Saturday, February 27, 2010

Loving the Poor?

I can't even remember what his face looked like as he stood there on the side of the road with his sign, asking for money, but he left me with a growing unease, a sense of a missed opportunity.  You know the type -- men and women and sometimes children, an ever growing pool of people who for reasons God only knows, have become desperate enough to stand for hours with their hands out while the world passes by, hoping for the bounty of a few generous souls.

I have to be honest with you -- I never know quite what to do with these folks.  Do I give them money when people who work with the homeless say it will likely be spent on drugs or alchohol?  I feel cynical about their stories and wonder how needy they really are or what they've tried to do to get themselves out of the mess they are in.  I don't like this about myself at all, but there you have it.  Add that to the practicalities -- I don't have cash, or any small bills with me or the light is turning green too fast or I'd have to turn around and take time out of my very cramped schedule -- you know the drill.  The result is I almost never end up helping them.

But this is the Lenten season when I am seeking to "divide my bread with the hungry", to "cover the naked" and not hide myself from fellow human beings (Isaiah 58).  And this is the month I am studying the Sermon on the Mount and my verse for today was: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  And this is the year I am seeking to be intentional to listen to those nudges of the Holy Spirit and to do what He impresses me to do.  The problem is that by the time I've gone through all the remonstrations in my mind, the opportunity is gone and I have no idea what the Lord might have wanted me to do. 

The next day Joe and I drove past a young woman I have often seen in our local strip mall holding a sign that says "Family hungry -- will you help?"  I told Joe my story and struggle, and before we'd gone a block there was another woman, only this time she was a lot older and our car was stopped at the light right beside her and Joe had a ten dollar bill and I handed it to her with a huge sigh of relief.  I don't know if the Lord was leading me or not, but I knew I had to do something.  We started talking seriously then about this and concluded that we really need to have a plan in place if we want to be available for Jesus to use us as He wills.  I remembered that our missionary friends in Bangladesh prayerfully budget a certain amount of money for beggars (the streets are literally lined with them there), and then keep that amount in the car so they are ready to give at any moment they feel led.  Why couldn't we do the same?  There's a young mother in our church who has her kids help mer make up zip-loc bags with water, granola bars etc. so that she is always ready to help.  What if I did something like that?

This morning my study in Matthew led to many other verses that echoed God's heart for the poor.  I realized that being intentional often means planning ahead so that I can be at His disposal in the moment.  Two passages I read spoke clearly to this:

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.   2 Corinthians 9:7

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. 1 Timothy 6:18

I want to be ready to share, to have purposed in my heart to give, so that when opportunities come up -- whether on the side of the road or elsewhere -- I can joyfully respond as the Lord leads.  I've decided to make up some of those zip-loc bags and instead of money, put McDonalds gift cards in them.  Each month I'll put together as many as I can, based on how much money the Lord has impressed me to be ready to share in these kinds of spontaneous expressions.  I'm heading out to Walmart today!

But more importantly, I'm praying that in the process the Lord gets ahold of my heart and I can begin to really see what He sees and feel what He feels, so that I can love  those who suffer the kind of need that drives them to the streets for help with the kind of love He has for them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons from the Water Faucet

I have been frustrated the past few days.  Though I've started out each morning with desire to make a difference by being more intentional about the things I did and said, at the end of each day I couldn't see much fruit.  Frankly, my New Year's resolution had begun to feel more like the finger of failure, pointing accusingly in my face.

This came to a head yesterday as I went to a shower for a neighbor.  I felt certain this would be a great chance for God to use me as I interacted with people from all walks of life, most of whom have no relationship with Him.  And though I kept asking Him for guidance, no doors seemed to open and as I left I felt like all I'd done was socialize with small talk.  So much for being intentional...

But as I went to bed exhausted from a very busy weekend, I remembered a story I heard a long time ago by an old preacher from the South named Ron Dunn.  We first heard this beloved man when we were in college, and though he has gone on to be with the Lord, his legacy lives on in my heart and many others.  So this morning I did an internet search and found a website with sermons, articles and other stuff.  I was amazed to find the story, and knew I needed to share it with you. Dunn wrote:

Until a few years ago I worried a great deal about whether or not I as a pastor was doing enough for the Lord. If I had one of those days of just answering letters and administrating, I would lie in bed at night saying, “Lord, I haven’t even witnessed to a single person today; I was so busy doing these little things.” There was always too much work to do, and I lived in a constant rush, giving hardly any time to my family.

But one day as I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that the water faucet was looking a bit discouraged. When I asked what the problem was, the water faucet said, “Well, I am really down because I know I have failed you today, master. I haven’t washed your hands once, I haven’t quenched your thirst once, I tried to turn myself on, but only squeezed out a few drops. I know that you are displeased with me.”

“Water faucet,” I said, “I have passed by you a hundred times today. If I had wanted you to quench my thirst or wash my hands, I would have turned you on. I don’t want you turning yourself on − you’ll just waste water and make a mess. You have been a pleasure to me today because you have been available. I don’t measure your faithfulness by how much water you pour out in a day. I measure your faithfulness by your availability.”

You know what? I can come to the end of a day now and say, “Lord, I didn’t do such and such today, but I was available, and if You had wanted to use me in that way, You could have.” It is such a peace, such a relief. I’ve come to that great discovery that no matter how hard I work, I will always be behind, so why worry? God is not my responsibility. I am His responsibility.
I  hope that encourages you -- it has me.  Though I am still going to press into being intentional with the Lord, I realize that the best way to do that is to simply be available.  The rest, I'm relieved to say, is up to Him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Didn't See it Coming

Lent really crept up on me this year -- I just didn't see it coming.  I have been observing this in different ways for the past 15 years, and have always taken the time ahead to pray, plan and prepare. I didn't have that luxury this time and as the day approached I felt restless and uncertain about what I might do.  Liquid fast?  Fast from sweets?  Media? Nothing was really landing until last night as Joe and I were talking about it, and suddenly I just knew.  Before I share it, let me say that there is great peace in this whole 'being intentional' thing, knowing that where I am weak, God will more than compensate, because He is always intentional, and is always working in my life. 

This was clear when the idea for my Lenten fast came last night.  While I'd been oblivious to the fact that the day was approaching, God wasn't.  In His sovereign grace, He has been using several things in my life to prepare me anyway.  From a sermon Joe preached a couple of weeks ago to my study in Matthew to memorizing the beatitudes, one theme has resounded loud and clear and that is God's heart for people, in particular those who suffer great need.   He brings this home in a message to the Israelites on the subject of fasting, where He describes the kind of fast that brings Him pleasure:
"Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7
Of course as believers, this is what it means to bring the kingdom to earth, and as such is our privilege as a way of life.  But for the next 40 days I am going to seek to be far more intentional about doing this.  For example, Joe and I decided we wouldn't eat out or buy anything beyond basic needs so that we will have more to give away.  Beyond that, I am asking God to open my eyes every day, no matter where I am or what I am doing, to the needs of people around me -- even those in my own home.  And when the Lord answers, I want to act as His Spirit leads -- in prayer, service or simple words of kindness.  My mind is already racing with other ideas of things I can do to be pro-active about this.

So this year, as I focus on Christ's death and resurrection once again, I believe I am going to experience Christ's presence in amazing new ways.  This is His promise:
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
I can't wait!  So what are you doing this Lent?

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Surprises Me

I've had an epiphany of sorts this morning.  As I was praying about my week and looking back on yesterday, I asked the Lord how 'intentional' I'd really been.  I pondered the three parts of our resolution -- delighting in God, dialoguing with Him throughout the day, and doing the things His Spirit impresses me to do -- and I realized that I fail most with that middle part -- dialoguing with Him.  I've become fairly habitual about talking to God, but so often fail to connect with that inner voice where He whispers His heart back to me.  What is it then that keeps me from being more intentional?  I simply forget to listen to the Lord.

This surprises me because I thought my struggle was in the 'doing' His will.  It also gives me hope for I realize that my heart does really want to follow His call and do His will -- this is really who I am.  So I am asking for a greater grace to listen today, to hear His desires as I go about the business of life.  And that means more intimacy -- isn't His plan beautiful?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A 60-Second Valentine Dessert to Die For

So this has absolutely nothing to do with living intentionally, unless you failed to be intentional about planning a special Valentine treat for your loved ones. As  was driving today, the radio was tuned to gourmet chef Melinda Lee, and she gave this speedy recipe for a chocolate mousse that sounded divine.  Since I happened to have all the ingredients here I decided to make it for Valentine's day.  I just finished, and although I haven't tasted the chilled product, I licked the spoon enough to know it was heavenly for anyone who loves chocolate and has a blender handy.  And that's when I knew I had to share it with you.  So here goes:

Ingredients: 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 cup of heavy cream.  

Put the cream on low heat -- you want it to get to the point where it is bubbling around the edges, but not full boil.  Meanwhile, put the chips, the egg and vanilla in the blender and chop it up for a minute or so.  When the cream is bubbling, take the center of the lid off the blender and while you blend on low, start slowly pouring the cream in.  This will cook the egg and melt the chocolate and within a minute you are done!  Pour it into a large bowl or several small ones -- I filled 5 small souffle ramikins.  Chill until it is set -- that's it!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Intentional means Unpredictable

I love it when God crashes in and shows Himself faithful in undeniable ways.  Our first car crisis -- that of the young woman living with us -- was solved quickly by an ex-mechanic friend who came here, discovered the problem and fixed it for free.  It was truly a testimony to her of God's provision, something she sorely needed as she shared with me how she completely 'freaked out' when she'd gone to bed the night before.  This opened the door for us to talk quite a bit about what faith is, and how to live by it, instead of always scrambling to find a way to make things work, often to our own detriment.  My heart was overwhelmed as I saw her tear up -- a rarity -- over God's care for her.  I know He deposited something important in her life through the experience.

Our son's car, on the other hand, is definitely headed for the junkyard.  And I'm now the one trying to remember how to live by faith.  The Lord has impressed Joe and I with the need to wait and not try to solve the problem for him too quickly.  Not that we have some great plan -- it's just that I really like to line up all my ducks, and tend to be pretty resourceful about coming up with solutions.  But this Living Intentional resolution -- to delight in the Lord daily, to dialogue with Him throughout the day, and do the things He impresses me to do -- swirls around like a song I can't get out of my mind.  Life this way is certainly unpredictable.

And so we wait...and that for me brings all manner of temptation to fear the worst-case scenarios. (He'll lose his job, he'll sink into terrible depression, he'll live with us forever -- you get the point).  Then of course that leads to all kinds of self-recrimination (people are hungry and homeless in Haiti and you can't handle a little problem like this?)

I wish I were far more spiritual, but this is where I'm at. I woke up at 4:30a.m. wrestling with what in the world is going to happen, especially the first day he has to start taking the long bus ride that involves a few transfers, just to get to work.  If I could plot a different path, I would -- but then I would miss out on what God wants to teach me, and the joy of seeing His faithfulness in a different way, over time.  He's never failed us yet -- isn't that the lesson I wanted these kids to learn?

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Gonna Cost You, but What a Ride!

Yesterday as we came home from church eager to watch the Super Bowl (Go Saints!), a car belonging to a young woman who lives with us was parked sideways across our cul-de-sac.  She and a few of her friends -- some young local marines-- were trying to  figure out how a nail in a tire could have ended so badly. Apparently, her car's brake system froze up when she tried to drive with the spare on it.  Now it wouldn't go forward or backward.  Joe had them put the original tire back on, we prayed a lot, and were finally able to get the car, squealing all the way, up to the curb once again.

Last night Joe and I were processing how we could help this young woman who has no money, no job and no options to get this car fixed.  Why are we in this predicament?  Because a few years ago I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to find a way to minister to those in prison.  Little did I know the paths my 'yes' was going to take me.  To make a long story short, a beautiful young woman who came to Christ through our ministry there needed a place to stay when she got out, and once again, there was that nudge of the Spirit.  That's what happens when you choose to follow Jesus -- one thing is always going to lead to another, (which may explain why I so often find myself resisting those initial urges).

Honestly though, it has been a joy to have her here.  Watching her try to navigate her new life -- enrolling in school, trying to get a job, etc. -- has opened my eyes to the numbers of young people, who for all practical purposes have no parents to look out for them as they seek to enter adulthood.  This young woman left home because of abuse as a 13 year old, fending for herself and using every means possible to get by in this world, which basically explains how she ended up in the brig. 

So last night I was lamenting to Joe that if this were our own child, we would find a way to get the car fixed and what in the world do these thousands of parent-less children do when life throws them a curve ball like this?  I believe I was really feeling the Lord's heart in that moment, but we still weren't sure what we were to do, primarily because we had no idea what the thing might cost and whether we could even manage it if we wanted to.

This morning my words came back to haunt me when our 23 year old son, (who lives with us so he can get out of debt) called to say his car had caught on fire on the freeway.  Thankfully he managed to get it to the side of  the road and get himself out without injury, but it looks like that trusty toyota corolla may be headed for the junkyard.  You have to smile at the irony of the whole thing, if only to keep from crying.

What's amazing is the amount of calm I feel about all of this.  After the initial shock, I began to realize that this is an opportunity for us all to watch how God will work.  I've seen His faithfulness all my life, but these two young people haven't, and I know He wants to show them His love and trustworthiness.  I'm looking forward to the process, even as I realize this is going to cost us, one way or the other.

And that's the thing about being intentional, about listening to the Lord's voice and living in intimate communion with Him.  This journey with Jesus has a price, but oh what a ride He takes us on! And I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Valentine Cookies and Christ's Reign

"What are the areas where Jesus does not have full reign in your heart?"

This is the question the Holy Spirit has been pressing gently upon me as I've studied Matthew.  Thankfully, this hasn't been a frustrating, guilt-ridden activity like it once could have been.  Instead, I've found it intriguing, even when the Spirit spoke the word, "food" and I knew I was in for it.  Eating healthy has always been a struggle for me.  First of all, I hate the taste of anything green, unless it's mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Second, for all sorts of social, familial, emotional and physical reasons I am addicted to sugar. I have spent no small amount of time and money trying to overcome this. I even wrote my own personal blog for a few months once, trying to hold myself accountable.

But as I've been pondering the promise that the kingdom of heaven is near, it came to me that the truth is I've never really BELIEVED that this was hindering the joy of Christ's reign in my heart.  And I want THAT JOY more than anything else. 

The kingdom is near, so why do I miss it in various areas of my life?  It all comes down to the issue of repentance, a topic which has been sorely misunderstood in our Christian culture.  So here are a few truths I've been processing, and which are helping me press into this with hope:
  • Repentance is not so much a decision, but a process. There is that initial decision to turn around, but that is only the first step.
  • There is a highway in my heart that either opens the way for Jesus to go deeper or hinders me from fully receiving Him in fresh ways. I must  travel that road first, rooting out rocks, smoothing rough places.  This is the process of repentance.
  • Change has to happen in attitudes and actions and change takes time.  I haven't stopped repenting just because I've failed.  I only stop repenting when I give up completely.  But even then I can always begin again! Altering life-long habits and attitudes (which is the biggest part of it for me), never happens all at once.
  • Everything is possible only by grace, and thus repentance is no self-improvement program, but a way to allow Jesus  to work for His glory and our joy.
I have a whole new appreciation for John's call to "Repent, for kingdom of heaven has come near."   That I can experience more and more of the reign of Christ is an awesome and holy truth, for His rule is my joy, even when I may not feel it.  It is.  This is what I reminded myself last night when I helped my grandkids decorate Valentine cookies and was sorely tempted to stuff my mouth with those frosting laden beauties.  But now that I've shared with you, I guess there's no turning back-- and that's a good thing!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


"So, what did you do today, hon?" my husband asked as I put the finishing touches on dinner.  I proceeded then to outline all I'd accomplished -- cleaned house, 4 loads of laundry, grocery shopping, cleaned out a cupboard and fixed dinner.  I was feeling pretty proud of how industrious I'd been, but apparently it didn't make too much of an impression on him, because as we sat down to eat, he asked me again, "So what did you do today?"

I can't really blame him for not being wowed by my achievements, but this morning as I sit here with the Lord I am pondering what it means to be intentional in the midst of life's never-ending mundane moments.  Sitting here, I've realized that the day actually had a great gain for me due to the fact that while I was cleaning and folding laundry, I listened to some messages from John Piper's conference on Christian Hedonism.  (When I want a jolt in my spirit, there's nothing like John Piper!)  See for yourself by clicking here.

Piper's message was on C.S. Lewis' life and passion.  It spoke of how Lewis explored deeply the 'inconsolable longing' for joy that is within every person -- which nothing in this world can satisfy.  This longing is what actually drew Lewis to Christ.  These things were not new, but what washed over me like a fresh rain as I listened was the caution to not make an idol of joy, which can so easily happen when we put our eyes on how we feel or what we are experiencing of Christ, instead of His inherent worth and beauty.  Simply put, the message was a good reminder that I need to be very INTENTIONAL about remaining Christ-centered even in my desire to have tangible intimacy with Him.

I could go on and on, but the point I'm trying to share here is that a simple decision to spend my cleaning time listening to a message, brought me to a hugely transforming and much needed reality.  It was a little thing to do, a small burst of intentionality, but with great benefit for my soul. 

Now if I'd only shared that with Joe, he might have been a bit more impressed...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In my desire to be more intentional, I've begun listening to sermons online while I put on my makeup.  Yesterday I heard one on New Year's resolutions that was pretty discouraging.  According to the research, not too many people make them anymore, and of those who do, only about 8% make it past the FIRST WEEK!!!

I only have one word in response: GRACE.  I will not succeed in living more intentionally because I made a resolution to do so, but because my Heavenly Father is the One who put the idea in my heart and will thus give me the grace to continue.  What this means practically is that when I've failed for a day or two or even a week or month, my only recourse is to come to Him in my weakness and ask for greater grace.  The beauty is that He loves to give it, that He waits on high to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18). 

And by His grace, I plan to beat the odds.  How about you?