Friday, September 30, 2011

Humble Pie = Not Awesome

Today I had a very humbling conversation. By humbling, what I mean to say is that my heart is WRECKED. Everything that my friend said to me was very much in love, but the truth has ripped me open.

There was a lot of nuance to this conversation, and it was rather lengthy, but I walked away feeling like an utter failure. In summation, I have loved so passionately, without enough words and explanation, that people see my love as attack. I have given every ounce of myself to others, and they have seen it as me judging them. I have asked people to join me on the exciting journey of serving the body of Christ, and they have perceived me as a "works" person. I have honestly shared that I have reached the end of my sufficiency, and they wonder if I should think about giving some things up. And seriously, this was all said in love.

I asked J how I could fail so epically in so many relationships, and he really didn't know what to say. We are convinced that he and I could say the same exact words and people would see his words as loving and my words as mean. It's like how people sometimes see God in the OT as vengeful (mean bearded guy up in the clouds just waiting to strike down with lightning the rotten kids who won't get off his lawn) and God in the NT as loving (Jesus in his white robe, with flowing hair, carrying a lamb on his shoulders and smiling at the children at his feet) and miss the fact that this is the same God. Not that I think that I am God, far from that, but I feel so misunderstood.

I have prayed for a while now for a gentle and quiet spirit. Those two words are so contrary to my "nature" that it's laughable for me to pray for them, but God has been known to work miracles. Here I am, feeling like that has been for nothing, because obviously what is coming out is not gentle OR quiet. Abrasiveness is apparently my forte. I thought the goal was to look more like Jesus, not less.

So in my brain I go through all the externals that I can try to fix: grow my hair out, have less rigid posture, walk slower and with less "purpose", speak in lower volume and tones, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum. When really it is my heart that is the problem. If the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control) were truly flowing out of my heart, all of these other things wouldn't matter. If I was truly reflecting Christ in my words and deeds, people would not see such sharp edges of me sticking out. Oh how Romans 7 was written just for me!

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

~ Frances Ridley Havergal

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Let the forehead smacking commence

Read-along time!

James 4 is a remarkably good one for me this week. The funny thing is, the culmination of how my week has been, and how James 4 has wrecked me, came last night. I love God's timing!

James 4:10 knocked me over this week. J and I started a new class with our HS students last Saturday. This is the first class we have ever come up with curriculum for, taught, and felt responsible for the hearts of our students who attend the class. We have become good at being supporting role people, and actually think this is what God meant for our lives when we started to think about ministry. This is not supporting role, and as a result is way far out of our comfort zones. It is also a way for me to lose sight of humility.

Several of the kids actually thanked us for the class afterward, which surprised me. Kids aren't typically good at articulating appreciation. Parents sought us out on Sunday to thank us for pouring into their kids. I sincerely said to them that it is a honor to be doing what God has made us to do. I told them how much I LOVE loving on HS students and giving away truth to them. I smiled and thanked them for their kind words. You would think that I could get puffed up by the appreciation, but in fact I found an even sneakier way of not being humble.

The guy over J and I didn't say directly to me that he appreciated our hard work, that he thought we did a good job, or that he was thankful for our partnership in the ministry. That's where my pride bristled up in all it's ugly glory. He told J all of those things, but he didn't tell me. How dare he not come to me personally and express gratitude! I know J and I often say "We are the Borg, you tell one of us and it's the same as telling both of us,"  but dang it, I want my personal recognition. I started to complain to J about this yesterday and he asked if I had checked my email. "Of course I haven't, I'm too busy for that!" He proceeds to read off emails that the guy over us sent to J and I, and then to the rest of the ministry, about how much he appreciates us and thinks we did a good job. Did I receive this well? No, I complained further. Later when I thought about it God brought James 4:10 to mind. What we were teaching was not about us, but about God. Our ministry to the youth is not for our glory but for God's. Our very breath that we use to complain is a gift from God. Is it just me and Paul or does the Romans 7:24 moment wreck any other hearts?

Here's the other kicker for the week. When filling out 10,000 pages of paperwork for our adoption there was a little question of guardianship for our children in the unfortunate event of our deaths before our kids are adults. We didn't really pray about this question. We both just looked at it, started making a list of who would not go there, for various reasons, and narrowed it down to one family. We wrote that family in, and figured we would talk with them about it later. We love and trust this family, feel like we agree on the essentials of faith, and like their parenting style. It's a no-brainer. Check! Answered that question, move on. Now I don't think this is legally binding if we write up a will and name someone else, but I don't know, but we are seriously reconsidering the answer to that question.

Looking back, we answered that question a lot in the same vein of James 4:13-17. We didn't really consider what God's will for this would be. We made our plans, without seriously considering what tomorrow could bring. This may make us sound like awful potential adoptive parents, but let me explain. When filling out seriously whole trees worth of information about your life, sometimes it gets late into the night and you answer a little too gut instinct and little less God's will. It's not an excuse, but a serious "why did we say that? Oh right it was midnight and our brains were fried." Now, I'm not even sure we're whole-heartedly reconsidering, but we definitely are asking God how we should proceed. Here's why we're finally asking that question. The husband of this family wrote a blog post about the Christian's response to poverty, social justice, and the kingdom of God. We have been aware that we differ with him on some theological issues, but until now that didn't really make us uncomfortable. Last night we were uncomfortable.

We are now and not yet people. We understand that some think we are WAY off base in our thinking that consummation of redemption is future and we are also working in the kingdom even now. We hope that every day we are taking steps to usher in the kingdom of God, putting hands and feet to "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We understand that it can be an eschatological mine-field to talk about the final consummation of Christ taking his bride, while also talking about how the bride is to live now. We get it. But we choose to care for the poor, to welcome the orphans into our hearts and lives, to love on widows, and to proclaim liberty to the captives. We feel it is beholden upon us as Christians to be the body of Christ, and these things are natural functions of the body.

There is a lot of debate lately about the theological implications of poverty, orphan care, and wealth. My untrained, un-seminaried, illogical answer to the argument is this: Mercy ministry is kingdom work! This flies directly in opposition to my dear brother whom I would trust with the lives of my adopted kids. And so, I debate how to talk to this significantly more Bible educated brother about how passionately I feel that God has called us to bring his kingdom even now. And I debate if I should ask him and his beautiful wife, whom I love so much, to care for my kids if they are orphaned again by their adopted family. I don't know how you tell an adopted kid that their adoption is not part of the kingdom coming, but I fear that might be the way they see it. And I smack myself in the forehead for thinking "today I will do this, and tomorrow this is what will happen, and it will be great!" without thinking "God what do you want?"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not many of you

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. - James 3:1

Ugh. I have read this verse over and over. It has permeated my thoughts as J and I prepare our teaching for this Saturday. It bangs me over the head when I wonder what to talk about with my girls on Thursday afternoons. It makes me laugh that laugh that only those who are teachers get when they hear this verse. Greater strictness? No kidding! Ugh

And why, does God see it wise to bring more girls into my life to teach? Doesn't he know I'm already doing a shoddy job in the lives already here? Doesn't he know that I'm already overwhelmed by the giving account that I have to give for these little children? These aren't even my kids, but I feel the weight of them becoming functional adults so heavy on my heart. I need them to hear the gospel more than I need food. It is tempting to ask God why he put me in this time and place. I feel like Moses trying to convince God that I'm not cut out for the job of declaring freedom to the captives.

I had a conversation with God today that wasn't very polite on my end. It was actually kinda bratty. Man, I can be such a toddler sometimes. I have been praying for wisdom about our adoption for weeks. I have been claiming James 1:5 as a promise. I have prayed fervently for wisdom. But I haven't done a  whole lot of listening to God's response. So, I was praying for wisdom in another situation, as I was on my way to meet with one of my girls. And, in my bratty, unbridled tongue way, basically told God I don't think he has given wisdom when I asked in faith about it regarding our adoption, so maybe at least he could give me a little regarding this other situation. I am thankful that  God doesn't strike me down in righteous anger for such presumptions upon his gifts and nature.

After a good productive time with my girl, I came home and sat down to write a post for the Read-Along. I figured I should read James 3 again just so it's fresh in my brain. Or maybe it was more God saying, "read this, I have something for you to learn." James 3:17-18 hit me like a ton of bricks.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
I have not been living a very wise life. I am asking God for wisdom, and yet the words of my mouth, and thus where my heart is, are not very pure. I have not been making peace. I am FAR from gentle. What is reason? I don't think I have any. I admitted to J last night that I have no mercy left in me. And good fruits? Let's not even head down that road of lack. I see only what I want to see, and how I want to see it. Sarcasm is dripping from my tongue like venom. I am sowing discord, and guess what I'm harvesting...

Again, not many should become teachers.

But God
...has reconciled me to himself, so that he could present me as holy, blameless, above reproach, and steadfastly rooted in him (Col 1:21-23)
...has made me alive in Christ, and adopted me into his family in order to show me the immeasurable riches of his grace (Eph 2:1-10)
...has justified me by grace, as a gift, and has satisfied his wrath against me and washed me clean by the blood of Christ (Romans 3:19-26)
...has poured out richly through Jesus, because of his great mercy, the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3-7)

Oh Lord, help me to see the wisdom that you have given richly to me, and to live in it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Call to prayer

This is an edited version of  an email we sent to close friends and family. Some folks read here, but have not received that email, so if you fall into that category, here you go!

Hey friends and family!

We are sorry for the complete lack of communication lately about our adoption, but those of you who know anything about adoption know that this is how it is sometimes. We do not have any updates per se, and so we have not emailed with updates. Here is what has transpired in the last few weeks.
  • We have received a few more pictures of our daughter, she is still beautiful, and our hearts are still in love with her sweet face.
  • Her advocate, our sole source of information, has had some major family crises happen in the last few weeks, and has really had to focus on her life, which has, with good reason, pushed us to the background for a bit.
  • We are still waiting for the US government to get things taken care of, and if you watch the news at all you know that there are so many other big things on plates of government officials right now, our little family isn't very significant to them.
  • We still don't know if when to expect to travel.
As you can see, not much has changed. But, our hearts have changed in a big way. J and I talked the other night about where we are at, and both of us feel like it's time to really fight for our daughter. Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do tangibly to fight for her. Basically what we are being told is to stay out of the way and let the professionals do what they do. So how do we fight for our daughter from the sidelines? This is what God says to us:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -- Eph 6:10-12

This is where our fight is. We feel th
at the delays, and the silence, and the chaos in the advocate's life, and the struggle in our hearts are not necessarily things from God, but some are attacks of the spiritual forces of evil. Our enemy does not like adoption. It is a beautiful real life picture of the power of God to redeem lives, and it brings great glory to God when his people hear his call in adoption. (James 1:27) I don't say that to make myself feel special, I say it because it is true. Just as marriage is constantly attacked because it is the image of God and his church, adoption is attacked because it is the image of our inheritance in the kingdom of God. So we are entering into spiritual battle for our daughter, and it will be a long and hard fight that will continue for the rest of her life.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because we need your help. Many of you have sweetly reminded us on dozens of occasions that you are praying for us. For that we are so grateful. Many more of you are praying even though we don't know specifically of it. If there are any of you who feel a heart burden for our daughter, or for us, it is time for you to stand against the schemes of the devil. Our God is great and mighty, and has called us as his people to fight for justice to reign on the earth. We are hands and feet delivering justice by caring for the poor, the orphans, and the widows, but we are also soldiers fighting in the epic battle against evil that threatens to destroy hearts and lives. We will not back down, we will not surrender, for the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46)

Dear friends, please pray. Pray against the schemes of the devil that would try to stop God's plan of redemption for our daughter. Pray for saving faith to blossom in her heart. Pray against the whispers of discouragement planted in our minds like flaming darts. Pray for joy in our hearts as we face this trial and are tempted to despair. Pray against the attacks coming on the lives of people involved in facilitating our adoption. Pray for their hearts to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Pray against delays in the government. Pray for wisdom for our governmental leaders in regard to our nation, our family, and our daughter. Pray. Even when you don't hear from us for a while, pray. Even when you wonder what God is doing in our lives by calling us to this, pray. Even when you get tired of hearing us ask for prayer and want to do something practical, pray. Please pray.

Thank you all for standing with us in the first line of defense for our daughter!

Love!

D & J

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I get a little excited...

Here we are in week 2 of the James read along with Marla and friends, and I am so excited about what God is doing.

I had to laugh at God's providence this week. I read James 2, and Ephesians 2 at the same time. If you don't realize how funny this is, seriously go read both and note the times that they are seemingly contradictory. One could easily miss the great similarities of these two chapters of the Bible because they are so differently written. Paul is all high and lofty, throwing in these amazing transcendent explanations of the entire plan of salvation from the beginning of time while at the same time reminding us that this is not a self-justifying faith, and James is down and dirty calling us out in our laziness and judgmental attitudes. You could even read James 2:14-26 and Ephesians 2:8-9 and think that the Bible obviously contradicts itself. And therefore, if it contradicts itself in this one place, how many other places are contradictory? And if that doubt is legitimate, well then we might as well just put the Bible away, not place our hope in it, and try out something else that seems a little more logical, or at least easier to figure out.

But rather than lose heart, I choose to dig. As one of the elders at our church likes to remind us, it's all about context, and no one verse was made to stand on its own to explain the entirety of God's plan for all eternity, even though some of them come close. The Bible is an unfolding of the story of redemption over millennium. We can spend our entire lives exploring the mystery of Jesus revealed in scriptures and still have so much we don't understand.

I know, this is a study of James, but I'm going to diverge into Ephesians 2:1-10 for a sec, mostly because this paragraph is one of my go to scriptures when reminding high-schoolers of the gospel. Revel in it for a bit if you will:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
You just have to LOVE when God puts in the most amazing use of that little contraction "but" to just blow our minds with his plan. This is the cross, inserted precisely in the moment of dire wreckage, that causes our hearts to wonder at the love so richly poured out by the blood of our Savior!

But how in the world does this passage, and James go so neatly together? Did you catch the last sentence?
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We are created in Christ Jesus for good works! We who are the bride of Christ, the bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, bride of Jesus, are made for good works. And these aren't just random, haphazard good works, because God in his sovereignty prepared them for us, and us for them. So we are to walk in them. What are these good works? God already told us that in James! Praise be to God that this book of his redemptive history ties all together, and has the power to relieve our lost, doubting hearts from fear and worry!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wisdom, With a Dash of Meekness

Here I go on another read-along with my sweet sister Marla. Yet again, God is timely in his placing of these read-alongs on my life. So, where am I, and why is a study of James so needed in my life? Have a sit, and let's talk...

My sweet husband and I received a call about a month ago about a girl who needed a family to adopt her, and based on what we had previously told my friend who works at a placing agency, our hearts were longing for just this girl. Well, honestly when we got the call, our hearts were not longing for this girl, and we felt very unready to say yes, but in theory this is the kind of kid we were thinking of when we talked about adoption. After several hours apart, praying while going about our day, we convened in the kitchen for a talk about the girl that God had placed in our hearts through one little phone call. As we each voiced our concerns, the other one would say "But God..." and then that concern seemed so invalid. This "But God" has been rolling around in my brain for about 6 months, so it's no surprise that God used those two simple words to warm my heart of clay to his intentions.

We expected her home any day now, and she is still not. We are in the midst of limbo, and it is the ugly, sticky, grey kind of gut-wrenching, faith-mocking, heart-breaking waiting that our hearts are unable to comprehend. There are days where I feel like I can't pray because my prayers feel too bitter to express. There are many days where James 1:2-4 are just a reminder of how little I trust God to give me the gift of children. How can I count it as joy when my heart yearns for the unseen? At what point will my faith be tested enough to produce steadfastness? When will my lacking of my daughter, the piece of my heart I didn't even know existed a month ago, be taken away and my joy fulfilled? Oh my soul, cling to your God!

But God has reminded me this week to ask for wisdom. There is so much I don't know, and may never know about my daughter, but I have to make decisions on her behalf before she is "officially" mine. Those decisions do not have to be made out of the combined pea-brain power of my brain and my husbands. I can ask my Father for wisdom, and he will give graciously to me without mocking me for my need. And God reminds me to hurry up and listen, be quiet, and slow my roll. (James 1:19 Dani Standard Version or DSV.)

Then I start to read the verses about bridling my tongue, and there is a big gulp that resounds in the chasms of my heart. My tongue gets away from me often, mostly because I take pride in it being unbridled. I am not good at all about shutting my mouth. The "be still and quiet" passages of the Bible are ones that I LOVE quoting to others, especially the horde of teenagers God has blessed me with, but really don't like to hear them for myself. There are rare times when I say things and then take a step back and say "Whoa! That was awesome!" More often though, I step back and say "Ugh! How does that meanness (ugliness, selfishness, etc.) come out of a heart that God has recreated?" How can I pray on the phone with a sweet girl who is struggling with loneliness, and then turn around and be sarcastic to my husband? And what do I do about it?

I NEED to receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save my soul. The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, more fully within those who have believed.  I need to receive Him in meekness. God in his mercy reminds me of 1 Peter 3:1-6, and then gently reminds my troubled heart that he is my good and perfect husband. Lord help me, I need a gentle and quiet spirit!