Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Racism and Being a Good Samaritan on Social Media - A Lesson Learned





While the social media world moves on, as it always does, a woman who shared her story about the racism that existed in her heart is left bleeding and wounded on the side of the road. Scores of people who read her article on a popular evangelical site, TGC, have either applauded her imperfect effort to share her heart, or took her words and the story of her daughter marrying a black man to strip her emotions bear, beat her and then depart, leaving her heart, her story, and her motives half dead, on the side of the fast moving social media autobahn. (The article has been removed at the author's request. See link at the end of end of this article for a follow up response)

There might still be people responding negatively to the story several days later, but for the most part, in the world of social media, her story was yesterday’s news. However, during that brief moment in the land of internet news feeds, it literally blew up the Christian world for a day. Everyone, their dog, and their goldfish had something to say concerning WHAT she wrote, especially because of HOW she wrote it.

Repentantly, I confess, that includes me.

The title grabbed my immediate attention, but not in a good way. Her selection of words and how she pieced together her thoughts gave further clues that she still had a long way to go with wrestling that ugly monster called racism and putting to death any lingering racists thoughts or beliefs that might still exist in her heart.

Furthering my analysis were her bullet points. 

I think my biggest issue with the article was the condescending tone of the entire piece, especially the way in which she expressed her thoughts in her bullet points. However, I won’t rehash exactly what it was about those bullet points that caused such a ruckus in my heart and soul because I don’t need to be a slave to my emotions any longer than I have been on this issue. I do need to say that the article festered in my heart the entire day after it was published and my emotions were indeed taken on a roller coaster ride that included shock, anger, and then sadness.  

As a brown skinned Mexican woman, I have been a recipient of past racists behavior and comments. I know first hand the pain of being rejected for simply being who God created me to be, color, culture and all. I have been witness to not only racist’s tactics, but I’ve also seen body language of others who made it obvious that I did not fit in with their ideal.  

Rejection and Racism 

Prior to God saving me, when I was in my 20’s, I married outside my ethnic culture. The marriage was very short lived, less than 3 years, but at the onset of that relationship, it was made very clear that I was not welcome in that family. The mother of the man I married vehemently and unapologetically questioned her son why he felt inclined to marry outside his ethnicity. 

“Why do you feel that you have to marry this woman? she asked. 

"Don’t you think you could find someone in your own race to marry?” were the kinds of questions she wanted answers to. 

Not only did I sense and feel a lack of acceptance from this man’s mother, but the entire family made sure I heard their back handed insults, insinuations and negative comments about who I was. They made sure I was well aware that I was the outsider.

God did not transform and redeem me until after that marriage dissolved but I have never forgotten the searing pain of rejection for simply being who God made me to be.

Within a year after God saved me, as a new Christian, I was immediately thrown into an all white setting. I had to learn not only Christian culture, but Christian culture in a majority white context. I had to put away my own cultural preferences and had to accept people who were different than me, and then intentionally focus on what connected me to them and them to me….the person, work, death and resurrection of Christ. I had to look at people, specifically white Christian people and see them as family. I didn’t think I had permission to struggle with this issue. The Holy Spirit moved my heart in such a way that I felt obedience was my only choice.

Obedience to the Spirit meant that I could no longer see white people as “devil", "self-serving", “power hungry”, “oppressors”, “weird”, “crackers”, “dirty” or “people who lacked flavor” (there is a Spanish term that I heard growing up that conveyed the idea that white people are like a dish without salt). All of the stereotypes that I heard growing up concerning white people had to die in my heart. Since my first exposure to Christian living was in an all white setting, I had no choice but to put those stereotypes to death, especially after learning the reality that God’s Word reinforces the idea that community in a local body of believers is instrumental in a Christian’s life. God placed me in a local body of believers who providentially happened to be all white. I was faced with seeing people, who I thought I could never have in my life due our differences as vast as the Grand Canyon, as my new family in Christ. 

CONFUSION And the Word. 

Unfortunately, the longer I was a believer, I soon realized, others did not have the same conviction that I did. Imagine my confusion when I came face to face with people IN the church that exhibited behavior that resembled that of non-Christians. Easily and without remorse these church people rejected others simply for belonging to a different ethnic group or culture. This rejection came in the form of name calling (sometimes from the pulpit but mostly in personal settings), withholding fellowship from others, and outwardly expressing the belief in negative stereotypes of these different ethnic people groups. 

My confusion forced me to search the scriptures for answers. In my early non-scholarly research, I found plenty of scriptures that stated that God will have people from all nations and tongues worshiping him so I knew that he did not prefer one people group over another. Since that was my guiding truth, what was I to make of church people who did not make every effort to live out that multi-ethnic reality?

Then I came across Mathew 7. 

Here I learned that Jesus acknowledges and rebukes religious folks who judge others without acknowledging their own sin. He also encourages treating others in a way you would want to be treated. Then he explained that diseased minded people (false believers) will ultimately bear diseased fruit in the form of diseased behavior, actions, and thought patterns, which will inevitably lead others to do the same. Jesus says, without remorse or sadness that he will cut them down and throw them into the fire. 

Ain't no sugar coating or "gentle" truth telling there. 

Jesus goes on to expresses his concern that there were people who claimed to know him (calling Jesus "Lord Lord" signified a presumed close relationship with him). Again, these people were religious people, meaning they probably knew scripture well enough to recite full passages. In a contemporary setting, these would not be sole holiday church attendees or Sunday pew sitters. These people would be those who play deep in the playground of a church setting. Jesus stated that he will tell these uber religious folks to get away from him...that he NEVER knew them. Not knew them for a little bit and then they fell away....but NEVER knew them. Could Jesus be saying that there is a possibility that there are long standing church people that he will say "depart from me, I never knew you"? 

If that is true, then there are indeed church people who are not actually really Christ followers, though they might even think that they are because of all the church-y things they do.

Let that sink in for a bit. 

ANGER...and the Word. 

After my initial state of confusion, that I felt was clarified well with the very words of Christ himself in Mathew 7, I felt like I was given permission to not necessarily judge people, but instead look for the fruit of people's lives, apart from seeing only long standing church activity. 

Reading Mathew 23 gave even more clarification.

The whole chapter is filled with not only rebuke after rebuke, (7 rebukes to be precise), but in a chain of harsh stinging words, Jesus shows his anger and frustration by calling the religious folks hypocrites 5 times, blind guides, and then takes it a bit further with a slew of strong insults. Serpents and brood of vipers were the words he used to describe those long time religious church people. 

The righteous anger of Jesus is on full display here. If there is one thing that Jesus clearly shows that he hates, it is: 

1) people who pretend to love God outwardly

2) but inwardly only love themselves and their projected appearance and/or their reputation in the church

3) as these religious people do #1 and #2, they do so at the expense of showing justice, mercy and faithfulness. (Mathew 23:23)

What....faithfulness? 

Isn't obeying the law to a T proof of faithfulness? 
Isn't memorizing scripture proof of faithfulness? 
Isn't being a long standing member of a church proof of faithfulness?  
Isn't doing lots of church-y activities proof of faithfulness?

Not according to Jesus it's not. 
Not if all of those actions are void of showing mercy and justice towards others. 

Part of owning a sincere faith and showing that faith is recognizing that we need to treat others justly and mercifully, and without distinction. If long standing church people are not exhibiting these qualities, then they have no right to call themselves lovers of God. And I didn't say that...Jesus did.

As a new Christian, I was able to see that having righteous anger for the right things is not unbiblical. It's not wrong to feel anger at hostile acts of racism, subtle nuances of racist tendencies, or open hypocrisy. On the other hand, in our righteous anger, acknowledging that we are indeed redeemed sinners as well, we need to be very careful with our righteous anger. We need to make sure that it doesn't consume us or control our actions in such a way that we lose sight of showing mercy and justice ourselves, yes...even to the long standing church people who don't show mercy or justice toward us. 

Romans 5:8-11 can help with reorienting our anger. 

But God shows his love for us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

After reading Mathew 7, in light of Romans 5, we must also remember the end of Mathew 5. Here Jesus calls us to love our enemies in a way that proves we are his people. He does not tell us to love our enemies with a half hearted token kind of love, but with a kind of love where we are moved to pray for them. 

What Jesus????  

Pray for people who struggle with racism in their hearts? Pray for people who don't see us as equal? Pray for people, even Christian people who hurt us? 

I don't know about anyone else, but when I pray for people who hurt me, reject me, misunderstand me, or show that they hate me, the Spirit begins to work mightily in my own heart. My anger, hurt, or frustration is replaced with compassion, understanding, forgiveness and patience.  

Don't ask me how that happens.....it just does. 

God's Spirit reminds me in scripture that only Jesus had the right to show strong righteous anger. Only he had the ability to show strong righteous anger and NOT sin. We don't have that ability. Not even as sanctification works out powerfully in our lives.  

Can I be the Good Samaritan?

With all that said, I felt inclined to reach out to the woman who wrote the article that caused my emotions to go on a roller coaster ride between confusion and anger. In my reaching out, I shared with her my concerns about her article. I am thankful that she not only wrote back but she also shared with me her heart and her motives for the piece. In our short correspondence, specifically in my last email to her, I asked for HER forgiveness for reacting the way that I did. In my heart and with my words, in anger I accused her of not being a true believer because she shared to the world through social media that she struggled with racist beliefs. If indeed she carries racism in her heart, does that give me the right to condemn her harshly and openly rebuke her? 

A resounding NO!!!!!!!!
And neither does anyone else. 

If I am a lover of Jesus, I am directed to love her and pray for her. If Jesus is my King, I cannot determine who is and who is not a member of his kingdom. I don't have that right....only Jesus does. Yes I can look for fruit in people lives, but in that looking I have no right to condemn, beat up with my own words, or treat people harshly....in person OR on social media. If I am a Holy Spirit led soul, then I cannot let my past hurts and personal experiences with racism dictate my current behavior towards others, church people or not....even if they do not exhibit justice or mercy towards me or any specific ethnic group of people.

Scripture does not give us an exception clause to Christ's directive to love others, to show mercy towards others and to show justice towards others.

Moving Forward

Racism has a way of making people lose their minds....not only for the people exhibiting and expressing racist behaviors, action, or words, but also to the recipients and victims of past, present and even anticipated future racist behaviors, actions and words. 

As Christians work towards reconciling our faith with mercy and justice, proving we are indeed His people, we must give others room to figure out what that looks like in their own lives. That means that those of us who have been on the receiving end of racism are called to reconcile our faith with mercy and justice to those we think are our enemies. Especially to those people who don't want to or struggle with showing mercy and justice towards me or the ethnic group I belong to.

Christ did not say it was going to be easy. That's why he gave us His Spirit. 

As the author of that article shared with me the deep hurt she felt for causing others pain through her article, the Holy Spirit helped me see that I also contributed to her pain. 

I had a choice to make. 

Knowing that the collective mass of comments and tweets was leaving this woman bleeding and beaten on the side of the social media road, I can either 

1) continue to throw stones at her....or
2) walk on the other side of the road, knowing that her emotions are being left raw, beaten and bloody and think to myself "that's not my problem" or worse...."she probably deserves it".  
 
The Spirit of the Living God would never ask any Christian to respond to any situation that way. 

There is a 3rd option. 

3) I was prompted to repent of MY harsh accusations, which led me to repent to God for MY words and then felt convicted to make sure I also asked HER for her forgiveness as well.  

I don't want my past hurts and first hand experiences with racism and rejection to keep me from experiencing  the beautiful blessing of unity in the body of Christ.

For those souls who the Spirit is moving to purge racism from their own hearts, they should also not be kept from experiencing the beautiful blessing of unity as well, even as they work out that mess that causes pain towards others. 

As God cleans up his bride, whom he loves and sent his Son for, there will be scraps, dirt, dust, and ugly remnants of trash that needs to be recognized, honed in on, and destroyed. It's not going to be pretty, neat and organized. God will indeed purge things that need to go. Personally and collectively.

Racism is one of those things. 

Just like in our own personal journey of sanctification, Christ-likeness does not and will not happen in a day. Neither will the after effects and current effects of racism be purged in a day either. Things will probably get uglier before it gets better. However, we know that God will have the last word on this matter.

There WILL be people from all tongues, nationalities and ethnic groups worshiping him and giving him the glory that he alone deserves and demands.

He will have that last word on racism....actually......

He DOES have the last word!  

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”(Revelation: 7:9-10)

**Update:
The author requested that her initial post be removed from the Christian website that initially posted her article. Please join me in prayer that this author, a fellow sister in Christ, can move forward in such a way that her life and the lives of those close to her can rest in knowing that they serve a merciful and mighty God and not even this situation can NOT detract from giving God glory. We know that God made us all...whether black, white, brown and everything in between and we have got to remember to listen to each other, have compassion for one another, and LEARN from one another as well. That means white people need not get offended with the stories of the plight of non-whites, and non-whites need not show impatience with whites as they make attempts to put to death their own non-loving ways.

Here is a link to a follow up conversation the website posted. 

Controversial Article and What We Can Learn

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Titus 2 For Mothers




Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Titus 2:3-5 

As a first generation Christian wife and mom, there are extra challenges in raising teenage daughters. I was never modeled or taught the beauty of being reverent (godly, holy) in behavior. The Mexican culture that I grew up in operated in the chronic slandering of others in the community for personal gain or deceitful self-validation (aka- gossip). Alcohol flowed freely and drunkenness was the norm in all of our large family get togethers. Self control in behavior and speech was completely off the radar and expressing every emotion, positive or negative, through highly dramatic discourse was seen as a badge of honor because one had the ability to “tell it like it is”.

Growing up I overhead way too many conversations where men were negatively talked about and described as “no good”, manipulators or pain-causers of women.  So naturally there were extra challenges at work in my heart and mind to willingly accept Paul’s charge in Titus to be submissive to my husband. I know all-their-life Christian women struggle with the word submission but for first generation Christians, after living years of sinful patterns of thinking and behaving as an adult, it’s a bit more painful when the Holy Spirit gets to work to transform minds and hearts. Holy thinking, behaving, and speaking is hard when one does not have any earthly idea what holy thinking, behaving and speaking looks like.

At the onset of my newly redeemed heart, I used to read Titus 2 and think, “how in the world am I supposed to teach my daughters what Paul is exhorting when words like reverent in behavior, teach what is good, self-controlled, pure, kind, submissive were all foreign to me?

There was no way I wanted to revile my Giver of Life, my Wonderful Counselor, so I knew that I needed to make every effort to get  these exhortations right, or at least seek to get them right.

1 Peter 5:1-10 says: 

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 

After years of making every effort, here is what I have gleaned. 

1) Allow a seasoned-in-scripture and older-in-age Godly woman into your life. 

As a new Christian, I needed to see what a true Biblical woman looked like in action, meaning in the daily grind of keeping a home, preparing meals, organizing my day to make time for Bible reading, etc. I also needed to see what it looked like to not treat my husband with disrespect or disdain. God provided an older-in-age (meaning not a peer or group of peers) and seasoned-in-scripture woman and in humility I allowed her to speak into my life in all areas- meaning she lovingly and humbly called out sin when she saw it in my actions/speech. When I say she should not be a peer I mean that she should not be in the same season that you are in. There is something wonderful to be learned from older woman who have raised their children past the age of your own and has learned/become familiar with all the demands of keeping a home. If we only surround ourselves with mothers or women that are our peers, though good for fellowship purposes, it’s a bit like the blind leading the blind. Paul knew this and said it should not be this way by specifically exhorting older women to share their wisdom with younger women. Older women are needed in the body of Christ and younger women ought to let them in their lives. 

2) Lean heavily, be guided by (Romans 8:14), get in step (Gal 5:25) with the Holy Spirit. 

Jeremiah 31:33-34 reminds us as that as new believers ushered into God's new covenant, his remnant people will have new hearts engineered by God himself. With new hearts freshly stamped with a new love for God and a love for his Word, this new love will give us a desire to seek out knowledge of God and seek to do right by the very One who saved us.

John 14:15-17 tells us of our new reality: 

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 

We are not left as orphans, trying to figure life out by ourselves. (John 14:18)
We will be taught all the things we need to grow in godliness (John 14:26)
We are shown and guided into truth that includes glorifying God with our newly redeemed lives (John16:13-15)

There are so many reminders in scripture that tell us that the Holy Spirit lives in us. We can rest assured God’s very Spirit guides us. We can be comforted because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5)

Like a newborn baby, I had to re-learn life. New patterns of living, new ways of thinking, new desires for godliness was only possible with the Holy Spirit, a gift I cherish daily. 

3) Stay in the Word. 

I never would have known that those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col 3:12).  Being a woman that forgives is pretty important too. We won’t know what Biblical womanhood or godliness looks like outside of digging into scripture. Yes, we can read other people’s blogs, glean from great authors who write books on holiness or even hear women talk about Biblical womanhood at conferences, (things I do and love) but until we open up our own Bibles and read for ourselves, we turn the idea of a Biblical or godly woman into concepts where we look high and low for “good advice” to help us attain conceptual aspects of what we ought to be. Only the Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit has the power to change us. The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit of both joints and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12) There is nothing that gets to the depths of our soul the way reading scripture does. 

4) Don’t be afraid to admit your shortcomings. 

Growing up in a home where yelling was the norm and after sharing with my mentor that I hated being a raging mom because I felt it went against scripture, she gave me permission to allow my children into my struggles and ask them to give me grace when I resorted to screaming. The concept was very foreign to me because in my Hispanic culture parents are supposed to be the ones that have all the answers, rule with an iron fist and demand to be “respected”. She recommended that I share with my children that I wanted to stop raging at them when they failed to obey my demands perfectly. They were up for the challenge, but I’m not going to lie and say that it was a piece of cake. The first time they said “Mom, you said you wanted to stop yelling at us”, I had to fight the urge to lash out even more. Painfully submitting to my children’s rebuke went against every thing I knew as a mom. Thankfully, through the years, I have learned that the very act of admitting my shortcomings to my kids actually earns their respect in ways that I could never have imagined. Mind blowing actually. 

5) Pray with your daughters often. 

Whenever I found myself at a loss in dealing with the preadolescent hormones raging through my daughter’s body that caused her to turn into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a gazillion times a day, I had no where to turn to but God. However, instead of finding a quiet corner to pray by myself, we stopped whatever we were doing, even if we were right smack in the middle of a power struggle over what seemed to be trivial matters to me, but monumental to her, we brought our issues to God in prayer. Showing dependence on God through prayer in the middle of mother/daughter conflict diffused tension, reoriented us to God and to each other, and helped me model for her the importance of a robust prayer life.

Which leads me to the last point. 

6) Model godly behavior, even if imperfect.

Modeling godly behavior to our daughters starts with acknowledging a desire to attain godliness. Paul tells older woman in Titus 2:3 “to be” holy. The infinitive verb informs us of a “going-to-future” holiness, a futurity of sort. This is definitely not an already attained holiness. Knowing that we should be seeking a future holiness in our behavior, thoughts, and actions wonderfully releases us of from the yoke of feigned holiness. (Whew!)

We can humbly say with Paul we have not already obtained holiness or have already become perfect because Christ Jesus has made us his own (Phil 3:12), but we rest knowing that Christ’s power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4).

After 12 years of making every effort to re-learn life in Christ and strive for holiness in my actions, thoughts and speech, I can confidently say that I am further along than I was 12 years ago. I cannot boast in cleaning myself up but I can boast in Christ for giving me everything I need in life that will bring God glory.

As older women, we should not just read the admonishments in Titus 2 as things we need to be teaching other women, but we should also see them as fresh reminders to our hearts that God, who began a good work in us, will continue to work in us, through us and for us. There is nothing more important than having the privilege of showing what God teaches us to our own daughters for a season while they are under our care. 

Let's do it well, dear mothers. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Single Parent Motherhood and Wisdom




Single parent motherhood. 

I feel your pain. I know what it's like. I know the emotional roller coaster it is to try to be both mom and dad to your children....when you need to discipline them when it's needed but all you want to do is cuddle with them and make them cookies. There is a certain toughness that begins to form your exterior. It's needed. You can't breathe unless that toughness is there. It keeps you sane. Protects you from going mad. To watch bills come in that can't be paid is defeating. Awaiting the beginning of the month is a never ending cycle of fret and worry. That amazing sense of accomplishment that you feel when you are able to have the entire rent check paid.....in full...though the bubble of  exhilaration is popped the very next day as you worry about next month's rent. You hope and worry that your children don't get sick because the day care won't take sick kids, meaning you will have to miss work days, meaning your check will be low and you might not have enough to pay bills. Your biggest fear is going back to the homeless shelter again. 

With no family support, no baby daddy support, much less child support, you are left to figure out this thing called "motherhood" on your own. 

"You cant get money out of a rock",  was the mantra of one baby daddy. 

Meaning...

"stop asking me for money cuz I aint got none"

Remembering the day I checked into that homeless shelter, at 23, with two babies under the age of 3, it was enough to keep me going. It's what got me out of bed at 4:30 am to get myself and my girls ready for the day, where I dropped them off in the early morning hours at a daycare center that would drop them off at school and pick them up from school so that I could work and then after a full day's work, head to school so that I could slowly plug away at that college degree that seemed a million miles away. That degree was our ticket out of poverty but trying to survive one day at time, sometimes one hour at a time, the outside exterior of my soul started toughening up...getting hard. 

Learning to keep hope away. The idea of joy, a useless foreign concept. 

I remember the shelter only had beds for adult women and they offered me a mattress on the floor so that my baby girls could sleep right next to me, only to wake up one night and the lady in the bunk next to me reaching out to touch one my girls. I yelled at her to stay away from my kids. My girls slept with me after that. All three of us. Curled up tightly on the bottom bunk of a homeless shelter. For 6 months.

You can't get money out of a rock I hear, but you can deplete your emotions to the point where your account is overdrawn and there is nothing left to give to the ones you are supposed to protect - your littles. 

I started hustling. Hustling situations and people so that we would not have to go back to that shelter life. So we would not have to go back to believing and hoping that help was gonna fall out of the sky. 

But that got old fast. More layers of hardness developed. Working full-time, going to school part time, or sometimes going to school full time and completely living on government assistance for food, health care and eventually housing caused more grief than freedom. 




The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction I read. (Proverbs 1:7) What did that mean? 

It would be 6 years until God would open up my understanding to those words and even though I was not a Christian at the time that I read them, I prayed. I prayed because I had no idea what else to do. I prayed due to the slight chance that there was a God in the sky, somewhere, somehow. 

I didn't pray for help with my bills, though I needed that. 

I didn't pray for a better housing situation, though it was needed, especially since it had become normal to see SWAT banging in our neighbors doors.

I didn't pray for better day care. Well, I actually didn't need it since it was subsidized and my day care was run by a Christian family, so my girls loved it and it was the first place in their young lives that they felt "safe".  

I didn't pray for a better running car, though it was desperately needed because mine kept breaking down due to the fact that an old boyfriend dumped water in my gas tank after I broke up with him for showing psycho tendencies. 

What I did pray for was wisdom. I prayed for the kind of wisdom that the Bible verse talked about. I know that I made a lot of mistakes in my life up to that point. Foolish mistakes. Mistakes that in hindsight, could have been avoided if I had the wisdom to know that there were alternatives. Mistakes like placing trust and hope in people that I should not have. 


I needed beyond measure wisdom that college classes were not giving me. 
I needed beyond measure wisdom that could penetrate the hard exterior of my soul. 
I needed beyond measure wisdom that would help me with the little souls that were under my care, because I surely was lost on what motherhood looked like. 

So this Mother's Day, my prayer goes out to all those single mothers that have the weight of a broken world on their shoulders. I pray that God gives you Wisdom beyond measure. 

I pray that you will trust in the Lord with all your heart and that you will not lean on your own understanding

I pray that in all your ways you will acknowledge him that he will make straight your paths.

I pray that you will not try to be wise in your own eyes.
     

I pray that you learn what it means to fear the Lord

and what it looks like to turn away from evil.

And as God shows you what all that looks like in your own personal lives, you will see that God's Wisdom becomes a healing to your flesh and a refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8) so that one day....that hard exterior that has become your soul becomes soft in the Creator's hands....because he and only he is trustworthy. 

The treasures of wisdom are hidden not from us, but for us, in Christ - Mathew Henry

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Moms of prophets, Amos, hard truths and boy raising



 
Amos is one of my favorite minor prophets in the OT. He was not from the religious elite of the day. He was a simple fig tree farmer and shepherd. He was far from having a celebrity pastor status or following, didn't have the right qualifications on paper or initials behind his name, had no academic achievements to boast about, literally he was an unknown. I have a special place in my heart for unknown rock solid people/leaders of God who desire to be faithful in the simple context that God has placed them in. So, when I studied Amos and his writing this past week for seminary, knowing his background, my ears perked up like a puppy who has seen her favorite toy and wants to play.

The other night after praying with my son before bed, he started crying for what seemed to be no reason. You know...the kind of crying that happens when one can't catch their breath between sobs. After comforting him and attempting to gently probe into the reason for his sudden and overwhelming sadness, in his attempt to hold it together long enough to tell me what was going on in his mind and heart, he
recalled seeing a picture on the internet of a mouse used in an experiment. The mouse had tumors the size of its own body. The tumored out mouse traumatized him and I had to explain how companies use mice to test chemicals or medicine and he thought that was the worst kind of evil.

"I just don't understand why God allows evil. Why doesn't God just end it all. He's God. He can do anything. Why doesn't he just get rid of all the evil in this world?"


My heart sank.

It sank, but not out of sadness because I didn't have an answer for him or that he came across a picture of something that shattered his world for a bit. It sank with thankfulness that his 10 year old Lego loving, Star Wars obsessed mind contemplates deeply the things of this world and how these things relate to God. I was able to answer his question about evil and sin because as a first generation Christian I have made an intentional effort to get as much information in my mind about God in such a way that it attaches itself to my heart so that when, not if, my kids ask hard theological questions, I have the ability to give them concrete answers. 


1st Peter 3:15 tells us that we ought to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that is in us. I know that this defense is directed toward others outside our home, but it definitely doesn't negate us as parents to have a defense for our children, especially if we want to lead them well. 

I have been preparing for their answers even before they knew what to ask. I don't leave that responsibility to Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders or other people in our local church. It is MY job to be prepared with answers to their questions....from the easy ones to the hard one, yes.....even the hard theological ones. It's a responsibility I take quite serious. But I seem to always doubt my answers and fear that they are never enough.

Which leads me to the reason for this post.

After getting a bit of schoolwork in with my son this morning, we stopped for a short lunch break. As I was smearing mayo on his bread for his sandwich, it occurred to me that all those minor prophets that I have been reading and studying about had moms -- moms who probably made them sandwiches, or at least something equivalent to a modern day sandwich. I mean I knew the prophets had mothers, or else they would not have been alive to even write such harsh rebukes to Israel and Judah but I don't think I have ever really contemplated, much less appreciated or recognized those dear mothers of those strong bold prophets.

Who were those mothers who nurtured, comforted, taught, and loved on her boy to the point that he eventually became a rock solid faithful servant of the Most High?

Unlike most of the prophets that God called and used, Amos didn't go to "prophet school". He was a working boy. He tended sheep, probably like his father. He cared for and nurtured fig trees, showing that he had working man's hands and deep quiet enduring patience to see things grow from little fig plants to massive fruit producing trees. 

For Amos, spending most of his life away from the hub of cities probably gave him a unique perspective on life. Children raised in places where they are allowed to connect with dirt daily, trees, wide open spaces, and animals other than domestic dogs or cats are a bit different, but not in a bad way. Life is just slower. Deep pondering comes easy or at least there are more opportunities to think about things outside of immediate circumstances. 

Granted our country life is very different from that of a shepherd family or fig tree farmer in the 8th century B.C. However slowness of life is probably a tiny bit similar. For instance the excitement of our day today was when the boy discovered a dead possum in our little forest and we all gathered around it to figure out what caused its demise. We think it might have been a racoon. 

Oh, another exciting moment in our day was watching my husband spray wasp killer on several wasp nests on our deck and worrying about our nosy chickens wanting to come check things out. Needless to say, we kept them far away from the dead wasps and the pesticide. Those pesky wasps dominated our deck area and it was nice to see them go.

Amos was a country kid who grew up and became a country man whose norm was to have dirt under his nails on a daily basis. He probably smelled of sheep or had chronically sticky hands from handling those plump juicy figs. I'm sure he had seen his fare share of dead animals or had to figure out a way to control the bee population around the fig trees. Though not formally taught, he was educated to the degree that he was able to pen the words of God vividly. Where did he learn how to read and write with clarity if he was not a product of the education system of the day? I venture to say his parents. 

God called Amos from a serene and quiet life to a place that was foreign to him. Not only geographically foreign, meaning he left his home in southern Judah and traveled to the northern country of Israel, but also culturally foreign. He left country life to go tell people living deep in the heart of Bethel, which was a great city, a few cutting words from God. This would have been the equivalent of a country boy traveling to Washington D.C. to tell the people and the country officials that they were failing to meet God's covenant demands. Not only was his message unpopular, his words were given at a time when Israel was experiencing a time of great financial prosperity and he used the word exile in his sharp rebuke.

Exile????? 

They must have thought Amos was crazy for using the word exile to explain what was going to happen to them if they didn't change their ways. 

They surely didn't have time for Amos's message. A priest, probably one with the proper academic credentials or schooling, eventually goes to Amos and tells him:

flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom (Amos 7:14) 

Amos didn't budge and dug his heels in even more. 

So again....what kind of mom raises the kind of boy, who grows up to become a man with an unwavering affection for God's ways and God's character? Amos knew that in the norms of the culture the people were very religious but it was in their religion that Amos saw hypocrisy. He saw and rebuked God's covenant people because they were not exhibiting God's character rightly. He saw and spoke against their injustice, their crooked court system and gave them a harsh tongue lashing because luxury was seen as more important than right dealings with people. He admonished them for their complacency when injustice occurred to the poor and needy and if that were not enough, he had the boldness to call the women of the day "cows" (some translations use "fat cows") for exhibiting an entitled demeanor as they demanded their husbands wait on them while they got drunk on wine (Amos 4). 

Trust me, I'm not making this up.


Who would have thought that back in the day there would be middle to upper class complacent entitled women who had a little habit, ahhhem, I mean "hobby" of drinking wine and demanding that their husband's treat them like "princesses" or "queens"? When faced with the reality concerning how women behaved back in they day, my thought is always the same --> how could the culture in 760 B.C be so different yet still very much the same? 

Amos saw it and called it, without hesitation or reservation. He was not afraid of isolating himself for bringing hard truths because he was already used to a life of isolation. He was free from being a slave to popular opinion, political correctness and whether or not people liked him or accepted him. 

Even though most of Amos's message was hard to hear,  and he sternly warns the people of Israel of impending destruction, he shows God's love and faithfulness by pointing to an upcoming Branch from David's family line that will restore and make things right, and we all know that Branch is our King Jesus. 

Yes, God gave Amos words to speak but before he was a man used by God, he was a boy, who had a mamma. And God used the mamma of Amos, and many other faithful mammas to raise up boys for his glory. 

So again.....

What kind of mom raises that kind of boy? 

 
What kind of mom raises a boy whose life was going to end tragically proclaiming God's words? Some prophets suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36-38) 

If the mom of Amos was anything like Naomi from the book of Ruth, she had resolute and undeviating faith. She understood the sovereignty of God to such a degree that when faced with suffering she accepted whatever it is that God dished out, good or bad. Not only did she accept God's providence, she praised him for it and through it. She knew her faith in God was the deep slow moving undercurrent of her life and it was evident when she cooked her meals, washed the clothes and tended to her children. Her entire life exemplified her faith and if her children had any questions regarding anything in particular, they were sure that their mom would always point them to God. And when Naomi's husband and son's were taken from her, the faith and trust she had in God remained unshaken to the point that Ruth was drawn to the God that Naomi worshiped.

I pray that in my boy raising, regardless of where we raise him, in the city or the country, along with my comforting, nurturing, teaching and loving....

through my reliance on God, though imperfect....

following my husband's lead, though at times a struggle....

we can raise a boy who:

1) will grow up to be the kind of man that sees injustice and tries to fix it

2) is aware of what entitlement and complaceny looks like and fights against it

3) seeks to care for the poor and the needy in such a way that is meaningful enough to point them to a Savior who will give them what they ultimately need
  
4) repents often to God and to his loved ones

5) loves and cares for his family in a God-honoring way

6) ** bonus for this mom ---> is called by God to pastor a church or officially minister somewhere in the world leading other men to Christ and preaching Gospel truths. Why? Because when men know Christ, wives and children will follow. Meaning families stay will stay intact.

Whether living life in the city or the country, laying a foundation in the heart and mind of our boy concerning God's truth through a Savior and King who will one day make all things right to all the yuck, junk and injustice in this world is pretty important to us. Intentionally building on that foundation is also pretty important to us too. It does not and will not happen 5 minutes here or 5 minutes there once or twice a week.  

Being first generation Christian parents, it hasn't always been easy for my husband and I to figure out what Christian parenting looks like, but it's so worth the imperfect effort that we put into making it happen. It also means that my husband and I, must....meaning its a necessity, know the Word ourselves. We cant teach what we don't know. 

I pray that in our boy raising, he grows up to be the kind of man, that if the situation arose, he will always preach a crucified Christ, even if his life was threatened the way the prophets of old were threatened for bringing hard truths to rebellious religious people. 

I just don't want to have the right answers to my boy's theological questions. In conjunction with my sandwich making duties, I want my life to give him answers to questions that he does not yet know how to ask. 

I want our lives to point him to a Savior because my husband and I show, without a shadow of doubt, that Christ is enough. 

That Christ is enough...even for the unanswerable questions. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Inner city memories. Fear. But God.



By the time I turned 10, I witnessed 2 murders take place, with the most traumatic one happening right before my eyes as I crossed the street to head over to my local convenient store for some summer snacks. I was standing on the curb that was in front of our apartment complex, waiting for a car to pass by. A random man was riding his bike on the other side and was slowing pedaling his way down the not-so-busy street. There is something about the heat in concrete jungles that makes the summer a bit more sticky with a need to consume popsicles, or large sugar laden drinks with lots of ice. That's where I was headed. However, on this particular lazy summer afternoon, things would change for me. Phobias galore would choke out any places of security and peace that lived in my heart as a 10 year old city girl and it would take years and a Savior for those phobias to be erased. 

I do not remember much of anything in the moments that followed my foot leaving the curb. I remember somebody screaming though I don't remember where the screaming was coming from. I remember the back wheel of the bike sticking up in the air, spinning, as it lay violently on its side. I remember blood soaked Cheetos puffs strewn all over the street and sidewalk. I remember the man's blue and white button down shirt opened, exposing a white wife-beater tank underneath. I remember lots and lots of blood. 

Apparently, the drive-by shooters picked their target and sped away, leaving the aftermath for my 10 year old eyes to take in. I don't remember ducking at the gunshots because I don't even remember the gunshots. My memory picks up images right after it happened. I simply walked across the street, nonchalantly, however I did have to detour slightly to get around the violent scene and continued to walk to the corner convenience store for my sugar drink. 

My young eyes had seen and heard of too much death that year so maybe 1) I had grown accustomed to death in that short amount of time OR 2) I was in shock...more than likely I was in shock. Regardless of the reason for my lack of hysteria, upon my return to the crime scene, with Slurpy in hand, the police had already arrived and had draped the body with a black blanket of sort to cover it. The police did not think to ask me any questions regarding the shooting because they had no idea I witnessed the whole thing though I would not have been able to tell them much. To them, I was just another bystander wanting to get a glimpse of the drama. Even though the body was covered up, there was still a heck of a lot of bloody Cheetos puffs all over the street and sidewalk and if one must know, to this day, I cannot see Cheetos Puffs without recollecting that event, much less picking one up and popping it mindlessly in my mouth. Forget about it.

During that time in our family's lives, we lived in one of the highest gang-infested areas of the south Los Angeles area. In broad daylight people were fearful of walking down the streets in the neighborhood due to a random string of side walk stabbings due to the fact that the gangs were in full initiation mode. In order for the hopeful teenagers to be fully instated in their respective gang, random people had to die. These guys and gals had to prove to their fellow gang families that they had what it took to kill at will. Or at least that's what the rumor on the street was. 

My single parent mother had enough of the inner city life when the gangs that lived in our apartment complex turned their eyes towards my mother and her immigrant boyfriend as their next target. The local gang had just beaten up our neighbors, a husband and wife, that lived below our apartment because they believed they were the snitches that called the police the last time they had a party. The son of the apartment manager, Chaparra, (meaning short one) had a son who was released from jail for murdering his teacher in front of the classroom so naturally a party followed his release. I clearly remember the night of the party. My sister's and I were peeking outside from our second story building and attempted to check out the happenings downstairs. Needless to say, the police arrived right smack in the middle of the party and broke it up. The very next day, the members of the gang were so upset, they broke into the apartment of our neighbors below and beat, almost to death, the husband and wife. The children, our playmates, were sent off to emergency foster care and we never saw them again. We don't know if the family was reunited nor did we ever find out if the couple survived. However, the gang members seemed to not be satisfied with disrupting this family and there was rumor that our family was next. 


A Google screenshot of the apartment complex we lived in. Surreal to see this as an adult.


I don't really remember how many days passed after the beating of the family downstairs but the gang seemed to be marking their territory and stalking their prey. I don't know what provoked my mother and her boyfriend to decide to leave suddenly so when they urgently told us to pack a few changes of clothing we did so as fast as we could. After gathering what few items we could in such a rushed situation, we found ourselves running out of our apartment to the nearest bus station at the exact time the bus passed. I know simply walking to the bus stop to wait for the bus to arrive was not an option for us. The fear of being victims of a drive-by was very real, especially with eyes of gang members honed in and focused on my mother and her boyfriend. Once we ran out of our apartment and headed towards the street, a couple of gang members that seemed to pop up out of no where were right behind us. The bus driver almost did not stop after he saw the guys trailing behind us but my mother's boyfriend, or I think it actually might have been my older sister that jumped in front of the bus and forced it to stop. The bus stopped and the driver hesitatingly and angrily I might add, let us on and drove away, leaving the gang guys behind on the street. Thinking we were out of harm's way we relaxed a bit, however, the bus driver drove a few blocks down the street and decided to pull the bus over and have a smoke break. It became obvious that the bus driver became fearful of his own life, knowing he was going to have to go back on this route and potentially encounter the guys that were running after us. His stop was simply self-preservation. Thankfully, the gangs guys didn't come looking for us and within minutes, the bus was back on route.

My mother eventually moved us out of the city to the southwest states of Arizona and New Mexico, but those memories of fear and flight stayed with me. I also might add, just because we no longer had to worry about preserving our own lives due to gang violence, our situation at the time was not unique and its still not unique today, 30 some odd years later.

According to an article in the L.A times written at the beginning of 2016, L.A. hit its highest point in gang violence in 2015 since 2009. Read that article HERE

When perpetrators of violence control densely populated areas within a small mile radius, there are all kinds of victims. Not only are there actual victims of the crimes themselves, but children will grow up thinking repeated violence is the norm or worse.....they eventually become immune to seeing people made in the image of God die for no reason. 

My life goal was to never move back to the city and up until recently, I was doing a really good job meeting that goal. 

But God......

should I even say more???

How many times in the Bible do we read the phrase "but God"?  

In the ESV it is used approximately 47 times. 

The term "but God" is used to denote that regardless of the facts expressed in the first part of the sentence, the second part of the sentence supremely supersedes the first part, making the first part null and void.

For example: 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand. 1 Samuel 23:14


Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also. Philippians 2:27


We can clearly see in just a few examples in scripture that God, regardless of the situation, when he intervenes, his intervention is final, complete, full. 

My favorite "but God" is in Ephesians 2:1-7

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind....  

But God....

being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

So the last couple of years, God has been peeling back the layers of my childhood and showing me things that I no longer need to fear.  

Not only that, he is also resurrecting things in my heart that I thought were never there, meaning giving me a desire to go back and serve the inner city or urban areas, or whatever the new term that is now being used to describe areas in cities where people tend to stay away from....you know....where English is not the preferred language. In these "sketchy" areas, you will find not only Spanish but various languages, cultures and ethnicities represented from around the world, meaning they are literal world centers, and it's always been this way.

Across the nation, ripe missions fields are in our own American cities. For some reason, evangelical Christians have failed to acknowledge that and see the potential for God glorifying conversions of saved souls, changed lives and healthy families living redemptive lives. 

Last year our family took a trip to Dallas and we had to find a laundromat to wash our clothes. Since most middle class families own their own washer and dryer, most of the laundromats listed were in questionable neighborhoods. We picked a random one and while we were there we heard various languages being spoken - some African dialect, some Spanish and even some Arabic. Strangely, I felt right at home and my children were positively intrigued. A seed may have been planted.

I also find myself being rebuked by my own words in a blog I wrote awhile back on abortion. 


"loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister"

I wrote these words to admonish and strongly encourage fellow saints to consider going into hard places to love and serve impoverished women considering abortion but these words can apply to all people in general who live deep in the heart of cities where a diverse multi ethnic demographic is evidenced by the local corner markets advertising in their native tongue. I somehow exempted myself from the "going" because I had my own issues and fears to deal with and surely God was not ever going to ask me to go back to a place that caused me so much fear, much less, ask me to take my sheltered country-living, homeschool kids. No way Jose! 

But God......

We have yet to realize the second part of that sentence but my husband has made a few statements in casual passing conversation in the last few weeks where he has stated that he would be willing to quit his job in a few years after I finish seminary and go where urban ministry is.....and whoever personally knows my husband, this is HUGE for him because he thrives on job security, retirement planning and things of that nature, things very foreign to me but comforting to him. 

Even though our family might not be ready to go into urban areas right now we have recently discovered a few church planters who are?

Check them out here: 

http://www.thesummitnetwork.com/d-a-horton-los-angeles-ca/

Please consider supporting them financially and prayerfully. I love the mission God has placed on their hearts. Oh, and they also happen to be a homeschool family....and well....I happen to have a teeny tiny affinity for fellow Hispanic homeschool families because we are a rare bunch indeed. 

A few years ago I found myself driving through southern Los Angeles and surprisingly my body broke out in a cold sweat, my heart started racing and my stomach got tied up in knots to the point of nausea. Long gone memories came flooding back and smacked me right in the face and I didn't like it one bit. It was enough to convince me that I was meant to stay far away from cities and I was ok with that reality. 

However, something has changed. I personally don't know what that is just yet but in that changing, there is a new longing to do life in multi-ethnic communities and have fellowship in very diverse climates and I know the only place we will find that is in cities, deeply entrenched in cities. 

I have to remind myself to keep my preferences for life and living with an open hand, not make my ideals ultimate and trust God through it all. For me, that's easier said than done. 

As we wait for God to give our family clear direction, life continues in the country, where free range eggs abound, the smell of cow manure from our neighbors dairy across the street consumes the air we breath, homeschooling lessons are completed, seminary papers written while domestic duties are ignored and for my husband who works 10 hour days, comes home from his real job and slowly but diligently continues to work on his part time job, flipping our house to get it ready to sell. 

With patience we will wait for the second part of "but God".......
What I am saying is.....that loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister.  - See more at: http://www.mindandhearttheology.org/2015/08/an-open-letter-to-right-wing-evanglical.html#sthash.lLNiDFRF.dpuf

What I am saying is.....that loving unlovable people is hard messy work but so very much worth it if you allow yourself to be an instrument, a pot used by the Potter, to help a woman see the worth of her baby and encourage her to keep her baby alive. To show her how to be a mother, show her what it looks like to love her child and then see that baby thrive under the care of her own mother, that is worth it. And if the Great Shepherd calls her and she becomes one of his sheep, then you get to call her sister.  - See more at: http://www.mindandhearttheology.org/2015/08/an-open-letter-to-right-wing-evanglical.html#sthash.lLNiDFRF