Thursday, July 31, 2008


The recent earthquake in California has been replaying on TV. Video of Judge Judy's court being shaken shows dramatically how everyday life can be going along as normal, when suddenly everything changes. In the clip, the people in the room look around. I thought about that-- how surprised and alarmed they were-- confused by this completely unexpected event.

Luckily, no one was hurt, and after the broken bottles are swept up and the cans of tuna are put back on the store shelves, life will return to the way it was. Or will it?

One news reporter made the important observation that though this earthquake was not serious, it serves as a wake-up call for people living in that region who have not felt an earthquake for 15 years! Some teenagers shopping in a mall there had never before felt the ground shake.

It's easy to get complacent in this life. When we are richly blessed for a long time, I think we can grow to expect that ease and pleasantness to go on indefinitely. My life was pleasant and virtually idyllic for about 17 years before the "ground shook." My family and I lost our home and our possessions to a natural disaster of water damage and toxic black mold. It was a wake up call for me, as I carried a black trash bag of my clothes between hotels, apartments, family, and hospitable friends. My health was also affected. Suddenly the reliability of feeling well and the security of home weren't constants anymore.

We're lucky in life if we get circumstances like that which remind us that this life is not safe or stable. It's funny for me to write that because it's not how I instinctively feel in my flesh. I naturally cry out for my old home. I think of the "good ole days" when my family was happily going on 2 vacations a year, and life ran like clockwork. It hurts when I want to reach for a memento from childhood or when I fight the chronic limitations of my body, caused by the devastation so many years ago. But looking biblically at the nature of a crisis, it becomes quickly apparent that like a siren, pain sounds loudly to remind us of the temporal nature of our earthly lives and the eternal nature of our future.

"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. "
(2 Corinthians 5:1)

Nothing on this earth is permanent. Not our homes or our cars. Not our physical bodies, our photo albums, or even the very ground we stand upon. We're told not to place our trust or confidence in the stuff of this earth.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
(Matthew 6:19-20)

When the "certain" things of my life shake, and I'm left looking around alarmed and confused, can or should I ever go back to living the same way I once did before the quake?

The reporter on the news claimed that we shouldn't. When the earth shakes, we need to sit up and take notice. We need to make an action plan and prepare for a more cataclysmic emergency. Where we place our treasure, where we build our house, what we focus our lives pursuing-- these determine our plan of action. When our life's purpose is obeying Christ Jesus, we have the unshakable, eternal emergency plan:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock."
(Matthew 7:24-25)

After all, the "Big One" will eventually come. With an authoritative tone, seismologists declare it with certainty. With the same surety and confidence, the Bible declares Christ will come back. We don't know the day or the hour, but these quakes and aftershocks in our lives serve as powerful reminders not to get too cozy here, not to return to our old oblivious way of life.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
(2 Peter 3:10)

Will you be ready?

When he comes back at an hour no one knows, will you have built your house on the unshakable Rock of Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Friends of Fire

Today was tough.

I attended the viewing for my dear friend's dad, who just died of cancer last weekend. Amazingly, in the midst of his own pain and grief, my friend managed to minister to me.

After that, I stopped to talk to another friend I've known for over a decade, only to be confronted with cruel rejection and bitter betrayal because my of my family's present trial. In that moment, it became crystal clear that though we had shared some good times, this person had never really been my true friend.

After this emotionally draining evening, I started thinking that the presence of true friendship and love is explicitly revealed when pain strips away all pretenses. It reminds me of that Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."

True character is revealed when the heat in our lives is turned up high.

What other time do we get the gift of seeing another human's true colors? Amplified by the pressure of pain, a person’s heart can be expressed either in an instant of hostility, or a gentle word of compassionate love. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)

This leads me to look at my own heart tonight. On Saturday at church, Pastor Andy was asked a question about how to press past the religious ritual of Bible reading into a real intimacy with Christ. His astute personal observation was that "motive matters." He asked: Are we really seeking relationship with God for who he is?

Recently, I noticed a specific Hollywood coupling of an extremely young, attractive woman with a much older, wealthy man who could generationally be her grandfather. Most would argue they are together because of what the man can provide for the girl. Take the same old man and strip him of the position, power, and money he offers the girl, and he would no longer be worthy of her love. It's because she never really loved him in the first place. She loved the gifts, not the giver.

In his book, "Where is God When it Hurts?" Philip Yancey wrote about loving God for who he is, not what he gives us:

"God wants us to choose to love him freely, even when that choice involves pain, because we are committed to him, not to our own good feelings and rewards. He wants us to cleave to him, as Job did, even when we have every reason to deny him hotly. That, I believe, is the central message of Job. Satan had taunted God with the accusation that humans are not truly free. Was Job being faithful simply because God had allowed him a prosperous life? Job's fiery trials proved the answer beyond doubt. Job clung to God's justice when he was the best example in history of God's apparent injustice. He did not seek the Giver because of his gifts; when all gifts were removed he still sought the Giver." -Yancey pg 91

Am I seeking God only so he can fix my circumstances and I can live free and easy? Am I seeking him only because I want the powerful gifts he can give me? Health, deliverance, safety, vindication? God never promised the Christian life will be easy street-- in fact, he promised just the opposite. He’s calling people into mature relationship—friendship that is deep and will last through the painful tests. What will I do when the heat is turned up?

God uses heat a lot in the Bible as a metaphor for painful trials. He even used it literally with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. When they refused to compromise their faith in God, they were thrown into the fiery furnace at the whim of King Nebuchadnezzar, and in a final burst of defiance, the king turned the heat up 7 times hotter than normal. At that moment, they had a choice-- try to save themselves by forsaking God, or stand firm in truth and risk being licked up by the flames of evil punishment. The injustice of the situation cries out from the pages of Daniel. I personally think they would have been justified to do a little whining that God wasn't being very fair and that as faithful servants, they shouldn't be in this mess to begin with. However, the trustworthy and faithful men proved their love for God by willingly going into the furnace all tied up. And because of their faith, Jesus was in the furnace with them; the men were not consumed by the fire, but came out unbound, not even smelling of smoke. “They trusted in him [God] and…were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28

What could be a better testimony of a person's love for God than choosing the hard, narrow path of trusting him in trial rather than compromising and taking the easy way out? This is the test that defines our friendships and refines our faith. As a metal refiner works to find pure silver and gold amongst worthless dross, God puts us under the heat to see how we will behave-- as a precious child who loves Him, or as a faithless opportunist-- only out for what we can "get" from God.

I once heard a sermon on Job, and I will never forget what the pastor said: "When we suffer, we are being given a rare opportunity in our lives to show God that we love Him for who He is, not simply for what he's given us."

It is a call to me to look at suffering from God's point of view. Our God designed us men and women specifically for a love relationship with him-- for the deepest kind of friendship-- with our Master and Creator. Our God is (to say the least) well-connected, wealthy, powerful, influential, and can open incredible doors of success and opportunity. He is full of good gifts and longs to bless us—but what happens when like a spoiled child or bribed girlfriend, we find his gifts more delightful than we find just abiding in his presence? What happens when our relationship with him remains superficial because it is full of good times and no hardship? What if the depth of our love never grows for him because it is not tested or tried? Worse yet, what if we angrily turn our backs on him when we are tested-- showing we were never his friends to start with?

Through my painful life circumstances, I have seen the character of each of my friends emerge clearly. I continue to discover and value how deep their love is for me as they stick close by during the fiercest storms, when it isn’t always easy or pleasant to be a friend. So I see the parallel now--How God must long for me to cling to him in my pain-- to not turn my back on him or reject him, but to sit quietly with him, feeling his sweet embrace as he cuts the ties that bind me and prepares to walk me out of this furnace-- not even smelling of smoke.

Isaiah 43:1-3
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God; the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Adoption as sons (and daughters!)

My cousin and her husband are adopting 4 little kids from Haiti. When they visited the first time, it was just going to be one little girl, but during their stay, they met a little boy, and after much prayer, they decided to adopt the boy, along with his brother and sister.

They recently returned from their second trip to meet the children and bond as a family, but since the adoption paperwork is not complete, they could not take the children home with them.

My cousin wrote about the sad parting this way:

"Our last night with the children, we had someone translate for us to help them to fully understand what was going on. We had to explain to our kids that we had to leave in the morning but that we would be back and that one day they would be coming home with us to live with us forever. We tried to explain that we are their momma and papa forever now."

When I read this, I realized that God the Father feels the exact same way about us. Because we are still children and don't entirely speak God's language, it can be extremely difficult for us to understand why we must endure without our Heavenly Father being physically present with us. Our hearts long to be united as a family with him and to never again be parted from his righteousness and peace. As Christians, we must rest in the promise that we are His children in name, and one day we will be able to come home and live with our Father forever.

"...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:23

Monday, July 7, 2008


I had to wait a long time for these, but boy, were they worth it!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Water, water, everywhere

One of my very favorite TV shows is Man vs. Wild, hosted by Bear Grylls.

If you've never seen it, Bear is a survival expert who shows what to do if you'd ever find yourself lost in the jungle, desert, or frozen tundra. You never know, right?

The premise of his show puts him in the most inhospitable ("unforgiving") environments on earth to show how to safely eat, drink, and find a way to civilization alive. He is usually either swimming through icy rivers or eating scorpions straight from the sand. The extreme wastelands of this world, where no life can survive, are the places he chooses to go.

Tonight Mike and I watched the one where Bear goes to Namibia, Africa. The show opens with Bear standing on the side of a helicopter that's flying out to sea. Yelling to be heard over the whir of the chopper, he casually shares introductory remarks with the camera and then does a backflip straight into the water off the "Skeleton Coast." Right before he lets go, he says that sailors have nicknamed this place "The Gates of Hell."

When he finally stumbles on shore, it's easy to see why this "Skeleton Coast" is so formidable. Carcasses of ships and animals lie scattered over the sand. Bear's first priority is to find a source of water to avoid dehydration.

As the waves crash on shore behind Bear, I listened to him explain that sea water, although abundant in supply, is deadly for anyone who yields to the temptation to drink it. "Whoever drinks it will just crave more and more," he said. He then set up an elaborate distillation pit, which ultimately only gave him about an inch of fresh water to slurp down. It seemed ironic for him to work hard for that inch of fresh water when he had an entire ocean behind him.

In my spiritual desert right now, I feel like all around me are temptations to relieve my thirst for deliverance, joy, peace, hope, and love. At my fingertips, I can go on the Internet and browse for hours-- soaking up emails, playing games, posting profile info, instant messaging, looking at "stuff" in online stores, reading advice from worldly people. This vain search for peace and joy can take hours, and after I'm done, I have nothing to show for my time but an even bigger void inside of me, crying out to be filled.

Similarly, I can watch sitcoms when I'm up late at night, scared, wondering about my family's future and trying to numb the worries with canned laughter. I'm a professional. I've looked everywhere for just the right things/people to soothe the emptiness, the disappointment, the ongoing sorrow. Just a respite from reality-- that's all I'm looking for.

I speak from experience: None of it works. In fact, it makes me want more. One more show, one more minute here on this site. One more hour working on this project, reading this book, researching this idea, emailing this person. After drinking up an evening of salty distractions, my thirst is almost unbearable.

This is what the LORD says:

"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6

When I'm in pain and I look inward, or worse, outward for a worldly fix, I feel instant soothing, but later such a terrible ache inside. The good feelings are shallow and they never last. If I ignore my spiritual needs long enough, my ache can almost grow physical. My soul is an empty, dry place like Namibia when my focus is on soothing myself. I ultimately only increase the void.

I rarely talk about why I'm in such pain or what exactly my family is going through. It's a defense mechanism because I've been badly burned by confessing the truth of what is happening to people I trusted. Our trial is highly unusual and mind blowing, and some days I stop and just say to God, "How can this really be happening to us?" In a previous post, I explained briefly about how we have been targeted by a group of criminals. The crimes committed against us are intended to be bizarre and unbelievable so that we become more isolated, terrified, and made to look "crazy." This type of crime is not highly publicized, but it does happen and is called "gang stalking" or "community-based harassment." Getting untangled from this nightmare is going to be by God's miraculous hand alone. Our ongoing human efforts have not saved us, only put a Band-Aid on a gangrenous wound, allowing us to limp along day to day.

Because of this, I have felt angry at God, hurt, wounded, like I can't trust him. When God doesn't respond to my prayers for help, it's tempting to give up seeking Him. It's all too easy to turn away and see the pleasures of this world as an escape from my pain-- as a delightful diversionary drink from an inexhaustible ocean of instant gratification.

How many of us are spiritually dehydrated from drinking what the world has to offer?

I think I should raise my hand here. I've always done it, but in the heat of trial, I can feel the effects faster and more intensely than at any other time in my life.

Coincidentally, my health condition (dysautonomia) has my body in a chronic state of physical dehydration. If you see me out anywhere, I probably am toting a tall bottle that says "Smart Water" on it. (It doesn't make me smarter.) My body needs this water constantly to keep my blood volume at a normal level. If I don't continuously drink water, my blood pressure drops, and my heart races in futility to rescue my brain from impending loss of consciousness. Heat makes this happen much faster.

I know how to fight my physical dehydration, but how can I fight against the temptation to succumb to spiritual dehydration?

Something tells me that, like David, since I can't avoid the "heat" of trials, I need to be drinking more and more of God's refreshing Word all the time. When David's soul felt downcast and disturbed, he didn't turn aside to the distractions of this world. He sought the face of God. He willed himself to put his hope in God.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2

David knew that in his time of danger and being targeted by Saul's men, the only one who would quench his thirst and save him was God alone.

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8

Withered by the heat of my trials, I need to remember that how I respond will determine whether I end up dehydrated and weak, or fruitful and strong. It all depends on what water I choose to drink when the heat is on and my soul is parched:

Will I keep seeking fulfillment in the ocean of the world's salty pleasures...or will I put forth the extra effort to reach over and over for the cup of God's pure, quenching Word?