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God is sovereign. All is well.

Ridiculously Rich

Speak up for those who cannot speak for

I, and my crew, are ridiculously rich.

It’s true.

And I’m not talking about being “metaphorically rich” in blessings and the like.  Besides, I find talk like that tends to border on trite and tired.

I’m talking about dollars and cents.

I’m talking about my bank account.  My income.  My budget.  My home.  My pitiful vehicle.  My clothes.  The food I feed my crew.  My bed.

Like many of you, I worry about finances.  As a part of my daily routine, I spend about 5-10 minutes on finances each and every weekday morning.  I check my bank account, review out-going payments, make sure bills are scheduled for payment so as to avoid late fees, and double-check to make sure that we won’t be overdrawn.  I plan, I budget, I work, I fret.

Being a single mom is a challenge.  The kids get free meals at school, we sheepishly but gratefully partake of a local food bank, and friends are more, more, more than kind and generous to assist with gently used clothes.  Without these gifts and others, we would not make it.  We simply would not.

That is embarrassing.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  I so desire to be independent.  But, we are not.

However, we are so very far from wanting.

Because of incredible kindness, we have a roof over our heads, cars that continue to limp along miraculously, a full food pantry, and clothes that fill our closets.  My job provides health insurance and income that does, for the most part, meet our needs.

My gratitude knows no end.  It truly, truly does not.

So, why write words about all of this?

Because I learned this week just how ridiculously rich I am.

I stumbled across a Website called “Global Rich List” this week.  It is maintained by CARE, International, a global humanitarian aid foundation formed in 1945.  Admittedly, it is designed to promote fundraising, and at the very bottom of the page, there is a small “Donate Now” button.  I give through my local church and through other ministries, and am not endorsing CARE here.  But I do urge you to check out their “calculator”.

In fact, I dare you to.

When you click on here:  The Global Rich List you will be taken to a website with a prompt to choose between Income and Wealth.  Obviously Income is the easiest route–very few people accurately know their wealth on any given day.  Next, a scroll down box helps you choose United States or elsewhere, so they can calculate based on the currency used in your country.  Then there is a box where you can enter your income, post-tax.  I just entered my yearly salary.

According to their calculations, I am in the top 1.23% richest people in the world.

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll find other mind-boggling stats, such as:

  • How much you make an hour, and how many years it would take a worker in Zimbabwe to make the same amount
  • How long you will have to work in order to purchase a can of soda, and how long a worker in Ghana (or elsewhere) would have to work
  • How many doctors in Malawi (or similar place) could be paid on your monthly salary.

Good grief.

Yes, I have all the same cynical questions that you do–where do they get their information?  Isn’t this just a ploy to tug on someone’s sense of pity to get them to give?  And, what about differences in cost of living?  (I don’t know if that is taken into consideration or not; it is just something that came to my mind)

Even with those thoughts, I think it is pretty safe to say that the vast, vast, vast majority who use this tool or who read my words here are far wealthier than the rest of the world.

Why is it this way?  Surely this is not how God intended things to be?  Why doesn’t He do something about distribution of wealth and poverty?  I could write volumes on those and other thoughts, because I don’t know.  These questions bug me, immensely.

But, even though they bug me–and maybe bug you as well–doesn’t mean that I am absolved.  I can not just throw my hands up in the air and say “Not my problem.”

I can not because scripture is truth, and scripture is very clear on this matter.

I’ve done some scripture work in Proverbs 31 lately.  Not the overly-familiar, cross-stitched verses of 10-31 that are sometimes used to beat women over the head.  I’m talking about verses 8-9, verses I have never noticed before this year, when I came across them in Tony Merida’s book Ordinary.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

I hide behind flimsy excuses that say “I can’t do much.  I have my own problems.  I can’t risk it.”  Shameful.  There is much that I can do.  And much that I can teach my children to do.  I can share what God has so mercifully put into my hands.  I can practice hospitality, something I am horrible at.  I can educate others.  I can preserve dignity.  And I can speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Yes, it’s about being a good steward, but it is so much more than that as well.  It’s about caring well.  Loving neighbor as self.  Sharing hope.  All things I fall far too short on.

I’m not advocating giving all your worldly goods away and then eking out some meager (or miserable) life, tearing toilet paper squares in half to save money so you can give more away.  That’s not what I’m saying, at all.  We are meant to enjoy the gifts we have been given.  If you have a Keurig, by all means, enjoy that beast (though how you can stand to drink coffee will forever be beyond me).

I guess I’m saying, let’s all open our eyes.  I need to open my eyes.

It’s about not only being recipients of God’s grace and mercy, but extending grace and mercy to others.

God’s Compassion is Painful

Broken Heart

 

 

Why does Jesus have to be so compassionate?

It’s not that I don’t want Him to be.  I do; I know that I do.  I wouldn’t want Him to be any other way.  Neither would you.  I don’t think that I want a cold, impersonal Savior, really.  But, sometimes, that compassion hurts.  Sometimes, that compassion is painful.

I went to bed a bit stirred up last night.  My oldest boy spoke so openly and honestly with me in the evening about his fears and nervousness for the upcoming weeks as he quickly approaches Boot Camp.  He also spoke much to me about how much he misses his father.  First time he has been that open about his ache.  He’s scared.  And I’m scared for him, although I know that the potential and opportunities are immense for him, in choosing the Navy route.  But it is going to be anything but easy.  He has some unique physical/mental challenges to overcome.  He can do it, I’m sure of it.  But still.

Unable to sleep, and wanting to quiet my mind, I did what I do occasionally–I listened to a sermon.  Many times, that helps me fall asleep–not necessarily because I wish to be bored to sleep (although that certainly has worked in my favor at times), but often because it just gets my mind to switch gears.

Not so, last night.

The sermon I played was centered, primarily, on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which was this past weekend.  I didn’t know that when I clicked “Play”; the passage in the subject line didn’t indicate that it would be–it was not your typical “Sanctity Sunday” passage.  Had I known it was on that topic, I probably would not clicked-not because I don’t think Sanctity of Human Life is important, I do.  But it is also a bit difficult to listen to–it’s not a topic I, right or wrong, give deep thought to, for many reasons.  However, once it got going, it was like a train wreck–I couldn’t seem to make myself shut it down.  And so, there it was–that topic, with an emphasis on the compassion of Jesus, our need to be compassionate, and a call to act in some way.

But what got me was the compassion of Jesus.

I didn’t sleep much.

Then, this morning, in my inbox was an email from a new friend, walking through a hell that I am all-too-familiar with.  It is a gift and privilege to walk with her–it is always an honor and gift to be granted the chance to sit with someone in their pain, always–but it so aches as well; like a scab ripped off.

God must see and know.  Exodus 2:25  Not only does He see and know; He is also compassionate.  Psalm 147:3:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.

The compassion of God, O, my soul, can be a painful thing, though.

Let me explain:

Several years ago, I tripped while walking (physical grace I do not possess, in any way, shape or form).  That trip resulted in a shattered leg and several pins, screws and a plate.  The pain was intense as I sat on the ground trying to figure out what to do next.  It was increasingly intense sitting in the waiting room alone for 4 hours until it was finally my turn.  It was excruciating during the x-rays and examination and prior to surgery.  But, you know what?  After the surgery, during the healing, the pain was intense as well.  The actual healing and the “binding up” of the wounds after surgery was painful–in some ways, more painful than the original breakage itself.

Sometimes, I find the same thing to be true with compassion.

Maybe I’m an odd duck.  I know I’m an odd duck.  But it is truth.

I can be hard-hearted, cold and cynical.  I pride myself on stoicism–always have, and not the good kind of pride, either, if there is such a thing as good pride.  I obsess over what others think—I despise the idea of anyone seeing me as weak.  As being not strong.  I get immense pride (the ugly kind, this I know for sure–the ugly kind) when people say things like “You are so strong!”  I even crave such words!  It feeds into that inner pull to say “Why, yes I am.  I am strong.  I don’t need anyone or anything.”  Not even God.

But, that is not truth.  I need God.  I need His salvation, His justification.  I need His grace.  And, as much as I hate the need–despise it even, I need His mercy–His compassion.

I can give out compassion all day long (that sounds callous, but I can’t find any other words).  But I can’t take it.

When someone speaks compassionate words to me, I cringe.  When someone looks me in the eyes with compassion, it burns like fire–I look away.  And on the rare occasion that someone dares to hug me not in greeting, but with a hint of a “compassionate-feel” to it, well, I can’t describe it other than to say it hurts, deeply.  It slays me.  It’s painful.  Always has been.

And, when the God of all compassion turns His eyes upon me through words in scripture, through the intimacy of time spent in prayer before Him, through music, and through actions of others, I tend to run.

Give me something to debate theologically or doctrine-wise and I’m great.  Give me spiritual disciplines to march to, and I’m good to go.  Give me a need to fill–a bathroom to clean, a yard to rake, a “mission” to do and I do it efficiently.  Voicing my doubts?  Yeah, I can even do that fairly well now.  But compassion from God?  Not so much.

His gaze is intense.  It sears.

But, just like my broken leg (and your sprained ankle, or dislocated shoulder, or toothache, or heart attack, or whatever injury/illness you have faced in your life) had to be painfully healed through the “binding up” that came with pins/screws/plates/staples and a series of casts, so do the things of the soul–the painful things.  The ugly things.  The dark things.  The back-road/dark paneled, noisy air-conditioned rooms/dank bathrooms/despairing things.  The broken marriages.  The jail sentences.  The death of loved ones.  The wayward child.  The painful things.

Even our own, ugly sin.

God heals through the death of His son for the forgiveness of our sins.  We see that so plainly in Romans 6:23 and Psalms 78:38-39.  So plainly.

And He heals through His compassion.  He sees and knows.  And binds up the things that are broken.  Painful, yes.  Necessary, yes.

I don’t often look full-on at Jesus.  I take side-ways glances–I find them safer, less painful.  But someone I once knew said something along these lines one day:  “When we want to run away from Him, that is probably the time we are most in need of running to Him.”

I have found this to be truth, even when running to Him has been painful.  Is painful.  Is painful today.  Every hesitant, stumbling, lurching step.  His saving grace, love and compassion, while painful, is the healing surgery I need on my soul.

Only He can cut out the cancer.  I can’t do it.  I wish I could.

And neither can you.

 

 

Book Review ~ Ordinary by Tony Merida

Ordinary

Ordinary:

Customary.  Usual.  Normal.

These are the words that define ordinary.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, we are all, well, ordinary.  Yes, there are some extraordinary characteristics we have each been given.  But, on the whole, we are pretty ordinary.  Customary.  Usual.  Normal.

But, sometimes we tend to use this reality to excuse us from doing the extraordinary–from doing things that “make a difference”, as trite and cliché as that sounds.  We hide behind sentences or thoughts such as “I’m nobody–I can’t do anything to change that situation.”  and “I’m not special (or smart, or popular, or ?), no one will listen to me.”

We use words similar to these to excuse non-action in our lives (combined with other words like “I’m too busy.”  and “I can’t afford to help anyone.” and “I have enough problems of my own.”).  By doing so, we give ourselves permission to ignore much of what Christ taught in scripture:  We are to love our neighbors.  We are to “look after orphans and widows” (James 1:27), and we are to be a voice for the voiceless.

Tony Merida addresses this in his new book “Ordinary:  How to Turn the World Upside Down”.

This is a small volume; it only took me two days to read; however, it’s going to take me awhile to chew on the premises he presents.  His words are few, but they are densely packed with sound scripture analysis and practical applications.  From hospitality in our homes to providing orphan care; Merida stirs the pot and pushes the envelope, calling us to action.  This stirring, is a good thing.  Comfortable?  No.  Needed?  Yes.

One of the (many) sections I highlighted in this book include the following, in which he is referring to James 1:27:

James says caring for orphans in their affliction is one of the marks of “true religion.”  Yet, how many books on spiritual growth include James’s concern?  You can find numerous books on Bible study, prayer, stewardship, evangelism and parenting (and rightly so).  But why the neglect of orphan care?  Why isn’t this one of the “spiritual disciplines”?
Not that orphan care (or any justice-oriented care for those in need:  homeless, widows, addicts, abused, poor, etc.) should ever become something we add to a list of “Things to do to be a good Christian.”  It shouldn’t.  That’s not the intent of spiritual disciplines, no matter what the discipline is–prayer, scripture work, giving.  But neither is that what Merida is stating here.  Instead, he is pointing out that it is one aspect of commitment to Christ, and one that can be overlooked, or neglected, for many reasons-some of which he points out in this volume.  And it shouldn’t be.  Jesus didn’t.  therefore we should not.
There was much in this book that I made note of, and look forward to pounding out in the future as I mull over it and think about it.  For example, I am re-thinking hospitality, something that has always been a challenge for me.  And so much more.
*I am grateful to have received a copy of this book from B&H Publishers for review.

The Quiet Weeping in a Theater

Two weeks ago, when the movie Selma opened, I took three of my crew to go see it.

My boys are used to watching war movies.  They are fond of action-packed flicks.  For better or worse, I’ve let them watch most of the war movies that have come out in the past few years.

So, I was kind of surprised when all three jumped when the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church tore across the screen–which resulted in the heinous murder of four little girls.  My 16-year-old son even grabbed my arm.

But that’s not what truly got their attention, although it certainly made an impact.  Neither did the scenes of the beatings that occurred, nor the stirring speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. at the end of the picture, though they were certainly invested and listening–riveted, actually.

No, what rocked them was what happened after the last credit rolled (we stayed till the end.  The whole crowd stayed till the end.)  At first it was silent, and then we heard quiet weeping 3 rows in front of us.

We shuffled out of the theater–one of only two white families in the audience(!?!)–and I could see each of my crew scanning the people down from us, trying to figure out who was crying.

It was an older lady–who would have been a young woman during the years of the events shown to us over the past 2 hours.  She was wrecked.  Her family walked alongside her, murmuring gentle comforts to her that we couldn’t hear.  And my crew watched with wide eyes.

They had a thousand questions when we got to the car.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and it feels–different?  Weightier?  Something….

Maybe it is because Selma was just released.  Or maybe it has more to do with the events of Ferguson, Missouri in recent months.

Whatever the case or the antecedents, my kids are watching.  And thinking.

And, so am I.

But watching and thinking are worth nothing without action.  Without movement toward justice.  And we are all responsible for that.

I’ve begun reading Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary.  I’ve just barely started, but his words are already convicting me of the importance of living out Micah 6:8 every single day.  Without fail, in all of our relationships and actions and interactions:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Act justly in our interactions–in our businesses and places of employment, in our voting and legislative and government activities. (O, how often do I disregard justice by replacing it with self-centered, arrogant behavior on my part?  How often am I eager to seek out justice on my own behalf and not the behalf of those hurting around me?)

Love mercy–in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our responsibility to care for the poor, the orphans and the widows (James 1:27) and even in our churches.  (O, how quickly I am to extend mercy to myself, and yet not extend it to my children, or my neighbors, or to the person bagging my groceries, or the TSA agent at the airport, or to the person who has wronged me, or to the young woman who is considering abortion, or even my fellow church members?)

Walk humbly with our God–the one I find the hardest, the most challenging to do–and yet it is the one that helps me to act justly and love mercy in a much more authentic way than I ever could on my own.

Merida quotes Dr. King in the opening pages of his book; a forceful, loud quote in which one cannot miss the call to action:  “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.”

But what can the Ordinary Person do in the face of so much evil?

Much.  We can do much.  We can love our neighbor.  We  can seek to live Micah 6:8.  We can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We can encourage those on the front lines each and every day–police officers, teachers, shelter volunteers, social workers.  We can actively care for orphans and widows, homeless, poor, sick, and the hurting.  We can learn to better listen to each other.  To hear.  To see.

We can teach our children the truth that #AllLivesMatter

**Yesterday I heard the best sermon I have ever heard on this subject.  I urge you to listen when you get a chance.  You can find the audio file at this location:  http://www.sbc-va.org/sounds/20150118.mp3