Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stay Tuned

I was feeling a little overwhelmed in the middle of the night last night, like being surrounded by a crowd of toddlers all screaming for attention at the same time.  They seem particularly over the top at night – what am I going to do, how am I going to do it, how can I possibly get it done, what if I can’t do it.  By morning, the crowd usually evaporates like a dream, so real one moment and totally beyond memory in the morning light.  What seemed so fearful and overwhelming in the darkness becomes merely a “to do” list by day.

     This morning as I was reading my Bible, I was reading about Moses, one of the reluctant leaders whom God had chosen.  Moses seemed to have told God, “ok, I did what you said, now what?”

"Why did you ever send me?
...You have not delivered Your people at all."
But the LORD said to Moses,
      "Now you shall see what I will do..."
And God said to Moses,
                                  "I am the LORD."
                                                         Exodus 5.22, 6. 1-2

     We tend to forget those last words…, ”I am the LORD.”  God is GOD!  And despite the overwhelming circumstances, we will see what only God can do.  We should prepare to be astonished.  And actually we should be astonished even when we cannot see what is happening, maybe particularly when we cannot see the outcome.  Because God is working even when it is beyond our myopic vision.

      There is something in us that always wants to find out in stories “how it turns out.” (That is what keeps you reading the next chapter or sticking around through the commercials).  And even when we have already figured out what will happen, we want to know how it happens.  That is the sense of story within us.  Stories are the bearer of truth and the pursuit of meaning.  That is why your English teacher had you write so many tedious essays about the hidden symbolism in a book (when all you wanted to do was READ it).  Why do we pursue stories?  Because we can’t help but know that life is meaningful.  Or as author J. Budziszewski says in his book by the same title, “what we can’t not know.”   Life is meaningful, because it is wired within us.  We are made in the image of God.

     Ok, so how does feeling overwhelmed relate to the stories all around us?  As the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do…”  Stay tuned.  God is working in your life.  Moses finds out for himself a few chapters from now the amazing things that He can do – the amazing things that only He can do.  Even when it seems impossible….and you have the entire Egyptian army gaining on you, God will make a way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two weeks later, and he is still alive

Just finished reading an account of a 35-year-old Haitian man who was pulled out alive from the rubble a full two weeks after the earthquake which devastated Haiti.  Impossible, the authorities had said.  But now, we rejoice in another life saved.

      Why does this story touch our hearts so deeply?  Because it brings us hope.  Never, ever, ever give up.  Many of us are going through trying times right now– not as desperate as being  physically trapped in a fallen building – but there are times when emotionally it takes your breath away, times when there is nothing else we can do, times when we realize that there are things way too big to handle.  Many, many times I used to tell the girls when they were little, “There are some things I can control, but this isn’t one of them.”

     We can have hope, because there is a loving personal God.  And as it said in my Bible this morning, “…and God knew their condition.” (Exodus 2.25)  There are times when God provides deliverance as spectacular as the parting of the Red Sea.  But there are times when God has us exactly where we need to be.  And that is when His strength soaks us down to our very bones.  God is not a cheerleader who says, “You can do it!!!!”  No, He is God, the Creator of the universe.  He says, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”(Matthew 14. 26-27)   He is our strength.  He is our hope.   Our culture views hope as wishful thinking.  But hope in the Bible is “that on which I stake my life.”  Doesn’t get any better than that.

For who is God, but the LORD?

And who is a rock, except our God?

--the God who girded me with strength,

   and made my way safe.

He made my feet like hinds’ feet,

    and set me secure on the heights.

…You gave a wide place for my steps under me,

and my feet did not slip.

                  Psalm 18. 31-36

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Disaster Relief

In the past week and a half, the whole world has turned its attention to Haiti and the devastation there.  Nations have sent enormous amounts of physical and financial aid to help these people in crisis.  Physicians and relief workers are flying daily into Haiti in full planes laden down with medical supplies, food and clothing.

     As a result of this earthquake, there are many who cry out, “Where was God to let this happen?”   But I am asking “Where were we?”

     Haiti did not become a disaster zone last week.  Haiti has been a place of poverty and despair for more than two hundred years.  It is KNOWN as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.  I am acquainted with many people who have travelled there, mostly on missions trips, whose hearts have been torn by the conditions in which these people have lived for generations.  My question is, “Why does it take an earthquake, why does it take a catastrophic disaster, before we pay attention to mercy?”  Nations have pledged millions of dollars in aid, the American Red Cross is taking texts of ten dollar donations to send help, and even celebrities have jumped on the band wagon to donate money.  It is important to note, however, the kind of people doing “disaster work” before the earthquake hit.  At the time of the quake, there were 45,000 Americans living in Haiti, mostly missionaries and aid workers extending help in whatever way they could.  That is about the only reason anyone would choose to live there, because of the enormity of the need.  And they will likely be the same kind of people who stay to help after Haiti is no longer in the headlines.  (Historically, look at who is still helping Katrina victims.  Hint: it’s not the celebrities).

      As my friend Becky noted this week, “This situation is not going away anytime soon.”  It is going to take more than short-term emergency response teams.

     This is a country basically without an economy.  BEFORE the quake, more than seventy percent of the population was already unemployed and living in abject poverty.  The largest source of income in the country is based on inhabitants receiving money from relatives living in the United States.  The annual per capita income was $310.  (I just paid more than that in utilities last month).  One of the only means of escape from the turmoil was to secure a place on a rickety boat headed to Miami and hope that you didn’t get eaten by sharks on the way.     

     “Where was God in this disaster?”  He’s wondering when we are going to recognize the need for compassion, not to just throw money at the current situation, but to have mercy.  No matter a person’s worldview, we all recognize that the on-going disaster in Haiti is not the way things ought to be.  People ought not have to live that way.  Life is sacred.  And the sanctity of life is the basis for all social justice.  Why must we wait until a crisis for our hearts to respond to what breaks God’s heart?  

          For the Haitians --or for whomever God has placed on your heart--,

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

when it is in your power to do it.”  Proverbs 3.27

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Waiting Game

"Waiting on God isn't about the suspension of meaning and purpose.  It's part of the meaning and purpose that God has brought into my life. Waiting on God isn't to be viewed as an obstruction in the way of the plan. Waiting is an essential part of the plan. For the child of God, waiting isn't simply about what I'll receive at the end of my wait. No, waiting is much more purposeful, efficient, and practical than that. Waiting is fundamentally about what I'll become as I wait.  God is using the wait to do in and through me exactly what He's promised. Through the wait He's changing me. By means of the wait He's altering the fabric of my thoughts and desires. Through the wait He's causing me to see and experience new things about Him and His kingdom. And all of this sharpens me, enabling me to be a more useful tool in His redemptive hands" (Paul David Tripp).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bigger than yourself

Even though the federal holiday is not celebrated until Monday, today is actually the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.   We know him as a great leader of civil rights in this country, a minister who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was the catalyst for change, long-overdue.  But in actuality, he was a reluctant prophet. 

The entry for The Writer’s Almanac today says, “He was chosen to lead a boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was only 26. He didn't set out to become civil rights activist; he said later that if he'd known what the job would entail, he might have turned it down. He wasn't even sure he wanted to become a preacher; as a teenager, the way people shouted and stomped in his Baptist church sometimes embarrassed him. But during the boycott, after he was assaulted and arrested and his house was bombed, he experienced what amounted to a religious conversion. He said later that he realized that the movement had far greater force than his own doubts, and that he had to act like a charismatic figurehead even if he didn't feel like one.”

      And what if he had decided to have taken an easier path, one that was safe and comfortable and lucrative.  What if he had told God, “I don’t feel like it.  Find someone else.”  It makes me wonder how many others had a opportunity to spearhead justice and righteousness, but chose a path of least resistance or greater acclaim.  It makes me wonder how many times we do that on a daily basis.  Just because…”I don’t feel like it?”.  

      Let us not lay our plans before the LORD, but follow Him into His plans for us.  Not to ask Him to come into our day, but to follow Him into His.  For this to happen, to have the mindset to do this, God must be at the core of who you are.  Not, as Bryan Loritts says, “with a little Jesus sprinkled on top. “   It comes not from personal ambition, but from a life-changing relationship with Him.  We are culturally programmed to assess change on a yearly basis,  but God calls us to be daily transformed, degree by degree.


     He who finds his life will lose it,

             and he who loses his life

                                               for My sake

                   will find it.

                                     Matthew 10.39

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moral Compass

Yesterday, an 100 year old woman died quietly in a nursing home in Amsterdam.  To say her name, Miep Gies, you probably would not know of her.  But you are probably very familiar with what she did sixty-eight years ago.  When she was a young 33-year-old secretary in Amsterdam, she agreed to hide a young Jewish family and four of their friends.  She supplied them with food, books, and protection at risk of her own life for more than two years.  One of the young girls in that group was Anne Frank.  When the family was finally captured, Miep went into the secret annex, gathered up Anne’s papers and notebooks, and locked them in a drawer for her return after the war.  Only Anne’s father survived.  He published The Diary of Anne Frank in 1947. 

       Of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands before the Nazi occupation, only 5200 survived.   What is astonishing to me about this story was Miep’s attitude.  She risked her life for these people.  And she repeatedly denied that she was a hero.  “Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty,” she said in a 1997 interview.  “I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero?  I was not.  I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

     When she was approached about helping to hide the family, “I answered, ‘Yes, of course.’  It seemed perfectly natural to me.  I could help these people.  They were powerless, they didn’t know where to turn,” she said.

     There was a similar mindset among those who lived in the small French village of Le Chambon.  At risk to their own lives and their families, they hid total strangers right under the noses of their Nazi occupiers.  They alone with great courage and ingenuity saved the lives of 5000 Jews.  This was only but a small village, a tiny group of people.  Some of these rescuers ended up in concentration camps as a result.  Years later, when asked why they would go to those extremes for Jewish people whom they didn’t even know, the village people looked incredulously at the reporter and said, “Of course, it was the right thing to do.”

     Fast forward to 2010.  What would have happened today?  The moral compass is no longer pointed to “do the right thing,”  but “what’s in it for me?”

And yet, the Scriptures tell us otherwise.

     “He has showed you, O man, what is good,

       and what does the LORD require of you

       but to do justice, and to love kindness,

       and to walk humbly with your God?” 

                               Micah 6.8

     God gives us the opportunities every day, in huge sacrifices and even in the smallest of kindnesses.  As Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest, “But if we do not steadily minister in everyday opportunities, we will do nothing when the crisis comes.” 

     We are all in training.  Keep your compass fine tuned with God at the center of all things.   And may you say, “Of course.  It is the right thing to do.”  Without a flicker of doubt in your mind.   

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Other "If"

Yesterday we examined what it looks like to have your life revolve around the "if only's" of life.

But "if only" has an equally misbehaving twin. It is another "if" that also threatens to pull you down, keep you from running on your path, and paralyze you on the spot. "What if...?" It is the element of fear. "What if_______?" (Again, fill in the blank). "What if I never get married? What if I can't have kids? What if God sends me to _____, or keeps me in ________? What if I lose my job? What if my car gives out? What if I can't think of the answer? Or get cancer?" Again, the list goes on and on. At times, these fears seem like impatient preschool children lined up on my side of the bed just waiting for me to open one eye. Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, MOM!!! What if, what if, what if, and THEN, what if? The end of the world as we know it, I imagine.

Again, this problem can be readily traced back to the beginning of time, actually back to the Fall. We live in a fallen world. It is out of balance, wrong side up. And we should be aware that we wear an enormous bulls-eye. When the serpent can't tempt us (if only...?), he makes us fear him and fear the unknown (what if...?). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil made us all too aware of evil and our vulnerability to it. The fruit was not sweet after all.

What does God have to say about fear? "Fear not, I am your shield" (Genesis 15.1), "Fear not, stand firm..." (Exodus 14.13), "Fear not, but let your hands be strong" (Zechariah 8.13), "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41.10) Just look up FEAR in your Bible's concordance, and be amazed at how God strengthened His people throughout the ages, even those who were the great leaders of the faith. Even us today.

And as you peruse these verses and grasp hold of them, note that God is not saying, "Come on, now, you can do it, believe in yourself." Not at all. In EVERY example, God is revealing His own power. That is the difference between positive thinking and the reality of the presence of God. The "unknown" is, after all, known to Him. ("Even the darkness is not dark to You." Psalm 139.12) He is doing a work in your life that is beyond what you could ever ask or think. (Ephesians 3.20, Habakkuk 1.5)

Everyone has a worldview, a lens through which they view the world. To believe in the presence of God and His strength is not just a "good way of looking at things." It is Biblical worldview which emanates from reality, the core of who God is and who we are in Him. It is not a positive perspective on life. It is Biblical worldview, and it pervades EVERYTHING in your life. Not just how you look at life, but how you live.

What do others see in you? Grumbling and fear? Or the reality of God?
"For I will be to her a wall of fire round about, says the LORD, and I will be the glory within her." (Zechariah 2.5)

Press on!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If only…..?

It is beginning of the year when our thoughts turn naturally to how things can be different in our lives.  Unfortunately, too many get caught in the game of “if only….”  Actually a lot of people are really good playing that game.  “If only I was__________(fill in the blank), THEN I would be happy.”  For those who are single, “if only I was married.”  And the list goes on.  “If only I weighed twenty pounds less, if only I had straight hair, if only I had curly hair, if only I lived in New York, if only I drove a snazzy car, if only I was taller or shorter, if only I had a better boss, if only it wasn’t so cold here, if only it wasn’t so hot”.  People complain about the weather (wherever you live), the traffic, the schools, the crime, their spouses, their kids, the dog.

     If only’s paralyze you for what you need to be doing right now.

     If only’s keep you from seeing God’s faithfulness today.

     If only’s question God’s goodness.

     If only is as old as the garden of Eden.  “If only I eat the fruit, then I will be God.”  Eve set us on an elusive trail to seek personal happiness without God.  If only is conditional on external circumstances.  NOTHING is ever right or perfect.  The Bible calls it “grumbling.”  Even as the persecuted Israelites fled Pharoah’s army, they cried outloud, “if only we had never left Egypt”.  “We’re thirsty”.  God gave them water.  “We’re hungry”.  God gave them manna every morning.  All they had to do was pick it up off the ground.  And even, “we’re tired of manna”.  And God gave them quail.  On and on and on.  Yep, sounds like whining to me.

     Paul states in the book of Philippians, “Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4. 11-13)  He actually wrote these words from prison.

     Contentment comes from the reality of God at the core of who you are.  It is motivated by a source of strength, not by personal desperation.  And for those who have committed their lives to something beyond themselves through Christ, “if only” takes a different spin.  Instead of “if only” being a cry of discontent, it is a shout of restoration.  Because we live in a fallen world – we all recognize that – we should be seeking restoration of the world, turning things right side up.  In that case, “if only” has nothing to do with an elusive quest of an empty life,  but everything to do with a redeemed heart.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Only in Chicago

There are a few things that I have learned about living in Chicago this past month.

Observation 1:  One of the first stores that I entered upon arriving in late November was a display of mittens that have an ice scraper already attached.  It seemed absurd to me at the time, almost comical, until last week when our daughter Laura’s car was completely encased in ice and snow after sitting overnight in our driveway. 

Observation 2:  There are certain appliances that we consider necessary to home life here:  a stove, a furnace, and above anything else, a snowblower.  You don’t even need a fridge.  Just set the stuff outside.

Observation 3:  The weather is not part of the daily news.  It IS the news.

Observation 4:  One afternoon I went outside to run some errands.  It seemed relatively warm.  The thermometer on my car said that it was 36 degrees.  Later, I noticed that was the exact same temperature inside my refrigerator.

Observation 5:  Twenty-two degrees is not all the same.  The way it feels depends on a myriad of factors, including wind velocity, presence of the sun, whether you have gloves, how far your car is parked from the entrance of the store, and what coat you are wearing.  The right clothing makes all the difference.

Observation 6:  Along the same lines, people in Chicago appear more robust.  This has nothing to do with body weight.  It has everything to do with how many layers they are wearing.  Fashion is cast aside.  When one of Hannah’s friends moved to Chicago from sunny California, her mother told her, “Face it.  No matter what you wear, you are not going to look cute.”  Being warm takes precedence.  Hannah reports of girls on the Northwestern campus wearing full length goose down coats who look like caterpillars walking around.  Bill and I saw a woman in a festive strapless party dress at a Christmas party.  Everyone felt so sorry for her.  The rest of us had sweaters on, and I suspect, some with long underwear as well.  Being cold (or warm) is not so much based on the temperature as on what you are wearing.

Observation 7:  Is it cold?  I purchased a pair of heavy black tights to wear under my slacks.  I haven’t worn tights since third grade.  I also uncovered in the move a couple of turtlenecks that I haven’t worn since we lived in Iowa City ten years ago.  Not exactly a fashion statement, but beginning to sound like a good idea.

Observation 8:  Why do people stick out their windshield wipers when they park their cars outside?  To keep the blades from freezing to the glass.  And to make scraping the windshield easier.

Observation 9:  Believe it or not, I received a type of tire chains (or crampons) for the bottom of my running shoes as a Christmas present.  These are along the same lines as the snow chains that my dad would put on the tires in the winter when I was a little girl.  Actually, they operate a lot like the spikes the guys who climb Everest clamp on the bottom of their boots.  They make the pavement a lot less slippery to run on during a snowfall.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

Observation 10:  Yes, they plow and salt the streets to melt the ice, but under 12 degrees, road salt no longer has any effect.  You can buy specially formulated salt at Home Depot to get you down to about zero.

Observation 11:  I went to the hardware store to get a couple of door mats.  The woman at the store pointed out to me that I didn’t need outdoor mats, but ones to place inside the door for people to step onto.  “Anything outside will be iced over anyway and won’t do you any good,” she said.

Observation 12:  Just about every furnace that we saw when we were looking at houses has a humidifier attached to it to condition the dry winter air.  After living in thick-as-soup air in Memphis, it seemed really bizarre to need to actually ADD humidity.

Observation 13:  Basic rule for survival in a Chicago winter:  a chapstick in every pocket.

But before you think that all is absurd living in the Northland:

During a recent snowfall, I watched some neighbor children sledding on the empty lot next to us.  They were outside playing in the snow for at least two to three hours.  I could hear their laughter ringing in the air.  Snow gives kids the permission to be kids.  To play.  To play outside, even in the cold.  I have seen tough teenagers suddenly become kids again, just because of the snow, sledding all afternoon.  And having fun.  I rarely see kids really having fun anymore.  But on that snowy day, I heard laughter in the air.

Also during another snowfall, my daughter Beth saw one of her neighbors out front of his house building a tiny snowman.  By the time Beth returned from her errand, he had completed an entire family of snowmen in their front yard.  All by himself.  He has a child, but she is only three months old.  Again, snow brings out the kid in all of us.  Her neighbor, by the way, is a former NFL player.

I awoke early one morning.  The snowstorm had ceased.  The air was silent.   I was transfixed by the beauty of the whiteness.  I may be a newcomer yet, but I was awestruck by the wonder of it all.  Cold, yes it is.  But also amazing.  

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Click Here

This is my top recommendation for a goal this year.  Even if this is your ONLY goal this year,

it will change your life.

Write to me a year from now and tell me the difference it made.

Email me now and let me know if you are jumping in.

You have choices.

or the Bill Wells’ four chapters a day plan.  Or one of your own choosing.


The question that you ask yourself every day, Did I read God’s Word today?

This is, as Bryan Loritts would say, “the very words of God.”  And through your daily reading,

He will transform your life.


“More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold,

sweeter also than honey

               and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover by them is Your servant warned,

                         in keeping them there is great reward.”

                                                              Psalm 19. 10-11

Press on!