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."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What do you think our response will be?

Since yesterday when I read about the extreme sentences that Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli received for the trumped up charges, I've been thinking about what, if any, America's response will be to this outrage. I've pondered if we should respond, as a country, to religious persecution in other countries.

To my understanding, this is the situation :
  • The trial of Linfen house church leaders in Shanxi province, China, was held from 9:00 AM to about 10:00 PM on November 25 (Beijing time), lasting over 12 hours
  • Linfen Fushan Church is a 50,000-member mega house church network in Linfen and the surrounding villages in northeastern China
  • The trial came after a massive raid by police and hired security guards on Fushan Church on September 13. During the pre-dawn raid, reportedly 400 people in police suits raided and destroyed buildings on the Good News Cloth Shoes Factory property, where the Fushan Church is located. The raid was one of the worst crackdowns against a house church in the past decade, according to CAA (China Aid Association) .
  • During the September 13 raid men tore at the building’s foundation with shovels as bulldozers worked to level other buildings on the site. Church members sleeping at the construction site of the new church building were reportedly attacked with bricks and other objects, according to CAA. Several members were seriously injured and were sent to the emergency room.
  • Following the raid, Yang and other church officials attempted to travel to Beijing to protest the destruction of their church to the central government authorities. However, they were arrested and detained during their trip.
  • The case presented to the court as a result of their arrest was tried on November 25. The court's conduct throughout the trial caused many to question if the government had decided upon the verdict and prepared it in advance. There were only two 20 minute breaks for recess, and only four family members of the convicted prisoners were allowed to be present during the trial. Government prosecutors showed over 1000 pages of so-called "evidence materials" related to this case, but the defense lawyers were only allowed to review about 50 pages before the trial to prepare their defense. The six Christian rights defense lawyers, including renowned Attorneys Li Fangping and Zhang Kai, were said to present a satisfactory defense of the innocence of the five church leaders.
  • Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli's son was able to briefly chat with his parents during one recess time near the bathroom outside the court room. Sister Yang and Pastor Wang encouraged their son to stand firm in his faith in Christ. Yang and Wang have led the Fushan church for more than 30 years.
  • The verdicts were severe and were announced immediately following the trial. Two criminal charges were used-- the crime of "illegally occupying farming land" and "disturbing transportation order by gathering masses." Sister Yang Rongli received 7 years severe sentence for both charges; Pastor Wang 3 yrs for the first charge, brother Yang Xuan, 3 and a half years, and Cui Jiaxing earned 4 and a half years for the first charge; Sister Zhang Huamei was found guilty of the second charge, and sentenced to 4 years in prison.
  • "To punish an innocent house church leader with 7 years imprisonment is the most serious sentence since 2004 when the senior Henan house church leader pastor Zhang Rongliang received a similar length, " said CAA President Bob Fu. "We strongly condemn these unjust sentences, which are based on trumped-up charges. This case clearly shows the serious deteriorating situation of religious persecution in China. We call upon the Obama administration and international community to speak up unequivocally in its concern about this case."

How do you think the Obama administration will respond to this serious situation of religious persecution in China? Do you think America should respond to these type of situations? Who, in your opinion, should be responding to religious persecution?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Chain

When Thanksgiving is over my thoughts turn toward Christmas.

As I was having children, I tried to establish some traditions. In regard to Christmas I wanted to establish traditions that would teach about Jesus' birth and giving; I wanted the holiday to be about more than just Christmas day.

There's one tradition we established when my boys were very young that has continued and upon which all the other Christmas things we do hinges - the Christmas chain. It is just a paper chain made from construction paper with 24 links; each link representing a day in December. Each link has the date and activity we will participate in that day to celebrate the Christmas season written on it.

Links may include things like the advent wreath, school Christmas programs, decorating the house inside, putting lights on outside the house, filling out and putting stamps on Christmas cards, baking cookies, etc. Each morning we break one of the links on the chain together and read what we'll do that day. This was especially popular when my boys were young, they would even fight over who was going to get to do the chain that day. Because it was a part of their childhood, they still enjoy it.

Writing out the chain also forces me to get out the calendar and plan for all the things I want to make sure that we do. Every year some of activities are ones that we do every year and there also new things I'm trying out. The planning also helps me think about ways to highlight the real significance of the season.

What about you, what are some of your family's favorite Christmas traditions?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

So here I am thinking about Thanksgiving. What hits me most is that I've been so over the top blessed, how could I not adore Thanksgiving?!

These last few days I've been reflecting on God's many gifts to me.

Most of all I can never seem to get past the fact that God left his rightful place in heaven and took on human limitations to come live a perfect life on earth and die on the cross for me, because my sins require payment. I can never cease to be grateful for this great salvation that is mine! I never cease to be grateful that He loves me just how I am and desires relationship with me. For the fact that He has a good plan for my life.

Then there's all the just plain good stuff in my life: A husband who really knows me and still loves me, 3 healthy sons who I get to be a part of their lives and see them grow in God and grow in their gifts and vision. A home in a beautiful mountain town that most people only get to come to for vacations; I can go out my back door and hike up into the national forest just about every day. Friends who I can always count on and whose company I relish.

I really don't deserve to have it so good.

Then there's the fun traditions part of Thanksgiving day. This year we'll only have 7 at our table; a small year for us (someone else is gonna be blessed by the company of 2 of my sons this year). I really like cooking for people so I've been enjoying the planning, shopping and cooking leading up to Thanksgiving day. It seems that over time we've ended up with a set menu for the most part; the salad I tried one year that my niece liked so much, my husband John's mom's recipe for cranberry relish that he can't get enough of, the vegetable dish that I'm so happy with because it's fresh,colorful, healthy and simple. I've got to say that I detest the entire idea of marshmallows on top of yams - who thought of such a gross idea? So we always have fresh, baked, sweet potatoes with butter.

What about you, what thoughts are foremost in your mind this Thanksgiving? What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Terrific Tuesday with Tony from Tony C Today

Today's Terrific Tuesday guest is Tony, who writes at Tony C Today and at Kingdom Bloggers. Tony's posts have at various times made me laugh, think, and be grateful to our gracious heavenly father.

Enjoy this Best of Tony C Today post...

The one with the cute little umbrella straw please...

I'm not a coffee drinker...

Wait, let me start by saying that I've laid off political and religious subjects this week in respect to Easter. It seemed like the WWJD thing to do. So...

I'm not a coffee drinker. Never have been. But, I live with two females that love the stuff. We could debate if a 13 (soon to be 14) year old should be drinking coffee...but I won't go there. I accept the argument that a cup of coffee can't be any worse than a bottle of soda. Moving on...

So from time to time, I find myself at the local Starbucks, which might as well be eastern Slovenia for me. It's like a completely different world...a make-believe world where people speak a pseudo-foreign language and pretend to be high society...or hip...or something I'm apparently not. Now, I understand the Italian connection with the origin of many coffee drinks coming from Italy, and the implied chicness of the hole fiasco called Starbucks, but what I don't get is the absolutely ridiculous sounding process for ordering.

I'm not Italian illiterate either. Aside for the Learn A Language While You Drive cassette series I played for months before an Italy trip that feel apart the day prior to departure, the Sopranos were a weekly ritual at my house. I know Italian...well...some Italian. I know latte is Italian for milk, I know grande means large. What I don't understand is why a grande iced vanilla latte at Starbucks isn't a large cup of milk with vanilla flavor. What gives?

So, this morning I find myself alone in the drive-thru at Starbucks filled with anxiety. Since I love my wife more than any earthly thing, I'm doing this for her. For me... this is virgin territory. I refuse to order when we go together, making my wife or the teenager do the honors...and..always making fun of the process. I want a frappa mocha latte venti or some other ridiculously sounding fictional concoction. But here I am...ready to order.

Speaker: Welcome to Starbucks. Would you like to try one of our fancy smancy new sandwiches?

I'm frozen. What did she say she wanted?

Just a minute please.

Speaker: Take your time and order when you're ready.

I'm sure the seven hundred and twenty cars behind me want just to take my time. I glance over the menu board looking for some type of trigger word...but it's all so...foreign.

Uh, uh mocha, latte, venti, frappachino, cappachino...before I even realized, I say...out loud...

Frappa mocha latte...uh

Speaker: Excuse me sir?

Nothing would do my heart more good than to break into a speaker rant over why Starbucks had to stop selling the black and white's all I ever liked there! But I have loved ones waiting in the balance on me performing this simple task.

Text message! Thank you Jesus! She sent what she wanted in a text message! A few quick clicks...

I'll take a iced vanilla latte venti please.
Not a perfect delivery...wrong indefinite article grammatically...but hey...I'm a rookie.

Speaker: That will be $4.33. Thank you pull forward.

$4.33! For a cup of coffee! I'm I picking this up IN Italy? That's an entire #1 Value Breakfast Meal WITH a large iced tea at Mickie D's.

As I'm pulling forward, I notice the 'Coexist' bumper sticker on the BMW in front of me...nice...this is now the company I keep...very nice.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is mental illness ever related to demon possession?

If you've read this blog much you know that I have a heart for mentally ill adults. Since I have a sister who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and I'm a CA licensed nursing home administrator who has ran secured psychiatric facilities serving the chronically mentally ill for the past 9 yrs, I've had lots of experience with mentally ill folks.

I've seen up close how much mentally ill people can suffer.

There are some groups of extreme belief type Christians who think that all mental illness is caused by demon possession. On the other hand you get folks like Michael Spencer over at the Internet Monk who wrote a post entitled Is mental illness demonic that cautions us as to how we should read the gospel accounts where Jesus cast out demons. Spencer states:

"The Bible was written in the narrative world of ancient, prescientific cultures that often interpreted reality and events through a grid quite different from our own way of looking at the same reality. When the Bible speaks to us from its ancient setting, it does not “update” its cultural interpretations of causation for commonly observed phenomenon. Instead, it speaks in the cultural norms of the time. Those cultures tended to see most of what we call mental illness as the result of demonic influence or as a punishment for sin. Now, Christians have been entirely free, in their own settings and cultures, to appropriate, interpret or re-interpret these Biblical explanations. "

I see Spencer's point and agree with the principle. Just as the Bible parables relate to a different culture, so do the accounts. So it may be that some of the people we read about in the Bible who acted in ways we see Schizophrenics behave today, may have been healed of Schizophrenia and it was explained in terms of demons because that was the understanding of the day.

But I do not think it's an either or situation. It's very difficult for me to separate out the physical and spiritual so completely. I think it may be that we have both physical and spiritual phenomena occurring simultaneously. The fact that the voices that many Schizophrenics hear talking to them in their heads (I've met at least 300 individuals on whom I'm basing this statement) are always negative, leads me to seriously question the origins of these voices.

My guess is that in some instances, mental illness is almost exclusively a physiological phenomenon. In these cases the person has a physical anomaly that is causing the mental illness, and the enemy tries to use against the person , as well as his loved ones, just as in any other serious physical illness such as cancer. I would also guess that this is the most frequent case for mental illness.

But I'm also quite certain, from many situations I've observed through the years, that there are cases where what is manifesting as mental illness is almost exclusively spiritual.

But, if I'm being totally candid here, I would never let some religious group come into my facility and start casting out demons.

I really don't have any great insights or answers to this issue, just thoughts and questions.

What do you think, is mental illness ever related to demonic possession?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Political Correctness can only work with Openess

I'll admit it - I've made fun of political correctness.

But I read a thought provoking article today over at CCN entitled Political Correctness and Ft. Hood Killings written by Tom Kenniff that made me take a second look at some of my thoughts. Kenniff is a legal analyst, a criminal attorney, and a veteran of the war in Iraq where he served with JAG. He made the point that political correctness is not the problem, that political correctness has led to good things such as African Americans serving in the armed forces and desegregation in the military.

The problem is that we avoid certain issues and do not openly look at events and ask relevant questions.

There is no recent event where this was dramatized before our very eyes more than the Fort Hood killings. Considering our country's recent history - the horror of 9/11 and the fact that we have since that fateful day suffered suffered multiple attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists, including the Army sergeant who killed two officers and injured 14 others in a premeditated grenade attack in 2003 - it is reasonable that any potential acts of terrorism should be investigated. Investigation does not mean to jump to conclusions, but it does mean to very seriously look into the details.

In this recent Fort Hood situation we knew for a fact that this Army officer had committed violent acts at one of the largest military bases in our country against unarmed soldiers and civilians. There was not a discernible motive aside from death and destruction. Yet almost all of the the media avoided asking the obvious questions about if indeed this event was an act of terrorism and if it was motivated by religious fanaticism - why? How could any thoughtful, honest, look at these events refrain from questions about the motive?

In the aftermath of Fort Hood, as more information is discovered, it gets way worse. It would appear that it is not only the American media that has problems with openly dealing with problems. The Fort Hood tragedy occurred on November 5th, on November 12th CNN released this report written by Brian Todd and Ed Lavandera that details numerous claims made by classmates of Hassan that he was a subpar student with militant Islamic views. As I read through this report I kept asking myself if this man should have been allowed to continue in his residency and become a psychiatrist. I wondered if his supervisors were uncomfortable and didn't want to seem anti-Muslim so they chose to not look as closely at him as would have been appropriate - it's hard to say.

But I can say that for life to work we have to be OK with being uncomfortable, we have to ask questions and look honestly at situations.

What are your thoughts about if we're letting our political correctness cause us to avoid asking all the pertinent questions?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

His Love is Enough

Today I got to do someting I really enjoy - drive on a long, deserted, road. I like to drive like that because it gives me time to think. As my mind wandred, I started thinking about last week when I visited my mother; as I thought about that visit I realized that I have issues with "never enough". Not in the terms of not having enough; I've learned to look at all the good in my life and be grateful. But in terms of me not being enough. Last week at my mom's it looked like this... I pull my car up to park in front of mom's house I think again how grateful I am to live in southern California. Here it is mid November and I'm enjoying blue skies, expanses of green lawns, and majestic palm trees that surround mom's neighborhood. I appreciate the Spanish style 1940s architecture of her home as I approach the door; holding my dog Jake's leash in one hand, and several bags of groceries in the other.

After ringing the bell, I sit the groceries down beside the front door, leash up Jake on mom's front porch, and go back to the car for some more groceries. I manage to get in one more trip laden down with groceries, and back to the car to grab the large handled box that contains the Del Taco fiesta pack meal that I've brought for lunch, before mom makes it to the door. Apparently my niece's dog is in the house and my sister has to hold him in the hallway because he has an abiding hatred toward all other dogs. Even though he's only a mostly spaniel mix, he can still become really mean toward Jake, a mostly lab mix, who wants desperately to play with everything & everyone in his world. So I make it into the door, and start making several trips to bring in and put away the groceries; all the while listening to a constant flow of words from both my sister and my mom about what's been happening in their lives since my last visit around a week ago.

After I get lunch set up on the table, we sit down and enjoy the meal and visit for awhile. There's way more food here than we can eat, but I figure as I'm putting the leftovers into the 'fridge, that my niece will enjoy them when she gets home from school today.

Even though my mom is 83yrs old, she's incredibly healthy and energetic, so we take Jake for a 2 mile stroll after lunch. During the stroll my mom talks about all the unexpected expenses she's had recently and I tell her that I've got $40 in my purse I can give her; she's obviously upset - never mind the $40 I gave her last week, or the $15 the week before, or the $20 the week before that - there is the pervasive feeling that I should give her more. I finally came to the conclusion about a year ago to never give more than $40 cash directly to anyone in my family, and better yet to, whenever possible, just give food or fill their gas tank for them. Because if I give a member of my family cash today, it will be gone tomorrow. Sometimes it really is gone due to the purchase of necessities, but sometimes it's gone due to buying some stupid, un necessary thing; so better to only give a little money so they will need to use it on necessities.

But none the less, I'm feeling guilty. Second guessing myself about being a good daughter; I mean it is my mom here saying she needs money. I remind myself that I've thought through my actions, that I don't have to please everybody. I can feel my anxiety mounting, and I've got that old familiar feeling of not doing enough, of not being enough, of not being able to fix things in my crazy family and make them right. . . .

Today as I was driving and thinking about some outreach opportunities I'm involved with, I realized that no matter what I do, I have that same not enough feeling - frequently I end up feeling like I should give more, do more, be more.

But then I hear that sweet, small voice telling me that I'm loved. That God doesn't want me to live up to expectations, He wants to be in relationship with Him. Out of that relationship, loving actions toward others will naturally flow. I'm reminded of some words I read in Brennan Mannings's "19 Mercies: A Spritual Retreat" yesterday. So when I got home I re-read those powerful words:

"You know, Mary Magdalen would have been buried in history as an unknown hooker, except for thing - her reckless, passionate, uncompromising love for the Person of Jesus.

Is your relationship with Jesus marked by reckless love? Authentic Christianity, according to the Word, is this: It's the thrill, the excitement, of falling in love with the risen, living Jesus Christ. He shows us the way to the Father, He pours out on us the Spirit of Pentecost - not so we can be nicer people with better morals, but brand-new creations, human torches ignited with the flaming Spirit of the living God."

I want to say my relationship with Jesus is marked by reckless love; but too often it's marked by me trying to measure up, to be really good. I'm so grateful that He loves me anyway and keeps working with me so I can change, from the inside out.

What about you, is your relationship with Jesus marked by reckless love?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wanna hear something cool that happened on a blog?

Not sure if you've ever read the blog "Stuff Christians Like". If not, then do; it's a lot of fun and inspirational as well. The site author, Jonathan Acuff, started this blog as a reaction to the popular blog Stuff White People Like.

Recently Acuff felt led to do more than just write a really funny blog. He said that he was challenged by his 6 yr old daugher who was shocked a year ago to find out that kids were starving in other parts of the world.

Acuff partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and launched a $30,000 donation drive on his blog to build a six-room kindergarten in Hoang Then village in the Phong Tho district, which is located in the northwest section of Vietnam. The school would assist more than 200 children.

It's reported that he raised the $30,000 within 18 hrs.

"Did a blog, that isn’t even based on an original idea, come together and do something much bigger than a blog?" he wrote as he gave glory to God.

Terrific Tuesday with Michelle from ~Psalm 104:24~

Today's Terrific Tuesday guest is Michelle, who writes at ~Psalm 104:24~; a blog that's both entertained and blessed me. Michelle has a humorous, down to earth, writing style that frequently makes me laugh. Michelle describes herself as a wife, mama to 4, sinner, treehuggin', homeschoolin', free spirit, peacemaker, dreamer, tattoo lovin', nature freak, music lovin', child of The King.

With the tough financial situation that many find themselves in, as well as the approaching holidays, I think Michelle's experience in today's blog can be a source of encouragement.
Enjoy this Best of ~Psalm 104:24~ post...

Everybody Stumbles.....
.....and yesterday was a wipeout for me.As much as I know that Christmas is all about the birth of our Savior, it's hard not to be at least concerned about having some presents under the tree for the kids.

My wipeout was about money.....or the lack of right now. You see, the choice to stay home to homeschool and be home with the kids is just that.....our choice (and freedom that I am thankful for). Another choice we had to make was making our life more simple to be able to do so. Over the past years, we have stripped alot of "things" that we didn't really didn't own......they owned us. They owned us in the sense that we seemed to have the desire to just buy things when we wanted them, not needed them, ykwim? We were not living this luxurious life.....but we had some toys, we ate out whenever we felt like it....and browsing/spending was something that I treated myself to whenever I felt the urge. We didn't live beyond our means, but we certainly didn't live on a budget.

So fast forward the past few years.....our income basically got slashed about 40% after the birth of N and deciding that I was going to be staying home. (I used to work late nights, so I was home during the day, but completely hagged out). So think about your monthly income and whack 40% off of it.....yeah, it stings. And it forces you to look around and see what you really could do without. At first it seemed like a choke hold ......but as we started to peel off the was actually a breath of fresh air. The "stuff" we thought we needed......really was just a want. And being able to be home at night....doing normal "home at night" things was so worth it. No more parenting-on-the-phone during work more feeling like I a was hit by a Mack truck while I was making breakfast. Even though we had less.......I felt like I had so much more.

So that is good.......and it works on our day-to-day living. We have some weeks where we still barely squeak by. As I have mentioned before........God is the ultimate accountant and finds a way to crunch the numbers. Even when we shouldn't make it with the numbers on paper.......we do. For example, yesterday I cashed my check from the subbing job I did a couple of weeks ago at the was a whopping $23.55......went to Target to pick up a few things for the kids' was $22.45. no kidding.

But with Christmas rapidly approaching.....and Josh not getting a Christmas bonus.......we are facing the ultimate test in being a witness for God to "WALK THE WALK, NOT TALK THE TALK".......and yes, I failed yesterday. You see.....Josh has gotten a bonus every year that we used (and relied on) for our Christmas shopping. Being creatures of habit, of course we depend on that little extra reward for his hard work all year. I don't know if we took it for granted as we always felt blessed by it, but looking back.....I guess expecting (relying on) it each year is sort of taking it for granted. So this year, when we really really could use it (as I am sure the majority of our country)....we are faced with the fact that there isn't one to use.

So yeah....we have the resources for a little bit of money with 0% interest for three months.....and we are going to have to make it really stretch. I hate the fact that we have to use a credit card but what are we supposed to do? The kids already know that it is going to be a lean Christmas and say they understand......but who doesn't want to disappoint their kids?

I guess the "human" side of me caved into the stress/disappointment and got really down yesterday. I started beating myself up for not pursuing a more substantial paying job scenario (working one night at the salon and subbing once in awhile at the preschool is far from a steady, sufficient read how much my check was for).....I started looking back (instead of looking UP) at everything I should have/could have done and got sucked into a very negative mindset. I was snappy at the kids......Josh and I got into a spat where distance did not make the heart grow was just a total drag. Even our Jesse Tree nightly devotional wasn't so spiritually uplifting as I hoped.

One thing that stuck in my mind.......was one of Josh's more positive comments about the finances.....he said that the pressure we are feeling about buying gifts at this time of what many people feel about paying their mortgage, electric bill, heat and food.....all year long. I think God was speaking through him for that particular moment, with a "GET OVER IT, Michelle" kinda tone. At the time, I was still angry at Josh so I didn't even agree with him......I actually was hanging on to my own pity party. Even as he was talking to me, my ugly spirit felt some satisfaction that I didn't tell him he had something stuck in his tooth all afternoon (and secretly hoped others saw it too)

So the day went on......we spoke only when necessary. He went out to get the tree with E (who I may add, picked the perfect size this year!) and things started to calm down a bit.....I made sure that I apologized, kissed and hugged him before bed because I was taught to never go to bed angry. I told him that we'd figure it out.....we always do.

Before I fell asleep, I was thinking about what our pastor said last weekend in regards to the greediness that Christmas shopping can bring. He was talking about the tragedy of that poor Walmart worker who was trampled to death opening the doors on Black Friday. How people just wanted their "stuff" and didn't care about anything (even someone's life!) in order to get what they sad. :( He also referenced on how in Africa, the way to catch a monkey is to dig a small hole in the ground and put peanuts in it. The monkey will put his hand in to get the peanuts, but when he has them in his grip, his fist will not allow him to pull his hand out. He will not let go of the peanuts and struggles to get his hand free. He does not realize that it is because he wants something so badly......that he is putting himself in danger. So it is easy to catch him as his stubbornness fails him. I do not want to be gripping on the "peanuts" in life and miss out on enjoying this Season.(*I must have fallen asleep thinking about that monkey, as I had a very weird dream about a monkey biting me......the pepper jack cheese I ate before bed also might have played a factor in the weirdness)

So yes......I stumbled.....but I am thankful that God granted me a new day to pick myself up and try again. I may not be able to change my circumstances.....but I can change my mindset. I will focus on looking UP and not down.Blessings


Monday, November 16, 2009

A sneak peek at Christmas

I love Christmas - everything about it at our house.

Starting the day after Thanksgiving I'll be having lots of posts about Christmas, but I need to post this one now. God's blessed me with lots of opportunities to teach my sons about Himself, and Christmas celebrations have been one of those ways.

God loved us so much that He gave Himself, His son, Jesus. He left His rightful place in glory to come to earth and take on human limitations, to go to the cross and suffer and die in our place. He shows us a lifestyle of giving.

So one of the things we've always done at Christmas is giving.

I want to share about two of our favorite ways to give for Christmas; Operation Christmas Child through Samaritans Purse, and purchasing a special Christmas gift through World Vision. Both of these are opportunities to give that basically need to happen in November, so that the recipients can enjoy the gifts for Christmas.

This short video does a great job at explaining all about Operation Christmas Child. Basically you just fill a shoebox with all manner of wonderful things to send to a child in a developing country for Christmas. Since I have 3 sons we've always packed a box for a boy. Some years we've done 1 box, and other years we've done 3. We've had lots of fun packing toys, hard candies, and helpful items such as shoes and grooming items into the box. I'd wanted to find this one video to post here that I saw this year where a woman is remembering when she was a child and received a box; how she didn't have decent shoes and was embarrassed to go to school, how she was so blessed when she received her box that had shoes in it-I cried when I saw that video (much to the amusement of my 6'3", 230lb, 16-yr old son).

As I've mentioned before, I really appreciate World Vision. I think it's cool how they set up the Christmas gifts. You get to buy practical things for people; you check out this site to see what I'm talking about. I remember one year we gave a music program since my sons were into music, another year we figured it would be fun to give a goat and some chickens. It's really neat because WV sets it up so you can see how whatever you pick will be useful for the people to whom it's given.

What about you, what are some experiences you've had with Operation Shoe Box, World Vision, or some other giving opportunity at Christmas?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Can we hate sin and love the sinner?

I hear the phrase "I hate sin but love the sinner" frequently uttered by Christians. Do you think we can really do this?

I think one of the big issues facing America today that really pushes this question is homosexuality.

Recently the ECLA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) took loving to the point where a controversial vote was held in August by the denomination's chief legislative body to approve a resolution allowing noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained. I understand that those who voted yes in August felt that gays and lesbians need to be included in church life and that only allowing them the opportunity to be pastors, the same as everyone else, really does that. It was looked at as a civil rights issue.

This has resulted in lots of Lutheran churches withdrawing their membership. The entire Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) now has a strained relationship with the ECLA. When the LCMS leaders met in September, they agreed that despite differences over human sexuality, the churches should continue working together as much as possible when it can be done without compromise. The work the LCMS was referring to was Lutheran Services in America, which provides a variety of human services through social ministry organizations, and Lutheran World Relief, and an international relief and development agency. [The LCMS is the eighth largest Protestant religion in the US, and the second largest Lutheran group, second only to the ECLA; it represents around 2.4 million members.]

I'm not Lutheran, but I've always seen Lutherans as the great opportunity for Protestants who want to enjoy the liturgical aspects of faith. So I've closely watched this whole scene play out before my eyes. I've struggled, agonized, with the issues as if it were my own church. Because, when it's all said and done, it is-we're all part of the same body, the same Christ. We all want to be true to God's word, and be loving. How that looks can sometimes become confusing. This whole issue that Lutherans are struggling with underscores the pivotal question of what actions demonstrate love.

I recently watched this profound short video, over at

I'll give you that it's rather obvious that name calling and mimicking someone is clearly not loving. But are we name calling if we say the lifestyle they are choosing is sin and so we can not ordain them as pastors? That we would not ordain anyone involved in lifestyle sin (as opposed to someone who sometimes just messes up and repents and moves forward) that they are saying is not sin, to be a minister?

What do you think? What actions do you think demonstrate love toward someone who is involved in sin? How can you separate loving the person from hating the sin?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rekindle the Fire

This prayer by Brennan Manning struck a cord in my heart. May it bless you as well:

Lord Jesus, Savior, me dream again.
Rekindle in my heart that fire of the disciple who sees his calling everywhere, hears Your invitation everywhere,
reaches out to Your children in great need...everywhere.
I really do want to live Your life in mine - to serve, to care,
to give, to sing Your song - for your glory and pleasure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009

Today is Veterans Day here in America; the day we annually honor military veterans.

In some, other, countries, Remembrance Day or Armistice Day is celebrated on November 11. Remembrance or Armistice Day is to specifically remember the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice).

Few things in life are free. I appreciate all our service men and women have, and continue to, sacrifice so that I can enjoy living in America and experiencing the freedoms we all have.

Both my father and mother were in what was called the Army Air Core in those days. My mother was only enlisted a few years, and my father had retired by the time I was born. Neither of my two older sisters, nor myself, have ever been in the military. Currently my oldest son Devon is technically in the Army; when he graduates in May 2010 he will be on active duty. My oldest son's fiance will also be on active duty in May 2010.

Devon has a favorite quote from John Stuart Mills that I think fits well on Veterans Day:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Today I'm thinking about how grateful I am for all the men and women who have helped keep me free.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Terrific Tuesday with Rosel from Off the Beaten Trek

Starting today I'm going to have a guest blog each Tuesday as part of what I'm calling Terrific Tuesdays.

We're starting with a blog from Rosel, who writes at Off the Beaten Trek; a blog that's totally blessed me on more days than I can count. Rosel is a registered nurse and works in a correctional facility. Her posts are an interesting glimpse into her life there, as well as spiritual lessons she's lifted from her daily encounters. Her writing is such that I find myself thinking on what I've read long after I've finished reading.

Enjoy this Best of Off the Beaten Trek post...

The Attacker

The sun was just peeking from the Eastern skies.

Out in the prison’s yard, some huge Sheriff’s buses were illuminated by the soft glow coming from the lights all over from the tall lamp posts. Their engines were turned on, warming up, before the buses would take the inmates to the different courts where they would have their trials.

Orange-uniformed men were lined up in pairs, joined together with handcuffs and chained, forming a long line. They already had their breakfast and had their morning medications prior to going to courts. Some were fidgeting, as they waited to board those buses.

All of a sudden, all hell broke loose! Two men were engaged in a fight, using weapons they made secretly for a while. Deputies called for help on the radio, both for custody back-up and medical staff, as well.

When the air was cleared and the other inmates were secured, one man was down on the floor. He sustained multiple gashes but two of them were deep. One cut was vertically etched from his left ear going down to the jaw line. The other dangerous cut was horizontal on his left neck, close to the jugular vein. Pool of blood dripped all over the floor. Holding his bleeding neck, he was pointing at the other inmate few feet away, being guarded by the other deputies.

The other man being accused was not hurt. There were no lacerations nor any other signs of trauma. He was obviously very agitated as he was being questioned by those deputies, while the medical staff started treating the other man on the floor. They cleaned the wounds and controlled the bleeding. That man was sent to the nearby hospital.

When the investigation was finalized, it turned out to be that the “downed man who was accusing the other inmate” was the attacker and the other one who didn’t have injury was the one attacked. The deputies found out that it was the second attempt to attack the unhurt man. Both attacks on him failed. He was well-prepared after the first attempt on him, that when the second attempt was done, he was able to defend himself and ended up injuring his attacker severely.

[Source: Life Application Bible]:

We also have an “accuser of the brethren.” Satan and his army of demons are the enemies of God and of everything good.

“Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death.” –Hebrews 2:14

Because of what Jesus had done [dying on the cross], we, who live in constant fear of death shouldn’t be afraid anymore. Jesus had freed us from that fear so we can live for Him. When we belong to God, we know that death is only the portal that leads into “eternal life”. [“Thank You Lord!].

Paul warned us, too that we also battle against the evil forces of Satan, who is a vicious fighter. But to be able to withstand their attacks, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of His armor. We face an army whose goal is to defeat Christ’s church. When we believe in Christ, they become our enemies. They will try any device to turn us away from the Lord.

Fear not! For God has provided His supernatural power to defeat Satan and his army, through His Holy Spirit within us. So, arm yourselves with God’s armor.

Let us be strong in the Lord's mighty power. Let's put on His whole armor to resist the enemy's attacks: put on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that we are well-prepared. We will need faith in every battle as our shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed by Satan and his army. Let us put on salvation as our helmet, not forgetting the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Let's pray at all times, on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must stay alert and be persistent in our prayers for all Christians everywhere. [Ephesians 6:10-18].

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's an examined life?

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

But what does it mean to live an examined life?

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear that question is a beloved passage from Psalm 139:23-24 (NASV):

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Daily I take some time to come before God and pray this prayer. Time to be still and quiet; time to reflect. Time to let God convict me of areas in my life that need to change.

Sometimes, I have such blind spots that I'm not even able to hear God speak to me in these times. In His goodness, there have been times when God has brought circumstances and people in my life to help me see where I need to change.

Lately I've been thinking on what it means to live an examined life and how that's different from the self absorption that I see prevalent in our culture, and even in the church. I frequently have to remind myself that it's not all about me. Because God is so good, and has done so much for me, and has so many blessing available to me, I want to live the lifestyle that He wants for me. Thus, I spend daily time in self examination. But even in that, I recognize that there is nothing I could ever do that would separate me from His love for me in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39). It's about Him, not me. It's not even about my sin.

What are some things God's shown you about living an examined life?

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Day for Mourning and Questions at Fort Hood

I was shocked when I learned about an Army Psychiatrist opening up fire at Fort Hood yesterday.

Sometimes we read about people going nuts and opening up fire on others; but not on a base, not when they are an Army trained psychiatrist. I've got to agree with our President's comment concerning this, that it's a tragedy to lose a soldier overseas and even more horrifying when they come under fire at an Army base on American soil.

From what I've read, here's what we know about the shooter:
-His name is Nidal Malik Hasan
-He is a 39-year old major in the United States Army
-He worked for 6 years training in psychiatry at Walter Reed Hospital and is now a psychiatrist
-There is some questions about him receiving a poor performance evaluation while at Walter Reed
-According to Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at Walter Reed when Hasan was there, Hasan had some "difficulties" that required counseling and extra supervision
-He is a practicing Muslim
-There was an investigation at least 6 months ago into if Hassan had been the author of some internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades. Investigators had not determined for certain whether Hasan was the author of the posting
-He was to be deployed today - some sources say to Iraq and some sources say to Afghanistan
-He had been cleaning out his apartment for the last few days and even paid his neighbor to clean it for him on Friday after he was all moved out.

There are 12 people dead and 31 wounded.
Officials are not ruling out the possibility that some of the casualties may have been victims of "friendly fire," that in the confusion at the shooting scene some of the responding military officials may have shot some of the victims.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander, acknowledged that it was "counterintuitive" that a single shooter could hit so many people, but he said the massacre occurred in "close quarters. "With ricochet fire, he was able to injure that number of people," Cone said. He said authorities were investigating whether Hasan's weapons were properly registered with the military.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is quoted as saying :

"That investigation is under way by law enforcement authorities, and let's let that be the No. 1 priority in terms of ascertaining what motivations he had."

My heart goes out to those families of the victims of this shooting. My prayers are with the victim's families and the 31 wounded soldiers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do people ever irritate you?

It never fails, that when I sit down and read the Bible I see something that I need to see.

Today, the following words in Romans 12:9-10 (NLT) jumped out at me:

Don't just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring one another.

OK, have you ever noticed that it's easy to think about loving others; that it feels all warm and fuzzy? But, have you ever experienced that, in contrast, it sometimes is just plain difficult when the "others" are being annoying and irritating?

One thing that helps me with irritating people is to remind myself of how great God's grace is toward me, how much He is constantly forgiving me and loving my sometimes miserable self. Since I saw the Mel Gibson movie "The Passion" I have that one scene, when Jesus was being flogged, in my mind and that's also one of those things that puts life into perspective.

What do you do when you want to be loving, but the people you should love are being irritating?

Do you like Big or Little government?

This is the question that most affects how I look at the new health care reform bill.

Yesterday I read that the 16,000 member Christian Medical Association came out with a statement that the 2,000 page healthcare overhaul bill (HR 3962) introduced in the House of Representatives last week far exceeds the need for targeted reforms. Dr. David Stevens, CEO of this association stated that “With this massive legislation, we are getting much more than is actually needed to fix our health care system,” . Basically the group feels that HR 3962 is an “overdose” in reform that injects massive government intervention in the system.

There are certainly lots of problems in healthcare, and I do not think there are any simple solutions out there. But I've never seen more government (which always translates into more bureaucracy) make anything better.

What about you, do you think the solution is to overhaul the healthcare system to have more government intervention? What do you think are the important issues in the healthcare reform debate?

Monday, November 2, 2009

How do you address God?

Read these words by Thomas Merton today: :

"We make ourselves what we are
by the way we address God."

I've been thinking about this concept, off and on, all day. I've been thinking about the fact that how I address God demonstrates my thinking about Him. My thinking about God affects my actions, and my actions build the person I'm becoming.

So, how do you address God?
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