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Archive for November, 2009

It breaks my heart that America is considered by so many to be a “Christian” nation. It’s as if the concept of Christianity has morphed into a cultural term, one that has lost its original spark and meaning. It’s, I would argue, been tossed around as a moral stamp of approval, in essence saying “I believe myself to be a good person” and/or “I consider myself a ‘spiritual’ person.”

But Christianity isn’t about being a good person; it’s about God. Christianity is about following Christ, and only Christ. It’s the life that pours out of a desperate cry to God that says I’m broken, and I’m dirty, and I don’t deserve to be loved by you. It’s an acknowledgement and acceptance of who God is, what He’s done for us, and who we are. It’s all about relationship; an inner transformation that should overflow into every area of our lives. (The notion that Christianity is a stale list of rules dictated by an angry, distant God is not a biblical concept. It’s a tragedy.)

We should not be fooled. Jesus is not some demi-god who sits on a cloud shootin’ the breeze with buddha, Mohammed, Zeus, and a legion of new age spirit guides. Biblically we cannot “cover our bases” by offering allegiance to everyone. Dabbling in spirituality as if we were at a smorgasboard, building our own “religion” like one fills a plate for a meal, is ludicrious. When we do that we place ourselves in the position of a god, essentially saying I know what’s best. God is loving and merciful, yes, but He is not a push-over. He is also holy, just, and jealous.

I think we’ve lost sight of this in America. I think many Christians spend so much time worshipping themselves that there is little time or energy left over for God. We pick and choose the aspects of various philosophies that are appealing to us — those that allow us to live the way we please. And so we receive a self-bestowed “stamp of morality.” We worship money, sex, beauty, and power. Beneath that, I think, is a deep desire for security and love.

I read Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love awhile back and his profile of the “Lukewarm Christian” stuck with me.  I’ve spent many years sitting on the fence — trying to live for God and for myself at the same time. So, it’s with all genuineness of heart that I share Chan’s thoughts with you (highlights mine)…

“Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words halfhearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better? The Bible says to test ourselves, so in the next few pages, I am going to offer you a description of what halfhearted, distracted, partially committed, lukewarm people can look like.” (p.67-68)

“LUKEWARM PEOPLE:

  • attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe ‘good Christians’ do, so they go.

“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'” -Isaiah 29:13

  • …”give money to charity and to the church… as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.”
  • …”don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it… Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.”

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” – John 10:10

  • …do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be ‘good enough’ without it requiring too much of them. They ask, ‘How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?‘ instead of ‘How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?’ … They ask, ‘How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible?’ instead of ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!’
  • … are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for ‘extreme’ Christians, not average ones.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive youselves. Do what it says.” -James 1:22

  • …are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God.
  • do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens — they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them — they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live — they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis — their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God.”

“A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it. Most of us have too much in our lives… Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on the things of this world?” (p.67)

Let us fix our eyes on only that which is worthy of such attention.

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…kisses of VISION…

There are so many KINDS of kisses… caramel apple, candy cane, pumpkin spice, peanut butter, cherry… little droplets of milk, dark, or white chocolate… infused with a plethora of flavors and snuggled into a shiny foil wrapper.
   
kiss lights

..streets lined with kiss lights in Hershey, PA..

I recently visited a dear friend of mine who lives just a wee distance from the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Named for the famous maker of kisses, Mr. Milton S. Hershey (1857-1945), the town welcomes visitors with a big sign: Welcome to Hershey… the “sweetest place on earth.” And perhaps that’s true…

   
Even more than the world famous chocolate kisses that were first formed in 1907, the legacy of Mr. Hershey lives today in his vision… a school I was first introduced to less than a month ago.
 
kittyhershey

Mrs. "Kitty" Hershey

But first a brief background of this visionary, philanthropist, candy-making man… he grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and apprenticed with a candy maker while he was a teenager. He started a candy business in Philadelphia; it failed after six years. ..He moved to Denver and learned to make caramels… then moved to New York City and started a second candy business, which also failed. He moved back home penniless, started another candy business… and (you guessed it)succeeded!  Making caramels, that is.

 

STARTING HERSHEY THE CHOCOLATE:  
He made caramels and shipped them all over the US and Europe.  Well,until the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago — when he was introduced to the art of chocolate making. He bought the best machines and developed the famous combination of cocoa, milk, and sugar… the chocolate bar. Yep! He sold the caramel company and started looking for a place to build a chocolate factory. His hometown area was perfect: close to a port (sugar, cocoa), surrounded by dairy farms (milk), and filled with hard-working people. …this farmland would become Hershey, PA.
  
STARTING HERSHEY THE TOWN:
DSC04952Mr. Hershey built more than just a chocolate factory, though: he built a town. Housing, schools, churches, parks, and recreational facilities. It was AMAZING. I’m not talking about some kind of glorified communism or corporate exploitation. He built houses and sold them to his workers at cost or less — his workers owned their own homes. He built a trolley system so people could get to work, even from other nearby towns. Even during the Depression era, no one was laid off in Hershey.
For the farm boy who never had much chance at education himself, providing that opportunity for others was always an important priority.   
STARTING HERSHEY THE SCHOOL:
hersheywkidsIn 1909, Mr. Hershey and his wife, Catherine (“Kitty”), established the Hershey Industrial School on 486 acres of farmland — a school for orphan boys. Unable to have children of their own, they poured their hearts and fortune into creating a hope and home for orphans. Sadly, Kitty died a few years later in 1915 from a debilitating illness, but Mr. Hershey continued to pour into the school. He never remarried, but was said to have carried her picture with him everywhere. He transferred the bulk of his wealth to the school trust. Today the value of the trust has grown to more than $6 billion. ..WOW. His fortune and legacy is literally thriving in the minds and lives of boys and girls at the Milton Hershey School.
          
This is more than the simple, rags-to-riches tale of inspiration for a rainy day. This is the story of a man with vision, who dared… who failed a few times along the way… and who ultimately succeeded, lhersheybannereaving a sweet legacy behind him. : ) My jaw must’ve been gaping open listening to the story of his life and dreams onboard the touristy Trolley that rainy October day. The school goes above and BEYOND a good education. It’s more than money, more than school. It’s an investment in a whole person, a child from a “low income” family, who otherwise might easily get swept aside and forgotten by society. Students are completely taken care of… they are given laptops, clothes, health care, food, even personal allowance and family. The school staff includes full-time houseparents (married couples) who live with groups of 9-13 students in a family-like home setting. This is not merely the college RA who lives down the hall (no offense intended to RAs, I was one for three years).  Oh, scholarship money for college, in the thousands of dollars, is available for graduating seniors.
        
Today the 9,000 acre campus of the Milton Hershey school proudly provides a free home and free education to more than 1,200 boys and girls (k-12). …So, here’s to you Mr. Milton Hershey and your chocolate kisses of vision for those less fortunate than ourselves. I hope hearing a snippet of this story has melted your heart a little more like a choclate bar on a summer day… let us love through action with vision, daring, and amazing generosity a little more like Mr. Hershey!    
     
 

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…creating NARNIA…

The stories of “Narnia” by C.S. Lewis are classic…  they are all good, but my favorite book of the six-part series is The Magician’s Nephew. I just love the way Lewis describes the creation of the world of Narnia… it’s a song!

Have a listen to the words of one of the most beloved, and creative, minds of the 20th century (emphasis below mine)…

 

space stars“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing… Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enought to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinny a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar… Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices.

stars3The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out — single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the first voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

sunriseorange“The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose. Digory had never seen such a sun… The earth was of many colors: they were fresh, hot and vivid. The made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song and it was about three hundred yards away.”

dad lion

photo by Mike Bay (that's my dad!) : )

“The lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountaings, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more brisling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed.”

*sigh*

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” -Psalm 8:3

photo credits:

(from NASA) www.universe-cluster.de/…/infant_stars.jpg

from:  wallpapers.androlib.com/wallicons/wallpaper.big-xnF.cs.png

from: http://science.nayland.school.nz/hamishm/images/sunrise.jpg

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…sips of ENCOURAGEMENT…

I absolutely LOVE waking up to a warm apartment on a cold day… the soft notes of coffee wafting through the air to my drowsy nose… it’s almost as if the aroma stirs my brain into a smiley face. I know that’s scientific non-sense, of course, but there’s something simply lovely about the early morning coupled with good coffee. *sigh*

coffeebeansIn some things, I’m just a simpleton… and coffee is one of them. Be it Arabian, Ethopian, Italian, Kenyan, Mexican, Brazilian, Columbian, Guatemalan, or Rwandan… french press, fresh brewed, or a million other choices… I simply like the aroma of coffee.

    I sip it. 

Perhaps you’ve become previously acquainted with the coffee shop traveling coffee cups — for caffeine addicts and “recreational” coffee sippers alike :)…  you know, the ones where you can doodle and decorate your very own, personalized, cup. Yes? Well, this is all a very long way of saying that I did just that last spring.

I flipped through the pages of my Bible and adorned my little raspberry-colored coffee holder. I thought I’d share them here, in the hopes that they will bring a warmness to your heart in this chilly fall weather.

CIMG4003A quick note… each verse below is a snippet of a conversation. They were written at different times by different people to different audiences for different reasons. They all reveal something about who God is or who we are or how to live. I hope you’ll “sip” through them and be encouraged, but I hope, too, that you’ll go back to the source (the Bible) and keep reading. I’ve seen too often single verses ripped from their original context and claimed as promises they were never meant to be. Please hear me: this is not my intent! I simply share in hopes of lifting your spirits and whetting your appetite for more.

       
That said, may the following be an encouragement to your minds and hearts this morning! : )   ..side note: the emphases (bold) below are mine..

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” -Psalm 111:10a

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” -Psalm 55:22

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:8a

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” -Hebrews 4:16

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” -Psalm 103:11

“God is love.” – 1 John 4:16b

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to seperate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” -James 5:16

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7

“Trust in the LORD ith all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philipians 4:6-7

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Matthew 6:33

 

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