Thoughts on being my brother’s keeper

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When i first read those words uttered by a very angry Cain in Genesis  the idea of being careful or engaged with other people did not seem so important, but as i have grown older it is clear that we cannot do this life alone.  We need the strong presence of God in our life, and we need to know we are a part of a greater whole, whether it is a family, a team at the job, a sports team, or a group of people that care for one another.

Am I my brother’s Keeper?  I have asked myself that many times.  Am I responding to and paying attention to those unspoken hopes of another for a moment of attention or prayer?  Am i seeing those subtle changes (depression, stress, etc) that are not typical of my husband, friend, sister, cousin….

Do i take the time to care?

These thoughts have bubbled to the surface of my thoughts again in the wake of that horrific news story of a suburban Cleveland home blowing up, and taking the lives of a couple and their two sweet daughters.  Within a day the fire investigators had used the word arson, noting that it was not a natural gas explosion.  And today the news announced they are ruling this a murder suicide, with the husband having had history of suicidal idiations.

Was anyone keeping up with this guy?  Did someone notice his change in thought and action?  Did anyone take the time? Perhaps he was not reachable… but lets just suppose that someone had noticed, and began to take time to care.  The outcome could have certainly been much different.

We dont know what is going on in the depth of one another’s mind and heart.  But we should at least be building a community that cares, and taking that step to notice.  It hurts more to think he was a deacon of his church. No doubt a great church… but i cant help but wonder if anyone really reached out, took the time, walked through those dark recesses of life where it is dirty, scarey, and often painful…. to do soul saving work.

Certainly God was there.  Certainly.  But with those explosions that blew up that house more than a house blew up…. a community was rocked… family, friends, coworkers, fellow students, fellow church members… and the greater community of people that never knew them… The explosion was heard around the world through the news.

So how do i bring this to a practical purpose?

Here are just afew things i want to say:

  • Are you struggling with thoughts that are destructive?  Reach out to someone.  Your life is far more precious than to consider destroying it.
  • Are you living with someone who is struggling? Get help – talk to a counselor, call your pastor, call a friend, reach out….. do it.
  • Are you living with grief after such a devistation – find healing in friends, talk it out, get help…. find someone.
  • Are you fortunate to not be in those places?  Then look around, hug someone, call someone, reach out to those you have not seen around…. check in, develop a closer friendship with people.
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Transparency and Safety

Many years ago i heard Warren Wiersby talk about the church like this:

The church, that is to say, the body of believers brought together, is much like a bunch of porcupines.  They all come together and huddle and gather, and sooner or later someone pokes someone else with a quill, and then they seperate… but over time they come back together, and poke each other.  This process goes on and on.  And the truth is as sinful people in a sin scarred world we will poke each other. Its not the poking, but how do we deal with the poking, and how do we learn to change that behavior that matters.

We have been a part of the kingdom for a long time, and we have known seasons where there was great unity, and peace and openness.  And we have witnessed times when the church was not a safe place to be… attitudes, and judgements overruled grace and mercy.

Somewhere in these years of being a believer the Lord impressed on my soul how important it is for me to handle such situations with great care.  It is true that each of us are responsible for the health of the body, just as each of us takes care of our own body. Here are a few of the scripture the Lord gave me as tools to remember and use:

  • Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
  • Matthew 5:9  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
  • Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
  • Colossians 4:5-6 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Welcome a new year

new horizon

Here we are, seconds into a new year, and the fresh hope of this new year is bright with hope and promise.  We are so thankful that the promise and the hope comes only from Jesus Himself.  May this year be filled with blessing, prosperity, hope and most of all, may you know and sense the fullness of the love God has for you this year.

Blessings, and Happy New Year!

Steve and Barb

responsible citizen activity

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For the last week or two the buzz on christian radio has been instructive reminders about our role as citizens in a free republic known as the United States. Yes, indeed it is incredibly important to exercise our right to vote, and to express our opinion on how the nation, state, and community will go forward. I have voted every time the opportunity has existed… since i turned 18 years old. Voting was something my parents impressed on me as a child, and i am so thankful that they did.

My masters degree in Public Administration helped to refine that right into a passion. We are given a rare privelege to be able to participate in the decision making process of who will govern us, and what they can and will do. And when the majority has voted, the society is stronger.

Did you know that last year in Cuyahoga county only 30% of registered voters actually exercised their right and voted? That is less than 1/3 of all registered voters in the county. Here are some amazing details about that vote from the Cuyahoga County Board of Election:
boe2013

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In order to get a bigger picture we need to figure out how many people actually live in our county and of that number how many are actually of age to vote.

census

A quick calculation taking into consideration the 2013 population, minus the 21.7% which are persons under 18 years old gives a number of total possible voters.  However there is a gap between population and registered voters of a bit over 10% of eligible persons not registered to vote.

censtat                                                                                            If you study all of these figures carefully the bottom line is that less than 1/3 of registered voters actually vote, make decisions and direct the course of our nation, and municipality.  That is quite unsettling.

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But there is another problem.  Its wonderful for radio to speak up and urge people to vote… but what about registering to vote?  That process would have concluded a few weeks before the election occurs… so there should have been a more vigorious push to get every eligible adult registered to vote long before the onslaught of political ads, and commentary began.

Government exists to keep order in our society.  When we relegate the decisions to a minority percentage of our society we dont have the full voice.  And those who choose not to vote are forgoing the right to this freedom.

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And do you do your homework to determine best possible candidate who holds solid values?  I do.  The league of women voters offers a non partisan guide to the candidates.  ivoter.com also offers a guide that will help you understand the character of candidates.  Do your homework!

Fact- in the 2012 election cuyahoga county voters cast the majority vote to place a woman back in her position as judge… however she was involved in the Jimmy Dimora controvery, and had been endited forfederal charges.  She won the election.   Someone did not do their homework!

Fear

Fear is something that enters each of our lives, and makes it’s presence known.

And fear can be a gift to motivate us to move from a dangerous situation.

But the kind of fear that shakes us to the core is something that sews seeds of doubt and distrust in the Holy One, and his plan for our lives.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” -psalm 27:1

Last night at our summer prayer meeting we reflected on this psalm. And it is an honest reflection of our human character to look at the circumstances, and miss the plan of God because fear disables us.

In my life there have been times when fear has invaded, and all but dropped me to my knees.  Yes, the day that I learned i was joining the ranks of the unemployed, and knew that we were already stressed on our finances because Steve had been unemployed for 4 months was a day when for a split second fear flooded everything, overrode all of my understanding of the character and watchcare of God.

And in these 4 years of moving to a new normal in our life there have been many times when fear has knocked on the door.  But fear has no place in my house, or in my life.  Fear is not from God, and fear is destructive to the plans God has for each of our lives, and the witness he has called us to be:

27 Only let your conversation be as it becomes the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; – Phillipians 1:27-29

Adversary, the idea that there is an enemy that desires to devour, destroy, crush and kill is a real concept.  And it is in times when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone that we begin to sense the immensity and depth of the fight that goes on between heaven and hell for our very souls.  Yes, especially once we have yielded our very core to Jesus.  The enemy of our soul does not want us to know the victory and power of our great God and King.  He wants us to live in a defeated state, cowering back when God is saying advance… go forth.

Fear has no place in the kingdom of God apart from a healthy fear of God Almighty, in all his wisdom and holyness.

Fear is also evidence of insecurity, distrust, unbelief.  Wow, harsh words, right?  But true.  If we internalize the truth of scripture, and the promises that the Lord has given us we would live differently.  We would yield our lives and abandon the comfort of our life for the adventure and watch care of a life He calls us to.  Throughout history when there was the opportunity to shrink back in fear or run forward in the power of God we watch as the true character of what we believe comes to the surface.  People like Corrie Ten Boon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer stepped up, believing deeply that God’s Word is sure, true, and solid.  They stood against darkness, evil and all that wrong, and their story shines brightly in contrast to the millions that hid cowering in fear.

And how about the first century church, where believing and following Jesus often meant being captured and fed to lions, oe tortured and made into garden torches for the Caeser.  And how about the countless numbers of believers alive today and living in situations where their life might be required of them at any moment because they follow Jesus.

We know a dear brother and sister who live in Pakistan.  They are among the 1/4 of 1 percent of the Pakistani population that believes in Jesus, surrounded by a harsh world of Islamic rule.  We have prayed for them for 20 years, and watched as the strain of living in such a harsh environment has aged them beyond their years.  But their prayer is not to be relieved of the strain, but to shine brightly for God and have the strength to be the witness they are called to be so that one day in heaven they can say that other Pakistanis believe, and have found salvation in Jesus.  Fear is not an option there either. Fear is not an option because they know who they believe in, and they have seen his character, his goodness, his love, and his keeping power.

When we choose to shed our insecurities, lay down the many ways we limit God to work in our lives, and yield all of this to God he will show us his love and his care.

In my life I have noticed that when i lay fear down at the feet of Jesus, and ask for wisdom to move forward in his power, and his leadership that God himself delights to respond.  Is it scarey at moments – absolutely.  But is it worth letting go of myself for the riches and depth of insight that God will show us – absolutely!

Fear is not an option.  Fear is the prisoner of war that is constantly returned to the commander in this war for our very minds and souls.

What do you do when…

What do you do when God gives you vision, burns something deep in your soul. What do you do with that clear leading?
1. Do you shelter the thought, guard it, build it, grow it like a hot house orchid, babied in the perfect humidity, light and perfect amount of heat. Orchids can be beautiful, but they do best held in their special world.
2. Do you build your thought, and share it with someone for clarity? It’s a slow build, swayed and altered by those around you who want to add their thoughts to the mix.
3. Or do you step out of your prayer closet and throw your thoughts out there to leadership knowing full well they came right from God. You spent time testing this, fighting it, wrestling and agonizing over it.
4. Or the other option…ignore it completely.

Jeremiah was a prophet called by God, given a task to speak Gods word to a stiff necked people who would not listen to him. In fact God clearly told Jeremiah that he would have such a difficult future.

Can you imagine being given a burden to complete, and no option to see it fulfilled? We are a results oriented people, longing for instant response, and mutual understanding. Waiting, obeying what God has called you to when those around you think you lost your last mind is not easy. But it is honest, clear, true.

Jeremiah never saw fruit for his faithful service. But he clearly knew God’s blessing on his life.

In my read through Jeremiah again this year I hound myself asking hard questions:

– what if God called me to deliver a message that falls on deaf ears? Could God trust me to obey and follow through?
– How did Jeremiah remain so strong, so determined? Would God keep my focus like that?
– would I still be able to love God’s people even if they refused to turn from sin and instead they remained disobedient?
– could I remain faithful if I were the only one standing for God?

These are all valid thoughts for Christians living in this post Christian age. It is getting more challenging to live for Jesus when the rest of the world runs headlong into sin and confusion.

lord, you know the plans you have for us and those plans are good. You will not cast us into places that your watch care will not be. We come, yielding our hearts to you and ask nothing more than that you receive our praise, and that you order our steps. How you choose to do that is not my concern. Be glorified. Take your place as king, and lead with a gentle hand.</

Why ?

We chaperoned our youth group to a service day visiting at a nursing home today. It was a wondrous sight to see our youth actively connecting with the residents of the home. Sweet fresh faces and age worn ones side by side. Such blessings to see the desire to connect.

I wanted to connect and visit but everything in my soul wandered to memories of the last Easter I spent with my mom, and how desperately I miss her especially this time of year.

She loved the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

So I looked at those weathered, aged faces and thought of memories with my mom. It was meloncholy.

And I find myself still pulled into that place of a grief that lurks just under the surface. Will grief ever leave and remove a grasp on this heart?

The child in me wants to run back to a day when I was 10 and the biggest challenge of this weekend was to save room for all the ethnic food. Or getting enough of a nap so that I would be able to make midnight service and stay awake to eat after church. Faith was sure, celebration was joy filled and the majority of the impact this day had on me came from my mom.

Nursing home ministry was once a big part of my life. When mom died I could not go back. Today is a first in 4-5 years that I have visited one. The emotions are still palpable.

But the sight of our kids visiting made it worth it all.

The power of words

Words… Whether spoken or written carry a power, an authority, a message.

God has used writing to help me flesh out thoughts. And to refine my writing skills. I must tell you that I have not realized the audience or the perception that has traveled out with this blog.

Today, amidst a sermon about forgiveness I learned how a few posts were interpreted in a different way than intended. I was fleshing out a few things but the impact was challengingly misinterpreted and brought division.

For that I ask your forgiveness.

And I ask you to hold me accountable to a few rules:
1. My writing must always honor god
2. My writing must respect others, and respect differing opinions.
3. Offer Encourage
4. Educate others, without sounding like just head knowledge
5. Develop a deeper sense of faith
6. Foster God’s grace
7. Be always honest

“Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you. May the words I write glorify you, and unify your people. Amen”

Propitiation

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Propitiation! It is a big word, with big meaning. It is a key point of understanding the gospel. Simply it is “turning away from wrath by an offering.” God, angry because of the introduction of sin needs to satisfy his wrath. When Adam and Eve succumbed to the lies of satan this perfect world God created and pronounced good was scarred. Death came to a perfect creation. And death required death to satisfy God’s anger. The gauntlet was thrown down and satan marred what God said was good. The rules of engagement for this war is the requirement of blood. So an animal was killed to cover Adam and Eve from their nakedness.

Through the Old Testament countless animals were sacrificed to satisfy gods wrath, but that was a temporary solution. The satisfaction of Gods wrath came with the death of his son Jesus, on the cross, beaten and bruised. Son of God, sinless, became every sin, EVERY SIN! Your sin, my sin. Can you imagine perfect God coming down to earth, pitching his tent and living among us yet without sin. Sinless and holy, Jesus would become that “propitiation” for the wrath of God. He would endure the torture and beating, bruising, crushing, intense anguish to carry our sins on his shoulders. Nailed to a cross he hung in plain view for the world to see. And he died. Sinless, perfect, holy God looked away from his son when he died on that cross. The deepest pain, offering his one and only son to bear the penalty…satisfied it all. Paid in full.

Propitiation- debt cancelled, God’s wrath satisfied….it is a powerful essential for every believer. The guilty verdict that hangs over every person is removed- paid in full.

I found this video and showed it to our teens. It is clear, concise… It is propitiation.

Here is the link.

Trust without borders

ocean

This has been a watershed year of growth, and of strengthening my faith muscles. And in times of great growth come great challenges. I think I am a living example of that physics principle about water flowing- it will always strive to seek the path of least resistance. There is a constant hope of life being easier, less stressful, and free of the big surprises of life, like illness, job loss, or the death of something. But life dies not always have seasons of comfort, or ease.

Last night I learned some news that wanted to, with every ounce of its effort, take me to that place of fret and worry. Isn’t it odd how some things can do that? Last night I met with the wonderful ladies of our Tuesday night group and found myself distracted. The stress of a new challenge was like a pot of boiling water just under the surface. It was not going to win my time, my thoughts, emotions or worry. But the wrestling to just lay it down persisted most of the evening.

It was after I got home a clear lightbulb went off and a thought kept giving voice to my attention. “Has God changed?” “Has his love and care for you changed?” “Are you doubting His sovereignty to meet your needs?” “Will you just hand that big bag of stress and fear over?”

Silent, everyone in my household were fast asleep. The low grade buzz of Steve’s C-Pap humming with each breath, and the growls and snores of three sleeping dogs reminded me it was a good time to just sit and pray.

“Yes, I know and have seen God provide for me. And yes, everything in my very soul wants to see what next adventure is in store for me. Yes, I know we will get through this new crisis. And yes, thank you God for seeing something in both of us that you would allow this next chapter to unfold. “.

Music speaks when the words of my own heart fail. And one song that I have resonated with these last few months has been by Hillsong United and it is called “oceans”

Here is the video.

the prayer is a challenging one to make – agreeing with God to go into deep waters – places where there is no control, and no options but to trust, and hold on.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

“so this is my prayer… may my faith be without borders as i step out on the deep waters, knowing you will be there every step of the way. Amen”