As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. -- Isaiah 55:10-11

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Power of a Name

Our local newspaper is having a “semantics” debate, or so it would appear. The question is what the labels should be for the groups that are either pro-life or pro-choice in philosophy. The off-handed answer is, “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?” Well, actually, it makes a lot of difference.

The newspaper has determined that it is indirectly derogatory to use the term “pro-life”. By using this label, it is insinuated that the opposing group is anti-life. Granted, to say that those who support the right for a woman to terminate her pregnancy at any time are anti-life is a bit extreme. They don’t dismiss the value of ALL life. They obviously value their own or they would not make the choice to protect its convenience or facade, and I doubt these people would pull a gun on a stranger on the street and murder them for no reason. So “anti-life” might be a bit strong.

To correct this, the newspaper suggests referring to the groups as “pro-“ and “anti-abortion”. That seems simple enough. Except that the intimation of the term “anti-abortion” is that those who believe children are a divinely created person with a purpose for being conceived in the first place are, in fact, antagonists of those who believe the solution for our nation’s family crisis is to kill “unwanted” children. Those who are anti-abortion are seen as the ones oppressing those who simply want their rights.

I find it ironic that those of us who do not believe abortion is a right or an option cannot be pro-life because it suggests those who oppose our philosophy are pro-death, but it is perfectly acceptable to label us with a term that suggests we are oppressive and unfeeling for those “in crisis”.

I will be honest. I don’t even like the term “pro-choice”. The baby has no choice, and frankly, I think if we stop screaming about the horror of the act and look deeper at the cause, we would realize that a large number of abortions are the result of women feeling they have no choice. I personally know two young women whose parents made them have abortions. Were those women “pro-choice”, or was their “choice” forced on them?

And before we get so self-righteous and proclaim, “Well, they got pregnant. They had the choice to not have sex,” let’s get off our high horses and look at the reality of the mentality of women who have sex outside of marriage, especially teenage girls. Instead of taking it on a case by case basis, let’s do a general look at one woman most of us have read about—the prostitute that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

I don’t know how old she was when she became sexually involved the first time. It doesn’t really matter. She was a woman when she went to Jesus, and you know what we see in her? We see a woman who was told her identity and worth was wrapped up in her ability to please and satisfy a man sexually. What do you think television and secular music teaches women...and men? Look at the clothes that are fashionable for young girls. Look at the magazines for the “tween” and teens. And look how parents and the church promote this mindset. I think it is easy to see why women don’t see themselves as any more valuable than the woman who poured her heart out at Jesus feet.

So here is a woman who obviously has sexual freedom. In fact, she makes her living being free to have sex, and what do we find her doing? Standing on a street corner yelling that she has the right to do anything she wants with her body? Accosting Jesus and telling Him to mind His own business because hers is a good life and He has no right to interfere with her rights and her choices? No. We find her at the feet of the One that values her for her whole being. We find her so desperate for value and identity that embraces her right to be something besides an object of gratification for others that she is willing to risk walking into a Pharisee’s house into a room with a bunch of self-righteous, highly religious men. We see a woman who had all the rights and could make any choice she wanted, and she chose the love of Jesus.

I will not dismiss a person’s responsibility. A person is responsible for what they choose to do with their body, but we simplify the situation too much when we remove the causes of those actions. It is easy to define someone who has an abortion as selfish, self-centered, and cold-hearted. It becomes complicated when we look deeper and find those people are terrified, abandoned, rejected, or confused. How do we respond to the woman who is in a destructive relationship because she believes that is all she is worth, and then becomes pregnant and cannot begin to fathom what she is supposed to do? She can’t figure out how to take care of herself, little less a baby. What about the teenager who feels estranged from her parents already and is involved with a boy that “loves her” only when a baby comes into the picture he doesn’t know her name? What then?

Don’t get me wrong. I think abortion is a sin. I think lying is a sin, but people do it when it seems the easier way out. I think alcoholism is a sin, but people do it when they need to escape something. The difference is we can often relate to the person who feels overwhelmed or wounded and as a result does something sinful. Not many of us can relate to someone facing the overwhelming responsibility of taking care of a baby that they never expected when in truth, on some level they are really looking for someone to take care of them. I think if we take Paul’s words into consideration that our battle is not against flesh and blood-not against the women having abortions or the doctors doing the abortions or even the leaders legalizing abortions-“but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” maybe we would quit bickering over the semantics of labels or viciously pointing figures based on perception of heart conditions and actually make a difference in this battle for life, and I don’t just mean for that of the unborn child.

Does that solve the great label debate? Not unless we take an uncomfortable look at the truth. The truth is Christians often refer to people who abort a child or support that option as selfish and self-centered. Well of course they are, so is every Christian I know. That is the definition of the flesh that wants its own way. The difference is a Christian has the Holy Spirit leading them into truth so they can overcome the flesh. Those who are lost don’t have that. We have the Truth as our direction. What do those who are lost have? The lies the world tells them. They have the lie that they are only as important as what they can accomplish, and a baby would mess that up. They have the lie that they aren’t valuable and nothing that comes from them is valuable. The lies vary, but they all have one thing in common—they are lies. Christians will never affect the problem by calling people names. Instead, we need to call the lies “lies” and declare the truth that these women and their babies are masterpieces of Almighty God. The God who made the universe was detailed enough to make them part of it, and they are His beloved creations whom He seeks to draw to Him. Lives will not change until women understand their true value and identity in the Lord.

I realize my perspective does not lend itself to offering up politically correct labels. However, it would do the Christian community good to consider its own heart when offering labels rather than simply screaming about labels that attack its character or intentions. We can call “pro-abortion” people a lot of things like “wounded” or “deceived”, and we can agree they act that way. We call ourselves “Christians”. I pray we act that way.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Dose of Good Medicine

January 17, 2007

Today I discovered that a place of emotional treasure from my childhood has closed, and it has left me wandering a bit emotionally.

Watts Bros. Pharmacy in Gainesville, Texas, was there my whole life. When I was growing up, it was a true small town pharmacy. There was the pharmacy in the back, and as you made your way there, you passed knick knack shelves, which were made of glass. My favorite shelving group held the perfumes. I can still see the pretty bottles there.

On your right was a true soda fountain. The seats were round with a red cover, and they turned. That was heaven for a child. The counter held various goodies: pies, cake, and stick candy. You could order a straight soda or an ice cream float. You could even get ice cream with sprinkles! I’m telling you, it was a child’s heaven, and it might have been pretty close to heaven for adults, too.

When my dad had his heart attacks in the late 80s, my parents started using Watts Bros. exclusively for Dad’s prescriptions. There is something precious about knowing folk and being known. A few years after Dad’s heart attacks, Dad developed a respiratory infection and was taken to the ER where he was given several prescriptions. Mom took them to Watts Bros. to have them filled and dropped them off on her way to work. She was going to pick them up on the way home. While she was at work, the pharmacist called her. “Gayle, you need to call the doctor. I can’t give Jerry this prescription because it’ll react to another medicine he is on, and it can kill him. If you can’t get the doctor at his office, call me back. I’ll call him at home, and I’ll wait here until we get this straightened out and you can pick up the medicine.” People like that are the gems of life.

Since then, that precious pharmacist developed cancer and went home to be with the Lord. His wife closed the pharmacy but rented it to Timothy and Kathie Parks, who turned it into a bookstore full of character. They sold books that share the history of the area, and they had wonderful bits of memorabilia spread around. And, if you asked them, they’d gladly take time to tell you anything you wanted to know, and you could learn wonderful things and enjoy warm friendship at the very same soda fountain that had been there my whole life.

Last fall we had the joy of spending a few days with Kathie and Timothy in their wonderful shop. We perused books, listened to CDs of a local choir, and sipped Purple Cows and real fountain sodas. I learned things about Gainesville history that I had never heard, and we enjoyed the excitement the Parks have for Gainesville, history, and people.

This spring we were going to visit the auction barn on the edge of town and then head downtime to enjoy the soda fountain, but as of today, it seems our plans have changed, and frankly, it makes me sad.

Granted, part of the purpose for the trip was to expose the children to history, so they could see how it was, but I’m not going to lie. Part of the purpose for the trip was to relive history, parts of my childhood that make me smile and share them with my children and see them smile.

I’m not na├»ve. I realize Watts Bros. wasn’t what I recall, or maybe it was. I remember a place filled with people I knew that always greeted us with a smile. I remember a place where sodas were extra sweet and so was friendship. I remember no matter what the weather, it was the perfect place “to get in out of the” elements. I remember feeling welcome, even as a child who needed someone to help her sniff the pretty bottles of perfume (and the lady at the register always opened a few for me to sniff). I remember people who always asked how we were and really caring about the answer. Maybe Starrbooks wasn’t so different.

Still, I know time moves on. I know things change and what used to be isn’t what is necessary, so it goes to the way side. I also know people have gotten too busy to take time to value people. I know people have become so determined to be themselves that they make the mistake of leaving history unacknowledged and unexplored. They call this independence. Interesting how much it resembles ignorance. Also interesting how these independent, self-proclaimed trailblazers often become known for their foibles rather than their innovations. But this isn’t about them. I’m not sure it is even about the changing of time.

I think we would be delusional to think what gives us the sense of belonging and joy today will do so tomorrow. I’ve spent enough time on this earth to realize that what meets my needs today will not remain the same in the future. My interests change. My circumstances change. My needs change, and yet, they don’t.

No matter where I am, no matter how old I am, I still love knowing folks and being known. I love going to my favorite coffee shop and the manager calling my children and me by name and asking if we “want the usual” and his knowing what the usual is. I love walking into a favorite shopping spot and the clerk telling us he has our favorite kind of suckers, and he does, AND he doesn’t even have to ask what they are. He just reaches into his bag and picks out the ones we enjoy. I love that our dentist’s receptionist has my daughter call to tell her how the recital went, and I love that all those folks openly tell us about their lives and families in return. There is something priceless in knowing and in being known.

That is what was served up more than anything at the soda fountain in the Watts Bros. Pharmacy store and in Starrbooks. It wasn’t the pretty perfume bottles or the wonderful books. It was the connection to the people, knowing them and being known by them. It was good medicine then, and it is good medicine now, and when you find a place like that, it always makes you feel good.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Only Way Through....

...is through.

I am in the middle, literally, of a 21 day fast. This is day 10, and the first week was okay. Then this week the Lord put it on my heart to hunker down a bit more and do a cleansing fast. I'll be honest and tell you I fought this. This was not my idea of a good idea. It didn't even rank on my "Let's Consider" list. The idea of veggies and water and nothing else wasn't appealing, but God nagged, and in the end, I gave in. So here I am on day 4 of my cleansing fast, and I have a glimpse of why we are doing this.

First of all, I say "we" because I couldn't do this alone. Truly, my will is not this strong. I like sugar. Who am I kidding? I would like a piece of rolled up turkey right now, but it isn't about what I like. It's about what I need, and from all indications, I need to fast.

My need to fast for different reasons. Physically, I had no clue what I was in for. I once read an interview with Dolly Parton, and she talked about fasting and how it was miserable and she felt awful as the toxins were drained from her body. I didn't know what she meant. I've fasted all food with only water to drink for three days, and mentally it was a challenge, but I wasn't "miserable". I had a caffeine headache one time, but "miserable"? Nope. Can't say fasting has ever made me miserable. Okay, well, I can say it now.

Here's the truth, and it isn't meant to scare you so you don't fast. Fasting is a good thing. So good in fact that I have been utterly miserable for four days. I'm not kidding. I've had migraines that weren't as bad as the headache I had Monday, and I've only had back pain this bad when I had a 24-hour flu and when I was in labor. Right now, my lower back and legs spasm and hurt so much that I have a hard time just being still to write. Trust me. I have learned how miserable a cleansing fast can be.

Why is that good? Because it is cleaning how my body. It's getting rid of the toxins in my system. My body is getting healthier. Physically, the benefits are huge, and this time there is evidence that something is happening.

A healthier body is good, but it gets better. During this time of misery, I have looked at my options. This isn't like a caffeine head ache that a soda will fix. If I eat a bag of Oreos, it won't get better. Really, there is nothing that can help this process. I even considered getting muscle relaxants or stronger pain killers from my doctor. The thing is, though, the pain is necessary. The cleanse is necessary if I want to be healthy. This misery, as much as I would love to get out of it, is necessary, and the simple fact is the only way through this misery is go to actually go through it.

Now, that might sound like the most obvious statement in the world. If it is, then why are so many people trying apparent shortcuts out of their misery when the only way they will truly feel better is to face their misery head on and go through it?

I'm not just talking about the physical discomfort of a fast. Most people can handle physical discomfort. The thing that gets us is the emotional and spiritual, and sometimes it is hard to tell the two apart. All we can say with certainty is that we hurt, and the hurt seems to engulf us. There is no way to turn, no way to move, no way to simply even exist without being in pain. Our first reaction is to find a way out. Unfortunately, that doesn't really get us healthy. It just makes it possible to ignore what is making us sick, and it puts us back in a place of dealing with symptoms but never getting well. The only way through is to go through.

So what does that mean in real life? It means you have to find a safe place to be honest. Stock up on some kleenex. Be prepared to feel like the world is crashing because the world you know may very be. If you are going to go through, you have to pour yourself into your faith. As I have felt incapacitated for any purpose other than cleansing, I have tried to spend my time in prayer rather than focusing on the pain. I read my Bible. I put on my worship music. Like I said, not only would I not put myself through the whole veggie and water only gig. I wouldn't inflict pain like this on myself either. If I am going to do this, I have to believe God has something good waiting for me at the end of this. Any time we are faced with the pain of an unwanted journey, cleansing, or open wound, we have to trust that God has something good waiting for us or we are likely to turn tail and run.

The thing is when we run, we only run back to where we were. Our "solution" may look different, but the results are the same. The only way out of the pain is through it, and while it is a miserable road when you are in it, if you are faithful to stick to it, you will reach the other side, and the Lord will be holding out good things for you.

And I keep thinking how good it will feel when people ask me about this later and I can smile and say with great joy, "Oh, that miserable thing? I'm through."

Hoping you take the road that takes you through....

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Unusual Suspect by Stephen Baldwin-An Unusually Powerful book

I just finished reading The Unusual Suspect by Stephen Baldwin (www.stephenbaldwin.com). I will be honest. I didn't know what exactly to expect from a Hollywood pretty boy, but I had read some things about Stephen in the media that made me think he wasn't the mamsy-pamsy sort and his book might be a good read.

In case you have not heard, Stephen made news this year when he went against a porn shop in his town. He sat outside on the sidewalk and took pictures of the patrons and put those pictures in a full-page ad in the newspaper's Sunday edition. It didn't go over well with some folk, but he didn't care. He has a wife and daughters, and he didn't need that garbage in his town.

I'll confess. I was a bit shocked. I have seen some Stephen Baldwin movies, and to hear that he would go up against porn shops was...a new view of him. I liked the view, and it left me interested in this new side of Stephen Baldwin.

I prayed for him, for his family, and for the word to get out about what he was doing.

I've seen updates periodically, but for the most part, the media seemed to let it drop when they realized they could not shame him or intimidate him into backing off. That is a shame because what he did should have stoked the fire of every God-fearing man in America, and we should have had churches sitting out on the sidewalks taking pictures and meeting in the city counsel chambers demanding a change in public zoning and political acceptance of such an industry. At the very least--and the most powerful--we should have had some get stoked enough to stand on the sidewalk and pray for the powers of hell that had taken up residence to be brought down and for the land to be redeemed.

Sadly, that didn't happen. If anything, a lot of those God-fearing men shook their heads and babbled some small-minded comment about Baldwin making Christians look like radical freaks. Well for those who did, Stephen Baldwin would say thanks for thinking he is radical, and I say get on your face and repent.

Anyway, because I was impressed by a man doing something instead of just whining about the condition of America's moral fabric today, I have wanted to read his book since I first saw it. I had waited for Christmas hoping to get it as a present, but when I didn't, I took matters into my own hands and spent my own money on it. It was well beyond being worth the investment.

If you want hardcore, Bible-as-it-is, uncompromised, sold-out, everything-I-am-and-have, all-for-you, holding-nothing-back-even-if-it-kills-me commitment that will stoke your fire, challenge your commitment, and stretch your comfort zone, this book is for you.

I think Christians who read this book will fall into three categories: 1) those shouting, "Hallelujah! Amen!" about every page or so, 2) those muttering, "I can't believe he said that, but I'm glad he did because now I don't feel like the only one who thinks that way," and 3) those who read it, shake their heads, and say, "Oh, God is going to get all over that boy." For those in the third group, I want to assure you that He already did. That is why Stephen wrote the book, and it is Holy Spirit drive from beginning to end. Therein lies the power. Therein also lies what will make Christians cringe and sinners see hope. The Holy Spirit is all over this book, and it'll convict, challenge, and encourage in ways that might shock you coming from a Hollywood pretty boy.

As for sinners who read it, I think they'll either write him off as nuts because they are so deceived or they'll run to find out more because this is spiritual filet mignon, baby.

The Unusual Suspect is as honest as it gets. If you need a fire lit under you, this is your match. If you want to know you are not the only one that looks at the Christian life from a more radical perspective than most, this is your buddy book. If you are happy reading your 15-minute devotions in the morning, sitting in the same pew every Sunday at church, and living the predictable happy-you-aren't-going-to-hell life, read it 'cause you need it the most.

Thinking Stephen Baldwin is too celebrity to come up with something that life-altering? He'll be the first to tell you he didn't come up with any of it, and I admit, a lot of it is really simple stuff. That is what makes it so unusually powerful, but God works that way, and as Stephen says, maybe that is what makes God the most unusual suspect.