Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do the Word: Faith@Work

Listening and Doing

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:19-27 NIV

Do the Word: Faith@Work

The Jewish roots of the James 1:19-27 begin in the Torah where God commands his children to provide for all his children—including the impoverished and defenseless. Even agnostic Thomas Huxley recognized the Torah as “the Magna Carta of the poor and oppressed.”

In biblical times, widows were women who lost both their husbands and other males charged to socially and economically support them, including men who were unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations. “Widow” and “widowhood” derive from the root Hebrew word, alman, meaning “discarded, divorced, forsaken.”

When forsaken by my minister husband’s adultery, like Hagar, I cried out to God, “I’m terrified. Who will take care of us? I don’t have anyone to call in emergencies.”

Sermons often emphasize James 1:19–26, neglecting verse 27’s practical application. How does this passage apply to modern-day widows and the fatherless?

Quick to Listen: In the Hebrew, Exodus 22:21-22 repeats three words, “oppress,” “cry out,” and “listen.” "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him...Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan." What heart cry does God want us to hear concerning society’s oppressed? The prophets running theme—warnings that God hates injustice towards the “least of these.”

I lacked $37 to pay my utilities, humiliated, I asked my pastor for help.

“Go get another job or two,” my pastor advised.

The power company cut off my electricity.

No heat.

No hot food.

No warm water to bathe my preschool sons.

Slow to Speak and Anger: Mistreating widows sparked the first church fight in Acts. What angers God? Religious rhetoric. Ignoring the needy. Does what enrages God’s heart, infuriate you? Unkindness. Injustice. Mercilessness.

Don’t Deceive Yourself. Faith in “name only” talks big. Actions reveal volumes about heart beliefs.

Reign in Your Tongue: Someone asked me, “Was your divorce biblical?” I thought, “What if it wasn’t? What does your tongue divulge about self-righteous attitudes towards vulnerable, hurting individuals? Is your mouth a weapon that pierces or an instrument of healing? Do your words draw people towards God or push them away?

Do What the Word Says. “Doer” in Greek means “good deeds” glorifying God. Hearing without action is worthless religion. Jesus’ example mirrored God’s law and compassion. He came so we’ll see the marginalized through God’s eyes, hear people’s cries with God’s ears, and feel with God’s heart.

A Mirror of Faith@Work

How does James describe someone whose religion God accepts as pure—faultless? Unpolluted faith-in-action, benefiting those in emotional and economic distress.

I’ve adapted what an unknown author captured regarding how religion falls short of Christ’s commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I was hungry. You formed a benevolence committee to evaluate my hunger.

I was imprisoned and oppressed. You crept off quietly to pray for my release.

I was naked. You debated the theology of divorce, single-parent households and my sons’ futures—doomed.

I was sick. You thanked God you weren’t like me.

I was homeless. You preached, “God’s love is your spiritual shelter.”

I was lonely. You alienated me. You said, “We’ll pray for you.”

But…my children and I are still hungry, lonely and cold.

God sees.

In Genesis, the first person to whom God revealed El Roi, the God who sees, was to a discarded Hagar, the first recorded single mom. The Epistles conclude with Paul entrusting the body of Christ to a man who some believe was raised in a single-parent home—Timothy.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

Operation Jump Start

Operation Jump Start

I turned the car key in the ignition.


Then click, click, click.

Frustrated, I stood in my driveway banging on the hood. A teenage Good Samaritan offered to help. Inexperienced, Ryan reversed the jumper cables. The brass clamps bit down hard on the DieHard's battery terminals.


Smoke and tiny flames leapt from three electrical wires near the battery.

It could have been worse. Like being stuck at night in the middle of nowhere with the hood up, jumper cables slithering down the front bumper and me praying, God, please send someone who will stop and help me.

Samantha, Ryan's mom, drove me to an auto parts store to buy replacement electrical connectors. She profusely apologized for her son's mistake, even though helping me out made her late for work. Samantha peppered her conversation with words that could make a military man blush.

I found her openness refreshing. No masks. She held nothing back.

She was a solo parent, like me. However, until now, our relationship hadn't moved past the "Howdy, Neighbor" wave.

As if stomping on the brakes, my neighbor's colorful language halted. "Oh, I shouldn't talk that way around you."

I assumed she thought, Oh, she's that "Christian" neighbor.

Samantha hit my hot button. She tried to raise a facade between us.

Too late.

Samantha hid nothing and neither did I.

"You know, my pet peeve is when people aren't who they really are with me," I told her. "It drives me nuts when Christians' rhetoric masks how they really live and act." She relaxed, continued talking—and cussing.

The Connection

When we arrived at the auto parts store, the manager said, "They don't make those connections for your car anymore. It's too old." He collected bits and pieces of this and that, providing an explanation of how to solder them together. I was glad my "Handy Ma'am" toolbox contained flux and a soldering iron. Samantha dropped me at home and dashed off to work.

From that point on, whenever I stepped outside my front door, "Hey, Scoti!" replaced nonchalant waves and smiles politely signaling, "Howdy, neighbor." No more hit and run relationship—or cussing. Samantha's enthusiasm to connect ran me down.

She gave me chives and salvia to plant in my yard. I loaned her a rake. We shared our experiences and stresses as solo parents raising sons. I acknowledged how fast her young daughter was growing into a beauty. Justin, Samantha's live-in boyfriend, helped cut down my large, diseased elm tree.

"Why isn't there a guy in your life?" Samantha asked.

"I don't want my loyalties torn between a husband and my sons. My firstborn might kill any man replacing his alpha male position."

Months later, Samantha crossed the road with pain ingrained on every cell of her face. "Would you pray for Justin? He needs the good Lord. Only the good Lord can help him." Her strong confidant exterior cracked revealing a fragile, devastated woman. She poured out details of their relationship, not to manipulate loyalty or sympathy, but simply from her crushed heart.

I hugged Samantha and promised to pray for both of them.

I can't believe I'm praying for a cohabitating relationship to work.

The Connect or Disconnect

A devotional reading whispered this message to my heart: Be tender with sinners, (Jude 23, MSG). Samantha's desire for the good Lord to change Justin triggered my prayer: Holy Spirit, draw her to Jesus. Please use my words and actions to help Samantha recognize who Jesus is.

Samantha's friends advised, "Dump the jerk." In spite of her litany of his offenses, she still loved him.

"Is he willing to go to counseling?" I asked.

"I've begged him to go to counseling. He won't go."

Every time I walked out my front door, Samantha's house and family situation loomed before me, triggering me to ask God to work in their lives.

A few days later, I rushed to clean my house for company. As I stashed a garbage bag in the container in my driveway, I noticed Samantha working in her yard. I needed to retreat into my house before she noticed me.

"Hey, Scoti." She waved me over. "Can you come over and talk?"

How will I finish my Must-Do cleaning list before my company arrives?

"I've been praying for you," I said.

"Thank you. Justin's going to make a counseling appointment for us. I told him I won't book the appointment, but if he did, I'd go. I've also decided to go alone to work on myself."

We sat on her grass and chatted. My tension dissolved, as my mind re-prioritized compulsive, but nonessential tasks that I could leave undone.

Samantha expressed how tired she felt making the same old bad decisions over and over. Dumping the jerk wouldn't solve her problems. She'd been the dumpee and dumper far too often and wanted to work out the conflict with Justin.

She shared more details about their family dynamics. Jealousy, guilt and conflict swirled around children from multiple partners.

"You're experiencing normal blended family struggles," I said, hoping my words offered perspective. "Blended families usually don't past five years, because children break up them up."

"We've lasted nine years." Hope flashed across Samantha's face.

One Country, Two Cultures

Her story reminded me of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob's well (John 4:1–42).

Many husbands.


Sleeping with a man not her husband.

A hot, thirsty and tired Jesus treated the village wild woman in a far different manner than the religious leaders of his day. His interest, respect, compassion, and heart-to-heart conversation caught her off guard.

In Jesus' day, men held all power to divorce, not women. Five husbands rejected this woman, shattering her heart and reputation. Because this Samaritan woman failed to measure up to pious norms, I imagined the oh-so-righteous married women of the village ostracizing her, cackling about the juicy tidbits of the tattered remnants of her life.

The spiritual leaders of my day taught me this pharisaical, puritanical belief: "Don't drink or dance or cuss or chew and don't hang around with those who do." Could Samantha's lifestyle contaminate my commitment to honor God by embracing sexual abstinence?


I set my heart and body apart for the Lord. I came to the realization that holiness—not communicating with sinners—separates me from sin.

Would I allow Samantha's past to strain our budding relationship? I could dress myself in a black 'I'm-better-than-you' judge's robe and condemn her life choices. Any chance of a genuine, caring friendship—gone. Up in smoke.

I could push Samantha away—or bring her one step closer to understanding who Jesus can be in her life. And that meant risking myself, sharing my story, my hurts, my vulnerabilities, and my feelings of rejection and loneliness. Our hearts suffered many of the same traumatic emotional injuries. I didn't want to extinguish the spark of trust released by her prayer flare lobbed to my side of the street. God challenged me to serve as His human jumper cable to help a fellow traveler stranded along the difficult road of life.

Pain Cracks Open Door to God

Samantha's pain and relationship struggles cracked open her front door to spiritual matters. Our conversations invited Samantha to bare her hurts to me—her imperfect, but forgiven neighbor. I understood understand El-Olam, the everlasting God, will never leave me, nor forsake me.

She doesn't.

I realize El Roi, the God who sees, noticed when my life was hard or I'm hurting and lonely.

She doesn't.

My neighbor needed His love, mercy, grace, and precious gift of salvation. The only healing jolt to jumpstart the dead battery of her drained soul?

God's uninterrupted power source.

My prayers and positive friendship connected her to the restorative power of life—Jesus.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cruciformity: Reality Unblurred

"Our life is full of brokenness — broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives." — Henri Nouwen

What Does 'Cruciformity' Mean to Me?

Brokenness, at the hands of those I trusted, propelled me towards an awe-filled, dynamic relationship with God. My shame and pain constantly intersects with the divine story of the cross. Like Jesus' crucifixion, I felt crucified by some who claimed to know him.

Betrayal and abandonment inflicted intense pain—suffering that seemingly destroyed my hopes, dreams and reputation—yet, ultimately infused life into the passion God placed into my heart. To make sense of these life-shattering events, I searched God's Word. I needed answers to my "Whys?"

Every day, I discover God's trustworthy character. Only he provides the example of how he desires life to be lived. This blog will chronicle my discoveries about faith, love, power, and hope.