Finally, an answer

A specific question has come up a few times in life.  I remember it being asked during a board game called Loaded Questions and also it seems like it was a journal topic in school.  The question is this:  If you could share a meal and have a conversation with one famous deceased person, who would it be?

I’ve never had a definitive answer to that.  Not famous?  That’s easy.  My friend, Ashly, or any one of my grandparents.  Famous?  I don’t know.  I’m not that easily starstruck and nobody ever stood out to me.

So here I am, thirty-five years old and I finally have an answer to that question.  It’s not someone who just died recently.  This person died in 1983 when I was three years old, but I just learned of her and she has gained my respect and admiration.

A few weeks ago, in my short morning devotional, I read a few sentences about an experience had in a concentration camp by Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie.  Corrie’s autobiography, The Hiding Place, was referenced.  I like to prop up my Kindle in front of me and read it while I dry my hair every morning, so I checked the Kindle store for The Hiding Place and downloaded a sample.  After reading the sample, I knew it would be worth the $7 or $8 to purchase the book, so I bought it.

I find a lot of books that I’m happy to read for a few minutes in the morning and they make it tolerable to sit under the heat of my hairdryer for a few minutes, but this book was incredible.  It went beyond just a book to read while drying my hair.  When I wasn’t reading, I wanted to be reading.  I read it any chance I got.

I was fascinated by the story of this Christian family in Holland who was arrested and imprisoned at a concentration camp because they were helping Jews during World War II.  Corrie ten Boom orchestrated an underground operation to help keep Jews safe and fed and alive.  They were caught and punished for it.  Corrie’s mother had passed away years earlier, her brother and one sister were married with families of their own, but Betsie and Corrie were both single and lived and worked with their father in his watch shop.  Their father, Casper, was such a kind man and was loved by their whole town.  Betsie was so genuinely kind and nurturing.  Corrie was bold and brave but also had her moments of indifference and sarcasm.  She reminded me of myself in some ways.

While reading this book, there were times I wanted to hug them, like when Casper, in his eighties, was going to be released just after his arrest since he was so old, as long as he assured them he wouldn’t cause any more trouble.  His response was, “If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks.”

Or when Corrie was having her hearing and being questioned by a Nazi lieutenant about her activities.  She didn’t want to mention anything about the Jews hiding in her home, so she talked about other “activities” and mentioned her church for mentally retarded people.  The lieutenant responded, “What a waste of time and energy!  If you want converts, surely one normal person is worth all the half-wits in the world!”  Corrie boldly replied, “The truth, sir, is that God’s viewpoint is sometimes different from ours – so different that we could not even guess at it unless He had given us a Book which tells us such things.  In the Bible I learned that God values us not for our strength or our brains but simply because He has made us.  Who knows, in His eyes, a half-wit may be worth more than a watchmaker.  Or – a lieutenant.”

There were other times I wanted to come to their defense – like when a prison guard showed such a complete lack of compassion to Corrie when she received the news that her beloved father had died.  The guard’s treatment of her was so disgusting to me that it made me wish I could have done something about it or defended her in some way.

There were several times I laughed while reading this book.  Corrie’s memories of her aunts who lived with them while she was a child were funny.  One of the Jewish men they housed made me laugh.  There were even a few laughs while reading about their time in the concentration camps, believe it or not.

Her story is absolutely remarkable.  Corrie and Betsie risked their own lives and safety in the concentration camps by smuggling in a Bible and telling the other prisoners about Jesus and the love of God.  I was completely blown away and inspired by this book.  I ordered it in paperback after finishing it on my Kindle, because it deserves a spot on a bookshelf next to some other favorite books.  It’s one that needs to be read more than once and I like to have tangible copies of my favorites.

So there’s my answer to the question; I would share a meal and conversation with Corrie ten Boom.  And if we could squeeze a couple of extra chairs up to the table, I’d invite Betsie and Casper.  I want to hug them all.  One day I will.

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For God so loved the world …

Every morning when I blow dry my hair, I read. A physical book with a front and back cover and pages in between does not work well. I can’t keep it open. My phone is too small and I tend to look down when reading my phone, so my already thick hair just expands beyond help. So the best solution is my Kindle. I prop my beloved Kindle Paperwhite up on the bathroom counter, set the font size to an easy-to-read option, then sit back in my chair and read hands free, only having to reach up and touch the screen whenever I need to turn the page.

I don’t have a lot of books on my Kindle, but I do have one absolute favorite – 7 by Jen Hatmaker. I’m currently on my fourth trip through 7. I have a paperback copy, which I read first. That copy has highlights and underlines galore. Then I bought it on my Kindle, which is good, because my paperback is often loaned out to one friend or another.

How Jen has written the book makes it easy to read in short five to ten minute segments of time, so it’s the perfect hair drying/straightening book. The remarkable thing to me is that even this morning – my third time to read this book on my Kindle – I was highlighting more sections.

After highlighting a certain section this morning, my friend, Brooke, texted me and I shared the section with her because it was relevant to our conversation.

Brooke and her husband, Jon, are currently in the process of adopting a child from China. Brooke is one of those people who pays attention to the world and not just America. It’s one of my favorite things about her. In fact, thirteen years ago, Brooke was with me at a concert when we heard a presentation about Compassion International. She and I went to the Compassion table at intermission to look at all the child packets and she helped me pick out my first sponsored child – Juan from Guatemala. Juan was standing in a green, mountainous area wearing jeans, a pink and blue sweatshirt, and a big grin. She picked out a little girl to sponsor who had her hand on her hip and looked to be full of sass. To this day, Brooke and I still volunteer for Compassion together sometimes.

I love America. I’m so thankful to have been born in America. But at the same time, a lot of the Christian culture in America bothers me. There’s a lot of selfishness here. (I am absolutely guilty of this myself.) There’s a lot of petty emphasis on preferences that really don’t matter. (Again, I’m guilty.) I read a book a few weeks ago – Crazy Love by Francis Chan – and it was made obvious to me that I’ve let simple preferences carry far too much weight. It’s silly, really, but I definitely fall into that category. There’s a lot of emphasis on the prosperity gospel, which I have yet to find anywhere in the Bible. (While I absolutely do not buy into the “name it claim it” and “God wants you to have lots of stuff” school of thought, I definitely do like my stuff and I have a lot of it. I am very much a consumer.) Brooke showed me a quote by David Platt – “We desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the Gospel is American and how much is Biblical.” Indeed. (This was another topic that was addressed a bit in Crazy Love.)

I’ve heard so many people who refuse to look outside the borders of the United States of America at anyone else. I’ve heard of people who are against foreign aid to other countries; I heard someone I know and genuinely admire talk about why he didn’t agree with foreign aid. I’ve heard people make very rude comments about international adoption. Some people don’t understand why anyone would want to adopt from somewhere other than America. (I think a lot of people don’t understand wanting to adopt at all.) This sort of attitude was the source of Brooke’s frustrations and our conversation today. It gets under my skin as well and Brooke and I know that when we are fed up with this sort of thing and want to vent our frustrations, we can vent to each other. It bothers me, but I would imagine it bothers Brooke more. Brooke has a child out there who has likely already been born and is waiting to be matched to his or her family – an awesome family. Brooke is a Mama waiting on her baby from China – a baby who is no less worthy of a family than any child born in America. To Brooke, it’s personal.

For God so loved the world … (John 3:16)

Go into all the world and share the Gospel … (Mark 16:15)

Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for Me … (Matthew 25:40)

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t those in America who could use our help and attention. There are lots. But I just don’t want to forget that there’s a whole big world out there outside of these borders. My Compassion kids are a reminder of this. Several friends of mine who have adopted or are working to adopt internationally are a reminder of this. I’m thankful for them all. For God so loved the world.

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite songwriters. He has a song he wrote after going on a trip with Compassion and feeling confronted with how spoiled we are in America and the comfort we’ve become accustomed to. I’ve always found these lyrics to be profound.

Little Elba how’s the sun in South America
Does it shine upon the faces of the poor?
Do they see in it the brilliance of the place that’s been prepared
And dwell upon the hope of what’s in store?
Or are they just like me
Do they only see an opportunity
To complain about the heat?

And little Elba how’s the rain in South America
Does it fall upon the roof tops of the sick?
Do they thank the Lord for coming up with such a great idea
And dream about a place beyond all this?
Or are they just like us
Do they gripe and fuss
About the rain and mud
When they’ve had too much?

And I’m just a little jealous of the nothing that you have
You’re unfettered by the wealth of a world that we pretend is gonna last
They say God’s blessed us with plenty
but I say you’re blessed with less than me
Because you never stop to wonder
Whether earth is just a little better than the land of the free

Well I’m weary of the spoils of my ambition
And I’m shackled by the comfort of my couch
Well I wish I had the courage to deny these of myself
And start to store my treasure in the clouds
Cause this is not my home
I do not belong where the antelope and the buffalo roam

So I hope you’re safe and dry in South America
Cause I’m feeling pretty good in Tennessee
But may you never be so happy that you forget about your home
Your home in the land of the free

These thoughts may all seem scattered, but it’s just stuff that’s been turning over in my mind for a while. It‘s really just a stream of consciousness at this point. I’ll probably elaborate on some of it before too long, or will at least talk about it with a few close friends, but for now a lot of it is marinating. I’m trying to figure out what a lot of these things mean for my life.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts – this person will be blessed in what he does. – James 1:22-25

I want to be a doer, because a lot of times, I’m just a good hearer.

I’ll end with two quotes from 7 along these lines.

Here’s the one I shared with Brooke this morning. Jen had just written about a homeless woman who interrupted their Easter service they held with the homeless community and made everyone (including Jen) uncomfortable. It was the next day when preparing for a speaking engagement that she made this connection. She compared the woman to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) who called out loudly for Jesus while others tried to make him be quiet. Jesus was merciful to him & healed his blindness. James and John, just a few verses earlier, asked Jesus to allow them to sit at His right & left hand in glory.

The poor world is begging for mercy like Bartimaeus, while the rich world is asking for more favor like James and John. While the richest people on earth pray to get richer, the rest of the world begs for intervention with their faces pressed to the window, watching us drink our coffee, unruffled by their suffering. It’s just not right.

And then there’s this:

This life is a breath. Heaven is coming fast, and we live in that thin space where faith and obedience have relevance. We get one shot at living to expand the kingdom, fighting for justice. We’ll stand before Jesus once, and none of our luxuries will accompany us. We’ll have one moment to say, “This is how I lived.”

To me that’s heavy. Lots to think about.

Blessings – a study in contradictions

I don’t believe God is overly concerned with my happiness.

Let me clarify.  I think God loves seeing us happy.  He created laughter and smiles.  God gave us the ability to laugh so hard that our eyes fill with tears and our stomachs hurt.  In fact, I remember once on a road trip with two friends when I laughed so hard at a chunk of cilantro stuck in my friend’s teeth that I almost threw up.  Those moments are fun and God gave us that ability to experience those things, so I absolutely think He revels in our joy.  He gives us plenty to be joyful about.  But is my happiness at the tip top of God’s list of concerns for me?  I don’t think it is, nor do I think it should be.

We got an invitation in our mailbox last Friday.  The front said – Beyond the Grave! – and directly underneath it read – “Free!  Free!  Free!” – and went on to tell about all the free stuff you might win if you were to attend the Easter celebration at this particular church.  I thought to myself – here we go again.  This church was going to have inflatables and carnival games.  They were serving hotdogs, chili, gumbo, frito pies, fried Oreos and Twinkies.  They were giving away “tons” of bikes, X-Boxes, Playstations, cash, MP3 players, giant Easter baskets, and more – all free!  You had to register prior to the church service on Sunday morning and then the big “block party” was going to follow the Easter celebration, and you had to be present, of course, to claim your prizes.

One local church gave away Visa Gift Cards at their church service prior to Christmas.  Now this one gave away lots of stuff on Easter.  As I’ve tried to wrap my head around this phenomenon and understand how they could think something like this was a good idea, I can only come to one conclusion.  They’re sending the message that God wants to give you stuff and wants you to be happy and entertained.  Come one, come all!  Win an X-Box!  God wants you to win an X-Box!

This is a common theology, it seems.  The prosperity gospel has spread like wildfire.  Name it, claim it.  God wants to give you stuff.  God wants you to be rich and prosperous!  He wants you to drive fancy cars and wear expensive clothes and have the biggest house imaginable!  Also, you’ll never ever get sick.

This is a shallow view of God and a shallow view of blessings.

Jesus described the blessed people as the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness.  Jesus said you’re blessed when you’re insulted and persecuted and falsely accused because of Him.  (Matthew 5:3-12).  This is a far cry from the description of “blessed” we see these days what with all the cash, X-boxes, and MP3 players on the list.

Also, Jesus said not to store up treasures for yourselves on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but to store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.  (Matthew 6:19-20)

Jesus also said in this world we will have trouble, but take heart – He has overcome the world!  (John 16:33)

This idea that we’re always supposed to be happy, prosperous, and entertained is flawed.  The picture that is presented of a life blessed by God – with lots of stuff and fancy things and picture perfect health – is not accurate.  It’s deceiving and I think this idea is what draws a lot of people in initially (I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect life?!)  and then sends them heading for the hills when the first thing turns bad in their lives.  They think they must have done something wrong or they don’t have enough faith if their lives aren’t picture perfect.  They think God isn’t blessing them.

I’m generally a happy person.  I have my moments, of course, but I’m typically a happy, optimistic person and I can usually find something to laugh or smile about.  But here’s a bit of truth.  I think God is more concerned with my growth than my constant happiness and in my experience, it has been the hard times in life when I’ve grown the most.  They’re not fun times.  When I look back at the absolute most heartbreaking and painful times in my life, do you know what I see?  Growth.  Moments (sometimes a long time coming) of letting go of the selfishness I’m so prone to and growing in the process.  A much needed learning process.  Thank goodness for hindsight and a loving, patient God who never forsakes me in my most unlovable, bratty, uncomfortable, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, temper tantrum laden, pity party moments.  He shows me grace when I am anything but graceful and I think that’s a pretty big blessing.  Sometimes He has had to show me tough love, but I can look back on those times and honestly say that I needed it.

Nobody hopes for hard times.  Nobody wants to be in a difficult situation.  But I think we do God a disservice when we refuse to see the blessings in the things that our culture has taught us are anything but. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  I think contentment is key.  And yes, this is easier said than done.  Note my aforementioned temper tantrums and bratty moments.  I am sometimes slow to get there, but when I finally get to the point of just being still and trusting God, I realize it’s okay.  Things are okay.  He is still good and still loving and helping me grow, even when I’m experiencing severe growing pains in the moment.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:11-13)

We’re blessed.  We are.  Even if we don’t have a stash of cash in our pockets or a new X-Box hooked to a 72″ flat screen.  We’re blessed.  Even in pain.  Even in loss.  Even in disappointment.  Our culture has tried to change what blessed looks like, but culture is often times a liar.

Please Wake Up, Church

Nearly a year ago, I went to an event at church one Saturday evening with my parents and sister. Every winter the church has a wild game cooking event, where the men make dishes with wild game and everyone can sample the food. When we went to the event in February of this year, a silent auction was also held to benefit a young woman who used to be a member of the church and who is battling cancer. Local businesses donated items for the auction and a lot of the community came to the event. This church is not a mega church; average Sunday morning attendance is around 350. In the end, nearly $40,000 was raised in one night between the silent auction and people just reaching selflessly into their own pockets and bank accounts and helping this young family. Nearly $40,000 in one night given to one family in need. It was so inspiring to see such generosity. That is what it looks like for a church to be the hands & feet of Jesus in a big way. That’s what it looks like to show the love of God to someone. It was beautiful and I felt blessed to have witnessed it.

In contrast to that, a friend texted me a photo today of an event she & her office had been invited to by a local church in a neighboring town. They were given a card that reads – You are invited! Christmas Gift Card Giveaway!! It goes on to give the time & place of the “worship experience” when this will happen. Powerful Drama! Open to EVERYONE! Must be present to enter! This church will be giving away $1,000 in gift cards that morning. There will be five $100 gift cards and one $500 gift card.

Already this bothers me. It just seems bizarre to lure in the masses with the promise of the shot at money. But what I learned next put me over the edge.

The gentleman who came to invite my friend and her coworkers to the Christmas Gift Card Giveaway went on to tell them that there are several needy families in their church and he asked if they could possibly each give a few dollars to help meet the needs of those families.

I’m sorry, what? What?! I don’t understand. There is a disconnect. This is absolute nonsense. Why is this church missing this? Are they confused? Because I am most certainly confused. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking common sense would tell this church that if they have $1,000 at their disposal right now and there are families within their own church in need, help those families. Meet those needs.

Money talks. I know. This is America. Money talks, but you know what talks louder and resonates longer? Meeting a need.

This church may give away a $500 gift card to someone who comes to their big event. That person might be a mom who will buy a designer purse for herself and/or an X-Box for her teenage son. That church member will still be hungry, and that is absolutely shameful. In fact, it’s not only shameful, it’s embarrassing.

I have a feeling that even in 2014, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” would trump, “I was bored and you gave me an X-Box” every time. I think a kid would forget where his X-Box funds originated a lot faster than a family would forget who put food on their table when they had none. I think if a need was met, that would reflect God’s love and show His true character, and isn’t that the point?

Jen Hatmaker says it best in her book, 7.

Static has always surrounded the Christian life; so much threatens to distract us from the main point. People have always preferred details and complications and rules, but when Jesus was pressed, He said (Jen translation), “Love God and love people. That’s pretty much it.”

Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in a local park. (Or, may I add, a Visa Gift Card Giveaway.) They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”

I guess that’s why “love people” is the second command next to “love God.” And since God’s reputation is hopelessly linked to His followers’ behavior, I suspect He wouldn’t be stuck with His current rap if we spent our time loving others and stocking their cabinets.

Indeed. Church, let’s represent Him well. Please, let’s don’t miss this.

Beautiful & Terrible Things

I read a book last week that opened with a quote by Frederick Buechner – Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.

I suppose another way of putting that but with deeper meaning and hope is what Jesus said in John 16:33 – … In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

It’s amazing how both the beautiful things and the terrible things seem to happen simultaneously.  Two weeks ago, a dear friend of mine from college buried her precious mom.  Two days later, another of my college friends welcomed her new baby girl into the world and there were countless photos posted of her family smiling and celebrating this new life.  Those two friends – one in deep mourning, one in joyful celebration – were at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.  One was in the midst of one of the worst experiences of her life; the other was in the midst of one of the best.  Beautiful and terrible things.  God was with them both.  

I’ve seen a lot on social media lately of what is a vast misunderstanding of God.  Somehow we have managed, as a culture, to make people believe that if anything bad or tragic happens, God is not good and is not loving.  God is made out to be a jerk unless we are all happy all the time and life is perfect.  Jesus was clear – in this world, we will have trouble.  This isn’t Heaven.  We aren’t there yet.  The God I know isn’t a jerk, even in the most painful or disappointing of times.  In this world we will have trouble, but He has overcome the world. 

Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him.  God is our refuge. – Psalm 62:8

I pray that those of us who follow Jesus can be the hands & feet and accurately affirm the loving character of God by trusting Him in the joyful times and the painful times.  We will have trouble, but He has overcome.