Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Get up!

I was reading over a prayer list today and smiled about a young Mom who wants her friends to pray for a surgery her son is having tomorrow.  It took me back in time about a decade and a half to the morning I drove my infant son to the hospital to have tubes surgically placed in his ears.  My healthy son was having the most performed medical procedure known to pediatric medicine and yet, driving to that hospital before sunrise that morning, I felt like no other Mom had ever endured such concern.  I'm a lot older and a little wiser now, but it's obvious that the fears that fluttered throughout my heart that day are both timeless and universal.  There is something inherently terrifying about watching a loved-one roll away into an operating room.
I've never really put much thought to what we're actually afraid of until a few recent health scares with my Mom.  You see, my Mom doesn't have to guess at what to be afraid of- she knows what's really at risk when a patient holds that mask to their mouth and count backwards.  She's been a decorated nurse in a high-stress medical environment since I was just a toddler.  She's memorized the risks, knows the statistics and understands the factors involved in the simple and not-so-simple operations that take place from day to day in the medical community.  And with all of her lofty knowledge and studies and experience, do you know what my Mom decided was the most dangerous part of an operation when she found herself on the bed instead of manning the controls beside it?   
It wasn't the exploratory aspect of surgery that frightened her.  It wasn't even the fact that she was putting her God given life into man's fallible hands.  She wasn't even concerned about the risk of some ugly infection or blood loss or any of the crazy scenarios I could dream up if you gave me enough time.  Nope, my mom, the one who's been bedside for literally thousands of surgeries in her career, decided that what TERRIFIED her about an operation was the fact that she would be put to sleep.
In pondering my Mom's ordeal from a few months ago and praying for my friend's son, a realization hit me that makes all of the fear and prayers make sense:
We're never closer to death than when we are in a deep, uncontrollable sleep.

  I don't know that there's any medical proof to what I'm saying.  I'm only saying that what caused me to be so deathly afraid for my infant son was that I was terrified that they would put him under anesthesia and that he would never wake up.   I don't know for sure, but I believe if you asked my friend what scared her most about her son's surgery, that she would shudder as she communicated how wrong it felt to know that a doctor would soon cause such a deep, uncontrollable sleep to overtake her son that he wouldn't be able to inhale a breath on his own volition.  And I know that for my Mother, anesthesia was, at least in her mind for that moment, the enemy of her very life.
Now, all this thinking makes me ponder questions of a slightly different variety.

If we're so sure that being put to sleep is actually being put close to death, then why are we so content to pretend to live our lives when we're really under the anesthesia of our worst enemy?
Why so much fear and anxiety when we think our physical lives might be in danger, but a general apathy when our spiritual lives are?
Why do we resist death in absolutely every aspect except when that death threatens the Life within us that matters most? 

Soak in some of the following Scriptures and wonder with me if we're terrified of all the wrong things.

For this reason it says,
         “Awake, sleeper,
         And arise from the dead,
         And Christ will shine on you.”
      Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you wine-drinkers! All the grapes are ruined, and all your sweet wine is gone.

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

And finally, 

Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

Can't you see it?  We were right to be afraid of that deep, dead-to-the-world sleep.  We were right to think that you can't get that close to death without being in danger.  We were wise to resist that artificial, anti-life slumber that only comes at the hand of someone else.  Our fears were founded! They were just misguided.  It's not the medical kind of anesthesia that should leave us shaking in our boots, it's the spiritual kind!  We shouldn't shake in terror when a highly qualified and educated professional administers a medical sleep that will numb our senses to what's going on in our bodies. We should shake in terror when the enemy of our hearts attempts to administer a spiritual sleep that numbs our souls to the living, breathing battles that rage all around us.  We don't need to fight against the doctor who's trying to save our physical lives.  What we need to be doing is fight against the enemy who is trying to steal, kill and destroy our very souls.

 SOUND THE ALARM!  Shake yourself from your slumber and then fight the good fight.  Cover your family in prayer.  Stuff your heart with the Word of God.  Slap on the armor you thought you'd misplaced.  Pull out the sword you told yourself you weren't worthy to hold.  GET UP! Crawl out of bed. Stretch those forgotten muscles.  Take a deep breath and PURPOSE to live your LIFE, not sleep through it.  And the minute you're conscious enough to wipe the sleep from your eyes,  go snatch someone you love out of their proverbial bed. WAKE UP!  Wake me up!  Don't let me sleep while souls slip away. Don't let me slumber while my family crumbles.  Don't you dare let me nap while I forfeit the life Jesus came to grant me! 

Be alert, for your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour!  

Tell me, friends, what is the opposite of 'alert?'  Well, obviously, it's SLEEP!  And what does sleep look like in terms of my soul?  Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you from the depths of my heart what spiritual sleep looks like in my life.

If I, no matter how excellent my excuses sound, am not daily digesting sizable chunks of God's Word, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life.

If I, no matter what I say I'm doing instead, am not fighting, praying and paying to see that the Gospel gets to the ends of the earth, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life.

If I, no matter what my mouth says, am not doing what God says I should do, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life.

If I, no matter how politically correct it is to do otherwise, am not confessing to my close friends where I'm struggling against God's Word, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life.

If I, no matter how very busy my calendar becomes, can hear stories of failed marriages, broken families, hungry orphans and lonely widows without being moved beyond emotional tears and into physical action, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life.

And if I, no matter how pretty words sound coming out of my mouth, am not living a life that is defined by an intense love for others, then I am sleeping through my spiritual life. 

So, friends, will you heed my own call to consciousness?  Will you love me enough to scream to me when I slumber?  Let's not continue to fear a synthetic sleep that aids our bodies while we revel in a spiritual sleep that forfeits our Life.  Take a deep breath.  Pour a cup of coffee.  Call a friend and spill your guts.  The sleep is over.  Let's LIVE!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

If you care to know...

After having the incredible blessing of spending a few sweet days with some of the best friends I'll ever have, I wanted to take the opportunity to share why I love who they are, what they do and where they come from.

Viorel and Delia Cruceru live in Southern Romania where they work daily to share the Gospel of Jesus to a country scarred by decades of darkness and deceit.  Facing opposition at every turn, they spend their time, money and life offering the Hope of Jesus to people who, without people like them, will spend their lives believing that they lack a Redeemer that allows them to have a relationship with their God.  Because of people like Viorel and Delia, there is a small group of "Repenters" in Southern Romania that no longer have to pay and hope for forgiveness, trust a man to be their bridge to God, or live in hopeless darkness.  Yes, the Cruceru family has made it their purpose to share Christ with the nations, but they didn't stop there.

Viorel pastors a church in Slatina, Romania.  What we once called Grace Baptist Church, we now jokingly refer to as Sardines Baptist Church because while the sanctuary of the building is small, around 125 people squeeze themselves in there on Sundays to pray, sing and study God's Word.  When Viorel first started pastoring, he knew that he wanted to 'be about' the Word of God so now, after years of leading congregations, he's still centered on his first love:  The Scriptures.  Members of Grace (Sardines) Baptist Church know that their hope rests in God and that truth rests in the Bible.  As a matter of fact, Viorel and Delia have practically spent their adult lives teaching people what the Bible says, but they didn't stop there.
The Cruceru family knows that if you're going to give someone the best chance at a life of Grace, you need to reach them when they're young.  They also know that if you're going to minister to a person, you have to minister to the whole person.  For these reasons, they support and oversee an orphanage near their home that houses teenagers in need.  Whether these teenagers were put out on the streets for professing a faith in Christ or they came to the orphanage because high school wasn't offered in their village, they get the great opportunity to live in Grace.  Teens who make their home here are taught the Word, offered a high school education, given a faith family and trained in life skills, all while basking in the love and truth of God.  I, personally, have met some of my favorite people on the planet within these walls and am so glad that this House of Grace is available for them.  Yes, the Crucerus have made many sacrifices to make sure that the orphanage continues to help teenagers, but they didn't stop there. 

  Much unlike Northern Romania, poverty is the norm in the Southern parts of the country.  While Slatina is a city comparable to parts of Birmingham, it is surrounded by villages that would seem a century or so behind the times to most of us.  Working small pieces of land to provide for their families, villagers live with very few of the amenities and blessings that we take for granted.  Without public transportation, internet, libraries, or high schools, it would seem that those born into the villages are destined for hardship, but thanks to mission-minded churches like Grace Baptist, Hope and resources have been made available to these beautiful villages.  Just a few of the examples I've witnessed throughout the last decade include the only Christian kindergarten in the county, an amazing young woman blessed with a high school education and medical clinics that offer healing hands and precious prayers to hundreds of people who couldn't afford to pay for services.  Viorel and Delia have walked these streets, loving and helping these people, but they didn't stop there.
Apparently, spending their lives and hearts on the Romanian people isn't enough for Viorel and Delia because just last week, they sat in my living room and poured life and truth into my children and friends.  Our time together, as always, was filled with laughter, tears (on my part, of course), Scripture, wisdom, hugs and encouragement.  They shared their hearts with my friends and shared their dreams with my children.  They took time and explained Scripture to Chandler and sang songs (in Romanian and English) with Bre Elise and Connor.  They prayed with and for us and made themselves at home in our home, blessing us beyond measure.  To be sure, they are some of the best friends Tim and I will ever have and they mean the world to us.  They have been faithful to pray for our marriage, our children and our ministry, but they won't stop there.

They will keep the faith and let God finish what He started when He called them. A legacy is already growing in their midst as Luiza, Rebecca and Beni (one of our heroes) stand up to continue what Viorel and Delia started. Souls are being saved in Romania.  The saved are being taught deeply the Word of God.  Strongholds are being demolished.  Families are being redeemed.  Examples are being made.  They are hard pressed on every side, my friends.  There isn't a single area of their ministry that hasn't, at least to some degree, been postponed due to financial hardship.  The government and opposing religion look down on them daily. They are a pitiful minority in a corrupt country. They are 365-day-a-year-missionaries and because their 'mission' is worthy, by definition, it can't be easy.  No, a life sold out to the Gospel isn't necessarily an easy life, but I can tell by the sparkle in Viorel's eyes and the love in Delia's voice that it's a good life, indeed. 

So, what's the moral of this beautiful story?  Pray for my friends.  Pray for the work they do.  Pray for their children and grandchildren and the ministries represented by them all.  Pray for darkness to flee.  Pray that people fall in love with missions and that they would share their treasure for the cause of Christ.  Pray for wisdom and favor for my friends as they live the life I wonder wasn't made for each one of us. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Because" (Blogging Through the Gospel guest blog)

The reading for Thursday is Luke Chapter 22 .


Luke 22:2
The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Him to death, because they were afraid of the people.


The actions of the priests and scribes had very little to do with their own convictions. Instead, they made some history altering decisions based on the perception of other people. The word “because” in this verse is very telling because it shows the motivation behind their actions. I wonder how many times we would act differently if we were to investigate the “because” before we made our choices or decisions.


It all comes back to the heart. Scripture implores us to guard our hearts above all else, and for very good reason. These priests and scribes weren’t people bent on evil, mind you. They had devoted their entire lives to teaching the stories about their Creator and yet when they came face to face with the Answer to every story they’d memorized, they ran from the truth, closed their hearts to their own Redemption and ultimately manipulated the death of our Savior. And why? Because they hated Him? No. Because they disagreed with his philosophy? No. Because they feared He wouldn’t do justice to their precious Scriptures? No. They hated Him “because” they were afraid of the people.
We wouldn’t do that, right? You and I don’t have to worry about betraying Christ, grieving the Holy Spirit or walking away from God’s will out of peer pressure, do we?
I say we do.
I say this little nugget of Scripture was tucked in Luke 22 just for us. Perhaps there’s a co-worker or family member that desperately needs to hear  God’s will for their lives and yet we hold back because we’re afraid. Maybe we’ve been encouraged to wear a certain style of clothing that we’re sure isn’t God honoring, but we don’t say “no” because we’re afraid. Maybe we’re single and have allowed ourselves to fall hopelessly in love with a young man who doesn’t love the Lord and we know we should walk away, but we’re afraid. Or maybe, and most likely, we’re walking aimlessly through life instead of seeking out His plan for us because at the end of the day when all is said and done, we’re simply afraid.
It wasn’t just the priests and scribes who turned their backs on Christ out of fear of ‘the people.’ We have the tendency to do it, too. Nearly everyday, I’m presented with an opportunity that has two choices: Be bold for the Lord or be afraid of what people think.


Father, so many times I listen to that voice that tells me to worry about what people will think. Too many times, I’ve let opportunities pass by because I was afraid I would offend someone or look like an idiot. As I raise my children, Lord, please help me to grow my faith bigger than my fears. I don’t want to pass to them a legacy of bending to peer pressure. I certainly don’t want their Christian lives to be marked by guilt and disappointment.
Give me strength to make the most of every opportunity. And help me to see my peers the way You see them- not as the mirror to my worth, but as my mission field. Use me, precious Father. I love you and I want more than anything to share your Glory with the ends of the earth. Remind me that the ends of the earth start right here, in my own town, with those people I tend to be afraid of. In Christ’s name and by His blood I pray, Amen.
A little about Sue…the wife of a mechanic she adores, a homeschooling mom of three kids she doesn't  deserve and a writer of books and blogs she would love to read.  "I aim to live a life with my heart wide open, evidenced by the fact that I try to LAUGH (a sincere, make-your-jaws-ache belly laugh) and CRY (whether from joy or sadness) everyday!"

What about you? How do you live your life? And what else did you hear in Luke 22? 

Check out:  http://networkedblogs.com/hNLzL

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Before the Fall...

Pride goes before the fall...

Strangely enough, my affair with this verse predates my love of Scripture.  My precious and wise Grandmother used to attach this verse to her 'pretty is as pretty does' admonition.  At any rate, I know the verse well enough that I've attached some pretty incomplete visuals to it.  You see, the way I see a verse in my mind determines how I apply the verse to my everyday life.  And the way I saw this verse prevented me from applying this nugget of truth to my life at all. 

Pride goes before the fall...

For decades, when I would hear or read this verse, I would imagine some strikingly beautiful woman turning her nose up at a plainer variety of Creation just moments before the heel of her stiletto shatters- sending her hurling to the ground in the most graceless way imaginable.  Or perhaps the self-proclaimed-shoo-in for a beauty pageant shows her truest of colors in an ugly display of her lack of congeniality when a slightly less beautiful woman takes her crown. In my mind, I can almost see a tiny teenager taunt her full-figured peer just before she took the quick route down the steps... on her behind.  See?  In my mind, the proud were always prettier than me and the falls were always made for TV...and that visual protected me from ever having to look this verse in the proverbial mirror.



And this was my view of that famous verse.  Until now.  Until this year, this month, this week,THIS VALENTINE'S DAY.  Before I explain how radically different this verse is to me now, let me share with you that it has been a rough year for my friends.  There is nothing light and casual in my voice when I tell you that people I love are hurting.  Hearts have been busted.  Families have been broken.  Kids are shaking their heads in disbelief at the trials they are about to face.  And everyone is surprised.   It's the evening before Valentine's Day, 2011 and this year five friends have shared with me the devastating news that a court of law will soon decide an end to what God ordained on their wedding day.

Five covenants.  Over.
Five marriages.  Done.
Five families.  Broken.
Five sets of plans, dreams and futures.  Busted.

And, while I have cried and hurt for every one of them, do you know what my gut whispered in response to all these casualties?  Do you really want to know what that not-quite-as-pretty-as-she-is-selfish-and-mean girl inside me actually said to my heart while I was praying for my precious friends whose lives have been ransacked by their enemy?  Brace yourself.  It's pretty foul...

"That will never happen to me."

And suddenly, like a hammer to the thumb or a bullet to a beer can, the verse tumbled and bounced and slammed against the wall of my heart-requiring me to challenge my own vocabulary.

Pride goes before the fall...

Pride.  We know the word well, but what does it actually mean?  For me, I had attached a very convenient definition to the word so that it would be absolutely innocuous in my own life.  I allowed myself to pretend that pride only applied to the beautiful, the wealthy and the wise.  As long as I pretended that I could never be in the position to actually be prideful, I never had to worry about the fall that followed.  But lately, I've decided that there's another, more practical definition to that pesky word- and this definition doesn't let me or you off the hook.

Pride:  pretending that you can do something good all by yourself-even if that 'something good' is a truly noble cause (like a charity, a favor, a ministry, or a marriage.) 

And unlike my childhood visual of the 'fall' that follows 'pride,' God doesn't wait around, looking for the prideful so that he can stick His foot out and snicker as the pretty girl finds humility on the floor.  No, this verse isn't a threat from our Father at all, rather, it's simply an honest representation of cause and effect.  The fall naturally follows pride because while this verse is absolutely true, so are the others.  The Bible also says that I can't do a single good thing without Him.  But in my pride, I try anyway.  I actually attempt to beg God to help me in the areas of my life that I find difficult while I offer him a false platitude of praise over a marriage I rarely beg Him to do anything for because- if I can be completely transparent here- my marriage is really, really good without all the begging and trusting that goes along with putting it in His hands.  In other words, 'I can do this part of life without You, God.'

And so, after spending a decent amount of time on the floor, reveling in my revelation, I'm going to tell you like it is...like it really is...

I can't do a single, solitary good thing without Him.  I mean that.  NOTHING.  I can't raise my kids (even on the good days) without God's wisdom, provision and love.  I can't enjoy a healthy marriage (even when it's all laughs, hugs and smiles, paid bills and amazing sex ) without God's wisdom, provision and love.  I can't help my friends (even when they're telling me how helpful I am) without God's wisdom, provision and love.  I can't use my pen to spread His Glory (even when the words flow like fine wine) without God's wisdom, provision and love.  NOTHING.  There is NOTHING I can do without His help and only PRIDE could make me say, pretend, believe or act otherwise.  And because truth begets truth, my failures will stand as concrete proof that not only can I do NOTHING without Him, but that PRIDE always goes before the fall.

I'm begging my friends to hold this verse up to a bright light.  Is it possible that you, too have put a little too much faith in your own abilities?  Are you setting yourself up for a fall by pretending that you're not desperate for God's wisdom, provision and love?  I know it goes against human nature to live every aspect of your life as though you can't do it on your own, but isn't that exactly what Scripture tells us to do?  Who says we can't be desperate before we fail?  I invite you to tell yourself and God the truth...

Apart from Him, we'll always fall.  Believing otherwise is nothing more than a prideful attempt to trust our glory instead of His.  Pride goes before the fall.  Apart from Him, we'll always fall.  Believing otherwise is nothing more than a prideful attempt to trust our glory instead of His. Pride goes before the fall.  Apart from Him, we'll always fall. Believing otherwise is nothing more than a prideful attempt to trust our glory instead of His...