Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liberia...Here We Come!

I thought that you might enjoy a picture of the kids who are going on the Liberia trip with Dave and I. This picture is actually missing one - my niece, Anna, from Chicago. But pictured above, from left to right, is Nate Weflen, Nicole Wisen, Christopher Wisen, Alex Wisen and Alex Tarnow. The puppets have various names, depending on which kid is using it to hit the person next to him. We thought that the children at the church might find the puppets compelling enough to listen to a Bible story, so as I tell the story, these children will be sitting on the floor with their hands raise high above their heads, acting it out as I go. I am hoping that by the time we do it in front of the Liberian children, the joy of hitting and biting each other will be gone and the boys will behave with their respective puppet. It should be fun...

I also thought I'd post our schedule for the trip, so you could pray accordingly each day. Note: I explained in class that a Liberian schedule and what we would call a schedule are two different things. The times don't mean a thing, so look at this list as a possibility of what might happen each day!

Thank you for your prayers and I hope that you all have a great week!


"Praise the Lord, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is great toward us,
and the truth of the Lord is everlasting.
Praise the Lord!"

Psalm 117

Friday, April 2/010

Dave and family arrive at RIA------------------5:50PM

Saturday, April 3/010
Pick up at hotel----------------------8:30 AM
Women's Conference------------------9:00 AM - 12:00 noon
LUNCH/REST------------------------12 noon - 2:00 PM
Community Outreach------------------2:30 PM - 4:00 PM
Ministry to kids----------------------4:20 PM - 5:30 PM
Evening Prayer Service-----------------6:00PM - 7:30 PM

Sunday, April 4/010
Pick Team up at hotel-----------------9:50 AM
Sunday School----------------------10:00AM - 10:55 AM
Easter Service-----------------------11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
LUNCH/REST------------------------1:20PM - 3:30 PM
Ministry to Kids----------------------4:00PM - 5:00PM

Monday, April 5/010
Leave for Buchanan-------------------7:00AM
LUNCH / REST----------------------12:00 noon – 1:45PM
Widows learn about project/Conference---10:30AM - 1:00 PM
Ministry to Kids (in Buchanan) -----------2:00 PM- 4:00 PM
Evening Prayer Service-----------------6:00 PM – 7:30 PM

Tuesday, April 6/010
Pastors or Women’s Conference in Buchanan-----9:00AM-12:00 noon
Leave for Monrovia------------------------1:30 PM
SUPPER/ REST-----------------------------6:00 PM ff

Wednesday, April 7/010
Pick up at Hotel--------------------------7:30 AM
Devotion with SOGA’s Teachers--------------8:00 AM – 8:15AM
Visit SOGA’s Classes----------------------8:15 AM – 10:00 AM
Visit and meet with ELWA------------------10: 30 AM – 11:30 AM
LUNCH--------------------------------12:00 PM
Leave for RIA----------------------------3:00 PM

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Traditionalist or Truth-seeker?

All over the world today believers and nonbelievers alike are celebrating Palm Sunday. Yes, I said "nonbelievers," because not much has changed since the original event. The world loves to embrace tradition without embracing truth, and the millions who wave palm branches today will be shaking their fist at God by tomorrow morning. The tradition produces a sense of involvement in something greater than simple, everyday life. But the practicality of the truth behind the tradition is not something that anyone wants to embrace.

Let me explain.

After Israel returned to the Promised Land through the leadership of Moses and then the military cunning and faith of Joshua, the people settled into a cyclical routine of walking in faith, falling into sin, God giving them over to a foreign nation to get their attention, their crying out for salvation, God raising up a judge to bring them victory over the occupying force, and walking in faith again, only to repeat the cycle over and over again. This is all recorded in the book of Judges. After doing this over and over, the people finally demanded of God a king to rule. Though God told them they didn't need a king - they had Him, they still wanted that figurehead. So after reigning through judges, God provided kings.

Enter Saul, the people's wrong choice, then David, followed by Solomon. Then it got interesting. There was a civil war in Israel and the tiny nation of God became two nations. Good kings and bad kings served intermittently until finally both nations were conquered and taken into captivity.

By the time Christ showed up on the scene, Rome was occupying Israel and not only providing the leadership but still oppressing the people as well. The Jewish kings were a thing of the past. Four hundred years of silence from God was broken with the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness to make way for the Lord. Then Jesus arrived and for three years He began to speak with such authority and power that the people gathered en mass to hear the Word of the Lord. In essence, their memories were sparked and once again God had sent a prophet, perhaps even a judge or a king who would lead them out of their oppression from evil Rome. God had done this in their past and finally, once again, God had heard their cries and was sending them salvation in the form of a prophet, a judge or a king.

Technically He was all three.


When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that foal of a donkey, Matthew 21:4,5 tells us that He did it to fulfill prophecy: "Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden..." The people were nearly in a frenzied state, because their king was coming to save them from their oppression. Their cries of "Hosanna!" were heard for miles. "Hosanna," by the way, means "Save us!" Jesus was their Savior. After hundreds of years of silence, God had once again moved in Israel and provided salvation.

But Jesus wasn't quite what they had expected. He didn't rally the troops and storm the palace. He cleansed the temple, which was the least of Israel's concerns. He cursed a fig tree and confronted the religious leadership - all of this after they had given Him a king's welcome. Jesus was a disappointment to the oppressed people and within days they were shouting for His death rather than His salvation.

What they didn't understand was that Jesus definitely came to save them, just not from their oppressors. He came to save them from themselves. He came to restore a path of relationship with His Father. Once that was completed, He would return to save them from the world, but first things first - He had to offer Himself as a propitiation for their sins. A replacement. And when immediate, physical, social relief didn't flow from His being, the people turned on Him.

Now don't stress out. It's all good. It was a part of the plan. But the tradition of following a voice of God to deliverance was placed above the truth of the situation. Jesus was the Messiah, but He didn't fit the Old Testament mold of salvation.

Today, on Palm Sunday, children will sing and wave palm branches and their parent's hearts will warm to the scene. But when the service is done, most will return home and the truth of Jesus' offer of salvation will not change the home's dynamics. Selfishness will rule the hearts of the inhabitants and they will continue to buy into the lie that God's Word is not truth, that it is not sufficient to change lives, that it's teaching is cultural and outdated, and that most of the stories are fairy tales meant to teach symbolic lessons. Therefore, it is discarded.

For most, the scriptures are disappointing. It is not what people want. It doesn't fit their mold of the role God should play in man's life. Therefore, if the scriptures are disappointing, so is the God of the scriptures. So they "celebrate" Palm Sunday, but they reject its significance when they refuse to accept (or even read) His Word.

It doesn't have to be that way. The truth of God's Word and the truth of Jesus' sacrifice can change your family, it can envelop your life and it can reign in your heart. But you have to break from tradition. You have to stop doing things simply because it's on a calendar or it's a habit. You have to stop and recognize the truth of the Word, believe it and act on it.

James exhorted believers to be doers of the Word, not hearers only and that includes worship. As you think through the account of Palm Sunday, and the historical events of this week, ask yourself, "How does the truth of these events affect my day-to-day life?" and "Am I a traditionalist or am I a truth-seeker?"

May I encourage you this week to compare your expectations of God with His Word and embrace the truth of what the cross means for believers. Don't gather with the crowd and join in on the frenzy for the sake of tradition. Make it personal and make it real. If you do, you will dwell in a place called humility and gratitude, as you thank the Lord for His truth - the truth of Who He is and the truth of who you are, plus the truth of what He accomplished on the cross.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Groundwork for Grace

In the beginning God...

It's not "In the beginning man crept up onto the shores of the earth..." or "In the beginning a large, unexplained bang caused a reaction we call man today...", but "In the beginning God."

He was here before the beginning, and He'll be here after the ending. He's written the whole story, from start to finish, choosing leading characters and supporting actresses and actors for the exact roles He intended. He has a script and He is causing all things to work together for good, despite our failings and Satan's attempts to change the outcome. None of this is a bother to Him and none of this is a surprise to Him.

We do not have a reactionary God, but a sovereign One.

It is amazing to me that though we are created in His image, we are so different from Him. We do not live our lives with sovereign minds, but rather we embrace the reactionary life as if it is our only choice.

"I can't believe she said that!"

"I can't believe they passed that bill!"

"Who could possibly have predicted 9-11?"

"How am I supposed to live with that man?"

"I can't help it if my child has ADD!"

"This is not my fault! I'm a victim..."

Oh, don't get me wrong. We are not God and we'll never be gods. Don't believe Oprah when she tells you that you've got it in you to be a god, because you don't. But you can be Christ-like. Not omniscient or omnipotent or omnipresent, but kind, forgiving, compassionate, humble and gentle.

Yes, you can.

So, how do we live with a sovereign mind, if we can't be omniscient? Come on, you know the answer - we set our mind on the things above.

We put our trust in the Almighty Elohim Who spoke the very world into existence by the mere sound of His voice.

We rest in the love of Shiloh, knowing that His peace has restored our relationship with His Father.

We call on Adonai as a servant calls on a beloved master.

And we respond to the trials of life with the answer, "Not you, but God."

Because we know Him, we trust Him and we understand from His word that He is in complete control, working to accomplish His will in our lives to complete His story.

In Genesis God lays the groundwork to bring grace to man. He chooses for Himself a people through which Shiloh would come, and then He displays a personal relationship with the families involved to show His level of interest. It's not because He has anything at stake - there is no doubt that He will accomplish what He sets out to do. When Jesus agreed to be the sacrifice in eternity past, it was a done deal. Nothing could stop it. But I thank the Lord that He graciously recorded His story so that I could see His hand in a personal, life-changing way.

But ladies, the story is not over. Though grace has come, He's coming again. And we are witnesses to world events that are destined to bring about the last days. Will they happen in your lifetime? What will be required of you if you are here during those days? Is it possible we're closer than we think?

Rather than choose to live a reactionary life, rest in the sovereign hands of your Father and stay in His word. He fulfilled every prophecy concerning His first coming literally. Know what the Word teaches about His second coming because there is a good chance He'll do it exactly like He said He will.

What a privilege it is to be a part of His story and even greater privilege to personally know the Author!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not You, but God

You do what you do and you feel how you feel because you think what you think.

This is one of the foundational principals in biblical counseling, and I suppose that if modern psychology were truthful, they would agree that the way a person thinks affects their feelings and actions. It's a pretty simple concept that we tend to take for granted. But the truth is undeniable - our actions reveal our mind.

Let's look at a few examples to flesh this out. First, Lot. He chose the most fertile land for himself and his flocks when his Uncle Abraham offered him his choice. We are told he chose the land in the south because it reminded him the most of Egypt. So he moves near to Sodom and Gomorrah, both exceedingly wicked in the sight of the Lord, and eventually moves within the city gates. He becomes involved with the leadership and offers his virgin daughters to the men who are ravenous to get their hands on the angels/visitors. He barely escapes destruction with his daughters, but loses not only his wife but his married children who think he is joking when he tells them to leave. And in the end, he fathers the children of his daughters because he drinks himself into oblivion every night to forget why he's living in a cave.

What do Lot's actions reveal about his thought process? Why was Lot drawn to a worldly, materialistic way of life? Did he live with an eternal perspective or an earthly one?

Now, granted, we have to make some assumptions here because we don't know the mind of Lot. And we are also warned of being judgmental, but for the sake of self-examination and application, we will continue on. We are told in II Peter 2 that Lot was tormented by the sin that surrounded him, but why didn't he separate from it? I think we'll all agree that Lot's actions reveal a mind set on pleasure and prosperity, at any cost. The torment he experienced was from knowing what was righteous and still choosing to ignore it.

Joseph. We have studied him in depth and we know that from serving his father to overseeing Potiphar's house to running Pharaoh's prison, Joseph worked hard, displayed integrity and showed compassion to those in his charge. Once he moved from prison into the Egyptian leadership position, he remained the same person - responsible, reliable and compassionate. When his brothers fell in fear before him, he calmed their fears by revealing his thoughts - not you, but God. He recognized God's undeniable hand on his life and he held no contempt, for he knew that God was sovereign over his life. This thought process produced great prosperity in Joseph's life, and I am not talking about material prosperity. I am talking about the fruit that comes from living with an eternal perspecitve - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control and faithfulness. I will save you the reading of how each of these qualities were present in Joseph's life, but the fact that these words describe him tells us that his mind was set on God. It's the only way to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

So, gals, stop for a moment and write out a description of your life. Don't go all the way back to childhood, just hit the highlights of 2010. What situations have you found yourself in? Marriage struggles? Parenting challenges? Financial stress? Moving? Loss of job? Maybe you've had a pretty smooth first three months of the year. What filled your time? What did you put your energy into? If someone was going to assess only your actions, what would they conclude that your mind is set upon? How would they describe your thought process?

"Not you, but God" is a great motto to adopt. No matter what happens, can you put that mindset into play? If your husband is cranky after work, can you step back and ask yourself, "What is God trying to teach me? What does he want me to learn here?" And when your husband asks forgiveness, can you smile and tell him what God is teaching you through that circumstance?

It's a whole new way of thinking, isn't it?

And that's exactly the point...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beyond All These Things

"Beyond all these things, put on love which is the perfect bond of unity." Colossians 3:14

Our final verse gives us the ingredient which is essential and even foundational to the Christian life: love. Notice that Paul tells the church in Colossae to "put on love," as if it were a piece of clothing. But godly love does not come naturally to any of us.

"But wait, Kristen! I might be selfish with my husband, and even with my friends, but I am a mother. I know real, sacrificial love!"

You might think that a mother's love for her children is sacrificial - the "you before me" kind of love, but in truth, even mothers are naturally self-preserving rather than self sacrificing. Don't you remember the delivery? That panicky feeling that you might not survive? Be honest times it's difficult to think about the baby during hard labor. I can remember Dave trying to encourage me by saying, "Hang in there. It's almost here!" ("It" because back then we didn't know ahead of time the sex of the baby.) And I was thinking, "What in the world is he talking about? I'm dying here!"

Need more examples? Every late night feeding, did you have a great attitude? Or were you a bit miffed that he didn't even wake up to the crying baby and you were the only one in the house who was deprived of a good night's sleep? Oh, I am sure there were those warm, fuzzy feedings where soft music was playing by a dim light, with you in the rocking chair, softly humming a hymn and thanking the Lord for the precious gift of life, but the norm was a tired, grumpy, "I-can't-believe-he-needs-to-eat-again!" attitude that got you through the feeding but didn't necessarily create a Kodak moment.

Or maybe your self-preserving flesh flared its ugly head when you sat at that first AYSO soccer game and your precious little goal scorer didn't play where you thought he should play. Or didn't get as much playing time as you thought he should. Or sat on the field picking at the grass with the shirt over his head instead of engaging in the animalistic, aggressive, score-score-score method of soccer that you had taught him. The feelings that boiled within, were they sacrificial? Or were they more self-preserving? Was your pride bruised?

Do you do your child's science projects because you want the tender experience of building an electrical system, complete with bells, whistles and flashing lights, that can be run on a potato with your child? Or is it so that when you walk through the classroom during the science fair, you can hear the oohs and ahhs of the other jealous parents that your child is such a genius? Is that sacrificial or self-preserving?

I think you get my drift. Even in the most personal relationship between a mother and child, our sinful, fleshly, self-preserving character shines through. We might disguise it well, but it still lives there.

So Paul tells us to "put on love." You can't put something on that you don't own. I went to my children's schools basketball game last night - playoff tournament - and an email from the school instructed everyone to wear green. I don't have anything that is green. Sad, I know, but you can't put on something that you don't have. Thankfully, Dave had a lovely, puke green sweater that I wore and yes, it was very attractive.

But again, you need to have love to be able to put it on. Where do you get sacrificial, godly, "you before me" love? From God. He not only examples it for us, but He gives it to us so that we can share it with others. When you give love to someone, it's not your love you give, it's God's love. He has enabled you to love in the same self-sacrificial manner in which He loved you. Without Him, that type of love is impossible.

So the call to put on love is a very real and practical instruction. Go to your closet, find that green sweater and put it on. If you're struggling to love someone the way you know God would have you love, you need to get into the Word and be reminded that you actually have a closet full of love to wear and to give away. Don't reach deep inside yourself and try to do this alone. Let the One who is the source of love provide you with the resources and the motivation to put the needs of others before yourself. Every time you put on love and give it to someone else, every time you turn off your self-preservation mode and sacrificially meet the needs of someone else, you are being the hands of God to that person. It's not you, but it's Him. And as John the Baptist said, "I must decrease. He must increase," the more we act in love, the less we look like ourselves and the more we look like Him.

So as you start to look at our final memory verse start by going to your Heavenly Father and asking Him to show you just how much love you actually have to give. Go to Him because He's the only One Who carries it in your size.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Much Did He Know?


When we went home last Tuesday, Simeon was still in prison. He'd been there for quite some time. Let me refresh your memory. A few years into the famine, Israel realized that he needed outside help to feed his ever-expanding family. He sent ten of his eleven living sons to buy food from Egypt. But when they arrived, the man in charge didn't believe that they were simply purchasing sustenance, but accused them of spying on his land. So he threw all of them in prison for three days, then released them with food as well as the money they had paid for the food, keeping Simeon in prison as surety that they would return with the one brother they claimed had stayed at home.

Fearing that they would all be once again accused of spying, especially because of their returned money, the brothers stretched their sustenance until it was obvious that they would starve if they didn't go and get more food. Judah actually tells his father that if they hadn't been afraid of this man's response to seeing them again, they could have gone to Egypt and back twice.

So how long had it been since they were in Egypt? Three months? Six months? A year? I am not sure, but it had been quite a while. And all this time, Simeon had been sitting in prison, waiting for his brothers to return. I am sure he worried about his family. I am sure he wondered how long it would take for his brothers to return? Why hadn't they grabbed Benjamin and returned immediately for him? Would they ever come back?

After thinking through those options, I can imagine that his mind then turned to his own life. Prison has a way of giving you the time to review the choices of your life. Did he regret his slaughter of the men of Shechem? Did he think that possibly God was punishing him for his violence by separating him from his family and forgetting about him in prison? Did his mind wander even further back to the incident with his baby brother and the Midianite traders?

Now, there is one other possibility for Simeon and his prison time. Was he thrown into the general population, or did he go to the King's prison? Again, I don't have an answer for that, but I would think that the men in both those prisons were aware of the rags to riches story of the foreign slave who now was running the country. Did Simeon hear the story? Did he commiserate with a fellow prisoner, claiming to be innocent (prisons are filled with innocent people, by the way) and blaming the paranoid imagination of the man in charge for his incarceration? Would he have heard the story of this leader, of his claim of false accusations, his ability to interpret dreams and his rise to power? Did he look at this ruler with curious eyes? Did his mind ever wander to the Dreamer?

And wouldn't you have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the brothers arrived back in Egypt and were ushered into Joseph's personal quarters, a feast placed before them? They sat according to birth order, except one seat was empty. Then the door opened and Simeon was ushered in, the first time he had been out of prison, unshackled, and placed in the empty seat. What were his first words to his brothers? Did he thank them for returning? Did he run to Benjamin and thank him for coming? Did he ask of his wife and children, or of his aged father? Or did he shake his head in disgust and sit quietly, waiting for the brothers to explain why they had left him for so long?

Tomorrow is a big day for Joseph's brothers. Their lives will be forever changed. Yeah, they are going to move their families and will be revered because of their brother's influence. That's not what I am talking about. It's going to be a big day in our study because the brothers are going to be washed with forgiveness, so unexpectedly that they struggle to accept it. As a matter of fact, it takes them seventeen years to come to terms with it. Seventeen years. Wow.

Questions for you: Do you struggle to accept God's forgiveness? Do you live with a fear that He'll still get even with you for your sin? Do you serve Him and worship Him out of a desire to please Him to earn His forgiveness? Can you not wrap your mind around the fact that Jesus took responsibility for your sin and gave His perfect record to you?

Seventeen years the brothers lived in the prosperity of Joseph's forgiveness without understanding the depth of that act. Wasted time, in my opinion. Their lack of faith had to hinder their relationship with their brother. So today, I am curious if a lack of faith is hindering your relationship with the Lord, based on the extent of His forgiveness.

Do me a favor and think about it.

See you in the morning!

Friday, March 12, 2010


One of the virtues that Joseph displays throughout the narrative of his life is patience. Now, if the story of Joseph had been written by a Hollywood playwright, the plot line would have been the same - misunderstood and hated dreaming brother sold into slavery, becomes 2nd only to Pharaoh and comes face to face with his wretched brothers in need. But the driving force behind Joseph's actions would have been revenge. Can't you see it? Twenty years of mistreatment, but he endured and overcame for that one moment when he could stand before his brothers and prove their efforts wasted. Joseph could have displayed patience, but it would have been patience with revenge as the fuel.

It's a good thing Hollywood wasn't involved in this story.

Joseph gives us an opportunity to watch a man walk by faith, placing his every action and every circumstance in the hands of his heavenly Father, and patiently wait on His Father's provision. Even when his brothers arrive in Egypt, he still patiently waits to reveal his identity. His tears reveal his conflict, and yet he is resolved to test his brothers' mettle. And his brothers' words and actions reveal much.

Fast forward to today. Notice I said "fast forward" - that is a great word to describe our culture. By the way, I am the fast forward queen. We have TiVo on our television and I love to use it because it means that I can fast forward through commercials. So if I am not home for a show I want to watch, I record it and watch it later, zooming through the story and skipping what looks boring to me, including commercials. Sometimes I even record something and just start watching it fifteen minutes late, so that I can avoid the commercials that way. And then there's the piece de resistance - when I am not home to watch American Idol, I can record it and fast forward through the lengthy conversations and background videos, and just hear the singing. Or on Thursday night, I can just fast forward to the place where they knock people off and see who's gone, but not watch all the drama in between.

Now, come on...I'm not the only person who does this...but "fast forward" has changed my life.

Again, this is a great word to describe our culture. We want it fast - we don't want to get out of our cars to get our food, we want to be able to drive up and get money at ATMs and banks, we don't want to go to the mall so we order it online and we expedite the shipping so that we can have it NOW! We want an answer to a question so we go to We get a strange pain in our back and before we see the doctor, we've already diagnosed it because of the internet. We want it fast...we are a microwave society, not a crock pot society.

So patience is a rare virtue. Every second of our time is valuable, so when our mother calls us from out of state, we quickly mention that we are "heading out the door" so that she'll make it fast. Or when we are asked in the foyer of church to come to a ladies event, we hem and haw and ask how long it will go because this is a busy time of year. Or when we see someone we know in the grocery store, we look at our watch and decide if we have the time to chat or if we should avoid them by ducking down a nearby aisle.

I think one of the keys to patience is slowing down. We all could use that in our lives. But we need to remember that patience is a godly virtue - what I mean is that patience is a character trait of God and we could learn a lot by looking to His word on this subject.

I think you might be surprised that the word "patience" only occurs 20 times in the Bible. And the word "patient" is there only 27 times. So, here's your homework for the weekend. I can either keep writing and walk you through this, or I can have you do it yourself. So...tag, you're it!

To find the 20 references with the word "patience" in them, click here. Then look up each verse (you can also expand the text online) and see what you can find out about patience. Think through questions like these: when does God display patience? When does He instruct me to be patience? What is the outcome of patience? Why does patience fit in with the lists of instructions given in some of these verses?

If you enjoyed that, here's the link for patient. Do the same with this word as well. Remember, context helps a lot, so you might have to read a few verses before and after.

And then go one step further. Ask the Lord to reveal to you where you lack patience and write it down. When you see it on paper, that's when you're ready to start working on it.

Find the time and do a little word study - trust me, it's worth it!

Thank you, Lord, for giving us a godly picture of a man enduring trials with patience. May we remember Joseph's life and seek to become more like You, as we look at what Your word teaches about patience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now

My son, Calvin, is a youth pastor in Orlando, Florida. He sent me this article today and when I read it, I was like, "Wow! What a find!"

This was published online and the one that obviously caught my eye was number 3. Click here to access the article, then click on number 3.

I would love to hear your responses to this...

Oh, and here was a response to the article that Calvin also sent me - click here

Equally as interesting...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forgiveness Motivation

As I tore through a quick tangent on forgiveness today, I pointed out that our excuses to postpone forgiveness (need to see the fruits of repentance, need to be more spiritually mature, don't want to be a hypocrite and forgive when I don't feel like it) don't hold water with Jesus' teaching in Luke 17. Due to a horrifically fast-moving clock in our classroom, I didn't have time to take you over to Matthew 18 and look at the unforgiving slave.

You all know the story - the slave who is forgiven a massive debt by a merciful king, only to turn around and demand payment of a day's wage from a fellow slave. The point of this story is driven home with Christ's conclusion: "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Ouch. That one hurts.

Just to clarify, Jesus wasn't threatening our salvation. He's NOT saying that if we have unforgiving spirits to those around us that we will have to suffer the price of our own sin eternally. What He IS saying is that to the extent that you live with a forgiving spirit here on earth, God will be willing to forgive your daily sins.

There's always a consequence to sin. God doesn't take away the consequences, only the penalty. But the severity of the consequences can be greater if our character requires it. Let me explain.

See that darling picture above? This was taken shortly after the twins were adopted as six year olds. Notice the wild eyes on Alex. These were common eyes for the first two years of their existence in our home...for both of them.

They loved to play soccer and we have a large, open space in our basement where hundreds and hundreds of hours have been spent playing soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, 5-run and other inventions of my husband. And though they came in a small package, the twins were fierce competitors. They didn't let their size dictate the outcome of the game. Their aggression often scored them a lot of goals.

The problem was that their aggression and desire to not be discounted because of their size had turned one of them into the playground bully. I would receive calls from the teachers here and there that Nicole had once again, as a first or second grader, bullied a fifth grader off the soccer field in tears. She wasn't in tears...HE usually was. Yes, HE. She was ruthless. A fearless, tireless opponent to whomever had the ball.

She also played this way in the basement and it frustrated her siblings to no end.

One day Dave came up with a great idea. He pulled Calvin, our oldest and one of the kindest, most gentle-hearted children that walked the face of the earth, aside and told him that every time Nicole had the ball playing soccer in the basement, he was to swipe her feet out from under her and put her on her bottom. He was 13, she was 7. He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but agreed. So the game began, Dad was the "ref" and Nicole was going to learn a lesson the hard way.

The first foul brought a "play-on!" from the lips of the ref (Dave) and Nicole was visibly mad at the call, but she jumped back on her feet and continued to play. 45 minutes later, tears streaming down her cheeks and her bottom aching from the falls, Dave stopped the game and knelt down before the embattled warrior. He explained to her that playing with a bully is never fun for anyone. Soccer was much more than scoring. It was about self control and about allowing your talent to shine rather than hurting people to win.

She got the point and I never got a call from a teacher after that. Well, at least not about bullying...

It was a hard lesson to learn, but in the same manner that she was treating other children, she was given a taste of her own medicine and it soured in her mouth. This is Jesus' point. If we are unwilling to forgive and restore relationships after the great forgiveness and restoration afforded us by the Father, then God is going to give us a taste of our own medicine and not restore us when we sin.

What does this look like? Lack of fruit production. No peace. No joy. Constant impatience. Ill-temper. And the list goes on and on. You're not going to produce the fruits of the Spirit that we all long for if we have broken fellowship with the Father. It just ain't happening.

So, amidst our look at Joseph and his brothers, how do you think he'll do on the forgiveness test? If you gather together Joseph's example and Jesus' teaching in Luke and Matthew, does that provide a bit more motivation to live with a forgiving spirit?

Oh, fine. I'll answer for you.

Yes, it does.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Cleaning

What is it about a mild day in March that ignites a cleaning frenzy in a woman's heart? Perhaps it's the fact that we're tired of our winter clothes and are antsy to find something springy to wear. Or maybe it's the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you plop down on the couch and know your cabinets are clean and organized.

In my case, it's the looming clothing giveaway at church. This is a great time to clean out the closets and find clothes that are seasonally appropriate that someone else can use. Then I can assess what is needed and the hunt begins. In other words, the cleaning precedes the shopping. Motivation and end game.

So, I just wanted to throw up a picture of what I did on Monday and encourage you all to think about doing the same. The clothing giveaway is in April, but it's never too late to start that spring cleaning. Start in your closet, move to your husband's and then tackle the children's. It's a great way to be the hands of Christ to the needy and remember, with a little extra space, a trip to the mall is right around the corner.

Okay, you got me - I staged the picture. I really don't clean in high heels, but they looked so good with the dress...

See you in the morning...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Prison Ministry

Genesis is full of firsts and this past week we saw another "first" - we saw the first prison ministry. Yes, it was through a prisoner himself, but it was a ministry nonetheless. Joseph, while serving in an overseer role in the king's prison, reached out to two dejected and frightened inmates. He saw the distress on their faces and he bothered to ask them what was wrong. And when they shared their dreams with him, he pointed them to the Lord.

Can you see it? The beginning of prison ministries...

I am struck today at how Joseph displayed the character qualities that are in our memory work. In Colossians 3:12 we are instructed to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are five qualities that were not only ingrained in the life of our Savior, but also in the life of our protagonist, Joseph. In reaching out to his suffering inmates, he showed compassion and kindness. In pointing them to God, he exampled humility. In quietly defending himself, he showed a gentleness rather than anger and bitterness. And throughout the whole ordeal, he patiently waited for Jehovah's salvation.

Well, we don't have to go to a prison to minister to prisoners, gals. They are all around us. People enslaved to sin, bound by their very nature to a desperate and hopeless future. The distress is on their faces and their destructive choices are ruining their lives.

The question before us then is this: are we willing to have a prison ministry?

Are we willing to reach out in compassion and kindness and ask people what is wrong? Are we able to humble ourselves and meet these people at their level, sometimes even getting our hands dirty to reach out to them, and point them to the Lord? Can we gently and patiently come alongside the lost and give them hope and a future?

Prison ministry.

When Jesus said we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, He was referring to prison ministry. Every day the prisoners of this world pass before us, and though we are free and know the Way to freedom, we cast our eyes to the ground and go about our business.

If Joseph had simply cast his eyes away from the baker and cupbearer and went about his business, would he ever have been brought before the king? By engaging in prison ministry, Joseph's whole life changed.

So, let me ask it again: are you willing to have a prison ministry?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chosen of God

We all remember that anxious feeling. You're on the playground, standing in a line, and the two captains are hand selecting their teams. More than anything you want to be quickly placed on a team and as you see the teams forming, you definitely know which team you want to join. One by one names are called out and relief floods your soul when you hear your name and it's on the team where your best friend has already been placed. You scurry behind your new leader, stand next to your friend and wait to see who is left at the end. Actually, you know who it will be because it's always the same kid, but you are relieved that it's not you and hope that it will never be you.

Or maybe it was you.

When the discussion of God's choice in salvation is raised, emotions flare once again, because of this very scenario discussed above. The picture in the average person's mind is this: People standing in a line, hopeful faces, hands raised and even waving, hoping God will choose them, but He passes them by and picks only a select few. The assumption is made that man wants a relationship with God. But this image of God sovereignly choosing and not allowing man to choose for himself paints an inaccurate picture of God and the actual process.

We are not standing in line, hoping to be chosen.

We are not desiring to be on His team.

In fact, scripture actually tells us that in our sinful state, we are enemies of God. We want nothing to do with Him and the thought of being on His team is far from our minds.

"For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Romans 5:6-10

Enemies are not standing in line, raising their hands to be chosen.

In John 6:44 Jesus tells us that, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." That word "draws" sounds effortless, but in truth, it means "drags." That's because our very nature is repelled by the presence of God. Like the polar opposites of a magnet, we push away from righteousness and holiness. We run the opposite direction.

But God drags us to Himself.

It's His work.

It's His strength.

It's His effort.

Instead of walking past a line of hopeful children, it's more like He grabbed a child sitting in the middle of the busy highway, playing with a loaded gun, completely oblivious to the imminent danger, kicking and screaming.

Yeah, that's a better picture.

In our verse for this week, we are reminded that we are chosen by God: "So, as those who have been CHOSEN OF GOD, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12) It is interesting that the very things we are instructed to put on are the things God displayed in the dragging process. He had compassion on our dreadful state and in kindness, humbled Himself to the point of death for an enemy, gently bringing us into an eternal relationship with Him, with great patience and I would add love.

When we read of God's choice in scripture, and trust me, folks, it's everywhere, let's have the proper perspective of our sin and our condition. May we fall on our faces in gratitude for a loving Father who chose to reveal His character to us through His actions and calls us to a life of imitation. His choice brought salvation, not rejection. His choice brought life, not death. We must take responsibility where responsibility lies and give gratitude where grace has been extended.