When God’s Word Goes Haywire {Operator Error}

P_20181111_130112You know how it is when you’re clicking around online and you visit a website link looking for information and up pops that 404 Error message?

I was stuck in a rabbit hole kind of like that recently, stewing for weeks over an issue (always the battleground for me, the ol’ noggin) and could not seem to get past it. I had worried the situation to death, played scenarios over and over again about a particular Terrible Thing that I needed to pray against and it wouldn’t go away. I woke up with it on my mind and went to bed mumbling about it in my prayers.

There was spiritual warfare going on like crazy, fighting principalities and powers, pushing back that stupid devil/destroyer/stealer. I was in a battle for sure.

So~one night in the shower--the land of ‘aha’s’, we all know this, right?–I heard the first half of John 10:10 running through my head, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy….” and the next thing I heard was the Holy Spirit saying, “Um, there’s the abundant life part. You forgot the rest of the verse.”

The problem with memorizing Scripture, if I may be so bold, is that sometimes the wrong parts stick. I’d been so uber-focused on the steal/kill/destroy part of the verse in John that it had overshadowed completely the fact that God is a good and abundant God.

He is aware of what is needed and able to take care of those we love. He is not blind to what’s going on in our lives and the lives of others. He’s not caught by surprise with the challenges we face. He is rich in mercy, lovingkindness and grace. And he’s like superpowerful, to use the theological term, capable of accomplishing what seems impossible.

So, in my head, I made up a counter-ditty for the God Team.

Ready? 

The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. But Jesus comes to heal, build and give joy.  Heal, build and give joy. That’s what He does. That’s what He’s all about. That’s who He is, what His character contains. Resurrection power, unending love and unlimited resources.

I’d like to work on memorizing t h a t.

Here’s a picture I made in case you need to remember, too. heal, build and give joyThis week look for Scriptures as you read that focus on God’s capabilities, his care and his concern. See how it turns your prayers around and then let me know how it goes;  I’d love to hear about it.

3 Non-Profits That Champion Women & Families

P_20180513_170950_vHDR_OnYesterday in my daughter’s backyard we celebrated Mother’s Day. Hanging out under her hawthorn tree, iced drink in hand, listening to jazz tunes in the background, I felt richly blessed and grateful.

Not all women have children and therefore not technically mothers, and may not have their own family. For that reason, Mother’s Day is awkward and sometimes a sad day. But mothers or not, a l l women should be valued, for they are all made in God’s image.

That image of God’s likeness in the beauty of women is often lost in the chaos and destruction of life. Sin and disease, heartbreaking poverty and inadequate care all play a part in that loss. But there is hope to be found in the work of three non-profits championing the worth of women and families.

  1. Lulu Tree–Founder Emily W.–Uganda and Sierra Leone, AfricaMother with baby Uganda

The Lulu Tree’s mission is to prevent tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s families through the local church.  This is accomplished by partnering with pastors so that they can care for their own families and their church families.

The church can then equip villages by providing community training including soap-making lessons, prayer clinics and community clean-ups, and health, hygiene and nutrition classes. Individual families can then be helped through micro loans, business training, and educational assistance.

The most vulnerable are protected when communities are equipped to care for their own, in the name of Christ. Strong families with roots in the local church form the foundation for thriving, happy children.

  • To learn more about Lulu Tree, click HERE. Donating to Lulu Tree includes support for teen moms to attend school, mama kits for pregnant teens and microloans for vulnerable women in the church.
  • To learn more about the origin of the Lulu Tree name, here is a short video with Emily. 

2. Mary’s Song Restoration Center for Women–New Orleans (founder Parris Bailey)

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Mary’s Song Restoration Center for Women is a rehabilitation program that offers an opportunity for women to permanently change lives by Power of God. Mary’s Song is located in Metairie, Louisiana and is an exclusive faith based drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

From their website: We specialize in the treatment of women ages 18 to 55 that struggle with substance abuse, alcohol addictions, and/or with other life controlling problems.

Mary’s Song provides a multi-faceted and personal alternative to standard free drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Housing 12 women during the first four phases of the program and only 4 in the fifth phase enables us to provide a home-like atmosphere with ample access to Pastoral counselors.

Mary’s Song is focused on individual attention, personal relationships, and the care of the whole woman, including:

    • Abstinence-based treatment
    • A total-wellness focus that includes nutrition and fitness
    • Celebrate recovery 12-step faith based program
    • Weekly individual therapy sessions
    • Weekly group therapy sessions
    • Completion of GED
    • Exercise and Nutrition Classes

For more information about supporting Mary’s Song through purchasing their organic skin care products, click HERE.

3) Sew Powerful- Seattle, WA (founders  Jason and Cinnamon Miles)

Sew Powerful started by my friends Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It has been a privilege and a joy to partner with them in their work. If you are a seamstress and want to contribute to their purse making program, click HERE.

Sew Powerful’s mission (from their website):

We exist to combat extreme poverty in a very challenging place called Ngombe Compound in Lusaka Zambia. We do that by equipping community members with jobs as well as training, tools, and technical skills to make what we call “Purposeful Products”. Products that can bless local children and empower their academic success. Our current Purposeful Products include school uniformsreusable feminine hygiene padsfood, and soap. Our overhead rate in 2017 was 1.35% and in 2016, it was less than 4%. When you give financially – you are helping create jobs and empower academic achievement – two powerful ingredients for combating extreme poverty. Learn more about our mission.”

There is so much joy in the world and beautiful work being done to help

women and children all over the world.

I hope you’ll consider what y o u might do to help–and now you’ll know where to start. 

Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is That the Right Question?

“Harbor me in the eye of the storm
I’m holding on to the love you swore.” 

-John Mark McMillan, Love You Swore

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The other day on Instagram I asked: “How come we never wonder why good things happen to good people? Or why good things happen to bad people?”

My thoughts were a version of that all-too-common question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As if there was some chart in the sky where God is tallying checkmarks, balancing our actions with our consequences. This also begs the question–who decides what makes someone ‘bad’ or ‘good?’ 

Barbara Brown Taylor deals with a variation of this exact same question in a selection in her book, “Home by Another Way.” Taylor, an Episcopal priest, recounts a time when she sat in the hospital with a distraught mother during surgery for her 5-year-old daughter’s brain tumor. The mother lamented that she hadn’t quit smoking and therefore God was trying to punish her. “That’s why my daughter has a tumor,” the mom said. Taylor shared a bit of her theology about the way God thinks about hard times and tragedies.

“Calamity strikes and we wonder what we did wrong. We scrutinize our behavior, our relationships, our diets, our beliefs. We hunt for some cause to explain the effect, in hopes that we can stop causing it. What this tells us is that we are less interested in truth than in consequences. What we crave above all is control over the chaos of our lives.”

Taylor cites Luke Chapter 13 where the Galileans are arguing with Jesus about who deserves what because of their sin. Jesus will have none of it; people who die (or have tragedy strike) don’t “deserve what they get,” He tells them.  

(This) is a tempting equation that solves a lot of problems,” Taylor explains.  

1) It answers the riddle of why bad things happen to good people: they don’t. Bad             things only happen to bad people.

2) It punishes the sinners right out in the open as a warning to everyone.

3) It gives us a God who obeys the laws of physics. For every action, there is an                   opposite and equal reaction. Any questions?

“…but Jesus won’t go there. No, Jesus says, there is no connection between the suffering and the sin. Whew. There is no sense spending too much time trying to decipher this piece of good news,” she continues. “…it is not meant to aid reason but to disarm it…Jesus touches the panic (the Galileans) have inside of them… but (He) does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way, (but seems) to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives.”

My daughter Leah first introduced me to the music of John Mark MacMillan, whose song lyrics open this essay. (She also took the seaside photo.) Leah has had five miscarriages. (update below.) The loss has been mind-numbing, the pain too deep to ponder and sometimes God feels very far away. As her mom, it has been a heartbreaking journey. For my daughter, well, it’s been hard to face one loss after another, to say the least.

Music is an anchor for her and she recently told me, “Mom, one song has been my anthem during this time–Love You Swore. I keep repeating the lines, Harbor me in the eye of the storm, I’m holding on to the love you swore. I know Jesus is faithful and has my best interests in mind for my life. But it’s just hard and all I can do is hang on.”

Some helpful, life-changing occurrences have taken place on this journey for my daughter and her husband. But some gut-wrenching experiences have been part of that journey. If I used the good people/bad people, blessings/hardships equation, there might be some sense in all of it. But sometimes life doesn’t make sense. Instead of looking for a reason or shifting the blame or finding an answer we need to sit with the pain and the grief and realize that Jesus is right there with us.

Taylor’s essay continues, “When panic sets in and we’re searching for answers (realize) that torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life. Depending on what you want from God, this may not sound like good news to you. But for those of us who have discovered that we cannot make life safe nor God tame, it is Gospel enough. What we can do is turn our faces to the light. That way, whatever befalls us, we will fall the right way.”  (from ‘Life-Giving Fear’, Home by Another Way)

We can’t stop the storms in our lives but we can rejoice that our Savior sits with us in the midst of them. And we can also lift our hands to thank Him in the good things. He’s right there in storm and the calm seas, with all people. 

**June 2019 Leah and her husband welcomed baby girl Mary Rebecca Elizabeth Johnson in August of 2019. We rejoice in God’s goodness and grace.

———

You can listen to “Love You Swore” by John Mark here

“Home by Another Way” by Barbara Brown Taylor is available here.

 

Jigsaw Puzzles as a Prayer

Every year at Christmas our kids get my husband and I a jigsaw puzzle. This year Santa pitched in and we actually ended up with three puzzles–birds, the beach and kites–our three favorite things.

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Actually, this is the beach AND kites

A great Friday night date for my husband and I is to build a fire, turn on the music and puzzle away….a simple, quiet joy for us. (You 30 somethings are wondering which planet we’re on, I’m sure…).

The joke around here is if the puzzle goes on the card table on the day after Christmas, we can usually finish it by the first or so of June, when the ‘kids’ show up again for Father’s Day. Alas, we got a late start–one week into this new year. But, praise be, it’s a 300-piece small one this time–easy peasy.

Working on jigsaw puzzles got me thinking about tying up the ‘loose ends’ of this year and looking at the new one ahead.  How can I focus on what God wants?–there are just TOO MANY PIECES–the shapes! the colors! They all look exactly alike–how will I tell which is which? And I’m not sure what the border even looks like. Where are my boundaries?

I began to think of you, dear friends, some of who’ve typed me personal notes, those I’ve exchanged emails with sharing prayer requests, joys and some not so joyful times. I thought of the challenges we face, the aspirations, the daily-ness of our walk with Jesus.

Hence, this prayer about puzzles, a metaphor for our lives:

“Father, we give you all the pieces of our lives, rounded, jagged, ill-fitting.
We place the ideas, dreams and desires,
the want-to’s and the need-to’s,
the prayers for family and friends,
the cries of our heart to follow you, into your hands.
 
Show us the puzzle frame, Father.  And remind us that YOU are the designer. 
 
Help us to pick up one piece at a time, one day at a time.
 
Show us how to consider each one well, notice the round edges,
observe the ways it could work–‘maybe over here?’ ‘maybe over there?’
 
Remind us that it takes time to make something beautiful, so that everything fits in place.
 
Whisper whenever we need it, the words telling us we will not be finished with x y z in a week, or a month. Maybe not even this year.
For we may need to ponder and puzzle over the fragments more than once,
laying them down and picking them up with a fresh look the next day.
 
Remind us Father, that when we surrender everything
lay it all out on the table
that YOU can take it and make it into
something beautiful in your time.
Amen.”
Philippians 3:13,14
“(this) one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,   
    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is an edited version of a post originally written in January 2013. HT Jennifer Ferguson and The Knot Project, talking about puzzles. Some truths are still so very truthy.

Why I Stopped Having ‘Quiet Time’ {for all the right reasons}

“…the resolving of the conflict between sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology.”

-Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 1967

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The writer of those words penned his thoughts 50 years ago, and while the current world of practicing Christians may have different theological problems, I think Capon’s got a point. I have looked high and low in my Bible the last few years and I can’t find any mention where believers are encouraged to develop a daily “quiet time” or spend time having “devotions.” There is no mention in Scripture of a particular time of day that is more sacred than any other—so why do we make the separation?

Now, before you go yelling at me through your screen or hitting the ‘delete’ button faster than bees buzz, let me say this, yes: we ARE urged to study to show ourselves approved indeed. Don’t get me wrong; I know God’s word is my daily bread and living water, I need spiritual food like I need physical food, like I need air to breathe. And yes, Jesus modeled for us how to get alone in a quiet place and pray.

But we get into all kinds of unnecessary shoulding all over ourselves when we say, “First thing in the morning you must meet with Jesus, read God’s word, pray and write in your journal. THEN you can head into your day.”

In God’s kingdom all of time is sacred.  When we belong to Jesus, all of our life is sacred.

If your ‘day’ begins at 3:30 in the morning because you work as a cameraperson for a television station, like my worship team, bass-playing friend K, I’m guessing it’d be hard for her to fit in a ‘quiet time’ first thing in the morning. Then there’s the barista at the local coffee shop, pulling espresso shots for all the weary folks heading into their mornings. (Raising my hand. Espresso-drinker, not barista). How does said barista balance the want-to of a time with Jesus with the have-to of a job?

And what if you’re not a morning person?  What if when you wake up, there’s 6 things on the to-do list that must be out of the way before you can even t h i n k  about a set-aside time to focus and settle in and listen to Jesus? Things like getting your kids off to school on time or cleaning the kitchen floor or paying the bills or writing an email or calling your mom?

When we do come to a more focused part of our day—whether 4:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.—we can look at it, as my pastor recently said, not like a “quiet time” but a listening time. A time of coming and settling in before God’s presence, whether it’s only 10 or 15 minutes. (Many days, that’s all I’ve got).

We talk about active listening being the better part of communication; it is the same when it comes to our time with the Lord. Listening half the time, writing ¼ of the time and talking (praying) the other ¼.

That attitude of listening time translates to a more balanced living time, where there’s no division in our days. Scripture’s clearest model is to walk in an integrated way—spirit and soul inside lined up with our actions on the outside.

We have much to learn, not for knowledge sake, but to show that what we know about Jesus makes a difference in the way we live.

I think we forget the Apostle Paul’s admonitions about walking in the word or John’s encouragement to abide in Jesus. Walking, abiding (or dwelling) are continuous, ongoing states of being. Even the Pentateuch reminds us as we “lie down and get up and when we walk along the road, that we are to teach our children.” (Deuteronomy 11:19). We can only teach our children what we already know, and this makes it clear–God knows a lot of our lives we are on the move. Moving in the car, going on a walk, strolling through the store….teaching/talking/singing to and with your spouse, your kids, your friends.

Here’s what I know is true about spending time with God: He doesn’t care WHEN we come to be with Him, but THAT we do. 

How about you? When do find time to be with God? What does that look like for you?

Please share in the Comments. I would love to hear.

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I think it’s interesting I would be writing this post now, as if God wanted to remind what I wrote exactly four years ago for (in)courage. I guess I needed to hear this as much as anyone else. 

Linking with Jennifer Lee and the community at Tell His Story. More great essays over there! 1c9ac-tellhisstory-badge