What God and “NCIS: Los Angeles” Share in Common

Verla 2013Watching “NCIS: Los Angeles” the other night helped me finally understand why I get impatient with God’s plans for my life. I keep losing sight of basic principles that the TV actors follow well.

The whole thing began earlier that day when I was reading Luke 5.  For thirty years, Jesus had been waiting and preparing to do what he came to earth to do. Then…boom! He was suddenly off and running.

John baptized him. Then Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fighting off everything Satan could throw at him. He performed miracles right and left, healed people, delivered great sermons like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), picked his crew of disciples, and, just as quickly, began to draw fire from the authorities for shaking up the status quo.

Thirty years of preparation. Three years of ministry. Through it all, Jesus knew his mission: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43 NIV)

Where he went, how long he stayed in each town, how much time he devoted to teaching vs. healing–all of it was measured against his main mission, dictated by his heavenly Father: to spread the good news of the gospel. Whenever he felt pressed by competing demands, he would slip off by himself and pray until his priorities were re-aligned with his Father’s. Then he would jump back into fray.

I’m not that patient…or focused. I sometimes bristle at the discipline required and the uncertainties involved in a life spent under God’s direction. However, watching the NCIS team visually demonstrated the value of doing it God’s way.

On the TV show, we know only bits and pieces of each team member’s backstory. (Details are trickled out over the season to keep viewers engaged.) But everyone knows–including viewers–that each team member was picked for a reason, to be where they are, doing what they are doing.

Each team member knows his or her strengths. They know they can’t do their job alone. They spend time with other team members committed to the same cause. They spend time in the gym, keeping their skills sharp so they’re always ready for their next assignment. And they know who is boss.

When they committed to defending the United States through covert operations (with the fictional counterpart of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Office of Special Projects), their mission was settled and their assignments were selected by their boss to support that mission. Their job was to be available for deployment, however and whenever needed.

God can use even a TV show to make his point.

What if, like Jesus, God placed you in training for 30 years and you weren’t on anyone’s grid until late in the game? Are you willing to devote yourself to growing in your gifts and talents, maintaining practices of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers–always ready for his next assignment? Is he the boss or do you insist on picking your own assignments?

When we sign on as believers and choose to accept adoption into God’s family and becoming part of his amazing plans for planet earth, we commit to his mission, not ours. Our assignments throughout life  can vary dramatically, although–unlike the TV show–he often gives us several options from which to choose. But we still face danger, disappointment, and frustration, just like those fictional special ops folks.

And, like the TV show, in God’s plan we’re not alone. He and fellow team members (other Christians) have our back, and God has unlimited resources he can deploy to accomplish his objectives.

Have you lost sight of your mission? Do you need to get away for a little time alone to re-align your life with God’s objectives? Is he free to change your assignment or have you been dictating what life has to look like, in order for you to be happy? In other words, who is the boss?

There’s still time to make course corrections. You don’t want to miss being part of the last episode when God springs The Big Finale.

Posted in Life Purpose, Self-discipline, Spiritual Growth, Waiting | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Ballad for an Ordinary Life

Verla 2013Today is playing out as pretty ordinary–full of the duties that keep life ticking, none of which are particularly memorable.

I hate the word ordinary. It sounds so dead and meaningless.

Then, in the car, I heard a classic county song written in the 70s by Chicago folk singer/songwriter Steve Goodman. It brought back a wave of memories.

Goodman grew up not far from where I spent most of my adult life. On the local music scene he was known for writing funny satirical songs– especially songs about the elder Mayor Daley, the Chicago Cubs, and Vegematic infomercials.

He enjoyed limited national fame for writing “City of New Orleans,” made famous by Arlo Guthrie. He also co-wrote a #1 song recorded by David Allan Coe called “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” Coe told Goodman it would be the perfect country song if only it mentioned momma, drinking, trains, and prison. Goodman obliged by adding a tongue-in-cheek last verse to include the necessary mentions and it was an instant hit.

My life sometimes feels like Steve Goodman’s perfect country song. If I want it to be perfect–or at least meaningful by our culture’s definition–I need to add a few over-the-top successes followed by a nervous breakdown, a stint in rehab, and a long climb back. A cure for cancer would help. Or what about a climb up Mt. Everest…backwards? Oh, and could you throw in a car chase or two and something involving sex?

The message? Ordinary is meaningless.

It’s a lie, of course, designed to make us dissatisfied with the sweetness of simple things like the smell of homemade apple pie on a cold wintry day or a shared belly laugh with a friend over an inside joke.

Don’t you sometimes want to rise up and say, “You don’t know squat about what matters! That train wreck you call your life? How’s that workin’ for you?”

Okay. That’s not the right response. I’m just saying.

Even when we recognize The Big Lie, it’s still easy to get caught up in byproducts of the lie: discontent, restlessness, the feeling that we’re not enough. We haven’t accomplished something grand. I get it.

The truth is, however, that there are seasons in life when things aren’t grand. It just is what it is and we press on, without answers, without glory. There are days when that’s what faithfulness and obedience looks like, and we need to let that be enough.

Years ago in Appalachia I met a wizened old farmer at a broken-down stand by the side of a road. He was selling boiled peanuts, along with Mason jars of canned chow-chow “put up by the missus.”

I asked him, “What’s chow-chow?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “That’s what my momma called it and her momma before that.”  He looked at me quizzically. “You don’t have to know what it is to enjoy it.”

Today’s an ordinary day. It doesn’t have to mean something in order for me to enjoy it. And if God has more important work for me to do, he knows where to find me.

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The Fast Track Back to God

Verla 2013Last weekend while driving home from a movie, my husband and I passed a beautiful little country church. It looked more like something from a New England movie set than the modern church architecture you see today. A sign in front advertised an old-fashioned “hymn sing” the following night. On a whim we decided to make the trek back to the church the next night to attend.

I confess I enjoy contemporary Christian music more than traditional or what some call “old-timey” music. But, when I’m honest, what I dislike is often the memories connected to it–legalism, narrow-mindedness, bigotry. The problem was the times and sometimes the people, not the music or God.

Music transcends time and place and differences. It slips past our walls and defenses and in an instant connects us vertically to God and horizontally to each other, without us getting in the way. For example, I love old songs like “Down to the River to Pray,” reportedly a slave song. Without understanding why, it washes away all the fatigue and sighs of life and offers hope.

At the hymn sing Sunday night, my mind raced back to a worship service 30 years ago in Durban, South Africa. A small group of American believers were singing with a spirited group of East Indian believers in an open tent in a neighborhood where every house had a pole in the yard honoring whatever hindu god they were worshipping or using to ward off evil spirits. It felt dark just being there. But worship music reminded us God’s light dispels darkness.

I remembered a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the city was recovering from its 22nd  bombing in its decades-long civil war. Military police confiscated my camera because I shot pictures of their convoy and they feared they were being targeted for assassination. Each time we entered a store to shop for souvenirs, security guards searched our bags for weapons. But at a 700-year old church in Belfast, Christians and Catholics were holding a reconciliation conference. Worship music broke down walls of hostility and peace actually seemed possible.

God is still going about the business of using music to zing past our jadedness or busyness or whatever else interrupts our relationship with him and each other. It can happen anywhere.

Yesterday, my women’s small group met at church to talk about a tough topic. When we began, you could almost feel the collective fatigue of the group from dealing with horrible weather, the demands of small children and/or challenging marriages or life circumstances. No one felt very spiritual.

Amy, our tender-hearted group facilitator, set aside our usual post-study discussion and said, instead, she had a gift for us. She took us into the sanctuary where a huge pile of colorful blankets lay piled by the door. She knew the sanctuary would not be heated on a weekday morning, so she invited us to grab a blanket and scatter through the sanctuary for time alone with God. No agenda. Just open-ended, blissful time and space to be with the One who knows so well–any time and any place–what our hearts and spirits need.

At the end, we huddled together near the front, looking like a crazy band of gypsies wrapped in our giant colorful blankets. One woman pulled out her iPhone and cued up this song, which we sang together. Once again music helped remind us God is still in charge. He hasn’t written the last chapter of our story. He will make all things right in the end.

Thank you, God, for music.

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Disappearance of an Old Friend

Verla 2013Friends say she hasn’t disappeared, but she’s seen less often at groups and activities they, too, wish they could ditch but don’t have the guts. They are activities that don’t really feed their spirit or match their interests anymore but they find it hard to say “no.”

She still makes regular appearances at funerals, church services and cultural events, still dotes on her family. But something’s different.

She doesn’t talk as much and chooses her words more carefully. She seems to live more in the moment and pays more attention to the people and things happening around her–things she missed before because she was moving too fast, pushed by an overloaded agenda. She seems to have lost interest in pursuing the careers in which she made her mark. She worries less. Those closest to her say they find her hanging out with people who cross her path who have a need–sometimes needs that are visible, some that are hidden–people she will likely never see again. It doesn’t make sense.

She knew she was fortunate the past few years not to have to work, because of her husband’s employment. But she had always wanted to work, loved her careers. This new regimen was unfamiliar, unsettling, and definitely less public.

I asked her once if she was trying to develop a following or a new calling…or explore a more inventive stream of income. She found the idea ludicrous, saying she was waiting for God to reveal “next steps” in her own life and was simply showing up each day–albeit impatient for more details–trying to stay alert to opportunities, without regard to any return she would receive. The people and circumstances just presented themselves.

It was an uncomfortable way to live, given her penchant for plans and To Do lists and calendars to ensure that no moment was wasted. Old friends were uncomfortable, too. They said she needed to spend her time more intentionally. She needed to step up and fill needs they identified for her but which just gave her heartburn.  She needed to be productive, set more goals. If she had free time, she dare not turn away any request. It was her spiritual duty (as if what she was doing was not spiritual). It was really hard on her as a recovering people pleaser.

It wasn’t as if she decided to drop out. Doors closed. Others had not opened. She hated the waiting. Always had. She wrestled with God. “What’s up with this, Lord. Didn’t you say, ‘Of whom much is given, much is required?’ There’s no name for what I’m doing, no title. It doesn’t bring in any income. Others will never know what, if any, good has been done, because you keep placing me in situations which need to stay confidential.”

And so she wakes up every day and does it again until those ephemeral next steps appear.

Unless, of course, they already have.

The person I’ve described is me, facing myself and not recognizing who is looking back at me. And, as I wait, I have to admit the lessons learned pile up. Lessons about not worrying what people think, learning to say “no,” serving out of our giftedness and not out of the pressure of someone else’s shoulds and oughts, abandoning the obsession with explaining myself so I won’t be misunderstood.  A graduate course in being a grown-up.

As I’ve aged, my daughter occasionally kids me, saying, “Ma, have you figured out yet what you’re going to be when you grow up?”

Nope. Still working on it. But God hasn’t stopped working in me in the meantime.

Nothing is wasted. Not even when you’re waiting.

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Postcard From Paradise

IMG_2206The Gulf Coast of Florida is a wonderful place to be in January. It’s widely known for its tropical beauty, even though the part most visitors see is a beauty that’s been carefully trimmed and manicured and arranged into botanical submission. Beautiful landscapes, colored with bougainvillea and hibiscus, give residents the kind of paradise they want. Nothing unruly or imperfect. Everything tidy and behaved. A statement to the world that paradise answers to us.

Naples Nature PreserveBut every day I see another kind of paradise in my backyard. Our home borders a nature preserve where paradise is a messy mix of pines and other unidentified species–some tall and majestic, some gnarled and bent with stripped branches. Palms of every size and shape crowd in, looking like they could all use a good barber–beautiful on top, with plenty of dead undergrowth the trees wear like a badge of honor. Tiny purple flowers carpet the woods’ floor, fighting to avoid smothering by all the detritus stripped off the trees in winds and storms.

There have been panther sightings and an occasional water moccasin in the woods and an alligator appeared one day at the end of the block, so a walk in these particular woods is not advised. But I watch it from the safety of our screened lanai, like a voyeur watching an incredible life lesson play out before my eyes. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Survival requires resilience. Each player in this little nature drama coexists with who and what is around it. They bend in storms and stand together to survive. When the storms subside, together they begin again, because that’s the way life is. Cycles of birth and growth…hardships and growth…beauty and growth…and then death. The more they grow, the more beautiful they look in a kind of wild and exultant way that says, “Look! We’re still here! Aren’t we something!”
  • Beauty is not necessarily synonymous with pretty. As the trees age, their beauty grows as each one stands firm and strong, extending themselves to protect the weakest among them. Nothing is rejected because of scars or imperfections. They’re all in this together. An exquisite diorama of a grace-filled community.
  • Creation knows its place. Every time a hurricane sweeps through or a forest fire wreaks its havoc, each tree, each flower, each creature down to the tiny geckos that dart through the bramble, lives and dies on its Creator’s timetable. In the meantime, their only job is to be who or what they were created to be and bring glory to their Creator. That’s all.

We, too, are living examples of God’s handiwork. But our job in the overall scheme of creation is much more important. We are given the added privilege of not only managing his creation but of representing him in the world.

We don’t get a pass on life’s drama and pathos. The highs and lows are still there. That’s life on planet Earth. Those are the things that keep us humble and remind us we are caretakers here, not the Creator.

But because God stamped his image on our DNA and sent the Holy Spirit to be our constant advisor, he promised we can withstand the storms and losses, the injustices and disappointment. We, too, can do what we were created to do.

And when we do, we become more beautiful than even the most pampered palm trees. God spreads his arms in jubilation and brags, “Would you look at them? Aren’t they something? Those kids are my best work ever.”

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Please visit Pilgrim on the Loose often and browse our archives for more encouragement on your spiritual journey.

Posted in Christian Living, Spiritual Growth, Surviving in an Unkind World | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Breaking the Rules About Christmas


Few people would call this a quiet time of year–not if the merchants, party planners, and other purveyors of merriment have anything to say about it. And, I’ll admit, I love the music, decorations, and the feasting as much as the next person. However, the holidays have also become synonymous with words like exhausted, frazzled, and broke.

Christ followers (of whom I’m one) say we must put Christ back into Christmas. Agreed. But, apart from resisting the commercial insanity, what does that look like?

Re-read Luke’s account of the Christmas story. Do you notice that the celebrating came after Christ’s birth? Beforehand, it was quiet. Not easy or stress-free…but still characterized by times of quiet reflection. Could it be a clue to our own survival of the holidays?

Place yourself in the story. A few days before her delivery date, pregnant Mary found herself riding on the back of a donkey on a risky road trip. Slowly, she and Joseph were making the three-day journey across rugged terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem, for the census mandated by Caesar Augustus. It was not fun. She was just trying to hold it together until they reached their destination. It’s a great honor to carry your son, God. But I’m only a teenager! I don’t know how to mother any child, much less a holy one. The reality of it is hitting me and I’m scared. I need you now more than ever.

Joseph, on foot, guided the donkey, trying to protect his wife from all the bumps and jolts that must have made the ride exhausting. Lost in thought, he kept replaying the scene with that angel who appeared to him months earlier to confirm that Mary, indeed, had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit. The angel had even instructed him that the baby’s name would be Immanuel or “God with us.” How exactly do you raise the Son of God? Do I give him a tool set for his birthday and let him help in my carpentry shop? Is it okay to spank him when he misbehaves? Lord, you’re his Father. Help me out here.

Innkeepers were not celebrating. They were preoccupied with accommodating the crush of guests, clueless about the VIPs who were among those seeking lodging. Why couldn’t the government stagger the census over a few weeks? Why all at once? I’m grateful for the business, but I need a break.

Mary and Joseph eventually settled down in a stable with a manger–an unlikely delivery room for God’s only child. Still, the quietness of the stable was a gift to the weary travelers, the darkness punctuated only by the rustle of the animals and their occasional lowing or bleating sounds.

Out in the fields, shepherds took turns watching their flocks, to ward off predators. It, too, was quiet. Lying on their backs, the silence was restorative. Where else can you lie down under a canopy of limitless stars and dream of a better life.

Carving out pockets of time for quiet kept them sane. It kept them anchored. It reminded them who was ultimately in charge.

And then the time for quiet was over.

Cries of a newborn pierced the stable air. Out in the fields, an angel appeared with a choir of heavenly singers to tell the startled shepherds, The Savior, the One you’ve been expecting for centuries, is HERE!  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 

Now it was time to celebrate.

The shepherds quickly found the Christ child and the word was out. The Magi later found him, too, and came bearing gifts fit for a king…which he was.

Those first cries from the baby in a manger were not the last we would hear of Christ. The magnificent story continues today and stretches into eternity. A story of rescue, redemption, and eventual restoration of the world to the way God intended it to be all along. Hard to imagine it all started with a baby.

This Christmas, have you been trying to hold it together? Are you weary? …scared? …preoccupied? …needing space to restore your soul? Make room for some quiet in your days. Reflect on the fact the Savior is coming! Then, when it’s time to celebrate, you’ll be ready.

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              We hope you’ll visit Pilgrim on the Loose often and browse our archives                          for more encouragement on your spiritual journey.

Posted in Birth of Christ | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What If You’re Not Feeling Thankful?

Recently, my husband returned from a 30 min. pre-dawn power walk through the charming older suburb where we currently live. As he passed a little pocket park near a small shopping area, he noticed a woman sitting on a park bench in the darkness, a ragged duffel bag shoved under the bench.

Unlike urban areas where, sadly, the homeless and mentally challenged seem to stake out park benches like they’re homesteaders, this woman didn’t fit the profile.

He asked if she needed help. She insisted she didn’t. She didn’t seem impaired or frightened. So, like most of us with places to go and people to see, he walked on.

The picture of her sitting there in the dark, though, stuck in his mind. When had she last eaten? Did she have a family? Why was she out there? What would she do when winter arrived?

Later, we talked about how we could help her without frightening her or taking away her dignity. The next morning he planned his walk along the same route and there she was again. He offered to bring her hot chocolate from the early morning cafe across the street and she accepted.

During the next week, he gently offered other options. I know, from my days as a street reporter, homeless people are often wary of help. It was no surprise she declined an offer to be taken to a shelter, perhaps fearing her precious few belongings might be stolen by other homeless people as she slept.

One morning I packed a lunch for her, knowing it was only a stop-gap solution. Michael called some non-profit organizations and asked about services available in the area. He called the two churches practically right next door to the park where she sat and asked if they could reach out to her.

Then one day she was gone, perhaps moving on to another bench somewhere, preferring anonymity to attention.

Because of the encounter with this woman and because so many people we know are going through excruciatingly tough times, Michael and I have been talking at length about what it will look like to finish life well, regardless of our circumstances.

I suspect the woman in the park didn’t grow up thinking, “I want to live out the last decade of my life in a middle class suburb–sleeping in the library by day and awake on a park bench at night.” But there she was.

I know. She could have dementia. Maybe she’s just eccentric or a battered wife who no longer trusts anyone. Maybe her own actions put her in dire straits. So what? She’s someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s mother, someone’s friend. The point is: this probably isn’t how she expected life to turn out.

Is your life turning out the way you expected? Our culture’s Big Lie about controlling our own destiny is a bunch of hooey, when you drill deeper. You and I both know you can do all the right things and your employer can still lay you off, Hurricane Sandy can wipe out everything, cancer can rear its ugly head. Need I go on?

I’m not suggesting we curl up in a fetal position and wait for the sky to fall. The point is how not to fall into hopeless despair from whatever life dishes out. I know what doesn’t work. It doesn’t help to try to deal with it on your own or simply run harder or faster, hoping to outrun the pain and disappointment.

The best option is to run, not walk, to God. Hang on to what doesn’t change and is utterly dependable, whether you believe it or not. Hang on to his faithfulness, his love, his grace and a different kind of hope–hope that doesn’t depend on how we feel and extends into eternity.

So, if this has been a tough year and you’re not feeling all warm and fuzzy with gratitude this Thanksgiving, there’s good news. God promises to give you some of his hope, to get you through. Go ahead. Ask for a double portion. There’s enough.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13 NIV)

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The Answer to All Your Questions

As an admitted news junkie, I confess I spent a lot of time the last ten days in front of the TV, toggling between election mania and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy.

Americans react to these kind of events differently than, say, Third World countries, where a kind of fatalism or resignation is often the response. Here, we want to know why.

In one news account in the aftermath of the storms, a middle-age woman stood in the flooded streets of Staten Island–the power out, homes destroyed all around her. She said that her elderly mother was sitting upstairs in a freezing apartment, unable to walk the stairs to safety. And, even if she could get help carrying her mother downstairs, there was no place to go.

The daughter yelled at the reporter, “They’ve forgotten us! Where’s the Red Cross? Where’s FEMA? I want ANSWERS and I want them NOW!”

I don’t blame her. I love questions. And I expect answers! Questions help us navigate through an increasingly hostile world. Demanding answers is the American Way, right?

Well…not from God’s perspective.

First, he’s God. He doesn’t answer to us. (Check out Job 38:4 to 40:5.)

Oh. That.

Ironically, despite the whole chain-of-command thing, he still invites our questions and longs to hear what’s on our mind. The key is to remember who’s the boss.

It isn’t that God doesn’t know the answers. Rather…

Sometimes it’s none of our business. He’s been at it a very long time and managed just fine without us. Our audacity is not helpful. We need to let God do his job.

Sometimes we can’t handle the truth. We’re too stubborn, too immature, too bent on what we think is the best way to handle things. We’re sure we’re right. We just want God’s rubber stamp. But God knows there’s more important inner work to be done in us first. Instead of giving in to our demands, he gets to work prepping us for what’s up ahead. If we knew now what is coming, it might freak us out.

Sometimes the answer is “not yet.” It’s not what we want to hear. Thankfully, God feels no pressure to act prematurely. He’s working toward the best outcome, not what will make us feel good at the moment.

Sometimes we need to give questions a rest. Learning and growing is good. God gave us keen minds. He expects us to use them. But an obsessive need to know every detail of everything–before, during or after it happens–is a hyper-vigilance born of fear.

Wisdom and discernment matter. Direction matters. Boundaries matter. God can help with all of it. But there will never be enough answers to make us feel completely safe in the world. Safety comes from depending on him, not on always finding an answer.

The greatest challenge of our life may be learning to live at peace with unanswered questions. God knows what he’s doing. Our lives are still safer with him than any of the alternatives.

He doesn’t need to change. We do. Our part? Humility. Reverence. Trust. God’s part? Love. Grace. Grace. Grace.

Any questions?

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Are You Poor Enough?

Some of my more jaded journalist pals have been taking bets about which words are considered golden in “moving the needle,” (gaining voter support) in this rancorous election season. The word jobs, of course, is a biggie. But so is any mention of poverty or the poor. 

Everyone seems to think they know and care a lot about the poor (or, conversely, don’t care, because they think the poor have made their own lousy bed and now must lie in it.)

How much do you know about the poor in the United States? The Census Bureau says 46.2 million people currently live in poverty–more than 16 million children, one in every four children under age six.

Do you personally know anyone who qualifies as poor? Or do you picture most poor people as welfare cheats and lowlifes trying to scam the system? I’ve met several people lately who don’t fit that profile.

Scene #1: A suburban Bible study where I met a average-looking stay-at-home mom. Her husband had lost his job and their savings in a bad business decision and couldn’t find another job. Her family, including three kids, had moved into her mother’s basement, which turned out to be a disaster. They needed to move, but no shelters in the area would take a family of five, so they were considering whether living in a tent or in their van was the best option.

If you’re already thinking about how to fix her problem, that’s not the point. Try to feel what it is like to be in her shoes.

Scene #2: An ice cream shop where I met a man who is being squeezed out of his profession due to age and a bum knee. He can’t afford surgery because he can’t even afford the co-pays on his health insurance. He wore a cap to cover the fact he has no money for a haircut. He wore reading glasses from the Dollar Store because he can’t afford the prescription bifocals he needs. He’s desperately searching for work but isn’t qualified for the work that’s available. He moved to low-income housing and is trying to survive off a modest social security check. Can you feel his creeping desperation?

Scene #3:  A city bus trip through a poor part of town, a trip my husband and I took to get a taste of what life is like without a car. A single mother struggled to climb aboard with a baby in a stroller, a young child in tow, and two sacks of groceries. A man in a wheelchair waited while the bus driver lowered the ramp that would allow him to get on the bus with his oxygen unit, then reverse the process later when he got off the bus. It was cold and windy. No one was smiling. Can you feel their fatigue, their self-consciousness?

The poor are not just statistics. They have faces and names. They are people who weep when they cannot heat their home and suffer embarrassment when their kids have no book bag or snow boots. They need more than a turkey at Thanksgiving and a toy at Christmas. They need people who will come alongside them with compassion and understanding, people who understand we are all poor in some way and we need each other.

The Potter’s House serves 11,000 people (6,500 of whom are children) who live in the world’s largest dump in Guatemala City. The organization knows a lot about the poor. They say poverty is complicated and takes many forms:

  • Spiritual Poverty: Lack of relationship with God
  • Intellectual Poverty: Lack of access to knowledge
  • Poverty of Affection: Lack of love
  • Poverty of the Will: Lack of self-control
  • Physical Poverty: Lack of health
  • Poverty of Support Network: Lack of family and community
  • Poverty of Civic Involvement: Lack of community cooperation
  • Economic Poverty: Lack of resources

Have you considered that you, too, might be poor in some way? Do you understand that the most devastating poverty is spiritual? Spiritual poverty means you have no relationship with the One Person who will stand with you in whatever poverty you face.

When you know your poverty and feel poor enough to run to God, not only will you find the comfort you need. He promises enough comfort to share with those who have not yet found him and who desperately need hope, not judgment.

Praise be to…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Cor. 1:3-4)

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What Facebook and the Bible Share in Common

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It’s no substitute for real life (although some people live on Facebook like it IS their real life) and any relating on Facebook is shallow and fleeting. Deep relationships take face time and nurturing. It’s not going to happen on Facebook.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to connect with friends, acquaintances, business associates and distant relatives from every stage of my life, going all the way back to childhood.

Some live in far-flung places like Germany, England, Niger, Kenya, Bahrain, India, Japan, Guatemala and all across the U.S. I would never be able to keep in touch with most of them without social networking. It’s a way of learning a little about what matters to them, how they’ve chosen to live and with whom, what they believe and what they’re now doing with their lives.

One of the things I especially like about Facebook is how it’s a lot like the Bible, with a few important caveats. Both are written by a bunch of different authors and both cover every topic imaginable. Both sometimes seem disjointed and messy. But, hey, life is disjointed and messy.

I mentioned the similarity to a couple of friends of mine who are not Christ-followers and they didn’t see the connection. They think Facebook is entertaining, while the Bible is boring and full of rules, with nothing to say to them. To which I reply, “Are you kidding me? Have you read the book? It’s ‘Survivor,’ ‘Scandal,’ ‘Dr. Phil,’ the History channel, the Discovery channel, and ‘World News Tonight’ rolled into one.” (Okay, so maybe there’s no parallel to “Ice Road Truckers.”)

The Bible covers births, deaths, divorces, inspirational stories, job wins and losses, how-to lessons for life, speech training, wars, homosexuality, politics, murder, rape, intrigue, judgmental people, grace-filled people, rich and poor, glass half empty people and glass half full people, the bold visionaries and the crazies. In other words, the same kind of things we find so intriguing when posted on our Facebook wall!

Of course, there are differences between Facebook and the Bible. There’s a Big Picture to the Bible. Unlike Facebook’s helter-skelter content, the Bible has a point. It’s God’s story of humankind–from the moment God called us into existence until the day Jesus returns to finally reclaim his world and those who love him.

And, like every good story, it has fleshed-out characters, a plot that pulls you in, conflict, heartache, a change agent (Jesus), the characters are given the power to choose, there’s a chance of redemption and transformation and, finally, a dramatic denouement.

Unlike Facebook, however, don’t expect it to make sense if you drop in on the middle of the story for a quick sound bite. God’s story takes a lifetime to fully appreciate. Did you ever drop in on page 200 of War and Peace or Moby Dick and find yourself mesmerized by the story? Did it make sense? Of course not. The Bible isn’t snack food. It’s a banquet. It takes time to fully appreciate it.

Then there’s the fact that the Bible was written by people commissioned by the Holy Spirit, which means you can trust that it’s all true. That makes it a lot different from Facebook.

And, finally, the Bible was written for usall of us. God had us in mind on every page. It’s why he wrote the story in the first place. Facebook, on the other hand, is all about the people who post–what matters to them, how they want to be seen and what they feel is true.

Facebook is fun but, in the end, it’s more like postcards from a friend. But when it comes to impact on my life and a lasting take-away, I’ll stick to the Bible. Besides, God accepts all “friend” requests.

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