Sometimes Sin is a Sign

Sometimes we lose it with people.

It takes a lot. We’re not quick to anger. We’re the ones called to patient endurance, long-suffering, and persistence. We’re the people tasked with teaching, counseling, shepherding, discipling, and leading. We usually like people, even the challenging ones.

We’re realistic. We anticipate slow growth. We expect setbacks. We’re prepared for barriers, excuses, and restarts. All day. Every day. Continue Reading →

One Important Fact that is Simultaneously True and Insignificant

Absolutely no one is listening.

I know you’ve noticed. Lots of people talking, shouting, tweeting, blogging, debating, declaring, speeching, preaching, sign-toting, status-updating, well . . . you know. We are a nation of assertive, right-knowing, ground-standing, self-empowered individuals and no one, no one, is going to run our lives. We’re all going to do it our way.

And it’s here, in this time, to these people, that we share the gospel. It’s into this fray we send our messages, like stray balloons, of love, grace, truth, mercy, holiness, and eternal life. (Mine keeps getting caught in the power lines, bursting into flames before it ever reaches the crowd.) This is the place and time our loving Father determined for us to represent Him, this throbbing, pulsing, vein-popping outpost of glory. Here is where He’s sent us to deliver. Even when no one is listening. Continue Reading →

What Possesses a Person to Do Such a Thing?

Imagine you’ve been trapped,
held captive,
by people with no regard for life.
Then, God releases you!
You fly away.
Set free,
inhaling great gulps of intoxicating liberty.
Your dreams realized
prayers answered
a future, at last, beyond the chains of those who once controlled you.
But God isn’t finished.
The Author of All pens a breathtaking plot twist
except it’s no simple story – it’s your life.
And when He turns you around
it twists you inside out
because the horrible beauty of His plan
is for you to go back
Back to the place of your carnage,
Back to the chalk outline of your soul’s captivity,
Back to the people spewing violence and hate.
Rolling your freedom behind you like a carry-on
you suddenly have to check
and trust to have returned to you when the flight lands.
Moses and Hagar knew this call – the call to go back.
Joseph knew this call – the call to go back.
St. Patrick knew this call – the call to go back.
And in these times, others receive God’s ancient call to return.
My friend, CeCe, received a precise answer to her prayers
for God to notice her misery and loneliness growing up abandoned
in Haiti,
to provide her with a Christ-loving American to marry,
to move to the US,
to earn her citizenship so that she would be free from Haiti forever.
Then, the earth shook and pulled the rug out from under her homeland.
And God called her back,
back into the belly of the beast,
back to the people from whom He’d freed her,
back to serve Him there by serving them.
Now as a wife,
now as an American,
now as a woman called, not a child trapped
but this was not an easy flight to board
an impossible good-bye to the land of the free
and the home of the brave
but now she traveled as a woman both – free and brave – because of Jesus.
And there are North Korean Christians who have escaped that terrible regime,
could observe now from safety and intercede for those who remain
beneath the black boot of Kim Jong-un,
but instead, hear God’s call to go back,
and they obey.
Back to the likelihood of labor camps,
back to the threat of death,
back to living where Satan has his throne.
What possesses a person
to trust God so completely,
to sacrifice everything dear,
to abandon self-concern out of love for others?
What possesses ones once enslaved
to return to the land of their misery
to face their old enemies
to speak the truth to people tattooed with lies?
It is this:
having inhaled the stench of bondage followed by the sweet aroma of release
they love enough to want others to travel the same road to freedom,
knowing it is the road that Jesus walked – that Jesus became
so fearing not the path as much as they trust Him to be with them,
having faith in a lasting city yet to come, a homeland that awaits them
where there is no bondage, no suffering,
an eternal return that awaits those who walk this road,
they go.
 “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” *
Have you heard the call to go back?
Do you feel the call to face your old oppressors, to serve and to free others similarly enslaved?
Are others telling you you’re crazy?
Pack your freedom in your carry-on, loved one, and get on board as Christ flies you to serve at this outpost before He takes you home.
Be blessed in this calling and brave.
And if you are not called to this,
Then certainly, you’re called to pray for those who are
To fuel their flight,
To move the forces of heaven for their protection,
To bind the work of the enemy so they are free to do the work of Christ,
To pray for their light to carry far in lands of darkness,
And so, to travel with them, in Jesus’ name.
*Hebrews 13:12-16 (ESV)

You’re Sick of Me Already, Aren’t You?

I live in fear that people will get sick of me.

Does that happen to you?

You know, not right away, of course, because early on I work really hard at being a funny, worthwhile, low maintenance, supportive type of person.

But, I know it won’t take long for people to sort through all that tap-dancing and uncover the irritating, chronically insecure, needy me wearing dance shoes that pinch my feet.

Being Christian doesn’t really help with this, at all.

Around people who aren’t Christians, I worry that my being a Christian just ups my annoyance factor.

Around other Christians, I worry that I’m not the right kind of Christian for them.

Like, at first, we’ll be all excited just to meet someone else who loves Jesus but a few conversations in, they’ll learn that we differ on something I think is a minor point of Scripture but for them is the acid test of what separates the sheep from the goats and I’ll be kicked to the curb like I just got caught eating their clean laundry.

But, since I also hate dishonesty and deception, I don’t hide who I am very well and that sort of gives the impression that I’m a secure person but really that’s just about me wanting to value truth and, in practice, it means I live every day feeling scared and kind of nauseous around other people. – like not just new people but, like good friends, my kids, my mom.

It can be exhausting. When all is said and done, I’d rather avoid people all together, which is a problem because that’s not practical – especially for someone in a helping profession.

So, I force myself out there. Seriously. It’s a pep talk every morning. And as I drink my large, hot, black coffee and pray myself into the world, I consume fear like a breakfast croissant.

Until the moment I’m focused on another person.

When I’m really listening to another person, hearing their story, getting inside their perspective, seeing their life through their eyes, the fear recedes.

I don’t think about me, in those moments. I think about what they’re experiencing of life and what their heart is beating to hear. I feel God’s love for them and begin to see what God was thinking when He had the idea of that person and I get really excited about the possibility of that person.

It’s like inhabiting God’s grace for that moment in time. As if God’s grace descends around us like the cone of silence Maxwell Smart used to lower over him and his boss in the old TV show, Get Smart.

I’m a lot like Maxwell Smart. I stumble around, clueless and myopic, until, by some miracle of divine intervention, my life touches another life and a spark of God passes between us that lights the world for a moment like a firefly on a summer night or a Bic lighter someone waves in the stands at a rock concert.

In that flash of light, I feel connected to something greater, something beyond my fears and insecurities, like a rip in the fabric of the veil between the kingdom of this world and the one where Jesus rules. There it is, I think.

This is why I love the story of Moses and his conversation with God at the burning bush. (Exodus 4)

Moses couldn’t be more annoying. Here’s God calling him to be the man who delivers his people but Moses just comes up with a million reasons why God should repost the ad for deliverer on Craigslist.

Me? You want me? Don’t you remember me back in civilization? I didn’t work out too well with other people – especially that one guy. So I’m out here now with the sheep and the goats and lots of sand. This works. I’m fine.

I don’t talk well. No one will ever believe we’ve had this conversation. Okay, the trick with the staff is impressive and that whole leprous arm thing is scary as all get out but they’re going to hate me. No one is going to follow me. I sure as heck can’t make a speech.

Hey, you know what. My brother Aaron is maybe who you were thinking of, Lord. He’d love this gig. Honest. Hey, I’ll even loan him the snake stick.

I would probably be friends with Moses if I knew him – until he got sick of me, that is.

So, he was pretty messed up and focused on himself but when Moses connected with the Israelites and really got inside their need for deliverance and God’s love for them, that God spark passed between them and ignited a fire so bright it transformed Moses into a leader.

I don’t think he ever lost all his fears. I think he led despite them.

And he still always preferred to get away from others. Spent so much time alone with God his face shone with the glory of it.

So, this is just to say that some of us manage to fumble through the work of God’s kingdom despite ourselves.

We haven’t yet lost all our baggage.

We don’t travel light on the narrow road.

But we’re on it – a strange band of annoying, chronically insecure, needy disciples tap-dancing along the narrow road who occasionally get a glimpse of glory that is enough to light our way and lighten our hearts.

Join us. Even if you’re afraid we’ll get sick of you.

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The Ministry of Light Time

“You can’t solve the world’s problems, you know.”

If I burned a calorie every time someone said that to me, I wouldn’t be allowed on the runways of Europe.

Has anyone ever said that to you? If so, you’ve probably made some effort to touch another life with kindness, resources, or help.

It’s strange how often when someone sets out to make a difference in another’s life, how many other people jump in to discourage them from trying.

Why is that?

It’s painfully true that none of us can solve the world’s problems but we can make a much bigger difference than most people imagine.

Some thirty years ago, a friend gave me a gift that continues to feed my soul.

I was just out of college, holding down a job, and leading a church youth group. It seemed like I was always running and so were the people around me.

Then, I had to have a minor surgery. No big deal. Outpatient. But, enough of a deal that I didn’t feel up to caring for myself that afternoon. The problem was that everyone I knew was far away or working or busy.

My friend, Barb, called and found me crying. She cancelled all of her plans for the rest of the day, came to my apartment, and was just there for me. I don’t remember a single detail of what we did or what we talked about but I won’t ever forget how desperate I was for someone to be there and how amazing it was that someone was.

It was a simple act of kindness but it warms my heart still, thirty years later.

I just spent the past five years working in a gym at the Y listening to people as they workout. I spent hours doing nothing more than that – just listening to people talk about their day, their interests, their goals, their concerns. I wasn’t a therapist or a psychiatrist – more like a bartender in the workout room – but I saw what it meant to people that someone had time to listen.

One day, one of our regular workout members collapsed of sudden cardiac death on the gym floor. The staff performed CPR and, using the AED, brought him back to life. I only arrived in time to ride with him to the hospital. When we got there, he told the medical staff I was family. (I did, in fact, know his entire medical history!)

As the nurses began to work on him, I tried to excuse myself. “No! Don’t leave me, please.” He protested. Grabbing my hand, he said, “Please, Lori. I don’t want to be alone. Just stay with me until my son arrives.”

I did nothing special. The doctors and nurses had what he needed, really, but I had something he needed, too – my time, my presence, my friendship.

God has taught me over and over these past few years how powerful it is to spend time, just be there for others.

In my new job, helping families in crisis, I’m repeatedly stunned at the effect a simple, calm conversation can have on a very serious situation. When I just read the details of a case, I think, I have nothing to offer this family in the way of a solution.

But then, sitting and listening to them, asking questions as they talk about their needs and their hopes, something amazing happens.

Their problems aren’t solved and many troubles still loom but the power of knowing someone has heard them and will keep listening until they find solutions is truly incredible.

No, we can’t solve the world’s problems but we can be there with them, spending time, listening, lightening the load, showing the love of Jesus. It doesn’t take higher education or brilliant insight or super-intellect. It just takes a heart that beats in time to the Lord and a willingness to let time go lightly.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit him, he spent time watching Moses at work. He was appalled to see Moses working alone to judge all the Israelite’s disputes. Jethro told him he was going to wear himself out trying to do this work alone.

How good it was for someone to be there for Moses. How good it was for others to come alongside him in the work.

One of my favorite old Harry Chapin songs had this chorus: “I let time go lightly when I’m here with you; I let time go lightly when the day is through. I keep a watch on time when I’ve got work to do; I let time go lightly with you.”

It’s a special ministry these day, the ministry of light time. Can you do it? Can you be there for someone else with your ears, your time, and your heart?

God with us.

He came to be with us – I’m sure He wants us to be with one another.

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Keeping It Real with God

So, I spent yesterday reading through Moses’ interactions with God from Exodus through Deuteronomy (I did a lot of skimming). Moses spent time meeting with God “face-to-face”, the Bible says, “as a man speaks with his friend.” Wow. I mean, seriously, wow.

And what I love about the relationship between Moses and God is how real it all gets. You can’t read through the book of Numbers and miss what a whining, complaining, grumbling bunch of people Moses was leading through the wilderness (and before you think I’m picking on them, my husband and I can’t drive thirty minutes without a quarrel so I’m pretty certain they’re representative of the entire human race on a forty-year wander with only McManna burgers and McManna fries to eat.)

So, there are moments when God tells Moses to stand back while He destroys all the people (Exodus 32:10). He assures Moses He can create a whole new people using just Moses’ DNA. (Moses intercedes for the people and then marches down the mountain to have a word with his wayward flock.)

And then there are moments when Moses loses it like in Numbers 11 when he says to God “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin.”

“Kill me now. I’ve had it with these people.” This is the prayer of a holy man who speaks with God face-to-face.

I’ve prayed that prayer.

After four decades of following Jesus, I’m trying to go deeper. I’ve seen some amazing things following God – like miracles, answers to prayer, minds changed and lives transformed. I’ve also known bitter disappointment, long silences from heaven, prayers that fell back to earth like shot gunned quail and lingering questions about giant issues like hell and bigger issues like how I’m supposed to spend my days.

What I sense about going deeper with God is this idea of being real with Him in prayer.

When I was baptized, they played the hymn “Just as I am”, a hymn that says I come to God through Jesus Christ, with nothing to my own credit. I come just as I am and am received because of Jesus.

But, somewhere along the way, I started trying to clean up my own act before I appeared before Him in prayer. I started masking my real feelings and questions with flattering phrases and religious words I thought would provide the formula to getting the answers I wanted. My prayers often bordered on idolatry as I struggled to break the “Open Sesame” code that would pry open God’s fists that seemed to be clenched around my desired blessing.

I’m discovering that “Just as I am” still applies. Even after knowing Him for four decades. Even after reading the Bible cover to cover again and again. Even after a degree in Biblical Studies. Even after all I know and all I’ve done, I still appear before Him with nothing to my own credit. I come “just as I am” in the name of Jesus.

Sometimes, “just as I am” means lost. Sometimes it means confused. Sometimes it means happy and content. Other times it means angry, doubting or “just kill me now, I’ve had it with these people.” It’s freeing to come “just as I am”, to stop hiding from God and working so hard to get something from Him.

I want to want God first. Usually, I come to Him wanting something else but I want to aim higher now. I want to want God first. So, I’m learning from Moses because he was real with God. He spoke with God face-to-face, as one would speak with a friend.

I suspect the reason for this is that when Moses met with God, he knew in that meeting that God was the real Promised Land.

The Mosaic GPS

I hate getting lost.

I had to attend a meeting in Providence last week and I made one wrong turn. That decision sent me through a labyrinth of one way streets that cost me time, threw my stress factor into warp drive and tested my resolve to attend the meeting.

I had been enjoying the drive and the beautiful weather but taking that wrong turn transformed me into a screaming, hyperventilating maniac and robbed me of any pleasure I’d been taking in the trip.

If you ever watch The Amazing Race where teams of two travel the world and overcome orchestrated challenges to compete for a cash prize, you’ll notice the contestants can be patient, determined and unified until they lose their way. Like rats in an unending maze, their spirits and their resolve are clipped to the cuticle and they bleed frustration. I’m not the only one who hates getting lost.

It’s nice having access to Mapquest. Written directions are useful. GPS is also an invaluable tool to staying on course. My preference, however, is to have someone beside me who knows the way.

When you’re with someone who knows how to get you where you’re going, any trip becomes relaxing and enjoyable, even if there are detours. Foreign streets don’t seem daunting or dangerous. It’s even possible to veer from the charted course and navigate unmarked side streets because the person you are with knows how to get around. The journey becomes an adventure, an excursion, an odyssey.

Moses understood this. He wandered in the desert for forty years heading for a place he did not know but he was never lost. Every day, Moses spent hours in the Tent of Meeting speaking with God face-to-face. God personally guided him and the Israelites to their destination. Moses did not know the way but he was unafraid because he traveled with the One who knew. This was the original, the Mosaic GPS.

I get lost all the time.

Life is full of rabbit holes and there are days that I skip my trip to the Tent of Meeting in order to be on my way. To outside observers, my pursuits don’t appear to be misguided but I am on a sojourn with a specific destination and I’ve never been to this place so I need minute-by-minute guidance.

But, day after day, I foolishly take off alone.

I may scan the written directions and fumble my way along but I’m prone to wrong turns. While it may look to others like I know what I’m doing, the truth is, I’m one decision away from getting lost.

Better are the days when I spend time in the presence of God because He knows the way to this place – this place called “Christ-like”. Ironically, on those days, it may look to others like I’m wandering but if they could see with the eyes of their souls they would notice I’m not alone. Whenever I’m with Him, I’m in no danger of falling down rabbit holes or taking wrong turns. He even knows the way around every detour.

Ever get so lost you couldn’t even explain to someone where you were? I have. In my car, on my computer, in my life, I’ve gotten lost and called for help only to be told “We have no idea how you got where you are and haven’t a clue how to tell you to find your way out.” That’s when the Mosaic GPS is the answer.

God never loses sight of us. He knows exactly where we took every wrong turn. In the Tent of Meeting, He can sort us out, turn us around and get us back on the right road. I know. I have to go there all the time for redirection.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.” God has a plan for getting each of us to the place where we have become Christ-like and since we each start from a different spot; He’s the only one who knows the way.

Feeling uptight about your journey? Taken a turn down some strange looking back road? Turn to the Mosaic GPS – spend time alone with God – and invite Him to guide you back to the narrow way.