Month: February 2014

Shine A Light on Slavery Day

Are you in it to end it? What am I talking about? Today is Shine A Light on Slavery Day. Lots of people wrote large red X’s on the backs of their hands and tweeted pictures of said X’s to show their support of ending slavery worldwide. (You can learn more about it all at http://www.enditmovement.com)

What can putting a red X on your hand do to end slavery? In and of itself, nothing. But talking about slavery can get people to thinking about slavery, and talking about ending slavery can motivate some people to do something significant to end modern day slavery.

That’s what happened to a friend of mine. Several years ago, my friend, Debbie learned about the 27 Million people enslaved in the world today. She learned that most of those people are young women, of which, many enter the sex slave/sex trafficking industry at just 13 years old. The overwhelming majority of those who end up in this predicament had no idea they were headed down that road. They answered an ad promising work, or they wanted to be a dancer, actress or some other glamorous sounding job, and listened to people who only wanted to use them and make money off of forcing them into the sex trade industry.

Debbie learned that most of these victims live elsewhere in places like Greece and Russia. But she was surprised at just how many are living and being forced to work in her own backyard. In her own city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

So Debbie did what most of us won’t. Debbie decided to do something. She was one woman. A wife. A mother. But she joined with a few others who wanted to be in it to end it, and Compassion to Act was born. (www.compassiontoact.org) CTA is a growing ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina that is fighting the battle against modern day slavery. And guess what? They are winning. I am so proud of my friend. She’s been on CNN, she is in contact with local and federal law enforcement (I’m talking FBI here), she speaks to local churches and businesses and informs them about this problem, and she has managed to raise enough support to have a house where rescued victims can live, recover, find healing and safety. Volunteers from CTA visit strip clubs and minister to the women working there. It is so unreal to me. I am so proud of her.

So maybe you won’t start a ministry like CTA, or like the Wellhouse here in Birmingham. (www.thewellhouse.org) But we can still help. My friend Debbie says that when they go to the strip clubs they see the cars parked outside, of course. What do they see inside these cars? Car seats. Diaper bags. The men inside are family men. It’s time we start holding the men who frequent these places accountable. It needs to become unacceptable in our society for men, married or not, to patronize these establishments. It needs to be taboo. Its not okay.

It’s time we open our eyes to this problem. There are more slaves on the earth today than ever before in history. We are outraged at the slavery we know about in our history as a country. So then, how can we turn a blind eye to it today? Inform yourself, then inform everyone you know. It has to be over. It must end. Be in it to end it.

This Could Change the Way You Pray

There are clearly times when I venture out on theological thin ice. At least that’s what my seminary-educated husband tells me. Only he doesn’t say it quite so eloquently. He sums it up using the word heresy. (He jokes) I, respectfully, beg to differ. But you can be the judge on this one.

I prefer to compare myself to the popular cable show, Myth Busters. The stars of this show take situations either from legend or, say, movie scenes and test the plausibility of said situations. After performing their experiments and reinactments, they either dub the myth as plausible or busted.

If you are now totally confused, check out the show here: http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters

In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to do a similar thing in this blog piece. Why? Because I can find no particular scripture to back me up, specifically, but I think generally speaking, what I am saying is plausible. 

Allow me to lay a brief bit of groundwork here.

Scripture does say:

“Therefore, make it your habit to confess your sins to one another and to pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

This verse tells us that having others praying on our behalf can and does effect change in our lives.

Scripture also says:

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

1 Corinthians 13:9-11

So according to this scripture, humans do not know everything right now. (That should explain a lot to many about a lot of people.) The Bible tells us that here, right now, there are just things that we won’t know or understand. But a day is coming where all things will be revealed to us.

So here it comes. I’m putting my ice skates on, and preparing to skate on some thin ice.

If you knew that the people you pray for would one day get to see and hear those prayers, would it change the way you pray for them now?

…..Crack…. 

I have this picture in my head of a wall in heaven. When a person stands in front of the wall, it becomes like a movie screen with different clips playing all at the same time. One by one, you can see and hear prayers being prayed for you during your lifetime.

…Crack…

If, when we get to heaven, we share in all the knowledge that Jesus possesses, then isn’t it at least plausible that we could know this, too? I think when all is revealed to us, it could clear up quite a bit about the things that happened to us or didn’t happen to us as a result of the prayers other people prayed on our behalf.

My question to all of us is this:

If we knew that those we pray for (our spouses, children, other family members, friends, etc) would one day hear those prayers, would it motivate us to pray differently? More often? With more fervor? More specifically?

For me, being able to hear the prayers my grandmother prayed for me would be completely over-the-top amazing. My grandmother was a prayer warrior. She prayed about everything, and I know she prayed for me. How did her prayers affect my life? Which ones prompted God to move in my life?

Oh, and what about all those times someone asks us to pray and we say we will… but we forget? Ouch. Busted.

See what I mean?

I’ll ask my question again.

If you knew that those you pray for (your spouses, children, other family members, friends, etc) would one day hear those prayers, would it motivate you to pray differently? More often? With more fervor? More specifically? Well… would it?

I’m calling this one plausible. And I’m hanging up my skates.

Where the Ocean Meets the Sky

So last December, my husband booked us for our first cruise ever. We sailed out to Cozumel, Mexico the day before Valentine’s Day. The man is good. In all honesty, I was a little uncomfortable with being out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no land in sight, for days. Before you pooh-pooh me, let me say that my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece were on the Carnival ship, Triumph, this time last year that lost power at sea and floated, stranded, for days. That coupled with story after story of mass attack stomach bugs on cruise ships recently had me more than a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

But with all the winter weather we’ve been blessed to have lately, I was really looking forward to some fun in the sun for a few days. So I did my best to set aside my concerns in favor of enjoying myself.

I had bought a few pretty dresses, (not something I usually wear) and some sparkly heels (also not something I usually wear) so I was more than a little excited to get all gussied up for the dinners and late shows on the ship. What girl doesn’t like to get pretty every once in a while? Sisters, sometimes we have to remind the old boys why they married us. You get me?

It took us the first day to get settled in with our sea legs. When you are shouldered with a lot of responsibility at home, it takes some time to allow those things to fade from your mind to the point that you are able to truly relax. But after the first day and night, we were like regulars on the ship. Perpetual vacationers. No cares in the world.

Midway through our first day at sea, I determined that I was going to go out on deck and look out at the gulf. I hoped to see a dolphin, or whale, or shark. Heck, I’d take a sea monster. Something. Matthew and I strolled out on deck and up to the railing. I looked down, which was possibly a mistake. I am a weensy bit afraid of heights. For a dizzying moment, I thought I had made a grave error in judgment in venturing to the railing. I quickly checked the security of the railing, and finding to be secure, I allowed myself to calm down and just be in the moment.

Then I lifted my eyes to the horizon. It was a sight I had never seen. As far as my eyes could see, there was only ocean meeting the sky in a perfectly drawn line. The line completely encircled the ship. Our cruise ship was the only thing disturbing the waters in that circle. The pale blue of the sky lacked a single cloud, and the deep turquoise of the ocean was left unbroken by any kind of creature I had hoped to see.

I had a hard time pulling my eyes away from the line of the horizon. “No one”, I thought, “could draw such a perfectly straight line as that one, but God.” There was no flaw, no interruption. It was perfect, as God is perfect. Standing there on the deck of that ship, I put my arm around Matthew and we just stood together and lost ourselves in the beauty of what God had made. I was reminded that all those things above and below the sea had continued before us and would continue to be after we had sailed from those waters. Our passage there was but a momentary distraction.

I looked up at the profile of my husband’s face to realize that moments in life like that one don’t often come every day. That it is up to us to see them and savor them. This life continues both before us and after us. We are but a vapor, here today and soon gone. If we aren’t paying attention, we can miss it. Whether or not we make a lasting impact during our stay here is completely up to us and completely dependent on our intentionality in making that impact.

The breeze had picked up on the deck as we stood there, and so I snuggled in close to Matthew and with my ear to his chest, I could hear his heart beating. Suddenly, I couldn’t help thinking of the chorus lyrics to that Rod Stewart song, “The Rhythm of My Heart”.

 

“Oh, the rhythm of my heart, is beating like a drum

With the words, “I love you”, rolling off my tongue

No never will I roam, for I know my place is home

Where the ocean meets the sky, I’ll be sailing”

Thank you, Matthew for a wonderful cruise, and moments to share with you, and for moments when God showed me more of who he is and who I am.

I love you.

Seven Reasons You’ll Never Be Truly Happy

I got you, didn’t I? With the title, I mean. That sort of tantalizing title is getting a lot people these days. It’s epidemic, really. And they are getting on my nerves. I see them by the dozens on Facebook and Twitter every day. We are sharing them to our timelines because we want to share our quick fixes with our friends. That’s nice.

“Ten Ways to Make Your Marriage Sizzle”

“Nine Foods You Should Stop Eating Now”

“Eight Exercises to Flatten Your Belly in Three Days…Guaranteed”

Why are we drawn to click on those stories? We just can’t help it. We have to know. Most authors of such articles rarely have any real data or expertise to make the claims they are making. It’s all a gimmick to draw us in.

We look for quick fixes and simple solutions. But we are grown ups. We should know by now that there are no quick fixes or simple solutions to life’s problems. Most of us don’t want to do the real work involved in making our marriages better, or improving our diets, or our bodies, or whatever. We want something fast, easy, and we want it now.

Any real life change takes time, and effort. Sometimes lots of time and most of the time, lots of effort. Whatever we want to change about ourselves likely didn’t get run off into the ditch overnight, so it likely won’t get repaired overnight either.

John 15:7 says,

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Just maybe not today.

There are several passages of scripture that talk about perseverance, faithfulness, and pressing on. Looking for quick fixes in the Bible? Not so much. The only real quick fix is salvation in Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit. Now when he chooses to move to redeem a soul? It can be in the blink of an eye.

But the work of sanctification is usually slow and arduous. We are stubborn sheep. The chipping away of everything that does not look like Jesus in our lives is laborious and continual. It is often painful and difficult. But what is our reward if we persevere? If we stop looking for those quick fixes and submit to real lasting life change?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Steadfastness, staying focused on the goal, leads to lacking in nothing. How many times has jumping to a quick fix landed you empty handed? More often than not, right?

We learned as children from the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare that “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Let’s not be lured by the quick fixes of this world. We know, deep down, they are bunk. Merely distractions from the hard work ahead of us.

Here’s one for you,

“One Promise You Can Count On No Matter What”

“He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

The Way We Parent Has a Lot to Say About How We View God

As a young girl, my first ideas of what God was like were connected to my ideas of what my earthly father is like. Because of that, to me, God was interested in me and in the things I was interested in, but he was not too intimately involved in the details. He was always there in a pinch, could fix almost any problem, and always came to my rescue. It was a comfortable, dependable, and fairly predictable relationship. It was very safe. I am thankful for it.

I think girls tend to marry men rather like their fathers. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes, not so much. For me, I found the very best of my father in my husband, Matthew. In many ways they are similar, but in others they are very different. Still, it was the qualities I loved most about my dad that first drew me to my husband. I think that is very cool.

I remember one of the first times Matthew rode in my car, he thought he needed to check the oil. (I didn’t know why, something about a pretty yellow light on my dashboard…) He checked it, and apparently I was a quart low. He happened to have a quart on hand, and put it in my car. Just like my dad. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

I have grown in my faith over the years. It has changed the way I see God, and the way I think God sees me. The biggest thing that has changed about the way I view God is that I believe he is more intimately involved in my life than I realized. He’s not watching from a safe distance, ready to jump in and intervene at a moment’s notice, he is right there, close as a breath, all the time. It’s like the old hymn I used to sing,

“He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own…”

I have recently noticed something about the way I parent. I love my parents, and I think they did a stellar job raising me, if I do say so myself, but there are differences in the job they did and the job I think I am doing. My parents often tell me I need to back off a bit in my parenting. They think I might be too intimately involved in my children’s lives. They tell me that my kids will figure most things out on their own, and that I should just be available if they need me. I think they think I meddle. Okay, sometimes I meddle.

But recently, a light bulb went on in my head. My parents parented me according to the way they see God parenting them. I parent my kids the way I see God parenting me. I don’t see God standing at a distance, interested, but just diligently watching. I see him all up in my life, leading, directing, protecting and loving. He talks to me, and I talk to him. I share with him my hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. I am his.

I can’t fathom not being up close and involved with my children. It’s how God parents me and it’s my best example. I want my kids to look at me and Matthew and the way we parent, and realize that’s how God wants to be with them. He wants to be as up close and personal as he can be.

The Bible talks about the spiritual relationship God wants to have with us as being like the physical relationship is between a man and woman in marriage. That’s pretty close. And for a child of God, there can be nothing better than knowing that He wants to be that close.

Take a look back at the way your parents parented you. Do you think it has affected the way you see God and his relationship with you? Does the way you see God influence the way you parent your kids? Is that a good thing for your kids? If not, could it be you need to change the way you see God?

Remember, the way your kids see you may well influence the way they see God.

Church, Let’s Stop Complaining About the Church

I’ve spent my whole life in church. I think my parents took me from the hospital nursery straight to the church nursery. I grew up going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I have pins that I received for going years without missing a Sunday to prove it. I’m not kidding. I grew up and married a minister and have spent the last twenty-four years in full time ministry with him.

You really get to see church from the inside out that way, let me tell you. Some of it is beautiful, and some of it is… less than beautiful. The reason is that about 2000 years ago, Jesus built his church on Peter and then left it to him and the rest of us imperfect people to continue the work. We’ve had some good times, and some not so good. Think Crusades, for example.

I get frustrated when Christians complain about their church. Christians spend a lot of time complaining about church. We really need to stop that. After all, why would unbelievers want to be a part of something we’re always complaining about? Most of the time, when Christians complain about their church, they are referring to their local institution. The place they drive to every Sunday. But those on the outside have a hard time differentiating between the local church and the church that is the body of believers for all time.

If we are honest, most of the time when we believers speak ill of church it has to do with what it is or is not doing for us. That’s funny, really. I challenge anyone to find anywhere in the scriptures where a list of things the church should do for its members is mentioned. Here’s a truth for you, the Bible never talks about church membership at all. The disciples were never referred to as “charter members”, and they are the only ones who really could lay claim to that title.

What the Bible does say about the early Christ-followers is this…

“They gave all they had.”

It’s in the second chapter of Acts. Pentecost had just happened. The Holy Spirit had come upon them, and they were totally excited. The church was started. They met together, and they shared everything. Early Christians were more concerned that others had what they needed than that they had what they needed. When that happens, guess what? Everyone gets all their needs met.

How quickly we claim territory in our churches. Give someone an opportunity to serve and the chances are that they will mark their territory in blood if need be. I remember my husband once made the decision to phase out the traditional choir and instead use a worship band to lead worship on Sundays. You would have thought the choir had been stripped of their place in heaven for all the ruckus they kicked up. One man in particular became very aggressive with my husband. Nice.

I have seen followers of Christ behave like enemies of the faith over the silliest of things; things that have nothing to do with expanding the Kingdom or things that matter for eternity. The world has the philosophy of, “I’m going to get mine.” So often, this philosophy sneaks its way into the church.

Most of the time we choose churches by what they have to offer us. Are they close by where we live? Do they offer a stellar children’s ministry? Do they offer Mother’s Day Out? How’s their youth program? Do they have a single’s ministry?

A marriage ministry?

A senior’s ministry?

Can this church meet all of my needs? How’s the preaching? Is it deep enough, relevant enough, and it is entertaining enough to keep my attention? Will the pastor visit me if I am sick? Will he be at my beck and call and serve my family well?

We almost didn’t stay at the church where we now serve. We visited for several weeks and found it compelling, but looking around, it seemed to have it all together. My husband’s gifting is in the area of church production, and from what we could see, this church did not need us. We visited many churches, and many of them did need us, but we kept coming back to one church.

Why?

We had never seen a church that modeled what a New Testament church was supposed to look like better than that one. The overarching theme of the church had nothing to do with it’s members serving themselves. It was about others, and what the people of that church could do for other people. No one worried about whether or not their needs were being met. Instead, they made sure that everyone else’s needs were being met. And the same thing happened there that happened at Pentecost. When you look outside of yourself and meet a need someone else has, you see your needs shrinking. Or you forget about them altogether.

It becomes less and less about what I am getting, and more and more about what can I give, do, be, or help with. Where can I make a difference? Is there a need? Let me fill it. Is something not being done well? Let me help make it better. What can I do to help this thing keep moving forward? Because what we are doing together to further the Kingdom is more important than my need. And what was my need?

Oh, I forgot.

See?

The local church is the hope of the world. It is not our personal need meeter. God wants to use the church to reach his lost children. He loves us and all, but the lost ones matter most to him. Don’t let that hurt your feelings. Remember the parable of the lost sheep? He leaves the ninety-nine to go rescue the one. What if the ninety-nine have a need that is not met while he’s searching for the lost one? Should he not search then? Of course he should, and he will gently remind us, that it’s not about us.

It’s about them. Church, it’s about them.

All That is Left of Snowmaddedon2014

It’s been a week since Snowmaggedon2014 unexpectedly struck the Southeast. All that is left now are the stories. The snow is gone. The ice is gone. The severe cold is gone. All the cars left scattered here and there, they are all gone, too. All that remains are the stories we tell about how we survived the storm. We love to tell them. That’s how it is with stories like the ones last week left us with. Stories are for telling.

Jesus loved to tell stories. He told numerous stories in the form of parables to teach his followers about the Kingdom of God. He’d say, “The Kingdom of God is like…” and then off he’d go telling another story. God loves stories, too. It was God who told the Israelites to tell the stories of how he brought them out of Egypt and into the land he promised them. He wanted the generations that came after to know their great God. “Tell them.” He said.

How would they know if they weren’t told the stories? The generations that followed weren’t witness to the plagues that befell Egypt. They didn’t experience the first Passover. They weren’t there to see the Egyptian slave owners freely giving the Israelites gold and silver to take on their way. They never saw the waters of the Red Sea part, and they didn’t walk across the seabed on dry land only to turn and see Pharaoh’s men swallowed up by the same waters that stood back for them. They didn’t wander in the wilderness for forty years dependent on God for daily food. They didn’t circle Jericho and shout and see the walls come down. If the stories weren’t told, they wouldn’t know what a great God they served.

Everyone in the Deep South has a new snow story to tell. Some are more adventurous or treacherous than others, but we all have a story to tell. If we love Jesus, we all have that story to tell, too. What if Jesus had come and gone, and no one ever told the story? I’ll tell you what. We wouldn’t be talking about him over 2,000 years later. He would be a footnote in the annals of history. It is in the telling of the story that all who know him came to know him. Jesus made sure his disciples told the story. It was their job. Tell the story. Spread the word, to the ends of the earth, so that all may hear it. Tell the story.

I believe it’s why he tarries now. He’s waiting for the story to be told just that one more time. For that last ear to hear it.

Parents, tell your children the stories of Jesus. Friends, tell your friends the stories of Jesus. Employers, tell your employees the stories of Jesus. Tell them of his great love for them, of his sacrifice on their behalf. Then tell them how those stories influenced the stories of your life. Tell others how he saved you, redeemed you. Tell them how every day since that day has been changed because of him. Tell them your story. All who have come to faith in Jesus have a great story. Stories are meant to be told.