Monday, January 30, 2017

Being Part of God's Solution

I am so disappointed with the new official stance of this country to turn away those who have survived the unimaginable and are in the most desperate need. These people have endured a lengthy process of impossible red-tape hoop-jumping and in the end won the coveted blessing of being invited to our great country to try to start their lives over only to be rejected and turned back at the border simply because their country of origin. And let's make the sad and ironic distinction that it really isn't because of the country they were born in but because of the very people who stole their homes and lives, who tortured and killed their family and friends and whom they narrowly escaped from with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Let's be bolder than that--If this were 1945, it would be like turning away Jewish refugees because they were born or lived in Germany or Austria and that's where Hitler and his Nazis where from. Or like turning away Rwandan refugees in 1994.

However, I am not hopeless. While our government has seemed to have forgotten why and by whom this country was forged, individual citizens have not. Mayors and other local leaders are standing up for what is right by welcoming the strangers among us. Individual are working together to feed and heal the unprecedented amount of poor and misplaced peoples of the world. Individuals are working together and with governments to ensure victory over human trafficking, that women all over the world are safe and respected as equals, that animals are treated humanely, and that the poor and starving have food and water. Medical professionals give of their time and skills to ensure safe health practices are learned and shared and medical assistance given. Last week I learned of an American teenager living in Turkey with her family who has taken it upon herself to help personalize the masses of refugees to the world by listening and relaying individual stories. She is showing these people who have been driven from their homes in terror and marginalized by the world that someone cares and that they matter. What a precious gift we can give to another person. (Check out the Hagar Project onFacebook)

Our government may have chosen an office code of conduct we cannot as God’s people agree with, but we are not impotent or unable to reach out to the lost and hurting wherever we are or across the world in the love and grace of God. I don’t need the permission or approval of the government to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord—love others, help those in need, and offer his grace to the broken.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Pharisee Within January Edition

I've seen so much in the news and on social media this week that makes me sad:  People verbally or physically attacking little children, women, men, liberals, conservatives, fat people, skinny people, religious beliefs, atheist, sports teams, athletes, coaches, sports fans. And most of this was done in the name of tolerance or the perceived lack thereof.

It seems that instead of being more tolerant and understanding, we are becoming a nation and a world of self-righteous, self-important intolerant noise-makers. I'm not saying we shouldn't stand up for what we believe is right. That is our right and our obligation as Americans and fellow human beings. But it's not healthy or in keeping with Jesus' example to tear down some so that others can be lifted up. We can stop this epidemic of self-righteous indignation eating away at our society and our world, but we have to do the one thing we don't want to do. We have to take a good look inside ourselves and reform our own intolerance and outrage--reject our own "righteousness." Only then can we live and act in the true righteousness of God in service, love, grace, and hope.

The Pharisee Within
Why God?
Why are we so quick to condemn
the sinners around us,
all the while
overlooking the sin within?
How can we scour Your Word
to hurl condemnation,
stoning others with our interpretations,
loudly rejecting the very ones
You came to save,
in our self-righteous arrogance,
even as we shout Your Holy Name?
Why do we think this is what You,
who came to serve,
would want us, Your people, to do?
You came not to condemn us
But to save us –
to live and die and live for us.
You came as Healer
And Forgiver
Restorer of life through grace
And then asked us to do the same
through Your Spirit
and in Your Glorious Name!
Forgive us Lord, but especially me
for my self-serving part
in this sanctimonious game.
You didn’t meet me with fire and brimstone
but in kindness and love You reached out Your hand.
Not with condemnation
but with hope and forgiveness
You loved me as the sinner I am.
You brought light to my darkness,
not to judge but to save.
With joy You welcomed me in Your embrace.
You healed all my wounds
and removed my disgrace.
It didn’t happen all at once.
But over time I began to grow and change.
It’s a journey we walk together,
hand in hand,
with You guiding the Way.
Still I find myself in need of Your grace
from beginning to end
day after day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Surrendered Heart

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I decided to offer this poem I first posted in 2011. He was a man of paradox...fighting hatred with love, standing against aggression and violence with passivity and peace, dreaming the inconceivable and being the voice of the unheard masses.

The Paradox of the Surrendered Heart
I’ve fastened these chains upon myself
forged from egoism, failure, depression,
bound forever to imperfection,
evil’s possession.
To break these crippling shackles
I must relinquish freedom’s claim
and embrace the Servant’s name.

Hope for the future teeters on the edge
quivering between today and tomorrow.
Hope for things I want and need,
for the me I want to be,
for a world of peace and harmony.
Yet to gain its promise and security
I must abandon every ounce of hope I hold
to receive God’s assurance within my soul.

Oh, to be wise in a world of confusion – 
a worthy quest and commendable quality.
Knowledge of the ages available to me:
Science, History, Math, Philosophy
Economics, Psychology.
Resources all, in every decision
and yet, to gain the ultimate wisdom,
I must claim the title of fool – 
a student in the Master’s school.

Wealth and security are valid concerns
that compel me to greed and yet
all that I have I must give to gain more.
If I am to be rich, I may have to be poor,
give all that I have,
all that I am,
and live in the promise of blessings ensured.
To claim no possession, I’ll hold a great store.

How beautifully agonizing 
and yet 
agonizingly beautiful is the surrendered heart.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Paradox of Grace

God’s love for us is incomprehensible and even for a talented writer, indescribable. Not one of us is even close to being worthy of such a love which makes his sacrifice and companionship even more unfathomable. He created us to be in relationship with him, and he with us, but we walked out on that relationship in our arrogance and brought upon ourselves the disease of sin that eats away at us like a cancer. And still he fought for us and gave himself up to death in our place, took the cancer from our souls into his on the cross, dying in our place to rise again conquering death forever.

God is perfect and powerful and needs nothing from us. But still he saved us, not because he needed us but because he loves and wants us. He includes us in his work to bring all people to him, not because he needs us, but because he wants to include us—the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive human beings that we are.

Everything I have and I am is from him and because of him. What can I give him as a token of my love and admiration? The only thing he really wants—me. Not in spite of the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive person that I am but just as I am. For sure, I’m not good enough—I’m a $5 piece of shiny costume jewelry and God deserves the most precious diamond. But here’s the amazing news—God doesn’t want the diamond. He wants me just as I am—the best I can be and not more. And when in my sinfulness, I dull my shine a little I can be assured of his love and forgiveness. He has already done the work of grace and lavishes his grace upon me to help me back on my feet and to shine my light of his love and presence brightly again.

Interesting paradox—I never was, am not now, nor ever could be good enough for him and yet he wants me more than anything else I could give him which makes me, by his grace, good enough for him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Next Stop Along the Way

When I was ten years old, my family went on a rare vacation to Disney World. We drove from Pittsburgh to Florida. It took us two and a half days to get there because my parents planned stops to see some amazing local points of interest along the way, among them—the tallest waterfall in country. We eventually made it to our destination and Disney was, as expected, a child’s heaven on earth, even way back in the 70s. In many ways, life is like that childhood journey to Disney.

My life here on earth is a journey with a much greater destination than Disney (no offense Walt). And like that childhood venture, my life is a series of stops along the way to experience amazing things. Instead of stopping at a place to see a tourist attraction though, I am hesitating in a moment of time to see the person I’ve become over a period of time. The New Year is an obvious stop on my journey.

When I look back to the start of 2016, I realize how much I’ve grown in some areas and perhaps neglected to grow in others. I’ve become a healthier person, becoming more active, exercising, eating better, losing weight, and putting behind me a toxic situation. When I started this particular part of my life journey (2016) I chose a word for the year—healthier. It was my goal, my destination if you will, my rally cry as I moved forward through the year.

So now it’s 2017 and I need to move towards a new destination. I plan to keep my goal of healthier because, while I’ve come a long way, I still have a long way to go. While my physical health has improved, my spiritual health has  suffered. That doesn’t work for me so while I continue in my efforts to become physically healthy, I plan to concentrate on becoming spiritually healthier in 2017. In one year, when I look back on where this new destination will take me, I expect to be surprised and amazed at where God has taken me on this journey to be closer to him and more actively involved in his work. That’s a journey worth taking.