Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My World is Already Different

Is it safe to write????

Every time I've tried to start a blog post in the last few weeks, a tragic or horrible piece of news comes in our direction.  Here in the Painter household, we have been subject to secondhand news of upsetting things.  If you are managing your own mental well being and do not want to read of upsetting things, I will list the worst at the end of this post.

Skip this post when it becomes beneficial.

Have your kids returned to public school this week like mine have?  How has it gone for you as a parent?  I posted Psalm 91 on facebook; it is a great set of promises from the Promise-Maker for the concerns of physical safety.  I am praying for my kids every time I drop them off, and we are talking a lot about how to be safe and yet not live with fear.

Lijie has afternoon kindergarden.  I didn't want to be a nuisance as this tragedy was just coming across communication lines on Friday afternoon, but I really wanted to be present for my own sense of protecting my child as he went into his class.  I did not walk down to his class like I have oftentimes, I let him go and then peeked around into the office to speak to the secretary.  I asked,
"Do you have a different protocol for security at a time like this?  I assume you've gathered what happened this morning?"
I paused and waited while she gathered her thoughts.  She replied that she just received an email about their security a few minutes prior.  That there was a police car patroling the local streets around the school... that there were particular staff persons who were walking the grounds of the school at certain intervals.  I nodded my head.

I had seen a police cruiser with his lights flashing as we were driving to the school - only he had pulled over a fellow mother I knew and was giving her a ticket for speeding I assume.  It was a comfort to see the police myself.  Then I said to her,
"Okay.  I am afraid for copycats."
She replied with a "yeah" because we're all trying to take this in without overreacting. I told her with a tear in my eye how much I was thankful for all they do. She was touched and said thank you.

I am curious to brainstorm how I can be encouraging to the school at this time?  I want to help, but I don't think I can do anything to be helpful, except give them winter break to gather their wits and come up with some substantial suggestions.  I assume they will hold meetings for parents to describe their plans and solutions and on that day, I plan to be a part and offer my help.

On Monday (yesterday), things were just as tense.  Taped in the front door window there was a piece of paper which said,
Please have patience with us.  We are currently revising our security protocols for the school.  At this time you may be asked for identification before entering the building.
Well, I paused.  And then I walked inside.  I walk in a lot and have had my children attending this school for 7 years, so they "know" me.  Right?  No.  Here's the deal: Adam Lanza was "known" too.  It doesn't matter how long they've recognized me, or that I'm a parent.  Anyone, anyone can put the children at risk including me.  I stood inside and froze out of respect.  Nothing happened.  There was a teacher leading her students across the lobby area toward the gym.  They followed one another in a perfectly straight line.  The teacher, a beautiful young woman just like at Sandy Hook, stared straight at me, ignoring her students.  She just stood there between me and her students, staring at me, but smiling.

It doesn't matter who I am, I realized. All that matters is whether or not I pose a threat. I was wearing a coat that comes down to mid-thigh. Long enough to conceal a gun and I shook my head later when I thought about it.

I need to be thought of as the bad guy: this is the teachers' job, now. To size up risk, to keep me out. That is exactly what I want for my child while he is at school. I just wish it wasn't happening to me, because obviously I along with 99.999% of people who walk into that building, am not the enemy, but an ally.

My world is different now.

So is my daughter's. Grace came home from school. She said that a week prior they practiced their "lockdown drill." I asked her to explain.

Level 1 This is the level the school is commonly on every day. It means the doors on the exterior of the building remain locked during school hours.

Level 2 All classroom doors must be locked from access in the hallway. Students stay in their seats and class continues.

Level 3 All classroom doors must be locked from access in the hallway. Students are supposed to hide in the corner of the room where there is no visibility from the window on the door, or hide in closets or cabinets. Anything to make the room look vacant.

On the one hand, I was like, wow. That's great. They already have thought through a situation like this. On the other hand I marvel. I never did "lockdown drills" as a kid. We did earthquake drills, and tornado drills when I was in Illinois. I remember learning how my parent's generation had atomic bomb drills. I guess this is the next generation's most likely terror...? What kind of a world does my daughter live in, today? Why should she have to learn how to hide from a gunman... or a team of gunmen?

I drove along Broadway Street, past another elementary school. I saw children outside, lined up against the wall, perhaps preparing for recess. For a moment I thought, "oh my God" ("oh my God" is not a cuss word, it is an address to God directing His attention to a situation that needs Him). A sniper could take them out so easy. The playground is out in front of the school, right next to the street. How can teachers send them out to play? How can they protect them from a gun, there?

Fear creates such a mess. Like the airlines after 9/11, I just wonder if life in schools will ever be the same. I wonder if it is going to be just as bad as that tragedy, just as far-reaching.

This is going to be a hard time as a nation. It is going to be hard on everybody, especially those who directly care for children. I am praying for God to give me wisdom for how to encourage teachers and staff.

Public Places

Secondhand experiences have reached us from the tragedy at Clackamas Town Center Mall. Ben's mother had time off from work as an elementary teacher. She planned to go to that mall the very next day after the shooting. She shops there frequently. It is a suburban, upper-scale mall. Not the first choice for an act of home-grown terrorism. I know that she shops a lot at Macy's. She called to share her experience that night, and Ben lovingly called her the next evening to see how she was doing again. It is hard to imagine her entering that place again.

A couple days later, Ben forwarded me an email from one of his martial arts teachers of the last 9 years. His teacher's email was filled with sadness to share that one of his students, a fellow black belt in their martial art (Kosho Ryu Kempo) and friend of 20 years, Steve Forsyth, was one of the two victims (the male victim) that was killed in the shooting at the Mall. Ben had not met Steve personally, but it certainly made the grief more profound.

And then yesterday, Ben came home from work again after Kempo class. His other teacher who taught him today is a black belt and police officer with Clackamas County. He was called to the scene at the Mall and was one of the first responders as an officer. I asked him what he experienced. He said,
"things that can't be said with little ears present."
Tonight Ben tells me part of his story: that there were well over 10,000 people in the mall. That as a first responder he had to go from room to room to room to release people in hiding. The eerie state of seeing not a soul but hearing Christmas music playing overhead and seeing strollers, purses, food -- everything abandoned in an instant when people ran for their lives.

Personal Relationships

My friend Elena as I mentioned in the previous blog post was murdered. We had known Dave since before he filed for divorce, and Ben and I had built some friendship doing couples things to try and share in life and a sense of understanding. It is difficult of course, now. Ben and I joke how crazy it is that we personally know a murderer. I was told by a certain individual that she was shot in the cranium, however their were multiple gunshot wounds. It's awful. The Statesman Journal reported from police officers that Dave confessed to have thought previously of murdering her in ways other than with a firearm. I don't know if Dave is guilty of having done any wrong. It's not my place to judge; I am quoting what is commonly known. This is quite unnerving, and we occasionally have poured over our knowing him to try and come to the mindset of this outcome, but, of course, we can't understand it. As with the other tragedies, how can someone logically come to the decision to murder, which is by definition not an accident, not self-defense?

We are left picking up the pieces. The local funeral home is trying to arrange for a cost-effective way to get her home. The memorial is this Saturday and they'll release her cremated remains to me so that I can transport her to the church for the service. Tough stuff. I spoke again to Kathie at Victim's assistance and after a few minutes we both felt the need to talk about the national sense of devastation this last week, how everyone stopped processing heartache about Elena while that was happening. Kathie said that she is also working on the case of the victims at Clackamas Town Center. Crazy. She is a great lady. I love her manner. She is slow. Her tone is just perfect for grieving people. I couldn't think more highly of her.

One Thought at a Time

I recognize that I am overreacting, in some ways, to what I see as risk for children to be shot while attending school. I do recognize it. I'm allowing myself the grace to experience it as it comes. I believe this is the only healthy way to do it. I haven't yet processed fear of generally public places, such as the mall, theaters, even church. I'm trusting God, but I just haven't thought out how to be as safe as is attainable without robbing joy for life. I haven't processed yet the fear completely that the people in my own life are people who are possibly capable of doing much harm. I've seen scary moments before in my life, and I felt like I learned the lesson of walking by faith and in victory in Christ, but I guess with each new wound, it must be regained, it must be relearned. And if it takes time, it takes time.

How can anybody not feel like a jerk for having ever felt anger in their heart.... When we can all see the fruit of hate... which is murder? Jesus warned us about this. He said that hate is murder in the heart. These are horrible realities on the human condition. I want Jesus in my life so much more than I did three weeks ago.

If I'm concerned by all this, perhaps there's something wrong with me. Am I too responsible for others? Am I not responsible enough? What am I supposed to be learning about my pride and self-reliance? An unspoken goal I've had for a few years is to be a pastor without the title. Lots of people do this, it's obviously easier than attending seminary. How much does it serve to have the title of pastor or minister? Every Christian is a minister (has priesthood), there is no distinguishing ministers in God's Kingdom but by an exceptional love relationship with God. I can be even less ambitious-minded by not thinking of myself as "Christian". Ministry simply amounts to no more than living life as God intended it in community. Am I able to hear His voice in the place that I am? I could have attended seminary for a few years now. The Spirit asked me about whose kingdom I'm building, and I'm not convinced that seminary is God's best. Life seems too short to secure a measure of authority to interpret the bible by a paper's certification. If God opens doors for me to do all the work of a pastor, church-planter, etc., without ever holding a title I would be as happy as a sunflower in the sun. However, if it turns out I could really stand to grow in Kingdom relevance through seminary, if seminary would make me grow in humility or character then I trust God to lead me in that direction.

What's the Good News?

Psalm 91 has been good news to me. God's word has been good news. And His power has been good news. At a time when I feel my worst... at a time when my head is the least functioning than it's been in a couple years... I can say this: God has favor for me, and it isn't because I am on the ball. It is only because of His grace that He calls me servant in such a state as I am in. I am amazed that the story of my personal life coincides to bless the local sphere.... Translation: I never would have dreamed my friend would leave this earth. If I could change it, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it prepared me a few weeks before the whole nation, the whole culture started suffering with the same issues: Guns. The mindset of murder. Trauma. Feelings of living in an unsafe world. Wanting desperately to depend on the normalcy of people who live around me. How is God not amazing in His plans that He prepared me just a little bit so that I could send the comfort that He has given me to others.... I never saw such a thing coming my way. I would take the entire month back in every aspect if I had a choice. But it never will go back to being exactly the way it was before.

I am proud of my husband. He adds such a love for things that are pure, and patient but consistent boundary for things that are not pure. He understands grace and compassion better than fewer people I've ever known. And most importantly he loves taking risks to affect transformation. I could not have asked for a better life-partner. It means so much to me that we both have a deep, true, unfailing love for people.

God has caused His providence to protect me. Dave called me the day before he allegedly murdered my friend. I didn't pick up the phone. I didn't call him back. He didn't leave a message. At the time I was led to hear, "let the call go." I did. Generally when he calls it's because something is happening with their relationship and he wants me to listen or mediate. Sometimes it is to pick her up. If he had asked me to come and get her on that day or the next, I would have done it. I might have been there the moment that this situation turned for the worst. I've been included in their disagreements at times in the past. These things add up to tell me that God said: No. He was going to make sure that nothing would happen to me. I cannot explain why I was protected. I cannot explain why my friend died. I cannot explain the mystery of God's will. But I am thankful that God protects me. Always, God will protect me until it is also my day to begin eternity at His side.

Ask one of the ten thousand people inside Clackamas Town Center Mall why they were protected from harm and someone else was not and they will probably have no better answers. Some things are just too big for us to explain. Close call? Not by a longshot. God directs me on a level path. I gave my life to Him, and He guards it. Matthew 10:28,
And fear not them which kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul...
Missing my friend. Her life is still unfolding like a gift to me. Look forward to seeing her in eternity so I can tell her again that I love her.

So thankful for the template of one tv show in four iterations all these years. I'm thankful for art. For fanvids depicting the subtle interweavings of significance in the human experience. Life... and your story of it, is art. It is the genius of a Master. Ephesians 2:11 ("workmanship").

I'm thankful for a nation becoming my community overnight. For the fellowship with everyone in recent mourning. For the never-wished-for-but-welcome companionship mirroring this specific battle to recover.

I'm thankful for the chance to absorb all that God has purposed me to become in the image of His Son.

"I'll Be Your Soldier" by Gavin Degraw

Where did all the people go?
They got scared when the lights went low.
I'll get you through it nice and slow,
When the world's spinning out of control.

Afraid of what they might lose
Might get scraped or they might get bruised.
You could beg them, what's the use?
That's why it's called a moment of truth

I'll get it if you need it,
I'll search if you don't see it,
You're thirsty, I'll be rain,
You get hurt, I'll take your pain.

I know you don't believe it,
But I said it and I still mean it,
When you heard what I told you,
When you get worried I'll be your soldier.

Funny when times get hard,
At the last moment when you're supposed to charge,
Always on the longest yard,
Oh, they feel their feet getting cold.

Hiding here, hiding there,
Find them underneath the stairs,
People hiding everywhere,
Trying to be still like a stone.

I'll get it if you need it,
I'll search if you can't see it,
You're thirsty, I'll be rain,
You get hurt, I'll take your pain.

I know you don't believe it,
But I said it and I still mean it,
When you heard what I told you,
When you get worried I'll be your soldier.

My aim is so true,
I wanna show you,
I'll try forever,
I'm never gonna say "surrender".

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Love is Enough

Some readers here may have known through facebook about what happened to Elena, a friend of mine.  I created a multi-admin blog for everyone who loved her who is internet-inclined to publish their own feelings at this time.  It's not much, I feel otherwise useless.

For Elena, Our Dear Friend

When a heart grieves, it becomes confused and hurt, and doubts.  Things that were once clear are now muddy.  It's the love that clears things again.  It is never a waste to love someone to the point that my heart is now naturally wounded.  It's not a waste of my heartbeats even if it ends in a shocking and unexpected way.  Even if I never get to see someone be strengthened by the mutifaceted nature of Christ's salvation.  Even if they fail or lose their way and get worse, it is still enough.  Love is enough.  I am so thankful to God that I was filled to share the love of God with her!  I am thankful that she was truly loved by the Church, God's people.  I praise God knowing that she was loved by Jesus so deeply through His people!  It makes me celebrate inside.

Why is love enough to Jesus?

There's a most famous verse about love not being enough.  Jesus sent out the 12 on their first mission trip.  Well, that word "mission trip" sounds too haughty sometimes to me.  How about describing a mission trip the way Jesus did?  "Freely you have received; freely give" (Matt. 10:8).  Verse 14,
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.
This would mean that if people don't demonstrate marked improvement because of the gospel of Christ, we should move on.  But that isn't all He said.  In a less-quoted verse (vs. 40) a little further down, Jesus says,
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
"Receiving" is, like, having God, the Person.  In verse 14, Jesus dismisses a combination of bad indicators; "if they won't receive you AND they even won't hear your words, THEN shake the dust off your feet."  But sometimes people don't receive the words at first.  Sometimes, we're too broken to get it... for awhile.  Thank God for His mercy!  Where would I be without mercy??  It is enough to receive someone who you know ultimately what they are all about - they do all they have done in the name of the gospel of Christ.  It was rare for my friend to call to talk about the bible, or ponder how to be a follower of God.  But she would say, "Michele, would you come and sit with me?"

Jesus was the Master of being received into the house of the disenfranchised and simply celebrate being together.

If we get to have a funeral I hope to hear many stories of God's power in Elena's life, and how she believed in Jesus even though she suffered from mental handicap.  I wanted most for her to be safe and stable.  We often prayed or talked about Jesus.  She started a bible study with me over skype.  We were good friends, we both loved fashion and many of my most favorite items were Elena's selections for me.  I want to write fun memories of her.  Her being far from her country made her friends, her family.

It's hard to know someone you wanted so much to be safe - has been murdered.  I know that it was beyond my control and it enters the realm of God's plans and Satan's craftiness, which is beyond me.  I fear God.  There are some things I'm struggling to understand, and one of them I can share out loud.  I want to get my theology straightened out in case it's wrinkled.  I could use some discussion.

I'm trying to jump start my brain about a God who sees us and cares for us.  The usual religious word for God's overall power to shape our lives is called God's "sovereignty."  But there's a flip side which is also true.  This flip side is what is often referred to with various names: free will, free agency; basically, human choice.  God dignifies human choice.  Both choice and sovereignty are real.  But how can I wrap my mind around it?

What can I say?  I'm not a Calvinist.  I don't believe everything is in God's power and none is in ours.  I believe "it's up to us," yet God will completely lead and empower us in an ironic state of biblical "rest" through letting Him work.  Vying for someone's physical, personal safety here on earth is important to God.  Just think of abortion as a great example of how we believe in the importance of safety.  I wonder what happens to real people when they are helpless and they really don't receive tangible help?  Don't they really perish?

"Freely you have received, freely give."

Does God vouch for us as we love those we are passioned for?  Does His Spirit partner with us and our righteous, Kingdom-advancing intents?  Or does He have a plan that is so mysterious that we shouldn't take our human sense of responsibility and ambition for the gospel (Romans 2:7) too seriously?

I'm just trying to sort out what happened, here.  I need a few new notes in my head to encourage my heart.  Maybe I'm short on the mystery of God and His sovereign choices.  I knew what my plans were... you know?  It was to continue to love those whom I love, with God's power which works in me.

God is always altogether different than me.  I want to see Him and know Him as He is.  What do you think God might be up to?  Can this be at all related to what God permitted Satan to do to Job?

Look forward to some thoughts. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

How I Help My Children Be Righteous

There are six things my children need to be righteous: love, truth, outward ministry, pursuit of the Kingdom of God, good doctrine, and deploying-debriefing.

Love and Truth

My job as mother is to love my children like Jesus loved us.  He was sent to us and moved into the neighborhood to dwell with us.  He was available.  I want to emulate Him and be available too.  I want to be interrupted to hear them when they speak (but this is not at all an easy discipline, right?).  Jesus loved and nurtured and protected and provided for us.  But it wasn't pointless love.  It was not love without the love of wisdom, it was not love without a message.  Truth was meant to help His children be happy and know freedom no matter what trial might come their way.  My father confessed recently that his deepest aspiration for his children was that as adults they would know happiness, real and lasting happiness.  Is that not a great insight into why we've been given grace through Jesus Christ?

Outward Ministry

The best way to show my children how to live in the Kingdom of God is to practice the Great Commission as a family.  Whatever passage we read from God's Word will become real when they see it "working" out there in the real world where outsiders have no obligation to me at all.

I am certain one of the most common ways the enemy gets Christian parents out of the work of making disciples is to convince them that their number one purpose is to sell their lifestyle to the world.  "Lifestyle" is the principles by which I run the house and interact in society.  In my heart I'm like every other parent; I think I'm wise.  I admit that.  I am so desperate to make sure, especially on my best days that my children not believe there is anything good in me.  I don't want them to get a tolerable way of life from me and miss everything that Christ is going to be for them.  The truth is, if I try to persuade others to do the same things outwardly that I do, I am sickeningly building my own kingdom, not Christ's.  So what I want to listen for is what God is telling my children to become for Him.

Pursuit of the Kingdom of God

One of the most challenging places to make disciples is in my own family.  Yes, because they know me most intimately.  They reveal whether I truly am walking in the Spirit because they get me at my most natural state.  I try to admit that to them so that they can get a true picture of the difference and see grace to continue after failing.

But it is also challenging because I have to somehow find a way to teach our children to look past the culture of being a Christian family in the normalcy of Christian friends and by-and-large Christian community, and gain true faith and fellowship with God for themselves.  This requires the most creative and diligent work of reading the Word of God and then acting on it by the grace of Jesus Christ.  My job as mother is to make tangible the Kingdom of God in their midst.  It is much easier to disciple someone who does not come from a church-background.

I'm not all that good at it.  I'm doing my best.  I wish I was better.

If the church at which we attend and serve was gone tomorrow, would my children know how to advance the Kingdom of God successfully in their sphere of influence?  This is my concern as I listen to their concept of God.  Matthew 19:14,
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Every time the Kingdom of God shows up, the people experience it as Good News.  They get cured.  They are fed.  They are forgiven.  They are reconciled.  I want to live in a way that invites my children to experience the Kingdom as good news to them.  And I don't want them to be judged or made to feel criticized until they're ready to taste and see that the LORD is good, because criticism is not good news.

Insufficient Doctrine

My delightful husband Ben hears well the need for true righteousness and gave me an article.  It said,
Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The article presented a story of a 16-year-old girl who was raised in the church and said "I don't think I believe in God anymore" to her mother, who understandingly panicked.  The mother's number one sense of loss in this situation was for her daughter's morals and manners.  The article replies to this concern saying, "Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values.  Christian values cannot save anyone and never will."

Being righteous does not mean being right.  It does not at all mean superiority.  Being righteous means that God has credited a certain supernatural capacity into a child's life, to bear with life and experience victory to the praise of God.  Every other moral or virtuous code that does not give the glory to God's supernatural enabling is what Revelation describes as Lukewarm.  Rev. 3:14-21,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:  “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
The question I ask myself is this: Are "Christian manners and morals" inadvertently teaching my children to be self-sufficient from God's righteousness?

Good Doctrine

"But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).  I totally trust Jesus' righteousness to make my kids moral and mannered!

Here are some basic truths about righteousness for the Christian parent to read and digest.  You might not be able to pass the teachings below directly on to your children, but hopefully they will help you read passages from the Bible to your children with an angle of revealing His Kingdom to them.

I used to believe that once I got saved, God dumped all Christ's righteousness into me, into my spirit.  So the righteousness I had when I got saved is Me-Centric.  But that would mean that once I'm saved I no longer are in need of God in order to be increasingly transformed.  This was a wrong belief.  Even after salvation, righteousness is not Me-Centric, it is still in-Christ, it is Christ-centric.

Isn't that a great picture?

How then am I connected through salvation to Christ, where His righteousness dwells?  Legally it's mine, the righteousness and holiness I need is in an account that Christ has set up for me to use.  But the salvation funds have not been transferred in to the way I live unless I approach God by faith continually and ask Him to give it to me.

How are the righteousness funds transferred?

They are transferred through faith.  Sometimes most specifically through asking God directly, even knocking diligently by prayer to have them.  If there is a Christian parent here who is reading and knows way down deep that God is elusive and distant and you can't seem to break through the barrier, don't give up on God or on His credits toward you.  They are there and they are definitely yours because of Jesus.  For me too sometimes He expects me to directly ask Him to be kind toward me, and help me in the name of Jesus.  Even at these most difficult moments, God has always given me the righteousness for which I asked.  He is good!

Look at the picture of water below.  The water is righteousness.  Faith is the straw.  Faith is the conduit through which what you seek is given to you.

Faith is the way we were saved and it is also the same conduit through which we are being made holy.  Here is another graphic illustration on where righteousness comes from.

Children may be able to understand that their life choices are like erecting a building.  1 Corinthians 3:9-15 says,
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.  According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.  For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
As a parent, I want my children to consider having their life's choices tested by God's holy fire.  The quick and easy answers here, are, first - no one can lose their salvation based on their performance as a Christian (See the cross in the building above?  The foundation has been laid; see Ephesians 1:13).

Second - when your child yields to the Holy Spirit and allows God to lead them by faith, those building materials (life choices) construct more building onto the corner foundation of their salvation.  Works done in the Spirit are God Himself at work and obviously will endure eternally because there is no sin or imperfection in them.

Third - when your child does things in his own strength or his own ideas and purposely excludes God, those life choices are like hay and stubble - they also add building onto their foundation.  However with fire they disintegrate.  More, they are the materials which make the fire hotter.  Everyone will pass through that fire, yet every child of God is guaranteed to pass through to the other side and live.  See the cross stones embedded in the picture above?  Those are the materials at minimum that are guaranteed to pass without burning up.

Lastly - if my children have any sort of edifice remaining after the Day of testing by fire, then over those life-choices they will eternally experience the joy of their LORD.

Deploy and Debrief

Devotions with kids can quickly become busy work, another task to lay upon our already busy lives.  May I suggest another model that I believe works:  Help children hear Jesus deploying them out with power on a mission just like He sent His disciples in the Gospels.  And just like the disciples, children need to come back in to our huddles to debrief.  Debrief means to report on what happened and what it means.  Instead of scripting out their Christian experience through a book written by a best-seller, I want them to discover God in the day they share with me.

I don't want to parent them as much as possible.  When they present a problem to me, I want God to fix it in replacement of me.  When they are sad about a friend who can't come to AWANA, I want to ask them to pray about that person coming, rather than try and arrange seats in the minivan for them as just another thing that I do for them.  When they are scared about laying in bed at night, I would rather them pray than find comfort from mom sitting in their room another night.  The more they turn to Him, the less pressure I have as an adult.  And, most importantly, we become a family of coequal-servants of Christ.

I do not want my children reading the Bible like homework.  The tone of approaching scripture should come from interest to approach God Himself.  When I interact afterward with what my child has read from the Bible, I should but rarely ask them comprehension questions.  "What was the man's name in the story?"  "What did God tell this person to do?"  Why do I suggest comprehension questions are a bad thing?  Because it teaches them to read the Bible like scientists observe nature.  It trains them to think the major point of any passage is to answer the five Ws (who, what, why, when, and how).  My kids come home angry about looking at a Bible.  They say, "uhh, I already know the stories Mom!"  That breaks my heart.  Instead, they should be reading it to hear what God is saying to them and to respond in their daily life, to choose something differently because of what they have seen and heard of God.  The best answers come by asking the best questions.  I try my best to do this for them.

I respect what God wants to do through them and I make sure not to invade any space that God wants to have to reach their hearts.

I also want to create children-disciples who can think for themselves when it comes to God.  Questions are at the heart of understanding His promises and watching those blessings unfold through faith.  I want them to think about their issues in life and feel safe sharing them openly with me.  I want to treat them as just as responsible for following Jesus as I am capable of being responsible.  They understand what it is to feel something, and God cares for their emotions.

Uprightness of a child is one who, though he fails God 7 times, he rises back into the presence of God 8.  No accusation from the enemy will blind this child's eyes from trusting that God is the only one, the best one and the sufficient one to advocate for their soul.

I accidentally left out prayer.  My friend Chelsy has a heart for Christian mothers to pray for their children, and she has imparted a godly example to me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Birth Control: A Five Hour Discussion with Five Christian Ladies

About a year ago 4 ladies and I got together for a miniature conference on birth control and God's will for childbearing.  It was not a "church-sponsored" event.  We gathered together in a home and let our kids play together while we sat in an adjacent room and opened our Bibles together.

Our questions were these:  How many children does the LORD want a man and his wife to have?  Is any kind of birth control a sin?

Three ladies came from the perspective of believing that any form of restricting the conception of a child between a man and his wife was not an expression of trusting in God.  Their main verse was the command given to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply."

One lady came to sit and listen because she wasn't sure exactly how she believes about the issue.

I represented an alternative position.  I'm not sure what to call my position, but I intend to use this post as a way of outlining what I believe the Bible says about children and therefore paint an alternative perspective on the will of God for women as mothers.

With Love and Respect

I don't believe as the other ladies do but I want my readers here to know how much I honor the women who shared their stories with me.  I hope that everyone would emulate their faith.

I walked away totally blown away by the servanthood of the three ladies who represented this conservative view on birth control.  One lady's inspiration is Katie Davis, an American woman who at the age of 18 knew that she was called to adopt children and live in Uganda with them.  She at the age of 22 has I believe 14 girls who she has now adopted and raises as her own.  How does she get up and have the strength to do what she does?  Only by the amazing power and love of Jesus Christ!  This lady shared for the group her own story of having deep faith in Jesus for her own family.  She has 4 children and is expecting her fifth at this time, and she also credits Jesus for her strength to serve and love her children.  I am humbled by her faith and by the example of Katie Davis.

I believe that these ladies are called to serve Jesus Christ by opening their hearts and their homes to as many children as the LORD will give them.  I applaud their faith and their testimony of God's power.  However I am at the same time sure that not all married women are called to glorify Jesus in this same manner.

Birth Control Methods

We all agreed at the forefront that any kind of contraception that harmed a fertilized embryo was not a reflection of God's heart.  So off the top we skimmed out a discussion on the pill, Plan B, IUDs, etc.  But that still leaves at least two methods of contraception to use that do not harm a child: abstinence, which 1 Cor. 7 prohibits except in mutual agreement for a short period of time so that a couple may pray, and NFP.  Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method similar to the Rhythm Method, but it claims a higher success rate of 99% contraceptive effectiveness.  NFP uses no chemicals nor physical barriers.  It monitors cervical mucus and the woman's body basal temperature to pinpoint when she is ovulating so that for only 6 days out of the woman's 28-day cycle she must abstain from intercourse in order to avoid conception of a child.

Should married couples use something like NFP to control how many children they conceive?

Some families are actually incapable of having children.  Are they not obedient because they have not multiplied?  These ladies say, "no, of course not.  They are operating by faith in God to give them as many as He has planned for them, even if it is to have no children."  Some families only want one, two or three children.  Once they reach a certain dynamic in their family they do not want to have any more children.  If they should prevent further conception, are they in sin?  These ladies say, "Yes they would be.  That is, assuming they are capable of having more children and they take it out of God's hands and into their own."

This is an important issue in my mind because it gets to the heart of our purpose as Christians.

What do you think?

The Scriptures

The three ladies representing this most conservative take in opposition to birth control believe that no efforts should ever be made to limit the number of children born into a family.  They see so much of God's character and lovingkindness through trusting Him to give them exactly what they can handle.  They trust God completely and so they believe that using birth control would be an expression of doubting God's plans for their lives.

A central supportive text the ladies used was the story of Tamar and Onan.  The account is in Genesis 38:9.  Onan was punished for refusing to conceive a child.  My response is as follows: I am not sure the story of Onan is prescribed for every man and wife everywhere, especially for the Church.  What was Onan's sin, exactly?  Was it disobedience of the command in Genesis, "be fruitful and multiply?"  Onan was not hardened against conceiving children generally but he was hardened against producing an heir on behalf of his deceased brother.  Birthright and inheritance was traditionally a battle between sons.  The law of levirate marriage was also supposed to provide for Tamar in the loss of her husband.

I believe that "be fruitful and multiply" is inextricably linked with Spiritual dominion, not merely an earthly and physical dominion.  Producing physical children is not the picture of holiness God expects of Christians.  Remember that John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:9,
and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

The Jews looked to their physical birth as some sense of accomplishment of God's purpose.  But because there was no righteousness in God's people, God could not accept them as His children (Rom. 9:7) on that standing alone.  It is not all Israel who are of Israel (Rom. 9:6), and they were cut off from the LORD (Rom. 11).  He wanted a physical descendant, yes, for salvation is through the Jews (Jesus Christ).  But He also required a righteous-acting descendant.  Let's go back to the garden of Eden.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Not only did God want them to multiply physically, but moreover He wanted them to have dominion.  Dominion means that God wanted humanity to have spiritual control over this earth, and this spiritual power wielded by mere men would come through walking in fellowship with God.  Psalm 8:3-8,
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.  You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.
That means man was born to rule spiritually, having all his supply to rule righteously from intimacy with God.  Through faithfully practicing dominion, a life's stewardship would be rewarded by inheritance of the earth.  In the end, the faithful Church will have dominion with Jesus on the earth because Jesus took dominion back from Satan.  Satan controlled it temporarily only because man abdicated his own seat of power.  Until Jesus, there was no one who had righteously managed the reins of dominion given to Adam and Eve.  Jesus took the keys of dominion back from Satan's grasp when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins at His own adoption, perhaps His seal, His certification of son-ship, His "adoption, indeed" in Hebrews chapter 1, verses 3-4; 9,
...who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.  ...  You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
"Here I am, and the children whom God has given Me." Heb. 2:13
At His resurrection, Jesus inherited that over which he faithfully practiced dominion through the supply of His heavenly Father.

We the Church are meant to have dominion now in this life, with the expectation of inheritance in the next dispensation (Psalm 8, Revelation 2:26-27).  It is possible now not only because it was originally a gift of dominion handed to Adam and Eve and their descendants, but most especially because Jesus Christ overpowered the enemy who overpowers us, and is graciously supplying it through faith alone as King of his brother partakers.

It is important to note that even though God could raise sons of Abraham from mere stones, God has not planned to accomplish His will in such a way.  For us to seek to be spiritual descendants to the point of despising Christians who create physical descendants is to go the way of Gnosticism, and I do not suggest such a preoccupation.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing the physical and earthly, the bodily.  Having children is one of the most satisfying blessings God gives to the living.  I am only suggesting that bearing children not be elevated to a holy work without bringing forth righteousness as well.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

God said "be fruitful and multiply" to Adam and Eve.  Does this mean that He commanded the Gentiles as well as Israel to produce children?  Is this command for all humanity?  I would like to suggest that this command was not for Gentiles in Old Covenant times.  It is for Israel, proto-Israel, and in a Great Commission sense, the Church.

If God wanted Gentiles to multiply and have children, someone must explain why God looked with grief at humanity's first grand corruption, their choice to do evil in Genesis 6.  God decided to wipe out humanity forever with the flood.  Why did He want to destroy them all?  Was it because of their failure to have physical children?  No!  They were plenty multiplied.  It was because they were not righteous!  But Noah was righteous.  And he and his family found favor in the sight of the LORD and they were spared.  The flood is sure evidence that God does not desire ungodly people to bear children!  God wants a righteous descendant, not only a physical one.
righteousness will protect our children

The covenant with Noah prevented any subsequent flooding as His way to deal with unrighteousness.  His promise is that no future grand corruption of humanity will affect nature and result in our immediate physical death.  As God commanded man to have dominion in connection with the land of the earth, so God would no longer destroy the earth immediately because of wickedness.  God's promises to people are tied to land.

Since Noah, as Jesus teaches in the Gospels, God causes the rain to fall on the just and the wicked (Matt. 5:45).  He's spending His grace in a pay-it-forward sort of manner.  In the end we will be consumed just like Genesis 6, this time by fire.  There will be wrath, but for now it is being stored.  At judgment we will have no excuse for the way we have chosen to spend this life which has been relatively wrath-free because of the covenant God made with Noah.  God uses his wait-till-judgment-day-to-settle-accounts, pay-it-forward grace as a model (Matt. 5:45) for how we ought to make disciples of all nations.

"Be fruitful and multiply" was brought up by the ladies as a command reiterated by God throughout the Old Testament.  It's true, it is indeed spoken by God more than just in Genesis 1.  However, in every case where God gives this command, He gives it to those who are already His people, and He gives it to those who are already in fellowship with Him.  This command was not only pointing at the physical; God was pointing at us to replicate a people who would be taught how to walk in fellowship with God, who would be taught to practice true righteousness.  He wanted a people who could inherit the earth through practicing spiritual dominion in this life.  I do not believe we can believe as Christians that because we bear children, we therefore please God.
"fruitful" in the NT refers to discipleship not babies
"Be fruitful and multiply" was only spoken to Israel, or proto-Israel (the fathers of those who became Israel; Adam and Eve and Noah).  "Be fruitful and multiply" is never repeated in the New Testament.  Can a Christian be certain we are commanded today by God in this age to bear children or else be counted disobedient?

A Woman Will Be Saved Through Childbearing

These ladies also make a scriptural case by 1 Timothy 2:15,
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.  Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Childbearing, they say, produces tests and trials which refine and grow our faith in God.

It is always a good idea to interpret obscure verses in light of clear Biblical truths.  We know that a woman is not granted eternal life by works of any kind including childbearing but by faith alone in Jesus Christ who gives it freely as a gift to anyone who will trust Him.  We also know that a woman or a man is not sanctified by childbearing per se, but more Biblically by obeying the Word of God.

I do agree with the Ladies, that having children certainly is a sanctifying force in my life.  It causes me to need God in such a bigger way, it helps me to understand the sin nature and how important grace is.  It helps me to understand the role a Father plays with His children in all its facets such as withholding blessings for the sake of not spoiling a child, and why discipline is absolutely necessary to raise a child to be happy.

But God does not need me to have children in order to sanctify me.  The only pictures of Christ sanctifying me through others is the husband toward the wife, which is a picture of Christ and the Church.  That is the relationship designed for a woman to have a partner with which to grow in the LORD, along with a community of believers in the local church.

What is Family in the Kingdom of God?

Jesus taught very clearly on who we should count as our family in this life as well as the next.  He said in Matthew 12:46-50,
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.  Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”  But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.
The Family that endures eternally is not necessarily the one that lives with you in your home as you read this post.  I mean, read it and flame this blog post all you want but Jesus is the audacious one to say such a thing.  He doesn't wait till the resurrection to call disciples His true family.  He says, "Here" these disciples are His mother, His brothers, His sisters.  So here is what I as a Christian lady ought to be asking myself: Is my husband Jesus' brother?  Are my children, Jesus' brothers and sisters?  I certainly want them to be.  All my faithfulness and unconditional love are a picture of this hope for them.

In fact, the quintessential heart-test Jesus gave for discipleship was forsaking the orientation of our earthly family.  Luke 14:26,
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
I truly hope that Christian women everywhere see the importance of making their children into disciples, not simply making children, as God's heart for families.  As much as it pains a parent if our children should not choose to follow Jesus (and I can understand this pain), the truth is He will not recognize the resemblance of God in them when the Kingdom is ushered in.  What can I do to give them life in Jesus?  As a mother I must do everything I can to teach my children to forsake the natural orientation of our family, as good as I think my lifestyle happens to be.  I want them to count the cost of offending me as a parent and find Christ for themselves, seeking the Kingdom of God first.

Children who Inherit their Parents' Faith

These Christian ladies truly hope to make disciples of their children in their home.  I can attest to this because I know their children and how they raise them.  They hope that multiplying and adopting children who inherit the Christian faith is a way to transform culture around them to be Christ-followers.  But is physical descendancy the model of multiplication given by the New Covenant?

Israel needed physical and righteous descendants.  They got that through Jesus Christ.  No Jew is going to top that.  What is left of "be fruitful and multiply" that means anything left to await fulfillment?  This is why that command for physical birth was only used in the Old Covenant.  Jesus' New Covenant was targeted to the Gentiles; strangers to the physical family of God's people.  He is calling a people who were not once His people, a people who are not related to Him at all by blood.  I know that I, Michele Painter, cannot trace my lineage back to Jesus Christ or Abraham.  I'm not a Jew.  Birth by blood is not the course of the New Covenant.  It is Spiritual birth that matters.  In order to see and enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus said in John 3:7,
Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
The word "born" in that passage also means "citizenship."  This is a fulfillment to the prophecies about Zion.  Psalm 87:5-6,
And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; And the Most High Himself shall establish her.”  The Lord will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.”
The Spirit and all his ridiculously rich wealth of grace is now poured into a Gentile's account by faith.  So why should I be preoccupied to think that the Christian heritage is going to be primarily transferred through physical relatedness?

Let's Crunch the Numbers

It takes 20 years to raise a maximum of say 20 children in your home.  Conversely, let's take 40 Christians who commit to disciple 3 strangers into the Kingdom of God.  They do disciple those 3 people each, and then require one thing of them: that they go and in like turn, disciple 3 additional people into the Kingdom of God.  Guess how many repetitions are needed to disciple the entire United States?  Only 25!  It takes more or less about 1 year to disciple a person.  And each Christian believer can disciple 3 people at once.  That means 25 repetitions to disciple our entire nation!  It would take only 37 years to disciple the entire world!  That's it.  Which is more effective for creating a righteous people on the earth - physical descendancy or church planting?

What do you believe the LORD's will is for a married woman regarding childbearing?  I do believe that God works with us all according to conscience where Scripture doesn't give us detailed answers.  Some of us need to exercise faith in God through opening our homes to as many children as God would give.  Some of us have handicaps whether they be emotional, physical, or whatever it may be.  I believe that if we do not feel equipped to bear endless numbers of physical children, God knows our condition and has grace for us.  In the end, I believe the question of "how many" children is not terribly relevant.

However, it is clear that a Christian woman's purpose is to multiply in Spiritual births.

Luke 11:27-28
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”  But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bank on Commercial St. is Robbed, Christian Responds

a knife robbery

Our church services on Sunday prepare us to be light to our communities.  We celebrate stories of God working in His people every time we gather, and God commands us in the Psalms to declare His works publicly.  Here is a story that inspires me.

Last Friday (September 21st) a man with a knife walked into Umpqua Bank at about 10 am.  The robbery took place about two blocks from McKinley Elementary School where my friend, April, has three of her five children attending during the school day.  When the bank was robbed, the Elementary went on lockdown for about an hour; in addition so did South Salem High School and Howard Street Charter School.

The man escaped on foot into the local neighborhood and the police could not locate the man.  If you have any information about this situation, please contact the police.  Here is the article in the Statesman Journal.

School let out later that afternoon and April's children walked home and were animatedly talking about how their school had been on lockdown.  The kids knew that the robbery took place where their family did their banking.  April's heart was moved by her kids and most especially because she regularly goes into the bank and knows the people who work there pretty well.

God moved in April's heart to do something about it.  :)  She told me later when they came over for pizza and a movie that night.  And she doesn't yet know that I'm writing this blog post.  Her story was presented to me rather briefly and with a ton of humility, and I might get some of the details wrong of how it went.  Hopefully she will read here soon and can tell a little more of the story of how it went.

She got her kids all "cutified," all five of them, ages 10 years to 10 months old.  She made a homemade card and wrote a scripture in it and also got some balloons.  The whole troop walked into the bank.  She said to them, "I know what happened to you this morning and how horrible it was, and I thought you could use some cheering up."

The scripture was Isaiah 40:10.  "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

Umpqua Bank usually has about three people working in front but at this point there was a full staff of about eight people and they were all on edge and watchful.  They might have been called into work because of what happened.  April said that one woman cried when she interacted with April and her family.

This is the sort of love that transforms culture and helps bridge belief for people who would turn to Jesus if only someone would lead them to Him.  I'm so impressed!!!  I have so many excuses why I don't think I should share Christ publicly.  April's example has renewed my heart about how the gospel changes lives, changes communities, changes cities.  I want to celebrate with her the hope Christ had planned from the beginning of time to bring to the people at this bank.  Even acts of thoughtful love without an accompanying scripture are a touch of God in this world.

I'm reminded of an article I read at www.vergenetwork.org about a business that was impacted by a tragic suicide of one of their employees.  Two Christians there started seeing God open the hearts of their fellow co-workers who were looking for hope.  A pastor of a local church took a chance and started meeting in the gym facility at this company with these two Christians.   It was really simple.  They sang praise music with a guitar.  Their coworkers came.  People were believing in Christ for eternal life.  Attendance kept growing from 10 to 20 and finally 100 employees.  The pastor went back to his local church which had been more or less stagnant in growth for several years and resigned because God was calling him to pastor this new church plant, born in a business.

Can there be a church in a bank?  How about in a gym?  Who lives for this sort of thing?  God does!  Anything can happen when we plant the gospel!  How can we join in the great commission?  Here are a couple of thoughts.

10 Simple Ways to be Missional

"Over and over again when people begin to engage a life lived on mission they wonder or ask, “How would I ever have the time to DO all of this?!” But God has designed our lives in such a way that we already live in a rhythm of opportunities to both display and proclaim the gospel. It is not a matter of adding new things to our life; it is about living with increasing gospel intentionality. We must shift our thinking from “Additional to Intentional”." - Caesar Kalinowski

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meet Lauren

This morning I met Lauren.  She came into the auto repair place and sat down beside me and my son.  She's in her 60s, and is holding the cash in her hand she's going to use to pay for her car's repair.  The money is sticking straight out from her hand and she's sitting there with a face of concern.  I asked her about her car's problem and I cracked a joke, and she actually laughed at it for some time which is cool because I'm not that funny.  She said she had come all the way from Independence hoping that they would be able to fix it and that they had helped her before by charging her such a little price.  I said it was a far way to come and she said that she had a daughter who lived in town.  She said she comes in to help her two children a lot but they do not come out to Independence to see her, and she looked sad but trying to hide it.  I said do you have someone you can call if your car has trouble?  She didn't answer.  I said I think everybody needs a few support people.  Would her children help her if she needed something?  She said no.  She said her comfort is in knowing that at least she's possibly a better person for being thoughtful toward others.  I said well how about I give you my phone number.  And if you need help you'll have someone to call.  She waved her hand away at me like I was being too much.  Then she lowered her head trying to hide a few tears about to fall.

I gently took her hand and said softly, "honey I didn't mean to make you upset, I'm sorry."  She said, "No it's ok, that sounds nice I didn't think I could meet anyone who would be nice like that."  She smiled.  I said, "Really, call me," as I was headed out the door.  She said she really did not have a sense of family with anyone, to answer my real question about her kids.  I said, "Well you do now.  Call me sometime soon."  She said, "That would be nice, even if it's just to visit, I don't have any friends."  She was happy I could see, to say that out loud even though she felt some shame in admitting it.

Because she didn't mention a husband but she did mention children, I'm assuming she's a widow.  And she's a poor widow.  I can't help but think of God's Word : "True religion is this, to look after orphans and widows in their time of need."  (James 1)

She needs something a little larger than I can give her.  I can offer her my husband and my children, my family, but she needs a sense of family that's about extended-family size.  It would be a lot for me to serve her and love her the way that she deserves, but if I could invite her into a family setting, it would be so neat to see the bold words I said in faith about having a family now, come to fruition, with many people loving her, serving her, each person being unique in how they do that.

I'm praying right now that there would be a family of Christians who will step out to manifest Jesus to this dear woman.  I want her to not be taken advantage of, to be served selflessly.  I want her to experience the love of God in an unconditional way so that she has a safe place to understand what Jesus Christ has done for her - that He is that "better person" just as she knows is the right thing to do :)

Would you like to meet Lauren?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Prayer Closet

I need to listen a whole lot to what God says, more than I do everything else.  The solution is to regularly use "the prayer closet."  When I listen to anything else there isn't as much bigness for Christ to tell me who He says that I am.  It means that even when someone throws something as gritty as judgment at me, I excuse myself politely and say I've gotta go. I've gotta have a prayer closet where I go spend some time and I come out afterward victorious... cleansed of whatever wasn't quite in alignment or affirmed that I was already on the right path... or whatever God discerns that needs to be discerned.

It's a miracle to see God do this in a Christian's life.  After a continuous experience in the prayer closet Christians care very little with whether they have been abandoned to some expectation because Christ has met that emotional panic inside their heart.  Have you seen Christians who come out of a prayer closet?  What do they look like?

We ought to receive discipling-judgment from other Christians, because their voice often is one and the same Spirit; God.  However without that prayer closet, it can cause a believer stalemate.  Christians can overtake Christians with their Christian judgments which are actually true from His Word.  These judgments are the tool that God wants to use, but it quickly should become God using them, after we first receive them from the Body of believers who know us.  Why?  There are several reasons why this is important.  First, whether or not we attain victory over our failings is on the line.  Second, our Savior wants to use these truths in a mentoring way.  Christians are not always capable of imitating the mentoring, advocating grace of Christ.  Most importantly He wants the glory for our having been mentored.

Paul was a figure in the early Corinthian church upon which the congregation was deciding if he was the choicest orator of doctrine.  It could have crimped his confidence.  1 Cor. 4:3-4,
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.  In fact, I do not even judge myself.  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.
For Paul, their odd use of him as a role model caused him to write back to the church about the spiritual mind of Christ.  He was given this message to write to the church after first being set free in the prayer closet.

I have seen Christians come out of the prayer closet who passively admit to their Body of people who know them, any variety of evils with a smile on their face because they recognize that they are forgiven.  It's no longer a part of their lives because Christ has told them in the prayer closet that that unconformity is no longer a part of who they're seen as.

But that's in the case where there is actual sin and I don't know for sure what God will bring out to me in the prayer closet.  Sometimes the prayer closet is an experience where He acquits me, and the joy and power of the Holy Spirit only gets more incredible because He explains that I have an opportunity to share Him with them.  Think Job at the end of that Book and how he advocated in the end for his critics.

I desire that when my heart receives someone else's opinion, my heart is already full of God's voice. Man's judgment either adds or subtracts only a little as it passes through the prayer closet. I want this for myself today, this morning, at this moment.

I love the story of Hezekiah in 2 Kings chapter 19.  Criticism has come against him and Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18:19-25,
Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust?  You speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words. And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me?  Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.  But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?”’  Now therefore, I urge you, give a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses—if you are able on your part to put riders on them!  How then will you repel one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen?  Have I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”

Hezekiah tore his clothes.  To say it too simply, he was upset.  He might have trusted in the chariots of Egypt but to do so would not have been singular trust in God alone.  He took the letter of criticism and literally spread it out in the house of God.  2 Kings 19:14-16,
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.  Then Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: “O Lord God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.  Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God.  ... Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone. 
In Your Prayer Closet

We believers have got to pour out the whole story before God.  Literally spread it out on your bed, or whatever.  Ask Him to look on those words said to you.  Ask Him to speak to you about your heart in it.  If you've ever experienced a moment where Christ sets you free so powerfully, it gets addictive and I'm sure that you've had a moment like this in times past, but today I want a rush of His opinions toward us to overtake us... because God is so much better of an Advocate than any man aspires to be.  Including the closest friend in your life.  Or a Christian you respect.  Or a spouse.  Or a crisis or confusion.  Our low moments when we're judged means only "a little" in the hand of a God who prepared in advance good works that we should walk in them.
coming out of the closet

Don't let anyone have too much of the judgment seat in your heart before He does.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Daughter, Grace, Sept 2012

Grace has now started attending middle school!  It has been an amazing transition for all of us this summer.  She no longer has to wear uniforms to school, and we have had fun shopping for things that are just her style.  There was a camp for incoming sixth graders a couple weeks before school started where she got to see her classrooms and see where her locker was going to be, and she learned how to open a combination.  All of her girlfriends are traveling on with her from elementary school.  They are the "nerdy girl" lunch table as of last year's experience of fifth grade.  Grace has at least one of these girlfriends in every single class she's got this year (seven classes total).  What a comfort!  And she has been excited that her home economics teacher will be a familiar face from Salem First B.!

Grace, age 11
Her favorite subject is reading, and her favorite books are fantasy and mysteries.  For a long time she has wanted to be an agent for the FBI when she grows up, just like her grandfather (my dad).  Last year according to test scores she told me she's "the fifth smartest girl at school."  I don't know for sure what that means, but I am happy that she has great grades and does her homework most often without being told.

Last year at the end of school there was a final concert for band and orchestra students.  Grace won the "most improved" award for 5th grade band, an honor which only 4 other students received!  Here's her story about the trumpet: she had started the year with it and from September till November she kept trying to make all the notes correctly, could not do it, and was beginning to fall behind even though she never gave up.  Her teacher said, "would you like to try another instrument?"  The flute was suggested and she got very excited.  She borrowed a flute and her teacher said, "She learned in three days what the other kids took a month to learn."  She is very proud of her accomplishments - and the band teacher said that the entire class is very talented when it comes to having a sense for musicality - Grace was included in that acknowledgement.  Amazing, Grace!

Grace has also been on leadership for the last two years of elementary school.  Teachers select students for the privilege of leadership.  At the beginning of last year the staff met with the ten students who are in leadership and asked them this question: "What can we do to serve our community?"  Grace came home and we began to discuss potential ideas.  We considered how our church (Salem First B.) in the previous year had gone to Marion & Polk County Food Share to help organize food distribution to the poor.  She loved that idea especially since the facility is right across the Parkway from the school.  The teachers selected Grace's suggestion!  They were in the Keizer Times, with a photograph as they served the M&PCFS.  Amazing, Grace!

Grace is blossoming in her relationship with the LORD.  A couple years ago we discovered that Grace was suffering with some substantial doubt that God is really real.  Rather than seeing information as the missing piece to her knowing God, because she already knew the Bible so well, we took another route. We began with Jeremiah 29:13 which says,
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
I began reading to all the children at bedtime a chapter or two from the bible.  We started in Genesis 12 with the story of Abraham, and now we are half way through Exodus (we get into seasons where we don't read at night because the kids use it for advancing naughtiness).  Through it all we have seen the power of God and how He promised to do things hundreds of years before they happened.  We have seen how God is the one who holds all the burden of seeing a covenant come to pass.  We have seen how transformative it can be to put our faith in Him.

I have waited to see where her heartbeat really lies in her life, and she has shared both good and burdensome things.  Recently she took a spiritual gifts test and discovered her gifts are evangelism and compassion.  Her number one sense of crisis that causes her to want to trust God to help her is with anxiety.  I regret that I might have passed on a bad example to her because she somehow feels responsible for a lot....  But when she does notice things that make her uncomfortable, she prays about it.  Then afterward she says "it went away!" and we praise God.  Amazing, Grace!

Every once in a great while I ask Grace "Do you know that you are saved?  What if you just know the scriptures and you have not really trusted in Him to save you?  How do you know?"  Her answer after a moment of reflection is to totally dismiss my inquiry and she says, "I know that I am saved... because when I prayed to him, I told Him that I didn't want to be at the far end of the table away from Him, at the fellowship dinner.  I want to be able to see Him and be near Him.  And, Mom, He gave me so much joy!  I can't tell you how awesome it feels!  I just felt so good.  I just felt so happy thinking about Him."  She laughs out loud when she tells me this because it so overwhelms her voice and face, that she can't even put words on it.  Amazing, Grace!  Romans 15:13,
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Grace has been longing to share the truth with a couple of girls her age, all summer long.  Most especially her cousin.  She has deployed herself to share how awesome it is to believe in Jesus and know Him with her cousin, and then she comes back to me and we debrief how it went.  Her cousin was possibly deflecting the conversation of Christ, and Grace came back confused.  I suggested she ask her cousin straightforwardly if she wanted to talk about Christ only because Grace wanted to talk about it or was she sincerely interested herself?  Grace came back and reported another discouraging moment: the cousin was in fact not interested in much beyond going to heaven.  I kind of left Grace with no response for a couple weeks on that, because I mean, I feel the same way, lost, when I come to a dead end, too.  But I prayed about it and talked to Grace again.  I explained how we are meant to share the gospel with those who listen to us, not just the people we love the most.  And I suggested Psalm 1 as a way for her to bring closure to her cousin and her choice.  She felt a lot better after that.

But there was a day, in the car, where Grace really experienced an epiphany of the Spirit.  She wouldn't stop talking about God, to me, and ask me questions about what God is like and how He engages Himself.  I stopped answering her questions very quickly.  Instead, I asked her to answer her own questions.  What does she perceive is going on?  Then for what she said that was true, I quoted scripture after scripture to her to verify by His Word that she was right on track.  It kind of amplified her as she continued.  For a couple of hours on and off in the evening hours, she began sobbing.  She wanted so much for her cousin to know the love and joy of God.  She didn't understand how to manage the thought that her cousin didn't have God as she had known Him.  Again, for awhile I didn't know how to answer her.  All I could think about is how I felt like that so much, before.  I prayed again, and explained from the wisdom He gave me in that moment, that trusting Him would help.  "As you entrust your cousin to God, the burden in your heart will fall on Him.  And He will not disappoint you.  He will give you encouragement, every once in awhile, that He is going to take care of your cousin.  He is going to do it.  Pray!  Tell Him what you are telling me."  She did.  She still wept a bit.  But, she felt better; she acted relieved.

Lizzy had been in the backseat during this most emotional moment, and was quiet the whole time.  In the silence afterward Lizzy slipped a drawing forward and gave it to Grace.  There was a picture of two girls together and a sentence:

When I grow up I want to be just like Grace.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Some Crusty Thinking on Community

I've had this thought for a long time that it was my church's job to pull me into the church as much as possible.  I waited on them to create church events where I could be with them and build connection with them.  I needed the church to express all the intentionality in relationship toward me because my relationship energy was intentionally spent on bringing spiritual sojourners into space with me.

In the space I shared with these spiritual sojourners, cool things were happening.  They were blessing me and I was blessing them.  It was great for me individually to see God expand the church (by giving people eternal life, even if they never attended services).  I didn't want to work alone, so I depended on the church community to pull me into their world so that I could merge where I was with the sphere for which I was filled with passion.

come on, church community, pull! 

Yes my sphere in the world was getting "the church" from me individually as I am a part of Christ, but I knew they weren't knowing the blessing of the church as a family so they could see their own identity in God's grace toward them.  Sharing the gospel of course was most important.  Church community was always the secondary sell, not always as successful.  That left me feeling like I was always working mostly alone.  I was sad.  I didn't know how to say in words that I felt neglected.  If sojourners never made it all the way to church community, I just didn't see how I would ever get to enjoy fellowship at church without simultaneously downplaying the great commission.  It's a catch-22.

Now I think differently.

I was wrong.  The church community can be just as much invited into my space as my sphere.  Then wherever I am, the church community is also but much more naturally than scheduled church community events.

Why did I think the two spheres are separate??  They in no way have to be.  I guess it's just another consequence of thinking about the church as a location (the church is a building) instead of thinking of the church only as God's people (the church is believers wherever they are).

Seven months is how long it took to apply it personally.  I have been nodding my head at PAX all this time but now this really faulty thinking is starting to crack.  And I feel much better.  It's so much more simple now.  And a lot less painful.  I don't need to be pulled, I only need to invite.  I still flop like a fish a bit when I'm at PAX.  There's a lot of crusty thinking I've built up from years of not feeling sufficiently pulled.  I think I'm gaining critical mass.

I hope that if you're like me and you love to reach your world for Christ, you will feel helped by this testimony.

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