Archive for the ‘The Hard Things’ Category

The Sparrow Has Found Her Nest

It’s extremely quiet this Christmas morning.  I look outside at the sun and the warmth and dare to believe this is really Colorado, the land of mountains and vistas that I have come to love so profoundly.  The rest of the family is tucked quite a distance away (visiting their respective families) and today, it’s only me and God.  Silly me, I can’t forget Charlie and Howard.  Beyond a doubt, these two canines are treasured and faithful companions, especially today.  A gift, really.

It is advantageous that I have the ability to enjoy the quiet.  Some in my situation would not be able to survive the solitude.  It is for those people today I pray words of comfort and joy.

Today I remember the words of Psalm 84.  God sent them to me in a song via the Sons of Korah, because when it’s this quiet, nothing soothes the tired, weary soul like the words of God.  When it’s this quiet, you tend  to contemplate  things like relationships; family; ailing parents; your relationship with God.  With that in mind, two verses stood out for me this morning:

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

and

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

Psalm 84:3-4; 10-12

Why these verses?  Today I had no choice but to accept the bitter realization that my hunger for God remains offensive to some I have loved dearly for many years – fellow pilgrims of the faith.  Perhaps fear or unchecked disapproval of my faith forced a decision to exclude me from a seasonal ‘family’ tradition, carrying with it a sting and an ache that they knew I was alone this year.  Even with that realization, there comes a greater understanding that God is not absent.  Indeed, he is ever present.

But God is greater.  God is greater than our heart. (1 John 3:20)

Today, even when the hurt is huge, I can and do rejoice.

O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 116: 16-19

I can’t say I really understand why those of us in the reformed faith are often chastised and ostracized by those in mainstream evangelicalism — sometimes by those who should be fellow sojourners in the faith — walking the cobblestones with you.  It does sadden me, though, because their misunderstanding of the reformed faith is allowing a distance to develop that need not develop.  Still, I can rejoice as I reflect on the hard lessons I’ve had to learn on this journey.

  • I cannot walk their journey for them.  I can pray for them.  I can love them in spite of it all – even when criticism and judgment are wrongly placed – even when their own misunderstanding condemns unjustly.
  • I can be faithful to what God has revealed to me through his word and rest in the immeasurable joy it brings.
  • Most importantly I can wallow in this assurance:  My home is with you, God.  The sparrow has found her nest. And it is lovely and delightful.  Your leaves of grace – your twigs of mercy surround me daily and lift me higher than the mountains outside of my window – as only you can do.  Because you alone, God — you alone, are God.

Today I lay my young at your altar, Lord.  Today I lay my friends there, too.

(Note – if you want to hear the song, click on the Psalm 84 link above…. you won’t be sorry.)

The Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration is stirring up all kinds of controversy.  Good!  It needs to be stirred up!  Some of my very favorite theologians refused to sign it and I feel as if my heart sighed a huge sigh of relief to know they took such a stand, especially under the scrutiny and criticism of the very confused evangelical world.

Here’s a link where you can read the responses of Sproul, MacArthur, Begg and White.

Sproul reminds us that “The document is concerned primarily with three very important biblical and cultural issues: the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty.”  That sounds good, doesn’t it?

Then Sproul continues, “The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel……….But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?……..In his commentary on November 25, Mr. Colson said the Manhattan Declaration is “a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith.” He suggests that the Manhattan Declaration is an antidote to “biblical and doctrinal ignorance” within the church. However, true reformation and revival within the church and the winning of our culture to Christ will come only through the power of the Holy Spirit and our clear, bold proclamation of the biblical gospel, not through joint ecumenical statements that equivocate on the most precious truths given to us. There is no other gospel than that which has already been given (Gal. 1:6–8).”

I particularly liked this response to John MacArthur’s statement for why he didn’t sign the Declaration.  A young man named Todd said, “For years we have been trying to change the outside (behavior) without dealing with the heart (world view). The gospel changes our hearts. Most efforts today try to make moral conduct, social justice or even “what would Jesus do” as the door to salvation and hope when Jesus himself said, “I am the door.” It is not what Jesus taught and how he walked but it was what He accomplished on the cross and who He is.”

Todd gets it.

Jesus tells us in John 4:22-24 that “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Truth matters to Jesus.  It should matter to us, the redeemed, as well.  Just any old witness won’t do….

Image by jfhatesmustard.

Heavenly Voices

I spoke with my mother yesterday.  She’ll be 84 soon and as I mentioned before, she lives in a world that none of us want to experience – the mired world of Alzheimer’s.

This unkind disease has caused her to cry every time I call.  She misses me terribly.  There is no doubt that the instincts of motherhood do not diminish over time.

One of the ways I have been able to calm her on the phone is to sing to her.  She was the one who recognized my musical talent.  She is the one who nurtured and encouraged it.

Right now our song of choice is Amazing Grace.  As I sing the words to her, I can feel her spirit quiet and calm down.  Yesterday, she not only listened, but she joined in on verses 2 and 3.  She remembered the words because they were deeply embedded into her mind.

The things we store away in our mind today really do have eternal value.  If we are stuffing the nooks and crannies of our brains with materialism, sinful thoughts and the like — my guess is that those things will be the thoughts which will come back to haunt and possess us when we are older.

But!  What if we were to fill our mind with the thoughts of God?  What if we were to know scripture so well that when Alzheimer’s decimates our mind, we could still recall the words of God?  That we should know them so well they can be easily recalled within our soul?

I cannot think of any better example of Romans 12:2 than my mother.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Consider what is being stuffed inside of your mind.  I am convinced, after singing Amazing Grace with my mother yesterday, that it is essential for me to fill my mind with the things of God each and every day — so that when my mind fails (and in a fallen world, it will) — I will be able to recall things like:

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  2 Thess. 2:16-17

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:20-21

These words are the only thing that will comfort my heart when my body fails me. For this reason, I thank the Father — for his faithfulness, for his love and the salvation he has granted unto me.

Love Unplugged

I spoke to my mother, Pearl, on the phone today today.  In her heyday, she was a beautiful young woman — the point of affection for many a U.S. Marine.

Her life was difficult.  She grew up in the poor southern state of North Carolina during the Great Depression.  She picked tobacco and cotton as a child.  Often, the only thing she had to eat was a piece of fatback and morsel of fried cornbread.

Mom is a dreamer.  She always wanted to be a doctor but she was never able to realize that dream.  When you are poor, sometimes dreams never come true.  But that didn’t stop her.  She became a medical transcriptionist and learned a wealth of information about the medical profession.  She still didn’t stop.   She continued to dream through her children.  I am the beneficiary of her dreams.

Mom loved music, yet she never had the chance to learn how to play the piano.  She made sure I knew how to play.  She made sure I sang in the church choir and played in the school band.

Mom loved to learn.   Of all the things she gave me, this heritage has been priceless to me.  She always made sure I understood how to learn and visibly demonstrated to me the importance of being a life-long learner.  Every week, we loaded up the family car for our trip to the library, where she encouraged me to check out books way above my reading level.

Now Mom is almost 84 and lives deep within the muffled word of Alzheimer’s.  She cries at the drop of a hat but she can’t control it.  She doesn’t remember one sentence from the next.  I repeat everything I say as if I had never said it the first time.

Yet, in this crazy, mean world of Alzheimer’s, beauty has emerged.  The things she says to me now — the things that are really important to her — are not hidden.  Things like, “you are my precious daughter.”  Things like, “I named you Kathy Jo because it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard – and it suited you.”  Things like, “I love you so much.”  How lovely to hear “I love you” over and over again and know she means it.

Some of these things were difficult to say in her earlier years before the disease began to rape and ravage her mind.  The boundaries of our sinful world tend to tie up the tongue when we think we are in control.  Each conversation I have with her is increasingly difficult and I often end them holding back tears of sadness, thoughtfully remembering how it used to be.

It is very hard to see the deterioration of a woman who used to nothing short of a spitfire.   She was the USO dancing queen – literally!  Her life was full of hardship but she always persevered.

Mom wanted very badly to be a good mother, yet like the rest of us, she was flawed.  Still, she never stopped giving it her best effort.

For instance, I had a wonderful horse once named Gracey.  My mother does not like animals of any kind.  I love animals of all kinds.  Her love for me was so great that she went with me and tried to love Gracey with me.  Love often asks you to do the things you dislike the most.

Even though my mother is not the same woman she once was, my love for her has grown and expanded because I have seen into the innocence of her heart.  The truth of her heart.  It is nothing short of Love Unplugged.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!  The children of mankind take refuse in the shadow of your wings.  Psalm 36:7

Shouts of Legalism

We went to a bonfire party this week.  The party was held in celebration for two young men who completed their seminary training, were examined for ordination into the URCNA – and passed with flying colors.  The exam was tough compared to today’s evangelical standards.  All the more reason I was impressed at how well they both performed.

As I was thinking through the whole process these guys have gone through, somewhere in the back of my head I could still hear the nagging comments from others I know who have whispered the word, ‘legalism’ to me.

The scrolling, sometimes circular path I have traveled through evangelicalism (trying to figure it out) has allowed me to see and experience various perspectives of other Christians.  Many others who haven’t taken the opportunity to experience the depth of Christian diversity would jump at the chance to call those taking this exam ‘legalists.’  They would also apply that definition to the members of the URCNA and other like-minded federations.  I suppose that means they might now be applying that definition to me.

Watching the exuberant volleyball game; seeing various people grab a cold Guinness out of the cooler; listening to the conversation — you would be hard pressed to see legalism in these folk.  That doesn’t stop the labeling.  Labeling begins in the mind of those who have already made their mind up — whether they’ve done accurate research or not.

There is also something different in this place – around these folk.  They are serious students of God’s word.  For me, this is refreshing after swimming in a bath of nonsensical religious opinions.  I am glad I can sit under the teaching of a man who has done this kind of in-depth study.  Not that he’s perfect.  Not that he will always be right….but that he’s taken the time to wrestle with the scriptures.

The people I have met in this group will not hesitate to talk to you about God – about their path to find Him – and the reasons they feel so strongly about the Reformed faith at this juncture in their lives.  They are absolutely not the ‘frozen chosen,’ as I have been warned by other well-meaning Christians.  The people I have met are refreshingly honest.

They also sin just like the rest of us.  The difference?  They are not afraid to say the word sin nor are they afraid to point their own finger at themselves because of it.  They aren’t afraid to speak truth because in the end, they know it is the truth that truly frees you. They aren’t afraid to study the Bible deeply nor do they avoid the discussion and implementation of that study.   While other churches work hard not to ‘offend’ anyone; while many churches make excuses for why they do what they do, Reformers know that our fallen nature is offensive to God.  We all need a Redeemer — to redeem us from our sin.

My mind has been analyzing my view into this world, trying to be sure that I’ve got my own lens correctly placed and crystal clear so that I am seeing accurately.  I’ve listened to others who have cautioned me, yet the irony is that I now I see their words as legalistic.

One definition I found for legalistic says this:  Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.

I now see that these well-meaning people conform and adhere to a contemporary view of Christianity (their own code) which doesn’t always mirror the truth of God.  They are adamant in their opinion and they strictly adhere to that opinion, whether it is right or not.

Adhering to the above definition, I can tell you that the majority of Reformed people I have met aren’t legalistic in the way they are being labeled.  Certainly they are far from perfect, but they understand that we, as fallen human beings, can never be good enough — we can never conform enough to the law to be accepted by God and certainly cannot choose to be moral when our very natures cry immorality.

Do the Reformed try to honor God in their service by following what they understand has been prescribed by God as worship?  Yes.  Does that conflict with contemporary thought?  Often it does.  Contemporary thought is no different than ancient thought.  We are no more intelligent that those of old.

I have been thrilled to discover that the reformed know why they do what they do — because there is support for what they do in the Bible.  I wonder how many other churches/Christians can say they know why they worship the way they do?

The very word others try to spear into this group of people as a negative label just doesn’t hold up when you meet those who have been labeled.  Ignorance is a factor.  Opinions being stated without facts or experience to back them up.  Sometimes the strongest voice come from those who have never read God’s word — but still have an opinion about it.

When others view the Reformed world, they often choose to see legalism and intellectualism.  If only they could see the real freedom of this world!  The grace-driven, mercy-driven freedom that comes from the deep study of God’s word and a heart that desires to honor what He has said in that book.  It doesn’t mean you are a legalist.  It means you love God so much that you want to do it His way instead of your own way.

If they could only experience the depth of gratitude that comes from understanding the richness of God’s mercy on their lives!  It takes stepping into this world to see the truth of it.

2nd image (John Calvin’s Church) by Howie Luvzus (CCL)

When Error Creeps In….

Today I read the newspaper headline, “United Methodist Church lifts sanctions on theology school.”  Curious, I continued reading.

The article continued to inform me that the church announced plans earlier this year to begin training Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis in addition to Christian pastors at the same institution.  This makes absolutely no sense to me.  Either you believe the truth claims of Christianity or you don’t.  Either you see it as the only way or you don’t.  To train Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis in addition to Christian pastors seems like a contradiction to the very core of Christianity.

President Jerry Campbell said this, “If you come here as a United Methodist, we believe you will leave here as a United Methodist who better understands his or her neighbors,” he said. “We need leaders who understand other cultures and religions and can reach across boundaries to work for the common good.”

I’m not going to argue against the need and benefit of understanding other religions and cultures.  It is important.  However, I am going to argue that leaders of religions that are not in step with Christian beliefs should not be taught side by side with Christian pastors-to-be within Christian seminaries. Further, the thought that imams and rabbis are being taught to be leaders of their own religions within the walls of a Christian seminary is unthinkable.

Christian theology schools are to train Christian theologians to accurately lead and instruct the sheep under their care.  There are other ways to learn about different cultures and religions without allowing them to step inside the sacred doors of a Christian seminary.  To allow them to do so negatively influences and environment which should contain and focus on the accurate and solid teaching of the Bible.  There are other universities — other cultural activities which can allow a future pastor to step inside of the world of an imam or a rabbi in order to experience their culture/beliefs.

And people wonder why our Christian churches are deteriorating……..

Highly Vulnerable Children

Many of you know I volunteer for Compassion International.  Sometimes we need to read the stories about others to see the world in its proper perspective.  This story, written by Tigist Gizachew from Ethiopia, speaks about the highly vulnerable children that Compassion serves.

vulnerable children It was broad daylight when the silence of a village in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, was broken by the screaming of women, crying for help to save a mother’s life. The woman was attacked by her own neighbor with a piece of iron, over a dispute about a man.

For these women, whose livelihood depends on the income they make as prostitutes, this kind of conflict is nothing new. But that day it ended with one women dying and the other going to jail for life.

In the middle of it all, a 6-year-old girl along with her three siblings lost her mother. Yordanos was left with no one to care for her; orphaned, as she knew nothing about her father.

Immediately after her mother’s death, when her sisters went to the streets, Yordanos was taken in by an old lady in the neighborhood. For the young mind of Yordanos, it was difficult to grasp why her life suddenly turned upside down. It was something she never fully understood.

However, when the old lady whom she started calling grandmother began to care for her as one on her own children, Yordanos gradually came out of her shell.

A few years passed with Yordanos pursuing her elementary education and grew into a beautiful teenager. Life was good under the care of her new grandmother, until her grandmother’s son, who ran their motel business, died suddenly. One day, when Yordanos came back from school, her grandmother gave her an order to run the motel after school.

Yordanos’s new task involved collecting money from customers who rent a room for the night, staying up until midnight to lock up, and calculating the day’s earning. Yordanos, at an age where she should be spending more time with her friends studying and playing, became exposed to a life which no child should ever be exposed to. Most of the customers were the local prostitutes and their clients.

“I used to rent rooms for all kinds of people: people who were drunk, people who were drugged and old people who came to cheat on their wives. I used to see my friends play, and I envied them.

“Forget my schooling; it was hopeless as I had no time to study. Moreover, my grandmother started mistreating me. She would beat me if I refused to wait on customers for one night.

“Because I used to work without eating, I started to steal from my grandmother.”

Destu was born from a father who spent most of his life in and out of prison and from a mother whose livelihood depended on prostitution. Destu and her little brother grew up witnessing violence between their parents when their father was out of prison.

In addition, the daily misery of poverty was unbearable. Their mother’s meager income was mostly spent on “Chat” — a local herb with a drugging effect.

“I know little about my father because he spent most of his life in prison. The few times I have seen him I remember him not as a good father who is interested in his children but as a person who abused our mother. You know, my mother, even though she has her own shortcomings, cared so much for us. She loved us and protected us from so many things.”

The dreadful life Destu and her brother led became more painful when their mother was diagnosed with AIDS.

“I never expected that to happen. I guess I was too young to expect it. My mother was a good person and didn’t deserve this, but it happened. Shortly after my mother was diagnosed with AIDS, our father also went and checked his status. He was also found HIV-positive.”

Destu and her brother lost their parents and were left under the care of their aunt, who was also a prostitute. Destu assumed the responsibility of raising her brother and managing the house since their aunt was never at home to care for them. Destu was burdened by too many responsibilities that were putting pressure on her education.

“I was unable to study with an empty stomach. I had to care for my little brother, which involved finding ways to feed him. It was all too much for me.”

Four years ago, Compassion began a pilot program called Highly Vulnerable Children (HVC) in Ethiopia in hopes of giving a loving home to children like Destu and Yordanos so that they could grow up and realize their dreams. About 35 children are now receiving family care and support in the six cottages established through the program. These children are given love and care from their foster parents, and traumatized children receive counseling as well. Their basic needs are fulfilled, and their foster parents also follow up with their education and spiritual life.

The Dire Dawa Vision Cottage is one of the cottages that support nine children who needed immediate intervention. Mr. Girma and his wife, Mrs. Etifwork, have two children of their own. They have lived most of their lives in Dire Dawa town. Their exemplary Christian life and their heart for orphaned children were the reasons the church approached them with the offer for the opportunity to be foster parents to these children.

“God has given me and my wife a calling which is to help the fatherless. When the church came to us with this offer, we didn’t hesitate to take these children in. Of course, we prayed about it but we knew that this was God’s calling for us.”

Yordanos and Destu are among the nine children taken in by Mr. Girma’s family who have shown significant change in their holistic development.

After Yordanos started living with her foster parents, she finally had the chance to grow like a child. She played with her peers and began to pay attention in school. The child who was always failing in her grades became a rank student within a year. She accepted Jesus and put her past, which influenced her behavior, behind her.

Today, Yordanos is a different person. She is a devoted Christian and a great student with a clear purpose for her life.

“God gave me this family because He loved me and wanted to use me for His glory. Had it not been for the HVC program, I would have ended up like my sisters — in the streets with illegitimate children. Now I can be whatever I want to be and I am determined to make my dream of becoming a medical doctor a reality with the help of God.”

As for Destu, life took a total turn for the better and her constant worry about taking care of her brother was put to rest when she joined the foster family along with her brother. She immediately began to excel in school with the close follow-up of her foster parents. Her grief was gradually replaced with happiness as their caregivers gave her the love and attention she lacked.

“I was emotionally scarred and was very afraid of my future as well as my brother’s future. I was sure that we would be thrown in the streets when my aunt who was also HIV-positive dies. No one really cared about us. It’s a miracle that I’m even in this kind of environment where people give me love and attention. I feel so emotional because I have been telling myself that I don’t mean anything to anyone. But that’s different now. Thanks to Compassion, I have found people who care about what I eat, what I wear, where I go, what I would be when I grow up, and they support me.”

Each child’s who lives at the cottage has a different story, but they all have something in common: They were neglected and abandoned with no one to care for them. But now, life is bright and full of hope for great opportunities that await them.


We acknowledge that all children in our programs are vulnerable and face a certain degree of risk, but some registered children face much greater risks than others.

Thus, the “highly vulnerable children” in our programs are the registered children who are at greatest risk of physical, psychological or social harm relative to the other registered children in the program.

Have you ever considered the difference YOU could make in the life of ONE child?           Visit www.compassion.com.

You can read more stories at the Compassion blog here.

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