Where is Home?

Where is Home? has been published in the Thrive online magazine. Click here to read it.

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The Prodigal Son – A fresh look

I was challenged recently to think about the story of the Prodigal Son a little differently. I was reading the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, and the author told about asking a group of Americans to retell the story in their own words. The majority retold it without the detail of the famine. When he asked a group in Eastern Europe to do the same, almost every person noted the detail of the famine. It happens that that area had been greatly impacted by a famine years earlier. The author was making the point that our circumstances color how we read scripture. It got me thinking about how I might view the passage differently looking at it in light of that relevant factor. Here’s what struck me.  I started to see it in terms of the father’s provision, as well as the father’s forgiveness. The son asked for his inheritance, and the father gave it. Now what parent wouldn’t start to think about what their child has in mind for all that money? Whether we attribute omniscience to this father or not, he suspects what his son has in mind. And he still gives it. No catch, no lecture on how to spend it. He gives.

But the son wasn’t responsible with it, he squandered it on himself, his own desires. Then when famine came, starvation drove him back to his father. Even though he’d blown all his inheritance, all his father’s good gifts, he knew it would be better to have nothing, to be a slave in his father’s house, than to do life on his own terms. He knew by now that it would be better to let someone else decide what he needs. All he wants now is food, and his father gives him a lavish party.

The older son, because he had never gone away, never really realized what he had, he was jealous of the party. He had never experienced starvation, he had all he needed all the time. And took it for granted. He needed to realize what he had and be grateful, grateful that he never knew starvation.

If you want to live life your own way, you will come to the end of yourself, hopefully, by God’s grace, to return to dependence on God. Dependence on both his forgiveness as well as his provision.

For much of my early life I could relate to the older son. I never really rebelled, never dove headlong into sin and at times I could be jealous of others getting lavish blessings, material or spiritual. Later as an adult, I went through a period of intense struggle in my life and I grew in greater dependence on God. And so I identified more with the second son, and his desperate need for the Father. Now, I’m beginning to relate to the father, learning to give all that I have and all that I am to others. To be poured out for His sake, confident there will always be enough. He will take care of me. And you.

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Managing Holiday Expectations

Do you tend to get more down as the holidays approach instead of happier? Do the holidays mean more stress and exhaustion in an already busy schedule?

I enjoyed Christmas in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country. In Thailand only Christians celebrated Christmas. It wasn’t diluted by the non-Christians’ celebration of some meaningless holiday. And there wasn’t the hustle and bustle of a more consumerist approach to the season.

But with any holiday there is that possibility of adding on more activity to an already busy schedule. And in the busy-ness it’s easy to get less sleep and more irritable. So what to do?

Holidays are often impacted greatly by expectations – especially differing expectations within a family, or even internal expectations we have of ourselves. I have to fix food for guests. I have to get gifts for those being celebrated. The house should look nice. We need to all be together, whatever it takes to make it happen. And the clincher – we should all get along together with peace and joy and love in our hearts!

That’s a tall order! Here are a few tips to get through the upcoming, or any, holiday:

  1. Talk with each other. Get together with family, roommates, teammates, to talk about what you each expect, re: traditions – what would make the holiday special, what things would be hard that you’d like to avoid if possible. Be open and clear with each other. Don’t start to negotiate at this stage, just give opportunity for each voice to be heard.
  2. Find the common denominators of what would make the time special. Think outside the box. Maybe start some new traditions, especially if past traditions of your home culture aren’t available.
  3. Show respect for the desires and anxieties of each other. “What a lovely activity that would be. Sure wish there was some way to make it happen.” Don’t just immediately say, “Well that can never happen.”
  4. Remember that listening to each other and valuing each other in the discussion can, in and of itself, be stress relieving and affirming.
  5. Agree on what kind of time frame will be set aside for the celebration. Put it on the calendar in ink! Make sure you mark out any preparation time needed as well on the calendar. Try to be realistic!
  6. Remember perfection is not the goal. Celebration, time together, enjoying one another’s company are what are really important.

May you have a peace-full celebration of the incarnation.

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The widow who gave all she had

Mark 12:41-44 tells the story of a widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury – just a couple small coins. Jesus applauded her generosity by giving all she had. I often wonder what happened to that woman. Did God provide for her in some way, so that she had something to eat after that? Was she poor and destitute and eventually die of starvation? Or maybe God took her to be with him right afterward. I don’t know. But recently it struck me, does it really matter? I mean in light of the Lord’s approval and the eternal riches in the spiritual realm that would be hers soon, does it really matter just how many more days she had on the earth in poverty? Don’t get me wrong, I hope she didn’t suffer. But her faith was laying up for her treasure in heaven. As Paul says, the sufferings of this life are nothing in comparison to the glories that will follow. She’s not poor any more.

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The Lost Art of Listening

My favorite book I read while in my psych training was “The Lost Art of Listening.” I don’t know when it was an art, but it certainly has been lost in this tweeting, posting, texting world. As we become adept at expressing ourselves in ever briefer terms, the question is – Is anyone listening? And does it matter to us anymore?

Listening can be such a powerful instrument in the life of a person, a relationship, or a community. Its importance is confirmed in scripture – “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

In my work I see the power of listening every day. It has the power to heal, affirm, empathize, and even clarify. When one person listens deeply, the other has the freedom to go deeper, to understand to new depths, and to know acceptance at deeper levels.

I’m not a very frequent blogger because I desire dialogue, not monologue. The listener is key. If anyone has ‘listened’ to this, I’d love to know. Thanks for listening.

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Perspective

Sometimes things can look pretty bleak from this vantage point. Wars and terrorism abound afar. Violence, abuse and apathy abound closer to home. People are out of work, kids get abused, and it seems like it gets ever more difficult just to make ends meet.

But this isn’t the whole story. It’s not even the most important story. God invites us to get our perspective from Him, to see things from the point of view of His kingdom. What does that look like? Well I can’t claim to have a bird’s eye view, but I know it involves things like faith, resurrection, and redemption. Yes, God is concerned about whether we have food to eat, and a warm place to sleep at night. But He’s even more concerned that we have faith. That we believe with our whole heart that He exists and that He will take care of us. We tend to get it backwards, we think, if God provides such and such, then I’ll trust Him for more. When what He’s looking for is trust in Him, and through that faith, He will provide more than we can ask or imagine. We’d really like to do it ourselves with a little help from God. “God, please provide health, a good job, safety for the kids, enough money to put gas in the tank.” All good things to pray for, but that’s not where we’re to start. We’re to start with seeking His Kingdom. “God show me what it’s like to have your perspective, show me what it’s like to live in your culture, even in this situation right here and now.” Do we really put God first, or are we like Peter in responding to Jesus’ prediction of his death – “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matt. 6:22-23

I love the song Resurrection by Nicol Sponberg. Part of it goes –
“You have a way of turning winter to spring
Make something beautiful out of all this suffering
chorus:
Here I am once again I’m in need of resurrection
Only You can take this empty shell and raise it from the dead
What I’ve lost to the world what seems far beyond redemption
You can take the pieces in Your hand and make me whole again, again”

That’s why I do what I do. I know God wants to bring something beautiful out of all the suffering. That’s what He is so good at, redeeming what looks bad from our perspective and turning it into something beautiful. The cross is the best example of that, and He didn’t stop 2000 years ago.

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Heaven

A recent 20/20 program focused on the concept of heaven and what various religions believe about it. Barbara Walters made the comment to a Christian leader – “If indeed we do believe that our purpose is not life on earth, but to go to heaven, why struggle against death?” Why indeed?! Of all people, we Christians have so much to look forward to. It is the hope of eternal life that transforms this life; that hope that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor 5:4). Yes, outwardly, our bodies are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). I need to remind myself that every ache and pain, every bout of cold or flu, can be a beautiful reminder of the wonderful gift God has waiting for me in heaven, when death is swallowed up by life. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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Being Rooted and Grounded in Love

I have a cross stitch on my wall of the saying “Give your children two things – One is roots, the other wings.” I’ve seen people rooted in a lot of things, some not so healthy – criticism, being well behaved, perfectionism, discipline, etc. All of these can be positive in the right context, even criticism. Critiquing can be an important part of learning. But none of these are helpful as a foundation, as the very thing in which our personalities are established. But if we have a foundation of love, then we can welcome discipline, we can receive criticism. If we don’t have a foundation of love, then criticism is like fingernails on a blackboard. Discipline can seem like tyranny.

So how do we respond to God’s discipline? Does it feel like just one more requirement? Another scratch against the blackboard? It may mean we haven’t been well grounded yet in his love.

Kids who grow up in loving households, where love and respect are openly displayed on a daily basis, can have good resilience and coping skills for facing challenges that come later in life. If we get a good grounding in being told that we are loved and cherished, in spite of and through the good and the bad, we can cope better with the inevitable trials that will come.

So it is with God. His Word to us is that he loves us, cherishes us, gave up everything for us. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Things can look very different against the backdrop of knowing he loves you and me more than anything in this world. Confident that he has control of my life, that he is working all things, this very day, together for my good, that he is giving me all things necessary for life and godliness – if I’m well grounded in these truths, I have the confidence to walk through this day with joy, with grace toward others, and with hope that good things are going to happen today.

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Foundations

As the first blog on the Care Port site, I wanted to start with a good foundation. A foundation is not only firm, it is strong enough for whatever is built on it. Here in western Washington, the Seattle Space Needle is a 605 foot tower housing a revolving restaurant that opened in 1962 for the Seattle World’s Fair. It just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past week. The tower is built of 3,700 tons of material above ground and 5,850 tons of steel and concrete below ground. Twelve hours of continuously pouring cement into a 30 foot deep hole formed the foundation. As tall as that tower appears when standing at its base, its center of gravity is roughly at eye level. The foundation, the part mostly invisible to those using the building, has to be as strong as or stronger than whatever is built on it.

And so it is with us. What a firm foundation we have. We are built on nothing less than the Creator of the heavens and the earth. With Jesus Christ as our cornerstone, our foundation, our lives can withstand all manner of storms and assaults. How can anything from this world topple those who are built on the One who flung the stars into space?

So what’s built on your foundation? You don’t build a huge foundation for a grass hut. Jesus said that we would do even greater things than he did (John 14:12), and Paul says that God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The sky isn’t even the limit! So what are you imagining these days?

I’m asking for a bigger imagination. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it (1 Thess. 5:24).

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