Tuesday, October 26, 2010

At the impulse of Thy love

And we're back!  I know I shouldn't be surprised by spiritual attacks during times of growth, but wow, it's been a rough month!  So, here I am, continuing on with the Radical Read Along, and feeling that definite paradox of encouragement and conviction that comes when we hear what we've been needing to hear.

My husband called me the other day while he was at work and said he had heard something truly sad.  Thinking he was being sarcastic, I laughed and asked what it was that was disheartening.  He said that a friend of his had just confided in him that he only eats twice a day because he can't afford three meals.  Ouch, no longer laughing.  Upon further discussion, J realized the extent of the situation this friend is in.  He is so far in debt that he feels hopeless, he is behind on every payment, and is about to be without a place to live.  We haven't know this guy all that long, but he knows that we are Christians.  Maybe he told J these things just to get it off his chest, maybe he told him because he knows that we are praying folks, or maybe he told him because this young man is part of our mission.  J asked if I would be ok with this man living with us if he can't find another place to live.  He wasn't asking to get permission, because I don't call the shots around here, he was feeling convicted to help and wanted to know that I was on board.

My response, I truly believe, was the evidence of God working in my heart.  I was suprised by the words I said, as I said them.  "We can't be in his life, proclaiming to be Christians, and desiring to share the gospel with him if we aren't willing to share our home and our food.  He can stay as long as he needs to until he gets caught up.  Rent free.  Let's do this, let's love him."  Then I stopped because I was both excited and scared at hearing God working.

J knows me.  He knows that I like my space, I like things the way I do them, I don't like intruders in my space or time, and I have never been good with roommates.  It was a major adjustment to living with my husband and actually learning to be a civilized human being with him.  He knows that it would be hard on me to have anyone living with us, and both of us are asking God to work in our hearts willingness to see our house as His, not ours.  So he asked if I was sure.  After the gulp of selfishness finally went down and settled in my stomach I finally said that I was sure, then got off the phone an freaked out.

Then God reminded me of the miracle work that he has done in our lives in the last 3 years of marriage.  When we got married we had more in our combined debt than I was making in a year.  Within months of getting married we bought a house.  Thankfully God gave us wisdom in buying our house, but with the added mortgage we now had more debt than I would make in 7 years, not including interest.  And that is assuming that we would live off of my husband's income and take every penny I made and use it to pay off debt.  So we made a plan to get out of debt in 5 years.  We went to budgeting classes, read books, and started making adjustments to our lifestyles.  The place we were most convicted is that we were not giving to the church.  So, we started giving even though it felt counterintuitive to give when we didn't have extra.

Then about a year into marriage we felt God leading me to leave my job. Whether it was to get a different job or to stay home and actually care for my home and husband, that wasn't clear, but the need to leave was. Through much fear, hesitation, and disobedience, we finally realized that God did have a plan for us, that included future and hope, and that He wouldn't lead us where it was impossible to follow.  Even if it was hard, it wasn't impossible.  So, we were challenged to see the difference between what we needed and what we just wanted, and started eliminating luxuries.  For a while we lived off of mac & cheese because we just couldn't afford more than that. Theoretically we could afford it, but not if we wanted to be out of debt.  And every time we felt like we had made great strides in our finances, God convicted us about our giving, that it wasn't sacrificial.  We don't care for the oppressed, the needy, the orphan, the widow, or even the messengers of the gospel, as much as we care for comfort.  We should, but we don't.

We still have the mortgage, but the other debt is a third of what is was 3 years ago.  We must be geniuses, we should write a book about how smart we are to do so good!  Or, instead do we have a great God who has richly blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others?  Maybe it isn't a book of "How to Get Out of Debt with 10 Simple Steps," but it is a life of saying "We've been there, we know your hurt and shame, let us introduce you to a God who gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness, even financial wisdom."

And it is even one step further of seeing how far God has brought us, and looking for more ways to give up what we think we need for the sake of the desires of His heart.

This is giving sacrificially to help those in need.  This is getting out of debt not so that we can save for retirement, but so that we can pour our lives more freely into others.  This is letting young men in need live with us as a way of living the gospel good-Samaritan style, rather than just preaching to him as he becomes homeless.  This is taking everything extra that comes our way and saving it to pay the price of redemption for a life in need; living out the adoption that our Father has shown to us in the life of young girls desperate to be loved.  This is asking if He had called us to go, and asking seriously, ready to go if the answer is "yes."  This is giving so much time, resources, money, and love to the body of Christ that people think we are crazy.  This is giving to the point that church leaders ask us to stop giving because there is nothing left for ourselves.  Are we there yet?  Sadly, no.  Will we ever be?  Doubtful.

I know that our friend who gets 2 meals a day is not poor by the standards of the world population.  But I also know that by the standards of the lives around him, he is.  And we are called to him as much as we are called to the people who live on a dollar a day.  We are called, and if we don't answer that call then we may be counted among those who are cast out, surrounded by the ominous words "I never knew you."  David Platt puts it well:
if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all. (111)
God has placed within the earthen vessels of His children the unspeakable gift, the treasure of the light of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.  How can those around us know the richness of that treasure if we aren't willing to pour it out any way we possibly can?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This is not home

Still on the Radical read along with Marla and friends, and I can honestly say that this week I am thankful for Marla's questions.  Most weeks there is something new God is working in my heart through the chapter, but this week it feels like something He has been working in my heart through the last year and a half and Chapter 5 was confirmation of conformation.  If this seems disjointed, it is because I'm following questions, not my own random stream of thought.

All that being said, the sermon this Sunday was on thankful praying.  Not "thank you God for the ten million things you give me that make me happy right now," but more the "thank you God for who you are, thank you for faith, thank you for love, thank you for hope, thank you for the Gospel of salvation, thank you for those who bring the Gospel to me."  This was a good one for me to hear.   Often I have my list of prayers that I lift up to God, my needs, other's needs, church needs, global needs, etc., but I forget to thank God.  People will speak praises during "prayer request time" and I don't write those down.  Oh how I fail to worship God rightly!  I am ungrateful by omission of thankfulness.  2 Timothy 3 has this intense list of what people who are not lovers of God look like, and at the end of the list God commands us through our brother Paul, "Avoid such people."  One of those characteristics nestled nicely in the list is ungratefulness.  Ouch.

Making disciples is hard work.  It's scary to realize that the only way we can effectively make disciples is by letting people into our lives.  It would be so much easier to put people on the ten step road to Christian success and meet them on graduation day to celebrate.  The hardest part for me in discipling is being vulnerable and not getting instant results.  I want to tell them I've been where they are, and made it out only by the grace of God.  I want them to see in my life, through one conversation, the hope of glory.  But sometimes it takes days, weeks, years of faithfulness on my part to see even a sparkle of hope in the lives of those I'm discipling.  But then I'm reminded that it isn't my work, and it isn't my glory, and it isn't even my disciples.  It is Christ in me, the hope of glory.  Hopefully as people get more into my life they see more of Him and less of me.

My husband works with an two athiests, a Mormon, a Jehovah's Witness, a Muslim, two baby Christians, and a guy who told him he didn't want to come to Bible study because Bible studies just make him feel like more of a screw up than he already knows he is.  This is our mission field.  This is the beginning of all nations for us, and I fear we don't take it seriously enough.  We have them over for dinner, but we fail often to "fit the gospel into the conversation."  This is our lives, our hearts, our hope, and we just want them to see God in us, yet we don't show Him to them.  We are willing to reproduce the gospel to others who have already heard it, which is good (2 Pet 1:12,) but it is rare that we reproduce the gospel we have heard to those who haven't heard.  We desperately need to be more intentional in this, otherwise in our apathy we are accepting that hell is inevitable for those we love.

So how do I get out of the safety of the church?  I have no idea.  Seriously i have struggled with this for years.  I ran as hard as I could away from God, and when I turned around to see him running up the road to meet me I realized I was home.  Then, I lost all of my friends.  I had no one but my future husband.  I have slowly made friends in the church, and have started to feel safe and secure.  The home that I felt was not the church, it was God, but I have made the church home.  But this isn't what I'm called to.  But I don't have any friend outside of church.  I have the guys my husband works with, but it is sort of his mission rubbing off on me to make it our mission.  Is that ok? I don't know. Is that enough? I don't think so.  This is one that I struggle with over and over.  I don't know how to go.

Finally, God is doing great and mighty things in our little family as I work through this book.  My husband doesn't like sharing books, so he keeps saying he'll read it when I'm done, but I don't think God isn't willing to let my heart grow out further than my husband can lead it. How sweet it has been to see my husband learn things that I've learned and haven't even talked to him about.

In the last month or so I've found two things built into my marriage that are so sweet.  The first is that my husband is much more cheerful giver than I am.  God has blessed me with a man who is radical in his giving.  When we are discussing some sort of giving, I usually have a number in my head that fits in the budget.  In an effort to let him lead when I would much rather lead, I have asked him what he thinks instead of telling him my magic number.  Every time he is at least double what I was thinking.  And every time God is glorified through his faith.  God gave me a balance to my frugality.

I have also been blessed with a husband who is willing to hear where God is leading, even if God is leading to be still.  I am overly passionate about everything, so God gives me temperance in human form to help me to simmer rather than boiling over.  I have been boiling over about children since before we were married.  With the inevitability of getting one year older looming (6 months from now) I have felt a little more nervous, which is saying something.  But he just said be patient.  He knew it was not what I wanted to hear, but he also knew it was what I needed to hear.  He knew, because he was listening, that we needed to let God work on our hearts more.  And now, our hearts have been captured for adoption.  Not that we didn't think about it, but God needed to work out the sweet reality of our spiritual adoption first so that we were genuinely passionate about it, not just doing it as a means to an end.  Something I have longed for since I was in high school, now my husband is passionate about, and excited to be called to.  What a kind God we have who doesn't call one of us to a life that the other one is not passionate about!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Broken for His Glory

Since Chapter 4 of Radical seems like a breaking point of hearts, let me just rant a little about a few things that have been breaking my heart lately.

My mom went to Zimbabwe a few years ago with a medical team.  She came back with a boatload of heart breaking stories, but there is one that just breaks me over and over.  A mother was at the clinic with her son who was dying.  The doctors told her that he needed protein to live.  He was malnourished to the point of death.  Both she and her baby were surviving on a corn gruel that had little intrinsic value other than filling the emptiness of their stomachs for a time.  One egg a week could save him.  The mother wept, there was no way she could afford an egg.  Her son would die because the minimal protein from one egg was more than his mother could provide.

A friend who adopted two sweet babies from Ethiopia shared a heart wrenching story from their process.  In Ethiopian adoptions you have to make two trips to the country.  They were on their second trip for their daughter, the one where they get to take her home, and their first trip for their son, the one where they get to meet him and spend some time with him.  They spent a lot of time with both babies, just hanging out loving on their two children, but then their son had to be taken back to the orphanage.  That sweet boy had a taste of what family was, and then was being thrust back into "the system" until such time as the approval came for him to be with his family.  He started to scream as they dropped him off.  It was desperate, a sound his father has only heard a few times since, but the message was clear.  "Don't leave me, I need you!"

Finally, is the story that God is just splitting me wide open with.  There are girls all over the world who dread the day they turn 16.  That day is met not with the cutesy pageantry some American girls get, but with mourning.  This is the day that they are officially unadoptable.  They will spend the rest of their short lives as household servants at best, and sex slaves at worst.  These beautiful girls, with so much potential for greatness in the kingdom of God, will be used, abused, traded like property, neglected, and alone.  And those are just the girls who escaped slavery by a true miracle until they reach 16.  That doesn't account for the girls who were kidnapped or abandoned at 5 or younger to satisfy the sick desires of men corrupted by their fleshly desires.

After hearing those kinds of things, it is hard for me to feel legitimate in asking the question - Is there a such thing as too radical?  The Father saw that it was good to sacrifice His Son to redeem a people unto Himself, and I worry that people won't like me if I post too many church centered facebook status updates?!  I hesitate to feel like we should be adopting because it might be hard socially, and yet for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.  I hesitate to tell my family of the discussions my husband and I have been having lately about adoption, because I worry that they'll think we're just not trusting God enough to get pregnant.

I hear ladies in my Bible study complain that Americans don't like Christians, and I say something so awkward as "They crucified Jesus, and we're to be reflecting Him, so why would we think that the gospel would make us a whole lot of friends?"  But then I sit the rest of the time fuming in embarasment at saying such a controversial thing.  Why can't I just keep my mouth shut?!  And then God brings to mind Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
But I am ashamed.  I don't like being set apart, it's lonely.  I don't like proclaiming the gospel, it makes me sound like a crazy person.  I don't like being the weirdo who weeps over little girls in other countries.  Who am I kidding, I don't like being the weirdo who weeps over anything.  I like my sick twisted heart just the way it is, thank you very much, and I don't like God sanctifying it.  And most of all, I don't like not being the center of it.

It is all about God.  I asked a few weeks back what my life would be like if I truly let God break my heart for the things that break His.  His heart is for the redemption of people all over the world.  His heart breaks for the fatherless, both physically and spiritually.  His heart breaks for the neglected, abused, lost, and dying.  His heart breaks for the people tormented by their sin and the sin of those around them.  His heart breaks for his creation that is made in his image to reflect Him rightly.  His heart breaks for the babies starving to death in the arms of mothers who are unable to save them.  His heart breaks for the orphans who cry out for a family.  His heart breaks for the girls who have given up hope of being someone's daughter.

His heart breaks for all those who die with no hope.

How can I worry about being too radical in my faith?  The amount that I become broken into the image of Christ should be in direct proportion to the amount that I look different from the rest of the world.