Friday, July 29, 2016

Push Back

Violence has become not that which is rare, but that which is daily unfolding somewhere in the world. It is no longer that shocking violence has been committed, but where today.

It is far too easy to be overwhelmed by all that is going on. We often feel helpless. What can I do about it? God's purpose for each of our lives is to work His redemption and restoration into this fallen world.  But the darkness seems to be all around and growing like a big scary storm cloud coming upon us.

But God does not forsake us in this.  God tells us to push back against the darkness.  Wherever there is evil, God grants an antidote.  And He uses His Spirit to bring transformation and His people to bring about change.

That is what the gospel-- literally "the good news" -- is all about. That there is something drastically wrong with the world we would all agree.  That is why Jesus came -- to show us the way through to His incredible forgiveness and to live out what God's love looks like.

"Overwhelmed" is not a foreign word in the Bible, nor in our own lives today.  But when God's people seek Him and follow Him into the struggle -- and everyone struggles with something --God changes that familiar phrase of despair to "overcome," a word of victory.  God's way is always so much different than we expect. Because it is not by our doing, but aligning our hearts to His.

And that solution and resolution is His love and grace in it, that which is most impossible of all, that which we cannot do on our own, but only what He can do through us.

So, whatever the difficult situation you face, the crisis, the hatred, the violence and injustice, the oppression of many people, God has given you something to do about it.  As I heard the late Chuck Colson once say, "You can't just sit there."

First response
        not last resort
is to turn to God.
Have you sunk into dismay
          or onto your knees?
Pray, listen, heed His voice in this.

And then,
follow His manual for life,
               God's Word in this.

What can I do about the hatred and violence?

Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil
                      with good.

                        Romans 12. 21

Wherever He places me today,
however that looks today,
among all those whom
   God has strategically placed me.
God always works
     through personal relationships
     and divine appointments.

There are no insignificant acts
              of love and grace.
God changes the entire landscape
       by means of hearts
       transformed by Him.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Covered over completely

If I am going to be overwhelmed,
let me be overwhelmed
by the power and grace
               of God Almighty.

But now, thus says the LORD,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel,
"Fear not,
      for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
                you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters
           I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire
              you shall not be burned.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
                           your Savior.
...Because you are precious in My eyes
and honored
                 and I love you."

                           Isaiah 43. 1-4

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A different landscape we could not see

Twenty-three years ago, we moved to Kansas City into a newly built subdivision, the houses lined up like so many cookies cut from the same mold, one after another, the same neutral colors, the same sod struggling to take root, the same spindly trees that barely met the builder's shaky promise of "fully landscaped:" a single sapling in the same position out front and a few fledgling boxwood bushes.  All the same, house after house.

The most outstanding feature of our backyard was a large hill of dirt and rocks leftover from the foundations of the houses around us.  Behind that mountain was an empty unsold stretch of land, so dry and barren that even native prairie grass and weeds struggled to survive, as desperate and bleak as the lone Kansas frontier.

I was reluctant to sign the paperwork.  I didn't want to be here.  And at the closing, I felt like God was saying, "Trust Me in this."

From the front elevation and the back, our view was unobstructed from one end of the block to the other, largely devoid of vegetation. The small trees we planted were visible only by the stakes holding them up, casting nary a shadow and bearing but a few leaves at all, sad, forlorn and out of place as a new kid in a junior high school cafeteria. I could see from our backyard all the way up to the school, a dozen houses away.  In the eyes of the neighborhood children, this was a paradise with no visible boundaries.  They roamed and played in what they saw as one huge yard. 

We lived there for just three years and worked with what we had, planting a perennial garden by the garage, nurturing a thick row of hostas to outline the front bed, and coaxing the sod to take root in that arid soil.

We made friends, volunteered at the elementary school, became involved in a church plant that rented space in a local school, and we proactively planted more trees to replace those that looked like they were already on life-support.  

Then, like a nomadic tribe, we moved again to another state.

Now, suddenly as in a time warp, twenty years and five more locations have passed.

A few weeks ago, my husband Bill and I drove to Kansas City to attend the wedding of a sweet friend.  One evening while we were there, we intentionally headed to our old neighborhood. We turned onto our old street, counting down the houses. When we arrived at our old address, it was like seeing something vaguely familiar in a dream, the outlines the same, the colors unaltered, a season of our lives long past.

We slowly passed by the house, turned around, and inched past it again.  But then, we stopped the car suddenly in the middle of the street.  We caught a glimpse between the houses into the backyard. The view took my breath away.  A virtual canopy of green shaded the yard, not quite a forest yet, but a far different landscape that we could not have even imagined in our wildest dreams, a rich oasis in full color.

God redeems the hard places.  God gives the growth.

...and He will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD.
                                              Isaiah 51. 3

Fruitfulness takes time.  Trust is what I cannot yet see.

You too may be wondering "What kind of wasteland is this?  What am I doing here?"  What we plant may not not be for us at all, but bearing fruit for people we may never even know.

I see a barren place.  God sees a forest.

Blessed is the man
     who trusts in the LORD,
     whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out is roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

                               Jeremiah 17. 7-8

God has placed you
   strategically for His Kingdom.
You may not be able to see it yet,
but you can know,
God is altering the landscape
                      even here,
                      even in this.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grey is the color of the Fourth of July

It is the Fourth of July weekend, and I noticed a couple of days ago the lack of decorations as I drove around.  There were a few flags in the commercial district of a neighboring town, a couple of buntings at the entrance of a subdivision, but that was about it.  There was talk of fireworks, hot dogs, and a long weekend. But what exactly are we celebrating?

We took a few of our out of town family members this week to visit some new traveling exhibits at a local art museum, featuring a collection of post- World War 2 Italian sports cars, a gallery of fantastical contemporary paintings, and a children's art space which delighted our niece.

Back in the corner of the second floor was also an exhibit of Soviet photographs and film.  These framed and curated works were the visual propaganda tools designed to re-educate the masses who were largely at the time vulnerable and illiterate.  The basic idea was to use art as a means to depict an utopian society, united and strong, and to eliminate any dissent, mostly under Stalin's fierce rule.

Black and white pictures showed small children standing in rows, dressed exactly alike.  The men depicted were strong and athletic, the women cheerful in their identical peasant scarves, an image of happiness and equality.  But the harsh and stark reality of the totalitarian regime was what it really looked like. Not shown were those caught in the crossfire of the political power struggle,the millions starving or slaughtered just because they chose to differ, chose to speak out the truth against government oppression, or just because of rumor and prejudice.

I looked around the exhibit hall at the black and white photographs and huge colorful posters.  And at the same time, I was very conscious of the visitors in the gallery who were glancing at the images.  With few exceptions, no one there was old enough to even remember those decades of Soviet oppression.  The Soviet Union dissolved twenty-five years ago.  This is dusty curious history to them, two-dimensional artwork, an afternoon's entertainment, the stuff of boring history classes.  Let's move on to the speedy Italian racing cars.

They have no idea what any of this really meant.  Don't color outside the lines. You have no right to question. Nothing to discuss.  No disagreement allowed.  Conform to the prevailing mindset... or suffer for your dissent.  One stray word and you lose everything, your profession, your family, and all too often you were never seen again.

One of my favorite books is Grey is the Color of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya who suffered unbearably in a remote Soviet prison, sentenced as a young woman to seven years in a labor camp for the crime of writing poetry.  Grey was the color of the ragged uniforms of the political prisoners in that dreadful confinement. But Ratushinskaya grasped the hope that as long as there were grey uniforms, there were still people willing to speak out for freedom.

Freedom means that everyone doesn't agree.  Our strength is not in being all the same.  We all have different opinions and traditions and beliefs.  And that is what liberty is all about.

On the Fourth of July, we come together not to celebrate our sameness, but the beauty of our differences and liberty for all.

Wear grey
and love your neighbors.

The Fourth of July was not designated as a long summer weekend, or to commemorate the end of a war, but to celebrate the Declaration of Independence that was signed on this day 240 years ago:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life,
and the pursuit of Happiness."