Monday, May 27, 2013

How do you fix a broken country...

No...this blog isn't going to be a tirade against current policies or government officials. There are no political statements hidden within...just in case Big Brother is watching. (Just kidding!) No, this blog is about something I noticed in my morning readings the other day and how it applies to us today...well, at least it applies to me.

A couple of days ago, I was reading the book of Nehemiah.  Actually I was reading just the first four chapters, and I noticed something that has been on my mind ever since. For those who aren't familiar with the book of Nehemiah, I highly encourage studying it! It is the story of how one man, under the direction of God, led the people to rebuild the city.

You see, Nehemiah was serving as cupbearer to the king and he was visited by someone from his hometown of Jerusalem. As anyone would do, he asked about how things were in his home town, and unfortunately the news wasn't good. "They told me, “The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.” (Nehemiah 1:3)

To make a long story short, Nehemiah asked for permission from the king to go back home and help repair the city. Amazingly, the king not only gave permission for the time off, but also gave him letters that instructed those in charge of the area to provide supplies for him to accomplish the task.

What caught my eye this time was in chapter 3. Now normally, I would have just done a sort of speed-reading over this chapter because it is a list of people and the jobs they did. I've never been really good at reading lists. This time, however, something stopped me. Read slower. Look at what each man did.

As I read, I noticed that chapter 3 is a list of people, just like you and me, who each took a part in rebuilding the wall. There are those who took on huge parts of the wall, a few who refused to get their hands dirty, and a couple that really surprised me. "Above the Horse Gate the priests worked, each priest repairing the wall in front of his own house. After them Zadok son of Immer rebuilt in front of his house and after him Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate; then Hananiah son of Shelemiah and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph; then Meshullam son of Berekiah rebuilt the wall in front of his storage shed." 

Did you notice it? Each priest repaired the wall in front of his own house. Then one guy, Meshullam, rebuilt the wall in front of his storage shed! Not what anyone would call super impressive. I mean, they only tackled the part of the wall right in front of their house - but it was important enough to get mentioned!

That's when it hit me. Here lies the answer to the problems we see in our own country. (Oh come on - no matter which party you follow, you have to admit we have some problems right now.) The answer doesn't lie in more government intervention; it lies in each man repairing the wall in front of his own house! As I looked at the passage, I wondered what did this mean for me? I mean, I'm just a school teacher. What can I do?

Really, it's about doing whatever God places in our path. By beginning where we are, we can repair the broken places in our country. We can do just what those people in Jerusalem did.

There was one other part of those chapters that really caught my attention. "13 The Valley Gate was rebuilt by Hanun and villagers of Zanoah; they repaired it, hung its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. They went on to repair 1,500 feet of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.
14 The Dung Gate itself was rebuilt by Malkijah son of Recab, the mayor of the district of Beth Hakkerem; he repaired it, hung its doors, and installed its bolts and bars." Yes, the "Dung gate" is exactly what it sounds like it might was the gate where they took the poop out of the city! Not exactly a pleasant job, but if you've ever lived in a city that has sewage issues, you know just how important it can be! Notice who did the job....the mayor of the district of Beth Hakkerem. Now, I don't know anything about Beth Hakkerem, but I was impressed that the MAYOR took on this job. He didn't see working on the Dung Gate as beneath him. It needed to be done by somebody and he was somebody!

I've just begun to dig into Nehemiah again, but so far I've definitely noticed some important lessons in those first few chapters on how do you go about fixing a broken country.

#1 - Everyone did what was before him. The people didn't wait for the government to swoop in and fix what was broken...not that the current government in that land would have been much help. The current government wasn't too excited about seeing the city repaired. The people saw what needed to be done, and they did it.

#2 - They faced opposition as they worked to rebuild the city. At first it was just jeering comments like "that wall will fall as soon as a fox jumps on it." In our vernacular, "that wall won't hold up to a kitten sitting on it." Then later the opposition became much more dangerous. Each man, and woman, had to work with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. Did I forget to mention that the list included women? Oh yeah, this process isn't just limited to the men! (11-12 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab rebuilt another section that included the Tower of Furnaces. Working next to him was Shallum son of Hallohesh, mayor of the other half-district of Jerusalem, along with his daughters.)

#3 - No job was too menial...not even for those in high position. If the mayor of a district can roll up his sleeves and fix the poop gate, who am I to think any job is too lowly for me?

Three simple lessons, all from the first four chapters. (Wonder what the rest of the book will hold?)

So, where does a person start? Well, it may be something as simple as what I am doing. I screwed in my courage and invited two ladies in my immediate neighborhood to join me for a Bible study this summer. We're using the book "Anything" by Jennie Allen. Each of us will be working on the "wall" in front of our house. (I figure they have more faith than me since my street is only 2 blocks long....their streets are at least 4 blocks long!) As I go for my runs, I pray for the neighborhood and my city. That's as far as I've gotten so far....but at least it's a start.

How about it? Are you interested in helping to fix a broken country? It begins by rebuilding the wall that is right in front of you. Join me as we pick up our trowel, and our sword, and rebuild.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Life is ironic...

I've been thinking a lot lately about irony. As a teacher, it is actually a concept that we try to help students recognize in writing, and sometimes it can be difficult to explain. The "pat" explanation is that irony is an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been expected. Students, understandably, can have trouble with this. Let's be honest, a LOT of people have trouble with this. 

Then, about a week ago, the photo above came across my facebook page and it really started my hamster wheel turning. 

Today as I waved goodbye to my students at the end of another school year, irony was again on my mind. It was the last day of school, and the first day of summer break! For many of my friends, it was the last day they would teach and the first day of their retirement! 

Saying goodbye to our kids one last time.

The LAST day of one thing always brings the FIRST day of something else. We often lose sight of how what is the ending is also the beginning. It's a wonderfully ironic event....the ending is actually the beginning! Why, even the ending of life simply marks the beginning of eternity.

All of a sudden I started to realize it's not just life that is ironic; by the world's way of thinking, we serve a God that seems to be an expert on irony. 

He uses the weak to defeat the strong. (2 Cor. 12:10) He chooses surrender as the way to win. (Matthew 16:24-27) When we become "slaves" to Christ, we experience true freedom. (1 Cor. 7:22) He brings the OIL of joy out of the ASHES of mourning. (Isaiah 61:3) He uses the foolish things to confound the wise. (1 Cor. 1:27) He uses giving as a way to provide for all our needs. (Malachi 3:10-12) And He brings LIFE everlasting out of the grave through the sacrifice of His own Son. (1 Cor. 15:21)

Ironic, isn't it. To give us hope, the Bible directs us to go down a very strange "road" that begins at the town of Suffering, then takes us through the little towns of Perseverance and Character before we ever reach our destination of Hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

Yep, to the world, my God might seem to be ironic. The world has as much trouble figuring things out as my students have had trying to understand the irony found in O'Henry's writings. This isn't surprising. The Bible tells us that the world can't accept the things of God because it sees them as foolishness. (1 Cor. 2:14) The world desperately tries to explain and figure out....but it can't. It's a bit like an ant trying to explain space travel or brain surgery. No matter how smart we are, we can't come close to the infinite wisdom...and infinite LOVE...of God. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

As I said, irony has been on my mind a lot lately, especially this one thought - some say that realizing you don't know everything is the beginning of wisdom. Ironic isn't it. Those who are most certain that THEY know what to do and can handle it all, are the least likely to have the answers. (This could explain a LOT when it comes to some of the decisions made in government - by BOTH parties! The problem is that we keep putting "smart people" in charge!)

I'm sure you can think of a lot more examples of irony in scripture. The cool thing about irony is this, it doesn't mean a contradiction, it simply means that it wasn't what we expected. Glad I serve a God who is a master of irony. He just keeps taking what looks like a mess to me and turning it into a miracle.

2 Corinthians 12:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Matthew 16:24-27

New International Version (NIV)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

1 Corinthians 7:22

New International Version (NIV)
22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

1 Corinthians 1:27

New International Version (NIV)
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Malachi 3:10-12

New International Version (NIV)
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says theLord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

1 Corinthians 15:21

New International Version (NIV)
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

Romans 5:3-5

New International Version (NIV)
Not only so, but we[a] also glory in our sufferings,because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,who has been given to us.

1 Corinthians 2:14

New International Version (NIV)
14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Isaiah 55:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 61:3

New International Version (NIV)
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Raised from the zombies allowed

The past week has been a difficult one. A precious friend, who was out running a benefit run to raise money for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, dropped on the course and has been in ICU for over a week. I begin by asking for prayers for him, his wife, and his mom and dad. Literally thousands of people are calling out for a miracle for this young man.

During all of this, as I see his family wait for news, I have often thought back to over 25 years ago when I went through the first real tragedy of my life, the loss of our son.

I won't go into the battle we went through during that time, but will focus, instead, on the aftermath...when life made no sense and I tried to go on without that precious child in our lives...and I died inside.

I went through all the stages of grief with a vengeance! Bargaining with God, arguing with God, threatening with God, reasoning with God...and the heavens were as brass. Finally, on the night before my 28th birthday, I shook my fist at God and said, "If this is who You are, I choose not to serve You," and I decided to die. Now, I wasn't going to take my life. I didn't want to do that to those around me. I just made up my mind that I would function, but I wouldn't ever allow myself to "feel" again. No love, no hate, no nothing. I guess you could say, I became a zombie. Walking around, but really not alive.

I think back now and I am in awe of the mercy and love of my Jesus. As I stood in my bedroom and shook my fist, He was there. He never turned away. I think He probably wept...not because of what I was saying, but because He saw the pain and He loves me. You know, in the Bible it says that when Jesus came to where Mary and Martha were and they said that Lazarus was dead, He wept. The shortest verse in the Bible..."Jesus wept." I believe He wept because of the love He had for those in pain. It wasn't for Lazarus or because of his own loss; I believe it was simply that the heart of Jesus felt the pain of those around him. One version said that He was angry...perhaps at unbelief or the tricks of the enemy, but it always resounds in me that "Jesus wept."

Then, just as all hope was lost, Jesus spoke and said, "Lazarus, come out." Now in the eyes of all those around, this was craziness! Lazarus had been dead for four days! But at His word, everything changed. Lazarus walked out of that tomb.

I have, in a very real way, experienced this same experience. All those years ago, as I decided to die and turn my back on God, there was someone praying. Lots of someones in fact. The next day was awful. I broke down and in my own eyes saw nothing but darkness and hopelessness all around me. What a way to celebrate your birthday. One dear friend came to me and told me she was taking me out for ice cream for my birthday...not something I wanted at all. But as she obeyed God and reached out to the wretch (only way to describe me at that time) like me, God was working. She helped me by being there and showing me how to move from grief and anger into trust. That day, I was raised from the dead and realized like never before that I had no clue who God was or how much He loved me. Mind you, I had been a Christian for years, but that day I moved from zombie state to being fully alive.

That was in 1987...a long time ago. 

Today, can I say I am a great woman of faith? Not even close. Do I always walk in the fruit of the spirit? Bhahaha - ask my family, they'll tell you no way! Have I been tempted to slip back into my grave-clothes and take a nap in the tomb? More times than I'd like to admit. Life has given me lots of opportunities to move back into zombie status, but I just can't do it. I've tasted life, real life, from Christ. I had someone ask a friend recently "what is she on and how can I get some?" I guess that's what happens when you are raised from the stand out! 

God raised Lazarus from the dead. He raised ME from the dead - maybe not physical death, but death all the same. God doesn't deal in zombies...when He raises someone or something from the dead, it is fully alive! He tells us to take off our grave clothes and be set free. We are to let go of the chains that try to hold us back. We are to shake off the things that try to attach to us like toilet paper on our shoe and we are to be set free.

He promises to give us life more abundantly....and God never breaks His promise. No zombies allowed.

John 11

New International Version (NIV)

The Death of Lazarus

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany,the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friendLazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah,the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said,“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The empty fortune cookie

The following is a repost of a blog written in 2009....just thought I'd re-share.

It's a big deal at my house to go out on Sunday for lunch. This is really the only day of the week we do this (drive through and the dollar menu don't count.) But on Sundays, we all decide on some place to eat lunch and actually sit down together and share before we are completely overcome by the need for a nap...and of course by we, I mean me.

Like most Sundays, where to go is always a lively child wants one thing, the other wants something else, Dad wants cheap, and I just want to eat somewhere that I can hear our conversation and don't have to clean up afterward. Today's lucky winner was a Chinese restaurant in town. On their buffet, we're bound to find something everyone will eat. It's not exactly cheap, but Dad was wearing down from hunger so he agreed as well.

The meal wasn't spectacular, but eventually my teenage daughter got over her angst and started joking around and smiling. My son started his 5th grade humor and yet somehow managed to steer clear of potty jokes long enough for us to enjoy our meal. Yes, it was a pretty good meal and as we finished, I reached for MY favorite part of the meal, the fortune cookie. Both children had theirs and were trying to call each other names in Chinese, my husband read his and tossed it on the table, and I expectantly opened mine to was empty. My fortune cookie had no fortune in it! Not even a little one! No funny saying, no Chinese word, not even a lucky number! My face just fell. How could I get a cookie with no fortune?

Of course, I had to figure out how this would tie into Random Thoughts, so I came home and googled fortune cookies. What exactly is our "fortune"? Of course, the ones in the cookie are supposed to tell you something that's going to happen, but did you know that some of the original fortune cookies contained scripture? Then, after doing a check for mention of "our fortune" in the Bible, I discovered a number of different references to "restoring our fortune". Now I was on to something.

One of the first references to fortunes in the Bible is from Deut. 30:2 - 4, "and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back." When we return to God and obey him with all our heart and soul, then the Lord will restore our fortunes.

Right now, many people in America and around the world have "lost their fortunes", and here is a promise from God that if we return to Him and obey Him, then He will restore them. I'm not talking just about money, but also about the kind of fortunes that money can't, friends, joy, Those are the kinds of treasures we can enjoy now AND lay up in heaven where moth and thief cannot destroy.

Everyday the news is filled with too many who did not realize that true treasure isn't wealth....those who lost the things the world offers and with it lost their hope. They got to the end of what they thought would satisfy only to find the promises were empty. They truly lost their fortunes.

Those of us who know where our treasure really lies must return to God and obey Him with all our heart and soul not only for ourselves, but for those around us. For when they reach the end of their "meal" and reach for the fortune cookie, we don't want them to discover that it is empty. We can share the good news with others that this is not all there is. God has a plan for each of us, a plan for good and not for evil. A plan for hope and a future. We can help show them where true fortune lies....we can point them to Jesus.

Now that I think about it, I guess my fortune cookie wasn't so empty after held a lesson on looking to God when what the world gives you is an empty promise. I think I've found my true "fortune" in God.