Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Way To Behave

This is how Christians are supposed to do it! From a Facebok post by Stephen Crowder:
My wife was just rear-ended in a car collision. Let me start this personal message by saying this; don’t worry, she’s fine. But the incident also forced me to take a look at myself and made me realize why I’m so proud of her.
A run of the mill stop light rear-ending. My wife pulled up, stopped, but the lady behind her didn’t. The crash occurred. When my wife told me about it on the phone, my first instinct was to get mad. “She was probably texting or something, right?!” I yelled.
“… can you stop for a second and let me just tell you what happened?” she responded much more level-headed in tone.
She went on to tell me that as she exited her vehicle, the lady who’d hit her was noticeably agitated. My wife also noticed that she was a cancer-patient, undergoing chemo. Furthermore, she noticed a cross on said woman’s window.
Before she could escalate the situation any further, my wife asked her if she was okay. The first thing my wife did was check on the woman, not her own car. Immediately the woman’s tone changed and she became less angry, more apologetic.
"I wasn't texting or anything," she defended herself. "It's just chemo-brain. I was distracted. I'm so sorry."
“Accidents happen,” my wife said. “I notice you have a cross on your window. This is what being a Christian is. What kind of Christians would we be if we just screamed and raged at each other all the time over accidents?"
Completely disarmed, the woman broke down into tears, clutching my wife as they stood there on the shoulder of the road, hugging each other. The woman proceeded to tell my wife her story. She told my wife about her cancer treatments, about losing her fiancé, about how hard it's been and about how cancer was the best thing that ever happened to her because it brought her back to God after she'd long lost her way. Along with insurance information exchanged, my wife made sure to get the lady's personal info, promising that we'd be praying for her.
Finally, the police officer arrived on the scene, dumbfounded.
"Usually people aren't hugging and laughing with a car in that kind of shape!" He said. "I've never seen anything like it." The officer was touched as well to see a display of humanity in a context where many people lose theirs. Once all information was exchanged and the reports were filed, everyone went on their merry way.
Think about this for a second. This entire situation could have been wildly different had people's perceptions and reactions been different. My wife could have flown into a rage. The other woman could have been uncooperative, the police officer could have been on a curt power trip. Instead, an unfortunate car accident was turned into a positive human interaction for everyone involved. A blessing.
That's entirely due to a CHOICE. A choice to be kind, a choice to be compassionate and empathetic. I'll be honest, sometimes that's not my choice. Sometimes, like many of us, I can be too quick to anger, and too slow to listen. Who knows how many blessings of which I've robbed MYSELF when I give into carnal instincts like that. Let alone others.
It's why everyday, I'm a work in progress.
But most of all, it's why I love my wife.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Boring Holes and Lighting Fuses

By way of Think Theology, here's a wonderful analogy for prayer from Norwegian author Ole Hallesby, quoted in Tim Keller's Prayer:
If we overstress submission, we become too passive. We will never pray with the remarkable force and arguments that we see in Abraham pressing God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, or Moses pleading with God for mercy for Israel and himself, or Habakkuk and Job questioning God’s actions in history. However, if we overstress “importunity,” if we engage in petitionary prayer without a foundation of settled acceptance of God’s wisdom and sovereignty, we will become too angry when our prayers are not answered. In either case—we will stop praying patient, long-suffering, persistent yet nonhysterical prayers for our needs and concerns.
Hallesby likens prayer to mining as he knew it in Norway in the early twentieth century. Demolition to create mine shafts took two basic kinds of actions. There are long periods of time, he writes, “when the deep holes are being bored with great effort into the hard rock.” To bore the holes deeply enough into the most strategic spots for removing the main body of rock was work that took patience, steadiness, and a great deal of skill. Once the holes were finished, however, the “shot” was inserted and connected to a fuse. “To light the fuse and fire the shot is not only easy but also very interesting ... One sees ‘results’ ... Shots resound, and pieces fly in every direction.” He concludes that while the more painstaking work requires both skill and patient strength of character, “anyone can light a fuse.” This helpful illustration warns us against doing only “fuse-lighting” prayers, the kind that we soon drop if we do not get immediate results. If we believe both in the power of prayer and in the wisdom of God, we will have a patient prayer life of “hole-boring.” Mature believers know that handling the tedium is part of what makes for effective prayers.

How To Not Say The Wrong Thing

This needs to be heard, understood, and practiced!  How Not To Say the Wrong Thing In Death, Illness,  Divorce and Other Crises by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman (HT: United Methodist Church of North Texas)
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.
 Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times
The ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

There was nothing wrong with Katie’s friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn’t think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.

Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.

And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Election Dis-Ease

I fully agree with this assessment - The Dis-ease of the Presidential Race by Janel Barr
In the last couple of months, the candidates for the 2016 presidential race have narrowed from a wide range to just two presumptive candidates. From initial shock to utter disbelief, a range of emotions has surfaced with the realization of who is still left in this race. Of all of the feelings that are surfacing, the most pressing is my discomfort.

I am uncomfortable with voting for either candidate.
I am uncomfortable with their records.
I am uncomfortable with the trajectory of our country.
I am uncomfortable with the future awaiting my three young children.

In all of my frustrations, disappointment, and disbelief, the only thing that I am comfortable with is knowing that this is exactly where God wants me — uncomfortable.
We Have No Lasting City Here

Sure, like most Americans, I had a “guy” that I wanted to win, one that my husband and I even supported financially. And like most Americans, I was still hopeful that “my guy” would win and change things around. My hopes weren’t met, but I was putting my hope in the wrong place, in a person.

This is not an article about which candidate to vote for, or about whether or not we should vote at all in this year’s election. This is a reminder that if you, like me, are uncomfortable with our only options, this is where the Lord wants us to be and this is what he wants us to feel. Scripture reminds us that this is not our home (Philippians 3:20), that we are sojourners and exiles (Hebrews 11:13), and that our hope is not ultimately in this world.

“Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Free Citizens of Heaven

When I live my daily life in a state of comfort — in my marriage, my parenting, my regular routine — I am often not looking to Jesus and leaning on Jesus. I am not mindful of the mission he’s given me. The Christian life was never meant to be comfortable and carefree. Jesus did not die for my earthly comfort.

There is great hope laid out for any Christian uncomfortable with the November election because our hope is in Jesus. Our discomfort is a fresh reminder of the work that is still needed in this lost and hurting world: our charge to share the good news with our neighbors and co-workers (even those with differing political views).

Elections can sometimes feel like a renewal, a kind of rebirth for citizens. But for the Christian, our hope will never be fulfilled in the “perfect candidate.” Our King is Jesus and our citizenship is in heaven. Our loyalty to him far exceeds any loyalty we have to a president or to our country. I love America and the values on which she was built. I am forever thankful for our freedoms, secured and protected at great cost. But this is a temporary home for me, and my ultimate hope and allegiance lie elsewhere.
Pray for Our Leaders

My discomfort pushes me to do four things: to pray, to trust, to share, and to hope. My four-year-old loves Old Testament stories of bravery and courage — David slew the giant, Gideon led an army of a few men, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. These are real stories, with real characters, no fiction added, and relevant for Christians in America today.

Our current events are reminders that all our circumstances are ordained by God’s good hand and plan. Daniel’s example of standing firm against a rule of law instills us with courage to pray. Having heard about new and oppressive laws threatening his freedom to worship God, Daniel prayed, “as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). Things had changed in his nation, but nothing changed in Daniel’s heart, his passion and commitment to follow the Lord. And nothing should change in ours.

This presidential race leads me to pray for our country, our leaders, both local and national, and on both sides of the aisle. It puts my trust back in the One who should have all my trust. Our trust as Christians lies in the one who “reigns over the nations” (Psalm 47:8), not just over the United States.
Our Hope and the Harvest
When my trust is in the Lord and not in a presidential candidate, I know I will never be disappointed. As long as we have breath, we are called to go to the nations and share the gospel (Matthew 28:19). If I was really comfortable with where this country was headed, would I feel the same urgency and freedom to go? Probably not.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). For the Christian that is left feeling uncomfortable with the upcoming presidential election, our hope is secure and the harvest is plentiful.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Identity Theft

Who are you? Probably the most important question we should ask ourselves (Right after Who is Jesus). This article might help you give a good and accurate answer to the question - Identity Theft: Losing Our Christian Self-Consciousness by Jim Elliff
When whimpering Gideon hid himself from the Midianites in the winepress while threshing his wheat, the angel of the Lord appeared to him with this striking greeting: “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
Man of valor? In Gideon’s mind, nothing could be further from the truth. But the angel continued, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites.”
Gideon squeaked out a lame response, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” But the angel, representing God, rebutted his view of himself by forcing the issue: “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.”
Gideon had identity issues. He could not believe the truth about himself. A fleece or two later, he was finally fully convinced, and went on to valiantly do God’s business as the mighty man God described him to be. See his story in Judges 6-9.
God has created the identity of His church. It is far beyond what we claim of ourselves. In fact, we may have a harder time than Gideon believing we are who we are. But failure to believe what is true about ourselves will keep us from doing mighty deeds for God. Certainly what we are is entirely based upon God’s presence in us and His power bequeathed to us. We are nothing on our own. But in Christ, we are something beyond imagination. Consider who God declares we are:
We are God’s children.
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 Jn 3:1 )
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:26
We are God’s temple.
“For we are the temple of the living God . . .” (2 Cor 6:16)
“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5)
We are God’s priests.
“. . . and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father . . .” (Rev 1:6)
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood . . .” (1 Pet 2:9)
We are God’s handiwork.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)
We are God’s heirs.
“. . . and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” (Rom 8:17)
“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:29)
We are God’s ambassadors.
“Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20)
When we are asked who we are or face overwhelming odds against us, don’t give a blank stare. Realize who you are because of Christ. If possible, memorize these truths so that you will never forget!
(Image copied from original web page)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Paradox Blessing

"Paradox Blessing"

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, superficial relationships,
so that you will live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression and exploitation of people,
so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them
and change their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with foolishness to think
that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you will do the things which others tell you
cannot be done.

From Celtic Daily Prayer: Book Two (William Collins, 2015), 1088.

HT: Leonard Sweet

Knowing the Presence

Her's an excellent summary of a great book - 10 Things You Should Know About the Presence of God by J. Ryan Lister,author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives.
1. God is immanent because he is transcendent.
The Lord is “God in the heavens above (transcendent) and on the earth beneath (immanent)” (Josh 2:11). But to understand God in full we must recognize that his drawing near to creation stems from his being distinct from creation. In other words, there is no deficiency in God that creation satisfies. The Lord doesn’t relate to this world because he lacks something within himself. No, God draws near out of the abundance of who he is.
God’s transcendence distinguishes him from the created order and puts things in their right perspective. God does not come to us needy and wanting, but rather he comes to “revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite” (Isa 57:15). It is the holy and righteous One above who restores the broken and needy below.
2. The Bible emphasizes God’s manifest presence, not only his omnipresence.
There is a difference between saying “God is everywhere,” and saying “God is here.” The former is the default category for most Christians. We talk about God’s presence being inescapable and that he is “everywhere present” (Ps 139:5-12; 1 Kings 8:27).
But it seems Scripture is more concerned with his presence manifest in relationship and redemption. And though these divine realities are certainly not at odds, the biblical story does turn on God’s being manifest with his people in Eden, the tabernacle/temple, the incarnation of Christ, and the new heaven and new earth.
3. The story of Scripture begins and ends with the presence of God.
In the book of Genesis, Eden is the first couple’s home but, more importantly, it is God’s sanctuary—the garden temple where the Creator and his image-bearers relate (Gen 3:8).
Fast forward to the end of our Bibles and we see a very similar picture but on a much larger scale. All of heaven has collided with the whole earth to make a perfect sanctuary for God to dwell with man (Rev 21:1-4). In the book of Revelation, Eden has returned and expanded into new heaven and new earth where all of God’s people enjoy his presence eternally.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Time For Lamentations

Watching the news this morning... this week ... this year is just frankly overwhelming. I feel like shouting "Stop 2016, I want to get off!"Even prayer seems to be an inadequate response.

Yet... I refuse to give in to that hopelessness. Now abides Faith, HOPE, and Love. Please read How To Pray In Our Time of National Crises by Joe Carter:
Our country is in pain.
A series of inexplicable killings, including five police officers in Dallas, has occurred this week. Many of us are anxious and hurting. All of us are confused.
When faced with this type of national crisis we may find it difficult to turn to our Comforter in prayer. We are used to going to God with our requests, but this time seems different. We are mired in sorrow and pain and can’t get past the question that haunts us: “How could God let this happen? Where is he when our country needs him?”

The book of Lamentations opens with a similarly bewildered and mournful query. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians and God seemed to pay no attention to the cries of the suffering survivors. In their pain they cry out, ““See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within” (Lamentations 1: 20).
This book takes it’s name from lament, a song of mourning or sorrow. Laments may be occasioned by bereavement, personal trouble, national disaster, or the judgment of God. Throughout the Old Testament, and especially in the Psalms, we find lamentations that can serve as model for how we can respond in prayer in times of crisis.
Here are some suggestions for how to use such passages as guides:
Don’t strip away the context
There is a temptation to pick and choose a particular verse, metaphor, or image of lament, remove it from it’s context, and then apply it to our own situation. This is generally the wrong way to handle Scripture. While our context may not be the same as the context of a particular Bible passage, we can use the lamentation as a guide for creating our own personalized response to God. As John D. Witvliet says, we can “work with the basic psalm forms we have learned to discern, and then, like a jazz soloist who embellishes a musical theme, that we improvise in the context of our particular tragedy.”
Understand the form of Biblical lament
Most passages of lamentation in the Bible include a heart cry, imagery to describe God, a direct discourse, a specific petition, and an expression of hope.
Heart cry
A devastating example of a cry of a pained heart is David’s opening of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Don’t be afraid to let God hear the cry of your own heart. Be reverent, but bold and address him as your loving Father.
The Bible gives us a broad gallery of images we can use when we address God. As Witvliet notes,
We pray to Yahweh, the rock, the fortress, the hiding place, the bird with encompassing wings. These metaphors are not just theological constructs, but means of directly addressing God. As we pray them, these metaphors shape and reshape how we conceive of God. They hone our image of God with the very tools that God gave us: the biblical texts.
Use Scriptural metaphors to help you recognize the God to whom you’re appealing.
Direct discourse
Pour out your heart. God knows exactly what you are going through, but he wants you to put into your own words the grief or pain you’re feeling.
Specific petition
The purpose of a lament is to open your heart to uncover the petition you need to offer God. As Claus Westermann explains, “lamentation has no meaning in and of itself. . . . It functions as an appeal. . . . What the lament is concerned with is not a description of one’s own sufferings or with self-pity, but with the removal of the suffering itself. The lament appeals to the one who can remove suffering.”
Expression of hope
Finally, even while we may still be in pain, our lament should inspire hope, either in the near future or to the time when, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Come soon, Lord Jesus.