Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Lost Virtue?

Something we have been discussing recently in our home is the virtue of honor. What does it mean to truly "honor God"? What does it mean to honor those around us, beginning with our family?

I love my daughter Anna's description. She said, "it means to act kind and loving towards someone, and pray for them, even when they are getting on your last nerve."

Sadly, I think American society is lacking in honor. Even the church and the home are missing this crucial element. I am speaking personally on this--I wish we exhibited more honor within my own immediate family.

But as a society, we no longer seem to respect our elders, or extend kindness to others, or greet strangers on the street. We have become an individualistic, me-centered culture.

But what does God say about honor? Here are just a few of the verses we came across:

Pro 3:9 Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce;
Pro 3:10 So your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.

Pro 3:35 The wise will inherit honor, But fools display dishonor.

Pro 15:33 The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.

Pro 20:29 The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair.

Pro 21:21 He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor.

Pro 22:4 The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches, honor and life.

Pro 29:23 A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.

Isa 29:13 Then the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Isa 29:14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed."

Exo 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

Lev 19:32 'You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.

Mal 2:2 "If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name," says the LORD of hosts, "then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.

Luk 14:10 "But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.

Joh 5:22 "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,
Joh 5:23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Rom 12:11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
Rom 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Rom 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

1Ti 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1Ti 5:3 Honor widows who are widows indeed;

1Pe 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

What is your definition of "honor"? What are some insights you have on this topic? Any other verses to share?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Spiritual Warfare and Training

Our sending church back in Oklahoma City--Southern Hills--has started a study that I am so incredibly excited about.

It is called 90 Days Through the Bible and gets people digging into the Word of God.

I am so proud to have come from a church who understands the "first things." The Bible is living, active and powerful. It changes lives, heals and transforms. It is our spiritual weapon, and our source of peace. It does not return void.

Psalm 119:165 "Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cry of my heart

Yesterday was such an amazing day on campus, that I am struggling to put it into words. It was one of those intense, God-orchestrated times.

We had just set up our lemonade table, when Khalid and Mohuiddin came along and camped out next to us. They are two students who we already know well, and they were putting up a booth for the Muslim Student Association.

We were able to spend the next six hours of the day fellowshipping and hanging out with several members of their group. Many of them we already had friendships with.

We talked about God and Islam and Christianity. We clowned around, discussed life in general and just enjoyed each other's company. There was an openness and ease that was refreshing. We were able to ask honest questions and genuinely learn from one another.

At one point in the day, I was in a deep conversation with a guy named Mohamed when my Israeli friend, Shary, came along. She is someone who I have not seen in a long time, and I was eager to hear about the group of Jewish American students she took on their Birthright trip to Israel this Summer.

(I also love the fact that an Israeli Jew, an Egyptian Muslim and an American Christian were standing in the middle of campus together!)

Through the course of the day, we had many incredible opportunities, which I won't share in detail on a public forum. But it was clear that God is actively at work on our campus.

The day was so full of meaningful conversations that we didn't even have time to eat lunch. I managed to get down three crackers at one point between dialogues, but that was it.

As I was driving home I could hardly contain my excitement. But at the same time my heart was heavy.

It hurts to love people with a veil over their eyes. It's painful to plead for the souls of your friends, not knowing their ultimate destiny. All I can do is cling to the hope that God, in His mercy, will open their eyes and hearts to see the deity of Jesus.

You know what is interesting, though? God has given me a passion and love for the "people of the book" that I did not have before coming to Pittsburgh. In fact, if you had asked me how I felt about both the Muslims and the Jews just a few years ago, I would have said that I hoped to never be called to live with either one. Both have a reputation for their religous zeal and ruthlessness. My assumption has always been that they were so set in their beliefs that they would never listen to someone like me.

But God has softened my heart. Two things happened Monday which just confirm that fact.

I decided to stop by the University Center that morning, before meeting with a student. As I walked in, I noticed a little Jewish boy, about 2 or 3 years old, playing at his mother's feet. His dark hair curled around the edges of his kippah, and his huge brown eyes were deep and innocent.

I wanted to run up and just pray over him, to plead with God that this family would be part of the remnant who recognized that the Messiah had come. That morning I had read Romans 9 and 10--the passage which speaks of Paul's desire to see the salvation of the Jews.

The words of Romans 10:1-2 rang out in my heart. "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge."

I echo those words, but my prayer does not stop there. It extends to all the descendants of Abraham. Even though Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham--called the "friend of God"--their children no longer have a relationship with Him.

Monday evening Doug and I watched the movie "United 93". The whole movie was intense. But one scene hit me really hard, and for reasons you might not expect.

It was the point in the story where everyone on board the plane realized that they were going to die. The passengers frantically recited the Lord's Prayer, while the terrorists passionately prayed to Allah. Again, I thought about Paul's words--"they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge."

A few years ago, I would have only felt anger towards men who could commit such a heinous act. But today, my heart breaks for a people deceived by the darkness. I am sad for them. They are so sincere, yet misguided in their pursuit of righteousness.

But I cling to this hope. I know that God is love. I know that He is merciful. He changes lives. He alone is God.

Psalm 146:8-10 The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous;
The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
The LORD will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!

Invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind

Tuesday at Bible Study God clearly spoke to me again. We were in Luke 14, and had just gotten to the parable of the feast.
Luke 14:12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When
you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or
your relatives or rich neighbors
, otherwise they may also invite you in return
and that will be your repayment.
Luke 14:13 "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind........

Suddenly God smacked me over the head. BAM!!!! I saw the answer to what has been troubling me about the church over the past several months.

Those of you who know me, realize that I have longed for a place to really dig deep into the Word and fellowship with other Christians. I yearn to openly discuss, question and dialogue about the richness of the Bible and the wonders of our God. I want to be with hungry people.

I have been increasingly disgruntled at not being able to find that place. I want to go deeper than a few verses, Sunday School answers and "self-help Christianity". I need to be with those who can be real and transparent about their struggles, yet who recognize that through the power of Him who lives within us, we can navigate the complexities of life. I want to be in an "iron-sharpens-iron" environment, where we can share the joy of peeling back the layers of God's Word and discover precious nuggets of truth together.

I have, in my despair, asked "Lord, do you not care that I have a place to be in fellowship....and to find accountability? How can I lead others when I have no place to refill???"

But I have been looking in the wrong place.

"invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind..."

Yesterday I saw my city with fresh eyes. I live every day among the spiritually poor, crippled, lame and blind. I have very few in my world who are "seasoned" Christians, or who have ever had the opportunity to be discipled or to study the Word. Most of the people around me do not even have a personal relationship with Christ.

But if I get truly gut-level honest with myself, I don't really want to spend my time in the insulation of the church walls.

In this parable, it goes on to tell how the invited guests who already knew the host made excuses not to come. Unfortunately, they took their relationship with him for granted, and did not feel an urgency to come to the feast.

By contrast, those with great need were hungry. Coming to the table was a privilege for them, and they came with eagerness and excitement.

I immediately thought of Adam. One of my favorite things in the whole world is just to spend time talking with him. I love his questions. I love his depth. I love his childlike faith.

It is refreshing just to be around him. I can't explain how amazing it is to watch him share his faith on Wednesdays at the table. That kid is a walking sponge, and he is devouring the truth of the Word. In his one short year of being a Christian, he has reached a point where I now seek counsel from him, because his perspective is so fresh and spirit-driven.

I thought about how much of my life has been spent attending church-related events. While they have their merit, that's not where my heart lies. I want to feast and fellowship with the poor, crippled, lame and blind!!! How fun to be around people who recognize the invitation to the meal as a privilege, honor and blessing.

I realize that my calling is to invite the hungry to the table. And I believe through the power of the living, active Word of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I can be refreshed in that environment while discipling others. I don't need to find a group of "seasoned" Christians. I need to begin serving those who may not even yet know Who they are looking for.

My perspective has changed today. I realize what a blessing it is to be on a campus where I have endless opportunities. I get to interact with those blinded by false religion, crippled by church abuse, and poor in spirit because they never had the opportunity to grow in their faith.

We live in a neighborhood and go to school with lost, hurting, poor souls longing for answers. I shop at a store, and eat at restaurants, and go to sporting events with people who are spiritually empty.

And what a refreshment my Bible Study is!!! I love the fact that there is a curiosity and innocence and freedom from pre-conceived "churchiology". This last week sincere questions were raised on everything from extreme unction to Katherine Kuhlman and Islam!!!

Lord, I thank you for the blessing of being able to freely feast on your Word. Thank you for our daily bread. Draw the hungry to your table, and let them find the satisfaction that only comes from knowing you.

Divine appointments

I love it when God orchestrates divine appointments. It happened to me on Monday.

I started this week realizing that I was not on top of my game spiritually. I know God is GOD, and at the core of my spirit, that belief has not wavered. But I am disillusioned right now with "church", and wrestling with my own position on some spiritual issues.

So walking down Forbes on Monday, I told God, "It's going to have to be all you and your Holy Spirit today. In my weakness, reveal your strength."

At that very point, God said to me, "I need you to talk to Ray." Ray is the mail carrier who works on Forbes, and I really don't bump into him that often. God would have to make that happen if he wanted us to talk.

I was also a little unsettled by the thought of dialoguing with him when I wasn't feeling particularly spiritual. I enjoy our conversations, but he is very intellectual, and can be blunt and intimidating. Ray was raised in a traditional religion, but got burned and left as a young teen. He would now probably call himself more Unitarian.

But as I got to the bottom of Forbes, I saw him. And he clearly was headed towards me.

We ended up talking through his entire lunch break, but it was such a good conversation. God recently brought a priest and some others into his life who are stirring up questions in his spirit. It was exciting to realize that there are multiple dimensions of God's activity occuring--including many that I will never even know. I am simply one small piece of the bigger plan for Ray's life.

We had more to talk about that we had time, so we ended the conversation with a promise to pick it up again on campus in the near future. He knows where our office is in the University Center, so hopefully we can dialogue again soon.

The coolest part is that it was TOTALLY God speaking through me that morning. My mind and my flesh could never have come up with the things that were said. It is so cool when God does that.

Continue to pray for Ray. I believe that God is working in him, and has an incredible plan for his life. I don't know that I will ever get to see the unfolding of it. So much of what we do is the initial seed planting. But God in His goodness continues to allow imperfect people like me to be part of carrying his incredible story to a lost and dying world. What a privilege!!!

2Co 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2Co 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Father's Blessing

I was recently reading in 2 Samuel 6, when this verse struck me, "Then David came back to give a blessing to his family" (2 Sam. 6:20a).

If you remember, it was right after they had gone and retrieved the ark of God, and had just finished an incredible time of worship.

I find it interesting that David's priority after such an intense spiritual experience was to go and bless his family.

One of my former pastors, Rex Holt, would pray a "Father's Blessing" over his kids each night at bedtime. It was straight scripture, and I believe had a powerful impact on them growing up.

Do any of you practice a "Father's Blessing", and if so, how exactly do you go about it? I am intrigued by this concept, and would love to hear from you.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Our New Addition

On Saturday we added a new member to our family. She is a sweetie! We're pretty sure that she is all beagle. Our neighbor looked at her and said she has the markings of a purebred dog, even though we got her from a rescue.

The hardest part was leaving with her. The mother beagle happened to be in a cage beside where our car was parked. When she saw her puppy, she ran to the fence, stuck her nose through, and was whimpering for her little one. It almost broke my heart.

We haven't given her a name yet, because our family can't come to a consensus on anything. So for now, it's just "little girl." She's a snuggler who likes nothing better than to sit on your lap and have her head scratched.

But she's also a typical toddler. Into everything, and it all goes in the mouth. We've suddenly realized how non-babyproofed our house has become.

Thankfully, she's a really easy and smart dog, who already sleeps through the night, loves her crate, and is catching on to housetraining. We had two new firsts this morning--leash training and a bath (neither of which she was real fond of.)

All of you in the Pittsburgh area are more than welcome to come meet her. She LOVES people!!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Our City is Mourning

I am grieving today with my fellow Pittsburghers over the loss of our Mayor, Bob O'Connor. If there is anything that could be said about this man, it is that he LOVED this city and gave his life to serving her.

He was "the People's Mayor"--and loved nothing more than walking the streets downtown, mingling with citizens, or eating in a restaurant up on Forbes. He had huge dreams and ambitions for this city, to restore her to the glory days that she previously knew.

When he spoke about Pittsburgh, his whole face would light up. He had dreamed of being mayor of our city for most of his life. That dream finally came true last November, when on his third attempt he was elected mayor.

One reason he has been such a good mayor, is that he is truly a Pittsburgher. In his lifetime has worked in a steel mill and in the family restaurant, served over a decade on city council, and even became a Eucharistic minister of the Catholic church so that he could serve communion to residents in senior care centers. He initiated the "Redd Up" campaign to clean up our downtown area, and had a strategy to bring economic health back to Pittsburgh.

Mayor O'Connor did not expect to hold such a short term in office. When he went to the hospital in July with flu-like symptoms, he had no idea that he would be diagnosed with brain cancer and succumb so quickly to the illness.

Our whole city has been in prayer for the O'Connor family these past few weeks. I've often wondered where he stood with God, and prayed that He knew the Lord as his Savior. I know that he was a devout Catholic whose son is a priest. However, only God knows the heart of a man.

But I've learned so much from the example of Mayor O'Connor. I hope that I can have as much passion, joy and allegiance to the city of my King as Mayor O'Connor did for Pittsburgh. It has given me a new desire to "get back to Kingdom purposes" and lay aside the messy distractions that have been in my way.

I don't know how much time I will have on this earth, either. But at the end of my life, when I get to heaven, I want to hear "she was a loyal citizen of the King."

Redd up, yens. We've got Kingdom purposes to fulfill.