A Mother’s Day Prayer for Women Who Love to Learn and Go Deep

For every thinking Mom who lives in the daily tension between reading Ferdinand the Bull and Philip Yancey, wiping noses and writing articles , running carpool and managing projects, this prayer’s for you:

May you know God’s pleasure as you read widely and think deeply.

Like Eric Liddel, the British Olympic runner who famously said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” may you sense his pleasure when you exercise the intellectual gifts he has given you.

Perhaps you didn’t love school or even make the honor roll. But you love to read and could spend your entire Saturday with a book. Maybe the older you became, the sturdier your reading list grew. Picking up Lewis, Schaeffer or Willard, Tolstoy, MacDonald, or Sayers was like sitting down to a rich banquet.

If you are a Christian woman who loves to think deeply about big ideas, the rich symbolism of metaphors, the cogency of well-reasoned arguments, may you celebrate this gift. It’s part of your beauty.

Every Easter in the Prison Visitation Room

Carol Kent’s “Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners”

While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.

I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”

What we cannot even imagine about Jesus’ supernatural suffering in Gethsemane

The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.

Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.

His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture:

4 Ways Lent Can Give You Far More than You Give Up

Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.

Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.

If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus. 

What to Give Your Introverted/Extroverted Valentine

My husband of (almost) forty years and I share a love for hospitality, reading and movies, of watching football, and serving God in his church. We are both thinkers more than feelers, strong personalities who enjoy Getting Things Done and closure. In other ways we are not so similar.

Jack loves details and data. I’m the big picture girl. Nowhere he’d rather relax than in the mountains—hunting fishing, hiking. Me, I love museums, conferences, the ballet. But the difference that makes the most difference: He is more the introvert while I am a tiny bit more extroverted. Here are some ways we’ve learned to give to each other across the great personality divide.

Christmas at the Cove Disrupted: When a Christmas-hug concert becomes fall-on-your-knees worship

When we first signed up for the Christmas concerts at Billy Graham’s Asheville, North Carolina retreat center, we expected a weekend of beauty and gorgeous music by some of the Kingdom’s finest artists. What we didn’t expect was how God used major disruption to turn one evening into a rare, deep worship event.

Annie Moses Band

The Best Antidote to Summertime Boredom and Distraction

Summer gives us an opportunity to slow down. “The livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin,’” and all that. Without so many activities on the calendar we have more time to take trips, watch TV or kick back with friends or a good book. We all need seasons of restoration, but the cultural pull towards having fun and lazing around can make room for boredom and distraction to settle in like a fog.

In a Culture of Never Enough, a Culture at War–The Secret of Contentment

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Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…

Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.

Celebrating Father’s Day with a Difficult Dad

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I know my Dad loved me and always wanted the best for me. He never, ever abused me. But as I grew older, when it came to nurturing a heart to heart relationship, he just wasn’t that into me.

When I was still small enough to sit in his lap he would read to me. And he would swing me in a big swing he made for me. For a season he made up wonderful bedtime stories about Broussard the Dragon who, when Dad lost interest, died tragically in a cave in. When I was older he would play the chess-like board game Camelot with me. (And usually slaughter me.)

But pretty much every night after dinner my petroleum engineer dad preferred to spend his time tinkering in his electronics shop. I could go out and talk to him in the garage, and he would explain to me how his gadgets worked, but he was not inclined to sacrifice his favorite pastime to spend all that much time with me.

In his defense, my dad came from a family of thinkers, not feelers. He lost his dad when he was 13. So he didn’t seem to know how to find his way into my world. I had to find my way into his.

6 Reasons Why Chick Fil A got Orlando right (and how many Muslims and Christians can do better)

Chick Fil A Sign+Rembrandt 2

Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal”

 

As soon as reports surfaced about Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub, suspicious fingers began pointing to Christian haters. Even after it was reported that the shooter had dedicated his kill to the Islamic State. What grieved me even more was talking to Christians who condemned the killings, but acknowledged they didn’t feel a great sense of compassion on the gay victims because, after all, look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Thankfully, Chick-fil-A in Orlando rolled up its sleeves, fired up its grills and showed our terribly divided culture how to follow Jesus in such a tragedy. On a day when they normally close their doors and give their employees time off to go to church, they were serving their great food to first responders and  blood donors lined up to honor the victims.

Here are 6 reasons why Chick-fil-A got it right and how many Muslims and Christians can do better:

How Donald Trump (and all of us) Can Write a Better Story. With his campaign. With his life.

love-superhero-on-urban-city-background_fyAzLiOu_LImagine going to a Captain America movie where Steve Rogers is being sued. Regardless of the merits, which are never clear, he has reason to suspect the judge is biased and is treating his case unfairly. So the Avengers spend the entire movie plotting his demise.

They use their special powers to investigate the judge. Finally, they use their celebrity to stage a huge reveal: the judge’s grandfather was German and a member of Hydra. The judge is a member of a local German legal community. On that community’s website they found a link to a group sympathetic to Hydra.

Even though the judge has put away many German drug cartel leaders, even though there is absolutely no evidence in his record that he has ever favored Germans in his courtroom, Rogers insists, “He’s a German. And he’s Hydra. We still fight Hydra. We still fight some Germans. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

The end.

We don’t find out how the judge rules on the court case. It doesn’t matter. The outcome would be so politicized that the verdict would be irrelevant. Captain America wins again.

What would you think of the movie? What’s wrong with it and why does it matter?

Ageing with less fear…more anticipation

AgingAt an author’s retreat a few years ago Liz Curtis Higgs grabbed several of us and said, “Come on, let’s take a picture of the Silver Foxes together.” In today’s culture that worships youth, her proud ownership of her silvering hair infected all of us. I’ve never thought of mine quite the same. While ageing is a fact, our attitude determines how we experience it.  And more and more of us are experiencing it.

Experiencecorps.org reports that by 2030 the number of Americans age 55 and older will reach 107.6 million (31 percent of the population). Americans reaching age 65 today have an average life expectancy of an additional 17.9 years (19.2 years for females and 16.3 years for males).

This generation of retirees can anticipate far more from their fourth-quarter than previous generations. They will be the healthiest, longest lived, best educated, most affluent seniors in history. According to a survey conducted for Civic Ventures, 59 percent of older Americans see retirement as “a time to be active and involved, to start new activities, and to set new goals.”

20 Ways to Reach out and Build Warm-Weather Relational Connections

(in a world that constantly divides)

Brunch tableWeary of the way our culture wars are dividing us? Maybe you long to be used as a person of more influence for good right in your community. Perhaps you’ve often thought about reaching out to people in your neighborhood and building more bridges of friendship. Maybe you long to share the good news of forgiveness and hope in Jesus but you find yourself stuck in your Christian bubble.

With the warmer spring weather and a little creativity we can take practical steps in our own homes and neighborhoods to build relationships up in a world that tends to tear them down. Whether it’s casual and messy or organized and lovely we can shift our focus away from the macro problems to micro solutions. Here are 20 suggestions to stir the pot and help you think more intentionally about doing something good. Taking a little risk:

1. Stay outside in the front yard longer, sit on the porch, let the kids play. Maybe even invite passersby to stop for a snack or refreshment.
2. Throw some shrimp on the barbie and have people over. Or grill hamburgers. For something new, Google a different recipe. Or, rather than lunch or dinner, invite others over for brunch. Food shared within a circle of faces warms and disarms, gets below the surface and opens up discussions of deeper thoughts and needs.
3. Pray that God would enlarge your heart for these relationships, that you would see people as the Lord Jesus sees them. That he would give you the strength (and sometimes the courage) to move beyond the default to TV and social media to connect with real people.

Is Hitting Back “Twice as Hard” Really the Way to Win?

Is the way of Machiavelli more effective than the way of Jesus?

Donald Trump Machiavelli Jesus-900If leaders treat people with contempt, insulting and belittling them, and violating their dignity, can it ultimately serve their best interest? Can it best serve the people who follow him or her? Can leaders hit others back hard and win both power and the hearts of the people?

Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” He has run his campaign under the banner of “You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard.”

For example, back in August, at the first Presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump some pointed questions about the way he treated women. What many (most?) journalists considered a fair question Trump considered unfair and hit back hard with an unrelenting stream of negative tweets against Kelly. In January, when Fox refused to remove Kelly from moderating the Iowa debate, he dropped out and held a competing event.

On January 27th Fox News journalist Bill O’Reilly challenged Donald Trump to move past the exchange and rejoin the debate broadcast.

BILL O’REILLY: In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness. I think you should forgive not only journalists who come at you in ways you don’t like, but I think you should be a bigger man and say, you know what? I didn’t like it and you should make that case all day long. But, I’m not going to take any action against it. You know, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?
DONALD TRUMP: It probably is. But, you know it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also. You can look at it that way.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no. That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye for the eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: turning the other cheek (taps his cheek).
TRUMP: You’re taking this much more seriously than I am. I’m not taking it seriously.

The Post-Easter Challenge: What do we do now?

My publisher, Crossway Books, has given me a beautiful book of the Masonite drawings by Robert Doares picturing the life of Christ, Immanuel, God with Us. The originals hung in the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College, wide-angle compositions and sweeping vistas fifteen inches high and four feet across.

Doares Great Comission

Before and after Easter, I lay the book out on my entry hall table, turning a page each day and letting the pictures take my imagination across two millennia, back to Jerusalem and Galilee.

In one of the final double-spread pictures, several paths converge on the top of a small mountain in Galilee. From the artist’s helicopter view, a lofty cloudbank rises toward the northwest where the gospel would spread (too wide to be included in this picture).

A small robed figure thrusts one arm toward those distant lands, directing the gaze of eleven men seated in a half circle before him. The Scripture underneath the picture is Christ’s commission to go out and invite others to follow him (Matt. 28:19-20).

As I walked by the table yesterday, I looked at that tiny group sitting in the curve of a path across a broad stony terrace in the sweeping landscape. The sheer measure of Jesus’ invitation stopped me cold. Eleven men are invited to change…everything?

All those miles and miles and city after city? How do you imagine a church? How you imagine missions? How do you take what Christ said and did and roll it out to a world that has never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, or the God of Abraham, or a church?

United: Getting Over Our Differences

eg_shopicon_36Everyone interested in the Republican presidential primary hopes that at some point we can pull together. But at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that will happen.

The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.

For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.

eg_shopicon_36I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.

When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.

Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.

When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election

cracked-ground-913-580“Why are you concerned about this presidential primary?” I ask.

“Because,” a friend said over dinner, “someone I don’t trust may gain control of our military might, our nuclear codes–someone who seems easily offended and vengeful.”

“Because,” another said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my homeland. It’s changing right under my feet.”

“I wonder,” said another, “what are people thinking?! They don’t appear to care about issues and substance. They seem charmed by the personality of a Pied Piper.”

It’s getting harder and harder to govern America by politics. The interests of different groups are getting further apart. As political compromise and deal-making breaks down, gridlock sets in. Anger boils.

David Brooks reminds us that, historically, when politics breaks down, the other alternative is a dictator. People give up on politics and look to a perceived strongman to fix the mess.

The strongman promises what he can never realistically deliver, which sets people up for more frustration and anger…

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats)

Yesterday I was speaking to another friend who confided that it was getting to the point where she didn’t even want to let her thoughts go to the state of our nation or the coming election.

How can we not feel threatened, frustrated, distraught…?

I was feeling the same occasional spasms of dread in this wild ride of an election process. Then Sunday two things happened:

Following Jesus: What Really Shapes Our Decision and Desire?

Is it a question of God empowering our reason and will, or is something more fundamental at work?

Godsight labelYou are praying for your children/siblings/spouse and suddenly you find yourself no longer praying but “writing the book” on how their challenges will sweep them away. The book ends in court or the hospital or the cemetery. Your stomach knots up. Will you give way to fear?

How do you picture that decision-making process between choosing fear or choosing to trust Jesus? Do you see it as I have often seen it—a daily taffy-pull between what our hearts fear here and what God promises over there? Between what the culture rewards over here and what God wants over there, leaving our souls feeling thin and stringy in the middle?

If you’re like me you’ve been taught to view our decisions to love and follow Jesus in three stages:
Perception:
We perceive a threat: I may lose my job, my husband, or in today’s culture, my child. Our candidate may not win. America will go in the wrong direction. We face a choice: Will we give way to fear?
We perceive a temptation: More time dialed in to our phones. Eating fat instead of healthy. An attraction to someone besides our spouse. Will we indulge our desires?
Reason:
I submit what I perceive to logical reflection. Will my desire/choice honor the Lord Jesus? Does it line up with Scripture? Is it loving to others? Will it help me move toward the long-term joy Jesus has for me?
Will:
Life is a contest between a torrent of sinful desire and the way of God. My heart wants this, but my will chooses that. On a good day, my will is stronger than my sinful desires. But not always. (See Romans 7 (“what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”)

We focus and teach our kids so much about surrendering our will to Jesus. Logically processing our decisions through the grid of God’s Word.

But what if our battle is not primarily fought at the level of our will, or even our reason? What if our greatest battle is fought at the level of our perception?

Mad as hell…or mad as heaven?

Getting mad like Jesus did.

It feels like we are living in the 1976 award-winning film Network. I feel surrounded by people throwing open their windows, leaning out and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  (Caution for a bit of R-rated language in the clip)

Although the movie came out forty years ago in the midst of gas lines, recession and spiraling inflation, it feels even more relevant today, when we are living more from emotions than ever before.

People want good jobs–meaningful work that leaves them time for life with their families, churches and communities. We want health care premiums that don’t break the bank. Safety from terrorists. We want institutions–government, schools and businesses–that hear our voices and respond to our needs. In this political season the candidates cast a vision of the way the future could be, stirring and heating up our desires to a fever pitch. That is their job. It’s our job to keep our eyes on Jesus. Get mad like he gets mad.

We want, we want, we want…we have so many desires–the soil out of which our expectations grow. Unfulfilled, they can set us up for disappointment and anger. How should we deal with them?

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.