Children

“Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:25

It is no great wonder God calls us children. When we get a scratch, we cry as if it’s the worst thing that ever happened to us. When a friend cheats us in the game of life, we recover from paralysis only to run to our Teacher and tattle breathless tales, stand back and wait for Papa’s wrath, finally to wait in more shock as he does nothing we can see.

We call each other names before Him. Then we deny ever doing so. We talk when he wants us to listen, over and over ignoring His gentle, wind-carried reminders, “Be still.” He comes by and shows us where we’re behind in our work, and we still don’t listen, chatting with our neighbor and feeling safe, distracted from the thought of consequences by their smiles and our twirling pencil. We leave our task unfinished to ask Him what’s after this, what He has planned for our future. Perhaps for fear He doesn’t know and we should help Him decide; perhaps it is for hope of something more than our paper back at the desk.

We are all infants, babies.

If we eat, we leave a mess. If we cant open it, we bring it to Him to do, and walk away while drinking our milk without saying, “Thanks.” When He picks up our mess, we don’t notice. If He asks to clean up after someone else, we say, “But I didn’t do it.”

Maybe there were 400 years of silence because God grew hoarse talking to babies who wouldn’t listen.

We are kids.

He loves us still. Even in the silence, He is there… waiting for us to listen…

To Him we are beautiful messes, even when we laugh and chase a friend around with our pencil, threatening to mark her uniform. He loves us… even when we cry, or demand Him to rise to our idea of justice… He loves us to talk, yet longs for us to listen to Him speak guidance that will help us…

Round-eyed, we offer up our treasures to Him. Then we disobey Him. We sing His praises, then trash His name. Stories we think the world must stop to hear are tiny fragments of babbling ..

He cares, not because our stories weigh anything significant in His hands, but because He has determined what we weigh in His Arms. And in them He died, in those stories that unfolded His arms on the tree…

Spread to die, He held those tales of pain and revenge to listen to something He wouldn’t hear – His father’s voice, and that He wouldn’t hear because His father turned away…to make Him cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

He heard nothing, because of our stories. He couldn’t, wouldn’t look on them, wouldn’t hear them.

And He died.

But He forgave us; we are risen with Him in new life of resurrection. Oh, in our weakness He forgave us, saying we know not what we do. For we are just infants, we know nothing.

He claims us; we are His kids.

 

Written after a day of substitute teaching for a kindergarten class…

Soften My Heart

Oh, God!
A child, again I break the rules that You laid down.
Again I close my face to Yours and toss the crown;
I slip my hand from Yours for paths I understand.

I cut the water, douse the spark,
Turn everything to dry and dark
Inside my hardened heart.

Such loss!
A wretch, I cannot feel or hear a thing, and rue.
Now out of rhythm with the One I knew,
I look to You and see two patient eyes.

A hammer, hammer, hammer pounds;
The Potter softens me with wounds
He bears upon Himself.

A light!
Undone, undone, this heart is free to live and laugh and shine;
The smallest step with Him alone is joy – oh Master mine.
I gaze at You and praise the God who holds me like a lamb.

News flash: being from different cultures may cause cultural differences

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Just shared a laugh with my roommate, Rose Okeyo.

Several weeks ago I adamantly told Rose that our differences (you know, big stuff, like how to dry the dishes) were NOT cultural, since I know lots of people who think the way she does. “It’s not because you’re from Kenya,” I told her, my heart hurting at the possibility that being from different countries might actually make us different. It was a wall between us I couldn’t change, and I couldn’t handle the separation it implied. People in my own country, I told her, dry the dishes just like she does. Most differences, I told her, are personal.

She smiled and let me have my way.

Bless her.

I realized a moment ago that I’m wrong about this. It’s completely cultural, and here’s why. Rose, like nearly everyone in the world who’s not from America, has a definable culture. People in Kenya have certain habits like giving their kids middle names after the time of day they were born, cooking very distinctly Kenyan food, and other fun stuff. Rose can rightly say, “In Kenya, we do or say such-and-such a thing.” For her, it’s normal to have differences because of culture.

Not so for me, because I’m from America.

We are a melting pot.

Differences, for the most part, are personal. Kenyans and Mexicans and Iraqis and Irish and Germans and French all live here. They’ve brought their cultural ways, and everything has got very beautifully muddled. We’ve married each other and many of the lines blurred. (Now someone is going to argue I’m wrong and tell me who people groups keep to themselves and we’ve become a tossed salad instead. Keep this to yourself. You’re ruining the moment.) Who even remembers whose culture it came from? (And someone is going to argue that the Germanic-Irish culture came out on top, and that we do have a definable culture. Fine.) So when you meet someone with a different habit, you assume it’s a personal choice. It was how they were raised. It’s because they have a disorder. It’s because they’re the firstborn or the youngest. It’s the church they joined. It’s the school they went to. It’s the job they took.

So, when I told Rose, “It’s not about culture!” I was totally wrong. It’s got everything to do with culture because in MY culture it has everything to do with personal choice and upbringing, and in HER culture it has everything to do with culture.

I realized this about 20 minutes ago, blinked, and gushed out my whole tale.

She smiled and laughed. Bless her.

On Christ and grace: musings of a Christian after a Muslim event

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Covered a story at the Islamic Center of Raleigh last Saturday. I heard a lot about Islam and saw many beautiful scarves and colorful abayas. I’m studying Arabic and have always had an itch to know more about Islam, something scratched a great deal in my classes at Hillsdale college. So I was looking forward to the event. It was fun. The people I saw were open, friendly, kind. But one thing stood out to me that reaffirmed and strengthened my love for Jesus. Islam is a religion of works, not grace.

If a Muslim woman prays, and her clothing is thin and reveals her skin, her prayer is rendered void. There are rules about how much of her may show when she is praying, and she must not pray in front of or next to men. And it is best is she prays in a basement, not a room. And she should never pray outdoors. And she must not pray when she’s on her period.

Muslim men and women pray five times a day. Before they touch the Arabic version of a Quran, they must wash thoroughly. That includes blowing water out their nostrils and washing up to their elbows.
Muslim children must memorize the whole Quran by about age 10.

As I jotted down notes, an 11-year-old girl stood in front of the whole assembly – men in white frocks, women in headscarves, and us visitors – and recited something beautifully in Arabic. It was lilting, chanting. The woman next to me, who had large, intense eyes and wore a beautiful purple abaya, told me she was reciting the “99 names of God.” They are adjectives, attributes.
God, to them, is not a friend. He is distant because of His holiness.

After touring the whole three floors of educational displays – including a gym packed with tables laden with food, tea, and articles from various, predominantly-Muslim countries – I stood for a moment on the pavement outside, holding my camera and notebook, blinking in the sunshine. The Open House for the Triangle Community at the center was to close in half an hour. I needed to get back to the office and write my story.

But God had one more story for me. And I listened as an elderly man from Bangladesh told me a tale.

I had paused on the sidewalk when I just felt I should turn around. He was hastening down the sidewalk, holding up a finger, and saying “Ma’am, ma’am. I have a story to tell you before you leave.” He told me he was from Bangladesh, where “Ninety-five percent of the people are Muslim, and they are all very nice.” Then he told me this story.

Three men, he said, were traveling. “And every person in this world is created for a reason, to worship God and do good things,” he told me.

As they traveled, they stopped for the night in a cave. The cave door closed overnight, and they could not move the stone away. They took turns praying to Allah to see if their good deeds merited their freedom from captivity in a dark cave. The first man prayed and reminded Allah how he had not been angry when his neighbor wronged him. The door, my friend said, “opened a little.” The next man prayed told Allah how he had forgiven a debt. The door opened a little again. The third man had a long list of good deeds to tell Allah, including helping a woman her child along a road. “This is my good deed, and if it is enough, let it be,” the man prayed. Then the door opened all the way, and the men walked forth freely.

That was the end of his tale.

To both Muslim and Christian, God is perfect and holy. To the Christian, God is accessible through Christ. For even David wrote in Psalm 32:1-2:

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Anyone who thinks his good works will get him into heaven will be disappointed. All our works are as worthless, unmentionable things. We can never do enough, because God is holy.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

Seeking Him is key – God wants friendship, not enmity with us. He wants to be found by us. Because He is holy our sins are keeping us apart, and He can fix that, has already done all the fixing necessary. We must only believe He can bring us back to Him. As Paul writes of Abraham, father of both Isaac who fathered the Hebrews and Ishmael who fathered the Arabs:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:2-3

It is the difference between gaining access to God through our works, which God says is impossible, and gaining access to Him by faith. So for the Christian, here is the conclusion of the matter! And such beautiful hope. Not by our works are we brought to God, because they are not good enough. No one is that good; only Christ was able to bring us. I am so, so, glad of that. All the striving in the world has and never will bring me closer to my Father, only believing on the remedy He already provided through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

Amen.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1

Senator Kay Hagan on Obamacare

An email from the office of Sen. Hagan of North Carolina:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Affordable Care Act. I appreciate hearing your views on this important issue.

I was incredibly frustrated when the federal exchanges opened on October 1st and website issues prevented North Carolinians from shopping for health insurance coverage. It was unacceptable that the website was not ready from Day One. For this reason, I have supported extending the enrollment deadline by two months until May 31st and waiving the penalty for the individual mandate for the same period of time to make up for the months that were lost fixing the website.

I am also supporting legislation to allow people to keep their current health insurance plans. Too many North Carolinians received cancellation letters from their insurance companies, and the Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act (S.1642) would require insurers to continue to offer certain plans that were available before the Affordable Care Act took effect. While the President’s announcement that people who want to keep their current health insurance can renew it for one year is a step in the right direction, a one-year fix is not enough. For this reason, I believe that Congress should approve the Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act to give people certainty that they will not lose their current coverage.

As we move forward, I believe we should focus on making commonsense improvements and fixes to the law rather than repealing it. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would take us back to a time when insurance companies could deny individuals with preexisting conditions and charge women more than men. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, one-third of North Carolinians who applied for insurance on the individual market were denied coverage. Today, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. In North Carolina, 539,000 children with pre-existing conditions all benefited from this protection.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act is helping seniors in our state to afford their medications. In North Carolina, Medicare beneficiaries have saved nearly $209 million on prescription drugs. In 2012 alone, 106,000 individuals saved more than $70 million, for an average of $661 per beneficiary. In 2010, more than 97,000 North Carolina seniors in the “donut hole” received a $250 rebate check. The donut hole will be incrementally closed over the next several years until it is completely eliminated in 2020.

The Affordable Care Act has also helped young adults to obtain health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, if your plan covers children, you can now add or keep your children on your health insurance policy until they turn 26 years old. Because of this provision, 95,000 young adults in North Carolina have obtained coverage.

Thank you again for sharing your views with me on the health care law. Rest assured, I will keep them in mind as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act moves forward.

Again, thank you for contacting my office. It is truly an honor to represent North Carolina in the United States Senate, and I hope you will not hesitate to contact me in the future should you have any further questions or concerns. If you would like to stay informed on my work in the Senate, you can sign up for my e-newsletter, follow me on Twitter at @SenatorHagan, or visit my Facebook page.

Sincerely,

Signature

Kay R. Hagan

Back to life

I had a flame, a fire of old

That nearly died, neglected.

I would have perished, too, of cold,

Before I was corrected.

 

Another’s fire He showed, full fed:

She stooped to keep it tended.

The blaze the burst from all she did

Burned bright, and warm, and splendid.

 

I should have danced, but I just cried,

And looked at Christ who brought me;

Not for my shame – to stem the tide

Of sin is why He taught me.

 

Then He and I got many limbs,

And swept the sty more sightly;

I turned a child again, with Him –

The fire burned back brightly!