Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Is Your "Gutter?"

So...  I've been reading another GREAT book.  The books I'm reading seem to have a theme, they all seem to be about stepping out of our comfort zone and ministering to those whom Jesus called "the least of these."  I haven't done that too well in my life, and God is really doing a number on my heart.

I just finished another great book called, "Under the Overpass," by Mike Yankoski.  I highly recommend it.  It's about 2 college guys who give up their cushy life for 5 months and live as homeless men in 5 different cities across America.  Once again it really challenged and convicted me because you can't read the book and not see how the church is clearly not being the church that God intended.  Sure, in pockets it's happening, but as the collective body of Christ, we are just falling so short.

And let me say this, before I go any further, I am not writing to make anyone feel guilty.  Guilt is a weapon of the enemy, he burdens us with guilt and a sense of overwhelm and freezes us from ever taking action.  God has not been making me feel guilty with all of the things He's showing me, He's been convicting my heart.  I feel sad yet determined to allow Him to transform me...  That's what conviction is all about, it's about a journey that leads to transformation, it's not an overnight, magical change.

So, that leads me to the book I'm reading now...  It's called The Gutter, by Craig Gross.  Criag Gross is the founder of, the ministry aimed at helping Christians break addictions to pornography.  But it's been sad to me to read how "the church" shunned him in the beginning because he and his friend were going to porn conventions in Las Vegas.  Not to see pornography, but to be where pornography was being marketed and sold...  It was the gutter that Christ called him to minister in...

Here's what he wrote about a porn producer that he met, "Jimmy D. is searching.  Like everyone else in the gutter, he's there because he's lost, and whether he knows it or not, he's searching for something and someone to help him get out of the gutter...  We have to get a little dirty in order to help the Jimmy D.s of the world out."

In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."  Now I'm not in anyway suggesting that we go to "the gutter" to make people our projects, as Mr. Gross says, they are not another notch in our "Christian belts."  But I am suggesting that we go to our gutter, however God defines that for us, and we love the people that Jesus loved and died for...  People just like you and me...  You know, we were all rescued from one gutter or another.

Well, I just love God's timing... I've been reading the minor prophets in my quiet time and this morning I was to Jonah, and I read it with a whole new set of eyes.

Jonah was a man who was afraid to go the gutter, to Ninevah...  I wonder, was he more afraid or was he more self-righteous and didn't think he should get his hands dirty among such a pagan and idolatrous people (who in reality weren't that much different than the Israelites, or the rest of us for that matter!)...

So he runs from the Lord's presence and he ends up on a ship in the midst of a GREAT storm.  His fellow shipmates end up hurling him into the sea, right into the middle of the storm and he gets swallowed by a big fish.

That got me thinking...  How many times has God been leading me to reach out to what I would consider 'the gutter' and I've been too afraid of the storm that might be the fallout?  And let me just say, maybe you find the word 'gutter' offensive...  But for so many of us, that's the attitude of our hearts when we first think about some of the places God might want us to go...  So, it's not a statement about the places we go, it's more of a statement about how we think about those places...

A few years ago, probably 6-7, my husband and I went somewhere else in the south for our anniversary.  I was shocked at how many homeless people there were, we saw them everywhere, and do you know, we didn't do one thing for one homeless person?  How SAD is that?!

I was afraid...   I didn't have a clue what to do...  I avoided their eyes...  and if I'm really honest, I was judgmental.  I remember thinking, "If we gave them anything, they'd probably just use it for alcohol."  Maybe they would have, but who am I to be the judge?  My responsibility is to obey God, it's their responsibility how they steward God's blessings.

But here's the thing, I left that city and I have NEVER forgotten them.  Their eyes haunt me... their huddled forms laying in door ways after dark, one with a sign in front of him that said, "God hates me," never seem to be too far from my thoughts.  And what did I do to show him any differently, that God doesn't really hate him?  Not ONE thing!!  Not one darn thing!!

I don't know if Jonah was afraid or just so full of disdain and self-righteousness that he ran from God.  But whatever storm he was afraid of that he might encounter if he obeyed God, he ended up in one far worse, one that almost cost him his life.

And it really made me think...  I would much rather end up in a storm that comes up as a result of obedience to God than one that came up as a result of running from God's presence.  I am much more afraid of a storm that is the result of disobedience!

So where in your life are you wrestling with obedience?  Is God calling you to get in the gutter but you're afraid of what might happen?  Maybe he's calling you to Africa, or Haiti, or India, or the inner city of your hometown, or your neighborhood school, but we're all called to find 'the gutter' in our lives and be Jesus there.

Yes, like Paul on so many of his missionary journeys, we may encounter lots of storms, but we can rest that God is with us!  And more importantly, when we stand before His throne someday, we can be assured that we will hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant." 

It's time to ask God where my gutter is and then go get my hands dirty...  How about you?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How's Your Singing Sounding?

I mentioned the other day that I had been reading some outstanding books...  Two of my favorites have been, "Same Kind of Different As Me" and the follow up, "What Difference Do It Make?"  The first book is the story of a couple in Texas and a homeless man who became friends and the second book is what's happened since the first book was released.  The second book is full of some incredibly profound wisdom...

Here's just a nugget...  Denver, the once homeless man says to his friend Ron, "Mr. Ron, all these white folks be invitin us to their Bible studies.  How come none of 'em's invitin us to their Bible doins?"

Denver goes on, "I ain't sayin it ain't all right to study the Bible.  You got to study the Bible to know the rules of life.  But I notice a lotta folks doin more lookin at the Bible than doin what it says.  The book a' James says, don't just listen to what God has to say, do what He says.  And Jesus said God is gon' separate us, the sheep from the goats, based on what we did, not on how much we read."  (Just a note, he's not trying to say that works save us, just clearly making the point that works are evidence of true saving faith!)

And then he makes a great point...  "How we gon' know God for real, lookin' for Him in some kinda religion, in some kinda system?  I don't mean know about God...  I mean really, honest know who God is?"

Well, I LOVE God's perfect timing...  I've been in the book of Amos, in Scripture.  Amos was written during a time of great political rest and prosperity in Israel's history.  But sadly, their prosperity had caused them to forget their God, and they had turned to idolatry...  They were living wildly extravagant and indulgent lives and they were not caring for the poor.  Sound familiar?

So here is God's perfect timing, listen to what He says to them in Amos 5:21-24, "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer Me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Our worship, our works, all of our religiosity mean NOTHING to God if it's not seasoned with caring for those in need and living righteously.  We can do a million Bible studies, we can go to church every time the doors open, but if it's not transforming our hearts to care for those that God cares for, then we are so missing the point!

Many times I hear people pray at church that our worship would be a blessing to God, that's a good prayer, that's the point of worship, but something hit me really hard in those verses...  If we're not living as God wants us to live, our songs are just noise to Him...

And you know, I really think God is asking for more than just throwing a few dollars at something...  Justice and righteousness characterize who we are and how we live...not just what we give.  I've been so convicted lately that we need to do more than just give money to good causes...  We need to give ourselves to the people that those causes help.  Yes, the money is necessary, but lives are blessed and changed life on life...NOT money on life.

I think I need to start asking God daily, "Father, how's my singing sounding?"

Monday, January 25, 2010

So Out Of Touch...

Hi bloggy friends...  So sorry I have been so out of touch for so long...  20 days with no post, wow, that's the longest I've been.  Nothing is wrong, just so busy...  Teaching Revelation is one of the most difficult studies I've ever taught, but so rewarding!!  I seemed to spend so much of my time doing that...  I owe a great BIG HUGE apology to my friend Naomi who gave me a blog award, but somehow I never seemed to get it posted to my blog.  Thank you friend... Your faith is such an inspiration!

Today is my sweet Mackenzie's 12th birthday!!  It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years...  She is a bundle of pure joy!  Her smile lights up a room and she is the greatest big sister!  She is truly a blessing from God!

I've been finding time to read some GREAT books...  I can't recommend these enough...  Same Kind Of Different As Me and What Difference Do It Make? both by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  And then I just finished one tonight called Under The Overpass...  Wow, it will rip your heart out.  It's the story of 2 college students who give up their cushy life for 5 months and live as homeless men in Washington D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego.  What's so heartbreaking is how miserably the church fails them, more often than not!  Now I'm starting a book called The Gutter.

There seems to be a theme developing here...  All of the books I'm reading are about the homeless.  God just keeps showing me over and over how far short we're falling as the church.  In the next few days, I'll try and share a few of the quotes that have been haunting my thoughts.

Just a quick update on Ms. Abby...  It's amazing what God continues to do in her heart!  She is so immersed in the idea of family now.  One night we were going to play a game and Zack wasn't sure he wanted to play.  Abby looked at him and said, "You have to play, it's a FAMILY game."  Every weekend she asks if we can watch a family movie.  When I told her that was kind of hard since the boys don't like the same movies as the girls, she said, "I don't mind watching one of their movies, as long as it's not too scary!"  She even understands the idea of sacrificing to be part of a family!

And her relationship with me just keeps growing more and more...  She's so playful with me, her hugs are so sweet, she usually won't let go until I let go first and she LOVES to laugh!  And if I'm distracted and she's not getting the attention she wants, she has no problem in persisting until I put down whatever I'm doing!  Tonight she told me that daddy couldn't have me because "You're mine!" 

Well, that's about it for now...  I've missed blogging, so I'm sure it won't be so long till you hear from me again! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On My Heart For The New Year...

At the beginning of each new year, God always seems to put something on my heart that needs some attention in my life.  Last year was a journey of learning to see with His eyes...  Of course, I never arrive in a year, but I'm always amazed at how much I learn and grow.

God began showing me what my prayer for this year is to be, back in August...

When I went to Africa, one morning one of our leaders did a devotion on James 1:27.  Now being a part of the adoption community, I thought I was pretty familiar with that verse...  "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..."  But somehow I had managed to conveniently overlook the last part of the verse...  "and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

I was so convicted as I listened to our leader's devotion, but it was just the beginning.  I understood what it meant with my head, but my heart didn't have a clue...

Fast forward to October...  We were meeting weekly to pray for my friend with Stage 4 breast cancer and the prayer times had become an amazing time of fellowship with our Heavenly Father, the presence of His Spirit was so incredible.

One Wednesday though, about 3 weeks after we had started praying, the siren of the Chico's Outlet started calling my name.  So I left early to go over to our church (the outlet is unfortunately close to our church) and went shopping, ignoring our budget.

But then prayer time was awful...  I felt so distant from God...  I felt like such a hypocrite and I spent a good bit of the time silently repenting of letting my worldly desires pollute my heart...

And then I went back to Africa, in November...  God did a work in my heart there and I wanted to guard it like a priceless treasure, I didn't want anything to dilute what He had done, but sadly, Christmas rolled around and the lure of the world...  Christmas shopping...  planning... baking...  all of it began to creep in and pollute the work that God had done in my heart.  Not that any of those things are bad, but when we let them consume us...  our time...our thoughts...our money... they become pollutants to our soul!  And all of a sudden, I found that my passion was being diluted once again.

And that was when the light bulb went on...  When we allow our hearts to become polluted by the things of this world, we being to lose our heart for the things of God.

On Christmas night, Abby wanted to color my feet with markers...  The package said they were washable, so I figured, "What harm could it do?"

Her Masterpiece!

But the problem was, the ink stained my feet!  It took days for them to come clean...  (Thank goodness it's not sandal season!)

And then, I decided to look up the word polluted in a Vine's Dictionary and guess what I learned...  the Greek word for polluted carries the idea of "staining".

When we let the things of this world pollute our hearts, we are letting it stain them and much like my feet, it is so hard to get rid of the stain...Sometimes it leaves us with remorse, or shame...  Almost always, it dilutes our heart and passion for God and the things that He cares for most...

But there's great news...  1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  Sin stains our hearts and it is God alone who is able to cleanse them from the stains...  What an incredible image that is...   God of the Universe, reaching down from His heavenly throne, putting His hands in the muck of our lives and cleansing us!  That's love!!

So my prayer for 2010 is that more and more I would keep myself from being the world.  I want to grow closer to my Heavenly Father... I long to experience His presence consistently... to hear His voice...  I want to love who He loves...  I want to show mercy to whomever He leads me to show mercy to... But if my heart is polluted, then I make all of those things very difficult because I'm letting something else come between me and Him.

I look forward to where this journey leads in 2010...  May you have a blessed New Year!