’t stop grinning.  He gleamed, too.

But if I’m really honest, I’m not generous about doing that for people on a regular basis – certainly not as generous as I could be.  Once in a while I ask myself, “Self – just why are you so slow and stingy about giving out sincere and meaningful encouragement to others?”

I never have a very good response to my own question.

1 Thessalonians  5:11 says this, “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”

I’ve read that a lot of times – I’ve memorized it.  But I’m not very obedient – certainly not obedient enough to think that someone would rename me “The Encourager.”

But commands aren’t really optional, now, are they?  If I know what I’m supposed to be doing, and yet I don’t do it, then its sin – isn’t it?

So how do I go about correcting this sin in my life?  This sin of not offering thanks or encouragement or appreciation for the good things in the lives of those around me…

Shockingly (or not) I don’t have to look very far.  The following verses in the same passage give us lots of instruction on that very thing:

“But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.   And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.  See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.  Rejoice alwayspray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (italics added)

Did you catch that, too?  Appreciate.  Esteem.  Live in peace.  Admonish.  Encourage.  Help.  Be patient.  Always seek after that which is good.  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks.

I’ve told myself in the past to be mindful of opportunities that come along to show people appreciation, or to encourage, but I don’t think that’s really the right posture to take.  It’s sort of been a “say thank you when you think of it” kind of attitude, and in light of the above, it just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Why, when it costs me absolutely nothing, do I tend to be so miserly with the treasure of words that would lift my husband or children or pastor or friends up?  Why, when there are always ways to speak words of encouragement into someone else’s life, do I even want to withhold the plenty of which I possess?  When God is pouring encouragement into my life – through his word and his people and circumstances – do I try to soak it all up for myself and not share it freely with those around me?  I’m acting as if I believe that God himself will run out of words that lift me up and I will be left without enough.  How foolish!

Please forgive me family and loved ones.  And Lord, please forgive my selfish heart that would hoard even words to myself.

Rather than “being mindful” of opportunities that may present themselves, I believe I would better honor God and those around me if I create opportunities to encourage, appreciate, esteem.  I know that  when I do this, I am encouraged as well.  I get my eyes off of myself and focus on the One who has filled my life with people who are faithful, and kind, and generous.

So, join me, won’t you, in not just noticing opportunities to build the people around you up, but in making those opportunities instead.  I think, that just as my son brightened under the radiant warmth of sincere appreciation, we’ll find that we can be lights in many more dark places than we currently are.  Let me know how it goes.

Beauty in the Bleak

Standard

Spring is in full force around here – it’s even feeling a bit like summer the past couple of days.  But in my den I have a painting of the dark, frozen, desolation of a Midwest mid-winter.  It’s bare and twisted trees on a back drop of cold sky and frozen earth remind me of the despair I often felt in the midst of those long, cold winter days.  There isn’t even any snow in it to make it at least look a little brighter.  It’s bleak.

So why would I want a painting like that in my den?

One day, while my children were being given the gift of an art appreciation lesson from our friend and the very accomplished artist, Jim Winn, he also showed us some of the paintings he had tucked away in his cupboards and drawers.  He showed us this one among many and said, “I can’t sell it because it’s not happy enough.”  I said, “Well, Jim, why don’t you paint some crocuses or something at the bottom of those trees to give people some hope?”

And his reply was this, “Because, Laurie, that’s not what was there.”

I didn’t say this, but I thought, “So??  Artists re-make life all the time.  Put something in there to sell the painting.”

I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud.

That painting (and the conversation) haunted me.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I couldn’t understand why Jim wouldn’t change the scene since he could.

Then, after months of wrestling with both the picture and the words, the weight of the truth of it all broke through – sometimes, that’s how it is!  Sometimes everything looks dead and cold and depressing.  Sometimes there is zero evidence that anything good is out there – life looks and feels and even is cold and hard and unyielding.

But for the believer, is that ever really the whole truth?

The Psalmists knew the experience of looking around and seeing no evidence of God:

Ps 42:5  Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?

Ps 42:6  O my God, my soul is in despair within me…

Ps 57:4  My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.

Ps 63:1  My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Ps 88:3-4  For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol.  I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength

There are a lot of these passages – you get the idea.  And no doubt, you can relate.  We have all had times when we look around at our circumstances and see nothing but unrelenting, hard, depressing, bleakness.  That’s how it is.

But things are not always what they seem.  Just like the painting captures a moment in time, so our minds see just a brief and incomplete view of reality.  Sometimes we don’t see the hints of Spring on the horizon, but that does not mean they don’t exist.

And so it is with God.  Sometimes we don’t see or understand what He is doing through those hard and painful circumstances, but that does not mean He is not at work in and through them.

How do we get through it?

Just like we get through winter.  We remind ourselves that every year, around the same time, God sends warmer weather.  He has nourished and sustained the flowers and trees through the worst of it.  He has sheltered birds and animals (and us) through a wide variety of protections.  God proves his faithfulness – again – and we rejoice.  We know he will do it again because he is trustworthy and true.

Through the dark and unrelenting bitter cold, we remind ourselves that God will be faithful and bring Spring and it gives us hope to face the remainder of the winter days.

And so it is when we despair.

We remind ourselves that while we may not be able to see any evidence of God at work, we know that God never leaves us or forsakes us.  We know that he has plans that are for our good and for His glory.  We know that nothing – that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We use eyes of faith to see past the cold, hard, ruthless toil of today to see that God is lovingly active in our lives in those things, through them, behind them.  And just like the sure hope of tiny flowers in Spring, we wait and watch with confident anticipation of God’s faithfulness through the bleakness.

A few years went by between having that conversation with my artist friend and getting the painting into my den – but it is now one of my most cherished possessions.  It reminds me of my friend and his sweet wife, yes, but mostly, it reminds me of God’s faithfulness.  Sometimes, life really looks that bleak.  But God is never absent even then.  God has proven Himself to be faithful over and over and over again.

Now, when I look at the picture, and when I face dark times, he reminds me of his faithfulness.  He helps me through recalling his promises.  He helps me through recalling his word.  He helps me through recalling how he has been faithful to me in the past.  And he helps me through watching him care for my friends.

I am thankful and content, for he has taught me how to see beauty in the bleak.