November 17, 2011

We Are . . .

Penn State. Words of honor and glory, now associated with shame and disgrace.

The scandal that’s rocked the country has hit me and my family hard. My husband is a diehard Penn Stater and I, by marriage, have inherited this love. Our blue and white hearts are broken—for so many reasons. It feels like there’s been a death, and in a way there has. This heartache is shared by millions in the Penn State family. The vile acts by an evil man have shattered the lives of innocent children, and have turned a collective dream—of an idyllic place and idolized people—into a nightmare.

I wonder how a crime like this could happen at all. But especially, how could this happen at Happy Valley. I’ve jokingly referred to Penn State as “the holy land,” because it truly is a special and revered place. It was our Camelot.

As news unfolded and details never-imagined-possible came to light, an angry lynch mob swelled—fueled by 24/7 cable TV. Countless words have been written, commentated, editorialized, shouted and discussed. Everyone has an opinion about Joe Paterno and the Penn State leadership. Finger pointing has become a competitive sport. Blame is being tossed out like confetti at a concert.

The moral high ground is a mighty crowded place right now. "I would have done this..."

Justice will surely have its day. It must. But when I look at this from a different perspective, the thing that strikes me most about the mob of onlookers and finger pointers is their stunning lack of grace.   

To all those holding pitchforks and flaming torches, I ask, “Who are you?”…and, “How good do you really think you are?”

Scripture surely paints a dim view of our inflated sense of goodness:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. … Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:11, 15-18)
Did you hear that? Not one of us is good.  


Do you know that there’s someone else who didn’t act as nobly as he should. In fact he acted like a coward. It was Peter.

At the last supper Jesus told Peter, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter, confident of his character and goodness, declared with the utmost conviction, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Yet only hours later, as Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin, Peter cowered outside in fear. When confronted about knowing Jesus, Peter didn’t defend Him, he denied him—three times—just as Jesus said he would. The next day Jesus was crucified.

If this scene played out today on CNN and Fox News, Peter would have been in the crosshairs of a furious mob. “What kind of person would do something like that!” Commentators would pick apart his character and lack of it. He’d be personally blamed for Jesus’ death. And under insane media pressure the disciples would fire Peter from their group and his name would be forever stained. Because the court of public opinion had rendered its decision: “Guilty!”

Thankfully and remarkably Jesus doesn’t operate as we do. Where we condemn, He forgives, loves and restores. He knows full well the mess we are. He knows we fall far short of the mark, no matter how hard we try. And He knows that no matter how good we think we are, we are ALL sinners in need of a savior.

That’s why He came. That’s why He died.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
In her Beloved Disciple Bible study Beth Moore says, “When someone falls they are not necessarily a fraud—often they are just foolish. Wise is the man or woman who realizes he or she, too, could momentarily deny Christ. May we never withhold from another something that—in due time—we may desperately need.” (p. 50)

Jesus didn’t cast Peter out as we would have, He did something far more shocking. He gave him grace.

And He does the same thing for each of us. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me...

In this time of justified outrage, betrayal and hurt can we do the same? If we say we follow Jesus, do we really have a choice?

We are...

November 8, 2011


It doesn't matter what era or continent we live on. What age or gender we are. How rich or poor; holy or sinful; educated or ignorant. When our Creator knit us together in our mothers' wombs, He put His fingerprints all over our souls. And He gave us a universal love language to connect with Him: worship.

Since the beginning, worship has bound God's faithful together. And torn them apart.

After King David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to his city, the people erupted into spontaneous and enthusiastic praise of God—singing, dancing and playing instruments. The most unrestrained of them all, perhaps, was David who "danced before the LORD with all his might."

His wife Michal watched the goings on from a window and thought David's behavior was downright detestable. She greeted him with a verbal slap across the face: "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

Yet, even stinging criticism couldn't dampen David's joy. "I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."

I marvel at David's freedom. But for me—and many of those I know—undignified... humiliated... foolish... in worship? Not likely.

In Haiti there's a rural village called Kwa Kok (Cross of the Rooster). There's no church or school there and the residents have to walk two hours to reach the nearest church. As a result most of them just don't go to church.

The Sunday I was in Haiti we brought church to Kwa Kok. Under the branches of a massive shade tree we set up the chairs we'd brought.
"Church To Go." Do NOT try this at home! (Yes the truck is moving!)
People gathered to check out the commotion. They went back to their homes to clean up and put on their Sunday best. Some returned with their own chairs and benches. Soon the seats were all filled and it was standing room only.  
Folks quickly changed into their Sunday best.
Pastor Valentin (our Haitian leader) and his wife led the service. Others offered songs and prayers and testimony. The worship was beautiful. And humble. And reverent. No one seemed to notice that we weren't in an actual church.

Part way through the service there was a disturbance. Behind the worship leader (in full view of the congregation) was a dirt lane, and coming down this lane was a man. But he wasn't walking. It seemed he was horribly crippled and only had the use of his left arm, which he was using to drag himself along the dirt to make his way to church. He was filthy and other than wearing a t-shirt, he was completely naked.

At first I was shocked and horrified by the scene. I'd never seen anything like this before, certainly not at church! I wasn't sure how to respond.

But the service never skipped a beat as the man joined us. A few helped him sit on a bench. Then, in what seemed like seconds later, Dessalines (from our Haitian team) walked over to him with a pair of boxer shorts that he and Pastor Valentin helped the man put them on. I remember thinking how remarkable it was that we had an extra pair of shorts with us.
I found out later that we didn't have an extra pair. In a split second, Dessalines made the decision to go into our bus, remove his boxer shorts and give them to the man. Not because someone asked him to do it, but because he loves Jesus—and this is what Jesus would do. (I'm not sure there was a dry eye among us Americans as we witnessed this stunningly beautiful scene.)
The man is there on end, to the right. He sat there all through worship and VBS, clapping as he could.
The man stayed with us all afternoon. Perhaps having church in Kwa Kok was an answer to his prayers. I imagine he heard our singing and decided that no matter how difficult or painful it would be, he had to join us. Did he hope for healing? As he made his was down the dirt path, naked and filthy, did his determination waver as he felt the eyes of the congregation upon him.

Maybe some muttered their disapproval or whispered to their neighbor, "How he distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the Americans as any vulgar fellow would!"?

And yet, surely he responded, "I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."

And in his celebration we experienced the love language of worship. Mesi Senye!

November 2, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Haiti. Ayiti. Land of high mountains.

To most of the world, Haiti is about mountains of rubble. Tent cities. Intense poverty. Violence. Government corruption. And death. It’s about brokenness so broken it can never be put back together.

It’s a place we pity. Or fear. Or despise.

To me Haiti is about people and stories and relationships. It’s about beauty and culture. Determination and perseverance. Faith and family. And most of all love. In Haiti God’s love—for others and for me—seems most real. And I feel the most free to share this love.

God has given me many wonderful gifts in my life. Haiti is one of the most wonderful. Why this is true is still a mystery to me. But it is true nonetheless.

This was my third trip to Haiti and it was amazing in its own special way. Going back now is like a homecoming—returning to a place that holds my heart and visiting with friends who now seem like family.

Because our group (of six) was especially small so I had lots of time to deepen relationships with my Haitian friends and get to know them better. Our days followed the traditional model of Foundation for Peace trips: worship in Haitian churches, work at the construction site (we’re building a large vocational school), morning and nighttime group devotions, VBS for the children and a day at the beach. This time I even got to teach English in a school that FFP runs. It was in fact, the same school that my church helped to build!

There are so many stories to share of what I witnessed and experienced. I hope to capture them here so that you see some of the beauty Haiti beholds, and you get a glimpse of a God bigger, more powerful and more faithful than you imagine.

Most of all I hope that these stories inspire you to search your heart for where God is calling you. Where does your heart break for His children? Where is He calling you to follow?

P.S. We are already planning our return trip in March. This trip is open to anyone who wants to join us. No special skills are required. If you live nearby, come to an informational meeting at Woodside Church on November 13 at 11:00am. Otherwise, send me a note to let me know you’re interested and I’ll add you to our list.

Glwa pou Bondye! (Glory to God!)
Bondye beni ou! (God bless you)

Children in a remote village (Kwa Kok) who came to our worship service and VBS. How their clothes are so white astounds me.
My little friend at a worship service...who I finally got to smile.
The massive cathedral in Port-au-Prince, devastated by the earthquake. Walking around felt like walking in a tomb. Very intense.

Heading home from my big adventure teaching -- with Eben and Dessalines.
Our friends on the worksite. Amazing men and such hard workers! Bon travay, zanmi mwen!
VBS at an orphanage.