Monday, August 14, 2017

Maybe the Simple Things Are the Great Things

When it comes to studying the Bible and applying it to our lives, sometimes we go after the big, flashy tasks. We want to do great things out of love for God and this isn't a bad thing in and of itself.

However this is an example of our culture bleeding into our faith. Society, as shown by a popular pinning website, values the showy acts of devotion. To society, love is a carriage ride in the park as a musician serenades your love with a song you wrote. A big act of love.

Yet love is also in the smalls acts of devotion. Buying a favorite snack for your honey. Doing the dishes. Helping around the house. Giving a back rub without any strings attached. Small acts of love displayed in daily life.

This spurning of the small acts to go after the big, flashy acts did not originate in our culture. In fact, a similar story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. In this story, Naaman came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. He expected a showy display from Elisha or some great, heroic act to get well, but he is told to dunk himself in a dirty river.

In our faith, we want to wow the socks off of God in a large display of valor, but we sometimes neglect the small acts of daily obedience and daily dying to ourselves. We want to do miracles, cast out demons, or prophesy, but it is harder to daily love your neighbor/enemy, to forgive your brother, and to turn the other cheek.

Yet, Jesus taught, in Matthew 25, that if we are faithful in the small things, we will be given bigger responsibilities.

We lament to God that we aren't skilled/talented/trained enough to do a big act of devotion, but we aren't obeying His commands like He instructed, each and every day.

God instructs His people to keep His commands multiple times in the Old Testament: Leviticus 22:31, Deuteronomy 5:29, Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 4:4, and Proverbs 7:1-2.
Jesus repeats that instruction another 3 times, showing that when we keep His commands, we show that we love Him and we remain in His love: John 14:15 and John 14:21 and John 15:10
Jesus even taught that disregarding His commands (and teaching others to do likewise) would make you the least in Heaven. Matthew 5:19
Paul reiterates that keeping God's commands is what counts. 1 Corinthians 7:19
To say that this is important to John is a bit of an understatement: 1 John 2:31 John 2:41 John 3:221 John 3:241 John 5:21 John 5:3, and 2 John 1:6

We don't have to have theology decrees and understand everything in the Bible before we put His word into practice. We can read a passage or passages until we get to a part that requires obedience and a response...and then do it.

Far too often, we take the clearest, most practical verses and write them off as inconvenient and impractical in our day, age, and culture. So we don't actually do what God is clearly requiring of us. Or we put the command into a solely spiritual context. We make loving our enemy a spiritual, mental act, but we fail to show that love with an action that costs us something.

So, will you join me in camping out in the Bible-in the Gospels to start with-as we search for clear instructions to apply to our lives?

Be warned, the clearest instructions will have a high cost-they will require dying to ourselves daily to live for Christ.

It's the simple things that turn out to be the great things in the end.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We are Connected

Back in 2014, I took a personality test called Strength Finders. After I took this long test, it told me my top 5 strengths and their summaries. It covered what they looked like at their best and their worst. I understood my top 4 strengths easily enough.

Then my fifth strength was "connectedness." As I read through the traits associated with it, I wondered why I got this strength. I wouldn't describe myself as spiritual or the holder of a strong faith. I'm still a sapling growing into a full-grown tree. I get caught in the details instead of looking at the big picture. I don't help others see purpose. But when I read the traits of my strength at its worst, it started to resonate with me. People call me naive and idealistic. That's me! In the summary for connectedness, it mentions the links between different events. Events happen due to reasons impacting it. There are few coincidences. Finally I start to relate to this odd-ball strength of mine.

The books I am drawn to start to make sense in light of this strength. Living More with Less. The More with Less Cookbook. Almost Amish. Seven. They all teach that we should live simply so others can have the resources to live.

It is easy for me to get frustrated when I read statistics about the American lifestyle versus the lifestyle of the majority world countries. Americans consume so much of the world's resources that if everyone on the planet lived like an American, we would need over 4 earths to support the world's population.

I don't like hearing comments along the lines of, "Well, I worked hard for my ____. If other people want ____, they should work as hard as I did." Except, when we are over-consuming, it is physically impossible for everyone else to get all the same ____ as we have when resources have finite limits.

Imagine there is one apple in a group of ten people. You get a quarter of the apple. That leaves 75% of the apple for 9 people. That means that you have 25% of the apple and if everyone else if fair, they would each get 6.75% of the apple. If other people tried to get a share like yours, then only 4 people could have the apple and 6 people would have nothing. For everyone to get a share like yours, there would need to be 2.5 apples instead of the one. The earth is a finite resource. There are limits to what it can give. When we consume more than our fair share, it is like we are stealing from the world's poorest populations.

Sadly, I am not over-exaggerating how much we consume.
"The United States, with less than 5% of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25% of the coal, 26% of the oil, and 27% of the world’s natural gas." Source

Even worse, we aren't even using everything that we buy. We buy food and then throw it in the trash because we do not use it in time.

  • Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily. Source
We grow plenty of food...for animals. Instead of focusing on low cost crops to send around the world to end malnutrition and starvation, we grow crops only animals can eat, so we can eat those animals.
  • Eighty percent of the corn grown and 95% of the oats are fed to livestock. Source
  • Fifty-six percent of available farmland is used for beef production. Source

Earlier this year, I watched a movie that had one line that really struck a cord with me:

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one!" -Nix in Tomorrowland

Unfortunately, this statistic is true. "An estimated 65 % of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, leading to an annual loss of 300,000 lives and at least $117 billion in health care costs in 1999." Source

People around the world are starving because they do not have adequate access to food, but here in America, almost 2 in every 3 Americans are either overweight or obese. We have Americans dying because they are eating too much while others in the world are dying because there is not enough to eat.

Don't worry. I will not leave this post without practical tips to change the future into a more positive future.

1. Focus on eating right: the right foods in the right amounts. Source 1 and Source 2 clearly outline the ideal servings of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and sweets in a day. When I started tallying how many servings I was getting in each category, I was surprised to learn that if I don't pay attention, I tend to skip vegetables!! Eating the proper servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains do help you to feel full and it is good for you to boot!!

2. Buy local and in season. Did you know that there are spring vegetables, summer vegetables, autumn vegetables, and winter vegetables? Buy local produce will direct you to the seasonal vegetables that are fresher, ripen naturally, and don't spend a lot of time/resources in transportation.

3. Buy enough, but not too much. Reduce what you buy and use what you have. This is the key to not throwing away food.

4. Prepare food quickly for convenience. On shopping day, I leave my produce on my counter as a reminder to wash and prepare my fruits and vegetables. When I take the time to wash, peel, chop, and slice my produce, I don't reach for convenience foods because I made the healthy food convenient!

5. Make it yourself instead of buying a pre-made version. It costs extra, both in money and resources to pay for pre-made convenience foods. I have seen pre-peeled oranges that you can buy in plastic containers...or you can buy your own oranges and peel them yourself.

6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce the resources you consume. Find ways to reuse things you already have. Recycle your paper, glass, plastic, and tin.

7. Buy global. Liz, Tip 2 was buy local. Yep. And now Tip 7 is to buy global. Yep. Instead of buying the cheapest products that are made in sweatshops, buy fair trade items. Sometimes the cheapest item supports oppression and the pricier item pays a fair wage to the worker. Research fair trade companies and splurge from time to time on the quality pieces and foods you find there.

8. Try to eat like someone from a majority world country. (The phrase Majority World Country is replacing Third World Country since highly industrialized countries are not the majority of countries in the world). Research how someone from Sudan, Guatemala, or Thailand would eat. Then try to eat like them for a week.

9. Cut something out of your lifestyle AND use the money you would have spent to do good. Cut out carbonated beverages from your life. Spend the money you would have spent on carbonated beverages to help build wells in majority world countries. Cut out the majority of sweets from your life. Spend the money on projects that support sustainable agriculture.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Preparing to Teach Truths

My husband and I are preparing to be foster parents.

We could parent boys or girls.

As we have been preparing for this monumental change, I've been examining our lives and the lessons we may impart. I was surprised by a couple silent messages (lies) I found in my life.

Message #1: Failure is Unacceptable.

Somewhere along the line, I bought into the lie that in all things, at all times, I must strive for perfection in everything I do. Failure was not an option for me in my book. I have slowly been working on this one for quite a while now. Somehow I forgot that failure is a normal part of human life and it is the path through which learning occurs. But, by trying to avoid the sting of failure, I isolated myself from the thrill of a hard-earned victory after multiple attempts.

Message #2: Self-Limits are Acceptable.

In order to avoid failure, I began to slowly limit myself and stop doing things that were not my strengths. I told myself that it was better for me to play to my strengths and outsource things that were my weaknesses. When I tell myself that I am not good with tools, computers, math, or any other difficult project, I was not allowing myself to thrive in new settings.

Message #3: I Can't.

Before I even tried new things or difficult projects, I would give a knee-jerk reaction of "I can't." I would not try because I was afraid that I could not.

So what does this have to do with fostering?

As we are preparing to foster, we are working to get our house up to the CPS-level standards necessary to be entrusted with a child. We are moving things, rearranging items, installing stuff, and other such fixings.

I found myself removing doorknobs and reinstalling safer ones. With my husband's guidance, I installed and moved/installed smoke detectors. I was sorting, organizing, and securing tools in multiple toolboxes. I hooked up my own computer and less than a week later, I swapped desks with my husband (he was on board with it too), prompting me to switch & hook up two computers.

This was when I realized that to change the messages I send to our kids, I would need to first change these messages in me as I replace lies with truth.

Truth #1: Failure is How We Learn:

I realized that I did not want to teach our kids that they should not go to bat because they were afraid that they might strike out. Instead I want them to know that failure is normal and a learning process.

Truth #2: Growing and Challenging Myself is Acceptable:

I did not want our kids shying away from Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math because it is hard or too boy-dominated. I want them to try, struggle, fail, struggle, and finally succeed because that journey has made them into a person who does not give up at the first sign of potential trouble.

Truth #3: I am capable:

I did not want our kids to not even try because their inner voice was telling them that they can't. But rather, I want them to have truth rooted so deeply in them, that whenever a voice of society feeds them lies, the truth will speak out. People do not have to play dumb or play stereotypes to fit the world's molds. Girls can reinstall doorknobs. Boys can do laundry. We can make a difference in the world.

We just have to try.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Accepting ALL of the Body of Christ

I was reading a book recently on communion that spoke of the body of Christ. It proposed that when we reject others in the body of Christ, we are rejecting Christ Himself.

I once heard someone say that when we insult the Church, we are insulting the Bride of Christ. I doubt many husbands would take a friend's remark kindly if they said, "Don't get me wrong, I like to spend time with you, but I don't like your wife & don't want to spend time with her." Yet that is the equivalent of what we say to Jesus when we spurn His Bride.

But what if the insult is deeper, is much more personal than not liking your best friend's spouse? Christ is not just the Bridegroom of the Church, He is also the Head of the Church. So when we tell Jesus that we don't want to spend time with the Church, we are essentially saying that we only want to spend time with His face, not His hands, feet, or body.

Can you imagine that conversation?

Jesus: Hey, man! Wanna hang out with Me later?
Human: Sure thing! You know how much I like to spend time with You.
Jesus: Sweet! I think we could feed some homeless people, donate things we no longer use to a thrift store, volunteer at that new soup kitchen...Wait, you don't look too thrilled anymore.
Human: Well, it's just...hmmm...I don't know how to put this...Your body stinks, Jesus. I mean, I don't mind hanging out with Your head, but the rest of You stinks. Part of You are dirty and I don't want to touch them. How can you expect me to give You a hug when Your arms haven't touched water in who knows how long? And look at Your leg! It is bloody and all gross-like!!
*Jesus looks at the human in disbelief.*
Jesus: Do you want to remove My head to take Me with you for coffee?
*Human looks relieved and pulls out an ax.*
Human: And here I was worried that You wouldn't understand. Is there a tree stump around somewhere to make this easier?
Jesus: My body goes where I go. It may be a different color than you. It may be messy, dirty, and stinky. Parts of My body have problems & injuries, and is hurting & troubled, but this is My body, that was broken for you. You don't get to choose which parts you like best or which parts make you the most comfortable.

How does Jesus feel if we just want to hang out with Him & not the rest of His body because it's...
...a different color (or from the wrong side of town)?
...struggling with problems?

When we don't want to spend time with a fellow follower of Christ, it is more than not liking our brother or sister. It is more than not caring for your friend's wife. It is shunning the body of your Savior. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It's Time to Put Down Our Stones

I saw the video going around of the news interviewee having a live interview in his home when his children burst in his office and he brushed them back without even looking at them. What surprises me most about this viral video is the reactions of Christians.

Instead of Christians walking alongside this man in the valley of his internet humiliation, we are sitting on our high horses judging him for his parenting fails. Or if we are reveling in his humiliation and mocking him. We should be extending our hands of compassion to him, maybe even giving the internet some perspective by sharing a story of our own parenting fails that just never went viral. We should be known as merciful and gracious people, because we know that we have been shown loads of mercy (not getting what we do deserve) and grace (getting what we do not deserve and could never earn).

So maybe you never face-palmed your kid while in an international live interview, but we have fallen short of the Father’s ideal of parenting. If we are not parents, we could be aunts, uncles, babysitters, or nursery workers. We have all interacted with children and we all have regrets for how we treated them at some point.

As Christians, the core question that we ask should be “How would Jesus have reacted in this situation?” or “How would Jesus have me to react in this situation?” It is not incredibly difficult to know how Jesus would react in a situation like this, because Scripture recorded a similar story. No, there were not internet and viral videos back then, but a crowd of righteous people indignantly dragged a sinful adulteress before Jesus, tossing stones in their hands, prepared to stone her for her sins. And Jesus even gave permission for her to be stoned, IF the one without sin threw the first stone. Stone after stone left the hands of the righteous, falling harmlessly to the ground, because they knew they had sinned. Jesus and the women were left alone; her accusers were gone. The Sinless One did not condemn the adulteress, but sent her away to leave her life of sin.

Christians, it is time to get off our judgmental high horses and learn to walk alongside people in the valleys of humiliation. It is time that we learn to extend mercy and grace instead of condemnation. It is time to put down our stones, and offer the hand of friendship.

Speaking of which, I will get off my high horse now. :-)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Freezing the Refugee Program, Breaking My Heart

So many emotions are whirling through my head as I search for facts on various news websites to piece together what Friday's executive order really means:

I feel anger at the withdrawal of support to refugees,

I feel frustration at my inability to do something about this situation,

I feel grumpiness at the slowness of WhiteHouse.Gov in posting the executive order on its site so I can read it in full to better understand it,

I feel pity for those stopped at the border in mid-travel by this order and those delayed for a minimum of 3-4 months,

I feel resignation because I really should have expected this based on our President's campaign trail,

I feel joyful satisfaction that Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau's reaction to this order is "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada",

I reject a bit of sarcastic snarkiness bubbling up inside me at the how ill-fitting the Statue of Liberty's motto now is for the US,

I feel sadness because America's acceptance of the tired, poor, huddled masses was one of my points of pride in my country, The ideals of my country are swerving away from the instructions of my faith. Will I support the killing of my enemies or will I fight to love them and pray for them? Will I choose to reject the foreigner, the alien, the widow, the orphan, the least of these that my God commands me to love, serve, and help? Will I choose America First or valuing others above myself?

I feel fear as read a book on Bonhoeffer that discusses Nazi Germany's restrictions on Jewish freedom and then read news stories on the freezing of the refugee program,

I feel hope as Christian refugee resettlement agencies are reaching out to those who are delayed by this order and are speaking out against this freeze,

I feel sadness because I work with refugees, I serve refugees, I live among refugees. I welcome refugees because of my Christian faith.

So many emotions battling inside me at this news, but sadness overshadows the rest. My heart is aching, it is breaking over this news and its ramifications.

I turn to this subject in the Bible for direction. I know that Jesus identifies with the stranger, the hungry, the imprisoned in Matthew 25. Peter in 1 Peter 1 wrote with the instruction that "Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear" and Paul told believers in Philippians 3 that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

I am a foreigner. My citizenship is in heaven. I stand with refugees. I stand as a foreigner in my homeland.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What Should I Pray For Myself?

Have you ever examined why we do or say a particular thing in our Christian walk, and then wonder why we do a certain thing? Or do you read a passage in the Bible and wonder why we do not do a certain thing? I do wonder and question sometimes.

I was reading Acts 4, the passage where Peter and John are brought before the Jewish council and told to stop speaking and teaching in Jesus' name. They refused, because they must listen to God over man. After this encounter, Peter and John went back to the rest of the believers to fill them in. Then they started to pray. They realized that the Psalms predicted Jesus' betrayal by several groups. Next, they made their petition of God.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”" (Acts 4:29-30)

This prayer blows me away. Why? Because they know that persecution is coming. They have been threatened. There are many things that they could pray for: laws to protect them, safety for believers, a speedy second coming so they can skip the persecution. But they prayed for boldness in speaking His word.

My top prayer for myself is not for my safety. It is for effectiveness and faithfulness in serving my Lord. I do not needlessly take risks, but I cannot pretend that my top goal is safety. When I look at Jesus' life and prayers, He prayed for God's will to be done, even at the cost of His comfort and very life. My example in living is Jesus. If the One who I follow cares more about God's will being done than His own safety, why should my life be any different?

I do pray for the safety of the persecuted church, but my top prayer is for God's glory to be seen and for the persecuted to remain faithful, even to the point of death. I know that if the choice has to be made, I earnestly want them to refuse to recant their faith, even if they are executed.

I humbly submit that we the church in the US needs to be less concerned with its rights, its comfort, its safety, its separateness, and more concerned with boldly speaking God's Word (in love-Ephesians 4:15), serving the least of these (because in serving them, we serve Jesus-Matthew 25:31-end), and remaining faithful to the end.