May 28, 2009
And I don’t think it’s my fault! Talk of them is everywhere—on the news, in the magazines, at the dinner table, around the pool, at book club, over lunch. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has an opinion. “It’s his fault!” “No, it’s hers!” “She’s a diva.” “He’s a slacker.”
A modern day “He said, she said” is playing out before our eyes and we can’t help but watch/gawk/stare. With the push of the remote control or click of a mouse we can satisfy our inner Peeping Tom and experience the train wreck of a relationship taking place before our own eyes.
On Monday night when the clock struck 10:30, I found myself sitting in front of the TV and succumbed to the temptation to tune in to the season premiere of Jon & Kate Plus 8. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. 9.8 million viewers—nearly double the audience for the Season 4 finale in March—watched. Chances are you watched, too.
Sad doesn’t even begin to describe the season opener. Painful, selfish, indulgent and tragic come to mind. Almost as soon as the show started, watching felt icky and invasive. No one should be witness to this. It’s none of our business. This isn’t just entertainment, it’s a real marriage and a real family going through a real life crisis.
At what point did the lifelines of fame, a new house, plastic surgeries, spa treatments, book deals, money and other perks become the noose that’s strangling them? When did they exchange good intentions for shattered dreams?
I’m not a fan of this show, or any reality show for that matter, but now I’m finding it hard to look away. I can’t help but wonder what happened to discretion? To privacy? To respecting one’s spouse? To knowing when to say, “Stop. This is enough!”
Heck, what happened to common sense that airing one’s dirty laundry in public is never a good idea?
The thing is, reality TV isn’t new. Ever since MTV set up seven Gen X-ers in a loft in New York City 17 years ago, almost no circumstance has been left unexplored by curious cameras. We’ve willingly gobbled up show after show, asking for more. So why all the attention to and criticism of this show? What makes it different?
Is it because it’s too painful? Too real? Too personal? Do we see we’ve crossed a line we weren’t even sure existed?
Imagine what a hit reality TV would have been in the 21st century B.C.! If ever a family was ready for prime time, it was Lot’s. And the sensual lifestyles in Sodom and Gomorrah provided a perfect backdrop.
We’d tune in each week eager to see what was in store for Lot and his family, knowing in our gut it wasn't good, but unable to look away. We'd watch a depraved community living the motto "If it feels good, go for it!" and family members so tangled in their own stuff they laugh at the idea of the Lord's impending wrath. We'd witness depravity, destruction and desolation.
You can’t write a better story than this! And it’s all in the name of entertainment, right? What’s the harm?
As we know, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t play out to entertain us but to warn us. It’s a cautionary tale of godless living and free will gone awry. Then as now, our choices have consequences—sometimes tragic ones.
Is being featured on a reality show the modern-day version of the American Dream? Are these shows harmless entertainment or the making of our downfall? Are they cautionary tales or fairy tales?
If we've removed all the boundaries, how will we know the difference?
May 22, 2009
As the writer of Hebrews says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (11:1) The ancients believed in the promises of God even though they never personally experienced those promises. Many a Christian has stumbled when faced with the same challenge. I know I have. Yet, how deeply rooted is a faith that hasn’t been purified and strengthened by trials and tribulations?
Several of my dear friends are going through seemingly never-ending hard times. My heart hurts as they experience trial after trial. Setback after setback. Rainy day after rainy day. Yet each of them clings to the promises of God. They believe in His goodness and holiness, and they cling to His promises as their lifeline. But, I'm sure their experiences wear them down leaving them weary, discouraged and demoralized. I know if I were in their place, I’d want to yell at God the way Job did: “Why me, God?! What have I done to deserve this?”
I know life isn’t fair, but sometimes the disparity is glaring. Why do some Christians (and non-Christians) skate through life relatively unscathed and others get hammered at every turn? When will the latter receive the promised joy that comes in the morning?
I guess at the heart of this is the question, “What is the true nature of faith?”
A good place to look for answers is in Philippians. I’m studying it right now with my ladies’ Bible study. This little book is chock full of spiritual treasure. It’s inspiring, encouraging and uplifting, but when studied closely sets a high standard for living out our faith.
We’re only at the beginning of chapter two, but so far I have learned so much! At first read, the text seemed pretty straightforward, but as we’re discovering, every verse contains nuggets of truth when unearthed and dusted off for closer inspection, reveal tremendous insight. Already we’ve amassed quite a collection of treasure.
I even shared some of this treasure on a recent visit to the prison as I led the men in prayer. The similarities between Paul’s situation and our ministry team’s put flesh and bones on Paul’s ancient words, bringing them to life in a vivid way 2,000 years later.
I wish I could gather you all close so we can talk about Philippians, share our thoughts and experiences, listen to one another’s insights and go even deeper with the Almighty. Perhaps some day we will do just that, but for now I want to share ten lessons on faith I’ve learned so far from Paul:
- Faith binds us together. Despite the religious differences that exist, as followers of Christ we’re all on the same team—partners, working together. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. Paul was linked to the Philippians spiritually and emotionally. (1:27)
- Faith is not an attractive accessory that adds goodness to our lives. It is a radical, all-encompassing experience. Paul’s faith wasn’t part of who he was; it was ALL of who he was. He relinquished all of himself—his rights, his hopes, his thoughts, his schedule, his comfort and his desires—and chose to become a slave to Jesus. He was all in, body, mind and spirit.
- Faith is active. It’s growing and dynamic and vibrant. We never get to a certain point in our walk and say, “I’m done. I think I got this Jesus-thing down, I’m going to put it on cruise control.” We keep working on “more of you Lord and less of me.”
- Faith has a purpose. We’re not supposed to take the gospel and keep it for ourselves. It’s not private. We have a high calling to advance the gospel, unite in Spirit, encourage the body, share thanks and grow the Church. This union of purpose is what bound Paul so strongly to the Philippians.
- Faith means we can rejoice in all circumstances. Happiness depends on our external circumstances and our feelings. It comes and it goes. But, joy transcends the superficial. It is given to us supernaturally by the Spirit. And it allows us to be certain, as Paul did, that our circumstances will result in our deliverance. (1:19-20)
- Faith does not guarantee a comfortable life. In fact, it seems to promise just the opposite. We tend to expect our faithfulness will result in outward signs of God’s blessings, like happiness, comfort, prosperity, health and safety. But Paul says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” (1:29). Scripture says God uses our trials and tribulations to make us more Christ-like. (Mt. 5:11-12; Ac 5:41; Jas 1:2; 1Pe 4:14).
- Faith means God is not finished with us. The process of being made more like Christ does not rest on our own efforts (thank goodness!). Sure, there are things we need to do, but Paul assures us that God will continue the good work he started in us until Jesus comes again. (1:6)
- Faith means the good things in our life may not be the best. Paul prayed for the Philippians that they would “grow in knowledge and depth of insight” so that they could discern not just what is good, but what is best. Our lives may be filled with good and wonderful things, but they may not be the best that God has planned for us. Wisdom shows us the difference. (1:9-10)
- Faith means we must live authentic lives. In all we do, we need to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting citizens of heaven. (1:27)
- Faith means that our true identity comes from God alone. We don’t get our worth from our marital status, our children, our neighborhood, our job, our education, our service, our hobbies, our popularity, our bank account or anything else. As Paul says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21) Paul’s life found all it’s meaning in Christ and so should ours.
As we delve into Paul's teaching, I'm learning truths that are both comforting and hard to grasp. I'm thankful that our understanding doesn't come by our own efforts, but through the Spirit working in us. I can’t wait to see what more Paul has in store for our study. Will you pray for us as we continue? Pray that we grown in understanding and insight, that God reveals His will in our lives, and that each of us draws closer to Him.
What does faith mean to you? What area of your walk are you struggling with? Where do you have victory?
May 18, 2009
Our friends are a loving, easy-going, no-nonsense couple and I always thought, if anyone could turn those young lives around, they could. Yet, Alex and Tracy’s love—both tender and tough—could not overcome the pull of the boys’ pasts. As young adults, each one left behind a trail of destruction. Now, as “legal” adults, they continue to do so.
Over the years when Alex and Tracy’s friends shared parenting stories of potty training, school plays, soccer games and college applications, they countered with tales of countless meetings with principals, social workers and psychologists; trips to juvenile court and jail; and calls from faraway police departments who’d located one of their runaway charges. This couple has been lied to, stolen from and grossly disrespected by the very children they’ve invested so much in and sacrificed so much for.
And I only know part of the story.
Their adopted son, now in his early 20s, has been in jail several times, has fathered at least two children out of wedlock, refuses to accept authority and can’t hold down a job.
Presently the one young man who seemed like he actually might overcome his history is HIV-positive, living who-knows-where, doing whatever it takes to support his crystal meth habit.
This past winter—just before Christmas—another of their foster kids turned up on Alex and Tracy’s doorstep looking for help. They agreed to shelter him, but with conditions. Together they formulated a plan for him to get his GED through an Army program, then join the military. He agreed—even admitting that he needed to change his life.
He followed the rules and studied. On test day, he left the house with the test fee in hand, returning much later, tired but reportedly satisfied with his effort. Alex and Tracy eagerly awaited the results. And waited. And waited. After several weeks, Alex called to check on the delay. It turns out the boy never actually appeared at the testing center that day. Once the truth started to come out, he disappeared again, but not before taking two of the few things of value Alex and Tracy own.
When my husband Dan relayed this latest story to me, we both marveled at our friends’ selflessness, their dedication, and their willingness to get involved (and stay involved) in these very messy (and seemingly hopeless) situations.
But, even from the best Christian perspective I could muster I still raised the question, “They put so much in and get so little back. I wonder why they keep at it.”
Dan nodded in agreement and added, “At what point do you close the door and say ‘No. Enough. I quit.’?”
I pondered his question, hoping for an insight, but none came—even when I wondered what Jesus would do. There are no easy answers. I’m not even sure there are any right ones.
You might have prodigal children and can relate to our friends’ story. Perhaps you are the prodigal who knows you’ve messed up badly.
There is no guarantee how our children will behave or how our families will receive us. Sometimes we expect condemnation, yet receive forgiveness. Other times we reach out with sincerity and are met with rejection, scorn or betrayal. Your situations may push the limits of human love to the breaking point.
Thank God we have a Father who is bigger than all that. Thank God there is no sin we commit that He won’t forgive. Thank God that we can never stray too far outside the limits of God’s amazing, healing and restorative grace. And thank God He gives us the power to overcome.
No matter where we are, how big our sin or how much we hurt, Jesus does not reject us. He stands at the door of our hearts waiting for us to invite Him in. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
The story continues for our friends. Only God knows what the future brings for them or their “lost boys.” But there is a glimmer of hope—in their grandson. (Remember the child fathered out-of-wedlock by their son?) Alex and Tracy are involved in this little boy’s life. Maybe the change they’ve been waiting to see will be realized with this child. As Alex said, “He’s a great little guy. I saw his report card from kindergarten and I couldn’t believe the wonderful things the teacher said about him. We were so used to such bad report cards. It was the first positive one we’d ever seen.”
Human love may not be strong enough to break through the strongholds in the “lost boys” lives, but heavenly love is. And God still has a plan to prosper them, not harm them, and give them hope for a future. (Jer. 29:11) Maybe one day a church, street ministry or prison ministry will deliver the message of hope and they’ll receive the key that will unlock their future.
Pray for them and all our lost children.
“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
*Names have been changed
May 14, 2009
This Thursday is minutes from turning into a pumpkin, but I thought I’d try to get my first Thankful Thursday in under the wire. I don't pause enough to thank God for all things, big and little, that He’s blessed me. This might need to become a regular.
I have a lot to be thankful for this week, but here are my top five:
- Watching the birds that flit outside my windows. All day I’m entertained by black-capped chickadees (that made a home in the birdhouse outside my office window), little wrens that sing and sing and sing, blue jays, cardinals and yellow finches. From tweets and peeps to full blown arias, this colorful bunch provides a joyous soundtrack that delights my soul.
- All the Sisters of Grace in my Wednesday night Bible study. Some have been in the group for several years and others for several months, but each woman brings her unique and beautiful heart to our group. I love you girls!
- Being able to help my friend plant shrubs in her landscaping. I know this sounds like a chore, but I love greenery and it was a joy to spend this afternoon digging in the dirt, chatting easily with my friend and sharing what I know to help her yard look prettier.
- Watching my daughter sing and play the violin in her Spring concerts. I am so thankful she is musically talented (not sure where she got it from, though) and that our school district has a tremendous music program, led by caring, talented teachers. Each concerts get better and better. And they never fail to choke me up.
- Knowing that customer service still exists. This week, as documented in my last post, I had the pleasure of talking with a very helpful rep at Comcast. Surprisingly, a Comcast customer service manager read the blog and extended even more help if the problem continues (which, sadly it is). With increasingly-automated phone support it often seems customer service went the way of they typewriter. It’s refreshing and reassuring to learn that helpful and caring human beings actually do exist beyond automated phone systems. It’s Comcastic!
I also learned that you never know who will read your blog!
What are you thankful for today?
For more Thankful Thursday thoughts, click on the box below.
May 13, 2009
“I know, it hasn’t been working for a few days.” I acknowledged.
“Yeah, but American Idol isn’t on tonight until 10 and we have to record it!” (because it's on past his bedtime.)
Oh, no! It’s the final three results show. “I’ll get right on it!” I assured him.
I’ve known for a week the cable box hasn’t been doing its DVR functions. Most of the shows we watch are pre-recorded, so this is a bit of a problem. But, we’ve already had to replace four DVR boxes and I really didn’t want to have to get a new one, especially because all of our recorded shows would be gone (including the last few episodes of 24!).
Ever since I discovered the problem, I’ve done what I could—which honestly isn’t much. I turned the DVR on and off. When that didn’t work, I hoped a technology miracle would occur during the night restoring the DVR to full-functionality by morning. I’m pretty patient that way.
But now, American Idol was on the line! I did what needed to be done all along—called Comcast. After being led down a maze of “press 1,” “press 2,” “enter your 10-digit phone number,” and “please wait.” Finally a real live human came on the line.
After giving her all my information again (didn’t she already have it from the three times I’d entered it?) the helpful woman set to work diagnosing the problem. “Tell me what’s going on,” she inquired.
I explained as best I could and through the wonders of technology she sent a “signal” from her station to our cable box that was supposed to clear up the problem. We waited (and waited) for the signal to “download.”
“What’s happening now?” she asked.
“It’s still not working,” I replied, doubtful that this sending-out-a-signal thing would actually work. Visions of lost 24 episodes, movies and American Idol finals swirled through my head.
Not showing the least bit of worry, she calmly said, “Sometimes these boxes get messed up. Unplug it for ten seconds. I’m gonna go to my supervisor’s desk to send out another signal because it's stronger from there.”
“OK, great. I’ll wait.”
She came back on the line and after many more minutes of waiting for the sending-out-a-stronger-signal thing to fix the problem, I pressed the fast forward button. “Hey! It worked!” I exclaimed. Within a few minutes the DVR was once again functioning properly.
“I can’t believe it worked. Thank you SO much,” I exclaimed.
“Thank you for your patience,” she replied. “Have a great day.”
Wow! That’s how customer service is supposed to work, I thought.
Sometimes our spiritual life goes on the fritz like my cable box did. We function, but only partly. We lose our sense of peace and joy. Discontentment, anxiety, intellectualism, pride, worthlessness or busyness start to take over. When we push “play” on our spiritual life, nothing happens.
We might do what we can to fix the situation, like pray more or turn to Scripture, or we might even ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Sometimes these actions work.
Other times, we need help to reestablish our connection to the Holy Spirit. Help that comes in the form of a wise counselor, mentor or teacher. Help that comes from someone who's already tapped into the stronger signal.
This week God led me to such a person. The words this woman spoke weren’t ones I hadn’t heard before, but she organized them in a way that sounded new. And she spoke them with the power of the Holy Spirit. My soul “received the signal” and her teaching was like a fresh wind that blew away all the mind junk that's been blocking the Spirit in my life. I left her presence repurposed and restored.
It’s hard to reach out for help, but we should not settle for a partially functioning faith. God promises He will pour out His Spirit on ALL people (that means you!). (Acts 2:17) But, the world is filled with defeated Christians who have failed to receive or lost sight of the amazing grace of God. Don't be one of them.
We’re on this journey together, some are further ahead, some are behind. Where are you? Do you need to seek out a wise teacher to help you re-establish your connection to the Spirit? Has God placed someone in your life whom you can mentor? Pray that the Lord leads you to these people.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22)
May 8, 2009
But even though I did everything properly (prepared the soil, added nutrients, sowed the seeds properly and watered), the only homegrown produce in our near future is coming from the farmers’ market!
It started so promising. The peas perked out of the soil in neat rows and started to cling to the trellis I’d cleverly crafted. I envisioned verdant plants sagging under the weight of abundant pods. The lettuce, however, didn’t seem to grow at all. It took twice as long to germinate as expected and appeared to stagnate as micro plants— kind of gave a new meaning to “baby greens.”
Hmm, what did I do wrong? I consoled myself; at least we’ll have peas.
Since it’s been raining for nine straight days, I haven’t been out to garden lately but I can spy it from an upstairs window. From that vantage point it looked like the lettuce had finally started to perk up. But, I couldn’t see the peas.
Today, between breaks in the rain, I investigated the situation. While the lettuce had grown considerably, I immediately discovered why I couldn’t see the peas. There weren’t any. They were gone. Every. Single. Plant. Underneath the once proud trellis, the bare soil mocked my futile attempts at gardening.
I have no idea what happened. We don’t have deer or many pea-snatching critters. But maybe it was an animal. Were the plants have been picked by one of the many boys that have played in the back yard in recent days? Did they succumb to a mysterious rot (the plants, not the boys)?
I honestly don’t know, but I’m so disappointed.
There are lots of things in life we sow and tend to—things far more significant than produce. Sometimes we reap the harvest we expect, but other times, out of nowhere, someone or something snatches it away:
- The promotion you’ve been working toward for all those years goes to some young upstart.
- The retirement account you’ve diligently managed is now worth half its value.
- The college-age son you raised in a godly home now disavows his faith.
- The marriage you’ve lovingly tended crumbles under your spouse’s infidelity.
- The trust you’ve carefully cultivated shatters when your friend betrays you.
- The manuscript you’ve poured yourself into dies when the publisher goes out of business.
It’s human nature to be stunned and devastated. To feel that life should add up like a math equation where preparation + effort + perseverance = desired outcome. It’s easy to think God let us down.
But maybe among the trials and disappointments the roots of faith deepen. Maybe the process, not the outcome, yields the greatest harvest. Maybe the vacant spaces teach us to hold the things of this life loosely—and set our sights firmly on Jesus.
While much in this life may be snatched away, as Christians, we can rest in confidence that the most important thing of all will never be taken away—“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
And sometimes, as we reassess the loss in our gardens, God tells us it’s time to plant tomatoes instead.
P.S. Like the title? Hate it? My husband, who is blessed (cursed?) with a knack for creating clever turns of phrase thought it up. It was too much of a groaner to pass up!
May 4, 2009
I almost forgot my birthday was even coming up. I dropped no hints or “casual” reminders. Maybe everyone will be so busy with their own things they’ll forget. And if I don’t mark the day, does it even count?
But, I know I’d be sad if no one remembered—because whether we admit it or not, don’t we all want at least a little recognition?
Well, it turned out my family didn’t forget and in fact, they planned a wonderfully thoughtful day from beginning to end. A low-key, but perfect birthday spent in the embrace of my family. Starting with church (what better way to celebrate, especially since I helped serve communion) and ending with dinner at my parents (including the most delicious birthday cake ever). In between was a homemade breakfast, cards, flowers from a friend, a few calls, a trip to Target and the present I’d been hoping for—a brand new, lime green iPod nano (perfectly matching my lime green car!).
I take for granted the amazing blessing I have in my family, my children and my husband who offer unconditional love and a safe haven from a world I often find confusing and unwelcoming. Being able to pause and savor each little act of love they gave me yesterday fills my heart to overflowing. Their simple gestures are priceless treasures.
Whether or not I admit to getting older, there’s no hiding the fact my children are. At 14 and 11, my little ones are no longer little. I delight in who they’re becoming, but mourn the passing of time that will soon take them away from me and into their own lives.
Last night as we sat around the dinner table at my parents’ house and said grace, in each hand I held one of my children’s. Where had the time gone? Gone were the little hands that grasped mine to cross the street, that reached up for me to scoop them in my arms, that diligently worked to dress a doll or build a tower of blocks, that scribbled their name with big fat crayons.
On my right I held my daughter’s soft, slender hand whose long fingers play the violin and baked and decorated my birthday cake. That write poetry, text with lightning speed, work algebraic equations, apply makeup and select outfits with a keen eye for fashion.
On my left, providing a sharp contrast, I held my son’s big, strong hands. Hands that play the drums, catch a football, wrestle, shoot baskets, carry heavy loads, build six-foot tall K-nex roller coasters, write wonderful stories and give the best hugs in the world.
I soaked in the moment, an unexpected present of mothering. And I thanked God for the gifts of this day.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”
~ Psalm 139:13-14
May 1, 2009
Paul and Barnabas were best buds. After Paul’s conversion experience in Damascus, Barnabas convinced the church in Jerusalem to accept Paul. Later he rescued Paul in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch where they established the first church. God had big plans for these two and they were inseparable. Together they traveled extensively, spoke boldly, set up churches, suffered persecution, witnessed miracles, worshipped with abandon and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
Can you just imagine how cool this must have been?
Yet, despite the Spirit working in their lives, they weren’t immune from the humanness we all bring into relationships. In Acts 15 Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark on their next missionary journey but Paul, wasn’t convinced of Mark’s commitment and vetoed the idea. Stubbornly, Paul wouldn’t change his mind and the two “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (v 39) Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with Mark and Paul went with Silas to Syria. Just like that their beautiful partnership ended.
I don't know about you, but I find this story sad and confusing. If Paul and Barnabas were such godly men, why couldn’t they see past their differences and work it out? Wasn’t the relationship worth saving? After all, aren’t we called to be peacemakers, and shouldn’t we try to establish unity at all costs? Was Paul being too rigid? Was Barnabas being too soft?
The Bible doesn’t address these details. It doesn’t paint their split as a bad thing or use this story as an object lesson in unity. Instead, the two continued their ministries separately—and successfully. Scripture leads us to believe Paul and Barnabas eventually made peace with one another, but this apostolic dynamic duo never got the band back together.
While the death of a friendship is sad and the dissolution of such a fruitful partnership seems tragic, could it be this break up was part of God’s plan? Think about it. The Good News reached more people in more places because Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways than if they’d stayed together.
Maybe Paul felt this way. Because despite his stubborn nature and rough edges, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was called to advance the gospel. Period. Perhaps he mourned the loss of his friendship with Barnabas or regretted how he handled the situation, but Paul’s razor sharp focus allowed him to loosely hold all he had—his agenda, his comfort, his desires…and his friendships. He could let go and let God.
It’s hard to accept that sometimes discord and dissolution of a ministry, friendship or partnership can be a good thing. But as we’ve seen with Paul and Barnabas, as long as we stay focused on Jesus, it can be. The hard part is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.
Perhaps this is why Paul said to the Philippians, “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…to the glory and praise of God.”
Oh, to be able to hold this life loosely, to discern what is best from what is good and to do it all to the glory and praise of God. As C.S. Lewis said, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
I think Paul and Barnabas would agree.