Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Come Home

Our seventh Christmas without our precious Bronner has just passed, and as this year of completion comes to a close, I am filled with thoughts of him, of all God has already done through his life and legacy, and the purpose for which he was given to us.  Memories are vivid and powerful as my heart overflows with love not only for my youngest child but also for my God, the Giver of his life. 

God gives and takes away, yes, but there is so much more.  I have hashed it all out with Him.  I have pondered and prayed and wept and wondered at it all, and now the book is written.  It was completed this year, 2014, and took so much time and effort that upon its completion a time of rest was given to me this fall.  But I know that my rest is now complete and that my work and witness must begin again.

In just days from now, January 19, 2015, will mark my son's 7th year in Heaven.

What amazing adventures has he been on?

What beautiful things has he seen?

What does he know and see and do?

I am sure of only this:  that his life still is, that he is held in the arms of Love, and that I was given a great treasure in him.

As the 8th day begins, I pray that we as a family will be given renewed purpose, strength, and determination to carry not Bronner's story to the ends of the earth, but God's.

I often wonder at those whose sympathies cannot fathom the justice in God's eternal purpose.  It IS hard to understand from our human perspective.  That is why we must try to look at it from God's.

Someone once asked me, "What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

Grief is a part of our existence.  We are all grieving something.  The circumstances of life in a fallen world weigh us all down so much so that such despondency as exhibited by my question-bearer must certainly come to us all at some point in life.  I am sure I have asked these same questions before: "What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

We are here because we are and because He is.  If that seems too simple, think of it in reverse.  What if you never were, where would you be then?  We ARE because there IS a Creator, Almighty God, and He is filled with good things.  He is love and light and beauty beyond compare.  He is incapable of wrong, for He is perfect.  You may ask, "If this is so, why is the earth riddled with injustices?"  For surely each of us, with the moral compass and logic implanted in us by our Maker, can clearly see much that is wrong in the world in which we live.

Even if we can see evidence of His majesty and glory everywhere and in all things, we can't overlook the fact that the opposite resides here as well.  The two extremes of good and evil can't but confuse us.  That is why an answer must be given to the questions posed by my friend.

"What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

God's purpose is this:  to gather for Himself a people tried and tested in the furnace of affliction, who have walked through this valley of the shadow of death called earth, and who have come out of it with life everlasting.  The redeemed of the earth, when all is said and done, will have chosen the good portion.  They will have have been humbled under the mighty hand of God and will have bowed down before the throne of His grace. 

Our lives here and now are short; eternity is the real question.  You have heard it said that the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour, but have you considered that God's Spirit also searches the earth looking for someone to rescue and redeem?  It is a question of submission versus self-reliance, humility versus pride, good versus evil.  

The prideful will never submit to the authority of God and His Word.  They make THEMSELVES judge of what is good and what is evil or perhaps deny the existence of evil at all.  This is a very sinister spirit, and our culture is filled with it.  We do not accept God's law or standards for living as written in His Word, for it we do, we are convicted of our own sinful nature.  And we must never feel badly about ourselves.  We are all good, says the culture, just misunderstood.  Sin has become a thing of the past.  No one sins anymore, therefore no one deserves punishment for sin.  This is what we have come to believe as a society and in the world at large, but the truth, as written in God's Word, tells a very different story.  It tells us that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.  That Savior has been given.  The Way of Salvation has come. 

God commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

To repent means to turn away from sin.  It involves an acknowledgement of one's own sin, the acceptance of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness, and a renewed life in the Spirit of God by faith in the One who died to pay the price for the sins of the world, Jesus Christ. 

This may seem narrow-minded or obsolete, but look around and you will see the truth of it.  The world in its current state is in need of salvation.  Look into the face of danger or death, and each of us will cry out for help.  Where does that help come from?  It comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.

God has provided a Way of Salvation for us all.

Will you take it?  Will you submit to the Lordship of Christ Jesus?  Will you acknowledge your sin before a holy God and be ransomed as His own?

Sin is selfish and brutal and unrelenting.  It visits us day and night in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  Jesus, alone, turned away every and all temptation by the word of His mouth.   We can't boast that nor can we boast a love greater than His.

Some look at God and see a tyrant ready to throw us all into Hell unless we do as He says.

The Bible does say, "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with an unquenchable fire."  (Matthew 3:12)

We don't like to think about this, but herein lies the answer.  The earth is God's threshing floor, and He is asking us not to be its chaff.  It's up to us to accept what has already been freely given on our behalf.  This place and time we exist in is for a purpose, God's purpose.  It is where God separates what is good from what is unusable and unworthy.  Wheat makes bread to eat. Chaff is good for nothing, and it will be discarded and burned.  That is God's truth.

We don't like to believe that anyone under any circumstances can be discarded.  In our pride, we see ourselves as more compassionate than God and our own righteousness above His because we would never cast anyone aside.  We believe we love others far too much for that, but consider this:  Until it is you who wears the crown of thorns upon your head, until your beaten body hangs upon a cross and a sword pierces your side, you cannot say you love them more.

The cross reminds us of an unsurpassable Love that pursues us with the kind of unrelenting passion that none of us could even fathom.  Our bleeding hearts grieve and offer sympathy, empathy, and love, but He, alone, is able to redeem anyone or anything.  He has, He does, and He will.  We are the reason He hung there.  Sin is what crucified our Lord, and it is His love for us that motivated Him to go through with it.  The cross brings life into death, hope into hopelessness, peace into despair, love out of hate, and a place to belong for the wandering soul.

Come home, it cries.  Come home to the place for which you were created.  "Come to Me, all who are weary, I will give you rest.  I love you, and I will never forsake you." 

It is His kingdom to reign.  Will you submit to Him?  Will you follow?  Will you be bread and not chaff?  Will you choose the good portion, the Bread and Living Water, whose name is Love?  I pray you will.   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

I was recently asked to speak to a group of baseball moms, and the first thing I thought about was America.  I don't know if baseball is still "American's pastime," but it is certainly a part of who we are, a part of our heritage and culture.  Americans like baseball and football and lots of other sports that are wholesome and good and fun because that's who we are, wholesome and good and fun.  I've been around the world and have seen places where this isn't the case, where kindness and compassion aren't the norm.  I've seen poverty and sickness and injustice like you can't find here in America.  A lot of it has to do with oppressive governments, but most of it lies in the prevailing religion of the land.

I have a book called Jesus in Beijing written by David Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine.  In it, Aikman writes about a study done by a leading research group in China.  They wanted to find out what makes America so great.  This is what they said, "One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.  We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective.  At first, we thought it was because you had the best political system.  Next, we focused on your economic system.  But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion:  Christianity.  That is why the West has been so powerful.  The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.  We don't have any doubt about this."   

China knows what makes America great.  Do we?

William Tyndale was an Englishman who lived from 1494-1536.  I share his story here because he was a man of conviction who lived and died for what he believed in.  He was a clergyman with a gift for languages who felt called by God to write a translation of the Bible in his native tongue.  The problem was that it was illegal to do so at the time.  He had to go into hiding to to do the work.  He had completed the New Testament and much of the Old when he was caught, strangled to death, and burned at the stake.  Two years after his martyrdom in 1536, King Henry XVIII authorized the Great Bible to be read in the newly established Church of England.  The Great Bible drew heavily from Tyndale's work as did the Geneva Bible released in 1557.  But the top dog of them all came in 1611 when the King James Bible was printed and released, just 75 years after the death of William Tyndale who had laid the foundation for its publication.  Within a decade, in 1620, the pilgrims set sail for America.  On board the Mayflower were two Bibles, the Geneva Bible and the King James.  Before those pilgrims ever set foot onto Plymouth Rock (and no coincidence that it was a rock either ), they had formed a compact that drew them together as a society that was based on what they had learned and read of God and His law, His standards, and His freedom in those Bibles.  That Mayflower Compact set the groundwork for the law and the liberty that would prevail in the yet to come United States of America.

Two things we can glean from this story:

1.  Never underestimate the impact that one person can have on a society and on the world at large.

2.  America was founded upon the truth of God's Word, and that, most assuredly, is where its goodness comes from.

America has done and still does a lot of good in the world.  We provide food for the hungry, shelter for the weary, and send out the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere.  We are the peacekeepers of the world keeping evil at bay.   I read a book this summer called Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand about an American POW during WWII who had been captured by the Japanese.  We have all heard of the atrocities of the holocaust and what happened in Germany under Nazi leadership, but I had never really studied or read about the horrors that went on in those Japanese war camps.  The prisoners of war in Japan were beaten and starved and tortured in ways a normal human being couldn't fathom.  There was a great darkness there.  Louis Zamperini had been an Olympic runner.  His athleticism was probably one thing that kept him alive.  The other thing was the conviction that someone would come for him.  Salvation did come.  When the American bombers finally flew overhead and tipped their wings at the prisoners, Zamperini knew he would survive the war.  He did and lived to tell the story. 

America is a force for good in the world.  As I've said before, a strong America doesn't just benefit America.  A strong America is important for the whole world.  Our values, beliefs, and religion are needed everywhere.  Salvation came that day for Louis Zamperini in the form of American fighter pilots, but true peace came to his soul through Jesus Christ years later.  Believe it or not, it was at a Billy Graham Crusade.  Never underestimate the impact one person can make upon a society and upon the world.  William Tyndale and Billy Graham certainly prove that point. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of ours called Rick to see if he could fill in for him at a church in Russellville, Alabama, for a Wednesday night service.  Scott Dawson, an evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham who speaks at churches and youth events around the country all the time, had double booked himself.  His conflict was that he had promised to take his teenaged daughter to a One Direction concert on the same night.  Of course Rick understood and gladly accepted the request.  He later got a call from the church where he would be speaking that a young man in their community had been involved in an ATV accident and was clinging to life in the ICU.  He was a star football player for the local high school team.  Rick knew it was no accident that he was the one called there to comfort and encourage that community at such a tragic moment.  Rick's message was basically this:  that this is a world where star football players cling to life in the ICU and where beautiful baby boys drown in their own backyards.  Bad things happen in this world, but if you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this is the worst of life you'll ever know.  But if you don't know Him, this is the best you're ever going to get.

Many gave their lives to Christ that night including at least one of the football player's teammates.  Tragedy works like wildfire in the Christian church spreading it like nothing else can, mainly for the reason that Rick gave in his speech at the church that night.  People want more than this.  Tragedy makes us realize that things aren't right, right now, and it makes us want more.  It makes us want what we were created for, God - holy and righteous and good.

Some of the players on the football team asked their coach and team chaplain if they could be baptized on the football field after practice in honor of their friend and teammate and brother.  Who could deny a request like that at a time like that?  The boys were baptized, but somehow a group from Wisconsin called "Freedom From Religion" got wind of it and began to threaten the school, coach, and chaplain with a legal fight because of it.

It seems the most illogical of complaints to me.  First of all, how far away from Russellville, Alabama is Wisconsin?  How could they make any claim at all that their freedom was infringed upon?  And what freedom can they claim from religion?  It is religion itself that is protected as a first amendment right, not the lack thereof.  I don't believe the "Freedom From Religion" group has a leg to stand on, but the point is that they exist at all.  Groups like these have never before existed in America, nor should they.  No one has the right to be free from religion, not in the way they expect.  They expect me to be quiet, to sit still and let them take away my religion, which tells me to bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to any and all who will hear, to be a light and a witness to an unbelieving world, to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus EVERYWHERE.  That is my religion, and to prohibit my free exercise thereof is a violation of the constitution upon which this great nation was founded.

"But take heart," Jesus said, "I have overcome the world."  Jesus is greater and more powerful than anything.  He conquered the grave.  He has the power of resurrection.  He holds the keys of death and Hades, and He will triumph over all evil with the breath of His mouth.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign forevermore.  With this kind of power on our side, what are we afraid of?

"No power of Hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand."

Be bold, brothers.  Be of good courage, my sisters.  Fear not, for He is with us.  We are living in a day when we will have to stand up and fight for what we believe in.  We are living in a day when we must be bold.  We are living in a day when we must say with the Apostle Paul that "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 

If the rest of the world is an indication of the health of the church, then let the persecution come, for a persecuted church is a thriving church.  Let it be.  What will come will come.  I will not fear persecution.  What can man do to me?

"What then shall we say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  What shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31-39)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Work of Worth

"Every woman has a story," says the tag I snipped off my Village Artisan handmade necklace that I bought from the woman I want to tell you about.  I've known Kristi Griem for a long time.  Her husband is the minister of missions at my church.  When I wanted to go to Israel for the first anniversary of Bronner's Heaven-going, he coordinated the trip.  He also coordinated the one Kristi and I were a part of that kind of begins this story.

We were two of nine women from our church who visited a work ministry in India called Freeset in May of 2010.  What I mean by work ministry is that the mission is to give women caught in the sex trade another choice.  Freeset employs women who live and work in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous red light district in Kolkata, India.  Instead of selling their bodies for profit, the women are now employed to sew unique handbags of jute and old sari material.  A sari is the beautifully draped and usually colorful and ornate traditional dress of Indian women.  Freeset also makes and sells fair trade tee shirts, but they'll tell you that they are in the business of freedom.  The women in Sonagacchi aren't there by choice.  Many of them were trafficked and even sold by their own families when they were young girls because of dire poverty.  No one wants to sell their daughter, but maybe they felt that was their only choice.  Freeset and others like them want to break that cycle of prostitution and give women hope, life, and gladness.
Kristi Griem, Work of Worth COO

Kristi has always had a heart for the poor and a passion for justice, but something awakened in her on that trip.  Maybe it was anger, anger at the exploitation of young girls, and in that righteous anger, she knew she wanted to be a part of it all.  She began working for Freeset in the USA giving voice to the women who formerly hadn't one.  "I feel a particular calling to exploited women.  I want to give them another option.  I want to help give them dignity."  While working for Freeset, Kristi discovered many other groups doing similar work and realized she could help in a bigger way.  "I like connecting people," she said.  "What I can do is connect the need to the impact point."  That's what Work of Worth is all about.

The Village Artisan jewelry and journal I bought were made by women who have been "employed in dignity" in Northern India, the rice bag in Mumbai, the scarf in Bagladesh.  They'll still feature items from Freeset, but this way more and more women and girls can be impacted.  There are even men involved.  "We're really excited about some leather goods we'll be getting in soon," she said.  The concept behind Trinajit Leather Works is to employ men in impoverished areas so that selling their daughters is no longer a necessary evil.  That way we stop the trafficking before it begins.  And the artistry is impeccable, hand sewn works done in the old ways.  Everything Work of Worth International sells is a work of art.  That's the best part to me.  We, the consumer, can get really cool hand made products and know that what we're buying is so much more than a bracelet or a scarf.  We're buying hope for a human being because we are all a "Work of Worth."  I just love that! 

Kristi, Chief Operations Officer for Work of Worth,  along with Executive Director Barry Morehead and Brendt Blanks who works with volunteers and online sales want to invite you to the Work of Worth Launch this September 9th from 5 until 8 p.m. at the Christian Service Mission in downtown Birmingham.  There will be music and food and, of course, Work of Worth products to buy.  "It's a great opportunity to participate in setting someone free," Kristi said.  The address is 3600 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222.  I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Turning America on Its Heels

Like many other Americans, I became increasingly concerned about the direction our country was headed during the 2008 election year.  We could all see the change happening.  It was a movement away from the Judeo-Christian values our nation had been founded on.  I knew that those values were what made America so great.  Liberty and freedom are a God given right to all people declares our Constitution.  Not only were we free to worship and live and speak by our own convictions, we had become a defender of freedom around the world.  I believed that an American on the decline would be disastrous not only for ourselves but for everyone.  I prayed.  I asked for forgiveness for our collective sinfulness as a nation.  We had become too worldly, too much like everyone else, and that is not God’s calling for His people.  He asks us to be holy, set aside for His purpose and His plan, but many of us had become so focused on the so-called “American dream” that we had forgotten our true calling and place in the world.  Of this, I repented and prayed according to 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

It was about that time that I met Gary Palmer, President of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank here in Birmingham.  He felt strongly that women could play a vital role in turning America on it heals back toward its noble heritage.  It was from this idea that a Political Action Committee was formed called Allied Women.  I was one of the founding members of that group, and it was Gary Palmer who mentored us and brought us up to speed on some pressing issues.  He believed we needed to start at home, focusing on the Alabama State Legislature, uprooting the old and putting in some new, fresh faces we believed would stand up for ethical laws and standards that were more fitting with Alabama’s highly conservative and Christian constituency.  We did, and the Alabama State Legislature was overturned in 2010 for the first time in more than 100 years.  With the new Republican legislature it was easy for then Governor Bob Riley to push through an ethics package he had been hoping to pass for years.  We were in full support of more ethical standards in politics and legislation in Alabama, so this was a wonderful victory and step in the right direction.  During this whole process, one of the big issues facing our state at the time was gambling.  Interested parties had targeted our state to push for legalized gambling in Alabama.  We also fought against this and won. I have since left the board of Allied Women to focus more closely on other callings from the Lord on my life.  However, I know Gary Palmer to be a man of conviction, passion, heart, character, and knowledge, a man who loves America deeply, the true America, the one George Washington led to victory in the Revolutionary War because he knew it was right, the one who hates tyranny and loves freedom, the America who defends the weak and the oppressed, the America that is "a city set on a hill" shining the light of Christ to all points of the compass.  That is why I will cast my vote tomorrow, June 3, to send Gary Palmer to Washington to represent Alabama’s Congressional District 6.  I will vote for him because I know he believes what I believe and that he knows how to make a difference.  He’s not really a politician.  Gary is an American, a patriot, one who really cares and who has the fortitude to fight for America and for "freedom loving people everywhere."

I will also cast my vote tomorrow for Arnold Mooney in the Republican primary for Alabama State House District 43.  I will vote for Arnold Mooney because I believe he is running for the right reason, to give back.  So many people go into politics to make a name for themselves.  That is not the case with Arnold Mooney.  He has been a businessman for much of his life.  He has raised his family and is now a grandfather.  He feels called by God in this season of life to serve publicly, not for himself but for the good of the people of Alabama.  He knows that career politicians were never called for but that ordinary citizens like you and me should offer themselves as public servants when God calls them to that.  And that’s where he is.  I believe him to also be a man of character who can be trusted to make wise decisions concerning Alabama.  So I hope you will join me in voting tomorrow, wherever you are, for men and women who are getting in the race to serve not themselves but God.  “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  (Rom. 13:1b)  Let’s do our part in bringing about change in the right direction for our state, our nation, and our world.