Sunday, November 09, 2008

THOUGHTS ON THE MORNING AFTER – PART III

Animated discussions are flying around the Christian community about what the election of Barack Obama really means, and there is no shortage of opinions. I have read (although I can’t confirm where) that thirty-two percent of evangelicals voted for Barack Obama. Clearly, they see his election as the dawn of a new day for America. Many others see it as the last nail in the coffin for millions more unborn babies and perhaps for our free nation itself. Some see blessing, others judgment. There are other questions. Was it God’s will, or not? Does God still judge nations today, or did Jesus bear all judgment in this life for us? How much responsibility for what happened rests with an apostate church? What do we, as the church, need to learn from this? Is God done with America, or are our best days still ahead?

All this will be discussed for a long time to come, and I don’t pretend to know the answers. I simply want to look further at the good that could result from the election of America’s first African-American president. While it is surely possible to overstate the potential in this historic event, it’s not possible to overstate its effect on the African-American spirit. It’s worth looking at the possibilities of that boon.

Obama’s election has African-Americans from coast to coast feeling like full citizens of the United States at last, with an unprecedented sense of hope and opportunity. Some will argue that their hope is misplaced in a false messiah. While that is no doubt true for many, my prayer is that their newfound hope will breed a sense of the possible that will cause them to dig deep within the untapped wealth of their own souls for the stuff to participate and succeed in the American Dream. As Don Imus said, now little black children as well as little white children can puff out their chests and say, and believe, “I could be president of the United States someday.” While legal barriers to black advancement have long been removed, now psychological barriers have been removed, as have all excuses. It is time for African-Americans to dream and move forward toward those dreams in the land of opportunity.

Most important, the remaining barriers to full healing of centuries-old wounds and reconciliation between black and white in this country have been torn down. It won’t happen overnight, but we can make great strides toward that end. This should be a high-priority goal for all of us.

Now imagine what strength and power would come into the American economy and the American soul if these things came to pass. Picture an America where citizens of all races believed in, and actively took part in, the goodness and opportunity of this nation. See a country where soul-rending mistrust and hatred between races gave way to trust and a sense of shared destiny. Savor the vision of a nation where old stereotypes melted away and each of us judged a person, as Dr. King envisioned, by his character and not the color of his skin, whether white or black. Such an America would truly fulfill her destiny to be a shining city upon a hill, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

You may say, “You think all that can come out of the election of one African-American president?” Well, it’s a good first step. These are things for which we should diligently pray and work. I guess I’m just idealistic enough to believe it could happen.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thoughts on the Morning After - Part Deux

I happen to believe that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States represents the beginning of God’s judgment on America, and the American church in particular (I Peter 4:17). However, in his incredible mercy, God’s judgment is redemptive, and there are some good things that will come out of this.

Let’s start with what this election means for African-Americans. Their elated faces and euphoric comments on the news after the election made me realize that for black Americans, Barack Obama’s election means that their emancipation is finally complete. They finally feel like full, equal citizens of the United States. Whoopi Goldberg expressed it well when she blogged on www.wowowow.com:

I realized that for probably the first time in my life, in thinking about myself as an American, it occurred to me that this is really our arrival in the country that said everything was possible. We have finally become part of the fabric of the United States of America.

No white eye rolling out there, please. You and I may believe that African-American equality was secured by the Emancipation Proclamation, the Reconstruction Amendments, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On paper, that is true, but experiential reality may be quite different. We know very well the horrific treatment of blacks by some whites throughout our earlier history. Yet it remains hard for us to understand why many African-Americans have never felt secure in their equal rights or became invested in their citizenship. Maybe this is because white people assume everyone experiences full equality because we have never had to defend equality for ourselves. But we need to embrace a broader view.

Perhaps we have underestimated the depth of the generational wounds of slavery and post-slavery injustice and overestimated levels of healing and reconciliation. This leads us to think things like, “Why can’t they quit whining and just get over it? That stuff ended forty years ago.” However, that is like an unfaithful husband whose wife is still learning to trust him again and gets upset if he comes home late one evening. He may grouse to her, “I already said I was sorry and I won’t do it again. Why can’t you just get past this?” We would think him a Neanderthal. Deep wounds take a lot of time to heal, and we need to extend grace and understanding, as well as encouragement to overcome and jump into America with both feet.

Of course, there are many African-American attitudes and ways that fall short, too, but we are not responsible for them. What this election has shown me is that I, and probably almost all white people, have seriously underestimated the enormity and pervasiveness of African-American feelings of disenfranchisement. The euphoria will fade and Obama supporters of all races will learn soon enough that he is not a messiah, but a man, a flawed human being like all others. But for now, whatever we think of the man and his policies, let us rejoice and share the shining moment with our African-American countrymen, and pray that God will use this singular event to bring about major breakthroughs. What those might be are for discussion in Part III. (This could go on a long time!)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thoughts on the Morning After - Part I

Ironically, as a McCain supporter I was more depressed when I woke up yesterday on Election Day morning than I am on this morning after. Christians prayed fervently for God’s will in this election, and God answered with a win for Barack Obama. We may disagree on whether this represents mercy or judgment on our nation, but regardless, Obama will be our next president. How we Christians deal with this reality may be a test from God to see where our hearts really lie. Will we react like one more angry interest group whose agenda has been thwarted by our political enemy, or will we humble ourselves under God’s sovereign hand, in a spirit of repentance for our own sins and failures, and seek him for more effective and loving ways to be salt and light, in truth and grace, for our nation?

As I wrote earlier in the week, a great place to start would be on our knees on this Wednesday morning. After that, we might try looking for the silver lining in what we may consider the dark cloud of the Obama win. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Let’s start with the obvious: America has just elected her first African-American president. If we can find little else to celebrate in an Obama victory, we can all certainly rejoice in this colossal milestone for our country. I grew up in the segregated South and still vividly remember the “Orangeburg Massacre” in my town, a race riot that ended in the police killing of three black college students, all because a couple of young black men dared to ask for service at the snack bar in the local bowling alley. How far we have come in forty years! And who would have thought then that the state whose borders held the capital of the Confederacy would go blue for Barack Obama in 2008? This is a victory for America and for humanity.

2. Those who use the accusation of racism to excuse every personal or political failure, or to not even try to achieve in life, no longer have that excuse. The perceived barrier has been broken. Don Imus said yesterday that, although he voted for McCain, he would be happy for an Obama win because it would give black children across America the ability to dream, perhaps for the first time, that they really can be anything they want to be, even president of the United States. What people believe about themselves has a far greater impact on their lives than government entitlements ever could.

3. The reality of numbers 1 and 2 above make a far better case for American blacks in this land opportunity than all the liberal carping about the hopeless socio-economic situation of blacks and others. Ironically, Obama’s very success begins to undermine the presuppositions supporting wealth redistribution and entitlement programs. Sometimes unintended consequences are positive.

4. It may be hard to overestimate the hope the historic Obama victory brings to American citizens, even those of us who oppose his policies, in this time of economic doom saying. I’ll wager his election will do more for the markets than that bailout boondoggle.

Some believers will, unfortunately, refuse to see any positive implications of an Obama presidency and bitterly focus on the disasters that could result. Those who do, give in to fear, which never serves us well, and they forget that God is still on his throne.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Civilized Genocide

by Jim Mills

Note to readers: For those of you who don't know Jim Mills, he is a missionary, singer/musician, theologian, historian,culture warrior,and general renaissance man who lives with his wife in Belgium and has ministered throughout Europe for over thirty years. I had the pleasure of meeting them when I lived in Latvia. He had sent this essay to me in response to my last blog post, and I asked him if I could share it here.


In 1945, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces ordered as many films and photos and testimonies be gathered as remotely possible of the devastation and horror found in the Nazi concentration camps. It wasn’t an infatuation with gruesomeness that prompted American General Dwight D. Eisenhower to give this order. Rather it was so that future generations would never question that the holocaust actually took place. In his own words, “Collect as much proof through films, testimonies, photographs. . .because the day will come when some son of a bitch will say this never happened.”

Six million Jews, 20 million Russians, and ten million Christians and priests were executed in this tragic chapter of history in western civilization. Most of the holocaust took place in three to five years. If the war had not ended when it did, perhaps there would have been multiplied millions more who would have lost their lives.

There is also ample evidence of the horrific genocide that has taken place in Rwanda, the Congo, Sudan, Darfur, and elsewhere. Thanks to the media, we in the West can be made aware of the atrocities and then take some kind of action. The question to ask: Have we taken action?

Though the number of horrors is staggering in the last 20-60 years, there is an even greater horror that has taken place throughout the so-called civilized world. A civilized genocide has taken place in which as many as 150,000,000 around the world have been murdered, butchered, and some simply left to die without any assistance. The holocaust in America alone stands at 50,000,000. The blood of these precious and innocent children cry out. Do we have ears to hear?

In the next eight years new Supreme Court justices will be set in by the newly elected president of the USA. Both candidates have made their position clear.
John McCain will appoint judges that will eradicate the horrible practice known as partial-birth abortion, as well as work to overturn Roe vs. Wade that launched this civilized genocide in the USA 34 years ago.

Barak Obama has also made his position known. He said,

“The first thing I'd do as President is sign the 'Freedom of Choice Act' (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed 'fundamental right' to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, 'a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined health reasons.'"


In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry, in other words, protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs.

The question is, do we have ears to hear the cries of the ca. 50,000,000? Many throw up their hands and say, "What can we do?"

There is something you can do to resist the triumph of evil. Recall to mind the words of Edmund Burke, who famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and I add "and women"] do nothing.” Do something. Vote for life.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Reflection on the Election

It’s probably safe to say that more Christians have collectively spent more hours in prayer about this presidential election than just about anything else in our lifetimes. While no one—Christian or otherwise—doubts the gargantuan importance of this election or the magnitude of its consequences, it is mystifying how much disagreement there is in the church about who the right candidate is.

For many reasons beyond the scope of this essay, it is extremely difficult for me to understand how anyone who names the Name of Christ could overlook so much ranging from questionable to disturbing to vote for Barack Obama (and I welcome comments to the contrary). Yet many devoted Christians who love God and pray earnestly favor Obama. I have a dear friend, a true lover of God and a brilliant woman, who enthusiastically supports Obama and believes there is sinister, perhaps even demonic, activity on the Republican side intended to derail her candidate. With the ACORN mess and other suspicious reports, I have felt the same about the Democratic side trying to undermine McCain. We both believe the other’s candidate lies or hides the truth about his record, policies, or associations. We both pray for truth to prevail. We pretend to view that as a point of agreement, yet we have different ideas of what truth probably is in this case. It is very sad that this should be.

One pundit perhaps summed it up well by suggesting that Obama supporters support whom they hope he will be, not who he is. In my humble judgment, that’s a dangerous gamble. Thank God, at least, that we do have the freedom to choose, and make our choice before God.

Two things are certain. First, we are all praying for God’s Perfect Will to be done in the election, while hoping and believing that his Will includes our candidate. Second, because God is sovereign and because the Church has prayed diligently, God will certainly have his way in the selection of our president, regardless of who wins. We will receive the Lord’s mercy or his long-withheld judgment.

Like many Christians, I have prayed for mercy to triumph over judgment, even though I know we deserve judgment. I have for years asked God to be as harsh as he needs to be, but as gentle as he can be, to get our attention and deal with the sins of this nation, beginning with the Church. As our parents used to tell us, we can choose to learn our lessons the easy way or the hard way.

No matter what happens, however, our response as believers should be the same, knowing that God’s ways are always redemptive and that judgment is really simply severe mercy. Those who don’t yet know the Lord often think God judges to punish or be mean. We who know his loving nature, though, understand that when he allows judgment, it is always to draw his people back to himself, for their eternal good and his own glory. This we can all agree on.

We still have five days to pray earnestly and honestly for God’s choice for President of the United States. On Wednesday morning some of us will be elated and some grief-stricken. Whatever happens on Tuesday, however, we should each fall on our knees on Wednesday in humility and gratitude, either for his amazing grace and mercy, or because he loves us enough to discipline us. And let’s also respond with renewed commitment to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so be salt and light to our ever-darkening culture. God is in control, regardless of who inhabits the White House. If we’ll do this, the Lord may yet grant us grace to turn this ship of state around.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who Will Be Our Messiah?

This election has brought into focus two things positively mystifying, and ominous, about Americans’ attitude toward the presidency of the United States. One is how much blame they foist onto the President for things that are, constitutionally, the responsibility of Congress, or, worse, that are beyond the control of any human being, such as bad weather. The other is how much they look to a president to be a savior from every sort of corporate or even personal ill and discomfort, exemplified by Barack Obama’s “messiah” status with many voters. These phenomena are ominous because they indicate an elevation of the presidency that borders on idolatry. They signal a return of the age-old tendency—once anathema in this country—to look not to ourselves under God for our governance and solutions to national problems, but to a single strong leader to save us.

The same thing happened in Israel millennia ago. Since their arrival in the Promised Land, the Jews essentially had a theocracy led by judges and prophets, who administered justice, taught them the law of God, and led them in battle. Under this system, they did just fine without benefit of a king or a huge bureaucracy. That was until they asked their leader, Samuel the prophet, to, “appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (I Samuel 8:6) Samuel knew this was a bad plan, but the Lord told him to grant their request, saying, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (I Samuel 8:7)

In the rest of I Samuel 8, Samuel warns the Israelites about what would happen once they had a king to rule over them. Please read it yourself, but the gist is that he would tax them silly for his own projects and make slaves of them. Samuel warned, “When that day comes, you will cry out to the Lord for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:18) But they didn’t heed the warning, and suffered the consequences, as the rest of the Old Testament records.

Of course, America is not a theocracy and there are many other differences between ancient Israel and the United States today. Yet there are parallels, and we would be wise to learn from Israel’s example. What happens in a nation’s spiritual life eventually works itself out in its political life. Israel rejected God. With that rejection, they lost their will and ability for self-government. They demanded an all-powerful king to rule over them and fight their battles for them.

Are we not doing exactly the same thing in America today? We have rejected God in our personal lives and in our public institutions. The resulting moral decline has left us slaves of our lusts, unable to govern ourselves, an ability that is the very foundation of a free society. Since nature abhors a vacuum, to the degree that we will not govern ourselves, we will be governed, by an increasingly stronger and more centralized authority. Another way to say it is that if the Messiah is not King internally, in our hearts, we will need an external king to control us. Like Israel in Samuel’s time, we clamor for such a savior-king to remove the effects of our sin, but not our sin.

We will either worship God or the state. We cannot be a godless nation and a free one. It’s time for us to humble ourselves for some national soul searching to decide whom we will serve, and so determine the future of our nation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF

The daily drumbeat of negative economic and geopolitical news over the last few months has taken its toll on the nation’s collective psyche. And now, we are told, our economy teeters on the brink of total collapse. Even the President has unceremoniously exclaimed, “This sucker is going down,” if Congress can’t agree on a federal mortgage bailout by the time markets open on Monday.

All of this is exceedingly troubling, but what is more troubling is our collective panic response. We have, I’m afraid, become a people who value security more than independence and who fear discomfort more than evil. At this moment in our history we would be wise to heed the words of FDR as he embarked upon his first presidency in the darkest hours of the Great Depression:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.


We may disagree from the distance of some seventy-five years on whether the policies set forth later in his address were right or wrong. However, we must all agree that FDR was correct that our only real enemy is fear, because it is profoundly true that fear paralyzes and converts advance into retreat. Fear causes difficulties to loom larger than they are and make us feel small and impotent when we are not. It causes us to make short-sighted and wrong decisions. Fear is the enemy, and opposite, of faith, in God and in our own ability to find solutions and prevail when we humbly call on him and trust him to help us. Fear causes us to shrink back when we should run to the battle lines.

If the signers of the Declaration of Independence had yielded to fear, we would not have our republic today. It sounds cliché, but it is important to remember at times like these. In the face of almost certain defeat, they traded fear for courage, knowing they were risking, as we’ve heard from childhood, “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” Perhaps we’ve heard this so often that we need to recapture just what that means. They understood that life—not just the money and material comfort that lay at risk for us today—was too small a price to pay for a free nation founded on the principles of self-government under God that they envisioned would become a beacon to lead the world from despotism to liberty.

This is our heritage of courage and their legacy to us. We have squandered that heritage. We have become fat and soft in the pursuit of comfort, materialism, and moral relativism and have forgotten what stern stock we spring from. But this would be a perfect time to remember who we are as Americans and set our hearts to reclaim the guts of our Forefathers, as FDR called Americans in his time to do.

Should our economy in fact collapse, it would be no more devastating than what the colonists and their leaders faced in 1776. We may well face this, and other hard times the likes of which have not been seen in our times. But if we will conquer fear and be calm and resolute in the face of each challenge, as FDR said, we will endure, revive, and prosper. Perhaps we need these trials to shake us out of our complacency and pettiness and remind us of what really matters in our personal and national life. May God help each of us and our leaders, and may God bless America.

Monday, July 21, 2008

TAKING LIGHT FROM THE DARKNESS



My house is under contract and I am moving out one week from today. Some said it couldn’t be done, what with the down market and everything. It sold in just less than eight weeks, when there were 17 other comparable properties for sale on the two streets of my little subdivision. Some of those had been on the market for six months or more, and many had more features to offer than my place. After receiving no offers the entire time, I received two in one day. My realtor, a wise and mature Christian, said that was God’s way of saying, “It’s time for you to go now.” I give Him full credit, and much praise, for the sale.

Thus ends the Atlanta and post-mission field phase of my life and thus begins the move to Nashville and a new season of life. The last four years have probably been the most difficult of my life. Why that was true is the subject for another post. Today, however, is for thanking God and marveling over the light I am taking away with me from this dark time.

I have several friends who are also emerging from tough times, and we decided to do a mental and spiritual exercise while picking blueberries this past weekend. That was to review the life season now ending and list the eternal things God within us did during the dark time that are now indelibly stamped on our hearts, changing us forever. These will become the foundation for all we will be and accomplish in the next season.

Here are just a few of the items from my list:

1. I know now that God will never coddle my self-pity or unbelief, but as I rise above those temptations, he will always come through for me, in His way, in His timing.
2. I know now that I am strong. I may have wept and gotten depressed many times, but by God’s grace, I have walked an uncertain path that few would voluntarily walk and I am still standing. I am strong because God is faithful.
3. I know now that sometimes depending on God means depending on people. He has created us, not for dependence, but for interdependence, for give and take.
a. I’ve been humbled in that I feel I’ve been more on the taking end than the giving, but humility is a good thing. And the time will come when I’ll be the giver.
b. In people’s eagerness to provide for a myriad of my needs, I have seen the unstinting, giving heart of God.
c. My upbringing said, “Never trouble anyone for anything.” But this is only thinly disguised pride. I have learned to receive from others, and formed strong bonds of friendship in the process.
d. I have gained a greater compassion for the needs of others and better understand the value of timely and heartfelt encouragement.
4. I know that I could never doubt the existence of God. I suppose I could become self-deceived and somehow be convinced that God was mean or didn’t like us or some other untruth, but I could never be convinced that He is not there, because I have seen His presence and His acts so tangibly in my own life.

No matter what season of life you are in, I encourage you to try a similar exercise. You’ll be amazed at how far you have come and how great your God is.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Graduation Is the Fruit of Teamwork at Fideles Christian School

On Saturday Fideles Christian School in Cumming, Georgia, graduated its first crop of seniors. Similar graduation ceremonies may have been taking place all across America that day, but for those parents, relatives and teachers who filled the Fideles auditorium Saturday morning, our ten graduates were the only ones in the world. Few young people are fortunate enough to have so many who have invested so much in their lives as those ten.

Indeed, these graduating seniors show what can be accomplished when like-minded people come together as a team in a common goal. First in this group are the parents who parented and home-schooled their children consciously and deliberately with the development of their character as well as their intellect in mind. Many of these parents also volunteered their blood, sweat and tears at the school for the sake of all the students. Partnering with them was a small, but dedicated group of teachers at Fideles who view their calling to students as one of discipleship, not just impartation of facts. They understand that learning to reason and to gain and apply wisdom from the facts is more important than simply memorizing the facts themselves. The work of Fideles parents and teachers was also ably under girded by a very dedicated administrative staff of similar vision who patiently and efficiently managed and balanced the unending demands of teachers, students and parents. And let us not forget the students themselves, who worked hard--often balancing academics with jobs, sports, church and other activities—to make it to graduation day.

This partnership would not have been possible, however, without the indefatigable leadership of Jonny and Ellen Whisenant, the founders and directors of the school. Giving up a more lucrative career a few short years ago, the Whisenants started Fideles with a clear vision and burning passion to build and send out young disciples into the world to carry righteousness, excellence and a better way into every area of our darkening culture. These unsung heroes have made enormous sacrifices for this goal with courage, faith, enthusiasm, patience, love and a healthy dose of good humor. It is their leadership that has pulled everyone’s efforts together to a common end. Fideles students, parents, administrators, and teachers all owe Jonny and Ellen a huge debt of gratitude.

For everyone who was involved, and for Jonny and Ellen in particular, Saturday was a sweet day. To hand out the diplomas to each graduate in his or her cap and gown at this first graduation ceremony must have brought them untold satisfaction and joy along with the knowledge that it has been worth it all. Who knows what world changers are among those ten graduates. Thank God for teams like the directors, parents, teachers, and administrators of Fideles Christian School who are willing to work together to help launch the next generation into their places in the world.

Congratulations, Fideles graduates! Go forth and conquer!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

SPIDER SOLITAIRE: GOD CAN SPEAK THROUGH ANYTHING!

About a year ago, I discovered Spider Solitaire on my computer and have played no other games since. I’ve made quite a habit (OK, it’s probably a psychological addiction) of playing a few games while listening to some good, worshipful music almost every night before I go to bed. In what has been a time of great uncertainty and even more financial stress, Spider Solitaire has been free therapy. Very effective, too. My hands are busy at the keyboard, but my mind is free to replay the day’s events or ponder the difficulties du jour—those which I can control and those I cannot. It helps me to sort things out in a relaxing context.

After playing a couple of losing games, however, my conscientious side exclaims, “What a waste of time! Shouldn’t you be grading papers, working on your book, scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, sleeping, (fill in the blank)?”

Next my philosophical and religious sides chime in, “There you go again, worshipping before the flat screen god. How shallow you are! Idolatrous, too. You should be reading your Bible.”

I generally agree with these pesky voices and would heed them, except that God so frequently speaks to me through this silly game. No, really.

Here’s how it happens. Maybe I’ve lost a few games and feel it’s high time I win one. I start a new one that I very much want to win. It starts well. I move cards hither and thither with all the strategy and skill I can muster and am several times rewarded with the gratifying click-click-click of a full suit folding. Progress! Hope! I can already taste victory. I make a few more good moves—click-click-click.

Then I get stuck. In the dark room, no doubt ghoulish looking in the screen’s bluish glare, I stare and study and steam until every possibility is exhausted. Then, annoyed and disappointed, just as I am about click this game off the screen and into some cyber-netherworld and go to bed, I suddenly spy one last move and grab it. This one turns out to be the move that opens the whole game. There it is—sweet victory!

This win gives me way more joy than a simple game should. Then I understand that is because the game is a metaphor for my life and its challenges. I think things are working out; then they don’t. I try everything I know to do to overcome a scary problem, but it remains. I don’t know what else to do, and want to shout, “God, where are you? What do you want from me?” But in my discovery of the move that opened the solitaire game for me is the voice of God exhorting me in his strong, but gentle way, “If you will just trust me, I will remove what holds back your own victory as well. You can’t see your next move, and you don’t know what to do, but I see the whole game strategy from beginning to end, and I will open the way for you if you will depend on my sight.” And then he gently chides, “Did you really think that I wouldn’t come through for you? Have I ever not come through for you?”

As his words pierce my heart, I despise my lack of faith. Then, in the background I hear the band Selah soulfully singing the old song “Faithful One”:

I find no hope within to call my own
For I am frail of heart, my strength is gone
But deep within my soul is rising up a song
Here in the comfort of the faithful one

I walk a narrow road through valleys deep
In search of higher ground, on mountains steep
And though with feet unsure, I still keep pressing on.
For I am guided by the faithful one.

Faithful, faithful to the end,
My true and precious friend,
You have been faithful,
Faithful, so faithful to me

I see your wounded hands, I touch your side
With thorns upon your brow you bled and died
But there’s an empty tomb, a love for all who come
And give their hearts to you, the faithful one.

Faithful, faithful to the end,
My true and precious friend,
You have been faithful,
Faithful, so faithful to me

And when the day is dawned and when the race is run
I will bow down before God’s only Son
And I will lift my hands in praise for all you’ve done
And I will worship you, my faithful one.

I draw strength and comfort from these simple, elegant words of truth and repent of my faithlessness toward my Faithful One. Then I shut down the computer, go to bed, and recount all the miracles He has done to get me through in my life so far as I drift off into a peaceful sleep.

Maybe you should play a little Spider Solitaire tonight.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What You Can Learn about Life from Selling Your House

Buying a house is a lot more fun than selling one. When buying a house I get to be chauffeured from house to house in someone else’s car, envisioning how lovely I, my things, and my life will be in each one. Ah, suddenly there I am in my fuzzy robe, curled up with my Bible and morning coffee in that cozy den. A glance at one lush and green backyard, and my dog and I are playing fetch together there amid the cheerful tunes of singing birds on a sunny afternoon. I envision guests sleeping peacefully in that spacious guest room or sitting at the expansive bar with glasses of wine, laughing and chatting while I whip up a delicious dinner in the updated kitchen. Oh yes, buying is fun.

Looking at houses to buy also gets me a boatload of free decorating DOs and DON’Ts. The good ones I mentally file for later use. The bad ones allow me to utter catty comments with impunity about ugly colors and tacky furnishings, which is somehow cathartic for me. Go figure. Buying is indeed more fun than selling.

Now, however, I am selling my own house. Now it’s my turn to clean up, clean out and stage. How well I do that will determine whether my home becomes the source of someone’s daydreams (and sells) or of their catty comments (and doesn’t sell). The tables have turned, and now I fight off panic.

It started with that representative from the architectural committee of the homeowners’ association who came over to approve stain colors for my fence.

“It’s a terrible time to sell!” she reminds me. “You’ll probably lose a lot of money.”

Great.

Next comes the realtor.

“The market really isn’t that bad,” she assures me. “In fact, with a little luck, you may even break even. Now, here are your top seventeen competitors in the neighborhood. . . .”

I feel better already. NOT.

Then comes the stager. This is the person who tells you everything you need to change or get rid of to make your home attractive to buyers. For most mere mortals, the stager’s visit would be a source of anxiety. Not for me. I watch HGTV’s Designed to Sell at least three times a week. I know the drill: get rid of all the personal photos and chotchke, clear off all surfaces, de-clutter, remove excess furniture, yada, yada, yada.

So, for three days of my spring break I packed, cleaned, rearranged, and ruthlessly rid myself of all that was unnecessary, while generous friends painted some rooms. Then, aching and exhausted, I sit back to admire my streamlined home, smugly thinking how impressed the stager will be on the morrow.

The appointed time arrives. In walks the stager and glances around the room. “The first thing you’ll want to do,” she says, “is de-clutter.”

I smile and nod, but inside I’m screaming, “what? de-clutter? what do you think i’ve been doing here for the past three days, anYway?”

It went downhill from there. She told me I need to thoroughly clean some things. Imagine, suggesting that I don’t keep my house clean! Didn’t I just clean those dusty blinds, uh, a year ago? Later, she sent me an eleven-page list of things to do to get my house ready to sell. Eleven pages. She did soften the blow by saying that I have a lovely home on a lovely street. She probably says that to everyone, but it still made me feel better.

To add insult to injury, as the stager was leaving, she suddenly looked down at the outside wall near the front door. I followed her gaze and saw what she saw—TERMITES! In that weak moment of panic I thought to myself, “what’s next? a plague of locusts?”

Later that day, after praying a lot, I regained my perspective and sense of humor about it all. While buying a house is much more fun than selling one, selling gives us a chance to evaluate, clean out, and get a clearer view of our homes through a fresh, objective set of eyes. What happens in our houses is so similar to what happens in our own hearts and souls. Over time, junk and dust can accumulate there, but living in the midst of it, we can’t see it. This stuff can range from excess baggage we simply don’t need to carry that weighs us down, such as taking on false responsibility for someone else’s life, to truly toxic attitudes and thought patterns that threaten the health of our souls, like unforgiveness.

Good clues that we need some personal de-cluttering may be that sense that we’re in a rut, a lack of joy and peace, heaviness or depression, or a lack of forward momentum in life. Periodically, it’s helpful to invite a trusted friend or pastor to help us see what we cannot see for ourselves. Most of us are like my home as described by the stager: lovely, but in need of some basic cleaning and de-cluttering. Having the courage to hear an honest friend’s evaluation of our lives can help us to spiritually de-clutter and lighten our load.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk with the exterminator.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

UNITY: Deeper than "Can't We All Just Get Along?"

Wow. I just picked up an old notebook to look for a phone number and unearthed a treasure trove of notes about how we forge Christian unity and illustrates what it really is. There is no date on them and I can't tell whether they were from a book or sermon, or whether they came out of my own pure brain. Whatever, the ideas are so good that I wanted to share them with you, dear reader. I'll just list them as bullet points as they are in my notebook, and then perhaps make some comments.
  • Unity can only be forged in the furnace of affliction, in the clash of conflict and the muck of misunderstanding.
  • Unity grows out of covenant. First, there must be a decision to be committed to it, no matter what the cost.
  • Unity grows and takes shape each time we:
  • Determine to think the best of and trust the motives of someone who has hurt us.
  • Clash head on in disagreement, but talk and pray through to understanding and agreement.
  • Risk conflict to speak the truth in love
  • Receive correction, regardless of how it is delivered, choosing to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and not the voice of the speaker.
  • Rejoice with those who seem to be more blessed than we are.
  • Accept the faults of those God with whom God has put us in relationship, even when they affect us personally, without judging them, knowing that we have equally grievous faults, just different ones.
  • Refuse to take up the offenses of others.
  • Refuse to judge people or situations until all the facts are known (believing the best and reminding ourselves that one is innocent until proven guilty).
  • Believe what God's Word says about a brother or sister as we believe it for ourselves, even when apparent evidence contradicts.
  • Every time we do these things, it makes an indelible stamp on our character and we are forever changed a bit more into the image of Christ, who prayed that we might all be one as He and the Father are one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
I don't think I'll make any comments. What else could I say?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

LAUGH MORE, LOVE MORE, AND DON'T BE SO AFRAID


If you want to see an uplifting movie that will both inspire and challenge you to consider the way you’re living your life, try Last Holiday. No, this is not a movie review; however, there are some great thoughts to take from this lighthearted romantic comedy.

This film is about a sweet but mousy department store clerk, Georgia Byrd, who lives frugally, dutifully and uneventfully, her many dreams alive only in her “possibilities book”, a scrapbook filled with photos of foods she’d like to prepare in the restaurant she dreams of owning, places she longs to visit, and the man she wants to marry. All that changes when a CT-scan reveals lesions in her brain and her doctors reveal that she has only three weeks left to live. Georgia cashes in her entire life savings, then flies out for a whirlwind vacation to her dream destination, a luxury spa hotel in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. Of course, she has amazing adventures and meets intriguing people there. But as her life begins to draw to a close on New Year’s Eve, she arrives at one conclusion as she reflects on her life. Gazing at herself in the mirror in her elegant hotel suite, she says to her reflection, “Next time we’ll do things different. Next time, we’ll laugh more, love more, we’ll see the world! We just won’t be so afraid.”

These words arrested me the first time I saw the film. I had to ask myself just how much I have let fear hold me back from really living my life at the level God intended. This is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves. Most of us would not consider ourselves to be fearful, yet we have deceptively subtle forms of fear lurking just beneath the radar in our hearts and minds. Perhaps you don’t have panic attacks, for example, but maybe a nagging fear of failure prevents you from taking risks that could bring you into the fullness of God’s good and gracious plan for your life. Or maybe your particular bugaboo takes another form: fear of success, responsibility, intimacy, humiliation, flying, speaking in public, death, ad infinitum.

These and many more are part of our enemy’s arsenal of weapons and tactics to “kill, steal, and destroy”; yet we know that Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) A life that is lived fully cannot be lived timidly. It must be lived with an abandon that is not risk averse.

You may say, “But we need to live wisely and in obedience to God!”

Indeed, we do. However, in my own life, I have found that God’s wisdom is often contrary to conventional human wisdom, and that obedience requires climbing out onto a high and scary ledge more often than sticking to the safe and secure. This is because life is meant to be lived by faith, above the clamoring voices of our five senses shouting, “Be reasonable!”

Living the safe life, like the old Georgia Byrd, requires no faith, no trust in God. Obedience, however, may require us to do some crazy things, like the new Georgia Byrd in Karlovy Vary, going base jumping when the others prefer bus tours. If we always choose the secure, the expected, and the reasonable, we will get the safe, the predictable and the mundane. On the other hand, if we choose faith, we courageously put ourselves in place to receive the fullness and exhilaration of a life walked in tandem with God as He promised, and He gets the glory.

Believers everywhere are speaking of 2008 as the year of new beginnings in God. Many are transitioning into new phases of life and ministry, launching into unknown territory. It’s an exciting, but scary time for many. Add to that the troubled times in which we are living. If ever there was a time to embrace courage and to tackle and rise above fear in our lives, it is now.

The good news is that never has God been more available to us if we will call upon His help. He knows exactly what each of us needs to successfully take the next step into His plans for our lives. It’s as if He is stirring the waters again at the Pool of Bethesda and all we have to do to be healed is to dare to step into the churning waters.

If you need some help in this direction, watch Last Holiday for some inspiration and a challenge, then ask God to show you and to free you from any areas of fear that are holding you back from His best for you. Then take a walk on the wild side. You’ll be free to laugh more, love more, and not be so afraid.

By the way, Georgia doesn’t die and she gets her man in the end!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Hope For the Future of America

Recently one of the news channels did an informal survey on a college campus to get a read on how much students value their right to vote. The results made me want to throw myself on the floor and wail. Actually, I think I did. They expressed a lot of apathy about voting, but here's the kicker: More than one student--with a straight face and on national TV--indicated that he would be willing to give up his right to vote, not just in this election, but for all time. . .for a new I-pod. For a new I-pod. No, I'm not kidding.

My black despair over this state of affairs was short-lived, however, once I remembered my American government class at Fideles Christian School in Cumming, Georgia. This group of twelve 12th graders has given me hope for America's future more than once, but never more than in their attitude toward their own right to vote. Those among them who will be 18 years old in time to vote are ecstatic about it. Those who won't be old enough are dashed.

For example, Jared, who will turn 18 just a few days after the general election, was so disappointed about missing his chance to vote that his mother told him that he could decide her vote if he would study the candidates and make a well-informed decision. He has poured over news reports and candidates' websites until he knows more about them than any five adults I know. Amanda, the sole 11th grader in the class, has a deeper understanding of national issues than most adults. Mark, who isn't even in my class, still drops by and chimes in when we have Friday political and current events discussions. When I walked into class on Super Tuesday, the first question was, "Who did you vote for, Ms. Thraves?"

Every one of these young people really care about the future of our nation and understand and value the role that voting plays in determining that future. For them it is a right of passage into adulthood, but even more, into American citizenship, which they know enough to cherish.

On Tuesday, their graduation caps and gowns arrived. They were all trying them on, trying to figure out how the mortar board goes, and taking pictures. In the midst of that hubbub, the reality of graduation dawned on some of them, and with eyes like deer in headlights, several muttered, "This is scary." They may be scared, but I am not scared for them. In fact, I rejoice that they are about to be unleashed on the world. For I know that, by the grace of God, they will do it only good. They, and young people like them across the country, are my hope for the future of these United States.

Monday, January 21, 2008

WHERE HAVE ALL THE MANNERS GONE?

A Call to Courtesy

There is something I just have to get off my chest. This morning my out-of-town guest marveled that I cooked breakfast for her as if I’d served up the world on a platter. Not long ago someone told me that she doesn’t write thank-you notes because she doesn’t have time. My recent revelation to a few friends that I routinely iron the pillowcases when I have overnight guests was met with slack-jawed expressions of shock and awe. At recent showers I’ve attended, we were all given envelopes to address our own thank-you notes for our gifts so that the new mother wouldn’t have to do it.

Gentle reader, do you see the same disturbing trend that I see in these things? Is it possible that we, as a society, have become so busy with God-only-knows-what that we don’t have time to extend common courtesy to our fellow man? I fear that this uncommon-ness of common courtesy is just one more growing component of the general coarsening of our culture

You know, when I was a kid, my mother harped on manners until I wanted to throw up. Christmas thank-you notes were sent out on 12/26, and I was made to write them as soon as I learned to write. My left hand had to be on my lap my lap at dinner, no elbows on the table, no slurping of soup, flatware was used from the outside in--and above all, no licking of that drip on the edge of the ketchup bottle. I was taught to look adults in the eye and to answer them directly when spoken to, and to say, “Yes,” and not “Yeah.” Then we moved to the South and I learned to say, “Yes, ma’am,” and “Yes, sir,” of course. Later, I learned how to sit (ankles crossed), how to walk (like I had a book on my head), how to make proper introductions, and how to dress appropriately for every occasion. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.


I am eternally grateful for that childhood training now, but at the time, I missed the point of it all. That is, I was left with the impression that courtesy was just a set of rules made up by bridge-playing, country club women wearing hats and gloves, who, while eating petit fours between hands, dreamed them up as a means of torture for their children. I thought, and to some degree was taught, that the point of manners was to appear well-bred, and even more importantly, not to embarrass my parents.

While these may have been at least semi-noble goals for a child, they were off the mark in the bigger picture. I was never actually taught that the real reason for manners is to honor and show respect for other people. Rather than making us look good, courtesy is for making people around us feel comfortable, welcome, respected, or whatever good purpose the occasion calls for.

Maybe this is why it is so troubling to see our culture drift away from basic acts of common courtesy. It’s a subtle indicator that we are not caring for each other as we should and perhaps becoming more self-centered. It says that what is most important is MY time and MY convenience, not the other person and his or her feelings, time or convenience. However, this way of life is not going to create the kind of world that any of us want to live in. Instead, this attitude will give us a dry, utilitarian world where there is no time for niceties and one’s highest goal becomes checking the next item off his to-do list. It could even take us down the dark path to a world like the one the Soviets created, where, for example, people hurried past each other on the street with eyes averted and aggressively pushed in front of each other in bus or store lines.

This, however, is not the American Way. Why not make a tiny bit of extra effort for someone else? If being served bacon and eggs makes a good friend feel “like a queen,” as she said, in my home, why should I not do it? If sending a heartfelt thank-you to someone—that I’ve written and addressed myself--lets her know I appreciated her gift and brightens her day, why would I hesitate? If sleeping on smooth, freshly ironed pillowcases might make my guest a little more comfortable and feel just a little bit pampered, isn’t it worth the 15 minutes it takes to do it? It’s little things like these that add texture and dimension to our daily lives and create a richer, lovelier environment.

With so much rudeness and crudeness in the world around us, why not lift the standard a little higher once again? If enough of us do it, we just might change the tenor of our times and get our civility back.

Monday, January 14, 2008

FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON

Last night marked the end of an era. It was the final meeting of that small group of women I wrote about here a few months ago (see “How Good and Pleasant It Is” from 9/12/07) who have been getting together in my home twice a month over the past year. During that time, we’ve shared food and fun, wine and worship, prayer and punditry, comedy and crises, you name it. In the process we have all seen how friendship was designed to work. Each of us has been enriched and changed for the better by the experience.


You may ask, “If this group is so wonderful, why are you quitting?” Well, because times change, and lives change. One beloved member of our group moved away. Another will probably soon be moving far away. Another is getting married. The rest of us are all experiencing major changes of direction or focus in our lives. All of us have a sense of being launched into something new with new priorities, demands and constraints. With that, we all know that our group has served its purpose of preparing each of us for our launch—spiritually, emotionally and mentally.


Significantly, none of us were, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, “out of measure sad” to say good-bye to our Sunday night gatherings. Of course, we were sentimental about it and poignantly aware of what a rare and precious thing was passing. But we also felt celebratory, much as one would at a graduation. Although we won’t see as much of each other, we also know that we are taking away solid friendships that will last forever.


Even more, though, each of us is fortunate enough to understand a couple of life’s great truths that are sometimes not understood. One is that life, like each year, is made up of seasons that change just as surely as spring follows winter. There are planting seasons, harvest seasons, dormant seasons and seasons of rebirth. Each has its specific purpose, but none is random. God will surely accomplish His purpose in each season before leading us into the next.


The second truth is that we must let go of the old before we can take hold of the new. If we try to cling to what is passing, we can’t successfully make the transition to the new season and our next step forward. It would be like summer leaves refusing to change color for fall, or fall leaves clinging to their branches and refusing to let winter come.


If we’re tuned in to the voice and movements of God in our lives, we will sense the change of season coming, just like we sense the coming of spring in a fresh March breeze, even when snow still covers the ground. He gives us lead time to adjust to the idea of change. There is a lot of joy in learning to embrace and enjoy each season, but to know when its time to let go in order to take hold of the next one.


For our little group, the season is changing and we all know it. In the old season, the Lord knit our hearts together in unity and allowed us to draw from one another during tough times. But He has used what we have gleaned from one another to prepare us for very different futures in the new season. We celebrate the new thing that God has for each of us and will be cheering each other on every step of the way. We also have a great reunion to look forward to next summer. Our friend who got engaged at Christmas asked the whole group to be her bridesmaids!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

CHRISTMAS VIGNETTES: Christmas at Thraves Jewelers

NOTE: I know this is late, but consider it a jump on next year.

There’s no Christmas like a small town Christmas. A sparkling Harrod’s in London or skaters at Rockefeller Center in New York are wonderful, but for warmth and comforting tradition, you just can’t beat small town America. That’s why I love spending Christmas Eve helping out down at my brother Bill’s jewelry store in Seneca, South Carolina, which he has owned for some 35 years. Every year that I’ve been stateside during those years, I’ve been there wrapping gifts, answering the phone, making bank runs, and helping host the annual drop-in that Bill and his wife, Phyllis, hold for customers and friends in the store’s stock room. Since radical change has been the only predictable feature of my life, it’s become a wonderful tradition for me to come to the jewelry store on Christmas Eve, where the ritual and cast of characters never change. Here is how it goes every year.

By the time the doors open for business at 10:00 a.m., Bill has already carved the huge ham that he has cooked overnight at home and has set up the well-stocked bar in his personal office. Phyllis has set up the rest of the party food around the sales floor and stock room. Then she cleans the bathroom on her hands and knees, in spite of beautiful clothes and perfectly manicured nails, while grousing that no one ever remembers to take out the trash. Finally, she sneaks out to the Booksmith, a few doors down, and grabs a cup of White Christmas coffee and a few last-minute gifts before diving into the day’s sales rush, where she really shines. Janie, the store manager, is always there on Christmas Eve, even though she could probably beg off due to seniority. She’s been with the store since the beginning 35 years ago, and says she’ll stay as long as Bill does. She’s practically a member of the family.

Once the doors open, a cheerful chaos rules for the rest of the day. The aroma of sausage dip wafts through the store from a crock pot and canned Christmas music mixes with the constant electronic “ding-dong, ding-dong” that announces incoming customers. Last-minute shoppers come in waves. I’m the main gift wrapper, but the purchasing rush often finds several of us stumbling over each other for bows, paper and scotch tape while trying not to mix up the gifts. (After all, it would be a disaster if Mr. Smith's wife got Mrs. Jones' sterling earrings instead of the two-carat diamond ring he bought for her!) While rapid wrapping, ringing up of purchases, and chat with garrulous customers is going on, gazillions of kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews are running back and forth through the small swinging door between the work area and the sales floor. In the back, older relatives and friends are noshing on ham and homemade fudge amongst stacks of UPS supplies, bow making machines and tall shelves covered with every conceivable size jewelry gift box. They chat with Adam, the jeweler, who is working diligently at his bench to finish work promised by Christmas, and who is no doubt grateful to be removed from the fray up front. Pretty much anything goes at the store on Christmas Eve; however, neither all this confusion, nor having the public in his, well, less-than-elegant stockroom seems to bother Bill in the least. This is a man with more patience than Job and a heart as big as Texas.

Later, neighboring merchants steal away from their own shops during a lull to have a ham sandwich, offer Christmas greetings, and drop off gifts for Bill and Phyllis. Fellow Rotarians, wine-tasting club and sailing club friends, tennis and golf buddies, neighbors, everyone comes by. Tom, Bill’s jovial roommate from their bachelor days, always drives the 30 miles over from Easley and hangs out for hours in the stock room, availing himself of the bar and chatting up everyone. Janie’s husband, Jerry, saunters in about mid-afternoon for a drink, and everyone's out-of-town relatives start arriving. Phyllis's mother, Ruth, has become a traditional fixture on Christmas Eve as well, perched on the old sofa in the back, greeting visitors.

Finally, like clockwork, every year around 30 minutes before closing at 6:00 p.m., Fred (name has been changed to protect the guilty), usually in shorts and flip flops regardless of the weather and looking like he just got off a plane from Key West, comes in to buy a big ticket item for his wife. Major acquisition or not, he shops like a man--no agonizing, snap decision. He’s generally walking out the door with his attractively gift wrapped selection right at closing time. Then the front door is quickly locked and everyone utters a sigh of relief at the end of a pleasant, but tiring day. The staff pitches in to complete the day’s end routine quickly and they all rush out the door to their own families after final hugs, all yelling, “Merry Christmas!”

It’s not over yet for Bill and Phyllis, however. This is when they do their own Christmas shopping and wrapping in the store before heading off to the first of the various family celebrations. They are inevitably and invariably late for this first event. No one minds, though, especially the ladies, because they all know that Bill and Phyllis are selecting and wrapping their gifts of jewelry. Who would argue with that? Many of them have stopped by during the day to drop hints with me or the staff, or to be casually queried by Bill or Phyllis, “See anything you like?”

Finally, around 8:30 p.m., weary and with aching feet and backs, gifts and food loaded into the car, Bill, Phyllis and I lock up and head to the first Christmas event. Of course, Bill forgets someone's gift and has to come back. But that’s just part of the tradition of our small town Christmas.

Places to See