Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

May I not be fair...

May I be generous instead.

Lately I've been thinking a lot on God's goodness and grace. Just this morning I was reading Luke 15:11-33, the story of the Prodigal Son. In my life today, I never cease to be moved as I read the words of the 20th verse:

So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

I'm like the prodigal. There have been times in my life I have chosen to not walk along with God, times I have chosen to sin and do things my own way. Yet when I return to God, He has had compassion on my brokenness (caused by my own sin, just like the prodigal experienced) and welcomes me.

I can remember a time in my life when I was like the prodigal's brother that we see in verses 22-33 (NIV):

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

I can remember when I was young and basically untested by life and thought I had all the answers. When I tried so hard to live so perfect. Back in those days I not only did not understand the grace of God, but I never allowed myself to experience His love and grace. When I read this story back then I knew I related more to the older brother. I felt like I was out there slaving away to be so good and perfect. In my unhealthy family of origin my 2 older siblings were so messed up, and my parents so dysfunctional, that my rigid role was always to be the perfect one (and, although I wasn't really aware of it, in my heart I resented it). But through all those years God was always there, waiting for me to come to Him, waiting for me to recognize that as His child, there was so much that was already mine if I would have just chosen to live in Him.

Since then life has brought hardships and I've tasted failures aplenty. But, I've also been able to taste God's forgiveness, to experience His love.

I've found an awesome principle to operate: The more I receive and experience God's love, the more I naturally respond differently to other people. Instead of feeling grateful for all He's done and wanting to go out and do great stuff for Him, I want to spend time with Him, in His presence and His Word. I find that the more that is my focus, the more loving I am toward the people around me, the less I struggle with my natural inclination toward selfishness, the more I enjoy serving people around me.

God has been so over the top more than generous with me; I don't want to live my life just being fair, I want to go out of my way to be generous to others.

What are some opportunities you've had lately to be generous?

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Opportunity to Trust God

Had any opportunities to trust God lately?

My current opportunity started in the early evening yesterday. I was busy, cleaning up from an early dinner I'd provided for the linemen on my middle son's high school football team. My cell phone started ringing with an unfamiliar ring tone, which usually means I won't answer it, but I decided to answer this time.

To my surprise it was Ginger; she's my oldest son Devon's fiance. She told me that Devon had asked her to call me because he'd been "taken away" and quarantined.

Fortunately the conversation got better after that as she explained herself. Since both Ginger and Devon are attending West Point, and it is the Army college, everything is more regimented there. There had been some cases of Swine Flu on the campus, so the response was to quarantine anyone with any kind of influenza since dorm life tends to spread illnesses more easily.

I'd remembered noting that Devon had posted that he didn't feel well on Facebook yesterday. I hadn't given it a lot of thought since he's currently carrying 25 units in college, planning his wedding with Ginger, captain of his drill team, and busy with all the stuff West Point has him do as well; I just figured he wasn't getting enough sleep. Ginger said that since he had a fever they quarantined him. I voiced concerns that if Swine Flu has been going around their campus, and if he does not have it (they are not testing for it) but is somewhat compromised simply by having a regular flu, that being housed with more sick individuals seems a likely way to obtain the virus. She assured me that, as of that moment in time, he was in a room by himself. So we agreed to just pray that this ends up being a blessing; Devon will have a chance to get some sleep with a temporary reprieve from his normal responsibilities.

But I'm a mom, and he's so far from home. I would be easy for me to worry about him. I'm choosing instead to trust God. I've noticed that the older my sons get, the more opportunities I have to trust God.

So as I start my day today, I'm here remembering all the times Devon has given me opportunities to trust God. I'm going over these times, one by one in my mind; and remembering how God has worked everything out for his good every time.

What's a recent opportunity you've had to trust God?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chance traveling companion

May this prayer that I read this week by Karl Rahner, captivate your heart as it has mine:

May You alone enlighten me, You alone speak to me.
May all that I know apart from You be nothing more
than a chance traveling companion
on the journey toward You.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can we consecrate secular things for God?

Recently I read about a practice in the Celtic Church that I found interesting. They sained the activities of their daily lives and many of the old Celtic festivals. To sain meant to bless or consecrate a secular or pagan custom into the church. It was as if they were building bridges between the Christian church and the culture around them.

I like this idea. I think we need this in our world today. Somehow I want to express my faith to my acquaintances, neighbors, friends, family, and even to myself, in everyday words and ways that are relevant in the world in which I live.

This got me to thinking about ways we already do this in the church or my personal life as well as ways we might want to reach out and do this in the future.

Examples of ways I see the Christian Church in America doing this today are: churches reaching out into their community with fall festivals and the like at Halloween time, Christians ensuring that their July 4th celebration includes a time of prayer for our nation and our national leaders, Teen fashion shows that focus on fashionable clothing options that are also modest for young women, Church participation in community clean up events with the inclusion of prayer that we would be good stewards of the world God has entrusted to us, and simple prayers and conversation at various life events.

This practice of simple prayers and conversations at various life events is a big one in our household. We try to share our lives with the people that God brings into our lives, and there's just always prayer and God conversation in our lives at any event. An example of this was when my husband John was all excited about signing the retirement papers for his contract at the beginning of his last year of teaching in public school. Right around that same time we finally finished the front part of the deck on our house; we had experienced a nightmare situation around the completion of this deck which extended over a 2yr time period during which there was not any deck on the front of our home, so all the neighbors could not help but notice. We had a big BBQ party out on our front deck and invited all the neighbors around us, as well as some family. We had an "official" signing of the retirement papers by John during the party. During that time John shared from his heart for a couple of moments about how God had indeed kept His word and, as it says in Ephesians 3:20, had blessed him beyond what he'd been able to ask or think by giving us a home here in Wrightwood to enjoy during His retirement. Another example is that we frequently have people over to meals and there is always a short, simple, prayer acknowledging God's provision and thanking Him proceeding the meal (and no, we do not include the plan of salvation in that prayer). These words and prayers and not aimed at "converting souls to Jesus"; they are merely reflections of who we are and how we live.

What about you, what are some ways you see yourself or the church building bridges between the world and the church? What are ways you think we could do this more effectively?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You mean it's not about meeting expectations?

Last Friday I went to lunch with a couple of ladies I’m getting to know. As we were about to leave and go our separate ways, one of them hands me a book and says:

“I don’t usually read fiction books, but I couldn’t put this one down. Go ahead and read it, and then give it to someone else or give it back to me.”

I’ll admit that her intro about not reading fiction put me off a bit. But recently my husband John & I went on a get away, while at the beach I started to read the book she gave me. It’s entitled The Shack and is written by Wm. Paul Young. By the time I finished reading the forward, I was totally hooked into the book. John came by me as I was reading and noticed the tears running down my face on several occasions, but wise man that he is, he didn’t say a word.

One of the many themes in the book is relationship. How God wants to be in relationship with us. There are two statements made by the personification of God in the book that really struck me:

“I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else. The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behavior to get the desired result. Humans try to control behavior largely through expectations. I know you and everything about you. Why would I have an expectation other than what I already know? That would be foolish. And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me.”

“What I do have is a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, and I give you an ability to respond to any situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree you neither know me nor trust me.”

I don’t know about you, but for me these are radical thoughts.

Although my head knows God loves me; my heart is only beginning to experience this. Most of my life I have felt like such a disappointment to God and everyone else.

I recognize that a lot of this stems from how I grew up. There was some good stuff in my childhood and I definitely appreciate that my folks did the best they could with what they had. But my entire childhood was one of feeling separate and alone.

I’m grateful that God has brought a lot of healing into my life. I’m grateful that today I do have a few close friends and am learning how to be in healthy relationships. But relationships still aren’t easy for me.

It’s still easier for me to think about something concrete such as expectations, and then set about seeing how I can perfectly meet every single one, than to be in relationship. Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to the writing of Christian mystics like Teresa of Avila and St Augustine; these folks spoke from, what seems to me, the depths of relationship with God.

What about you? Do you relate more to God in terms of expectations or expectancy?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Inquiring Minds want to know

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on White House communications director Anita Dunn's comment that Fox is “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” What do you think about her statement?

I appreciated Charles Krauthammer's take on it over at National Review online in his post entitled "Fox Wars".

I know that I've never felt like news from the left shouldn't exist. It's like O'Riley pointed out this past Wednesday; one of the things that makes America great is the freedom to express differing ideas. Just to underscore how open minded I am (ha!) I've even got The New Republic book marked and read it a few times a week; I figure it's good for me to have a dose of thoughts with which I do not agree.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poverty that is the Adoration of God

Back from a few days with John at San Juan Capistrano. Time for long walks on the beach and time to read. Our idea of a perfect get away.

The following words, taken from Brennan Manning's book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, delighted me as I read them this week. May they bless you as well:

We see our darkness as a prized possession because it drives us into the heart of God. Without mercy our darkness would plunge us into despair - and for some, self-destruction. Time alone with God reveals the unfathomable depths of the poverty of our spirit. We are so poor that even our poverty is not our own: It belongs to the mysterium tremendum of a loving God. In prayer we drink the dregs of this poverty. In a sudden and luminous moment we realize that we are being accosted by Mercy and embraced even before we lay hold of ourselves. Not clinging to anything, not even our sinfulness, we come before Jesus with open hands. We drain the bitter cup of self-rejection when we disappear into the tremendous poverty that is the adoration of God.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The illusion of Control

Have you ever been hit over the head by the fact that you can not control another human being?

I have. Several times.

One of the more valuable skills I've learned is how to back off.

I've learned this the hard way. I've failed in marriage in the past by trying to control my husband. When my now 21-yr old son was 17, we used to butt heads regularly; primarily because I was trying to control him. My first job where I was in a supervisory position, I tried to tell everyone exactly what to do and how to do it. Then I learned that it was way more effective to clarify the deliverables and deadlines, then let people achieve them in their own way.

It's a tight rope act, this backing off thing. I want to be available, supportive and helpful but not controlling. Of course sometimes the real problem is that I do want to control; because there's a part of me that always wants things my way.

But I can honestly say that I experience more peace today in my relationships than ever before and the biggest single reason is simply because I work at making sure I back off. I choose to accept people, my kids included, for who they are instead of who I want them to be.

What's a skill that's really helped you in your relationships?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What makes a behavior taboo?

We live in a day and age when we are exceedingly politically correct about how we refer to people and how we look at their problems. I've seen this sometimes be to the good, and sometimes to the absurd. But have you ever noticed that there are some problems that people have that do not extend to political correctness?

Two that come to my mind right away are smoking and over eating. For some reason these two problem behaviors have just about come to be seen as evil. Both inside the church and outside.

Lest you begin to throw stones at me, I'm not saying that either of these behaviors are wise, healthy, good or spirit controlled. I'm just saying that I find it interesting that these two are singled out from among many problem behaviors that many people exhibit and, almost universally in our culture today, people who have problems with these behaviors are looked down upon. It seems the thought process is that it's their fault they don't stop smoking/over eating, I resist the temptation to do that so should they; they're just lazy losers.

Poor smokers are practically shunned everywhere. Bill boards are not allowed to even advertise cigarettes; but they can advertise alcohol even though millions of people die at the hands of drunk drivers annually (please don't misunderstand, I don't think there is anything wrong with alcohol consumption necessarily). I've known lots of great people though the years that struggle with smoking; many have quit several times but just not been able to totally quit. These aren't incompetent fools, they just struggle for various reasons with smoking. We've learned that second hand smoke is bad for us so I recognize why smokers need to smoke in areas away from others; but I know plenty of considerate people who always go outside, away from others to smoke.

Currently the church I am in is without a pastor. We're a small campus in a small mountain town (posted population 3,500) but have a larger parent church (average Sunday attendance around 4,000) down the mountain. Various pastors from the parent church have been kind enough to fill our pulpit each Sunday. I'm really grateful to these pastors because they still have their regular duties plus preparing to preach for us and driving up the mountain to do so. There's one specific pastor who has preached in our church a few times during the past year who I've come to love. He's a dynamic preacher and very down to earth in his delivery. He's also quite a bit overweight. We have two services at our church on Sunday mornings and some "concerned" congregant felt that she needed to approach this visiting pastor between the two services and talk to him about his weight problem. Do you think he needed her to point it out? Do you think he didn't realize that he's over weight? Do you think what she said helped him in any way? What on earth could have motivated this behavior on her part?

In case you are unable to tell by the face shot with my profile at the side; I'm quite a bit over weight myself. Again, I'm not saying it's OK for me to be overweight. But I am grateful for the grace of God and that the Bible tells me that He loves me exactly as I am.

Not too long ago I was at a women's Bible study going through a 3-week video Bible study by Beth Moore. The leader asked me to facilitate in one of the small groups that broke up for discussion following the video. The first discussion question was about if there are things that the Bible considers sin that are prevalent in our culture. One slim lady in the group talked at length about how terrible a problem obesity is in our culture and of course we all agreed that obesity is a problem in American society. But this woman continued to talk on about the evils of over eating; she even said that it's interesting that eating was the first sin. At which point another woman in the group said that no, it wasn't the issue with Adam and Eve eating per say, that the sin was pride - Adam and Eve wanted to be as all knowing as God and do things their way. The next discussion question was what sin do you personally struggle with. Well no one wanted to answer that question, so, since I'd been delegated to lead I figured I'd lead by example and open myself up a bit. So I said that I have a problem with over eating (of course how big of a secret is that anyway? Since I'm over weight it would be a good guess that this is a problem of mine!) Ms Slim dismissively informed me that everyone has a problem with that. I waited a bit, and when no one else shared, went on to the next question. After the study had ended, Ms Slim cornered me and said she was sorry if she had seemed to be picking on me. I asked her what she was specifically talking about (she had talked a LOT during the discussion and I had been very challenged to let others have a chance to share as well). She said that she really doesn't have anything against over weight people and hoped that she had not offended me. Feeling extremely awkward at this point, I none the less assured her that I was fine. But she went on and on talking about how open minded she is toward fat people. It was really weird. When I got home I told John (my husband) about it and asked his opinion on the whole thing. He said it seemed to him like she had a judgmental spirit, at least for sure toward people who over eat.

My point here is not to champion over eating or smoking but to more to point out that if God's grace is enough, why do we put limits on it.

Is it just me, or do you also notice that people who smoke or over eat are practically considered pariahs in our society? Why do you think that is?

Do you ever feel guilty about prayer?

I do.

Just this morning I was reminded again of what a prayer whimp I am as I was reading in Mark. I came across the following words in Mark 11:22-25 (MSG):

Jesus was matter-of-fact: "Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you. This mountain, for instance: Just say, 'Go jump in the lake'—no shuffling or shilly-shallying—and it's as good as done. That's why I urge you to pray for absolutely everything, ranging from small to large. Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you'll get God's everything. And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it's not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins."

There's lots of stuff that I have felt is too much for me. In fact there's stuff right now I'm pretty certain is too much for me.

Even though there have been times that God in His greatness, mercy and grace has answered heavy duty big time prayers for me in miraculous ways, there are also times I pray and situations, year after year, remain the same.

In the Old Testament I see people building memorials so they won't forget when God does big stuff in their lives. I do that too; only not with stones. Typically it's in journal form. But lately I've decided to branch out more and do physical things, like plant a flower bush or tree or something so that I can see it daily as a reminder. I want to live in daily remembrance of all the good God has done for me.

But that doesn't mean I still don't have questions. It's not like I just pray over a situation and it's done. I mean the results I see being talked about here in Mark are incredible. The confidence to just say it and know it's done. I want to be like that.

Just last night a treasured new friend was at my home and sharing about a painful, ongoing, situation in her life. I felt grateful that another friend who was there, and I, could offer this woman the power of just being there, listening, being with her so she didn't have to be alone in the situation. Of course we also prayed for her. But I would have loved to pray for that situation to come out the way all three of us, anyone, would want it to and know that it was going to for sure happen. The stakes of it going the other way are just too high. When I read these verses it just sounds like I can do that; but this is not my experience all the time.

I'm glad that to have faith one doesn't have to have all the answers. Michael Spencer writes a blog entitled The internet Monk, that I enjoy reading. (In fact, on the right hand side here under the caption Blog posts worth reading today I have one of his posts entitled No Regrets; a better look at life listed). He wrote something yesterday that encourages me:

"I deeply disagree with those who say we should not speak of faith until we have answers. It shouldn’t take a lot of consideration to understand the answer may be “there’s no answer for this question.” If I have to go beyond that, I’m going at the expense of my integrity. Nothing good comes of that.”

I'm so grateful that I do not have to have it all together or have all the answers to be a follower of Jesus. That I can learn along the way. That it's a given that there is much I won't understand, may never understand. I can live with that.

What issues do you grapple with regarding prayer?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How do you define "church"?

The "Faith in Action" campaign brings this question to light.

This campaign cancels the Sunday service (something many people equate to mean "church") to have members engage in service in their community during that day.

Faith in Action is a four-week, church-wide campaign that has the goal of developing an outward focus and service heart among the participants in a local church. The culmination is a Sunday where regular services are canceled, and the entire congregation engages in service projects in and with their community.

This campaign includes 29-day devotionals that church participants can do on their own at home, 4 weeks worth of small groups, 4 sermons/services - all aimed at calling the local church's hearts to action in their community. Then the last week of the campaign is when the worship service is replaced by a day of community service followed by an evening celebration.

This campaign was developed by a collaborative effort between Outreach Inc. and World Vision. It's been run so that there is an annual campaign that encourages churchgoers each year to shift their focus from themselves to others. Churches that have participated over the last several years testify that the campaign has helped moved their "inactive" members to become active and involved. This last Sunday, October 11, was this year's annual campaign date.

Because the national poverty line – currently at 12.3 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau – has remained relatively the same during the past five years,Outreach and World Vision commissioned a national study to determine Christians' attitudes toward helping the poor. They found that 67 percent of the more than 2,800 churchgoing adults surveyed believe their church is already doing enough to help the poor in their community.

Steve Haas, vice president for church relations at World Vision, says the information exposes a discrepancy between "Christians who believe they are doing enough and the reality that Christians are not doing enough to help our communities." So this Faith in Action campaign was designed to help churches move out of this complacency.

I'd never heard of this whole thing until I read an article yesterday written in response to Sunday's event for many churches. I think it's an awesome idea and want to see if my local church could participate; the next national day is 10-10-2009. I think this type of thing helps redefine church from being what many see it, a Sunday meeting, to be more what we see in the New Testament. I like what Steve Hass has to say about what church is meant to be: "Worship was never to be confined to a single time of a single day during the week but a whole body experience of faithful obedience to a risen Christ".

What do you think about it? Do you think churches need to reach out more in their communities? Do you think this Faith in Action campaign could be an effective method to stimulate that action?

Monday, October 12, 2009

How far does redemption really go?

I read a really interesting article ( about sex offenders in Georgia and North Carolina who are challenging some of their state laws that pertain to church involvement for sex offenders. From what I gather, their state laws are written in such a way that convicted sex offenders are not allowed to volunteer in church, even in adult activities such as singing in the adult choir or cooking meals in the church kitchen.

This poses some really interesting questions.

I've thought about this a lot. All the data shows that sex offenders do not get better; the whole once a sex offender always a sex offender thing. Yet I know that scripture teaches that if any person is in Christ, he is a new person and that God can change anyone's life. However, we've got to be wise and never put our children in harms way. (By any chance can you tell that I'm conflicted on this topic?!)

I'm somewhat sarcastic in my title question because although redemption is total, how we deal with people here on earth is another issue entirely.

I'm certain that we don't want sex offenders volunteering in any kind of children's ministries - that much seems sure. Every church I've attended completes a background check on you if you want to volunteer with children or youth and I think this is wise. We have a responsibility to protect children.

OK, so let's say volunteering with children or youth isn't an option; then what is? What if a sex offender is volunteering in a non children ministry such as the choir or cooking for a church luncheon or something, and has indirect contact with children, is this OK? We've all most likely heard enough stories about people in church leadership, respected positions, molesting, or worse, children that our hearts already despair. If we already know, via past convictions, that a person has deep problems in this area, are we just paving the way for abuse to happen if we let this person volunteer in church?

I'm thinking that, although God's forgiveness is complete, there are consequences to our actions. So someone who has past convictions would need to serve in behind the scenes ways that only involve other, adult volunteers and where there is someone in charge who knows about their past who can monitor. My thought process being that I don't want to set them up in a position where they will be looked up to and parents make assumptions about their natural safety due to what they do (although why in this day and age someone would do that, with all we know, is beyond me). Perhaps volunteer activities such as prison ministry, cleaning at the church building when it's closed, stuffing church bulletins, etc.

Mostly, I think that someone who has a background of being a perpetrator would need to have a mentor in the church who works with him/her to be involved in those things that are appropriate to the situation. The mentor could also provide some accountability and encouragement. The mentor would need to have some knowledge on the dynamics involved with sexual abuse.

It is such a heavy issue. I'd really be interested to hear your thoughts.

What do you think? Do you think sex offenders should be allowed to volunteer in church activities?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Sunday

I love Sundays.

There's just something about getting together with others of like faith and worshiping and looking at the Word together that brings me peace and happiness.

It was especially awesome in our church today. We all crowded into the sanctuary and there was gratefulness, connection and expectancy in the air. After all we'd all been evacuated in the early hours of the morning last Sunday but here we all were home, safe and together again. (I live in a small mountain town, posted population 3,500, which had, due to local fires, been evacuated.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

What do you think about President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

It's a big deal - so I've got to ask.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it wanted to honor Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.

Archbishop Tutu voiced his thoughts on Obama's recognition by sayng the prize is a “wonderful recognition of Obama's effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility". “In a way, it's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all,” Tutu won the Nobel prize in 1984 for his long battle for a non-violent end to South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said, "The real question Americans are asking is, What has President Obama actually accomplished?"

ABC7 Eyewitness news question of the day on Friday was "Do you agree with the Norweigian Nobel Committee's decision to ward the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama? Of the
2,005 votes in answear to this question; 77% said no, 19% said yes and 2% were undecided. (I guess the other 2% logged in but didn't pick one of the three answer choices).

Obama said he was surprised and deeply humbled by the honor, he said:

"Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations," "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize."

So, what do you think about President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Influencing our children's hearts

Recently I heard yet another story of some Christian who abused his kid; while mis-using scripture to justify it.

As I thought about it my heart felt heavy.

I can't help but remember what Jesus said in Matthew 18:6-7 (NLT):

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.
We have such great influence on our children.
I want my interactions with my sons to bring about good in their lives, not tempt them away from God.
But I don't think it's so simple as to just shove the Bible at them. I can remember my dad deciding when I was young that he was going to bring us up in the ways of God, so he instituted this time when he'd read from the Bible after dinner each night. I have no idea why, but he chose the book of Job. He didn't even try to make it kid-friendly, he just read from it each night - and in the KJV to boot! So, to us we were being read to from some book that was written in an archaic language style that we didn't understand and we were bored to tears. I think this pushed us away more than drew us to God. Because it was so boring to us as kids and we played with each other (kicking one another under the table), and then we were "bad" for not listening.
So what have I done?
I know that I make it a priority each day to take some time in the morning, before the day begins to spend time in prayer and reading and thinking about scripture. I've always hoped that my sons see this as something real in my life. Over the years we've sometimes had family devotions that included object lessons or group reading; the most successful of these have been during the Christmas season when they revolved around an advent wreath. I've given my sons devotional books aimed specifically at their ages at various times and they appear to have sporadically benefited from them. I suppose the greatest success I can claim is that recently my 21-yr old son mentioned in an email how busy he is (he's in his last year of college at West Point) but that he's makes time before breakfast formation "to sit and pray and read the bible a bit and reflect".
What about you? What are some things you've found that you can do that help you influence your children's hearts toward God?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ever think about where mentally ill people live?

I'm not referring to your annoying relatives here.

I'm talking about individuals who have various incapacitating mental illnesses such as various forms of schizophrenia. In California at least, housing is a real problem.

If you've read this blog for long you know that I periodically write about issues involving mentally ill people. I guess that's because I figure few people really have much contact with them, think about them, or consciously care. I care because I have history with mentally ill people; I have a sister who is a paranoid schizophrenic and I ran secured psychiatric facilities for nine years. Somehow I hope that raising awareness will sensitize people to the plight of people who suffer from mental illness. I hope that increased sensitivity will translate into praying for them, looking for ways to give financially, maybe volunteering, and how you vote on various issues.

My experience is all in California so I can only speak to the issue of housing options for the mentally ill here. Basically a mentally ill person is looking at the state hospital, acute care, nursing homes, Board and Cares, personal homes, living with family members or friends, or life on the street.

The state hospital is the place where mentally ill individuals who can not live safely out in the comminity reside. Periodically the state tries to give these folks a chance to make it in less restrictive settings such as nursing homes, from where, if they are successful, the could move on to a Board and Care. This is the highest level of care possible; and the most expensive.

Acute care is reserved for those individuals who are an imminent danger to themselves or others. A person can be locked away in the psychiatric ward of a hospital on what is referred to as a "5150" if that person is, at the moment the law enforcement people encounter him, verified to be a danger to himself and/or others. This criteria is very strict and law enforcement are slow to utilize it because they want to respect people's freedom. If an individual is 5150'd to the acute hospital she can stay for 72 hours against her will for observation. If she is deemed safe, she may be released at that time. She also could be placed on temporary conservatorship; in which case, if the hospital staff and conservator think it is medically justifiable, she may stay in the acute hospital for longer. Theoretically an individual could keep themselves in the acute for longer but basically that does not happen. Acute hospitals typically do not keep patients for more than 10 days tops simply because no payor source wants to put out the money.

Nursing homes are California's solution to the chronically mentally who do not absolutely have to remain in the expensive acute care hospital but still need ongoing care. These are people who, at the end of their acute hospital stay, are still not deemed to really be safe on an ongoing basis to themselves or others. Typically the goal is to put them into the psychiatric nursing home to allow them the time to become more stabilized on their medication and perhaps even benefit from the program the nursing home offers. Most of these facilities are secured and the program they offer relies heavily on the concept of a healthy, environment (referred to as therapeutic mileau), having fun activities and some groups in which the patients can participate. The interesting thing is that many of these patients have been in and out of these facilities for so many years that they know as much, if not more, about the group topics than the staff who facilitate these groups.

Board and Cares are homes or apartment type dwellings where the individuals can live and receive encouragement daily to take their medication as well as have meals provided. Some board and cares are funded to have what is referred to as an agumented program where they may have activities and groups that the individuals who live there can participate in. There are a limited number of these places that are pleasant; many are in the worst parts of town and not the kind of place we would want to live. Mentally ill people who are living in this kind of setting have a bonafide mental illness and are receiving Social Security disability money monthy. All but just a very small amount of this money goes to the Board and Care for the cost of their living there. Board and Cares have much more freedom than state hospitals, acute hospitals or nursing homes, but not nearly as much as a person would have living on their own.

Very few people who are mentally ill and do not take their medication or have symptoms that are treatment resistant are able to stay in their own place. They mess up their money, or they irritate and cause problems with the people living around them, or they participate in a myriad of activities that land them up back in the acute hospital.

Living with families or friends rarely works out. If an individual is not taking their medication, or their symptoms are not able to be managed by any medication the physician's have yet identified, they are incredibly difficult to live with. Sometimes they do things which put other members of the household in danger.

Many of California's mentally ill individuals live on the street. If you go to Santa Monica, San Franciso, or to the down town section of any large urban area, you'll see them on the street. Sometimes they pan handle. I try to never turn down anyone's request for help; rather than money I'll give them food directly. Sometimes I keep stuff in my car trunk, or fast food coupons in my purse, or will just get them food from someplace close by like a fast food place or mini market. I always want to do more, but what can you do?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Am I relgious or a follower of Christ?

As I was reading the Word this morning the following words of Jesus, found in Mark 7:6-8 (MSG), jumped out at me:

Jesus answered, "Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull's-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn't in it.

They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don't mean it.

They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,

Ditching God's command
and taking up the latest fads."

I was reminded of a blog I read a while back by Pete Wilson ( where he made the point that in religion we sometimes come up with this list, things that are most appalling to to God, and of course the sins on our lists are the ones we don't have trouble with.

I think it's incredibly easy to see when other people do this but difficult to catch this tendency in ourselves.

In fact, I think the only way we can catch ourselves when we're becoming list makers, is through the Holy Spirit's direction within us.

Since I read that blog I've had this whole thing simmering on the back burner of my mind. I've been asking God to reveal my list. So here's the truth about me and my propensity toward religiosity instead of true following after Jesus:

Being stingy. Failure to be giving. - I mean, that's got to be way worse than the fact that I'm overly sensitive and get my feelings hurt - right?

Thinking you're better than others. - Well of course that's not at all like my lack of patience with people who chose to not use their heads. Not to be confused with the infirm, developmentally disabled or mentally impaired. Of course I'm never hard on them because they can't help it. I'm ashamed to admit this but I'm sure at some point that my children have heard me mutter to myself "I hate stupid people" after an encounter with someone in a fast food restaurant or somewhere else.

Being oblivious to the needs of others. - But of course this is not at all the same as the way I am sometimes selfish in my daily relations with my husband or sons.

Isn't my list awful? Doesn't it reveal a heart that is not completely God's?

I'm sure glad for God's grace and mercy. I sure need it daily. I'm also grateful that the Holy Spirit not only convicts me of my sin so that I can confess it and live in God's forgiveness, but He also gives me the power to change.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with the list?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gratitude for Fire fighters

I'm so grateful to be home - in our house.

I've always admired fire fighters. I've appreciated that they are willing to risk their lives to serve, help and sometimes even save others.

But around 3AM this past Sunday it became a much more personal feeling.

I'll never forget driving away from my home in the little town of Wrightwood, in the darkness of night, being unsure if I really was supposed to leave or not - not fully awake and feeling rather confused. Our neighbor had woken my husband and I up at 2:30AM and said we needed to evacuate, the fire was just over the ridge. We looked out our front window (the front of our living room is a wall of windows) and could see the blaze on a nearby mountain top. So we threw just a few things together and left. It seemed that nothing was real; that I was going to find out later that the blaze wasn't really that close, that it had just seemed close.

As I was driving down the hill, to the highway to leave our town, it all became real. Near the base of the hill, by the highway leading out of town, were several fire fighters and fire trucks - just being ready.

I felt such a rush of gratitude to those men and women who were there ready and waiting to protect our mountain, my home and our town.

It's Tuesday early evening now and I'm home again.

Thanks to those incredible, hardworking, fire fighters our mountain is safe.

The fire isn't out yet and 3 homes outside of town, en route to our area so to speak, have been destroyed. As I'm here typing I can hear the sound of helicopters overhead. I pray for the people who used to live in those 3 homes that were destroyed. I pray for the continued safety of the fire fighters. I pray that this fire would be put out completely soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

May I passionately wait

Today I sent a card to my oldest son and, as I wrote the words from a favorite scripture into the card, I was blessed by these words anew:

I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He's all I've got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It's a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It's a good thing when you're young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The "worst" is never the worst.

Lamentations 3:23-30 (MSG)

I'm captivated by that phrase: Passionately wait.

I always feel like I get so much more out of things when I hear the thoughts of others.

What comes to your mind when you read - passionately wait?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ever heard of the FFRF?

To be candid, I hadn't.

But yesterday I read an article about them. FFRF stands for Freedom from Religion Foundation. It is a group of atheists and agnostics who claim a membership of around 14,000 across the United States.

Recently they've funded a bill board campaign in 10 states and more than 30 cities. Currently the billboards are in Detroit, Indianapolis and suburban St Louis. The billboards have a stained glass, religious, look to them and have these phrases : “Imagine No Religion” or “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief”. In addition to billboards, the FFRF currently has 75 large bus displays in San Francisco that read “Imagine No Religion” or Mark Twain’s “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”. Next month, the group plans a “billboard blitz” in Las Vegas.

Paul Pearson, a member of the Michigan FFRF, says that the goal of the campaign is: "an attempt at balancing the media messages of religion aimed at believers with some percentage aimed at unbelievers,” he also said that they want to let "unbelievers and those with healthy skeptical doubt know FFRF exists can give knowledge and comfort.”

I found this whole thing interesting.

Freedom of speech definitely means freedom for all, so I am not in opposition to their billboard blitz.

But it does pose the question for me - how do I respond to such a thing? As I think on it I hear the word - Pray. Pray that God use this to open doors to conversations about Faith. My prayer is that this be used to quicken a culture that doesn't even care about the subject of Faith to start talking about it. That we as Believers be ready, as the Bible instructs us to in 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT):

you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

What do you think about this whole thing?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How can we help out in the Phillipines?

There has been Massive flooding in the Philippines, set off by a tropical storm over the weekend, that has left at least 140 dead and prompted quick action from Christian relief groups. Catholic Relief Services Country Representative Luc Picard stated that: "Many of the people who have lost everything are sleeping in schools right now," "They're calling this the Katrina of the Philippines."

On Monday, the Philippine government appealed for international help after declaring a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, including many that have not flooded before. Officials said more than 450,000 people were affected by the storm, including some 115,000 brought to about 200 schools, churches and other evacuation shelters.

A friend of mine asked me to comment about this and prompt others to help out financially. My friend lives in the Philippines and her concern is that those in the country itself to not have enough resources to provide all the assistance that is needed.

For seven years I have contributed monthly to an organization named World Vision. I've long known how blessed I am simply because I live in America and been mindful of the scripture in Luke 12:42-28 where Jesus explained an illustration about a master who entrusted various amounts of money to 3 different servants. In the second half of the 48th verse He makes this point:

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. (NLT)

My relationship with World Vision began back when God did something that seemed impossible to me at the time. As a single mother at that time, with 3 young sons, He blessed me with being able to purchase a condo without any money down. I was so grateful, and so conscious of God's goodness to me and how so much of the world lived in poverty, that I decided to see how I could give more. After researching Christian international relief groups, I found that there are lots of good ones out there but I really liked World Vision. Charity Navigator gave World Vision an exceptional four star rating with regard to“Efficiency” - the day to day financial operations, whether they maintain reasonable administrative costs and ensure that most spending is on programs. (Charity Navigator gave World Vision a three star rating with regard to "Capacity" because they don't think World Vision keeps enough money in reserves.) So I decided that, since I had 3 children of my own, I would sponsor 3 with World Vision. Just like my own, I got 3 boys (in fact I got them as close in age to my own as possible); 2 from the Philippines and 1 from Bolivia. Over the past 7 years it has been awesome to participate in this project and I've always been impressed with how World Vision does things.

As of this past Monday, World Vision had already been distributing relief packs by helicopter, in partnership with the Philippine Coastguard. World Vision is now aiming to target four of the worst affected areas of Manila – Marikina, Cainta, Rizal, Pasig – which are home to thousands of poor settlement homes based near rivers and in low-lying areas.

World Vision is also planning to distribute rice, sardines, cooking oil, water, iodized salt, biscuits and canned meat. Other items include mosquito nets, blankets and kerosene lamps or candles along with hygiene items including soap, laundry soap and women's sanitary items.

If you want to donate money to World Vision to help with flood relief in the Philippines you can go here to do so (just copy and paste the address below into your browser):

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