Sunday, February 27, 2011

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Story of Michael Vick

Michael Vick's story fascinates me and I think it's because his life just reeks of potential. Obviously he's a tremendous playmaker on the football field, and I just happen to live with two devoted Philadelphia Eagles fans. But what's more important is the potential Michael Vick has off the field, because as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe in second chances and redemption and I get excited about the idea of someone like him living out, for all the world to see, the change that is possible in Christ. Not that I'm sure Michael Vick is doing this. After all, I don't know him personally and am in no way faithful about keeping up with his life, but in my heart I just long for him to be changed. Great stories are stories of overcoming, of using the hardest, the ugliest and most painful things in our lives to glorify God. And this is what I want for Michael Vick. This is what I pray for Michael Vick.

On Monday I was listening to The Diane Rehm Show and fortunately Ms. Rehm was out that day because I'm not particularly fond of her painfully slow and methodical speech. But the guest host was talking about dog fighting and pit bulls and rehabilitating dogs that are rescued from fighting rings. It was sad but interesting, and the panel of guests were dog fighting experts taking calls from listeners. One gentleman called in to say that he didn't know why they were ignoring the real issue which was race. He said that Michael Vick had been made the poster child for dog fighting and that it was a racial issue. This momentarily struck me as overwrought. There was a part of me that said, "no, that's not true."

But then one of the guests disagreed with the caller and said something to the effect that if it had been Peyton Manning instead of Michael Vick, he would have been treated the same way. Does that ring true for you? Because it really doesn't for me. I don't feel at all confident that Peyton Manning also would have gone to jail, that he also would have been the dog fighting poster boy, that through free association the immediate response to "dog fighting" would be "Peyton Manning."

But maybe the race element can also be part of Vick's redemption. Like Esther, maybe his whole life has been preparation for such a time as this. Maybe this incredible athlete, who in his young life has experienced tremendous highs and lows, can bring hope and grace to many. Michael Vick does profess to be a Christian and the message of the Bible is that no experience is wasted for a follower of Christ (Romans 8:28). God can use it all, turning ashes to beauty (Isaiah 61). Will you pray that Michael Vick will seek to honor God with his life? It's obvious that God can use him, but God isn't playing with little dolls here on earth. We always have a choice. Will you pray that Michael Vick makes wise ones?

Do you have people in your life who have incredible potential? Of course you do. I do too. These painful, difficult stories that we have witnessed all around us are ashes waiting to be transformed. May we be faithful in praying for these friends and their stories. And may we seek to honor God with our own lives, trusting that the hardest things we endure can be the means by which we glorify Him the most.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Where Are Our Angels Now?"

August 7, 2010 was a memorable day for my family --to say the least. The two pictures above mark the extremes that we experienced in that twenty-four-hour period. Elated then worried. Invigorated and victorious. Then exhausted and helpless.

Since 8 and under boys' backstroke was the first event at the All-Star meet for the Northern Virginia Swim League, by 9:15 a.m. on August 7th my oldest son Will was a champion. He had dreamed about this moment, worked hard for this moment, and swam his heart out for it. And I'm not sure Mrs. Phelps has ever been more proud than I was that morning.

Will swam again that afternoon, placing fourth in the freestyle out of the eighteen all-stars. That race marked the end of an amazing season, but we had no intentions of just relishing the accomplishment and the downtime. No, instead our reservations at Maranatha were set to begin that night. My husband was working overnight that Saturday and Sunday and would fly to Michigan on Monday. So when we got home from the swim meet, I packed up the minivan with bikes and scooters and boogie boards and more clothes and towels and food than we needed. The boys crammed into the bench seat, and about six p.m. with the minivan chock full, we set off for Michigan. There would be no way that I could possibly drive the almost 700 miles that night. But I figured we'd get as far as we could. This kind of play-it-by-ear planning is so not my husband's modus operandi, but he knew how excited the boys were to get there so he bid us adieu with lots of kisses and "be careful"s.

And the trip went quite well. The radio in my minivan was broken and I had not had a minute to get it fixed. Plus, we were debating about getting a new car anyway. So we used iPods and my iPhone for entertainment, and really Sammy is just like a traveling comedy act so we talked and laughed and made our way through Maryland and Pennsylvania. But as we neared Ohio the boys started to drift off, and an eerie silence and pitch blackness took over. I might be forever spooked by Eastern Ohio at night. I had to be careful about not using my iPhone too much because I had no way of charging it. It was almost midnight and a few miles into Ohio, and I knew it was time to stop. So I started looking at signs and calling a few places. "Booked up," I heard. Booked. Booked. "Ma'am, there's nothing until Cleveland because of the U.S. Open and blah blah blah." So I started feeling kind of anxious, and yet my eyes were tired and strained, like I just needed to close them for a couple of minutes.

I called Will at work.

"Can you talk to me until I get to the next exit?" I asked. "It's so dark and so quiet. I'm sort of freaked out."

"Are you gonna fall asleep?"

"No, I'm not sleepy. But it's so dark and so quiet."

I was tremendously proud of him that he didn't say anything like, "See, this is why I don't do things like this." Because I know him, and I know he wanted to.

So we had sort of a strange conversation for about ten minutes until out of the darkness arose an exit with a Holiday Inn Express. The lady at the counter had the same story for me: "nope, nothing. There's nothing anywhere near here. You could go back to Pittsburgh, maybe."

So I sat in the car with my eyes closed, and Will called around for us from work. The verdict: nothing in Ohio until past Sandusky. But that would be impossible. I just couldn't do it. Too dark. Too quiet. And now I was way too anxious.

So that's how we ended up staying the night in the Holiday Inn Express parking lot pictured above.

Those five hours were intense and interesting, and the difference in personalities was magnified. Nate was willing to roll with it. Shockingly, he was almost selfless. He accepted that this was something of a crisis and he did not air a single complaint. Sam was restless and feisty because he'd already slept for hours. He could not get comfortable no matter how we arranged ourselves. And poor, darling Dub, it was hardest for him. He was the only one who cried, and he yelled out things like, "We are never getting out of here!" and "Where are our angels now?" It really makes me laugh to think about it. And even then we had these inexplicable bouts of hysterical laughter. Someone would start laughing and we'd all join in. It was the strangest thing. And Dub, sweet and tender, Dub would go from uproarious laughter to tears and back again. No one slept for an hour or two, because there was this heavy and profound feeling that was just incongruent with sleep. So we talked about God and how we had prayed with Daddy for protection before we left. We talked through questions like were we safe? Did God hear our prayer? Were our angels there? Was God in control or not?

I told them that the Bible tells us to pray, but that the Bible also proclaims God's sovereignty. If we think God is like a genie, we will be disappointed. If we think we can produce a certain result by following a certain formula, we will be disappointed.

No, God doesn't want us to be captives of our circumstances, letting our trust ebb and flow with situations we deem good or bad. Instead, He wants us to trust Him in times of victory like that morning, and trust Him in times that are less comfortable, like that night. Our trust, our faith, our love -- none of these should be circumstantial.

Although I certainly don't intend to set out on another road trip like that one, I do hope and pray that my boys learned to trust God a little more that night. Because I really want to raise three little Davids who can authentically echo the Psalms saying, "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him." (Psalm 62:8).

So whatever comes your way this week, whatever comes my way this week, may we trust Him through it all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Key to Every Door?

A few posts back I told you about how I was re-baptized, and how the driving force behind wanting to do this was really a difference between proclaiming Jesus as my Lord and merely claiming Him as Savior. I think it's a vitally important distinction, and one we often overlook. There is a tendency to be all about being "saved," with much less emphasis on being transformed. But if we look at the Bible we find a unified message of salvation and sanctification. They are inseparable, and efforts to untie them reveal a misunderstanding of Jesus and what He came to do.

A person is not saved by making a simple "confession" of faith in Jesus when there is no change affected in the confessor. Real belief will produce real change. If there’s no change, there’s no belief. (See James 2:14-26)

So what evidences change? Does going to church? Being involved in Christian community? Volunteering? Tithing? Singing in the choir? Saying the right things? These things may give us some insight into the heart of another person, or they might not. Regardless, it’s not for us to judge. After all, we have no way of knowing someone’s natural state. An outwardly prickly person may have come a long way, and the seemingly kind may have made zero progress. But what we do need to do is to see evidence of change in our own lives. We have a desperate need to be honest with ourselves. And none of the above criteria are as revealing as simply looking at obedience.

Are you obeying God’s Word? Are you living your life in accordance with His law? You can flip through the Ten Commandments and read through Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Take a critical look at your life. Are you willing to suffer financial loss for the sake of honesty? Do you take your commitments seriously? Do you covet? Do you put God first? Are there idols in your life? (Read Counterfeit Gods if you are inclined to think there aren’t). Are you careful to observe boundaries to protect your marriage?

George MacDonald said, "Obedience is the key to every door." I've been reflecting on this quote for almost a month and I'm more and more inclined to agree. But I know for certain that obedience is indeed the key to the door of faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship lays this out so well -- belief and obedience are like two points on a circle, and they reinforce each other. The more you believe the more you are able to obey, but interestingly, the more you obey the more you are able to believe. Obeying isn't just the right thing to do, it strengthens your faith.

So may we take the call to obey God's Word seriously, may we examine our lives for evidence that the Holy Spirit is working to sanctify us, and may we continue to make Jesus Lord over all!

As the apostle John said, "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands." 1 John 2:3 (NIV). With that in mind, may we all know Him better.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ten Tidbits from Maranatha (2010)

I returned earlier this week from a two-week vacation at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference. It is a much anticipated vacation for my family because it is loads of fun. There are a host of activities for our boys, ranging from putt-putt to tennis to rock climbing to zip lining, and yet ample time to relax for hours each day at the beach pictured above. Yet it is not just about fun and relaxation, it is also a time of spiritual renewal. Each day there are two Bible-based teaching sessions. These sessions are led either by the pastor or the missionary organization that are featured that week. For example, our first week we heard from Erwin Lutzer (Moody Church, Chicago) and ABWE (specifically their project to build a hospital in Northern Togo). The second week we heard from Ray Pritchard (Keep Believing Ministries) and Wycliffe Bible Translators. It is humbling to hear all their stories and to witness the sacrifice that these people have made to serve God.

I walked away with many nuggets this year, just as I have in years past. Here is a brief sampling of some of my favorites:

  1. In the Christian walk, God requires us to answer two primary questions: (1) How much do you love me? and (2) How much do you trust me? (Erwin Lutzer)
  2. Faith for the future is based on God's grace in the past. (Erwin Lutzer) This means we need to be reflective and intentional enough to acknowledge and remember God's gracious provision.
  3. Faith never judges God by circumstances. (Erwin Lutzer). In my opinion, there's a growing problem among Christians that overemphasizes circumstances, which is contrary to the message of the Bible. Faith should never be determined by circumstances, nor should ethics.
  4. Sufficient grace comes with sufficient faith. (Erwin Lutzer). 2 Corinthians 12:9
  5. All truth is narrow; God's grace is broad. (Ray Pritchard)
  6. Pray for tenacious, winsome courage. (Ray Pritchard)
  7. Love people where you find them, just like Jesus did. (Ray Pritchard)
  8. Everything we do is tainted, yet twenty-four hours a day Jesus provides the righteousness God demands. (Erwin Lutzer)
  9. Abraham was, of course, a man of great faith. He believed God in three specific areas: (1) he believed in the future and not just the present, trusting God's guidance without demanding to know the plan or destination; (2) he believed in the invisible not just the visible; and (3) He believed in promises, not explanations. (Erwin Lutzer)
  10. Faith always leads to ultimate victory, but we don't necessarily see it now. (Erwin Lutzer)
So this week may we persevere in faith, trusting God's promises without demanding explanations. In short, may we exude the childlike faith that so pleases our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jesus as LORD, Not just SAVIOR

When I was about five or six years old, I prayed with my mom to accept Jesus as my Savior. Oh the sweet relief I felt to know that I would go to heaven when I died. My faith was simple and pure, and I am thankful that God heard my prayer. Yet I did precious little to grow my faith, praying now and then, reading a devotional here and there, and on rare occasions cracking open His Word. Far from being a devoted follower of Christ, I marched through the next couple decades, with eternal security in hand, living life my own way.

It wasn't until I got married that I begin to realize how unanchored my life really was. My husband exceeded my wildest expectations in every way and I was crazy about him yet somehow marriage wasn't easy. It may have seemed like a fairy-tale from the outside, but on the inside there was a palpable absence of pixie dust. He was human and flawed. And I was human and very flawed. Boy, could I tell you some stories!

But in retrospect our imperfections were a blessing. They made reality clear. My love for Will was imperfect, as was his love for me. Yet I had a longing, even a need for perfection. I desperately wanted someone who would never disappoint me, who would love me into being a better person, a forgiving person, and a more loving person. As I began to truly study the Bible for the very first time, I realized that I had been loved like this all along. Jesus had patiently and faithfully pursued me even when I accepted his saving grace and rejected his guiding hand.

I was baptized when I was eighteen years old. I confessed Jesus as my Savior to the world, but I've often considered over the past five or so years whether I should be re-baptized. Because as Romans 10:9 states: "That if you confess with your mouth that 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." I couldn't say Jesus was my Lord in 1990, but by God's grace, twenty years later, I can.

And that's why on August 12, 2010 I was re-baptized at sunset in beautiful Lake Michigan. It was a wonderful celebration with many fellow believers standing on the sand, many of whom I am related to in one way or another. It was also incredibly meaningful because of who was standing next to me in the lake: my eight-year-old-son, Will. I am praying that his young baptism will mark his life in a profound way. I know he trusts Jesus as his Savior, and I believe he is serious about making Jesus Lord over all. Of course, the Christian life is a process and not just a one-time event.

There is so much I want to share about our time at Maranatha, but I thought it was appropriate to start with this. I do want the world to know that Jesus is not merely my Savior -- He is my Lord. I hope and pray that YOU can say the same!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Appearances, Shmerances -- Stories Are What Matter

Until last July we lived in a condo that was quite unfriendly for visitors. Not only was it small, there was nowhere for anyone to park. So when we moved into our new house I was determined to entertain and faithfully use the ample space that God has provided for us. I have hosted many parties and guests in the last year, and have loved every second of it. In just the last two and a half weeks we've had a number of guests. To be exact, I've had fifteen different people who only stayed for a meal, and sixteen different overnight guests. They hailed from Hong Kong and five different states. What a privilege to have glimpses of all of these stories -- thirty-one different flavors of people.

I heard embarrassing stories, hilarious stories and profoundly sad stories. I heard about suffering, about discrimination, about misconceptions, about perseverance, victory and bravery. I witnessed a baby boy, once abandoned, now lavishly loved by a family who traveled around the world to get him. In fact, four of the children who visited my home were adopted -- all of them little miracles, testimonies to love, the most powerful force in the universe.

Isn't it sad that with all the great stories out there, it is appearances that our culture seems to value most? Magazines at the checkout counter alone supply sufficient evidence that Americans place enormous value on appearances. But the Bible says, "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

This week may we strive to look at the heart too. May we remember that each and every person was made in the image of God, deserving honor and respect. May we look past outward appearances, possessions and titles, and take time to listen the stories that God is writing in each life.