Monday, September 27, 2010

A Change of Plans

Have you ever had a change of plans?  You know, you get one thing all scheduled, planned to the T. You know what time you need to leave and how fast you have to drive in order to arrive at your destination with four minutes to spare.  Those four minutes will be eaten up by your walk to the building and you'll show up right on time.

But what about those times that you've had to throw those plans out the window?  All the hard work put into preparation and something steps in the way and it's all for naught.

Recently, my Mother planned a 40 year anniversary trip to Maine for my Dad. As Dad puts it, "This was a labor of love." For anyone who knows my mom, she hates to travel.  I mean hates it! She'd rather have lemon juice poured on paper cuts than travel more than 30 minutes in the car. So, this was a huge deal for her. She planned the whole thing herself; the B&B's, the stops along the way. It was her love for my Dad that spurred this trip. So, it must have been hard when unforeseen circumstances caused them to cancel the trip. So, she painstakingly called the B&Bs to cancel. Some refunded her money, some did not. But she did it because life got in the way and because she loves my Dad. They got to go eventually, but only after she rearranged her plans.

But how about those times when we choose to change our plans? We plan to do _____ and our kids want to do _____ (Fill in the blanks.) Sometimes we put our own plans aside because we want to see the joy on our children's faces. We want to show them how much we love them by giving them things that will make them happy.  We want to show them that they are the most important thing in the world to us and do so by putting our own wants behind theirs.

This is how God is with us. He changes his plans for us!

Isaiah 38 tells the story of Hezekiah. "In those days, Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah went to him and said, "This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. "Remember O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: "Go and tell Hezekiah,'This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life."

It was the prayer of the faithful that caused God to change his plans. He had things all set. Hezekiah was supposed to die of his illness, but his prayers made God change his plans.  Isn't that amazing.  GOD CHANGED HIS PLANS!

Yesterday in Sunday school, we were discussing the miracles of Christ. My favorite is his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. You know the story. Jesus is hanging out with his buddies at a wedding. The bride and groom run out of wine, which was about the most disgraceful thing to have happen in that time period. So his mother comes over and says, "They don't have any more wine." He responds by saying, "Why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come."

You see, it wasn't in his plans to turn the water to wine that day. But those of you who've read the story know how it ends.  He does it.  He performs a miracle. He changed his plans that day. Who knows, maybe his first miracle was supposed to be something huge like a group healing. Maybe it would have been accompanied by lightning bolts and earthquakes just to make sure everyone noticed.  But whatever his plans were, (the Bible doesn't tell us when 'his time' really was.) he changed them for that couple.

Are you beginning to see?  God loves us so much he changes his plans for us. So don't give up or give in. Don't resign yourself to the fact that nothing will ever make God change his mind.  It doesn't matter if you think God has a certain plan and everything is set and unchangeable. God is the only unchangeable being in this universe. His love is unchanging. His grace is unending. However, with a little prayer, sometimes with a lot of prayer, his plans can change. Why? Because he loves you.

So what ideas have you given up on today? What have you stopped praying for because you still don't see the answer? Have you decided that you'll never have a baby because the doctors have told you so? Have you given up on that relationship because it seems too impossible to fix? Are you absolutely sure there is no more hope? God wants to be merciful to us. He wants to extend his grace to us. The real question is, are we willing to reach out and accept it?

I was once told that God answers prayers in three ways: "Yes", "No", and "Not right now."  But I'm beginning to believe that there are now four answers: "Yes", "No", "Not right now" and, "Sure, just let me rearrange some things first."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christians Can Speak Loudly Too.

For those of you who haven't yet heard, Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK is under attack. Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State University, claims it is filthy and immoral and even claims it contains "soft pornography" because of two rape scenes. This man is a Christian and asks how the Christian men and women can expose their children to such filth.  Ironically, the Bible contains stories of rape, incest, adultery, murder and the like, as well as being a story of redemption, yet I'm assuming Mr. Scroggins won't try to prevent children from reading it. 

I'm horrified by this whole event. First of all, I'm a Christian.  I have been for as long as I can remember.  Growing up with a pastor for a dad, my life was inundated with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith boils down to this: We as humans screw up on a daily basis, sometimes worse than others.  This is called sin. That sin separates us from God. To fix the problem that we originally created, God sent his son, Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago to be punished for those sins.  He died and because of his sacrifice, I can one day spend eternity with a God who loves me and sacrificed his own life for me.  

I've screwed up countless times.  I've hurt the people I love the most, and in doing so, I've separated myself from God.  But you know what?  He forgives me.  Notice that's in present tense.  He forgave, forgives and continues to forgive.  It's not that I do horrible things on purpose, but living in the world we do, we often are influenced by the things we see around us.  We are continually under attack by the enemy of our souls, Satan, and we have to stand guard in order to fight against this evil.

Christianity draws an even clearer picture of the depravity that we humans face every day.  It's not right to shield our children from reality. If we do, they won't know how to deal with it when they experience it for themselves.  Should we do this before they're ready? Of course not, but we can't pretend that sin isn't real either. If we downplay the sin in the world, we also downplay the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Personally, I want my children to understand that despite all the evil that surrounds us, our God has already defeated the enemy of sin and death. I want them to understand they can live in this world without fear because of Christ's death and resurrection. I want them to know that no matter what sin  is committed and no matter how broken people are, there is still forgiveness and healing in Jesus.

Just one look around this world and we can see the sinfulness. Murder, hatred, incest, lust, affairs, and abuse are just a drop in the ocean of the horrible things humans have done to each other. And rape.  Yes, rape, which brings me back to the controversy surrounding SPEAK

If you haven't read it, do so!!!  It's a necessary read for any teenager, despite what Mr. Scroggins says.  Yes, it has rape in it. But why are we afraid to speak loudly about issues and sins in our own society? Are we instead just  going to ignore the rapes that occur every day and hush young people when it happens to them? Are we going to tell them by our silence that their pain isn't important, or are we going to show them that there are people who have been through what they've been through? Are we going to show them that they can survive, live even, after something so horrible? Are we going to support them  and encourage them to speak out or are we going to shush them into dealing with their pain alone? How do we expect to change any of the atrocities that happen in our world if we keep silent about them? 

Do horrible things like rape happen every day?  Yes. But there can be healing after. Our Lord Jesus Christ can bring healing and wholeness that the enemy and the rapist took away. 

But sometimes it takes a little nudge.  It takes someone like Laurie Halse Anderson to write a book like Speak that shows young people they don't have to remain silent. Speak gives them a point of contact, someone to resonate with, a spark of recognition that maybe, just maybe they can be all right. If we keep silent about these issues like rape, abortion, drugs, or abuse, kids will discover answers on their own.  Why not give them a point of reference that may just help make their lives a little better?

So, Ms. Anderson, keep writing stories like Speak.  We're still listening. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hate List-- Jennifer Brown

I've been sitting here with my fingers hovering over the keyboard, wondering where to start.  I was so moved by Jennifer Brown's debut novel Hate List, I can't even sort out my emotions. This book evokes a wide spectrum of feelings from hate to fear to sorrow all the while drawing the reader into a realm of reality we all hope we never have to truly experience.

Valerie Leftman is about to start her Senior year at Gavin High School. But this year will be different from any other since she was the girlfriend of Nick Levil, the guy who shot up the school, killing many of his classmates before shooting himself. It was all because of the Hate List, a list that she helped create.

You know you've said it.  "I hate this homework assignment." "Mrs. So-n-so sucks." or "I'll kill him for breaking my ipod." Those kinds of things were on the hate list, but it was more than that. There were names.  Names of people Val and Nick hated for tormenting them at school.

 Punches in the chest when no one was looking. Nicknames like "Sister Death." They were constantly bombarded with an array of teasing, and their only way to deal was to make the hate list. But Val wouldn't have done anything about it. Writing it down was enough for her.  And she was just as shocked as everyone else when Nick open fired on the commons. But no one will ever believe that. Just like they wouldn't believe that Nick wasn't really the monster the papers made him out to be.  He was kind, and protective, and he loved Shakespeare, but no one would know that because they were too busy harassing him.

Unfortunately, Val can't change the past and now she has to face the same people day in and day out, and despite what the reporter, Angela Dash says, the shooting hasn't changed anything.  Kids still hate each other. Fear still resides in the hallways. She's still ostracized. But maybe through the help of her psychiatrist, Val can figure out how to deal with her upside down life.  And maybe, just maybe she can learn to trust people again.

A school shooting would be anyone's worst nightmare. As a former teacher, I know what the schools are like.  I know how cruel some kids can be to other kids. But how can we expect different from our children when we adults don't do any better? How can we teach our children not to hate when our own lives are saturated in anger? Until we can learn to forgive those who have wronged us and show our children that hatred only destroys, there is no hope for them. Until we learn to treat others who are different from us with respect, we can't expect our children to do the same.  I know it's hard, especially when ignorance abounds and people make choices based on their feelings. I know it's hard when someone offends you or your beliefs. I know it's hard when people choose wrong believing whole heartedly they are right, (Yes, there is a right and wrong no matter what some may say.) So how can we go about making this world safe for our children?

The answer is in ourselves.  We need to search our hearts and rid them of malice, hatred, anger, greed, jealously.  We need to replace that with love and forgiveness. Only then will we not only be able to tell our children to be kind to those who are different, but we'll be able to show them how it's done.  What better lesson can we teach our kids than living that kind of life?